toastfic: (absolut slytherin)
[personal profile] toastfic
A/N: This piece has a bit of a painful history to it. I began it in the spring of 2004, barely a week before my best friend and writing partner killed herself. For months after, I couldn't look at it without thinking about the last time Kath and I had dinner together, and how her eyes had teared up while reading the exchange between Harry and Tom in the common room. At the time, I had no idea why that one scene moved her so; now I do. I finally finished it in late October of that year, and posted it to my old fandom journal on Dia de los Muertos with the following dedication: In loving memory of Katherine Lawrence, who completely missed the point.

Sherant did a gorgeous piece of fan art for this story, which you can find here.

Tom/Harry if you squint; gen fic if you don't.

Whopping big thanks to [personal profile] aithine for all her support and encouragement as I struggled to finish the piece.





I.

"It's all perfectly logical," Riddle said. "Wars have always been about us versus them. Demonising the enemy into something less than human is part of the natural progression of things."

Harry pulled the pillow over his head. "Go away."

"Take the whole You Know Who business," Riddle went on as if Harry had never spoken. "I certainly never started that. It was your side who named me so. Or, rather, unnamed me. Of course," he added, "in this instance it worked for me rather than against, as the nameless terror is always more frightening than the known one."

"Familiarity breeds contempt," Harry muttered.

"Exactly!" Riddle said brightly. "I knew you'd catch on."

Occlumency was both a curse and a blessing. Harry had learned, at last, to close his mind to intrusion. There were no more headaches, no more visions through the eyes of the serpent. Yet Tom Riddle remained, still sweet-faced, sixteen, and possessed of an annoyingly large vocabulary.

"Words," Riddle said. "Words have power."

Harry pushed the pillow aside and sat up. "You're stating the obvious," he snapped.

Riddle raised one glossy black eyebrow. "Well, if I am, it's because you need to hear it."

Harry closed his eyes and ground the heels of his palms against his eyelids. "Why can't you just stay dead?"

Riddle tsked. "Sticks and stones, Harry. Sticks and stones."

"I thought words were power," Harry said. "That's what you've been blathering about all night."

"True enough," Riddle said thoughtfully. "So kind of you to pay attention."

Harry sighed. "Listen, Tom," he said. "Not to be rude or anything, but would you please go away? I have to get some sleep."

Riddle was silent for so long that Harry began to wonder if he'd won. "I don't have anyone else to talk to," he said at last.

"You're a dream," Harry said with some exasperation. "It's not like you need the company."

Riddle sighed and shifted his narrow body until they were face to face. His eyes were colourless in the moonlight. "Perhaps," he said. "But you're the one who dreamed me into being, Harry. What does that say about you?"



II.

Harry was beginning to suspect that the real reason the Sorting Hat had placed him in Gryffindor was that he lacked a certain theatrical flare that most Slytherins seemed to find as natural as breathing.

"I am nothing," Riddle said, "a shadow. The ghost of a memory, conjured from the pages of a book and given form by your will."

"You," said Harry, "are a melodramatic git."

Riddle nudged Harry's shin with the toe of his loafer. It was an eerie sensation, like being brushed with an ice cube. "Shush, I'm making a point."

Harry flipped his Transfiguration book shut. The common room was deserted at this hour, but there was no point in trying to study until Riddle had finished with his nightly prattle. "Which is?"

"That the only thing still holding me to this world is your refusal to let me go."

They stared at each other in silence: Riddle on the floor with his knees drawn up to his chin; Harry on the sofa, homework piled around him in an untidy heap. Riddle looked serious tonight, thin and pale and oddly insubstantial, as if he did not quite believe in his own existence. Perhaps he didn't.

Harry was not sure he believed in it, either.

Riddle sighed and Harry suddenly realized that he could see the hearth fire glowing through the boy's hunched shoulders. "So, what you're saying is, if I decide you're not really here, you'll—"

"Vanish in a puff of logic?"

"Die," Harry said.

"Amounts to much the same thing, I expect." Riddle dropped his head down and pressed his face against his knees. "I wouldn't blame you for thinking me out of existence, you know. In fact, I might even consider it a blessing."

Harry leaned back on the sofa, considering. "I'm not sure how to respond to that."

Riddle laughed, a short, harsh sound partially muffled by his wool-covered knees. "Look in your satchel," he said.

Bewildered, Harry reached down for his book bag and hauled it into his lap. The contents didn't seem any different from the last time he'd opened it: textbooks, extra quills, parchment, journal....

"Hang on," Harry said.

He pulled the small book out of the bag and turned it over in his hands, fingertips tracing the gilt letters pressed into the soft leather cover: Tom Marvolo Riddle. Glancing up, he found Riddle watching him, a small, wry smile curling one corner of the boy's mouth.

"How long has this been in here?" Harry demanded.

Riddle shrugged. "How long have I been pestering you?"

"I don't understand," Harry said. "Why give it to me? I could destroy you."

"That was rather the point," Riddle said dryly.

"You want to die?"

"No," Riddle snapped, "I want to live. I'm sixteen years old and have been trapped within the pages of a book for over half a century. That is not the kind of immortality I dreamed of when I set out to conquer death."

Harry had an overwhelming urge to bang his head against the back of the sofa in sheer frustration. "Look," he said wearily, "if this is some bizarre attempt at assisted suicide, find someone else, all right? I'm not interested."

"But it's your job," Riddle insisted. "You're the Boy Who Lived. Harry Potter, champion of the Light and destroyer of the Dark Lord."

"You're not the Dark Lord," Harry replied. "You're a spotty teenager with delusions of grandeur. No, you're not even that. You're the memory of a spotty teenager with delusions of grandeur."

Riddle glowered at Harry from over the tops of his knees. "I do not have spots."

"You do so."

"I do not!"

"What's that on your cheek, then?"

"That is a mole."

"Fine," Harry said, "it's a mole. It still doesn't change the fact that I don't want to kill you. I don't want to kill anyone!"

"Would it help if I tried to kill you first?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. You've done nothing more insidious than talk my ear off every night for a month. If you were capable of hurting me, you'd have done it by now."

"You never know," Riddle said loftily. "I could be attempting to drive you mad from sleep deprivation."

Harry crumpled up a piece of parchment and lobbed it at Riddle in exasperation. It bounced off the top of his head with a satisfying thwap.

"That was completely uncalled for," Riddle said.

Harry grinned. "You're welcome."


III.

Harry couldn't imagine anything half so dull as being a book, no matter what Hermione might say. "What do you do?" he asked. "When you're not trying to drive me around the twist with your chatter, I mean."

Riddle shrugged. He looked much more solid tonight, if still morose from Harry's refusal to kill him. "I'm a book. I sit around and collect dust."

"Yes," Harry said, "but what's it like?"

Riddle considered the question. "Papery."

Harry glared. "I don't suppose I could think you solid enough to throttle, could I?"

"Theoretically yes," said Riddle, "but I wouldn't advise it."

"Why? You'd still be dead."

"Yes, but it would be an awfully unpleasant way to go. Besides, I thought you didn't want to kill anyone."

"Bugger," Harry said.

They lapsed into silence. Harry folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the headboard. Riddle hummed tunelessly and picked at snags on the bedspread.

He had just begun to drift off when Riddle spoke. "I don't think I'll be coming to see you any more after tonight, Harry."

"What?" Surprised, Harry sat up and raised his wand to illuminate Riddle's face. "Why not?"

"Does it really matter?" Riddle asked. "I'll be gone and you'll be able to sleep the night through in peace. That's what you wanted."

"And the diary?"

"Give it to Dumbledore," Riddle said recklessly. "Better yet, give it to dear Ginny Weasley. I'm sure she wouldn't have any qualms about chucking it in the fire. You can invite all your silly little Mudblood friends to toast marshmallows on the ashes of my folly."

"Stop it, Tom," Harry snapped. "Stop it, right now."

"Why?" Riddle said. "It's the truth, isn't it?"

Harry shook his head. "You know, for someone who's supposed to be brilliant, you can be really stupid sometimes." At Riddle's uncomprehending look, Harry sighed. "I like you, you moron."

"You like me," Riddle repeated. "Harry, I tried to kill you."

"I've been thinking about that," Harry said. "When we were in the Chamber of Secrets, you said as Ginny grew weaker, you grew stronger and soon Lord Voldemort would be reborn."

"Oh, well done, Harry," Riddle said. "Your gift for the obvious truly astounds."

"Shush," Harry said. "I'm trying to make a point."

One corner of Riddle's mouth twitched as though he was trying very hard not to smile. "Which is?"

"You're not Lord Voldemort. You're—"

"A teenager with delusions of grandeur," Tom finished, and this time he did smile with grim amusement. "How many years did it take you to work that out?"

Harry ignored the jibe. "What would have happened?" he asked. "If Voldemort had succeeded and Ginny had died, what would have happened to you?"

Tom became fascinated with the cuticles on his right hand. His nails were bitten down to the quick. "I was vessel only," he said. "My mind didn't matter, so long as the flesh was sound." He shrugged. "It's not like he was killing a real person. I'm only a revenant, after all."

Harry caught Tom's hand. "You're more than that," he said.

"If you say so," Tom said diffidently.

"I do," Harry said, "and it's my thoughts that count. So, no more of this nonsense, all right?"

"All right," Tom said. "From now on—"

"If you say it's a closed book, I'll find some way to hurt you, I swear."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Tom said, and squeezed Harry's hand tight.

FIN.

Read the sequel: Love, Blood, & Rhetoric

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