Who We Are 2/3
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. No claim is made on the characters or setting, and no material profit is intended or expected.
Who We Are 2/3
"Is she really a Muggle, Harry?"
"And is she really a Parselmouth?"
The conspicuously-dressed woman seated between Dumbledore and Snape, McGonagall across from her, was the occasion for much comment and speculation over the night's feast, and not just because Rex had now arranged himself as a hat and kept trying to eat Professor Snape's dinner.
(Jessica, furiously embarrassed, finally hissed her exasperation unintelligibly at her pet and finished her meal one-handed, the other clamped firmly on the back of the serpent's neck.)
"Yes, she's really a Muggle, and no, she's not a Parselmouth." At least these were questions Harry could answer with fair certainty, unlike "What's going on?" and "How long is she going to stay?" The latter two were also popular.
"Doesn't she have a job, then?" Colin Creevey asked dubiously. "Or a family to wonder where she is?"
Or that. "I didn't ask," Harry admitted. He hadn't thought to ask. "But Mr. Weasley's nice. If she asked, he would've given her a chance to call people and tell them she would be gone."
"Still," Colin began, but he never finished. While his mouth was still open, a thunderclap shook the air and a sinister, inky green-cast black slunk across the enchanted ceiling to blot out the stars.
There was dead silence for a moment, and then it was broken by a low moaning wind carrying a high cackle that made Harry's hair stand on end, even more than usual. A stabbing pain lanced into his scar, and pandemonium broke out.
Some people huddled together, some dived under the tables, and some fainted. A few scrambled for the door, whether to get away or see what was happening Harry didn't know. His head hurt so that he couldn't think; he stumbled and then, finding he couldn't see, stumbled farther. He heard the professors shouting for order and voices calling his name, but when he tried to turn and look for them someone bumped into him; he fell, barking his knees hard on something on the way down.
Harry climbed to his feet using the chair he'd just fallen over as a prop and kept going, groping ahead of himself to keep from running into anything else.
Finally, he found a wall, then an edge, felt around it, and half-fell through the outer door while someone going the other way ran into him and tried to grab him and pull him inside.
The slap of cool air on his face knocked the hot pains in his forehead back just far enough for him to look around and realize that he had just been very stupid.
The professors were all outdoors. Jessica, looking very confused, seemed to have been swept along with them and was now being chivvied back behind the wizards.
The other students were inside, as many as could fit crowded against the windows with faces full of horror. More, no doubt, cowered further in or were trying to push to the window.
Obviously some of them had been out and gotten sent back in. Draco was propelled past as Harry backed up slowly until he could feel the edge of the doorjamb again.
"Harry!" Ron's voice reached out to him, hoarse with fear and followed by the sound of running feet. "Harry, get back in -- oof!" Apparently he had encountered Draco.
Dumbledore turned at that sound. "HARRY," he thundered, "GO BACK INSIDE!"
Harry tried. He really did. Dumbledore's voice finally shook him into faster motion than creeping, and he let go of the doorframe and turned around to go back through it. He felt something -- Dumbledore's wand, maybe -- push him forward.
Ron, having gotten past Malfoy, appeared and reached out to yank him in.
The door slammed shut. Ron barely avoided being caught in it. Harry came to an abrupt stop with his nose against the wood.
Then, reaching into his pocket to grip his wand tightly, he turned around to face the owner of the screeching cackle that rose into the night sky.
"Voldemort," he whispered. Harry had recognized the shrill voice; the billowing black shape with the white face and eyes like burning coals was merely confirmation.
"Yeeesssssss." The word was one drawn-out hiss, no louder than a breath but all too clear. "I have been waiting to see you again, Harry Potter."
Harry kept his eyes on the red ones, swallowing dry-throated with terror, and forced himself to walk slowly forward to join the professors. Inside obviously wasn't an option, but he didn't want to stay standing all by himself. "You must," he said as steadily as he could, "be very bored."
Dumbledore's eyes glinted approvingly at that, and Jessica, though almost as pale as Voldemort, gave him a quick smile as he reached them. On second thought, he moved a little bit away from Jessica, just in case. She couldn't defend herself, after all. Snape moved sideways to stand between Harry and Voldemort, and incidentally away from Rex's attempt to taste his hair.
Another sharp laugh snapped out like a whip, this one more angry than triumphant. "You still think you can defy me, do you?" The red gaze swept over the assembled professors and glanced off the windowpanes. "Do all of you? You are wrong! I have returned, with more power than ever before!" Lightning crackled around Voldemort as he gestured with a slender wand that made Harry's twitch.
"...Its brother gave you that scar.... Yes, thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew."
Harry thought, behind his throbbing scar, that he liked holly better.
He caught a snatch of conversation off to one side. "--Ministry?" McGonagall was saying anxiously.
"Can't." Flitwick gave the cloudcover a quick, jerky look. "Communications barrier -- travel too -- maybe broomstick but that's too slow. He's sealed us in."
"But how...?" McGonagall broke off, lips pressed together.
Harry felt a chill. Voldemort had been barely alive; how could he have gotten that much power all of a sudden?
Snape started muttering something. Then his teeth suddenly clicked together, a strangled sound clogging in his throat, as Voldemort's eyes gleamed brighter red at him.
Voldemort went on in that horrible voice. "You will not escape me again. Especially you, boy. So arrogant, at that age. I remember that age." He gestured carelessly with the wand held in one claw-like hand, and Harry peered around Snape, eyes widening, as a boy his own age -- maybe some months younger, but not much -- materialized at the edge of the fluttering black shadow.
He was several inches shorter and significantly thinner than when Harry had seen him in the diary, but the hair and the features marked him unmistakably as Tom Riddle.
"You have seen me as I was before. Not so long ago, in fact," the voice went on. There was enough hiss in it that Harry wondered fleetingly whether Voldemort might be speaking Parseltongue, and no one else could understand him. Then Harry decided that it really didn't matter and forgot all about it.
"You thwarted my memory. But I was weak, then, compared to now. Almost nothing. Something, of course, not so weak as this, as I was before I discarded your petty concerns and learned how to grasp power." At the word "this," Voldemort flicked his wand again at the image of Tom Riddle, who looked offended.
The professors began talking, but their words faded into a hum and buzz in Harry's ears. They might have been arguing with Voldemort or preparing an attack, but nobody seemed to be speaking directly to Harry, and he didn't think they'd be likely to include him anyway. He was staring at the image, a boy just younger than himself, so hard that everything else around him blurred while he tried to figure out what struck him as important about it.
Voldemort had created it. Harry tried to call the wand motions to mind -- they'd looked like standard ones for illusion, maybe a bit different, but he only knew the basic shape from observation and illustrations in History of Magic. There were probably variations. So that didn't help.
Then there had been that second gesture, but Harry thought that had only been like pointing a finger, not another spell. Then Tom had --
Harry's heart seemed to leap up into his throat and stop there. Tom had looked offended. That was what had riveted his attention on the image -- or, as he was starting to suspect, not just an image. Wizard photos might move and show personality, but even so, glaring at him just didn't seem like what Voldemort would have wanted an illusion to do when he insulted it -- Voldemort would want it to look meek, or cower, or something, not glare at him.
But looking offended was just what Harry imagined somebody would do, if they were proud and not too afraid to do anything.
Just how real was that image?
"So." His voice cracked, and Harry swallowed hard as the burning red eyes swung to look at him. "That's you at age twelve, right?" he croaked.
"Yes." The words dripped scorn onto the cold grass. "Tom Riddle. Still a puling, conscience-ridden little boy who hadn't yet rid himself of his Muggle taint --"
Snape scowled and shifted a bit, trying to push his least favorite student back into greater shelter. McGonagall seized his shoulder and propelled him next to Jessica, which was irritating since he'd just moved away from her on purpose.
Still, Harry felt a surge of triumph. Energy still crackled in the air, and Voldemort's wand still pointed in Riddle's general direction. The agreement -- and the words that followed, however spiteful -- could only make the image more real.
But what good would it do? Doubt shook him; the image was still Voldemort's creation, or summoning, or whatever it was, no matter how much personality it showed. Right?
Or was that right? Something turned over in Harry's mind and clicked into place, although he wasn't quite sure what it was. It told him that the Houses and their founders were one of the important things to think about, though.
Rex reared his head with a loud spitting hiss that began in imprecations Harry didn't even know the English words for and ended with "--How dare you; the taint issss yourssssssssssssssss if it issssss anyone'sssss. Fool. My human issss better by far than you ever could desssire to be." It went on for some time; Harry wished Rex would be quiet before Voldemort decided to blast him or something.
Voldemort -- Tom Riddle had been in Slytherin. It didn't look as if he'd always been evil, or even as nasty as Draco Malfoy. All right, so being as nasty as Draco took some doing in itself.
But however most of them seemed to act, the qualifications for Slytherin didn't actually say anything about being cruel. Or going Dark, even if it seemed to be more likely for them. Harry tried to remember the Sorting Hat's rhymes. Something about cunning, and willing to do anything to get ahead.... It had mentioned real friends, too, which wasn't something he usually associated with Slytherin.
That was interesting.
Voldemort was, rather to Harry's astonishment, just coming back with something about traitors who ate other serpents, which Rex was returning in greater intensity regarding those who turned on their own kind even within a species, when Jessica took an angry step forward.
"You insult those of us without magic and the wizards descended from them," she said coldly. "You call us treacherous and worthless." Harry wondered frantically when Voldemort had said that in her hearing. It must have been when he hadn't been listening. "But you aren't the least bit better. Most of the rest of what you've done I can only guess at, but you certainly didn't seem to have any trouble betraying my mother."
Her mother? What would Voldemort ever have had to do with her mother?
"Your mother, mudling?" Voldemort hissed. Harry gathered he didn't know either. "I seriously doubt your mother could have had even enough importance to me to bother betraying. Unless perhaps you're a Squib?"
Squibs would certainly seem to complicate the Slytherin obsession with "purebloods." Of course, in theory, so should the fact that one of Slytherin's descendants had apparently married a Muggle.
Harry tried to drag his thoughts back on track. What had Dumbledore said Salazar Slytherin looked for? Parseltongue, but that was rare. "Resourcefulness -- determination -- a certain disregard for rules." Harry wasn't quite sure any of that would help here, although he supposed it all might be important. What really defined Slytherins?
Jessica's eyes were icy. "It certainly seems that way. Important enough to go about with for a little while. Important enough to talk to and pretend to be friends until you had better things to do. Or worse, I should say. Important enough to leave and never contact her again when she was pregnant with me."
Everyone stopped and stared at Jessica for the third time that night. Even Voldemort's stark-white face looked startled, and Tom Riddle's mouth dropped open as he swung to face her in shock. A hush fell so heavily that Harry fleetingly imagined his churning thoughts would be overheard.
The hat had mentioned greatness, and proving himself. Anything to get ahead. Cleverness. Selfishness?
The something in his head turned itself over again, and settled more comfortably. Apparently it had been upside-down before.
"Are you trying," that high, cold voice finally said threateningly, "to tell me that I have a Muggle daughter?"
The song had been different this year. Another word popped into his head now, from that the lines on Slytherin.
"Hi," Jessica replied sarcastically. Harry couldn't blame her; Voldemort wasn't sounding particularly quick on the uptake for someone who was supposed to have been one of Hogwarts's top students back in his day.
Even Tom gave Voldemort a slightly annoyed look, even as the dark wizard sneered, "What a pity. I should have hoped if I had the misfortune to father a Muggle's child I'd at least have had some influence. You seem to have turned out a typical Muggle -- mundane, useless, thoughtless, cruel --"
Harry blinked, momentarily distracted. Voldemort used "cruel" as if he didn't approve of it? But maybe that had seeped across from Tom Riddle, or his memories; the sixteen-year-old one from the diary might have gone Dark, but he probably hadn't entirely made up the apprehension about going back to the Muggle orphanage for the summer... not if it had happened to be run by anyone like the Dursleys, certainly.
And the twelve-year-old Tom was nodding unconscious agreement.
Harry thought about the rest of what Voldemort had said when he'd confirmed that the "image" was himself at twelve years old. Conscience-ridden. Before he abandoned their concerns. He looked straight at Tom and shook his head a little bit, catching the other boy's eye. They aren't all like that, he thought as hard as he could, wishing there were some way he could actually convey it without Voldemort noticing.
It wouldn't be easy. This Tom was Voldemort's creature, literally, at the moment.
Harry swallowed and clung to his conclusion.
Individualism. If any one thing characterized Slytherins, it was a strong sense of self. That left a lot of room to be nasty, granted, but the point was....
Tom Riddle had already been Sorted.
And Harry suspected Voldemort, in his arrogance at the progress he'd made since then and his scorn for anyone who bothered with such paltry concerns as good and evil, had forgotten the significance of that.
"There are some people who are like that," Jessica replied savagely, "'Muggle' and wizard alike. And then there are people like my real father, who married my mother and loved us both so much that I couldn't understand it when I eventually heard of anyone resenting a child for being someone else's by birth." Had Tom just barely flinched when she mentioned love? "It's too bad you seem to have met the worse variety outside your wizard-world, but it's worse that you decided to pattern yourself on them."
Harry saw Tom waver and look stricken by those words, and decided this was his chance. Heart pounding, he sidled away from the protective adults until he could lock eyes with the younger figure at the edge of the shadow and whispered, hoping desperately that Voldemort was paying too much attention to Jessica to listen, "You don't have to."
It was only then that he had the horrifying thought that Voldemort's attention just might take the form of death.
But the Dark Lord was speaking instead. "Foolish little Muggle. I could annihilate you with a thought."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief and realized that Tom was still staring at him, even though his own eyes had flickered from him to Jessica to Voldemort and back. The boy in shadows mouthed -- or whispered, but if so the sound didn't carry -- "What do you mean? They're all awful."
Not the most encouraging statement, but at least he was interested.
"Could you?" Jessica snapped.
Harry winced. Shut up, shut up, yes he could.
"Of course," Voldemort purred malevolently. Harry's neck prickled at the sound, and he wished Voldemort would go back to malevolent hissing.
"You're not even as impressive as what 'Muggles' come up with when we imagine things about magic," Jessica retorted. She was shaking.
"Such as?" Still purring.
"Sauron Annatar," Jessica replied after visibly casting about in her mind. "From Lord of the Rings."
Voldemort threw his head back and gave vent to a long screeching laugh. "Ring-giver, is that it? Your mother must be the one who insisted on telling me about that story. So very... inspiring. You'd think she'd have known better when I offered her one."
So that was where the cursed ring had come from! Harry saw Tom glance up and wince a little at the high-pitched laugh. "They aren't," he mouthed back, realizing Tom wouldn't be able to hear him and he might as well not give Voldemort a chance to. "Not all of them. I've met some really nice Muggles. Hermione's parents, for instance."
Tom's eyebrows drew together in an expression of sudden puzzlement, and Harry realized he had probably lost the other boy on that last part. He shook his head slightly again. "Hermione" was not an easy thing to lip-read if you didn't know the name. Never mind.
"So that thing was your doing?" Jessica asked coldly. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."
"And just what," Dumbledore added in a deceptively light tone, "did you think you were going to do with it?"
Harry jumped at Dumbledore's voice and stole a quick glance in the Headmaster's direction. He and all the other professors Harry could see were looking at Voldemort, not at Tom. Could Tom's apparent reality be some sort of trap? Something the professors would ignore and let past their defenses through inattention? At least Harry was watching.
More of that awful laughter. Harry privately resolved never again to drag fingernails or chalk over a blackboard to set Ron's teeth on edge. "Why, it was an experiment. I thought I'd see if I could drain the life-energy from Muggles and put it to some useful purpose."
Or could the image be something Voldemort hoped the Hogwarts professors would try to rescue and thus make themselves vulnerable to him? Perhaps by feeding Tom -- and hence Voldemort -- energy?
Now there was a chilling thought. Harry looked back at Tom and took a deep breath. He thought the image of Tom was real, or at least could be.
If this turned out to be a trap... he was going to fall for it.
"Listen." He dared to put a sound to the words this time, just barely. "My name's Harry Potter, but if I'm right you don't really know me. I'm not going to say, 'Listen to me.' You don't even know me. Listen to him. Look at him. Is that what you want to be?"
"Of course, I was quite young at the time, comparatively ignorant, and it was somewhat impulsive. Not a terribly well-done spell, as such things go." Voldemort sounded amused and vaguely scornful. "I wasn't even certain if Muggles had enough energy to be worth stealing, so I made it a very gentle drain, just to reduce the odds of their instantly keeling over. Unfortunately that made it absurdly slow."
Jessica's voice was still furious, but a little less tense. Perhaps she'd realized that if the charm was slow-acting, at least it shouldn't have done the child too much harm. Less than the electrical outlet, at any rate. "Is that all my mother was to you? A chance to charge up your little enchanted battery?"
"Of course not," Voldemort replied irritably. "I told you it was somewhat impulsive. No, I kept company with your mother because I was still associated with Hogwarts, and," here he grinned horribly at Dumbledore, "I thought that a Muggle girlfriend might make me look less suspicious to certain parties. It even appeared to have worked, for a time." Another sickening grin. "Besides, it seemed time that the wizard do the leaving."
Harry could practically feel Jessica fuming, and Tom's expression had... wavered... again at Voldemort's last sentence, now appearing trapped between disgust and agreement. "So is this about your father?" he whispered urgently. "Is that it? You said he left because your mother was a witch. So he does the same thing, but planned, to somebody who never hurt him -- how's that better?"
"But the experiment worked beyond my wildest imaginings, ultimately," Voldemort added, laughing again. Harry's skin crawled. Voldemort kept on talking... with a chill, Harry realized the Dark wizard was dawdling. He'd decided to play with them. "Little enough energy came in from the Muggles, as I discovered when I tried it as a source to return myself to life from shadow -- but I left it alone again, and then -- the floodgates burst! As if power actually poured through it voluntarily -- until I seized on it, of course, and even then it came easily."
The electrical outlet. So Voldemort had come back on Muggle electricity.
But that could hardly be a normal power source for a wizard, even a Dark wizard. If he had a lot of unfamiliar power, could that explain making mistakes like putting too much of it into making something meant to be a mirage?
The blood was pounding in his ears again; Jessica's voice and those of Voldemort and the other wizards rose to a dull, formless roar, with Rex's angry hissing laced through it. Harry didn't understand a word. But he heard Tom's faint answering whisper very clearly: "He made me."
"Voldemort? He was you, once. He made you from a memory. But he overdid it. You're him the way he used to be, but you're separate," Harry whispered back under the roar. "He says you're from before he turned to the Dark Arts. Aren't you?"
A nod -- and not a lying one, either; Harry thought he knew real fear when he saw it.
Dumbledore's words came back suddenly from when Harry had asked him, fearfully, whether he had really belonged in Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we really are, far more than our abilities."
Riddle had chosen Slytherin. But that didn't mean he had to choose the Dark Arts, surely.
"It's the choices we make," Harry continued softly, "that show who we are. That define who we are. Not what we can do. What we do." He swallowed, hoping his heart would get out of his throat and go back where it belonged.
Tom hesitated. "What about my father?"
"What about him?"
"I lost my mother -- she died pining away for a man who didn't even care enough to stay with her." The whisper was almost a hiss, but not quite; Harry hoped Tom wouldn't slip into Parseltongue -- that could hardly escape Voldemort's notice. It was furious, but pained -- Harry looked into the green eyes opposite his own and saw She loved him more than me and he didn't care about either of us. What did Tom see in his?
Harry bit his lip. "What do you really know about him? He left. But how? Did he just hate the idea of magic? Or did he maybe not trust her, if she'd kept that much of a secret for that long? Maybe he left for a walk to deal with it, and something kept him from going back. Maybe they argued and he walked out and didn't think she'd take him back and they were both too proud to ask." His imagination seemed to be in good order, at least. "I don't know. Maybe that. Maybe he was as bad as you think. Maybe it was one of the other things. But his choices made him. You get your own." He took a deep breath. "You get a second chance. I saw how you looked at Voldemort. If that's not what you want to be, reject him. Take the energy. He went too far; he forgot you'd be yourself, not him. You could be the real one."
The temptation of Tom Riddle, Harry thought wildly. He hoped this one would stick.
Tom took a half-step closer. His eyes were riveted on Harry's now, in a stare half afraid and altogether fascinated. Harry suspected -- and hoped, truth be told, in case Voldemort looked -- that from outside, the intent gaze looked malevolent. "He is strong."
"Not as strong as he thinks. You still have a conscience, don't you? You still care. You know falling to the Dark Arts is -- is morally weak no matter how much power you have." Harry suspected he sounded ridiculous, but it didn't seem to be bothering his audience. "He thinks you're weak because you haven't started using them yet. He's wrong. He's forgotten that's not what it takes."
"If he's forgotten," Tom whispered, "then how can I be what you're saying?"
Ouch. Good question. Harry searched his mind frantically and came up with, "Because forgotten's not the right word. He still has the memories. He still knows what he was like, what you're like now, but he's so stuck on Dark Power and rot that he keeps himself from seeing it."
"I don't know if I'm strong enough." But there was a gleam in Tom's eyes, and it wasn't red.
"He put a lot of energy into you," Harry said slowly, shivering a little at the continued shouts and wishing the Hogwarts professors would do something besides yell. He suspected he'd actually gotten used to the pain in his scar, at least as long as Voldemort wasn't thinking about him.
Or maybe he didn't wish that; he realized Tom was getting more distinct still, and Voldemort was looking slightly less... fully there, and less impressive, but didn't yet seem to realize it. He'd known he should go ahead and fight Tom Riddle from the diary because that Riddle had been getting sharper and more distinct; maybe the professors could see Voldemort weakening and knew they should delay.
Or maybe the idea that they could do something was wishful thinking, though it seemed as if Dumbledore should be able to, or Voldemort wouldn't have feared him. Maybe that wasn't so much in direct combat....
If the professors couldn't help, then what Harry was about to do was even more important. If they could... well, then maybe they were waiting for him, even if they didn't know it.
"You've been taking more. I hadn't realized. I don't know what the balance is." Tom looked as much like a real person as any of Harry's classmates probably would, if they had been standing in eerie shadows and the glow from sickly dancing lightning. "I --" He gulped. This could be a disaster if he happened to be wrong. "I'll give you some of mine to help."
Tom's eyes widened. "Why?"
"Because I'd rather have you than... him." At this point, even Harry wasn't going to use Voldemort's name. Not out of superstition, but because of the very real possibility that it might get his attention at a crucial moment. "Are you going to try? I'll help, but only if you try."
Tom half-turned to look up at his older self -- his future, or possible future -- snake-nosed, red-eyed, chalk-white face contorted in hatred.
The fist clenched around Harry's heart released it and let his chest fill with a burst of relief as Tom shuddered in horror and turned back, looking sick.
But tantalized. The fist seized again, but lightly, undecided. Tantalized. By what?
"I don't want to be him," Tom whispered so fiercely that Harry was tempted to shush him before he could be overheard. "I don't want to be -- that. I've never wanted to be a Dark wizard." He was so tense he was trembling. "I don't know where I -- where he went wrong, but I don't want to do it again. And I'm me. He'll want to reabsorb me so I won't be anymore. But I am." The same appearance of earnestness as the deceitful sixteen-year-old version, but none of the smoothness of the lies. This was real.
"Good." Harry swallowed. "I think you're almost in balance." A shaky breath. "Let me tip it."
Then he closed his eyes and for the first time looked for the connection just behind his scar, where Voldemort had accidentally handed over a little of his power -- That's starting to sound like a habit. I hope! -- and where the pain came with the Dark wizard's anger. He found Voldemort and shied away just a bit, treading carefully until he found the connection from Voldemort to... Tom.
It was similar enough to reinforce the idea that Tom had his own identity, too, instead of being a terrifyingly skillful example of puppetry.
Tom was still part of the same set of life-energy, though, even if the early years of the soul seemed to have fissioned or duplicated or something. Harry was connected to him too, even though it was going to be very, very hard to hit just the connection to Tom and not the one to Voldemort.
It occurred to him to open his eyes and meet Tom's anxious ones again, and suddenly it wasn't difficult anymore.
Harry carefully began feeding a thin trickle of his own power and life-energy over to Tom, watching the connections to Voldemort warily for any activity. Nothing seemed to change.
None of the professors would approve of this, surely. Harry stopped when he started to feel too tired to concentrate, hoping desperately that this would be enough, and that he hadn't made some horrible mistake.
He tuned back in to his surroundings just in time to see Voldemort simultaneously raise his wand toward Jessica... and make a grasping motion toward Tom with his free hand, trying to gather him back in. The world seemed to slide dreadfully sideways as Harry tried to leap to save Jessica but found he couldn't; the energy he'd given away had slowed him and Voldemort was going to take it all back in --
"I REJECT YOU!" Tom screamed the words, voice cracking almost as high as Voldemort's, as he leaped towards Voldemort, not away, and his fingers wrapped around the wand. His wand.
There was a violent blast of energy, black and green and streaks of bright clean gold all in a shattering bolt of lightning that formed between the two and then exploded. Tom staggered back but kept his feet, crying over the accompanying thunderclap, "I'm not you and never will be!"
And Voldemort gave a shrill, agonized wail as he burst into a swirl of black rags and then slowly dissipated, all the life yanked out of him with Tom's convulsive clutch at the wand.
The silence as the scream died was almost breathtaking. No one moved for a few seconds, and then Albus Dumbledore looked up as the roiling green-black in the sky slowly broke up and disappeared. "I see we've a clear night after all."
Everyone remembered to breathe again; there were muttered questions about "How did he DO that?" and answers ranging from a snippy "Did you forget why nobody wants to use his name?" to the conclusion that "It must have been the electricity" and an attempt to elicit a more technical explanation of electricity from the shaken Jessica.
Dumbledore tapped Snape's lips with the end of his wand, and the Potions master gasped and then swallowed convulsively, grimacing and working his mouth as if to be sure it was still there.
Harry stared at Tom, who was pale and trembling, hands both wrapped tightly around his wand, still standing next to the only one of the black rags that had floated to the ground and looking down at it as it slowly disintegrated. The grass under it looked unwell. "You did it." He'd meant to speak softly, and probably really had, but his voice sounded unnaturally loud. "You got rid of Voldemort. You're starting over."
Tom looked up at him with a start. "You helped me." It sounded more confused than precisely grateful.
"Well," Dumbledore said softly. He was looking at Tom now. "This is most interesting."
"Isn't it." McGonagall's gaze followed his.
"Indeed." Snape now. Tom was starting to look uneasy, though his own focus still seemed to be on Dumbledore.
"Voldemort screwed up," Harry announced. "He -- he underestimated what he was like before the Dark Arts. What he could've been like. And Tom decided not to be like him, and by then he was strong enough to take over. Voldemort had grabbed a lot of life, enough to fuel two people for a while, but not to maintain it forever."
"A remarkable act of will," Dumbledore murmured.
"He's a Slytherin," Harry replied. "He wasn't going to let anybody keep him from being himself, not even his older self."
It was only now that Harry realized many of the other students had silently filed back out of the Great Hall, though they were all staying well back.
"I should think," Snape said waspishly, "that the same argument would apply in reverse. And Voldemort was more experienced."
"Voldemort wasn't paying attention," Harry snapped back. Wait. Snape had said "Voldemort"? Should that surprise him?
"I believe the boy's right," Dumbledore remarked kindly. "Now, Tom." He walked over and tilted the boy's chin up, looking deep into his eyes as if, Harry thought, he could see straight through to the thoughts. Harry wasn't at all sure Dumbledore couldn't. "So you don't want to be a Dark wizard, eh?"
"And what is it exactly that you did about this decision?"
"He -- he was how I grew up, wasn't he?" Tom looked miserable, and Harry wasn't sure whether it was from the thought of Voldemort or Dumbledore's penetrating stare. "He called me back up, though, the way he -- the way I was before. Am. I -- I'm twelve," he added a bit inanely. His eyes darted fleetingly from Dumbledore to Harry. "Harry said... that I could be the real one. That I didn't have to make the same choices. I could get to make my own if I could just get away from him. So I -- I did what he said. He gave me a little bit of his life so I'd have an advantage, and I grabbed the rest of the energy Voldemort had gathered and... and pulled." He managed to break away from Dumbledore's gaze again to look down at his white-knuckled grip on his wand. "And I grabbed my wand."
"Your wand, hm?"
"It IS mine! I know it. And I -- when I got it -- I mean, he has it from when he was still me."
Dumbledore chuckled gently, almost reassuringly. "True enough. And good thinking -- if very dangerous for you, Harry. Tom, what do you remember?"
"Anything of Voldemort?"
Tom paled further and visibly turned inwards, trying to remember. "I don't know. Sir. I don't feel as if there's been any time, but I know there has, and there are some things...." His eyes squeezed shut, then opened again quickly. "I think I must remember a little. Nothing... nothing's clear, but it's like there's something there. Not... mine."
Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully, his keen gaze still searching Tom's face. "And what do you think you should be doing?"
Tom looked confused, then shook his head and looked even more confused. "I... before this," he said slowly, releasing the wand with one hand to wave vaguely at the general area, "I -- as far as I know I should be about to start my second year at Hogwarts." He looked down at where the rag had been. "Please," he said carefully, "how long has it been?"
"Since he was last who you are now? Since you last existed, or as close as may be to you when you've just had an experience like that?" Dumbledore's glasses shone softly in the moonlight, and his voice was gentle instead of almost sharp as he continued. "It's been just about fifty-four years."
Tom paled still further as he raised his eyes to Dumbledore's again; Harry started to wonder if he was going to faint or if maybe it was a trick of the light. "What are you going to do with me?"
It almost could have been funny. The boy who had just reclaimed his life and left of Voldemort only a few pathetic rags obviously shared none of Voldemort's confidence about taking on the assembled wizards of Hogwarts, but waited nervously for their judgment.
Dumbledore scrutinized Tom's eyes -- and soul, Harry fancied -- for a moment that stretched out unbearably.
"Well," the headmaster said finally, his own blue eyes twinkling suddenly in the moonlight, "I believe you should be starting your second year at Hogwarts."
There was a sort of strangled gasp from Tom. "You'll still let me --?"
"Certainly! Your head's quite as much in need of filling as anyone else's, hm? And your stomach, too. Of course the personnel won't be quite as you remember, but you'll catch up soon enough."
Dumbledore patted the boy's shoulder and directed everyone back inside with sweeping gestures. Harry stood still for a moment as the others streamed indoors. So did Tom.
If Dumbledore believed this was really Tom Riddle from before he went bad, then everything really should be all right.
"Thank you," Tom said after an interval of mutual staring. Harry suspected that he, at least, was personally staring largely because he was to tired to move yet.
"You're welcome." Maybe he wasn't that tired after all. He was feeling better, anyway. And his scar didn't hurt anymore. "Well, come on in," Harry said after a moment, breaking into a grin. "You haven't quite missed dinner."