not in chronological order - because I'm incapable of it, apparently. When it's finished I'll make a whole document version so people can just control-F the numbers through the story
The power the dark lord knows not.
shouta / underage / mature themes / dark themes
H I D E
H I D E
( I HAVE BURNED YOUR BRIDGES )
He has been called a lot of things in life: murderer, torturer, genius, the greatest sorcerer in the world, the Dark Lord...
Lover is a new one.
She didn't resist and he was compelled not to stop. He was gentle. Far too gentle. She is his enemy and yet he held her foolishly close, did not let a single tear fall from those bewitching eyes. They are closed now, lashes fluttering lightly in sleep. She sleeps curled up and burrowed under the blankets, until only a slip of her face is visible underneath the curve of cloth. She sleeps like she's used to cramped spaces—a cupboard under the stairs, a cot in the overflowing orphanage. She is also drooling all over his sheets.
He sneers. Such guileless trust: either she is far too stupid or far too brave to fall so peacefully asleep in the bed of her enemy.
He should wake her.
He should hex her out of his bed, throw her out. No. He should kill her. He should have killed her hours ago
it wasn't as if he hadn't ample opportunities. And had he not been waiting for this moment, for more than fifteen years?
Yet his hand stills against her forehead. Gently he brushes the hair away from her scar. His fingers tingle and the warmth spreads through his hand, up into the vital veins of his blood (her blood) and finally comes to rest against his soul.
He pulls it away, as if burned.
Her lashes flutter—sunlight catches on the side of her face and slides down in a curve of light, cradling her cheek and casting spiky shadows that dance with the movement. He hesitates; but they don't lift to reveal the burning green beneath them. Instead she murmurs slightly, and turns her nose into the sheets.
He wants to hate her for her innocence.
But he cannot even lift a finger against her.
His eyes are on hers.
The cold metal skims beneath her chin, her eyes are wide and bright and he's seen the color many a time before, often from the tip of his own wand; a lethal flash of green.
Bone of the father, unknowingly given
Her arm bleeds profusely—it's getting everywhere, down her shirt and splattered against her cheek in a smear of red and up on her forehead, almost in the hair (how did it even get there?), dripping patterns onto the stone of his father's grave.
Flesh of the servant, freely given
This is impossible. The bane of his existence, splayed before him, defenseless and frightened; yet he cannot will himself to move.
Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken
"Harry Potter," He hisses, "We meet at long last."
His servants shiver behind him. He smells their intoxicating fear and it elicits satisfaction in him. There is nothing more rewarding than the potent smell of terror—it wafts from the girl like an alluring siren song. She shivers and his eyes trace the movement. She is terrified, but in her eyes is a fatuous anger, a bravery that will surely get her killed. By his hand, he hopes—no, he knows.
The parseltongue slides off his tongue, and he relishes the feel of the words once more, after so long without the capacity. "Have any last words, Harry? Perhaps you would like to beg…" The idea entices him; little Harry Potter, on her knees before him. "Yes, just like your mudblood mother—
"I would never give you the satisfaction!" She spits back.
He blinks, eyes narrowing. He moves towards her and she defiantly holds his stare, though she shakes so violently that her knuckles turn white in the effort to stay still. He brings his hand up, and she flinches back as he brushes her unruly hair away from her forehead, revealing the mark he made fourteen years ago.
He frowns at it, turning his gaze back to hers.
"How long have you spoken the ancient, serpent tongue?"He murmurs.
Her brow furrows warily. And then, rebelliously, "What's it to you?"
His eyes flash, and in a moment his wand is against her throat. "Answer me, you stupid girl!"
"I don't know!" She grits out, struggling away from the wood at her neck.
Unbidden, a scene unravels behind his eyes. A fat, portly muggle child with a rude face slams his hands against a glass tank. Cousin, his mind associates. Stupid, stupid cousin. He slinks cautiously over to the glass, once the fat muggle has wobbled off in dissatisfaction. He presses a small hand onto the panel separating him from a large, lazy reptile. It is cold. The snake behind the glass blinks at him—he feels a kindred spirit in the serpent. "I'm sorry about him,"He says, but it's not his mouth and it's not his voice; soft, ephemeral, as if made only of sweet light."He doesn't understand…"
He blinks out of the moment. It is not his moment. Not his memory. His gaze turns incredulous as he stares down at this slip of a girl.
She looks back. The fear and anger is overtaken by bewilderment.
He doesn't know how long he stands there, at the foot of his father's grave, looking up into the confused eyes of a little girl. Questions swim through his mind and answers are not forthcoming.
It must be some time, for finally, Pettigrew simpers behind him, "…My lord?"
"Leave us," He commands coldly, without turning around.
His servants shift nervously behind him, whispering. He whirls around in rage. "Did you not hear me?" He snarls. "Leave us! And thank your lord for such a merciful show of gratitude, for the punishment of your betrayal has been postponed!"
They bow quickly at that, a round of, "Yes, my lord," and "Thank you, my lord," murmurs through the crowd as they disapparate. Only Pettigrew is left, sniveling on his knees before him.
The dark lord narrows his eyes. "Must I repeat myself further, Wormtail? Or perhaps, you need more persuasion?"
Wormtail's eyes widen, before he shoots to his feet. "N—No, my lord!" He sputters, hastily bowing again. "Thank you, my lord!" He scrambles off quickly, tripping through the hedges as he goes.
The dark lord sneers at the pathetic sight, before he turns his attention once more towards Harry Potter. He brings a hand to her face, gripping her chin and turning her unwillingly to face him. The mix of fear and bravery is admirable, but mostly it is dangerously intoxicating.
"Look at me,"He whispers, and almost against her own volition do her eyes open and meet his. Her mind is a shimmering pool behind the green—so clear and unprotected.
And he dives in, consuming her.
(He hadn't expected her to consume him as well)
She is a horcrux.
For there is nothing else she could be.
In her eyes, in the dark spaces between the beats of her heart there lay a part of him so deeply entwined that it cannot be broken apart. He is there in the trembling of her bottom lip and the determined set of her brow, in the shallow valley of her collarbones. When she turns her striking eyes to him, they flicker red, and gray: she has the insolence of a young orphaned boy—she has all his anger and all his fears.
He wants to destroy her for this, for bringing back Tom Riddle into this world. For being a part of him he wishes so deeply to eradicate from this earth.
He stares at her for an uncomfortable length of time: she fidgets in her seat, her eyes shift from the ceiling, to the fireplace, to the patterns on the rug, avoiding his gaze with a palpable temerity.
At this point he has memorized the curve of her jaw and the subtle slope of her nose, her frightened eyes in their wide, grave sockets. Finally, after long uncertain moments of silence she turns her face away from him, brings her knees up to rest her cheek against them, staring blankly into the wall. The fire illuminates half her face in warm light, the profile of a young girl: the sweet bottom lip, the color in her cheeks and the pleasant arch of a brow. In the other side flickers Tom Riddle, darkened in shadow.
She resolutely keeps her gaze on the wallpaper. It's an unfortunate sight, a paisley print in muddy green. He'll have to burn it all off, but he holds Riddle Manor in such low regard he hasn't gotten around to it. All the furniture is at least a century old, covered in dust and unmoved since the day he swept in and murdered all its residents. She is also covered in dust. Dust, dirt, and grime—as if she's spent the better part of the afternoon traipsing through a homicidal maze, and spent the other half running from a homicidal man.
There may be some merit in that.
He supposes it's quite a lot for a fourteen year old girl. He's not quite sure why he cares at all about what's too much stress for a fourteen year old girl or not.
He stands in a sudden, fluid motion. The reaction in her is instantaneous: everything in her seizes up, even as she resolutely fixes her gaze on the side of the wall. Even as he looms closer, a wraith in black at the foot of her seat, she refuses to meet his gaze, stubborn until the last.
Something unerring compels him to catch her chin by his fingers, tilt her complaint head up. She moves willingly, but her eyes are wide and shaking.
"Up," He commands, and is immediately displeased with how soft it sounds. Even his voice betrays him now, it seems.
She follows, though, righting herself carefully on trembling legs, her enormous, doe-eyes peering up at him from beneath the fringe of her hair. Absentmindedly, he wonders what happened to the horrid glasses. He hopes they're sitting somewhere in the graveyard outside, crushed to pieces.
He steers her by a hand on her back, in the shallow dip between her shoulders; he can feel the tension spun between them at the touch, can almost hear the erratic beating of her heart. He leads her into the gloom, down the darkened hallway. Some time in the interim his hand manages to get caught in the unmanageable mane she calls hair, and he sneers as he attempts to wrangle it out, instead leading her by the shoulder.
The fingers skimming her collarbone make her heart jump into her throat. She can't see a thing in the hall, a skittering of light here and there, bare sounds against the grating wood—like the horror shows on the telly Dudley used to watch. But he always turned them off before they got too scary. Harry thinks, hysterically, that she might finally get to see the ending of one of those.
Get to experience it first hand.
His pace slows: she wills herself to take the wand in her hand and—and what? She can count the offensive spells she knows on one hand, two, if she's being ambitious. She'd probably need eight limbs and then some to count the ones he probably knows. It'd be an effort in futility, but the thought awakens her shaking courage. She'd rather try, at least, even if there wasn't much hope in success. Better than to be taken down into his dungeons, and, and tortured, or whatever terrible plans he had in store for his worst enemy, fighting for her life rather than just handing it over.
And by a skeletal hand on her shoulder the dark lord drags her into—
The oldest, most garish bathroom she's ever seen.
At first she can feel nothing but bewilderment at the sight, taking in the golden embellishments and the elaborate claws of the tub, centered in front of—and at this, she truly balks—an enormous, fractured stained glass window. It's only when the door shuts behind her does she get the implication of guiding her in here, and flushes all the way down to her toes.
She suddenly feels very stupid. Stupid, and caked in dirt, and embarrassed beyond mortification.
It takes a very, very long time to shed her clothes onto the floor. She's checked the lock on the door three times—she has her wand, for merlin's sake. She's not quite defenseless. The idea of standing naked not even twenty paces away from the most violent dark lord in history is… alarming, regardless.
Her eyes do not leave the door as she edges closer to the tub, turns on the faucet to hear it squeak and groan to life. She lets the water run for a bit; at first it is an awful color, and after much too cold—before she even attempts to dip a toe in.
She jumps in quickly after that, hiding herself in the murky bathwater.
It's not the most pleasant smelling, but something tells her that has more to do with her and less to do with the water. It takes a good, long while to wring out her hair, long and tangled as it is, and even longer to rub off all the dirt and blood. When she's finished the tub is absolutely vile, and she must drain and fill it three more times before she's close to anything approaching clean.
Harry does not wonder on how long she spends in the sprawling, ornate bathroom. She hopes it is a long, long time. Long enough for eternity to have swung past; long enough for the dark lord in the gloom outside to have disappeared.
It is a false hope.
Gingerly she steps back into her grime-slicked outfit from before, cringing as it clings to her skin.
When she finally manages to convince herself to open the door, anticlimactically, no one is on the other side. The hallway is devoid of anything but cobwebs. There is, however, a dull light in the distance, illuminating a small shaft of the dilapidated corridor. She shuffles closer, fear cold and cloying, crawling up her neck. She reaches the entrance of the light: it is a small, mostly unused looking room. There is a bed, a small chest of drawers, a window swathed by dark, moth eaten curtains. There also appears to have been some attempt of a cleaning charm. This was mostly in vain, however; this house is far beyond the redemption of an evanesco.
She blinks, lost.
Harry moves further into the room, unable to process. The lamp on the bedside table is on, evidence that someone had opened the door and turned it on. There is only one other person in this deteriorating mansion. But she cannot imagine him coming in here, turning on the light, keeping the door open—doing up a bed. She puts a hand on the sheets. They are new. Starched, still.
Just like Aunt Petunia's, she thinks, hysterical.
It is clear that he did—but she still cannot come up with a reason as to why. Why… did he not end her earlier, in the graveyard? Why had he not, when he had ample opportunity to do so afterwards? She could have been dead in any of the moments from the graveyard leading up to when she stepped into this room.
But she isn't.
She moves towards the drawers, drawing her fingers against the wood. She holds them up to her face. Devoid of dust. When she pulls upon one of the rusting handles, she is stunned to find the entire bureau empty but for a pale, lemon yellow dress.
She holds it out in front of her, floored by the implications. Her first, startling and hysterical thought is that the dark lord appears to believe she dresses ten years younger than her age. She turns it around, inspecting it in the dim wintry spill of the lamp. It is… pretty. There are pleats, and buttons that shine opalescent in the light. She cannot imagine anything so delicate coming out of Lord Voldemort's wand.
As she inspects it, she wonders again why he has not killed her. And he has not just staved off her imminent end, but also appears to be going out of his way—very out of his way—for her comfort.
The thought is strange and foreboding.
This does not stop her from pulling the dress over her head.
It's a bit too big, but regardless it is infinitely better than wearing her previous clothes. She sits on the side of the bed, fisting her hands into the hem of the dress. It crumples in her palms; the softest fabric she's every felt. Aunt Petunia would have never let her wear something like this.
But she is restless, and uneasy. She cannot stay here in this small, moth-eaten room, even though she is empty and exhausted and could probably keel over onto the bedspread.
Instead Harry jumps up, bare feet padding quietly against the aging wood. She grips the fabric in her hands tightly, and heads back into the dark jaw of the hallway. She does not know how she finds him: she has no light, and no knowledge of this house. But, like instinct, she finds herself turning through the halls and walking up the stairs, until she comes to another room alit with a warm glow.
She summons up her courage, or whatever is left of it, and demands, voice breaking, "What do you want from me?"
He looks up, indifferent. "Nothing," comes the ominous reply. He motions toward the seat opposite of him. "Sit."
There is nothing she would like less.
She could deny him, of course, but where would that get her? She learned long ago to choose her battles wisely; there were only so many times she could go without food before it became unbearable. It is with great reluctance that she trudges across the room and folds herself, limpid, in the chair across from him.
He looks as if he is made from the shadows that cling against the walls; they wrap around him like a second skin, crawl up into the inky tendrils in his cloak, obscuring everything but his face from view. She does not want to look into the darkness, nor his face, so she does not. Instead, her gaze fixates upon the cup of tea set in front of him, decidedly untouched. How strange, she thinks. The dark lord taking tea, at this hour? There are far more pertinent questions to contemplate, but she finds she doesn't have the energy for anything else but this.
It has steeped for a long time; the tea has dyed the water the dark color of blood. How fitting.
She struggles to bring her gaze back towards him.
She should have been a Slytherin—she thinks, wildly. Maybe the hat was right. Maybe that was where she belongs. It feels as if all her bravery has left her long ago. She does not want to face this with courage and determination: she wants to hide.
Finally, her stubbornness lifts its head. "Why… am I here?"
The dark lord does not answer her.
"Tea?" He asks instead, as if that is a perfectly reasonable response.
She sputters. "No," She gets out, finally. "No, I do not want tea. I want to know why I'm here."
Lord Voldemort sighs. The gesture is quite human and quite startling.
"W—What are you going to do to me?" She asks in his silence, terror clawing up her throat. One hand fists into the hem of her dress—at this point, it is quite irreparably wrinkled from all the times she has done it—and the other clings to her wand.
This sparks a brief and futile anger. "Will you stop saying nothing?" She bites out, as if she has a death wish. The dark lord's eyes narrow, but he makes no discernible moves to end her life.
"It is late," he observes at great length. "You should sleep."
Harry blinks, rapidly. "I'm sorry?" She balks. "You—… I'm not going to sleep here! I couldn't, anyway. How could you expect me to sleep in a place with—
Lord Voldemort stands to his full height in one smooth motion, and the words die a still death in her throat. She doesn't see his wand move, nor does she hear the incantation off his lips. But her eyes grow heavy and the world blurs, and then she does not see of hear anything at all.
Harry does not open her eyes.
He has pulled the curtains wide open; morning diffuses the room in an effervescent light. Warmth patterns against her face and curls around her shoulders, speckles her hair. He thinks perhaps he should have transfigured her dress into a set of pajamas; unfortunately, he knows even less about girl's sleepwear than he does girl's clothing in general.
He should have returned her in the night. No, he should have killed her, but it appears he is wholly incapable of that. He should have deposited her back at Hogwarts, perhaps left her at the front gate like some kind of offering.
If he was not going to kill her, he should have let her go.
And yet, he could not.
So here she sleeps onwards, tilted into the sun, listless in her dreams. He cannot give her up, he realizes. She is his infinite weakness now; his very soul, embodied in such a fragile form. He could snap her with just the lightest touch of dark magic—almost did, with the stone scythe of his father's grave. There is a mottled purple bruise that crawls up the side of her arm. He turns it over gently; on the other, an enormous, stained gash from where Pettigrew butchered into her wrist.
He does not quite touch it when she jerks awake, leaping upright and looking as if she has swallowed a lemon. Or perhaps a scream. It's hard to tell. She stares at him with the wide eyes of prey; immobile. If possible, her hair has become even more of a mess. It lights like fire in the morning sun.
He feels as if he should say something—but he no longer remembers how to communicate with young girls, if he ever knew at all. It has been a long time since he even needed to hold polite conversation; his words have been law for some time now. At any rate, there is no need for him to explain himself to a foolish little girl. The sight of her still throws him off balance; the livid fear and anger in her burning gaze, the small trembling fingertips. Everything he lives to forget exists in her.
He reaches for her arm. She flinches violently, but does not move to take it back. With a wave of his hand the enflamed and mangled wound Wormtail left in her skin mends back together, leaving a creamy, smooth surface in its wake. He holds her hand for an unnervingly long time afterwards.
He wants to destroy her. He wants to tear her apart—to ruin her.
It wouldn't be too hard: she is so small and defenseless. She holds her wand tightly in her hand but in that tiny, little hand it's as meaningless as piece of wood against him. But the visage of Tom Riddle drifts over her like a gossamer memory; his large, frightened eyes, all his ambition, all his determination and all his dreams swallowed in the thin line of her lips.
She snatches her hand back. "Are you going to tell me why I'm here?" She blurts, looking defiant and yet so very afraid.
"No," and then, to her look of protest, "for there is no reason."
She blinks, twice. "Huh?"
And then, when he does not deign this with a response; "But… if I'm not here for any particular reason—and you don't want anything from me…" And with this, a faltering look towards him, "And you haven't killed me…"
She trails off, eyes wide and beguiling. "I don't understand," She says at length.
That would make two of them, then.
"No harm will come to you here," He returns after some time has passed.
"And you expect me to believe this?" She retorts, incredulous and hysterical.
"Yes," his eyes narrow, patience thinning. But it would not do to lose his temper. "You are… of great importance to me, Harry." He hedges, ambiguous.
There are a lot of things she could say to that. The majority of them involve a lot of yelling, hysteria, and maybe even some tears.
None of them come out.
"Oh," she squeaks, as if this could possibly encompass everything rattling inside her. And then, "…Why?"
He sits for some time. "Perhaps it is best if you do not know." Is his enigmatic return. The idea of relaying the split contents of his soul—and ultimately, the keys to his immortality—to anyone, even a living, breathing part of him, instills a vague sense of terror in him. No, best to let her ponder on it. She may not know the true depths of what the information would mean, but undoubtedly there are those who would seek it out from her.
She eyes him warily. "But you've always tried to kill me." She points out, needlessly. It's clear they're both intimately aware of this. In fact, it almost happened yesterday.
His heart clenches unwillingly at the very thought, with an emotion he'd long since thought he'd discarded: fear. It would have been all too easy to fell his own immortality, his precious little horcrux, in but a brief moment. And he would have never been the wiser. All those times he'd made for her life—for his life, as it were—without even knowing.
"Yes," he concedes, gravely. "It was… remiss of me." As much as it pained him to say it. "I was not made aware of certain crucial elements of our… connection."
If possible, she looks even more confused.
"Harry," he sighs. "I do not use my word lightly, but I will promise you this: no harm will come to you here."
She startles at her name. If possible, she looks even more frightened by his ambiguous attempts at explanation. She remains weary, as if waiting for him to strike her.
"Our connection," she repeats. "Why? What's so important about it?"
He studies her closely. "Have you not wondered, Harry," he begins, and he does not miss the shiver that crawls along her arms at the use of her name. "Why your scar burns with my anger? Why you can speak the ancient serpent tongue—a trait which can only be passed through the blood of Salazar Slytherin?"
She, warily, shakes her head.
"We share a bond, Harry," he explains. "Made on that fateful Hallow's Eve night. It is why you can speak to snakes, when I am the last living descendant of Slytherin. It is why you feel my thoughts, and I yours."
"And because of this, you…promise not to hurt me?" Her brows furrow.
He continues to study her calculatingly. There is a glint in his eye she doesn't recognize. "Yes," he says at length. "This is exactly why."
He reaches for her hand again, and she does not fight him. He traces long, skeletal fingers upon the thin blemish marring the mended skin of her wrist. A sudden thought blooms within him: she is his. And he has always been fiercely possessive of the few things he can truly call his own.
"What does it mean, exactly?" She pauses, worrying at her lip. "Our…connection, I mean."
His eyes wander away from the pallid skin of her arm, up to the burning, effervescent eyes, as bright and as unrelenting as the killing curse. Tom Riddle was a collector of fine and rare objects, but he doesn't think he's ever possessed something as exquisite as her.
"It means you are mine."
The dark lord does not dine with others often.
And when he does, the company he keeps does not normally take the form of a young, insolent girl.
Harry Potter pushes her food around awkwardly, a quiet presence by his side. She appears to finally have finished her meal—this is only after downing about three or four servings. He doesn't blame her for that—from what he could divulge from her mind, it would seem that she must make up for years without any servings at all.
She hasn't spoken a word since he had proclaimed her as his, and doesn't look compelled to break her spell of silence. From what he saw in her memories, this is rather atypical behavior. In any legitimate regard, Harry Potter appears to have two modes: listless and lonely, or determined and incredibly vocal. He does not think she falls into either in her current state.
She puts her fork down, quite suddenly, turning to him with big, bright eyes. He is struck by their color in the morning sunlight as much as he is with the fact that she consistently manages to look him in the eye: he can count very few people who can, and most of them are his enemies. They burn in the sun with a viridity that could take his breath away if he's not careful; like bewitching black magic, like avada kadevra.
"I want to go home," runs out of her mouth, stilted and abrupt.
He holds her gaze with a certain apathy. He takes a few second to fully digest her sentence—the words are so strung together it appears to be one elongated amalgamation of vowels and consonants. Her throat works.
"To Hogwarts," she elaborates, and then, words tumbling after the other; "I want to go back to school!"
As it is, he cannot find any words past his incredulity. He cannot remember the last time someone dared to raise their voice against him.
That is normally quite alluring. He has always been more partial to begging, it's true. He relishes the power he holds over people when they are stripped to nothing, when all they have left to do is plead for their very lives. Somehow, it is infinitely less appealing out of her mouth.
He waves her off. "I will return you in due time." Quite honestly, there's no real reason to keep her. He doesn't even know himself what has compelled him to keep her here; why he had taken a foolish five minutes to look around the dilapidated mansion, attempting to find a usable room for her. To wave his wand and clean the dust and muck from it, to turn on the light, to conjure pillows and a blanket and a small yellow sundress.
Why he was going through the effort at all.
"Oh," she replies, subdued. "Well, alright then." It's clear there's another question held on the tip of her tongue, but she only lowers her gaze, fixating her alarming green irises towards her food.
She makes the effort to be less obtrusive after that, sliding her eggs around in some approximation of a marathon. Running eggs. Hah. Runnyeggs. This entertains her for some time.
The dark lord rises out of his chair, startling her out of her daydreams. He gives her no explanation as he abruptly turns on his heel; a black wraith wandering down the halls. Harry stills over her food; she doesn't know whether to follow him, or if she's supposed to stay here.
She supposes that if the dark lord had wanted her to follow… she would have known that by now. He does not appear to be the kind of man who likes to be kept waiting.
Harry sighs, and her eyes drift listlessly about the room.
It looks about as unused as the rest of the place; dust is thick and diffused into the soft light. Panels of sun shift demurely on the wooden floor, Harry finds herself drawn towards them, and ultimately towards an archaic armchair by the window. It's far too large for her, and she draws her knees up and peers out the window. The glass has long since mottled into a gray haze, dirt crawling along the edges, spindly cracks erupting from the corners.
She thinks she can see part of a garden, can make out the horizon line in the distance. The sun is warm and inviting, and it's not long before she dozes off.
Harry doesn't know how long she sits, curled in the chair, but the patterns of sun on the wooden floor have sifted into other forms by the time the dark lord returns to the room.
He moves to wake her, before ultimately thinking better of it. Perhaps it will be easier this way. At least she won't ask difficult questions when she's asleep. Light draws upon her face with romantic affection; she sleeps onwards, unaware or perhaps uncaring of the dark lord looming over her; death himself, a quiet calamity above her shoulder.
For good measure he casts a sleep charm over her, and draws a hand towards her. He could have sneered at his willingness, but as it is his hand easily finds its way into her impossible hair, softer than he'd think from the look of it. His hand drifts to her shoulder, where he presses hard enough for a sturdy grip to apparate.
Within moments they're standing at the gates of Hogwarts—a picture he has not seen in many decades sprawling before him.
He does not take the time to admire the sight, laying her upon the grass. In this weather, the yellow sundress will be ruined with mud. She mumbles incoherently, turning into his hand.
With great reluctance he draws back, and pulls away before he's compelled to steal her away again.
When Harry thinks back on her day with the Dark Lord, she feels as if she dreamed the entire encounter.
The whole ordeal was absurd, and she found she couldn't find any way to describe it—so she didn't say anything at all. The teachers fussed over her, escorting her into the hospital wing, where they fluttered around her with an unending stream of questions, the majority of which she could not hear. There must have been water in her ears, for she felt submerged in a deep pool.
For the most part, no one probed her particularly with questions; when it became clear that she was in no condition to answer, Madame Pomfrey concluded that she was in shock, and none of this attention was helping, and shooed everyone out of the wing. It is Professor Snape who stays the longest, a strange, unreadable expression on his face. She thinks he seemed angry. At her? It's true he has never been particularly fond of her. In fact, for the duration of her stay at Hogwarts he has gone out of his way to avoid her at all costs. She meets his gaze accidentally; he flinches violently, and then storms out the door in the wake of the rest of the teachers. Madame Pomfrey makes good on her word and does not allow anyone back into the wing.
Harry was glad for it, to be frank. She didn't know how she could answer any questions without bringing up the fact that she slept in a bed the Dark Lord made for her, and sat in a sunlit, cob-webbed room and had tea and pastries by his side.
She didn't know what she expected of the murderer of her parents: a strange amalgamation of Count Dracula and the boy from the diary, she thinks, for those are truly the only sources she has to draw from. He wasn't, though. To that end, she didn't know what he was. The real truth of the matter was that he didn't say enough for her to accurately discern him.
She didn't dream it. She has a fine, trailing line of white against the thin skin of her wrist where a healing spell has mended the wound. She places two fingers where the winding line ends, in the apex of her hand and wrist.
No, that wasn't a dream.
But her actual dreams are just as concerning.
When Harry is finally released into Gryffindor tower she can feel nothing but relief that her year mates are all sound asleep; she wants to deal with their questions even less than she does the professors.
And when she tucks herself against the familiar cotton, noses into the sheets, her eyes slip close and colors bloom behind them.
There is a small boy behind her eyes, crouching in the grass. A crumbling, unsteady sky casts shifting kaleidoscope light across the ground, his face, the edges of his knees.
He ' s holding an acorn in his hands, rubbing its smooth side absentmindedly with his thumb as he watches a group of children out in the distance; indiscernible moving colors, occasionally dispersed by the bright noise of laughter, a sparkle of rime upon the edges of the afternoon.
All at once he feels terribly alone.
Her eyes slip open in the morning; a sorrow that is not hers clings to the corners of her eyes.
Cedric has won the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and Harry is simply glad to see it over. She's also glad she pushed him onto the cup. She had no idea how she would explain away her disappearance with the Dark Lord otherwise. That—and if she hadn't, Cedric probably wouldn't have been alive to win the cup anyhow.
He, like everyone else, was incredibly worried over her twenty-four hours missing. She hedged most of the questions, before finally coming up with some kind of coherent story.
"I don't remember much," She says, evasive. "I ran… and ran… I must have stopped eventually. But when I woke up, I was already in the hospital wing! Professor Mcgonagall said they'd found me in the front of the school."
Cedric's eyes widen with worry. "And um…" He pales considerably. "The uh…"
"Voldemort?" Harry fills in, raising a brow.
"Yeah, him," Cedric's voice lowers. "What—what happened? He's really back?"
Earlier that morning Fudge had commandeered her out of her first class, insisting to have a complete run down of everything she remembered. She was completely honest about the events with the cup and the graveyard; the assembled death eaters, the rising of the dark lord. Fudge did not appear to want to believe any of it—in fact, he spent a lot of time denying everything and calling her a deluded young child who may be suffering from a severe concussion.
Normally Harry would have taken offense to this; if there was one thing she was not, it was a liar. But she couldn't refute him with anything more than half-heartedness. This was mostly due to the fact she couldn't assemble any kind of reaction on the dark lord at all. In fact, she was almost somewhat relieved; how would she explain that after the dark lord resurrected himself, he vanquished his followers, took her into the mansion, and gave her a yellow sundress? No, best to let him believe what he will.
"I guess so."
"Fudge doesn't believe me," Cedric scowls. "I told him the truth! He won't listen, though; he's got it in his head that I'm making it all up."
"Let him, then," Harry returns. "We know. And our friends will believe us. Warn everyone you know. I'm sure Voldemort—" He cringes at the name, "Will reveal himself eventually, and there'll be a point when Fudge won't be able to deny it any longer."
"You're right," Cedric agrees with a great capitulation, irritation clear on his face. "I just—I wish there was more I could do."
Harry felt as if she should feel the same. She couldn't summon up much indignation, however. The confusion was still too prevalent in her thoughts. Instead, she simply nods.
The rest of the day passes in an unremarkable haze. A few brave Gryffindors move to offer their concern; Harry ducks out of their wary gazes, finds excuses to get out of them or simply thanks them, and refuses to say anything else. She knows that's what they want. As it is, she cannot even bring herself to explain it to Hermione and Ron, her dearest friends. They above all watch her with indubitable worry—they are the only ones who know even an inkling of the truth. An inkling of what it was like to face the dark lord.
She cannot tell them.
The school year trudges sluggishly on by—nothing of great interest occurs, aside from a half-hearted farewell to the visitors of their school. No one is greatly moved by this event, nor by the celebrations of the end of term thereafter. There is a foreboding shadow looming over the students; it is clear they've believed Cedric to some degree. He is a Hufflepuff, and as much as Fudge would like to deny it the events of the last trial did happen. It's a rather illustrious thing to simply make up.
Harry doesn't expend much effort in taking Cedric's side; she also doesn't do anything to disprove him, either. When students flock to ask her quietly of the events (of which they do, always, and sometimes not so quietly) she agrees with Cedric that it happened, but refuses to go into much further detail.
It's difficult to quash the rumors through the media. Cedric and his father are reputable and well known characters; slandering them has remained a trying task for Fudge all year. He does try, of course. He also does not spare her, either, even if she isn't outright defying his claims.
Harry flops onto her bed at the end of yet another tiring day, quick to tug her curtains closed before Hermione can move in for another interrogation. She means well—and Harry would have welcomed the patient and listening ear of her closest friend had she the words or capacity to tell anyone else of her encounter with the dark lord. As it is, she finds it hard to reconcile the event even to herself.
Harry rubs a hand over her eyes, and falls into a weary sleep.
The boy is in them—he is so small and fragile, she thinks he could drift apart in the morning wind. He has such wide and uncertain eyes; he stares ahead into the fading sky, a large and looming watery grave above. His loneliness clings at the bottom of her heart; his sorrow is overwhelming in the cage of her ribs. He is bitter, and angry. He is all at once terribly alone. He does not understand himself, much less the world around him. There are no small comforts for him.
He wanders around the diluted gray halls, a wisp of a wraith, nothing but a pair of bright gray eyes to remark upon his humanity. Other children push past him, haggard adults step around him—none look at the young boy who maunders aimlessly through the corridors. There are other boys his age out in the yard, playing a game made from stones. He longs to join them; but time has long since taught him to stay rooted in the doorway. They will not welcome him.
Harry opens her eyes some time later; they are wet and bright with tears.
Harry doesn't make it to Privet Drive that summer.
The Hogwarts Express pulls into King's Cross all too soon, halting its journey with an abrupt and unannounced lurch. Harry wishes fervently that she could crawl underneath the seat and stay in here forever. Anything was a better alternative than Privet Drive. Aside from her bizarre memories, and even more alarming dreams, the Tri-Wizard Tournament seems an eternity away. The events replay in her mind as if they happened to someone else, as if they were all just secret adventures whispered to her in the dead of night.
She rubs a palm across her forehead wearily, awoken suddenly by the train pulling in to the station.
They could have been, and yet there is a small orphaned boy who continues to haunt her dreams.
She blinks out of her reverie, and follows Ron's loud and unperturbed voice down the corridors. They meet with the twins some ways down the hall, and then onwards they spill out onto the platform.
She rubs warily at her forehead, where her scar tingles not unpleasantly. Her friends do not notice; Hermione is visibly leaping into her mother's arms, and Ron is protesting loudly at some of the stories the twins have begun to tell their parents about his antics during the school year, but his cheeks are flushed and he leans into the touch of his father's hand against his head. The scene instills within her a loneliness that she hasn't felt in a long time. She has no parents to see: no home to go back to.
Suddenly her eyes are drawn into the far distance; wandering mist obscures the ends of the platform, but there is a figure standing in sharp relief of the billowing steam.
He looks familiar, though she's never seen him before.
Her feet lead her along the pass, heedless of her mind, which protests loudly that the Dursely's are probably irritable in the parking lot, and her heart, which thuds loudly and oppressively in her chest.
She comes to a halt in front of him. He has a set of piercing dark eyes set onto a strikingly handsome face; there is a decidedly resolute set to his brow, but a coldness in his mouth and sharp chin.
"Tom," she says, because there is no one else he could possibly be.
"Harry," he nods, once, in greeting.
She wants to ask him what he's doing here. It'd be a completely rational thing to do; this is the Hogwarts express, she's fairly sure each and every person here would run in terror if they knew who this pleasant face belonged to. As it is, she peers up at him, wordless. He keeps her gaze with an unreadable expression.
It comes to her, then.
The only logical reason for his presence.
She clasps the handle of her suitcase tightly. "Where are we going?"
He holds out his hand—
And she takes it without hesitation.
He worries greatly when she is not in his line of sight.
However he has grown used to the shuddering in his heart when she is not by his side, as they spend more than half the year apart. In those long months the only consolation is the soft thrum against the cold bones of his ribs, that he has long since recognized belongs to her; to the little piece of his soul that ties them together. But for now, the summer months are long and sweet, and it alarms him vaguely when he turns his attention towards her, and finds her mysteriously absent.
It is not all that difficult to find her. He rounds the bend of the manor, towards the pass to the graveyard.
She is stalactite still as she stares into the wicked sky: as if she is waiting for time itself, in the deep places full of light and lament.
She must feel him, for she turns slightly, transfixing a single, luminous eye his direction underneath a fringe of fiery hair, profile thrown into a brilliant white light.
The hem of her dress is lopsided and some ways short, reminding him of her transient existence; a constant, vivacious presence that slips in and out of time. It's his dress. A bit of yellow fabric he had half-heartedly spelled into existence. How could something so insignificant become so meaningful to him?
She'll grow bigger still, though for now the cloying adolescent skin drapes over her in a lovely embrace; clinging in the hollow behind her knees, the dip in her shoulders; it hides in all his beloved places. She has yet to grow into her legs, long and coltish, and the contours of her countenance appear to shift and change everyday.
And though she is timeless in this moment, she will leave as well, and the thought makes something cold grow within him. Death will wrap his luxurious arms around her wide and burning eyes, tuck himself into the corners of her lips, and drag her into his sweet sorrow; leaving the dark lord in his lonesome dynasty.
Terror seizes him at the very thought.
The summer rolls along with a burning, ephemeral heat. There is no air conditioner in Riddle Manor—lacking perhaps the only good thing she can acknowledge about Number 4 Privet Drive—and Harry spends long hours moping listlessly in the oppressive heat. She's not quite sure how Voldemort stands it; probably through a charm or two he won't teach her. She hasn't the opportunity to ask, however, for she has seen neither hide nor tail of the dark lord since summer has started.
He's probably doing… dark lord things. She doesn't want to think on what those could possibly be.
Instead she dawdles around in her room, or sometimes in the quiet, cooler rooms of the manor, whittling away the hours either exploring the dusty corridors and sun-spotted rooms or out in the yard underneath the willow tree. Occasionally Nagini accompanies her, when the dark lord has no need of her. She doesn't make for the most pleasant of company, or the most interesting for that matter, but at the very least sheis company, and Harry has had none of that so far. Still, thus far it has been an infinitely better summer than any she's spent at Privet Drive.
The sun sears the bottom of the sky in a wrathful red as Harry heads inside. It's cooler, finally, and the fireflies speckle the yard in bright spots of light. The light in the study is on, and she finds the dark lord quite engaged in a large, dusty, and quite mean-spirited tome. It continuously attempts to eat his hand, and he continuously swats it back down.
She hesitates by the door frame—she knows by experience now that he is always aware of where she is at all times, and will not be surprised nor startled to see her here. And though he has never admonished her otherwise, she's not sure how welcome her presence is.
Finally, she swallows her hesitation and walks up to the bookshelves, as if she could possibly understand any of the texts lining the shelves. She wrings her hands behind her back, before she pivots abruptly on her toes, blurting suddenly, "I need new shoes."
He looks up, bereft of expression.
It is true, though she can privately admit that the logical process in which she'd come to the announcement was missing in the most axiomatic manner possible.
But, she'd been thinking on her stay here, and what she was and wasn't allowed to do. Aunt Petunia was always very strict and forthcoming with what Harry could and could not do, what she could and could not wear, what she could eat (if she could eat at all) and where she could go. Lord Voldemort appears to have no rules for her at all. And, her sandals had broke her first week here, and she'd sort of been running around barefoot since, and it was beginning to get rather unseemly, and also quite difficult, as it had been raining more often than not and walking around in the mud was quite unpleasant.
"I mean," she flushed. "I need to go out. And buy new shoes. Can I do that?"
"I'm not keeping you here," he replies distantly, returning to his text. It bites his hand. He swats it away.
"Right," she agrees, faltering slightly. It doesn't sound like approval or disapproval. It doesn't sound like anything at all.
"Okay," she says, slowly, as if testing the waters. "Then tomorrow I'm going to go to the town down the hill."
This is met with staunch indifference.
She pouts, and then turns and walks out the door. Well, that's that, then. It appears there was no reason to ask for permission at all—he wouldn't have an opinion either way. When she thinks on it this way, it does seem quite silly. He is the dark lord. Surely he has better things to do than tell her what she can and can't do?
Then, it comes to her that perhaps he just doesn't know how. Or that perhaps he feels that she will vehemently oppose any and all rules he sets. The Tom Riddle in her dreams would feel embittered and unsettled by anyone ordering him around—and for good reason, too. The people of authority in his life were certainly cause for concern.
As she trudges up to her room, she tries to reconcile the boy in her dreams to the stony man down the hall.
It's still not working all that well.
When she awakes the next morning, there is an enormous, unnecessarily large sack of muggle money on the pillow by her head.
"I'm going down into the muggle town today,"she tells the garden snake, quiet, like a secret.
It's not quite bright enough to understand her, but it hisses delightedly. She thinks it's happy for her.
She puts it down as she reaches the end of the ill-kept lawn of Riddle Manor. It slithers into the wild tufts of grass and disappears from sight.
Harry looks down at herself. She is wearing one of the four outfits she has—this one is a pair of shorts now too small for her and an oversized, old shirt of Dudley's that depicts some kind of footie team she doesn't recognize. She has no shoes. Harry thinks with delight on how scandalized Aunt Petunia and the woman of Privet Drive would be seeing her walk around Tesco's like this.
The thought instills a sense of jovial contentment in her as she follows the dirt road down into town. Or rather, she thinks the road leads into town. It is the only road in sight, and she hopes she's chosen the right direction.
It's some time, and there doesn't appear to be an end to the maundering road. It has since turned into pavement, and Harry balances along the edge of the road, entertaining herself by attempting to walk on her tiptoes in a straight line. It's not working all that well.
Finally, after she trips one too many times a sputtering truck ambles its way down the battered road, slowing parallel to her.
The window rolls down, and at first all Harry can see is a tuft of beard and what appear to be sentient eyebrows.
"Aye there, lassy," the eyebrows greet in a thick Irish accent. "This is no place for a little miss to be walking down the road!"
"It isn't?" She tilts her head. "Well, you see, I'm trying to get to the next town over—
"Blackburn?" He interrupts.
"Sure," she agrees.
He scowls. Or rather, she thinks he scowls. Behind all the hair, it's hard to say. "Hop in. You'll spend the day getting over there at this rate."
She feels as if some point in her life someone had warned her against getting into cars with strangers. But when she recounts all the memorable events in her life, she notes that most of them do, indeed, involve following strangers into strange places.
The truck is lopsided and BBC Radio 1 shifts in and out of focus, and it smells sort of like chickens and cigarettes. It's not all that bad, though, even though she doesn't know any of the songs or most of the DJs. Nick Grimmeshaw speaks avidly about some new pop band and two apparently very gay members in it—or at least, he is whenever the radio sifts out of static. Blackburn tumbles over the hill in a sprawl of squat, concrete buildings. Other cars join them on the road, merging inwards from intricate, curving highways. She stares numbly into the cityscape, the road signs and the street lamps, and tries to reconcile what she sees now to what she saw an hour ago.
It's unsettling to think how such terribly different worlds can live so close together.
"Where in Blackburn do you need to go?" The eyebrows ask again.
She shrugs. "Asda?" It's where Aunt Petunia always got her clothes. It wasn't much of an outing, however—normally Aunt Petunia would grab the cheapest garments she could find and never bothered to see if they would fit. Almost on impulse she blurts, "Debenhams, if there's one here?"
The burly man says nothing to this. Harry almost feels as if he should laugh; Aunt Petunia certainly would, if she asked to shop at a posh department store like that. Actually, Aunt Petunia would laugh, and then turn red with fury, and maybe whack her with a spatula.
It's almost too soon that he's pulling into a large strip of stores. Harry suddenly feels alarmed—alarmed, and incredibly underdressed. There are girls her age in trendy muggle outfits, loitering with boys, roving in packs. She feels even more disconnected from them than usual. She doesn't pay them much attention, almost all of it diverted towards the looming metal structure towering above her. She remembers to profusely thank the old man for going out of his way to drive her. He smiles (or she thinks he does) beneath his beard and waves cheerily as he drives away, leaving her standing alone with no shoes in front of the department store.
Four hours and half the sack of money later, she finally has her pair of shoes.
And a lot more than that.
The Dark Lord Voldemort appears like an indeterminable wraith in the blended shadow of an oak tree some ways away. He could have been a flicker in her imagination, a figure dripping in darkness, so wholly belonging there it was as if the shadows themselves twined around him—had she not been viscerally aware of his presence the moment she walked out the door. Harry would have been more startled at his appearance, but it had long since surprised her that the dark lord knew where she was at all times.
It had also long since stopped surprising her that she seemed to share this uncanny ability as well.
She shuffles over to his shadowy throne, feeling strangely unsatisfied. Magic tingles against her bare skin as she moves towards him— out of one world and into another.
"Are you ready?" He intones, devoid of inflection. He does, however, spare a sneer in the direction of the Muggle strip. Quite frankly, Harry's surprised he hasn't burned the whole thing down.
She holds up her bags and nods.
This is how her first apparition trip begins.
When it is over, she decides she never wants to do it again.
The dark lord releases her as the world rights itself in front of the dilapidated Manor; he drifts inside the house without a backwards glance, leaving her to balance her new belongings and follow.
He stops stock still in the foyer, and she almost bumps into him in her attempt to fit through the door. She blinks. Was he waiting for her? He takes one look at her bags, and makes what she thinks is a condescending face. With a wave of his hand, they wrench out of her grip, floating themselves in a singular march up the stairs, presumably to her room. She watches them bob their way up the staircase, wondering what to do now.
She turns her attention reluctantly towards the dark lord. Her eyes lower; she scuffs the floor in an untimed rhythm with her foot. "Thank you," She says, at great length, chancing a glance at him. He appears unmoved. "For, um, the clothes… and picking me up. You didn't have to do that."
"Had I not, you would have invariably spent the night wandering your way home."
"A dangerous endeavor, indeed," his eyes narrow, as if his thoughts had found their way to something else. "Consult with me first before you decide to embark on another."
She nods. "Right." The first rule he's laid since she came here. She wonders what significance it holds. He could have given her thousands of restrictions—why this one?
He pivots smartly on his heel, and then he is off, a dark, billowing form of darkness in the gloom of the hall.
He gives no indication for her to follow, so she watches his figure fade back into blackness with a forlorn, indecipherable expression. After some time, she shakes her head, moving to the room. Her room. This gives her pause.
She's never had a room of her own before.
She's had a cupboard, and a loaned room full of toys that weren't hers. Never had she had a space to truly call her own. Her breath catches, and she opens the door as if it is to a place she's never been to before. The interior has not changed; dust runs rampant and unyielding in the corners where she can't chase them out; the curtains are heavy and besotted with cobwebs, sparse light seeps from them, as if caught in a marmoreal glow. Her bed is rumpled and unmade, because Aunt Petunia isn't here to scold her for not doing it.
Harry's eyes lower onto the neatly lined bags in the center of the room. One by one, she takes the garments out, folds them properly into the chest of drawers. Next are her shoes, which she straightens neatly beneath her bed. Soon she finds herself cleaning the entirety of the room—moving her trunk to the corner, thrusting the curtains away to open the windows, heaving the drawer to the far wall.
A quite murmur drifts into the room, and Harry turns to see her beloved owl perched on the windowsill, cocking her head at her master.
Harry smiles, laying the last of her most precious things on her bedside table. A book from Hermione, a quill from Ron, a tarnished ring and a small red ribbon from a pouch of Bertie Bott's Every Flavored Beans—her first real purchase in the wizarding world.
"Hello," She greets, moving to sit upon the sill. Hedwig hoots in return, scooting her head into Harry's waiting hand.
"Where did you go?" She asks the crooning bird. Hedwig, of course, does not answer. Harry ponders this. It is a vast and large world outside the ill-kept edges of the Riddle Manor lot; she hopes Hedwig is making the most of it.
She continues to pet the owl, smiling down upon it affectionately. "You like it here too, don't you?" She whispers.
Hedwig tilts her head up with a trill.
"Yeah," Harry agrees. "Me too."
Harry sees the Dark Lord so rarely he may as well be a wandering ghost haunting the house. He spoke of a connection between the two of them, and sometimes she'll sit in a dust-mottled room and try to find the thread that ties them together. She certainly can't predict where he is at all times, like he does her, but there is a hollowness when he leaves.
It's not there now, so he must be around somewhere.
Harry never goes into the dungeons, mostly for fear of what she may find down there. Voldemort had warned her once that she was not to wander into the basement, and she didn't need to be told twice.
Harry does not see much of the Dark Lord.
But she sees quite a bit of Tom Riddle.
It seems he is almost inescapable. He haunts her waking hours as a quiet form tucked away in the corners of her vision—sometimes she thinks she sees him darting past her into the yard; his small form curled up in the chair in the foyer; his large and curious gray eyes peering up at her as he crouches with her among the weeds in the garden.
She mulls about the house, plodding along sullenly, lost in her thoughts. Her feet lead her out to the yard, where fireflies have taken into the air like a thousand, scintillating lights. The summer air is warm and cloying, damp against her skin.
Out here in the stillness she crouches low, breathing deeply as she closes her eyes. Behind them Tom Riddle is there, in a moment not unlike this one. The orphanage yard is overrun with rampant weeds interspersed through cracks in the pavement. Scratched upon the surface of the concrete are long marks of colored chalk; remnants of games he will never play. He sits alone, surrounded by silence. He is so full of anger that it scares her sometimes—but he is equally as consumed by his loneliness. She thinks it was the combination of the two that created the black wraith wandering down the halls today.
She must doze off like that, as the scenes shift behind her eyes like diffused panels of sunlight; not coherent enough for her to recognize shapes or sounds, but suffused, thick and heavy with feeling: sorrow, lament, and desolation.
They are so strong in her that it stirs her from her daze, steeps deep within her soul.
Harry stands, and almost as if without conscious thought does she draw her wand and whisper into the silent air,
The blonde man falls to the floor in a crumpled heap, gasping against the soiled wood.
Lord Voldemort scowls, feeling, if possible, even more enraged after casting the Crucio than he had before. Pity. They almost always put him in better spirits.
"That is unacceptable, Lucius."
"Forgive m—me, my Lord…" His long hair lays lank and lifeless about his face, which has drawn gaunt with the duration of the curse. "But the Minister has grown paranoid—
"Did I ask for an explanation?" He hisses, smoldering rage inconsolable in his chest.
This is not a matter to be taken lightly. The prophecy is integral; he must retrieve it at all costs. As it is he can't even pinpoint its location. The thought makes him angrier than usual. His servants are useless in this endeavor, as the majority of them have fallen out of favor in the public eye, or worse, been convicted in a public trial. All but Lucius. Sly, slippery Lucius. Even he is proving to have little use.
"No," he replies, weak. "No, my Lord."
"Up," Voldemort commands.
His servant stands, shakily.
"You will return to the Ministry," he begins anew. "Imperio someone if you have to. Gain access to the room."
He bows low. "Yes, my Lord."
"And be sure not to rouse suspicion. Do not think you are the only hand I have in the Ministry. If I catch word of your endeavors—
A rustling, behind him. Through the open window, he can hear the long creak of the backdoor, the soft padding of small feet against the gravel path. He stills abruptly. He is intimately aware of the soft murmur of wind in her hair, the sweet sound of her breath, so loud in the intermittent silence of the drawing room. He is just as aware that as closely as he can hear her, she will be able to hear him.
"I assure you, you will not be pleased with the results," he finishes, voice distinctly quieter than before.
Lucius does not notice, bowing again. "Of course, my Lord. I will not fail you again."
He sneers. "See that you don't."
Lucius hears the dismissal in his tone, nodding and disapparating, leaving the Dark Lord alone in the sifting dust. He stares into the vacant room, before turning towards the windows. As he suspected, Harry is frolicking around in the yard, unaware anything is amiss. Well, perhaps not frolicking, but still just as wholly unaware of her surroundings. She is curled in the center of the yard, unmoving; the shivering glow of fireflies illuminate her profile in small catches of light, separating the parts from the whole. Like this, he can almost pretend she doesn't exist—not corporeally, anyway; not outside of the world in his dreams, the memories that haunt him even in his waking hours.
He watches her, silent, and asks himself once more why she is even here at all. Perhaps he should throw her into a dungeon, or lock her in a tower, or a Gringotts bank, as Tom Riddle had the rest of his Horcruxes. It felt like an oddly ill-fitting end. It had seemed only natural to find her on the platform, donning a false human skin, bringing her back to him.
She stirs, slow.
The part of him that belongs to her trembles beneath his ribs. He unwillingly feels her foreign emotions, spreading, a sharp scissile like acidulous glass upon him; grief, remorse, longing—all the things that he cannot understand.
The dress shifts as she stands. She has many more of them now, in bright prints and colors like sweetness and sunshine, but none hold her favor like the yellow sundress. The one he conjured for her: he is wholly unable to forget this fact each and every time he sees it. Even when he doesn't the thought stirs within him, as if a constant reminder that there is more to her that belongs to him than a simple sundress.
He does not hear her voice over the spell, even though the spell itself is soundless.
A white, marmoreal light blooms from the tip of her wand. Shivering stars dancing with the lightning bugs: a galaxy forms in the space around her. She is the indomitable center of its gravity. The spots of stars drift around her, before all the lights move in tandem, as if in preconcerted effort, and a glissade of luminous light that takes form in front of her.
It is as if, all at once, the very breath is stolen from him at the sight.
Perhaps he should not be so surprised to see her conjure one. She has defeated him twice now, and while perhaps luck had a great deal to do with her victories it still is no easy endeavor. Yet the Patronus is a difficult charm to master—even grown wizards cannot conjure such a feat, including him.
The fawn nudges against her, as if in corporeal touch. A slight smile grows about her lips as she reaches a cautious hand.
How ironic that she so easily casts the only spell which the greatest sorcerer in the world cannot.
The cold light is like a balm upon her weary soul, washing away the sorrow and the sadness, if only for a little bit. They will be back, she knows this intimately, but for now the blinding presence beside her seems to burn from inside her heart, warming her to her toes.
She gazes sightlessly into the constellations of her fawn; her hand stills, and suddenly something compels her to turn around. Her attention is drawn towards a window above, where a dark figure stands unmoving in the shadows.
She blinks, and he is gone.
Her eyes turn to him, so bright and wide. They consume everything: space, time, the gravity beneath them and between them. They will ruin him, he knows.
It is with no small amount of weariness that he takes this moment to privately admit to himself what he knew all along: he loves her. And what great, regrettable irony it is. He loves her as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, in the spaces between shadow and soul. She will ruin him. But undoubtedly he has already ruined her.
He should break his gaze away. But it as if nothing in her is extinguished nor forgotten. Her expression is like night: calm, constellated. And yet, like always, when those luminescent eyes turn to him something endless draws in them.
She slips her hand into his. Small and warm.
She tugs—she is leading him somewhere. He should not follow, but he indulges her. His gaze is transfixed into the knit of their fingers. His, long and pale and skeletal; hers, small, trim, smudged slightly with both dirt and vitality alike. They look as if they have seen sunshine: grass, earth, and sky. Her fingertips are painted haphazardly in mismatched colors, as if she couldn't decide which she liked best and decided on them all.
They spill out into the yard, a white grayscale light burns the earth into complacency, and in the watery sunshine he cannot reconcile anything in his gaze from what he remembers. Nagini slithers between his feet and into the grass, making for the tall and overgrown rose bushes. It appears as if the contents of many people's gardens have found their way into the space behind the mansion—or, more likely, the stolencontents of other people's gardens. He tries to imagine Harry scampering around the yards of the muggle neighbors, pillaging potted pants and uprooting bushes as he tortures innocents in the mansion's hollowed halls.
He should steal his hand away once more. There are people to see, prisoners to torture, matters to attend to.
All of it seems so very insignificant when she turns to him, that unending look in her eyes.
"Isn't it beautiful?" She says, breathlessly, and he agrees, but he is not looking at the garden.
"You've kept yourself busy," he finds himself replying, though it is impossible not to give her every inch of his attention. She burns bright and ephemeral in the wintry light, every particle of sun and sound draws into her as if compelled by a foreign force: he is no exception.
She nods absently, moving further into the wonderland. "What do you know of flowers?" She asks, guiding him through the sweet efflorescence.
"Nothing remarkable," he answers, and continues to let her draw him into the garden.
"Oh," she looks unreasonably sad to know that there are, indeed, things on this earth of which he does not possess intimate knowledge of.
"Well," she begins again; her hand has not left his, and she swings them lightly, almost absentmindedly, as she wanders about the flowers. "I don't know much either… but I figured it's very hard to go wrong with flowers."
She stops quite suddenly. "You don't mind… do you?" She asks, tentative, and her eyes are steadfastly fixed away from him.
"The Manor is yours to do what you wish," he answers at great length. All but the dungeons, goes unsaid. A conflicted look passes her face at the mention of the other parts of his life.
"Thank you," she replies, but it is distant and dispirited. He should not care so greatly on her viscous and ever-changing emotions—he finds himself disquieted anyway, displeased with the idea of somehow upsetting her.
Love, he thinks. It must be this: the knot in his chest, the awful feeling that grows and festers in his stomach. If he had known that Dumbledore's greatest weapon was more or less a stomach ulcer he would have invested less time in attempting to destroy the girl in front of him and more into a cure for a stomachache.
Her hand slips out of his, and she wanders into the forest of flowers. He doesn't quite catch her expression: he doesn't need to. Her conflicted emotions wash over him as if caught in the wind.
But he knows, in his heart, that this ailment he suffers from cannot be cured by a simple potion.
Harry spins around, regarding him. "What are you thinking of?" Her eyes linger on his, searchingly.
What is he to say? It seems so horribly ironic—everything about this.
The power the dark lord knows not.
The dark lord appraises her. "Nothing of consequence," he answers at length.
Her eyes are quiet and sad, as if to show the expression for the both of them. He says this, but she will always know it's a lie. The desperation, anger, resignation; they must all be very plain for her to see, in delitecent places that cannot be hidden from her.
"You're thinking about the prophecy." But this is not a question. Her gaze lowers, almost guiltily. But that is ridiculous; what does she have to be guilty for? There is only one person responsible for putting those events in motion standing in this garden, and is not her.
Had he not come to her on that unremarkable autumn night, they would not be faced with this doomed, preclusive ending.
But had he not come to her on that unremarkable autumn night, they would not be where they are now.
The world is so still around her, as she draws closer, the indomitable force of this diminutive universe. Violescent flowers curl around them: an unmoving portrait of color and shadow. He does not have eyes for any of it. But then, there appears to be only one thing on this earth he has ever had eyes for.
"It's not true," she denies, drawing his attention back to the matter at hand. "I won't let it be true."
Her austere and unrepentant promise is touching, if not unnecessary and ultimately irrelevant. He would not have let it happen, anyway. It confuses him, if anything. Why would he want to destroy such a precious part of his soul? He finds quiet comfort in the endless tenderness in her gaze. He finds himself incapable of causing her harm, and his sentiment is shared. And anyway, Harry couldn't even hurt a fly—not because she wouldn't want to, but because she wouldn't even know how. He's fairly sure the most dangerous spell she knows is bombarda.
They both agree to refuse it.
Yet there is an inevitable sorrow that has overtaken him.
She takes his hand quite suddenly, slipping nimble fingers into his. Her wand is held between them, and she raises their entwined hands until it is settled before her eyes. Though it is not his wand, it feels familiar: like walking through a familiar door into an unfamiliar room, this wand reminds him so much of his own. However there is a sweetness to it that could never be found in the yew wood of his.
She does not take her eyes off of his. "Expecto Patronum,"
His eyes widen. Magic rushes from their joined fingers in a brilliant white light. It erupts between them, like a shooting star, and drifts around them like thousands of glowing paper lanterns. He feels something warm and beautiful settle into his heart—something so glorious he could never have possibly conjured it on his own.
A fawn made from glass and stars nuzzles lightly against his other hand. He looks down upon it, surprised. It's not corporeal, and yet he feels as if he can feel its touch.
Her gaze lowers towards it, and she holds out a hand for the patronus to sniff, smiling slightly.
"It feels so wonderful, doesn't it?" She whispers, so softly, as if not to intrude upon the moment.
"Yes," he replies, distant, transfixed upon it. Its white light chases away everything else, until nothing remains but serein stars and an unending warmth.
She disregards the fawn, leaning close to rest against his chest. Her hand still covers his, so stark against the deadly pale of his skin. Brother wands, he is reminded. It sings in response to his touch. Her lashes flutter against his neck, and then she is pulling him down to catch his lips with her own.
And the Dark Lord will mark her as his equal,
His other hand draws upwards to the fringe of her hair, brushing lightly against the infamous lightning scar. She lowers the wand; the little universe disperses. They both ignore the dwindling lights; her shivering hands reach up to him, and something even more enchanting than her spell seems to make its own magic between them. Something more enchanting—and infinitely more deadly.
Equals? He pulls her closer, and the garden disappears into the dark gloom of his bedroom.
The Dark Lord will mark her as his own.
And he has always been very possessive—very protective—of what's his.
Harry has never had so much freedom in her life. The summer passes in starry nights and long, warm afternoons; insignificant moments in time spent lazing in the grass with Nagini, listening to the bird songs, and occasionally, silent spaces in the library, with only the Dark Lord for company. She expected him to be significantly worse company. As it is, he is quiet, but not obtrusive. Perhaps a little disengaged, but she didn't expect him to converse with her, let alone allow her to live in his manor for the summer.
She writes to her friends cautiously and tactfully; she mentions to Hermione that she has made a muggle friend, and she is staying the summer at their house in Blackburn. Hermione is, predictably, quite curious at that. Harry hedges her off, saying something about long ago playdates with a muggle child her age. She says the same to Ron, who is summarily less interested about muggle boys and muggle houses.
To the Dursely's, she simply pens down a brief excuse: She will not be staying on Privet Dr. this summer, thank you.
Unsurprisingly, they do not reply.
Still, it is by far the best summer she has ever had. Harry is not sure she's ever had such freedom; such guileless worry for such a significant amount of time. And she has never had such… odd company, either.
But perhaps the strangest part of the whole summer is: she's beginning to… like him.
He's the murderer of her parents, of countless people. He's probably responsible for the deaths of even more than that. Hell, he's tried to killher on multiple occasions.
And yet, she does not shy away from the brief, almost unnoticeable touches he leaves upon her skin, from his presence in a darkened room, from his cloaked figure engaged in a large tome at the dining table. Even with people she is somewhat familiar with—other Gryffindors, distant faces from other houses that she vaguely recalls—she would never allow them into her space the way she does him. For the most part, she rarely notices. This in and of itself is odd; the small bubble of security she keeps around herself is a constant presence whenever she is in the company of others. Even Ron and Hermione.
But the dark lord will wander near her; place a hand upon her shoulder, cool, long fingers draping down her arm. That same hand, pressed to the small of her back as he leads her into a dark hallway. Tapping an illicit rhythm upon the desk beside her. Picking stray ferns out of her hair when she wanders into the library after an afternoon in the wilds outside.
A small collection of touches she hadn't acknowledged until now.
Harry joins the dark lord in his study that evening, even though there is nothing she would like less than an afternoon whittled away indoors with a droll text in hand. She's no Hermione, that's for sure.
She enters the room and an electricity runs through her skin; a current that tingles almost unpleasantly down her spine. Harry pauses at the threshold, wary, peering into the library with a sudden apprehension. The dark lord is where she expected; draped upon a large velvet sofa, inky darkness cloaked around him.
Something cold settles in her stomach at the feel of him, and she knows quite suddenly that he has been drenched in the dark arts for the better part of the day, for it clings, besotted, to his very skin like a tangible pestilence.
This does not deter her; if anything, it spurs her forward more. She grabs for the first book she finds—an encyclopedia on medieval torture hexes—and plants herself, determined, upon the seat next to him.
He does not look up.
She bites her lip, and then consciously draws her legs beneath her. The movement tilts her slightly, and she shifts until she is right next to him, until she can feel the warmth of his skin beneath his robes.
The dark lord stiffens, and Harry stays very still.
There is a great likelihood that Lord Voldemort will throw her off. Perhaps more likely, simply remove himself from the couch and walk away from her. But there is a pleasant warmth that grows between them in the interim of a simple touch, and she has a feeling he will not want to let it go.
The dark lord flips a page in his book. He does not look up, nor does he acknowledge that she is there at all. Still, Harry counts this as a win.
She allows herself a small, triumphant grin, before she splits the spine of her book. Immediately she cringes. The title was not misleading—it really is just a giant encyclopedia on horrific and possibly impossible things to do to a fellow human. There are also, even, some for small pets.
"I had not realized you had such a budding fascination on archaic torture devices."
She flushes. "I…"
She snaps it shut before it can revolt her further. His narrow, dark eyes turn towards her; they are devoid of any significant evil, though she can still feel it crawling amongst his skin. It is strange to see and remember once more that this evil is not directed towards her. That, it appears, it will never again turn its ire towards Harry Potter.
She bites her lip deeply enough to draw blood, and slips her hand into his before her bravery can desert her. He grows still beside her.
"You feel cold," she says, in a small voice, not looking at him. "And dark."
Lord Voldemort is inscrutable.
"Perhaps that is not so strange a thing," he allows, after some time. "I am the dark lord."
But not always.
The dark lord would not allow a little girl to traipse through his manor for the summer: he would not humor her and hold her hand when she pulls their fingers together; he would not conjure a dress, a bed, and a room; he would not whisper sleep into her ear on the nights when it eludes her.
There is a man in there that is not the dark lord— there is a man in there that can cause great evils all the same, hiding in that same skin.
Harry does not reply.
I know, she thinks, insensibly saddened. It is so very difficult to connect the quiet man next to her to the horrific monster that had emerged out of a cauldron in a decrepit graveyard. It's been months in his company and she's still rather incapable of it.
"What are you reading?" She says instead, peering curiously over his shoulder.
There are no moving pictures, so automatically she finds it boring, and the text is so small she squints to make it out—and when she does, finds it's not in any language she understands.
"A treatise on the goblin wars of 1712." He answers, as if this is simple, light afternoon reading.
She makes an ambiguous noise that is neither understanding nor disapproval, and leans her head against his shoulder, under the pretense of reading along with him. He stiffens again, but does not move to pull away. Voldemort does not appear to have any overt or considerable reaction to this—outwardly, anyway. But she can feel a certain contentment settle inside her; one that is not quite hers and not quite his. A mix of both.
He doesn't release her hand, even as it warms the deathly cold of his skin; lets her play with their intertwined hands as she peers down upon them, thumbing against him and pressing their index fingers together. His hands are so much larger than her own; her finger looks so small in comparison to his. The skin is a creamy white, without a single imperfection. She is reminded of how it came to be in the first place. How could something so beautiful come from something so dark?
He flips another page; the only sound in the silent room.
True to form the book does indeed appear to be about goblins. She didn't know there was anything to learn about them other than the fact they are staunch capitalists, like the rest of society, but with far more gold.
"Is it interesting?" She whispers, very curious. What she reads seems at least marginally informative, but also incredibly bland.
"Somewhat," is his uneager response. She smiles very slowly at that. Even the great Dark Lord is not enthused with an irritating, banal read.
"I don't like history. Professor Binns makes everything sound a lot more boring than it probably is," she relays, a tone of complaint to her voice. He moves ever so slightly, and when she peers upwards she marvels at the tiny, almost unremarkable smile upon his lips.
"Yes, I imagine he still retains his position as the most monumentally boring professor in that school."
"Oh?" She smirks. "Did the great Tom Riddle fall asleep in his class? You can tell me, I promise to keep it a secret."
He scoffs. "I was never so inattentive to my studies." Which probably means 'yes but I will never admit it'.
She makes an unconvincing noise, before returning her attention to his book. "What's so great about goblins, anyway?"
"They are very intelligent, fascinating creatures; it is very unwise to underestimate them." He returns, sounding amused.
She racks her brain for anything regarding the severe little creatures. "If they were so smart," she begins, loftily, "than why did they take that treaty with the vampires?"
For a brief moment, his grip tightens in hers, and then he is explaining in detail just why goblins are such an interesting subject. He is a far better teacher than Professor Binns, that's for sure. She's struck with an image of Tom Riddle, a bit older than the one in the diary, lecturing in front of a class of eager students. She imagines that it's almost entirely made up of girls, who all stare at him with total adoration. The thought makes her giggle.
He pauses. "Is something funny about the deaths of hundreds of eastern European goblins?"
"No," she shakes her head very quickly, still fighting off a smile. "Sorry—but what about the goblins in Russia? They didn't get hurt?"
He appears to be somewhat miffed by such a blatant interruption, but carries on without remark. "Well, they were far better prepared…"
It's not as if he is a bad teacher—if anything, she has established that he's quite good at it. But this does not stop her from growing drowsy with the setting sun, his smooth voice guiding her into dreams.
By the time he has concluded the war, she is fast asleep upon his shoulder.
He refuses to carry her.
She is far past the age to be carried to bed. He brushes wayward hair out of her face; she is far too old to be carried to bed, yet juvenescence is still so warm upon her skin, the flutter of her lashes, her lips as they move silently, lost in dreams. With an absent wave of his hand, she is lifted off the couch, into his arms.
He refuses—but he does it anyway.
Her bed is a rat's nest of pillows and blankets, strewn about as if seized by a storm. He sighs, and he waves that away too, until all the pillows return to their home, and the blankets have straightened themselves out. He lays her upon them, drawing the line at tucking her in. Her hair slips through his fingers like water—for once, not untamed and inescapable—and her head tilts into the pillow, falling into whatever wonderland has arisen behind her eyes.
"Tom," she murmurs, and he looks down upon her with surprise. She is fast asleep.
How very curious.
His fingers come to linger upon the little scar atop her head; and if he stays for longer than needed, it is only to insure no nightmares plague her sleep tonight.