Chapter IV

Harry Potter knelt in the dirt. Perspiration trickled down his neck, and he wiped it away with the back of one filthy hand. The sleeves of his cotton tee were rolled up past his elbows, but he was still sweating. It wasn't yet noon and he was already tired with the heat; he would need to get a move on if he was going to finish before the summer sun reached its zenith.

Birdsong flitted from tree to tree above him, punctuated by the occasional cluck of a hen as Harry gently turned over another long, skinny green bean in his fingers, feeling for the bulging seeds within that would tell him that it was ripe. He hummed softly to himself as he went about his work. It was a large garden, with every variety of vegetable hardy enough to survive in the filtered light of the forest. It wasn't a glamorous job, harvesting, but Harry appreciated his chores; it always made him uncomfortable and restless if his days weren't structured.

He had almost finished his second basket when he heard the voices drifting through through the trees, not more than fifty feet away.

His blood ran cold. Snatchers. He cursed himself for not paying better attention - he was always able to sense when the Dementors were coming, could feel them from a mile away as they whispered through the forest on their hungry tide of terror and anguish, searching for traitors. But the Snatchers were both less intimidating and infinitely more so - for they were much smarter than Dementors, and much less predictable.

Heart skipping, he rose to his feet as quickly as he dared, trying not to make any noise. The voices were nearer now - Harry had maybe less than a minute before they would stumble right upon him. He could certainly make it to the house in time, where the Fidelius would place him beyond their reach - but he knew it wasn't really him they were most concerned with.

They were looking for his godfather.

Harry wracked his mind, trying to remember what the schedule had been for today. Had he been out hunting? It was too dangerous for either of them to go into town for anything less than what was absolutely necessary, so they caught and grew all their own food. But the forest was much more dangerous than a trip into town if there were Snatchers about, and if the fugitive of the century was walking about undisguised… Harry cut the thought off before the scenario could play out fully in his mind. He would not let that happen. There was absolutely no way that would happen. They'd been on the run for too long to get caught now - and his godfather had already done his suffering - he'd done thirteen years of it -

Harry scrambled around the side of the house, ducking into the chicken coop and hissing his name. No sign of him. Harry next headed to the smokehouse, darting across the yard with swift, soundless steps. If he was out hunting in the woods, the potions he used for the preservation of the venison would be gone as well. Loud, sniggering laughter rolled across the woods behind him, and sweat broke out across Harry's brow that had nothing to do with the heat as he peeked through the window and found the shelf empty.

Shit. Shit shit shit. His insides knotted with panic. If there was one band of Snatchers, then there were probably a few more wandering around as well. What if he'd already been caught? What if Harry was too late? He spun around, waves of nauseous fear rolling over him, and he pulled his wand from his waistband as the voices drew nearer. Well, whatever happened, Harry would not go down without a fight. He would not let them take him - the only thing Harry had left - the only person that hadn't yet been stolen by the Death Eaters and the Ministry and this miserable war. He hadbeen through the veil and back again - he'd faced Death and walked the other way - and it was not simply for Harry to let him be caught out by a gaggle of incompetent fools from the Ministry.

"Hey, Sid!" one of them yelled. "I think I 'eard somethin' - over 'ere!"

A stocky, beady-eyed man was pointing his wand in Harry's direction, and Harry froze. There were four wizards, plus a big one - two heads above the rest - who looked like his mother had been a troll, and who gave a great sniff, rolling his head back, "Yeah," he rumbled, "can smell people. Can smell magic, boss."

"Right," the one called Sid smacked his lips together. He looked to be in charge. "Come out now," he called out, "and we won' feed you to trollface, here!"

"M', name's Pete, boss." the half-troll mumbled.

Harry felt incredibly stupid. There obviously wasn't any prisoner with them. He could have simply hidden in the house after all. "Or you could turn around," Harry responded levelly, gripping tight to his wand, "and no one will have to get hurt."

"It's five against one, kid," Sid smirked at him, wand at the ready, as he ran his other hand through his lank hair. "Don' be stupid."

"I'm not a kid." Harry stepped forward, encouraged by the fact that they only thought there was one - they haven't found anyone else… "And I'm also not so stupid that my greatest purpose in life is sniffing around a bunch of trees for people to bully. I'll tell you one more time - walk away now, and no one will get hurt."

"Let's jus' go," Pete said quietly, "I bin in them correc'ive places, boss, they-"

"Shut your gob, trollface!" Sid yelled, "are you blind as well as dumb? That's Harry Potter."

Harry's mouth went dry, and he heard himself force a laugh. "He's the only one of the lot of you with any brains," he said, sounding braver than he felt. "You really think Harry Potter would just be out for a stroll in the woods?"

"Harry Potter's dead," another one said, "everyone knows that. What are you talking about, Sid?"

"Hey, I was there that night, alright?" Sid said, "in the Forbidden Forest. With the Dark Lord. An' I'm telling you that's Harry Potter."

Something stuttered to a halt in Harry's mind. He inhaled sharply, unsure of why he was suddenly so dizzy. "What are you on about?" he said slowly, forgetting his ruse. "What night? You... knew the Dark Lord?"

"Well, uh…" Sid stumbled on Harry's confusion, "not personally."

"I met 'im once," said the beady-eyed wizard, "scary fucker… uglier 'n trollface here."

"M' name's Pete!"

Harry turned to the huge ogre of a man scowling above the rest of them. "You're clearly the only one of these gits with any sense, Pete," he said earnestly. "Why don't you take your friends back where they came from before this gets bad for them."

"M' not the boss," Pete rumbled, "M' jus' an 'alf-breed..."

"That's right, trollface!" Sid snapped, "I'm in charge, and -"

"M' NAME'S PETE!" the half-troll roared, tackling Sid at the same time as a jet of brilliant, scarlet light hit the beady-eyed snatcher in the back of the head. The man fell to the ground, stunned, while the other two screamed. One was locked in a desperate, futile attempt to pull Pete off of Sid while the other snatcher was looking around, wide-eyed, trying to find the source of the spell that had knocked out his friend.

Wild relief crashed over Harry - safe, safe, he hadn't been caught. A knowing grin spread across Harry's face, no longer burdened by the weight of his anxiety. He did not join the snatchers in looking for the person who had cast the stunner; Harry knew they would see nothing there.

"It's not too late to get out of here, you know," he said lightly over the shouts of the quarreling wizards.

The one who'd been searching for their attacker gave Harry a last, frightened look, "Harry Potter, as if anyone would believe me anyway!" and Disapparated. Pete was still growling and Sid screamed as the half-troll pounded his fists into him.

"Leave him alone, ya filthy half-breed!" the last snatcher yelled out. Pete grunted as the man flung a Stinging Hex which hit him square behind the shoulder-blades. But before the Snatcher could try something more effective, Harry had hit the man with a body-binding spell. In nearly comical slow-motion, he tipped to the ground, as stiff as a wooden board.

Glancing at his handiwork with pride, Harry then turned and approached the dazed half-troll, who still had a wailing, battered Sid pinned to the grass. As satisfying as it was to watch this Sid person get what was clearly coming to him, things might get a little more complicated if a half-troll ended up beating someone to death right on their front lawn. Somehow, he had a feeling that wasn't the best way to keep the Ministry away from their hiding place.

"Hey," Harry said gently, ignoring Sid's sobbing moans. "Er - Pete. Hang on. Let's just - take it easy, all right? You said you've been in correction before, yeah? Well, listen - this lowlife? He isn't worth going back."

"Name's Pete," the half-troll growled. "Mrs Montgomery said. Never called Pete trollface."

"Well, um, I don't suppose Mrs. Montgomery would want you to go pummeling people who did, now would she?"

After a long moment, punctuated only by Sid's moans, Pete shook his head and stood up. The chief snatcher gurgled, scrambling and stumbling to his feet, black robes sticky against swollen skin. He spat a thick glob of blood at Harry, who flicked it aside with his wand, scowling.

"If you come here again," he said in a low voice, staring at the Snatcher straight in the eyes, "you won't have another chance to leave. Now clean up this mess," he gestured at the wizards scattered across the ground, "and bugger off."

"S-sure, whatever you say," he stuttered through a bloody lip. "C'mon… c-c'mon, tr - er - P-pete…"

And, as they made to leave - Sid shooting dirty looks at both Harry and his half-troll companion - a field of white light surrounded the snatchers, knocking Harry back. A figure stepped into the brilliance, tall and implacable. "Obliviate," murmured his godfather, and the word resounded like a sound whose lyrics he couldn't quite remember, as the snatchers were banished from the forest by powerful magic.

Eventually, the light dimmed, leaving Harry and Voldemort standing alone in the forest. "Are you all right, Harry?" he asked quietly.

"Are you all right?" Harry stared at him in disbelief. "Blimey, I was worried about you! I thought that they'd - that they'd found you - where the hell did you go?"

"I was hunting, but I ended up stalking three fools investigating my wards…" his godfather's voice was soft with anger.

"Hell." Harry ran a hand through his hair and gazed past Voldemort into the trees, where the band of wizards had been hunting them. "D'you think they've found us? Will we - have to leave?" The idea of being on the run, again, after finally finding a place where they were safe…

Long, pale fingers found his cheek. "No, Harry, these fools clearly had no idea what they were blundering into. I promised you a home here. I will not let sure poor wizards as these force me to break my promise to my godson."

When this is all over, we'll be a proper family. Harry leaned into Voldemort's touch with a sigh of relief. "I took care of them pretty well, didn't I?" he couldn't help asking with a small, self-indulgent smile.

"You certainly did," his godfather smiled and held him close, ruffling his hair.

"Would've been perfectly fine on my own, y'know."

The smile became thin and strained and Harry could feel the sharp pulse of his godfather's heatbeat through the long fingers that brushed against his cheeks, coming to rest against his scar, where Harry held the greatest and the last of Voldemort's secrets.

Harry shut his eyes. How thrilled he had been, when Voldemort had decided to make him his Horcrux. The ritual had been painful, but it had already been Harry's mission to care for his godfather - what better way to keep him alive than safeguard his soul? "I wasn't really in danger. Besides," he murmured, grinning, "the risk is what makes it fun - you said so yourself."

Voldemort laughed and the tension was released, Harry joining in as Voldemort led him inside. It was a handsome three-story cottage, built by his godfather's prodigious magic, and Harry's first real home since Hogwarts. He loved it. "Tonight I will strengthen the spells to keep out intruders," Voldemort hissed, seating himself in his favourite armchair - the one closest to the fireplace - and, with an elegant twist of those lean fingers, a fire flickered into being in the hearth. "We will not be bothered by those Ministry fools again."

The smile fell from Harry's face. He sat across from his godfather, leaning forward on his knees. "I dunno... they've never come so close before, have they? What if they find you while you're out hunting beyond the wards?"

"They will not!" he spat, crimson eyes blazing. "You know better than anyone the precautions I take to ensure our safety."

Harry flinched. "You don't have to be a git about it," he said a little hotly, feeling injured. "I'm not the one they're really after, now, am I? You can hardly blame me for worrying about you." His godfather's anger was constantly thrumming beneath the surface of his mind, forever changed by his time behind the veil; Harry had to remind himself constantly that it was not his fault when Voldemort snapped at him.

"Of course I do not blame you," his godfather said quietly, looking away.

Harry lifted himself off the armchair and crossed the rug to kneel at Voldemort's feet. How he loved to curl up on the soft rug by the fire at his godfather's side, the fire like warm summer sun on stone. Gently, he clasped one cool, spidery hand between his own. "We'll be safe as long as we stick together," Harry told him softly. "We make a good team, don't we?"

Voldemort grasped his fingers tightly. "The best," but the slit-pupilled gaze drifted elsewhere, to some unknowable place Harry couldn't reach.

"That was some memory charm," Harry added thoughtfully, "I never knew you knew how to do those. You ought to teach me - I imagine they could be quite useful."

"The magics of the mind are delicate and complex, as well as useful," his godfather replied, carding his fingers through Harry's hair. "The trick is finding subjects to practice on, unfortunately. I do not fancy volunteering for you. I might end up unable to remember anything at all. Your spellwork has never been particularly subtle, Harry."

Harry bristled. "You've always underestimated me," he complained, pulling away. "I didn't have any trouble fending for myself before."

"I have never underestimated you," Voldemort snapped back.

"You have so," he said unhappily, leaning back on his heels and staring into the fire. "Everyone has. Did you know they said I was dead?"

"Dead?" His godfather echoed lightly, crimson eyes curious.

"Yeah," Harry frowned, running another restless hand through his hair. His mind was rutting up against something again, skipping over something he couldn't quite grasp. "Dead. They said - a lot of interesting things, actually."

"Tell me," Voldemort murmured, "I am agog to know what such a group of cretins had to say that qualifies as interesting."

"Well, it's... a bit odd, really." Harry's brow furrowed as he continued to stare into the fire. "The one was talking about a forest - this forest? But there wasn't anyone else there that night… it was only the two of us…" There was a long silence as Harry thought about this further, frowning. "It's... not important."

"You are important," Voldemort replied, and that was the end of the conversation.

The darkness outside their window hummed with the soft chorus of the forest evening, the summer crickets and the treefrogs. Lying inside his warm bed, Harry was wide awake with them.

He shifted, restless. Voldemort was sleeping at the other end of the bed, his face peaceful and ethereal in the moonlight that peeked through the curtains. It soothed Harry, to be always so close to his godfather. After he had found Voldemort in this very forest, after the suffering that had debilitated his godfather beyond the veil, Harry had never left his side.

He'd been completely dependent on Harry in the beginning, hardly bigger than a small child. He'd slept cradled in Harry's arms, wretched and helpless; he'd often woken in the night crying out for the potion which kept his spirit's tenuous hold on that weak, infantile form. He remembered Ron watching, revolted, as Harry had sat inside their tent and coaxed the precious mixture of milk and unicorn blood between his godfather's quivering lips. It was the first time Harry had realized he was different - that he alone was meant to protect and provide companionship for his godfather through the journey of immortality, so fraught with dangers.

By the time Voldemort had regained his body, Ron and Hermione had already been killed, casualties of the war that had raged between Black's Death Eaters and the Ministry. But even after Voldemort had killed Black, the Ministry hadn't stopped pursuing them. They would never accept that his godfather had been framed for another's misdeeds. Harry and Voldemort had been on the run ever since.

It had only been natural for them to continue sharing a bed. His godfather was plagued by terrible nightmares, doubtless from the horrors he had endured after the Battle of the Ministry. Voldemort had not told him very much about his life before he'd been betrayed, but Harry imagined that there was also much else that he did not know. His godfather was often haunted by visions of a great, horrible snake; Voldemort would cry out and thrash in the middle of the night, and Harry would coil his arms around his godfather's shoulders, just as he had when Voldemort was a hatchling, and soothe him, holding him close until his godfather slipped back into peaceful sleep.

But tonight it was Harry who could not find his dreams.

He leaned back against the pillow and stared up blankly at the moon-pale ceiling. He did not hear the singing of the crickets as he frowned, caught up in his whirling thoughts.

I was there that night, alright? In the Forbidden Forest. With the Dark Lord.

They'd been talking about Voldemort, of course. Harry knew this, even though he'd never thought of his godfather as the Dark Lord. It was odd - he'd almost forgotten that Voldemort had been called that. But only by those who still believed him responsible for the terrors executed during Black's reign. For Lily and James Potter's deaths.

Harry rolled onto his side, resting his head in the crook of his elbow. His green eyes were soft with moonlight as he gazed at Voldemort's prone, sleeping form. How strange it was, to think he too had once believed his godfather had betrayed his parents. He didn't like to think about those times before his fourth year, when he'd hated Voldemort and eaten up the lies everyone had fed him about this wizard who had done nothing but devote himself to Harry's well-being ever since they had been reunited. It made him angry and uncomfortable to dwell on such things.

Except that was exactly what he was doing, wasn't he? The frown lines in Harry's forehead deepened.

I was there that night. In the Forbidden Forest.

The man was clearly mad - that was the only explanation. Just like the rest of them. Living in a strange, deluded world where his godfather was somehow capable of accomplishing such terrible things. But the problem was that, when the man called Sid had spoken, something had switched in Harry's brain - the shadow of a shadow, a dream that he had once dreamed when he'd already been dreaming. And in that moment he had remembered all at once that everyone had called Voldemort the Dark Lord, and that, once upon a time, Harry had gone searching for the Dark Lord in -

- in a forest. Which was silly, because Harry had found him in a forest, hadn't he? But this non-memory was different, because there had been other people there, just as this Sid person had claimed; and Harry had been furious and full of hatred - which didn't make any sense, because Harry had been so relieved to find his godfather, weak and diminished as he'd been, in the forest brush in his seventh year.

But it had vanished as quickly as it had come, this shadow-dream-memory that was no longer, and even though its ghost had followed Harry's thoughts for the rest of the day, he could not quite put his finger on what exactly he'd remembered - nor why it had disturbed him so deeply.

A cold hand brushed lightly against the hairs of his arm and one livid eye opened, shining - cat-like - in the darkness. "Harry?"

Harry's face was still dark with his thoughts, but he tried to smile anyway. "I hadn't meant to wake you."

"What is it…?" his godfather's voice was a smooth, sleepy roll of Parseltongue as he crossed the distance between them and Harry felt the soft exhale of those flat nostrils against his ear. Harry squirmed, goosebumps rippling pleasantly across the back of his neck. How he loved to be so near to his godfather. He slipped an arm around Voldemort's thin body beneath the duvet, pulling him closer.

"I was having… bad dreams." The lie was breathed against the curve of his godfather's throat.

"Tell me," in the dark, the curve of that lipless mouth could easily be seen as something sharp and threatening, but Harry knew it was a smile.

Harry's eyes slid to the window, and he frowned, that phantom of fury and loathing flickering across his thoughts like flame. "It's strange. I can't… remember."

"Dreams have ever been thus," Voldemort whispered, "images whose explanations vanish, leaving little but disordered feelings in their wake."

Harry sighed, frustrated. "I've been trying to tell myself that," he said, falling back into English in his exasperation, "but this time it feels… different."

The other eye opened then. Two eyes that glowed like the dying embers of a fire, narrowing into two veins of bright red - twin cracks in the darkness - red, like the Dog Star. No… no, that wasn't right... what was it called? Harry blinked hard, and when he opened his eyes again, there were no more stars - only Voldemort's eyes, staring at him through the night. "I can't stop thinking about those Snatchers," Harry said softly, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I told you, Harry, they will not find us again… we do not have to leave."

"It isn't that," Harry said, although his stomach knotted at the thought that the home they'd built together could be in danger. "It was… strange. He recognized me. He said that he'd seen me before, in the Forbidden Forest. And for a moment, I felt like…"

"Perhaps he mistook you for another wizard?" his godfather suggested quietly, and Harry shook his head.

"He knew me," Harry whispered. "He knew that I was Harry Potter." He looked up suddenly at Voldemort. "He said he knew you, too."

"But he seemed barely older than you," Voldemort replied slowly, as he turned Harry's words over in his mind, "and I have not been - ah - social since you were a baby."

"But how did he know me? And why did I feel like I - like I knew what he was talking about? I've never even been in the Forbidden Forest, but I…" Green eyes fell back upon his godfather, wild with something like fear. "For a moment, I thought I had been there with you once."

"With me?" there was something careful, something studied about Voldemort's reaction that Harry didn't know what to make of.

"Well, not with you." Harry's brow furrowed. "With… the Dark Lord." That was what the Snatcher had said. "But… but that is you, isn't it? Don't they call you that sometimes?" His head was beginning to throb.

"It is not a name I am particularly fond of." Voldemort sighed, "You know, Harry, how hard I have worked to extend the limits of magic. There have always been those who viewed my success as a threat: envious, spiteful people who delight in tearing down the reputation of anyone greater than themselves."

"But why can't we simply tell them the truth?" Harry asked him for the hundredth time, looking at his godfather with pleading eyes. "You-Know-Who is dead - they must realize by now that you're innocent - I can vouch for you! We can make them listen!"

"We have no proof," Voldemort shook his head. "Besides, anyone can see that I have done more than dabble in dark magic. The Ministry will claim I have employed a Confundus Charm, and that will be enough to discredit your testimony."

Harry rolled onto his back. "The Dark Lord," he muttered bitterly. The words tasted foul. "Perhaps I have been hit with a Confundus. By the Snatchers, I reckon. Because for a moment I could've sworn that I…" He turned piercing green eyes on his godfather, looking at him hard. "We - we never were in the Forbidden Forest together, were we?"

"I was often in the Forbidden Forest at school," Voldemort replied, eyes gleaming. "Hagrid and I would sneak out–" to the Forbidden Forest to wrestle trolls, a voice like an old, familiar friend spoke in Harry's mind, and he could no longer hear what his godfather was saying. But I admit, even I was surprised by how well the plan worked. I thought someone must realise that Hagrid couldn't possibly be the Heir of Slytherin… as though Hagrid had the brains, or the power!

Harry sat up abruptly, yanking from Voldemort's grasp. The blankets pooled in his lap as he dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, rubbing. The voice had already slipped from his thoughts, along with the handsome face behind it, but Harry's head was still reeling painfully. What the hell had that been about? Who was that?And - "Why did people think Hagrid was the Heir of Slytherin?"

"What are you talking about? No one could possibly think Hagrid was the Heir of Slytherin. He was a Gryffindor like your-" filthy, Mudblood mother.

The world went red. "What did you -" he began, and then realized that his godfather had said no such thing - that the (memory) voice had been only in his mind. Harry cut off mid-sentence, sweat breaking out across the nape of his neck. He swung his legs over the side of the bed. "I - I think I need to take a walk."

"Harry," Voldemort sat up with a silken rustle of sheets and robes, lean fingers catching his shoulder, "what is going on?"

"I've - just got to clear my head, I think," Harry said, his voice slightly hoarse. "I must've been lying awake a bit too long - I thought I heard - I could've swore I heard -" He looked frantically at his godfather, a dark silhouette against the moonlit curtains. "Did you ever have a son?"

"A son?" Voldemort sounded utterly perplexed, "Well… no." He shook his head, as though the movement might shake some sense into the situation. "Harry, I would remember it if such a thing occurred, I assure you."

Harry leaned forward on his knees, rubbing his face. "Well, it's just that I - that I saw this young man, just now, talking about Hagrid, and the Heir of Slytherin, and I thought he - that perhaps he was -" What was he even talking about? There was no one there but them, there was no young man in the room but himself, and besides which Harry had never met such a person in his life. That had not been a face that was easy to forget.

His godfather stood in one slow, graceful motion, wrapping his nightrobe tighter around himself as he did so, its edges whispering against the wooden floorboards. There was a small gap in the curtains so that - for an instant - the gaunt face was illuminated in blue light: mouth taut, red eyes narrowed in calculation. Then Voldemort was sitting beside him, long fingers tilting his chin upwards, crimson gaze staring into his soul - wait -

Harry jerked his eyes away forcefully, snapping the mental connection in half, and then he scowled, rather offended, up at his godfather. "How many times do I have to tell you that I hate when you do that?" he said, leaping to his feet. "Why aren't you answering my questions? Who was that boy?"

"I am trying to find out!" Voldemort hissed furiously. "It certainly isn't any son of mine, since I have never -" he broke off with a growl.

Harry rounded on him hotly. "Yeah, right! First you avoid every one of my questions, then you try to force your way into my mind - without my bloody permission, mind you - and now you're going to pretend that you've never - you know - what are you hiding from me?"

"I am answering your questions," his godfather replied evenly, still sitting on the bed, "none of which make sense, and don't you dare presume to lecture me, Harry Potter, on what I have and have not done."

"Maybe I'd know a little better if you'd just be honest with me!"

"This conversation will proceed in a more civilised fashion." Voldemort's voice was silk over steel. "Perhaps, instead of throwing out vague accusations, you should tell me in what way you believe I have deceived you?"

Harry forced himself to inhale deeply, and then he began to pace. "I didn't mean to say that you've - deceived me… I just… I'm a bit - shaken up, all right? That boy, he - he looked like you - I don't know how, but he did - and Hagrid…"

"Harry, I do not understand what any of this has to do with the Snatchers this morning. Are we talking about a nightmare, or…?"

Harry came to an abrupt halt, as though Voldemort's words had tripped something in his mind. Very slowly, he turned to face his godfather with a penetrating, narrowed stare and took several steps toward him, until he could see Voldemort's red eyes quite clearly in the darkness.

"Tell me, godfather," he said, his voice quite soft. "Were we ever in the Forbidden Forest together?"

Voldemort said nothing.

Harry lifted his hand and summoned his cloak. "I'm going for a walk," he said cooly. "I think it would do me some good to clear my mind."

"We were," the two quiet words caught Harry like a physical blow. He stared at Voldemort, feeling as though the floor was tilting sideways, unsure of what this meant.

"Then why can't I remember?" he whispered.

"You were very young," his godfather said sadly, "I would not expect you to remember."

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, his mind throbbing inside his skull. "I… well, I suppose that makes sense…" He sat down slowly beside Voldemort, head aching, because it didn't make sense; but he couldn't think right now, his thoughts were whirling too quickly for him to seize and concentrate on any single one of them - and his godfather had always made him feel so much better when he was confused, hadn't he? His godfather would take care of him.

"Was… that boy there as well?"

"I… you were with… Draco Malfoy… if my memory serves."

"I'm not talking about Malfoy," Harry said, instinctive anger at the mention of Malfoy cutting through the chaos of his thoughts. "I was talking about - the boy. The boy with the dark hair. Rather good-looking, honestly." Nothing like Malfoy.

"I do not recall any such boy. It was in your first year at Hogwarts. I was… drinking unicorn blood."

A pang of sadness struck a chord deep in Harry's chest. The depths his precious godfather had visited as he'd struggled to sustain his meagre life… skulking about the Forbidden Forest, slaughtering unicorns to stay alive… "Perhaps he wasn't there that time," Harry said suddenly, remembering, "but - but he did said something about the Forbidden Forest - about wrestling trolls in there, didn't he? And that Hagrid wasn't the Heir of Slytherin. I heard his voice." Harry frowned. "It was odd. He really did remind me of you."

"I really do not know this boy you are referring to, Harry." A thin arm snaked around his shoulder, "Are you sure you were not dreaming? What was his name?"

Harry stared thoughtfully into the darkness. "I…" He wracked his mind, trying very hard to remember, but the answer hovered just beyond his reach, the barest shape of it almost completely obscured by the darkness. It was as though his thoughts were - scrambled, like a puzzle with the pieces missing - or perhaps like a - like a -

"Riddle," Harry said suddenly, jolting upward. "Riddle - his name was Riddle! Tom Riddle." He looked at Voldemort, flush with excitement. "Do you know him?"

Even in the darkness, he could see two spots of colour appear in his godfathers pale cheeks, rising like a bruise on those high cheekbones. Everything was suddenly drawn inward, as though the world was contracting into bright, furious crimson eyes.

"Ohhh." It all suddenly made sense. "He was your boyfriend, wasn't he?" Harry gave his godfather a conspiratorial grin and he chuckled warmly. "Well, good on you! He was a really handsome bloke, from what I saw of him - if you, er, don't mind my saying so -"

Voldemort stared at Harry as though he'd gone completely mental. "He was my father," his godfather said dully, and Harry blanched.

"Oh." His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. "Well, uh - that's uncomfortable."

"Apparently the last thing my mother said when she died was that she wanted me to be handsome like him," Voldemort cradled his flat face in his hands, his breathing uneven.

Harry felt that same twinge of pity again. It was very unusual for his godfather to be self-conscious about anything. "No one's ever really found me handsome, either," he confided quietly. "I've always been scrawny, and my hair never lies flat. But we all find someone eventually, don't we?"

Voldemort resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He had been viewed as extremely handsome in his youth, but this would - he considered - serve as an excellent distraction from questions about just what had occurred between them in the Forbidden Forest. The Dark Lord was by no means vain of his appearance and had never felt the need for a spouse that seemed to so preoccupy humankind. After all, an immortal has no use for children.

He continued to snuffle through his fingers, contriving to appear in distress. How ironic it was that the one truth he had told Harry had been the thing the young man had immediately seized upon as a lie. "The very idea of myself and my father…" It wasn't too hard to sound utterly appalled at the idea of performing sexual acts with the stupid Muggle he had killed so long ago.

Harry's pale face grew even paler. "Blimey, I'm sorry," he said in a strained voice and Voldemort's stomach quivered with the knowledge that the bait had been taken, "I hadn't meant to imply -"

"There are far more important things, in any case," he said, injecting a deliberate defensiveness into his tone. "I fail to see why such acts dominate the human psyche as they do." There was no lie in that. Voldemort had always been a little disgusted by the human propensity towards rubbing themselves all over each other. Playing with them, on the other hand… taking them apart and putting them back together according to his wishes...

"There isn't any shame in wanting to," Harry said delicately, almost to himself, "you've just got to wait for the right person to come along."

"Well, lack of incest is certainly an excellent place to start." Voldemort replied coldly, although his lip was twitching. Which was worse by conventional standards: sleeping with your father or murdering your father?

"Oi - could we just - stop thinking about your father?" Harry was beginning to look distinctly uncomfortable. "That's not what I meant! I was talking about - other people." He paused, suddenly examining Voldemort very closely. "You really mean to say - you've never been married? Or, y'know, had a girlfriend?"

"No," the Dark Lord said simply.

"But… don't you get... lonely?"

"I have you," Voldemort answered calmly, smiling at his Horcrux. Harry had, indeed, fulfilled their bargain. It had required some remarkably complicated memory manipulation but everything had turned out far better than even he had expected. A cage of memories to keep his Horcrux under his control and, just occasionally, he would send his lesser servants, such as those pathetic Snatchers, to give truth to the lies.

Harry stiffened, mouth dropping open, and a dark flush spread across his face. "Uh - well that's not - quite what I meant," he said, stumbling over his words. "We're not… well, that is to say, we've never…"

"Of course not," the Dark Lord wondered if, perhaps, he had succeeded a little too much in making Harry uncomfortable. "But you keep me company. We are amiable towards one another - we trust one another. What else is there, in the end?"

"Um… you know…" Harry raised his brow. "Sex?"

"What of it?" Voldemort asked, genuinely dismissive of the suggestion.

"What of it?" Harry stared at him as though he were wearing one of Dumbledore's lurid three-piece suits. "It's sex. It feels good, obviously. Don't you ever miss it?"

"Why would I have occasion to miss what I have never had?" Truly, he would never understand this obsession that seemed to have infected even his Horcrux.

Harry gaped at him. "But it's - it's nice! It's pleasurable! It's - god, I can't believe we're having this conversation," he added, the blush rising into his cheeks again. "You know what - the next time we're in town, we're going to find you a nice… a lady-friend. Perhaps that witch who owns the potions shop. I've always thought you spend a little too much time lurking around there."

"Because she sources excellent ingredients," Voldemort retorted, alarmed by the prospect of Harry attempting to foist witches upon him. "Honestly, Harry, this discussion is quite beneath you. In any case, on reflection, I believe I have divined the source of your peculiar recollections." Now that he had bought enough time to think of a logical excuse for Harry's visions, the Dark Lord had no desire to continue such a ludicrous conversation.

His Horcrux immediately tensed beside him on the bed. "Have you?"

"Yes," he nodded seriously, carefully considering his next words, "from all that you have said, these images and words are entirely alien to you, correct?"

Harry seemed to be hanging on his every word. "Go on."

"Yet you feel them to be your thoughts, your memories, in the moment when they come to you?"

A troubled look came over Harry's face. "That's right."

Voldemort leaned over to lay a hand against the young man's back. "You are my Horcrux, Harry. It only makes sense that you would possess some of my memories."

Harry's eyes brightened with understanding. "You think that's what was happening? That I was seeing your father?"

"Well, I can think of no other reason for Tom Riddle to be preying on your mind. And you have, on occasion, been able to sense my thoughts."

The young man peered warily into his eyes, "So that's it then? You're not hiding anything from me?"

"I am sorry, Harry." The red eyes were full of gleeful contrition, "I should have told you about him before, but you know I never saw eye to eye with my family. Honestly, I prefer not to think about them."

Slowly, the tension drained from his Horcrux's back. Harry slumped against him, resting his scar against Voldemort's shoulder. "I knew that they were horrible to you, with your brother and all - and you ran away to my dad's for a little while, didn't you? But I - didn't mean to be a git about it. I should've just left it alone."

Voldemort reached around to pull his Horcrux into an embrace. "The Potters extended a measure of trust such as I shall never forget." He shivered with pleasure, thoroughly entertained by his own cleverness.

"I'm glad they did," Harry said softly into his shoulder. "I don't know where I would be right now if they hadn't made you my godfather…"

"You saved me, Harry…" Voldemort whispered and there was no lie in that. The young man had provided him with diversion, trust, and companionship. His loss… losses… had left him unstable to such a degree that he thought his mind was slowly breaking apart to mirror his soul, and it had been guileless Harry who had comforted him, providing him with the stability necessary to continue his reign. Alone… alone he might have drowned the world in vengeance and wasted all his accomplishments in the slaughter.

Harry pulled back and looked at him very seriously in the dark. "You did most of the saving," he said softly. "If you hadn't killed You-Know-Who…. the war almost took everything from me. My future, my friends…" A dark, unfamiliar look came into Harry's eyes, his face nearly hidden in shadow. "When I thought it had taken you, too, I could have killed Black with my bare hands. I wasn't going to stop until I'd gotten revenge or died trying."

"You know when to stop though, Harry. We won and yet I… I often feel as though it continues on inside me. A great hankering for blood, you have no idea of how much I desired to kill those Snatchers this morning."

Harry squeezed his shoulders with his hands. "It just… it takes some time, I think," he said, his voice quiet and thoughtful. "Sometimes when I think about it, too, I still get so furious - it - it frightens me, honestly, to think about what I would do if I saw You-Know-Who right now..." Green eyes flashed. "There isn't enough magic in the world for how much I would like to see them all suffer - but especially You-Know-Who, for everything I went through - for everything you went through... Black's death was far too easy, if you ask me…"

A shiver ran through Voldemort like a fault line, but he ignored it. "For someone like that," he whispered, "there can be nothing worse than death."

"Of course there is," Harry said hotly. "Watching everyone you love dying, one by one - being utterly helpless to do anything about it - losing everything important to you - being trapped…" His fingers were tight around Voldemort's shoulders, his eyes aflame with anger, and the Dark Lord remembered that fire as Harry had spat blood at him across his bed in Nurmengard. "You-Know-Who would've been begging for death, by the time I was through - and that's saying something."

"Harry," he breathed affectionately, taking a soft tone. All this talk of the past troubled Lord Voldemort. "We have both lost a great deal, but we remain, and we have each other. What is the point of speaking ill of those who are little but distant memory? We live and they are dead - is that not revenge enough?"

Harry pulled away bitterly. "That's just it," he said quietly, "I don't feel like it's a distant memory. Sometimes I look at you and I remember - I remember…"

He looked up at Voldemort, but his green eyes, catching a glint of moonlight from the window, were utterly impenetrable.

"Now Harry," Voldemort said, "if you are duelling more than one opponent you need to keep them off balance - you cannot allow them time to utilise their numerical superiority. Observe." No one could Apparate and Disapparate like his godfather. There was a smooth, sinuous grace to his movements; flickering in and out of existence beneath the dappled shade of trees empty of song. All the birds had fled this strange, new creature that could blink through reality without seeming to move, leaving only the hiss and burst of magic, the rustling of leaves, and the sound of Harry's anxious heartbeat.

It was July and the heat was unrelenting, but Voldemort still insisted they train. His only concession to the temperature had been to remove his heavy robes so that he was wearing only his black silk trousers. "Short distance Apparition must be precise. Just step in and step out, do you see?"

Harry wiped his brow and closed his eyes. Destination, Determination, Deliberation. He had always preferred his broomstick as a means of transportation, but Voldemort insisted that Apparition was a vital component of duelling, even though Harry had never been taught to use it to that purpose at Hogwarts. That was probably because it was incredibly dangerous to risk repeatedly Splinching yourself in such a short span of time - not to mention bloody difficult.

With great concentration, Harry spun around and successfully reappeared some several feet away - but when he tried to Apparate back a heartbeat later, hardly giving himself a moment to blink, he appeared quite upside-down, and crumpled with a yelp into a heap of jumbled limbs.

His godfather was immediately at his side, "Are you all right?"

Harry gave a weak laugh as he disentangled himself. He tried not to sound as frustrated as he felt. "Yeah, just a bit - ow - lopsided…"

"You did very well for a first attempt," his godfather reassured him as he helped him up, "your problem is that, like most wizards, you have been trained to treat every time as though you were travelling halfway across the country. You got stuck because you were concentrating too hard and lost your rhythm." Voldemort paced around the garden, deep in thought, as though searching for the solution to Harry's problem.

"So, what," Harry said incredulously, "I'm just supposed to not think about it?"

"Precisely." Voldemort turned his gaze back to Harry, crimson eyes glittering. "Tell me, did you ever Apparate as a child?"

He remembered much better the beating that had followed after Uncle Vernon had learned they'd found Harry on the roof of the school. "Didn't everyone?" he said, frowning. "But that was different - I was afraid."

"But you were not thinking about how to get where you wanted to go. Just that you wanted to be elsewhere, yes?"

"I suppose," Harry said slowly, running a hand through his hair as he thought this over. "But I wanted to badly. I was in danger."

"Well I am hardly going to put you in danger," his godfather smiled, "my point is that you do not need all of that concentration to cross three feet of grass. You merely need to want to, do you see?"

Harry wet his lips. "All right, let me have another go." His godfather was such a wonderful teacher. Voldemort had always been extremely dedicated to Harry's education; he suspected Voldemort felt personally responsible for Harry's never finishing his seventh year at school, since Harry had spent most of it nursing his godfather back to health after he'd returned from the veil. But Voldemort had more than made up for it in the training that had followed.

Harry closed his eyes. He would not mess it up this time. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through space and time with a crack - appearing, as he had the first time, in one piece - but again, on the second Apparition, Harry was still thinking too hard about the efforts of the first. He slipped as he slid through his magic, his mind still too focused on his last target, and when he appeared, staggering forward, all the way across the yard - much further than he'd meant to go - his thumb was throbbing and soaked in blood.

Harry swore loudly, hunched over to examine the damage, and swore again. His entire thumbnail had been shaved clean off. Lean fingers suddenly gripped his wrist tight and he screamed as his fingernail grew back in a burst of painful magic. "There," Voldemort let go and a cold numbness suffused Harry's thumb, as though it had been thrust into icy water.

"Shit, Riddle!" Harry yelled furiously, and then froze.

Where the hell had that come from?

Riddle... had been Voldemort's father's name; but Harry had never thought that it might be Voldemort's as well - not until it had slipped from him in this moment of anger. He cradled his healed hand against his chest, fingers shaking, and stared up at Voldemort in confusion and alarm.

"That is not my name, Harry." Voldemort said tightly, pocketing his wand. "Give it five minutes to heal and you will be fine."

"I know it's not," Harry heard himself say for some reason, even though yes, he knew that it was. "Thanks." You could've warned me.

"If I had warned you it would have been worse," his godfather replied, reading his mind without any need for magic.

"I really hate it when you do that," Harry said dryly, his thumb still pulsing with pain. "Right. Watch out. I'm going to try it again."

"That's my godson," Voldemort's smile was wide with approval. "But first," he grabbed Harry's shoulders and suddenly Harry was pivoting - brushing against the inky fingers of the void for a split second - and they were standing on the other side of the garden. "There," his godfather murmured, "you see how it is done?"

How did his godfather make everything seem so effortless? He looked up to ask him this very question - but then he became startlingly aware of how close they were still standing. His heart fluttered and he took a quick step backward, body still humming with Voldemort's magic. "Uh - thanks. I think I've got it now."

You merely need to want to, his godfather's words echoed in his head. Harry braced himself and tried not to focus too hard on the Apparition itself - only that he wanted to impress Voldemort, to make his godfather beam at him like that again - that he wanted -

(he spun, sliding sidelong through the rift in space and when he stepped out again)

- crashing directly into Voldemort. Flying bodily into his godfather with no other warning but a dismayed shout, they went toppling painfully to the ground, bony limbs and sweat and a sharp elbow knocking into his nose with a burst of fire.

"Fuck!" Harry yelled, trying to clutch his face and untangle himself at the same time.

Voldemort spat something equally rude in Parseltongue and sat up, clutching what looked very much like a broken wrist as he continued to hiss in pain. Harry swore again, sitting back and yanking his wand from his jeans. "Damnit - shit - hold still -"

"I shall be fine, Harry, I merely need to -" his godfather flicked his broken wrist and shrieked in pain as his brittle bones clicked back into place, reconnecting themselves as he drew his own wand with a wince.

Harry clamped his hands over his bleeding nose in horror, violently shaking his head.

"It is only pain," Voldemort said, exasperated.

Harry struggled to back away, shoving himself backwards across the grass, even as his nose throbbed with head-splitting pain. Blood was trickling over his lip. "I'll be fibe!"

"Very well, if you do not wish for me to do it, do it yourself." his godfather said matter-of-factly, looking slightly hurt that Harry didn't trust him. "You know the spell."

Reluctantly, Harry released his nose with one hand to grasp at his wand, still giving Voldemort a suspicious look as he pointed it at his nose. "Episkey," he said nasally, and his nose gently popped back into place - nothing like the agonizing crack he knew from experience would have been the result of Voldemort's attempt at a healing spell. Sniffing, he wiped at his lip with the back of his hand. "Well - er - at least I did it that time," he said, feeling rather mortified.

"True," his godfather nodded sagely, "you have almost graduated from hurting yourself to harming others - an important step in learning any magical technique." He gave a hissy snigger.

"I wasn't trying to hurt you," said Harry, offended, "blimey, I'm sorry - let me have a look -"

He crawled back across the grass to sit beside his godfather and reached for his hand. The damage had been healed, but Harry knew it probably didn't feel much better. "Look - you've just got to be a bit gentler about it."

Voldemort gave him a look that reminded him of a resentful cat. His godfather took great pride in his magic. It was endearing. Harry tried not to smile as he pulled Voldemort's hand into his lap and grazed his wand across the delicate wrist bones. "Watch," he murmured. Green eyes fell shut as he whispered a healing spell, channeling the heat from the deep core of his magic, down his arm and through his wand, letting it spread, tingling, through Voldemort's aching wrist bone. He smiled softly as he finished, looking up at his godfather. "There - you see? Isn't that better?"

There was a shiver beside him. "Magic, at its heart, is an intuitive art," Voldemort said softly. "Its command springs from a wizard's quality of will. You, my dear godson, are possessed of a powerful warmth of character that is perfectly suited to the defensive and healing arts." The corners of the lipless mouth quirked upwards as he gave his wrist an experimental wiggle. "Thank you."

"Warmth of character won't get me very far where it matters," said Harry, still frustrated with his inability to accomplish the day's lesson.

"You misunderstand," his godfather laid a hand on his shoulder, drawing them close, "the key is in applying your gifts to the situation at hand. Find a way to draw on the power you used to soothe my wrist. We are very different people, Harry, and - as a consequence - we will always be very different wizards. You are only weak if you cannot find a way to call upon your strength."

And Harry realized all at once that the same, fluttering dizziness he had experienced before had meant, quite simply, that he had wanted to kiss him. Harry wasn't nearly as strong as his godfather, who knew so much about so many different things - but Voldemort always made Harry feel like he could accomplish anything he wanted. You merely need to want to, Voldemort had said, and perhaps it was as easy as that - perhaps if Harry simply wanted to, he could make it happen. Like magic.

"...There are many talented sorcerers who will never achieve greatness because they have forgotten those essential emotions which enabled their first experiences of power - wizards did not always have wands, Harry. Long ago, they relied on will alone to achieve their ends. You - more fortunate than they - have been taught spells, but now you are required to make them your own. And, with the display of power I have just witnessed, I highly doubt you will fail if you truly set your mind to the task."

It was impossible not to feel how the air thickened with those words, how every hair on the back of Harry's neck seemed to tingle with energy. Voldemort knew. He had to know. This was clearly what he was talking about - this was just another lesson, a test of Harry's bravery. Voldemort had always presented Harry with all the pieces so he could figure out the answer for himself - and wasn't that what his godfather was doing right now?

And Voldemort… Voldemort had never been kissed before.

Harry's mouth was suddenly very dry. "You - really believe that?" he asked, just to make absolutely sure.

"Certainly," his godfather replied, "power merely requires the will to seek it. Once you have found that path, you will be on your way to greatness, I have no doubt."

And so, his heart beating a wild, dizzying rhythm, Harry leaned across his godfather's lap and kissed him.

Voldemort went as still as a marble statue, mouth unmoving, frozen to the spot. Harry's stomach plummeted, but he kissed his godfather again, fingers curling around long, pale hands, certain that Voldemort had felt it too - he had to have felt it -

- only to have that smooth flesh yanked from his lips and fingers, as he stared into crimson eyes wide with shock. "What - how, how dare you!"

Harry felt as though his insides had been plunged completely in icy water. He shrank backward, his mouth trembling - the same mouth that had just been moving so slowly against Voldemort's thin lips, which were now curled in furious indignation. "I thought that's what you meant!" he cried, trying to ignore the dull, wounded ache that was spreading through his entire chest. "You said that I had to - to apply my strengths to the matter at hand!"

"I was talking about magic!" Voldemort hissed, "How, in Salazar's name, did you think I was referring to… that?" The last syllable was spat out of that lovely, creamy mouth with such disgust that Harry felt his own stomach knot and twist with self-loathing.

"I thought..." he said, and he hated the sound of his voice, so small, almost pleading, "I thought that you had noticed - I hadn't meant to - to offend you -"

"Noticed what, exactly?" his godfather said sharply. "That you appear to have been neglecting your training in favour of thinking about sordid intimacies with your guardian?" The indignation slipped from that serpentine face, giving way to something cold and vicious: "What would your parents think?"

Harry thought he might throw up. He could not imagine anything more awful than the feeling that was currently swallowing him whole - complete and utter mortification. Harry leapt to his feet, his chest burning with rejection. "Sorry you find me so repulsive," he snapped, snatching his wand from the ground. "It won't happen again."

Harry didn't have any trouble finding the will to be elsewhere this time. He stumbled out of the darkness into their bedroom half a second later. His furious, frustrated yell carried outside to the garden, as did the loud shattering of the bedroom windows as a stray burst of his magic smashed them to pieces.

Authors' Note: So… instead of finishing the small amount of work left to do on the next chapter of 'Yew and Holly', we wrote this instead. Because reasons. We hope you all enjoyed this chapter and thank you to everyone who has left feedback for us - we love you all.