Title: Painted Veil
Summary: AU. In a world where Voldemort never existed, Harry Potter is just your average seventh year Gryffindor, who has a loving family and a happy life. One day, he finds a portrait of a boy who lived decades ago, and everything changes. Is it possible to love a portrait? Is it a portrait at all?
Warnings: minor character death (not Harry or Tom)
This is his last thought before he falls into oblivion.
He does not know how much time passes before he comes into existence again. Perhaps it is an odd choice of words, but it is the most fitting. He cannot say he has been awakened, because it would be a gross oversimplification: he was not asleep and he does not have a body to be awakened. Not anymore.
He is simply aware again, but everything seems distant and distorted, as if there is a fog surrounding his mind, keeping him from remembering what happened, where he is, who he is. Nevertheless, he can still tell that someone is touching him and can feel foreign magic seeping into him.
In such a weakened state, he has trouble forming coherent thoughts, but all of a sudden, the fog in his mind clears, and he remembers everything with crystal clarity. He remembers who he is and what happened to him.
"...Mudblood...he must be a Mudblood..."
Tom shoves the memory away; it is irrelevant now. As for what has happened to him... feeling regret is illogical. Regret is for the weak, and he is not weak. Mistakes are there to learn from them, not to regret them. Any situation, however dire, can be turned to his advantage.
And he will turn it to his advantage.
Tom concentrates and draws more of that foreign magic in. He is careful not to take too much, so as not to arouse suspicion prematurely. He feels himself strengthening, and soon enough, he can hear.
"...you think he's a Black?" a male voice is saying. "He looks like a Black. Sort of."
"Not really, Neville," another male voice says, this one sounding closer. Tom concludes that it probably belongs to the person holding the portrait. "He's dark-haired and handsome, but that's it. He doesn't look like Sirius or Regulus at all. Look at his eyes: they're black and their shape is very different." A chuckle. "It's weird as hell, but literally all Black men have identical grey eyes."
"Well, yeah— What are you doing? Are you really taking it to your room?"
"Sure. That's what we came here for. Let's go. We must cover the hole in the wall before Sirius or Mum come to my room and notice it."
"We can find another portrait, mate! Don't you think this one is creepy? I mean, he looks dead, Harry! He isn't moving at all! He isn't watching us!"
The other boy—Harry—laughs. "Yes, Neville, that's very creepy. I think having a portrait that doesn't watch my every move is very refreshing, actually."
Neville snorts. "You sound like a Muggle."
"Well, I am half-blood," Harry says. "Besides, I like him. He's cute."
Neville laughs. "I should've guessed."
"Oh shut it, mate."
They appear to start moving.
Tom processes the little information available to him as the boys bicker and banter with each other on their way to Harry's bedroom.
He appears to be in the Blacks' house. That is quite perplexing in itself, but it matters little now how he has ended up here. More importantly, Harry has mentioned neither Orion nor Alphard Black, but Sirius and Regulus. It makes him wonder how much time has passed. The boy holding his portrait—Harry—appears to live here, though does not seem to be a Black. It is quite curious, considering that the boy is a half-blood: the Blacks have always been obsessive about blood purity.
"I told you we should have gotten another portrait," the annoying boy, Neville, says, pulling Tom away from his thoughts. "See, it's too small!"
"Crap," Harry says, sighing.
"I think I've seen another one," Neville says. "I'll go back and get it. Give me the portrait. I'll take it back."
Tom mentally curses.
He concentrates, knowing that it is his only chance. "No," he manages.
"Did you hear that?" Harry says. Tom feels something touch his face. There is a rush of magic and—
He can see.
He finds himself looking at a boy.
He is tall and quite handsome, with strong, masculine features, black hair and emerald green eyes behind round glasses. He seems somewhat older than Tom, perhaps seventeen.
The boy—it has to be the one called Harry—smiles at him. "Hey."
"Hello," Tom says, making an effort to sound pleasant and friendly. He has to convince the boy to keep him, by any means. "My name is Tom."
Harry grins. "Definitely not a Black, then."
Inwardly grimacing at the reference to his ordinary name, Tom raises an eyebrow. "I take it the Blacks still name their children after celestial bodies?"
"Harry, we're wasting time," the other boy cuts in, annoying Tom once again. "Give me that portrait and I'll go—"
"All right, fine." Harry looks at Tom apologetically. "He'll return you to the attic. Sorry for bothering you."
"But I do not want to be returned," Tom says quickly, looking at Harry with wide-eyed, soft expression that has usually worked on everyone except Dumbledore. "I want to stay here. Let me stay, Harry."
The boy looks hesitant.
"Bloody hell, Harry, you can't keep it here! Your Mum will be suspicious if you suddenly get two portraits for your room."
Just wait, Tom thinks, glaring at the annoying idiot. When I get my body back, I will Crucio you so hard.
"Did you see that?" Neville exclaims, pointing at him. "Did you see the evil look he gave me?"
Harry rolls his eyes. "Don't be silly, Nev. He's just sulking."
"Sulking?" Neville says incredulously, mirroring Tom's thoughts.
Harry ignores him, turning his attention back to Tom. "I'm Harry. Harry Potter. The prat is Neville, my friend. Never mind him. He's usually not that rude." Turning his head to Neville, he says firmly, "Go fetch the other portrait, Neville. Tom is staying."
Tom smirks triumphantly at Neville, who glares at him. "He's smirking, Harry! Did you see that?"
"Go, Neville," Harry says, starting to sound irritated.
The annoying idiot finally leaves.
"Now," Harry says, looking around the room. "Where to put you..."
Tom presses his lips together. He cannot let the boy put him anywhere. He needs to stay as close to him as possible. He is too weak now. He needs to become strong enough.
He quickly considers and discards dozens of possible explanations, but none of them sound convincing. It appears he has to tell the truth...or, rather, something close to the truth.
"Harry, you cannot put me anywhere."
The boy looks at him. "Why not?"
"The problem is," Tom says, choosing carefully his every word. "The painter made a mistake when he created me, getting wrong the enchantment responsible for animating me." Tom watches Harry's reaction. So far, he doesn't look disbelieving. "The enchantment was supposed to be permanent, but he got it wrong. That is why I was frozen when you found me. I need magic to function."
"You mean you need my magic," Harry says, some wariness creeping into his expression.
The boy is not an imbecile.
Tom grimaces. "I know how that sounds, so you are absolutely correct to be wary, but I swear on my love for my mother that I am completely harmless." Tom tries his best not to show any hint of amusement. "I do not require much magic. In fact, you would not feel it at all."
Harry runs a hand through his hair. "I don't know, Tom. It's a bit freaky."
"If I had nefarious intentions, I would not have admitted the truth to you, would I?" Tom says, feigning hurt.
Harry's expression softens. How pathetic. "Look, Tom, it's not that I don't trust you. I just don't trust magical objects that can drain my magic."
"Just give me a chance," Tom asks, looking into the boy's eyes intently. He is well aware that his eyes are his most expressive feature and never hesitates to use them to his advantage when needed. "You have no idea how awful being frozen was. Please, Harry." Inwardly, he sneers in disgust. Pleading is against his very nature, but he understands that sometimes it is necessary, no matter how much he abhors it. The end justifies means.
Harry purses his lips, studying him.
Tom puts on his saddest expression. He considers shedding a tear for good measure but decides it would be overkill.
"One day," Harry says finally. "If by the end of the day I don't feel any different, you'll stay."
Inwardly, Tom smirks. But for Harry, he gives a brilliant smile. "Thank you, Harry. You are most kind and generous." What a fool, he thinks with disdain.
"So," Harry says, touching the portrait lightly. Odd, but Tom feels the vague prickling sensation on his face. It is not entirely unpleasant. "Who are you to the Blacks? How old are you? I mean, you must be dead. How long ago you lived?"
Tom chuckles. "That is horribly insensitive of you to ask, don't you think?"
Harry looks amused. "You don't really strike me as sensitive. And nope, your puppy eyes didn't fool me even for a moment, so cut the crap."
Tom gives him a blank look. "I do not know what you mean."
Smiling, Harry raises his eyebrows. "Really? Don't take me for an idiot, Tom. You aren't exactly the first one to use a pair of pretty eyes on me."
Tom cocks his head, studying him. Interesting. Perhaps he needs to reevaluate his opinion on the boy. "Then why did you agree if you were not fooled?"
"I knew you were manipulating me, but it doesn't mean it didn't work." Harry grins, his eyes gleaming. "What can I say, I'm weak when it comes to pretty eyes."
Harry removes his glasses and wipes them thoroughly on his shirt, giving Tom a glimpse of toned stomach. "You didn't answer me."
"I was sixteen when I died. I cannot tell you how long ago I died because I do not know what year it is."
Harry stretches out on his bed, propping the portrait against the pillows so that they could look at each other. "It's 1997. I'm on a Christmas break at my godfather's house. Dad is out of the country on some Auror business, so Mum and I are spending it here with Sirius's family."
Over fifty years stuck in a limbo between life and death. And all because of his own failure.
Tom plants a smile on his face. "I lived in the beginning of the century. I'm not related to the Blacks, so I do not know how my portrait ended up here."
Harry studies him. "How did you die?" he asks quietly.
"I was trying to create a spell," Tom replies. He is almost truthful. "You probably know that Spell Creation is very dangerous. Sometimes it backfires."
Harry nods, his expression saddening.
Tom nearly laughs. Honestly. "You are not a Hufflepuff, are you?"
Harry frowns before glowering at him. "Yes, so what? What's wrong with being a 'Puff? My parents, and their parents, and their parents' parents were all in Hufflepuff! I'll have you know my family is very proud of it!"
The boy seems genuinely offended, so Tom hides his sneer and tries to make amends. "I did not mean to offend you, Harry. Your family is right to be proud. Hufflepuffs are very...peaceful and kind." Weak pushovers.
Harry shakes his head, his jaw tight. "I can't forgive such an insult so easily. My Hufflepuff pride is greatly wounded."
Tom narrows his eyes. "Is it?"
Harry bursts out laughing. "Merlin, you're so full of bullshit, Tom! Now I would know better than to trust your soft-spoken words."
Tom is not amused. "You are not a Hufflepuff at all, are you? You are something infinitely worse: a Gryffindor."
Harry grins. "Guilty as charged. And I've got an inkling about what your House was. Does it happen to have a really weird thing for snakes?"
Tom gives him an unimpressed look. "You are not nearly as amusing as you think you are."
"You're just pouting because I fooled you," Harry tells him with the same infuriating grin.
"Pouting," Tom repeats flatly. That is certainly the first time he has ever been suspected or accused of that. "You are mad. I do not 'pout.' I never 'pout.'" The mere idea is utterly ridiculous and offending.
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks," Harry says with a wink.
Tom sneers. "You are such a Muggle."
Harry gives him an amused look. "Takes one to know one."
Tom decides he does not like Harry Potter at all.
Tom appreciates order, structure and patterns.
He likes categorizing everything. To him, there are only three categories of people: useful, useless and dangerous.
Harry Potter, Tom thinks, is the most irritating person he has ever met, because he does not fit into any of the categories. Never before had he met anyone who was as pathetic and fascinating at the same time. He despises the boy for his soft-heartedness and kindness, but Harry also has a hard, sly and arrogant side behind his smiles and laughter. He is a mixture of contradictory traits and attitudes, and it irritates Tom to no end, because he never knows what to expect from him. Tom likes being in control, but Harry, with his constantly shifting moods, is the least predictable individual he has ever met.
When Tom asks Harry why he is so odd, Harry merely shrugs with a chuckle. "Odd? I guess that's what happens when you have a Gryffindor family but have Sirius and Regulus as your godfathers and spend your childhood at the house of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. You can't help it—their attitude rubs on you."
It tells Tom exactly nothing, as he has never met Sirius and Regulus Black.
In fact, Harry is the only wizard Tom sees and talks to. His portrait is not exactly a normal one, so he cannot leave it and visit other portraits in the house even if he wanted to.
Most of the time, Harry keeps the portrait on his nightstand, and it is not easy to see Tom without rounding Harry's bed. So far, Tom's presence has gone unnoticed every time Harry's mother has entered the room, and Tom wants to keep it that way. The less people see him, the less people he will have to take care of when he gets his body back.
So he waits, gathering his strength and biding his time.
Admittedly, he would have been bored out of his mind if Harry didn't spend most of the time in the room, "serving Tom's needs," as he jokes tastelessly.
"There is nothing humorous about it," Tom says, glaring at him. "You would not be joking if it was you who required someone's magic to function."
Looking up from his book, Harry just grins. "Tsk, tsk, Tom. If I were you, I would be nicer to the bloke who is serving your needs."
Tom smiles at him nicely. "If I were you, Harry, I would be much nicer to the magical object that might 'suck your magic dry' while you sleep."
Harry makes a show of considering it. "Nope, not really threatening. You had over a week to do it but didn't. What does it say about you? It means you either suck at magic-sucking, or deep, deep down, you're very fond of me."
Tom sneers. "Or perhaps I am simply biding my time, lulling you into the false sense of security?"
Harry lets out a long-suffering sigh and rolls his eyes. "All right, fine: you're very evil. You're the devil reincarnated. I'm convinced."
Tom looks at him and thinks,
"Well, I think that's it," Harry says, looking around the room before locking his school trunk. "I hope I didn't forget anything."
"You did forget something," Tom says scathingly. "Me."
Harry looks at him with a frown. "You want to go with me to Hogwarts?"
"It is not like I have much choice, is it? I might not be as weak as I was at the beginning, but the longest I can stay animated without your magic is four hours, which is not acceptable."
"Well, yeah, but..." Harry runs a hand through his hair. It is so disgustingly untidy that Tom's fingers practically itch every time he looks at it.
"But nothing, Harry. I am going with you and that's the end of this conversation."
Harry raises his hands in defeat. "Alright, you're coming, I got it." Then he mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, "I should have listened to Neville."
"I heard that," Tom says coldly.
Harry grins. "I know."
The problem with being at Hogwarts is that there are too many nosy people around.
Tom supposes he must be glad that Harry is a seventh year—seventh year Gryffindors have to share their rooms only with one roommate, but he is less than glad to meet said roommate.
"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" the Gryffindor boy coos, picking him up from Harry's bed.
Tom gives him an icy look. "Set my portrait down at once."
The idiot has the nerve to smirk and pet his face. The feel of his magic makes Tom vaguely nauseous. "What a pretty, pretty boy." His finger touches Tom's lips and then trails down Tom's neck. "Very pretty."
"Put me down, you pervert," Tom bites out. His fingers itch for the wand he does not have.
The boy leers at him. "I think Harry wouldn't mind if I borrow you for a while."
"Harry would mind," comes a hard voice from the doorway. "Put the portrait down, Seamus." Tom cannot see Harry, but he knows him well enough to know that he is angry.
Seamus smirks obnoxiously. "Why, Harry? Who is that?"
"It's none of your business," Harry says, walking over and practically jerking Tom out of his hands.
"Touchy," Seamus drawls before leaving the room.
Harry looks down at Tom, frowning. "Are you okay? I know Seamus can be a bit of a creep."
"Never leave me in the open where some idiots can pick me up," Tom hisses, turning his face away.
"Tom, come on— I left just for a few minutes. It won't happen again!"
"See that it won't," Tom says scathingly.
Harry strokes his cheek. It tingles. "Are you done pouting?"
Tom gives him a murderous look. "For the hundredth time: I do not pout," he says, accentuating every word.
Harry smiles. "Of course you don't, Pouty Lips."
"On second thought, give me to that idiot," Tom says. "Anyone is better than you."
"Sorry, can't. I'm inexplicably fond of your bitchy, pouty self."
"I hate Snape," Harry says with feeling, crumpling a piece of parchment in frustration and tossing it to the floor.
He takes another piece of parchment and stares at it blankly.
"What are you doing?" Tom says impatiently. Harry has not touched him in four hours and he can feel himself weakening already. "Get your hands on me."
"If I knew you were so bossy, I would have left you in the attic," Harry says moodily. "I'm working on the Potions essay, so no magic for you until I finish it."
"Working?" Tom says mockingly, raising an eyebrow at the blank parchment.
Harry groans. "Shut up. I'm trying."
Tom studies his tired face, noting the frustration and anger in his green eyes. "I can help you."
Harry looks at him. "Really?"
"Yes," Tom snaps. "And stop looking at me like that. It is not a big deal. The sooner you finish, the sooner I get my magic. I am getting weak because of your stupidity."
Harry grins at him. "Whatever you say, Tom. But your kind help deserves a special reward." And ignoring his glare, the imbecile has the nerve to kiss him on the nose. Harry grins again. "You're so sweet, Tom."
Tom is very tempted to kill him and it is not a hyperbole.
"Bloody hell, I hate that slimy git," Harry snarls, storming into the room.
Tom cannot see him from his position on Harry's bed. "I take it you are talking about your Potions Professor again."
Dropping his bag on the floor, Harry crawls into the bed and presses his cheek against Tom's frame.
"He gave me a detention, took seventy points from Gryffindor, and humiliated me in front of the entire class again—and for bloody nothing! I'm decent at Potions—I wouldn't be in N.E.W.T.-level Potions if I wasn't."
Tom snorts. "Is that why you are being so pathetic? I am not your teddy bear."
"You will be anything I need you to be," Harry says, smirking slightly. "Besides, I know that deep, deep down, you totally love it."
Tom gives him a disgusted look, but Harry ignores it and cuddles closer, his hand on Tom's neck.
"I really wish I could Crucio you," Tom tells him, but his tone lacks venom.
Harry blows him a kiss tiredly. "I love you, too." His eyelids grow heavy, and soon, he is fast asleep.
Tom stares at his peaceful, sleeping face. He can see every eyelash and every imperfection. It is… oddly intimate. Too intimate.
Tom averts his gaze, uneasy.
He wonders if Harry's tiredness is the result of constant exposure to the portrait. He has been very careful not to take too much and too often from him, allowing Harry's magical core to restore its strength, but he cannot know for certain that there will not be any lingering side effects.
Not that it matters, he reminds himself. Dead people do not have to worry about side effects.
But not now. He cannot kill Harry now. There are too many people at Hogwarts. Too many potential witnesses. He can wait until the end of the school year.
Yes, that will be preferable, Tom decides before returning his gaze to Harry's face.
He watches him as he sleeps.
He simply has nothing better to do.
"Queen to f7. Checkmate," Tom says, not without smugness. "You are terrible."
"You're supposed to teach me, not to destroy my confidence."
Tom sneers. "If you believed I would go easy on you, then you are more of a fool than I thought."
Harry rolls his eyes, removing the chessboard from between them. "You just can't live without insulting me, can you?"
"If you are so easily insulted, then you deserve to be insulted."
"Hmm," Harry says. "It makes sense...if we use your unique brand of logic."
"You are just a sore loser," Tom says in a superior tone, smiling at him.
He catches Harry staring at him.
Tom's smile fades. He sneers. "What?"
Harry looks away, rubbing the back of his neck. "Nothing."
Harry has been acting very oddly lately. He is out of the room far too often, coming only for a few minutes to "recharge" Tom and leaving right afterwards. Even when he is in the room, he behaves oddly, alternating between being overly affectionate and cold.
Tom does not care in the least about Harry's mood swings. He is annoyed simply because he does not appreciate being ignored.
The situation irritates him so much that he finally snaps and asks Finnigan, of all people.
The idiot smirks. "Where's Harry? With his boy, most likely."
Tom goes still.
"Yup," Finnigan says with an obnoxious leer. "Harry's got a new boyfriend. A cute little thing, though an arrogant prick." He sneers. "Reminds me of you, actually. I have no idea how Harry tolerates him. Malfoy must be a fantastic lay."
Tom stares blankly into nothing.
"Where have you been?" he demands as soon as Harry enters the room.
"Whoa," Harry says, taking off his glasses and putting them on the nightstand. "What crawled up your arse and died?"
"You were supposed to return two hours ago," Tom hisses out.
Harry looks at him with a frown. "I thought you didn't need my magic that often anymore. Do you feel weak?"
Tom doesn't feel weak. He feels enraged, staring at Harry's neck. Is that a love bite? It better not be.
This is...an unexpected development, but perhaps, he should have anticipated it. Come to think of it, it is understandable and entirely logical that he feels possessive of the boy. Harry is the one who revived him. Harry's magic belongs to him. Harry's time belongs to him. Harry belongs to him. That is, Harry is his to be discarded when his usefulness comes to end.
"Yes, I feel weak. Not that you care."
Harry looks very guilty, as he well should.
"I'm sorry, Tom," he says, lifting him from the bed and stroking his face with his knuckles. "Better?" His voice is soft, but his eyes are unreadable.
Tom pays no mind to the pleasant sensation. Ignoring the question, he pierces Harry with a cold look. "Where have you been?"
Harry's face becomes inscrutable. "I was with Draco."
"Draco," Tom repeats flatly.
"Yes. My boyfriend."
"Is he?" Tom says in an icy cold tone.
Harry looks at him for a long moment before averting his eyes and chuckling. "Bloody hell, stop trying to make me feel guilty! I have nothing to feel guilty for."
"Nothing to feel guilty for?" Tom hisses. "You left me alone for the entire day to go fuck some whore."
"Don't call him that," Harry says with a glare.
"I will call him whatever I want," Tom says viciously.
Harry shakes his head. "You're being ridiculous, Tom. I have a life outside this room and Draco is a part of my life. You're acting like a—like a jealous wife!" Harry flushes as soon as he says that.
Tom sneers. "If you like Draco so much, you are free to spend as much time with him as you like." He concentrates and calls the magic in, his portrait becoming unmoving again. He can still see and think, but to Harry, he would look like a still, ordinary image.
Inwardly, he smirks in satisfaction, seeing Harry's eyes widen. "Tom? Come back at once!"
Naturally, Tom does not.
We shall see, he thinks darkly. We shall see how long it would take before you come crawling to me.
The first day of his silent treatment is quite unremarkable. Harry touches his portrait a few times, glowers at him but says nothing.
The second day is very much like the first, except Harry frowns more and touches him more frequently. He still stubbornly says nothing, but he looks less angry.
"Stop being so bloody stubborn and come back," Harry snaps on the third day. "I know you're doing it on purpose."
Tom shows no outward reaction.
On the fourth day, Harry is much moodier than usual, snapping at Finnigan for no reason.
"What crawled up his arse?" Finnigan mutters to himself, but doesn't dare to confront Harry, and no wonder: when Harry is angry, people tend to stay away from him.
Tom smirks to himself, knowing that Harry is close to the breaking point.
The next evening, Harry gets into the bed, looking even more grim and stressed out. Tom watches him from the nightstand. A few minutes pass in silence before Harry sighs heavily and reaches for him.
Putting the portrait on his pillow, Harry props himself on an elbow, looming over him. "Come on, Tom," he says softly, stroking his cheek. "Talk to me. Come back, please."
Tom does not react. He wants Harry to humiliate himself, beg for his forgiveness, and that is not begging.
But then Harry does something completely unexpected. He presses a kiss to the corner of Tom's lips. "I miss you, baby," he whispers. "Come back to me."
And Tom does.
Tom might despise human emotions, but as much as he hates to admit it, he is not completely immune to them. He knows anger, he knows hatred, he knows irritation, and he is familiar with infatuation.
His infatuation with Harry is very inconvenient, to say the least. It is making him soft. In hindsight, he was strong enough to suck Harry's magic dry months ago, but he has been putting it off using dubious excuses. He cannot lie to himself any longer: the pathetic truth is, he is weak when it comes to Harry, which makes Harry dangerous—and that is another excellent reason for killing him.
I will, he tell himself, closing his eyes as Harry's fingers stroke his face, his neck, his hair. He cannot truly feel the touch, but he can feel Harry's magic.
It is not enough.
Draco is no longer mentioned, and Harry starts spending most of his time with Tom again.
And their interactions…shift. They do not talk about it and do not acknowledge it, but Tom no longer sneers when Harry touches him or looks at him with…
Tom does not want to put a name to the emotion in Harry's eyes. It is both exhilarating and—yes, terrifying. He used to fear nothing except death, but this thing is just as uncontrollable and terrifying.
Merlin, he never hated being stuck in this portrait as much as he does now. He wishes he had a body so he could fuck this inconvenient, pathetic infatuation out of his system.
He knows he has to get out of this portrait as soon as possible. He has to. In fact, Tom blames his infatuation on the fact that his every day starts and ends with Harry. That is not healthy. He is too dependent on Harry. As soon as he is out of this portrait, he will come back to his senses.
This evening, when Harry returns to his bed after a detention, he is different. His shoulders are stiff as he undresses for the night.
"What is wrong?" Tom asks, eyeing Harry's grim face.
"Nothing," Harry says, avoiding his gaze.
Tom gives him a narrow-eyed look. "I do not think so."
"I'm fine," Harry snaps. "Everything is fine!"
"Are you talking to that blasted portrait again, mate?" Finnigan calls out from his bed. "Get a life, Harry."
"Shut up," Harry growls, but something in his face shatters.
His brows furrowing, Tom studies him as Harry gets under the sheets. He is glad that the room is never completely dark thanks to Finnigan's phobia of darkness.
"Tell me what is wrong," he orders in a tone that would not allow any argument.
"I don't want to talk about it," Harry says tightly.
"Well, I do."
"I said I don't want to talk about it!" Harry snarls. "Is that so hard to understand?"
"Bloody hell, mate, put the Silencing Charm on!" Finnigan grumbles.
Sitting up, Harry waves his wand around the bed and, turning to Tom, glares at him. "I'm done talking. I'm going to sleep. I'm tired."
Tom scoffs. "Well, I am not, so—"
"Of course you aren't tired," Harry says with unexpected venom. "You're dead."
Tom pauses, examining Harry's face in the dim light of the candles. "And you realized that just now?"
Harry leans back against the headboard, staring blankly into space. He looks exhausted, his eyes lifeless.
"I saw your picture in the Trophy Room," he says finally, his voice flat. "The medals you received. I saw the date of your death. Over fifty years ago."
Tom finally understands. "And it made my death real."
Harry bites his lip. "Yes."
Turning his face to Tom, he looks at him for a while. Then he reaches for him and brings the portrait close to his face.
"I wish you were real," he whispers tightly, his green eyes glinting with unshed tears. "But you are not. You're just a portrait. The real Tom is dead—has been dead for half a century." Harry swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. "I should get rid of you," he says, stroking Tom's cheek with his thumb. "This is unhealthy as fuck."
Before Tom can say anything, Harry leans his forehead against his. "But I can't. I can't." His trembling lips press against Tom's. "I need you. I want to hold you so fucking badly—feel your warmth, your lips, touch your hair, your skin— "He lets out a shaky, humourless laugh. "But I can't and never will. You're dead, Tom. You don't exist. This is madness." Harry's lips twist. "If anyone finds out about this, I'd be locked in an asylum."
Tom looks at him, feeling the same disgusting, pathetic needy emotion that he felt as he stood in front of the Riddle Mansion—the one that was stomped on by the Riddles, and for which he killed them for.
He hates this weakness, this yearning and need, but he is also selfish enough not to deny himself this.
However illogical and irrational it is, he wants Harry. And what he wants, he gets.
He is done waiting.
The time has come.
Tom waits until Harry and Finnigan are asleep before acting.
With the last look at Harry's sleeping face, he concentrates.
It is convenient that Finnigan's bed is so close to Harry's.
Tom feels no remorse for what he is about to do. The idiot has always annoyed Tom anyway. The most difficult part will come later. He will have to take care of the old fool, create a new identity for himself, and most importantly, come up with a believable explanation for Harry.
However, as it turns out, executing his plan is easier said than done.
He has become strong enough that all it takes is some effort and concentration to reach to Finnigan's magical core, but there is a complication that makes Tom pause.
What he did not expect is how difficult it would be to connect to Finnigan's core. He knows that it is not ideal to use the git, since his magic is attuned to Harry's, but as using Harry is out of question, he has little choice. Finnigan's magic feels foul and weak in comparison. For a moment, Tom wonders and worries whether Finnigan's magic will be enough to give him his body back. But it should be. At this point, it is not magical strength that matters but life.
Finnigan's life for his.
Despite his revulsion, he pushes himself deep into that foul magic and draws it into himself. Draws it hard and fast, ruthless and greedy, without pity or remorse.
He can feel Finnigan struggling and trying to wake up, but he is not concerned: thanks to Harry's magic, he is strong, and at the rate Finnigan is losing his magic, he is already too weak to wake up or call for help.
After a few minutes, Tom grins, realizing that he is no longer in the blasted portrait. He looks down at himself and stares at his body. He looks exactly the same as he did the day he died. Curious. He is wearing the same clothes that his portrait self was wearing: a pair of trousers and a white shirt. His body is not solid yet, but soon, it will be.
With a dark smile, he walks to Finnigan's bed. Watching the idiot gasp for breath, Tom draws the magic faster.
He can feel Finnigan's core dimming and knows it will not be long now.
Many mistakenly think wizards and Muggles belong to the same species. They think that a wizard is just a Muggle who can do magic. What a foolish concept. The truth is, a wizard cannot survive without his magical core, since without magic, his organs cannot function and will start failing.
When his core dies, Finnigan will die as well.
And Tom will live.
"What the—? Tom?"
Tom freezes. Slowly, he turns his head.
Harry is standing by his bed, his eyes wide as he stares at him.
Tom nearly curses. It was not supposed to be like this. Harry was not supposed to find out. This was not in the plan. Yes, Harry might have suspected something when Finnigan died the same night Tom's portrait disappeared, but suspecting and knowing are two different matters.
This is a disaster.
Harry steps closer, his mouth opening and closing. "Tom?" he says, reaching out to touch his shoulder. His hand goes right through him. Harry looks at his hand and then at Tom's face. "How?"
Before Tom can come up with a believable lie, Harry notices Finnigan and stares. Slowly, he looks back at Tom.
Harry is smart. Tom can practically see him connecting the dots. He can see Harry's shock being replaced with confusion, then suspicion, and finally shock again.
"What are you doing to him?" Harry whispers. "What are you?"
He can lie, but what is the point? Harry is not stupid.
Once the decision is made, an odd calmness comes to him. "I am not a portrait, Harry."
Harry's lips twist. "Yeah, I already guessed."
"The portrait is just a vessel."
"Vessel for what?"
"A soul," Tom says, watching Harry. "My soul."
He expects Harry not to understand what he is talking about, but it doesn't seem to be the case: Harry stiffens, his expression turning horrified. "You mean, as in horcrux?"
Now it is Tom's turn to be surprised. "How do you know about horcruxes?"
"The Black library is very informative," Harry says, without any inflection. His face is blank. "You're a horcrux?"
Tom frowns. He cannot quite place Harry's reaction. "No. Horcrux is a fragment of the soul. I am the soul." He pauses, loath to admit it. "I was attempting to create a horcrux, but something in my calculations went wrong, and the ritual tore my entire soul out of my body and locked it in the portrait."
"To create a horcrux you need to kill," Harry says, his voice void of any emotion. "Who did you kill?"
"My grandparents and my father," Tom says in a conversational tone. A part of him wants to shock Harry, to see his revulsion and indignation. He gets none.
Harry's face stays blank and guarded.
Tom wonders if Harry is simply in shock.
"And to regain your body you need ..." Harry looks at Finnigan. "His magic? Or his life?"
Harry looks back at him. And finally, finally, there is a real reaction on his face: his eyes flash with anger, or perhaps hurt. Perhaps both. "All this time...you have been lying to me."
"I never have," Tom says, barely stopping himself from trying to touch Harry. "Bending truth is not lying."
Harry scoffs, bitterly. "Sure it isn't. You pretended to be my—friend, but all this time you have been sucking my magic dry. I'm surprised I'm still alive."
Tom sneers. "If I were 'sucking your magic dry,' you would have been long dead. I took next to nothing from you, only enough to get myself strong enough to be able to do this." He gestures to Finnigan. "If I wanted to, I could have sucked you dry months ago, you imbecile."
Even in the dim candle-light, Tom can see Harry's expression change, his nostrils flaring and cheekbones flushing. Harry clears his throat slightly. "It doesn't bloody excuse you, Tom. I can't let you take someone's life just to—"
"To live?" Tom says softly. He lifts a hand and brushes his fingers against Harry's cheek. His fingers are not corporeal, so he cannot feel it, but he can see and can imagine. That disgusting yearning rears its head again. "Just a few hours ago you said you wish I were real." He meets Harry's eyes. "I can become real, Harry."
Shaking his head, Harry swallows visibly. "Not at the cost of another's life. Seamus doesn't deserve it."
Tom hisses. "Seamus? And what about me? My life? Do I not deserve to live? I died at the age of sixteen and was neither dead nor alive for half a century."
Harry says nothing.
The longer he stays silent, the tighter Tom's chest grows. Of course. Does he never learn? Was the humiliation at the Riddle Manor not enough to reaffirm to him that he can trust no one? Harry is no different from the Riddles. The Muggles were nice to him, too—until they found out he was a wizard, just like his mother.
Tom turns away, but Harry grabs his arm—or at least, attempts to. "Look, we can find someone else, Tom!" Harry says, almost desperately. "You can use someone who is about to receive the Dementor's Kiss or—"
Tom sneers. "And how do you propose to get close enough to someone getting the Kiss?" he says coldly. "Besides, even if I decided not to use Finnigan, at this point, it is too late. His magical core is almost destroyed, so even if he recovers, he would be a squib for the rest of his life. Any self-respecting wizard would prefer death."
"At least he would be alive," Harry argues.
Tom's lips press into a thin line. "Perhaps." He meets Harry's eyes. "But that is not the point. It is either him or me."
Harry stares at him. "What?"
"I cannot return to the portrait even if I wished to." He smiles at Harry. It is not a nice smile. "The portrait has not been designed to be used multiple times. Perhaps, if I were just a fragment of the soul, I could have done it. But that vessel was not meant to hold a whole soul. Once I left it, it served its purpose. Look what is left of it."
Harry whips his head around and stares at the portrait on the nightstand. It is cracked.
"No," Harry whispers.
"Yes," Tom says nastily. "Therefore, if I do not regain my body now, I will never do. With the destruction of the portrait, I lost the tether to this world, so I will die truly unless I use Finnigan. It is me or him. Choose, Harry."
Tom knows it is cruel to make Harry choose. He knows that no matter whom he chooses, Harry will feel guilty for the rest of his life.
But he does not care; he is not a 'nice' person and never claimed to be.
It doesn't matter that if—or rather, when—Harry chooses Finnigan, Tom is going to drain Finnigan dry anyway. It does not matter that he knows Harry will choose Finnigan. Tom just needs to hear it. He needs to hear the words, so that he will never again delude himself. He needs this pathetic yearning, this pathetic hope to be crushed and die. One day, he will be a Dark Lord, and a Dark Lord cannot afford a weakness.
Tom watches Harry open his mouth, but nothing comes out. Harry just looks at him, his throat working and his eyes blazing.
Say it, Tom taunts him with his eyes. Prove me right.
But Harry still says nothing, so Tom decides to help him out.
"It's easy, Harry," he says softly. "He is your classmate, a good boy from a good family. If he dies, he will be, no doubt, missed by countless relatives and friends. On the other hand, I'm not a nice person at all." He smiles. "I'm cruel, nasty and arrogant. I killed my closest relatives only because they rejected me. I most definitely will not be missed by anyone. The choice could not have been easier."
Something in Harry's expression crumples. "Fuck you, Tom," he spits out. "You're not making it any easier, you git." He starts pacing the room, his eyes haunted and jaw tight.
Finally, Harry stops by the window, his back to Tom.
He is quiet for a long time, his shoulders tensed up.
At last, he says,
Tom freezes. "Pardon?"
"Do it," Harry repeats. His voice is tight but firm. "I choose you."
Tom opens his mouth and closes it, looking blankly at Harry's back.
Slowly, Harry turns around. He chuckles harshly. "Are you really that surprised?"
"You cannot choose me," Tom says, shaking his head. "You are a Gryffindor. You are a 'good' person—"
Harry smiles, bitterly. "I thought so too." He walks back to him. Stopping in front of Tom, he cups his non-corporeal face with trembling fingers. "But turns out, I'm not. Turns out, I'm one selfish bastard."
His eyes are blazing as he looks Tom in the eyes. "But I'd rather be a happy selfish bastard than a miserable idiot who did the right thing. Hell, I'd feel guilty no matter what I choose, so what is the point in doing the right thing?" There is desperation in Harry's face, but there is also naked want and need. "I can't let you go. You—you're—it's like a disease, eating me up from the inside out. I can't even make myself care that you killed people. It's like my brain understands that you're a terrible person, but it doesn't change a thing. I still bloody adore everything about you, even your stupid sneers and smirks, and your arrogance, and your nasty remarks—"
"Shut up," Tom hisses out, his throat tight, which is illogical, because his throat is not solid, so it cannot be tight. "I hate you—you ruined everything, you—"
"No, you don't," Harry says, leaning in until their lips are inches apart. "You don't."
He burns to feel Harry's lips on his.
And there is only one way for that to happen.
Looking Harry right in the eyes, Tom draws the remnants of Finnigan's magic with such force that he stumbles.
But Harry catches him.
Harry catches him.
They both freeze.
Slowly, Harry looks at Finnigan's bed and his face shatters.
"Even if you chose to save him, I would have finished him off anyway." A part of Tom cannot believe he really is doing this: trying to comfort someone and take the blame on himself.
Harry looks back at him. "It doesn't matter. I still made the choice." He stares at Tom, taking him in. "And I stand by that choice." He touches Tom's face, gingerly but with enough need to drown them both. He cups his cheek in his palm and strokes, as though Tom is something fragile. "I can't believe you're a real." And suddenly, Harry crushes him in a tight hug, burying his face in his neck.
Tom tenses but does not push him away. The sensation is odd and utterly foreign—he has never been hugged in his life and certainly never wanted to be hugged—but he finds that he does not mind. This is Harry. Harry belongs to him. There is nothing wrong in enjoying his touch.
Harry nuzzles his neck, nibbling and kissing the skin. "God, wanted to do this for ages," he says, squeezing him even tighter. "Let's get out of here."
"It is three in the morning."
"I don't care. I don't want to stay here, with..."
Tom grimaces, glancing at the body. He cannot say he feels guilty about Finnigan—quite the opposite—but being in the same room as a dead body is not exactly one of his preferred activities. In any case, he needs to leave the room and hide somewhere while Finnigan's death is investigated.
"Very well," he says. Giving in to the old urge, he buries his fingers in Harry's thick hair and nudges him away from his neck. "Let's go."
Reluctantly, Harry stops nuzzling his throat and pulls away. Summoning two robes, he wraps one around Tom, throws the other over his shoulders and, grabbing Tom's hand, nearly runs to the exit, as though chased by something terrible—or perhaps, by his conscience.
"I do not appreciate being dragged around like a rag doll," Tom says irritably.
But truth be told, he is enjoying the walk. He is not normally one to appreciate outdoor activities, but he does enjoy the fresh spring air. He breathes it in greedily. It has been too long.
"We are almost there," Harry says with a grin. Now that they are out of the room, he seems much more at ease.
"What are you..." Tom trails off, staring.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Harry says as they reach the oak.
It is illuminated by yellow, red and white lights, and it takes Tom a moment to recognize them for what they are: Morgana Butterflies.
Harry spreads his robes on the ground underneath the oak.
"You are going to catch cold, you idiot."
Harry ignores his words, lying down on his back. "Come here, lie down."
Tom lets out a long-suffering sigh but complies, stretching out on his back next to Harry. "Now what?"
Harry stares at the big butterflies fluttering above their heads. "When I feel stressed out and can't sleep, sometimes I come here. It's peaceful here, and they are so beautiful. I try to count them all but never can."
"I suppose they are useful in the darkness," Tom says, uncertain what Harry expects him to say.
Harry chuckles. "Useful? I never thought of them as useful, but I guess you're right."
Tom feels Harry's warm hand touch his. A moment later, their fingers are entwined. The irritating part is, Tom is not sure it is all Harry's doing. Merlin, he is going soft. How disgusting.
Harry strokes his wrist with his thumb. Tom feels a shiver of want run down his spine and the blood rush to his groin.
Harry turns his head to him.
Tom does the same.
The next thing he knows, Harry is rolling on top of him and kissing him like a thirsty man denied water for far too long. Tom kisses back, greedy, hungry, wanting more of him and tugging him closer, until there's not an inch left between their bodies. It is still not enough.
"I love you," Harry says hoarsely against his lips when they break the kiss for air. "I love you so fucking much. More than anything or anyone. It fucking scares me how much I love you."
Something deep within him breaks and then clicks into place. He stares at Harry; then, cupping Harry's face with his hands, he kisses him softly, lips trembling with need. He wants Harry—wants him to the point that he wants to crawl under his skin and never get out—but this kiss is not about want.
If you ever leave me, Merlin help you. I will kill you.
"Tell me you love me," Harry demands, fingers unfastening Tom's robes. He sucks on Tom's bottom lip. "Say it, baby."
Tom sneers. "You are such a sap."
Harry laughs. "Sap? Maybe. But don't change the subject." Smiling, he pulls away and looks down him. "Say it." He smirks. "Or are you scared, Tom?"
Tom narrows his eyes. "I am scared of nothing."
Harry grins. "Prove it, then. I dare you to say it."
Tom presses his lips together. "I suppose I do not completely detest you."
Harry sighs but looks amused. He leans down and kisses him.
"Coward," he says against Tom's lips, smiling. "I guess we'll have to work on that."
His retort is swallowed by another kiss.
Tom runs his hands through Harry's thick hair, down his strong back, and thinks with triumph,
Even when I fail, I win.
Perhaps, had he succeeded in creating the horcrux, he would have been already ruling the Wizarding World by this point.
But that would have been a different life.
Tom decides he is quite pleased with this one.
Very pleased, indeed.
As for ruling the Wizarding World...
He will have to think about how to introduce the idea to Harry.