toastfic: (absolut slytherin)
[personal profile] toastfic
Tom/Harry, PG-13

Sequel to "Devil's Advocate".

Note: This was originally written after Order of the Phoenix came out, but before Half-Blood Prince. So, very much AU.




I.

Harry Potter was bored.

Every three days he sent word to Professor Lupin that all was well, but as the long summer days wore on it was becoming less and less the truth. His wand lay untouched under a loose floorboard in his bedroom, waiting for his birthday in July when he would no longer be bound by the Degree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. Until then, he had nothing whatsoever to do but sit at the small wooden desk under the room's single window and stare at the lawn below.

"I think I'm going mad," he said.

Over on the bed, the memory of Tom Riddle chuckled. "Now you know how I feel."

Harry pushed his chair back from the desk a bit and turned so he could see Tom without getting a crick in his neck. Tom still wore his outdated school uniform, though he had stripped down to shirtsleeves and bare feet in deference to the summer's heat. Harry doubted the weather actually affected him, but was grateful for the pretence. "At least you have all of Hogwarts to wander in your diary," he pointed out.

"True, but a prison is still a prison, no matter how large." Tom gestured vaguely at the accumulation of school supplies, spellbooks, and clothes littering Harry's bedroom. "This is real," he said. "It's organic, chaotic, alive. The diary is static, a Möbius loop endlessly repeating the same tired events over and over and over again."

Harry frowned. "What's a Möbius loop?"

Tom gave a derisive snort. "God save me from athletes," he said, and chucked a comic book at Harry's head.

Harry laughed and ducked easily out of the comic book's way. Moments later, the bedroom door slammed open, hitting the wall with enough force to dent the plaster. Uncle Vernon stood in the doorway, squinty eyes narrowing further as he peered suspiciously about the room. "Who the devil are you talking to?"

The question took Harry completely by surprise. He spared a quick glance over to the bed, but Tom had vanished. "No one," he said.

"Don't lie to me, I heard you, plain as day."

"Maybe you're losing your mind," Harry suggested. "Have you thought about seeing a doctor?"

"Don't you dare take that tone with me, boy! I want to know who it is you've been talking to, and I want to know now!"

"Fine, " Harry snapped. "I conjured up the ghost of Narf the Nefarious so I could learn how to turn Muggles into goats. We'll be sacrificing Dudley at midnight."

Uncle Vernon's face turned a fascinating shade of puce. "I will not tolerate—"

"Oh, yes, you will," Harry said. "You'll tolerate it for the same reason I tolerate living here: We have no choice."

"Promise or no promise, I've half a mind to chuck you out," Uncle Vernon said in a low, rough voice. "Let you deal with your own problems for once instead of fobbing them off on us."

"Go ahead," Harry said. "I just want to be there when you explain to Professor Lupin why you broke your word. Think exploding puddings and pig tails are bad? Just imagine what a really angry werewolf could do."

Uncle Vernon stared at Harry in silent, frustrated anger. "You tell those freaks to keep their distance," he said gruffly. "And keep the noise down!" he added, then turned and slammed the door behind him.

Harry dragged his desk chair across the room and shoved it under the doorknob. His stomach churned uneasily at the thought of Uncle Vernon listening in on his private conversations, as well as the revelation that his relationship with Tom was not quite as secret as he had supposed. It made him wonder who else knew about Tom's visits. All those nights he and Tom had sat up talking in the Gryffindor dormitory ... had Seamus heard them? Had Neville?

Had Ron?

Harry shook his head. There was no way Ron could know and keep silent all this time, not after what happened to Ginny during their second year. Ron would have confronted him outright, or taken his fears to Hermione who would have gone straight to Professor Dumbledore. That's what friends did; they looked out for one another.

Tom appeared out of the shadowy space between the wardrobe and the wall. "What was that?"

Harry pulled off his glasses and scrubbed at his eyes. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Can't say that I blame you," Tom said. "A wizard of your stature being treated in such a disgraceful manner?" He shuddered theatrically. "It doesn't bear repeating."

"Tom, don't."

"Don't what?" Tom asked. "Don't tell the truth? The Dursleys are horrible people, Harry. You know it, I know it, and Dumbledore certainly knows it. I can't imagine what he was thinking, leaving you here all this time."

"He's trying to keep me alive."

"How? By killing you slowly instead? Oh, bravo, Albus. Well done."

Harry wanted to argue. He wanted to rise up in Dumbledore's defence and tell Tom off, much as he had in the Chamber of Secrets all those years ago. Instead, he walked across the room to his bed, kicked off his trainers and sank down wearily on the lumpy mattress. "Dumbledore did what he thought was best."

"Yes," Tom said, "I'm sure he did. Just like your Muggle relatives did what they thought was best when they stuffed you into that cupboard. You'd be amazed what people are capable of when they have your best interests at heart."

Harry propped himself up on his elbows and gave Tom a long, level stare. "Are we talking about you now?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yeah," Harry said, "I think it does. You never have told me what happened to you in that orphanage."

Tom's lips compressed into a hard, thin line, his eyes flat and cold and lifeless as stone. "It doesn't bear repeating."

Harry shivered. This boy he could see growing up to become a Dark Lord, full of venom and hate and old pain left to fester for fifty years between the dusty pages of a book. "Let's make a deal," he said. "You don't ask me about the Dursleys, and I won't ask you about the orphanage. Fair?"

Tom cocked his head to one side and considered the offer. "Fair enough."

"Good," Harry said. "Now maybe you'll tell me what a Möbius loop is."

Tom snickered and the darkness receded, leaving only a teenage boy with cool grey eyes and a sardonic half-smile. "I've a better idea," he said. "Fancy a game of chess?"

"Sure," Harry said. "I'll enjoy handing you your arse."

"In your dreams, Gryffindor."

Harry found himself grinning. "We'll see about that."

+ + +

"Narf the Nefarious?" Tom collapsed to the floor, so overcome with giggles he could barely speak. "You told the Muggle I was a sixteenth century Goblin ascetic who advocated a life of charity?"

"It was the only name I could think of," Harry insisted. "Anyway, it's not like he'd know the difference."

"True enough." Still snickering, Tom pushed himself upright and nodded at the chessboard. "Are you planning to make a move sometime in the next century?"

"I'm considering my options," Harry said irritably. Unfortunately, his only options were to lose in three moves, lose in two moves, or concede the game. Tom knew it, too, judging from the smug grin on his face. Harry decided that alone was reason enough to be obstinate, and moved his knight accordingly.

Tom tsked. "You Gryffindors, always fighting on till the bitter end."

"Yeah," said Harry, as Tom's queen decapitated his bishop. "We're stupid that way."

Hedwig hooted softly from her cage atop the wardrobe. She rustled her wings and looked pointedly at the open window, through which the crescent moon could be seen softly glowing. Harry moved a pawn, then levered himself off the floor and walked across the room to open her cage. "Have a good hunt," he whispered.

Hedwig nipped his thumb affectionately, then spread her wings and took flight, soaring through the window and into the warm, summer night beyond. Harry continued to watch long after she'd disappeared from view. Sighing, he turned back to the chess game only to find Tom's attention still focused on the open window.

"I wish—" Tom began.

"Yeah," Harry said. "Me, too."

Tom smiled, wry this time, then gave himself a little shake and looked back at the board. "Fancy a rematch?"

Harry shook his head. "I'm a bit tired, actually. Think I'll turn in."

Tom didn't even bother to hide his disappointment. "I always forget you need sleep."

"I've noticed," Harry said dryly.

It was too warm for pyjamas. Harry stripped down to his boxers, then kicked his clothes into a corner before climbing into bed. "I've been wondering," he said as he tried to find a comfortable spot between lumps. "What do you do at night when I'm not awake to pester?"

Tom shrugged. "I read. Not that you have much in the way of literature around here, of course, but I make do."

"I'll remember that the next time you ask me to order back issues of Stick Wizard."

"Philistine. You wouldn't know art if it bit you on the nose."

"Too right," Harry said cheerfully, then yawned. As he set his glasses down on the nightstand, another question occurred to him. "How do you see?"

"What?"

"How do you see enough to read? Even with the lampposts outside, it gets pretty dark in here."

"Put out the light and I'll show you."

Curious, Harry put his glasses back on, then reached for the bedside lamp and turned it off. There was a brief moment of complete disorientation as the room went black, then his eyes began to adjust to the dark. Within a few seconds he could make out the open window and the desk beneath it. Tom sat on the floor, thin shoulders hunched as he raised his fingers to his mouth and gently blew across them. Harry was about to ask what he was doing when a small flicker of light appeared in Tom's hands. Tom breathed across them again and the flicker grew stronger, illuminating his face with a cool, silvery glow.

"When I was little," Tom said, "they used to lock me in the coal cellar to make me behave. It was cold and dirty and had no light at all, so I learned to make one."

Harry slid out of bed to the floor, and reached hesitantly towards the light. "And you never got a warning for doing magic away from school?"

Tom shook his head. "I've been doing it for years, and no-one's ever been the wiser."

He poured the light into Harry's hand, where it continued to glow softly with no heat or substance, just a faint tingle against his palm. "Show me how you did that."

"I'll try," Tom said, and drew his hand across Harry's palm. The light vanished with the abruptness of a snuffed candle. "Close your eyes."

Feeling rather foolish, Harry shut his eyes. "Now what?"

"Now, think about light."

"Think about—" He opened his eyes and scowled at Tom. "You're having me on."

"I'm not!" Tom insisted. "This isn't like casting a spell with your wand. It's innate, like speaking Parseltongue, or being a Metamorphmagus. There's a good chance you won't be able to do it at all."

"We'll see," Harry said.

He closed his eyes once more and cupped his hands together. Light, he thought. He could imagine child-Tom huddled in a filthy cellar, with darkness pressing in from all sides and nothing to do but listen to the sound of his breath, the beating of his heart. What would he have given for even the smallest firefly-spark to keep that darkness at bay?

The palms of his hands tingled.

Harry opened one eye, then the other. There, nestled in his hands, was a small ball of pure light. "I did it!"

"Good. Now, feed it."

"How?"

"Like this," Tom said, cupped Harry's hands with his own and gently blew across them.

Light flared, swift and bright. At the same time, Tom faded, the outline of his body growing hazy and indistinct. Startled, Harry brought his palms together and the light winked out, leaving them both in the dark.

Tom solidified once more, his fingers gripping Harry's wrists with painful intensity. "That was—unexpected," he said. His voice trembled.

"What happened?"

"I'm not sure."

"Are you all right?"

"I'm not sure."

Tom's skin was icy. Even in the wan light from the window, he could tell Tom was paler than usual. Harry chewed fretfully on his lower lip. "Right," he said, stood, and pulled Tom up with him. "Get into bed."

"Harry—"

"Don't argue. You're cold."

"I'm always cold."

"Not like this."

Harry placed a hand between Tom's shoulder blades and manoeuvred him towards the bed. He could feel every bump and ridge of Tom’s spine through the soft cotton shirt. "You're thinner than before," he said, surprised. "Tom, what the hell did I do?"

"I don't know!"

The narrow bed was cramped with only one person in it. With two, it was full to overflowing. Tom's elbows were sharp, his feet cold, and his clothes smelled thickly of dust. Harry held him close and tried to will warmth back into his skin.

"I don't understand why you keep helping me," Tom said. "By rights, you should hate me."

"I know," Harry said.

"Then why don't you?"

"We've been through this before."

"Yes, and you still haven't answered the question."

"I just don't, all right?"

"That makes even less sense than the rest of it," Tom groused.

+ + +

Harry woke with a crick in his neck and the unfamiliar weight of someone's head resting on his shoulder: Tom, deeply asleep, one thin arm wound vine-like around Harry's waist and holding fast.

He disentangled himself from Tom's grasp and eased out of bed. Tom made a small, querulous noise in protest at the loss of his pillow before settling deeper into the bedding. Harry watched him sleep for a time, then quietly gathered up his clothing, slid the chair out from under the doorknob and headed for the bathroom down the hall to shower.

The Dursleys had long finished breakfast by the time Harry wandered downstairs. Uncle Vernon was gone, presumably to work. Aunt Petunia was out front, viciously pruning shrubbery with a pair of gleaming metal shears. Harry thought longingly of the Weasleys' overgrown tangle of a garden, and wondered what his aunt would do if ever confronted by a gnome.

There was no sign of Dudley, which suited Harry just fine. He ate his cereal and drank his orange juice at a leisurely pace, then wrapped two slices of toast in a piece of kitchen roll and headed back upstairs again.

Tom was awake but still abed when he got back to the room. Harry sat down on the edge of the mattress, and poked him firmly in the ribs. "I've brought you some toast."

"I don't eat," Tom said irritably.

"Right," Harry said. "And you don't sleep, either."

Tom scowled and hissed something rude in Parseltongue. Harry hissed back, and poked him in the ribs again. "You never know," he said in English. "It might help."

"I doubt that very much."

Harry set the toast down on the bedside table. "Last night," he said. "How badly did I drain you?"

Tom sighed. "Have I mentioned you're annoyingly perceptive at times?"

"Never. And stop answering questions with questions. How bad?"

"'Not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve,'" Tom replied. At Harry's stricken look, he added, "It was inevitable, really. Entropy always wins in the end. All you did was speed things up a bit."

Tom leaned back against the pillows. His hair was a dark tangle about his face, sleep-rumpled and beginning to curl. Harry tried to smooth it with his fingers, but succeeded only in making it curl more. "There has to be something I can do to fix it."

"Short of murder, there's nothing that would work," Tom said. He looked perilously close to sleep again. "It's kind of you to offer, though."

"But—"

"But nothing," Tom said, exasperated. "You can't save everyone, Harry. Best to learn it now, and avoid a great deal of grief later on."

"Bollocks," Harry said, leaned forward and kissed Tom lightly on the mouth.

Tom stared, the barest flush of pink colouring his pale cheeks. "You're mad."

"Probably," Harry said. "Budge up, I want to lie down."

Harry did not give him time to argue, but crawled quickly into bed. Tom looked pointedly at his trainers, so he kicked them off, and his socks as well, before settling comfortably into the tangle of sheets and pillows. The day was warm and growing warmer, yet Tom remained, as always, cool to the touch. Harry curled around him, and let the chill of Tom's mouth leech the summer heat from his bones.

+ + +

Afternoon found Harry at his desk, writing a letter to Hermione.

Tom lay in bed, asleep once again, only his head and one slim, wax-pale shoulder visible above the blanket. He was fading faster now; soon there would be nothing left of him but dust and empty pages. Harry had to find some way to make it stop, and the only person he could think of who might be able—not to mention willing—to help was Hermione.

He couched the letter in terms of preserving history rather than saving a life, and was careful not to mention Tom at all. He supposed that if any of his friends would understand falling in love with a book, it would be Hermione, but it was not something he wanted to put to the test. There was also a very real danger that the letter might be intercepted, so he kept the details scant, trusting in Hermione's ability to read between the lines to decipher what he was really asking.

The bed creaked. Harry glanced over his shoulder and found Tom untangling himself from the sheets. "Have you seen my clothes?" he asked between yawns.

"I went to hang them up and they sort of crumbled," Harry said. "Sorry."

Tom looked momentarily nonplussed. "Well," he said. "I suppose I'll be raiding your closet, then."

Harry scribbled a few more lines, then rolled up the parchment and carried it over to Hedwig's cage atop the wardrobe. "Take this to Hermione, fast as you can," he said, tying the letter to the owl's scaly leg. Hedwig gave him a reassuring hoot and launched herself into flight.

Tom came up to stand beside him, naked save for his school tie and a sheet wound haphazardly about his narrow hips. Somehow, he still managed to look elegant. "Appealing to your friend for help?"

Harry nodded. "She's a book lover."

"I could make an absolutely ghastly pun," Tom said, stretching until his joints popped and the sheet was in danger of sliding off his body altogether, "but I won't."

"Um," Harry replied. There wasn't enough air in his lungs. He took a deep breath. It didn't help. "You sure? About the clothes, I mean." His brain had shut off but his mouth wouldn't stop. "They won't fit," he finished lamely.

"I'll cope," Tom said, grinning.

"Right," Harry said.

They scavenged through the wardrobe, turning up a pair of jeans that were too long for Harry but fit Tom reasonably well. Tom paired them with one of Harry's school shirts, rolling the sleeves back to the elbow to disguise the fact they were about an inch too short. "Living with Muggles has stunted your growth," he said, eyeing Harry's spare pair of trainers with mild disgust.

"Didn't hear you complaining about my size this morning," Harry replied archly, and was rewarded with a pair of Uncle Vernon's manky old socks in the face.

There was a knock at the door. Panicked, Harry glanced at the desk where Tom's diary sat amidst a stack of parchment and quills. Tom shook his head. "I won't be able to get out again," he said quietly.

"Right," Harry said, and shoved him unceremoniously inside the wardrobe.

He was just closing the door when Aunt Petunia stepped into the room. She glanced about at the clutter, her pinched features growing even more sour. "Your uncle and I are going out tonight," she informed him stiffly.

Harry leaned back against the wardrobe and prayed that the mingled smells of dust and sex permeating the air were just his imagination. "Fine."

"Dudley will be spending the evening at a friend's."

"Even better."

"We'll be locking your door before we leave."

"Figured as much."

Message delivered, Aunt Petunia turned to leave. Pausing in the doorway, she added, "You might consider cleaning this pigsty between now and then. The state of your sheets is simply appalling."

+ + +

The house was quiet with the Dursleys absent. The bedroom door was locked, but for once Harry did not resent being trapped inside. Tom was there. That made it bearable.

"How long?" Harry asked suddenly.

Tom did not even bother pretending to misunderstand. "About twelve hours if I maintain corporeal form."

It was not so much of a shock as it should have been. "Go back into the diary."

"No."

"Tom—"

"No!" Then softer, "No. This is as close to freedom as I can manage. Don't ask me to give it up."

Harry kicked the wall, frustrated. "Hermione will come up with something."

"Hermione is even now forwarding your letter to Dumbledore," Tom said gently. "By morning, he or one of his cohorts will be here to collect my empty bindings."

Harry kicked the wall again. "You don't know that." The words snagged oddly in his throat. "If you had your life back again, what would you do with it?"

"I'm only a memory, Harry. It was never my life to begin with."

He snatched the diary off the desk and flung it at Tom with all his might. "You're an asshole."

Tom caught the little book with ease. "That, too."

Harry turned away to stare out the window into the darkening summer sky beyond. A flutter of white caught his eye. He turned to look, praying it was Hedwig soaring over the hedge to bring him a reply to his letter, but there was nothing, only shadows. Moments later, he saw a flicker of eerie green light, followed by a sound not unlike a body hitting the grass. Then, silence.

Harry reached for his wand, and backed slowly away from the window. "Get in the diary."

"Did you not hear a word I just said?"

Harry held up a hand to forestall further argument. "There are Death Eaters outside. I don't know how many. Get back in the diary, now."

Tom darted forward and pressed a swift, fierce kiss to Harry's mouth. "You're only safe from the Killing Curse within these walls," he said roughly. "Whatever happens, you must hold out until reinforcements arrive."

"Reinforcements from where?"

"You're still an underage wizard, Harry," Tom said, his voice growing hazy and indistinct as his body dissipated into formless smoke. "Cast enough spells and the Ministry is bound to come running."

And with that, he was gone.

On the floor, the diary rustled its pages. Harry picked it up and ran his thumb lovingly down its spine before tucking it securely into the waistband of his jeans. "Right," he said, then turned and pointed his wand at the bedroom door. "Alohomora!"

The lock opened with a click so loud it seemed to reverberate deep within his bones. His hands were icy, and his heart thudded painfully in his chest. That green glow had been the Killing Curse; someone from the Order was dead. Harry never knew who was watching over him, only that a guard was there, day and night, just in case an attack like this should happen.

The doorway gave him cover, and a view of anyone coming up the stairs. He crouched low behind the jamb, wand at the ready. It felt surreal, like he was in one of those cops and robbers films his uncle liked to watch late at night. He wanted the footsteps creaking up the stair to belong to Professor Lupin, Mad-Eye, or Tonks, someone from the Order come to tell him they'd gotten wind of the attack and foiled it, that there was no dead body lying in the yard below, and he and his friends were safe....

But there was a hooded shape coming out of the stairwell, and its blank white face told him he was on his own. "Expelliarmus!" he shouted, but the figure ducked back, and the charm struck the wall instead, sending a painting of a field of flowers clattering to the floor amidst a shower of broken glass.

"Clever boy," the Death Eater said. It was a man's voice, and not one Harry recognized. "Come along peacefully, and the Dark Lord assures your death will be swift and painless."

"Yeah, right," Harry muttered.

Under the loose floorboard by his desk, there was a box of fireworks, a gift from Fred and George Weasley. While hardly lethal, they would do a good job clearing out the stairwell, not to mention raise an ungodly racket loud enough to alert every witch, wizard, Muggle and Squib in the surrounding area that something was amiss at Number Four, Privet Drive.

He turned, hand extended, intending to Summon the box. A white-draped figure stared back at him from the open window, wand pointed directly at Harry's head.

"Stupefy!"

Harry dropped like a stone.


II.

Harry woke, blinking and confused, with an aching head and the taste of bile in his mouth. There was stone beneath his back and under his hands, cold, rough and unyielding. In the distance, he could hear voices.

He pushed himself upright with slow, careful movements, feeling disoriented and more than a little sick. The room was nothing more than a dimly lit blur. He patted the stone floor about him for his glasses, but they were nowhere to be found. Holding out his hand, he croaked, "Accio glasses." When nothing happened, he tried again, a note of desperation creeping into his voice. "Accio glasses!"

Still nothing. Panic gripped him. How could he fight if he couldn't see? He was alone, blind, helpless. Voldemort would win, uncontested, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

A high, cold voice said, "Bella, dear, you've had your fun. Give the brat his glasses. I want to look him in the eye when I kill him, and know he sees me back."

"As you wish, my lord."

Harry's glasses clattered to the floor beside him. He settled them on his face with shaking hands. The left lens was cracked, but he could see again and that was enough of a comfort for now. Courage somewhat bolstered, he turned and faced the shadows in which Voldemort stood with Bellatrix Lestrange at his side.

Voldemort stepped forward, hooded and cloaked within layers of fine grey wool. Only his hands were visible, and the scarlet gleam of his eyes. "Such a nuisance he's been," Voldemort said, "and so persistent in his hatred. It almost seems a shame to waste such potential."

Harry felt his eyebrows rise. "You can't be serious."

"Oh, I am," said Voldemort, "just as I was that day we faced each other over the Philosopher's Stone. I made you an offer then—"

"And I refused it," Harry said. "I want nothing to do with you."

Voldemort inclined his head to one side, considering. "Are you sure about that, Harry?"

"Yes."

"Strange, then, that you should keep my diary so close about your person if you truly despise me as much as you claim."

Harry swallowed, his mouth gone dry as dust. "It's a trophy," he lied, "from when I killed the Basilisk."

"Is it," Voldemort said. He held out his hands, pale and thin, with long, tapered fingers. Tom's hands, beneath the shimmering pattern of scales, and in them was Tom's diary, the worn leather cover as familiar to Harry as the hands that held it. "Then you won't care if I throw it in the fire."

The empty hearth behind Harry roared to sudden life, bathing the room in heat and warm, golden light. "Fine," Harry said through gritted teeth. "You win. It's more than just a book to me. May I have it back, now?"

"Of course," Voldemort said, and tossed the diary into Harry's lap. "There, Bella, you see? Everyone has a price, even noble Harry Potter. I suppose I should thank young Tom for finding it, but then, he always was a charmer. Wouldn't you agree, Harry?"

"No," Harry said. "He's a bit of a prat, actually. But he does give excellent head."

Bellatrix Lestrange strode out of the shadows, her hollow face pale with fury. "What did you say?"

"He gives great head," Harry repeated cheerfully. "Well, for a beginner, anyway. Never would have figured the Dark Lord for a virgin at school, but I guess it fits with the whole purity thing."

Lestrange's wand flashed in the firelight. There was a sound like a whipcrack and pain seared down the left side of Harry's face. "Liar," she spat, wand poised to strike again. "Filthy little half-blood liar! You speak of things you know nothing about."

Harry pressed one hand to his lacerated cheek. Blood welled between his fingers, running down the side of his face to drip off his chin in fat, crimson drops. "You'd be surprised at what I know."

"Bellatrix, leave us," Voldemort said softly.

She stared. "Master?"

"Don't make me ask again. Leave us. Now."

Harry watched as Lestrange slunk out of the room like a kicked dog. "Crazy bitch," he muttered at her retreating back.

"She has her uses," Voldemort said mildly. "That was quite effective, Harry. Crude, but effective."

Harry shrugged. He dropped his hand back down to the diary and traced the gilt lettering on its cover with bloody fingertips. "Yeah, well. Whatever works."

"Indeed. Shall we try again? And the truth this time, if you please."

"That was the truth," Harry said, "and you know it, or you wouldn't have sent your pet loony away."

"My younger self would never betray me in such a fashion."

A chill swept across his skin, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. Harry suppressed the urge to shiver and continued to work his blood deeper into the dry leather binding. "You sure about that? Fifty years is a long time to be left alone."

"Your mind is closed to me. What proof do I have of your veracity?"

The cold increased. It numbed his fingers and spread through his limbs, slow and inexorable. His arm lifted, fingers outstretched, a tiny seed of light glowing in the palm of his hand. Words coursed beneath his skin, behind his eyes, in the back of his throat, filling him with the taste of parchment and ink. He opened his mouth and the words spilled out. "A spark," they said, "to keep the darkness at bay."

"Weakness," Voldemort said. "A child's fear."

"Your weakness. Your fear."

Voldemort stared at the gleam in Harry's palm. "Such a feeble thing. You can do better."

"Show me how. Or have you forgotten? It's been over half a century since the orphanage, after all."

"I remember," Voldemort said harshly. "Oh, yes. I remember well."

Voldemort caught his wrist and hauled him up with such force it nearly dislocated his shoulder. The Dark Lord's face was white as bone beneath the shadowed hood, his hands shining with scales and inhumanly strong. "Watch," Voldemort said. "Learn."

He blew a breath across Harry's palm.

Breath and essence mingled, feeding the spark until it kindled into sudden, brilliant light. Power hung between them, balanced on the tips of Harry's fingers. He caught a glimpse of Voldemort's face within the glow, scarlet eyes wide with astonishment. Then the balance shifted and the power came rushing into him. Like a wave, it crashed over him, and dragged him down into oblivion.

+ + +

Someone was calling his name.

"Harry? Can you hear me? Harry!"

The words were insistent, the voice familiar. He opened his eyes and found Tom bending over him. "We have to go," Tom said.

Harry tried to will his scattered thoughts to order. "Go where?"

Tom slid a steadying arm behind his shoulders and helped him up. "Somewhere. Anywhere. It doesn't matter, but we have to leave now."

It hurt to move. As he stood, a small book tumbled out of his lap and fell to the floor with a thump. Harry stared at it. "The diary," he said, dumbly. He looked back at Tom, saw the rosy flush of his skin and gasped. "You're alive!"

Tom smiled, and pressed a kiss to his sweaty brow. "Yes."

None of it made any sense. Unless— "Voldemort," he demanded. "Where's Voldemort?"

Tom pointed. "Over there."

He followed the line of Tom's arm to where a figure in fine grey robes lay unmoving on the floor. "Is he—?"

"Very," Tom said with relish. "Can we go now?"

"Right," Harry said, his mind still scrabbling with the fact that Voldemort was dead and Tom was alive. "Right."

They staggered to the room's only window. "We'll have to jump," Tom warned as he climbed onto the sill and pushed the casement open. "We're two floors up, but I think there's grass below."

"You think?"

Tom grinned. "Where's your Gryffindor sense of adventure?" he asked, and stepped off the ledge into nothing.

"Prat," Harry muttered, counted to ten and leapt after him.

He landed in a thicket of roses, cursing as the thorns bit deep into his skin. Tom hauled him out, his fine white hands and borrowed clothes already bloodied and torn from his own rough landing.

"Some grass," Harry said, plucking a dead rose from Tom's hair.

"So I was wrong," Tom said. "At least you're wearing shoes."

From the open window above came the sound of splintering wood, and a woman's anguished, wailing cry. "They've found him," Harry said grimly, grabbed Tom's hand and began to run.

Whoever owned the house had not kept it well. The grass was tall and thick with weeds; they dragged at his ankles, made him trip and fall seemingly with every other step. At last they reached a small copse, the overgrown tangle of trees offering cover and a chance to catch their breath. Behind them, at the top of the hill, light poured from every window of the house. It would not be long before the Death Eaters regrouped and sent someone to follow their panicked trail.

The warm summer breeze shook the branches above him, and sent a scattering of leaves tumbling down. They landed in his hair, slid down and stuck to the sweaty skin on the back of his neck. Irritated, he raised a hand to brush them away.

Tom raised his wand, and pointed it at Harry's head. "Don't move," he said softly.

Harry's breath snagged in his chest. He stared uncomprehending at the wand, and Tom's pale, grim face. "What are you doing?"

"All is well," Tom murmured, the words a gentle susurration barely audible above the wind.

It took him a moment to realize that Tom was not speaking to him at all, but to something just beyond his shoulder. "Don't strike," Tom said. "All is well. Go back to your nest."

Behind his back came an answering hiss. "Murderers. Assassins."

"No, no. Listen—"

"Kill you both!"

"No!"

Instinct made him move, flinging himself forward, away from the angry hissing sounds. Agony lanced through his calf, just below the bend of his knee; the leg gave way, and he landed in a sprawl on the ground. A great snake reared over him, mouth open and fangs glistening, ready to strike again. There was a shout, and a flash of light, and then the snake began to curl in upon itself, writhing and twisting until it disintegrated into a cloud of acrid black smoke.

"It bit me," Harry said blankly.

Tom dropped to the ground beside him, pulled off his school tie and began winding it tightly around Harry's calf. "I know." He looked terrified. "I should have--it was behind you, I was afraid I'd hit you if I cast anything."

If not for Tom, Harry would have simply stayed where he was in the dirt and waited for the inevitable. He was exhausted, his head throbbed, and his body felt leaden and cold. The leg of his jeans was soaked with blood from knee to ankle. He watched, fascinated, as it seeped through the makeshift bandage, turning the green silk black.

When he looked up again, Tom was at the edge of the copse, cautiously peering out at what lay beyond the trees. "See anything?" he asked, his tongue slow and thick in his mouth.

"A road," Tom said.

A road, he thought. A road might be useful. He struggled to his feet. The copse pitched and yawed around him. Tom caught him before he could fall, and pulled him back into the shelter of the trees. "Are you mad?" he hissed. "It's right out in the open!"

"Trust me," Harry said.

It was closer to a country lane than a proper road, but it would have to do. With Tom's help, he staggered to the edge of the pavement and stuck out his right arm. For one long, breathless moment, nothing happened. Then—

BANG.

A large, violently purple tripple-decker bus skidded to a halt in front of them.

The door opened and the conductor stepped out: Stan Shunpike, in all his spotty-faced, gangly-limbed glory. "Welcome to the Knight Bus," he said in a loud voice, "emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard."

Harry almost wept in relief. "Hello, Stan."

Stan peered down at him. "'Arry Potter!" he said in surprise. "What choo doin' way out 'ere?"

"Leaving," Harry said fervently. "Can you take us to St. Mungo's?"

+ + +

The Knight Bus rattled and bounced its way through the countryside. Harry barely noticed, unable to do more than curl one arm limply around Tom's slender waist and hope he would not get pitched to the floor.

Stan goggled with open astonishment, but so far had asked no questions. What the other passengers thought, Harry could only guess, but he was well aware of the sight he and Tom made, lying tangled together on the brass bed, their torn clothes covered in dirt, blood, and rose petals. He resolved not to care.

Tom watched him intently as well, pale face drawn with worry. Harry longed to kiss the furrow between his brows, but only had strength enough to smile. "I'll be fine," he said.

"Of course you will," Tom said. His voiced hitched slightly.

Harry nestled closer. Tom was warm, so warm, the beat of his heart steady and comforting. "There will be hell to pay when we get to London," he said. "You should have run when you had the chance."

Tom frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"At the house," he said. "I was unconscious. Voldemort was dead. You could have left me to the Death Eaters' mercy. No-one would ever have known you were back."

"Oh," Tom said, face pink with embarrassment. "That."

"So, why didn't you?"

"I wouldn't have had anyone to talk to." He rested his chin atop Harry's head. "Honestly. Only a Gryffindor would mistake pure selfishness for altruism."

"We're stupid that way," Harry said, and let his eyes drift shut.

FIN
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