Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Locus :: 05

05

“So what was all that about? You seemed terribly angry.”

“That was me finding out that my grandfather and uncle were abusive and more than a little crazy, and my father was a muggle who abandoned my mother because she was a witch,” Tom said heatedly.

Joshua bit his lip, thinking, then said, “I get the feeling someone died.” He wanted to sigh. On the one hand he was somewhat upset at the idea. Killing a person could not be an easy thing to do. On the other hand, he could understand to a degree why Tom might go after these people. After all, hadn’t they long held to the idea that if someone did bad to them, bad happened back?

Tom took a moment to answer, his gaze distant. “Yes.”

“How do you feel about it?”

“I don’t know yet,” Tom said, shaking his head. “I just don’t know yet.”

Joshua moved closer, sitting beside his friend and leaning against him. He smiled when Tom’s arm wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him closer. “You know, I’m kind of surprised that you didn’t try to make a Horcrux when Myrtle was killed.

Not in the school, not with Dumbledore there. He watches me, you know that, when he can. He doesn’t trust me. Besides, it’s not like I knew she would be there, so I wasn’t prepared. Also, it wasn’t a direct kill, so I’m not sure it would have counted.

Joshua hummed. “Why not this time? I know you intend to.”

There was a pause before Tom said, “I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was too angry at what I had learned to give that any thought.”

He nudged Tom with his elbow. “Don’t let it happen again.”

Tom released him and turned sideways, looking at him almost incredulously. “Did you . . . just scold me?”

Joshua flashed a smile. “Mm. You deserved it. I’m not your yes-man, Tom, I’m your friend and I care about you. Don’t think I won’t speak up when I believe you’re acting recklessly or thoughtlessly. Now, what’s with the ring?”

Tom looked down, his hand rising and fingers flexing. “It’s been in the family a very long time according to my uncle. My mother had a locket said to be owned by Slytherin, but that’s missing now. She was gone by the time he returned from Azkaban. Seems he was sent there for three years after hexing my father, and then also claiming he did nothing wrong and trying to resist arrest. She must have taken it with her. Maybe she sold it. It must have been the only thing of value she possessed.”

“I’m sure you’ll find it,” he said confidently, moving to lean against Tom again.

*

Their results arrived soon after. Tom got straight Outstandings. Joshua did with the exception of a Exceeds Expectations in Astronomy.

“It isn’t the end of the world. Let’s send back our choices so we can get our lists. The sooner the better.”

Their trip to Diagon Alley was taken not much later and they set to studying their text books, preferring to be well prepared for the year ahead. Joshua had to wonder again just when he might be snatched away. Would he make it though the rest of his schooling first? And if so, when exactly would he return to? Would he be missing for all that time like before, or would he return to the moment he left from?

That year he made a concerted effort to spend more time with Tom’s group, talking with them, and getting to know them better. They might respect him, but he had been unapproachable thus far, so if Tom thought he ought to be more sociable, he would try his best. He was dragged along by Tom to one of Slughorn’s ‘Slug Club’ meetings one night, and expected to mingle.

Oh, Slughorn also thought Joshua was a very bright student and had invited him previously, but he had begged off. It seemed Tom was no longer willing to let it slide. As a result Joshua got to see a different side to his Potions professor. The man had always been jovial, and remarkably tolerant when it came to issues of house affiliation and even blood purity, but he could now be seen as a man who liked to attract talent. Apparently, Slughorn would single out the best and brightest, as well as those from families with excellent contacts, and cultivate them, help them, and in turn, later on in life, gain favors back. An interesting system, all told.

As Tom was acknowledged as the most brilliant student Hogwarts had seen in some time, naturally he was a favorite of Slughorn. The group of young men began spending extra time around the professor, and Tom took those times to ask Slughorn his opinion on a great many things, eventually leading up to a question regarding Horcruxes and whether or not it made sense magically and arithmantically for a person to employ such methods to go with six of them, thus ending up with a seven-part soul.

Slughorn looked shocked at the question. “You wouldn’t—?”

“Oh, no,” Tom assured him. “It’s just that I ran across the subject, and you know how interested I am in Arithmancy, how fascinating I find the discipline. It made me wonder. I’m asking you because you have an appreciation for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Besides, you’ve met so many people and learned so many things.”

Joshua wondered if Tom might be laying it on a bit thick, but Slughorn had begun smiling again, so he supposed not.

“Seven is a very powerful number,” Slughorn said, nodding. “Many structures are based around it, as it strengthens and improves. I could speculate if someone were to do something like create Horcruxes that having a seven-part soul might be strengthened in the same manner. But there might be unanticipated side effects, ones which would not be advantageous. I have never heard of anyone doing that before. I do recall hearing that Herpo the Foul was the first recorded to have ever created a Horcrux, but as far as I know, he made only the one.” Then he laughed. “Of course, rumor also has it that his Horcrux was destroyed by the venom from his basilisk, which is rather ironic in a way.”

Tom chuckled and nodded. “Yes, I can imagine. So, is there anything special we should be looking forward to this year?”

Slughorn immediately started rambling about something or other, gesticulating flamboyantly, but Joshua was far too interested in looking at his friend to listen closely. A part of him was questioning not only the danger inherent in what Tom was planning, but also why his gaze seemed to spend so much time on his friend’s face of late. He smiled crookedly when Tom glanced over at him, then looked away.

Was it possible, given what he knew of Voldemort, that having so many Horcruxes was what sent him insane? Or at least mentally damaged him? Should he argue the point, later in private? What would be would be, right? His gaze slid back over to Tom’s face. So if he was able to argue the point, it might not make a difference in the long run. But not doing so—would that make him untrue to his friend? He decided better to try and fail than fail to try and possibly suffer real, well-deserved guilt for his inaction.

“Have you given any thought to what he said?” he asked later on, sitting on Tom’s bed behind privacy wards and closed curtains. “About deleterious side effects?”

Tom shrugged. “Nothing in that material suggested there would be problems.”

“Tom, nothing in that material suggested that making more than one Horcrux was wise, either. There was no data on what could or would happen if multiple attempts were made,” he said fiercely. “Do you honestly think that splintering your soul so much won’t carry consequences? That it won’t change you? You might not be you anymore! You might become a stranger to me. What if it weakens your magic? What if it affects your mind?”

“And there’s nothing saying it would,” Tom said rather carelessly.

Joshua huffed. “What’s-her-face—Wenlock—she didn’t even discover the properties of the number seven until well after Slytherin wrote those things down. Salazar wouldn’t have known. He probably wouldn’t have had any reason to consider making more than one. Besides which, there’s no evidence he ever made any.”

“What, are you going to tell me I shouldn’t do it?” Tom said defiantly, his nostrils flaring. “That I shouldn’t obtain immortality? Do you think I can’t handle it?”

“No! Damn it.” Joshua reached out to push Tom’s knee. “I just want you to think. I know you. I know you’re going to make at least one, and I know you’ll succeed. Just please, consider the potential consequences. I don’t want to see you harm yourself due to blithe overconfidence. You’re brilliant, but you’re not infallible!”

Tom’s mouth twitched oddly. “You care about me.”

“You know I do,” he said softly.

There was a long pause. “I . . . care about your opinion,” Tom said a bit stiffly. “I will consider what you’ve said.”

Joshua nodded, and immediately changed the subject. “You noticed, right? That Hagrid fellow is still at Hogwarts.”

Tom sneered. “Dumbledore’s doing, I hear. He convinced Dippet to take the boy on to be trained as a gamekeeper. Interfering old menace, always poking that long nose into everything and anything. I hate him.”

“As do I.”

Tom looked at him askance, then nodded.

It was on Halloween, very late, that Joshua noticed Tom returning to the dorm with a very familiar book: the diary. He knew immediately that his friend had somehow managed to slip out of the school long enough to find a sacrifice. Either that, or he would be hearing soon enough that someone else in the school had died. But, he did not think Tom would be so foolish as to draw Dumbledore’s attention so keenly, not after the accidental death of Myrtle.

He arched a brow as he watched his friend secure the diary in his trunk, then studied Tom’s face carefully. He looked fine. “Decided on where to keep that safe?

I’m not sure, though I may place it in the Chamber for the time being,” Tom hissed.

Maybe wherever we figure out to store our money?” he suggested.

“Perhaps.”

Schoolwork, pumping Slughorn for information, socializing, and research brought him through most of the rest of the year. Not only were they continuing to learn new material and spells, but also to remove the verbal component to casting. For many students this was a difficult issue, even though they had to have known it was coming. What adult spent time shouting incantations, after all? For Joshua and Tom it was not much different from their years of wandless will magic, which had never required any verbalization, so they had it much easier.

A slight break was had during February, when several officials from the ministry came by every Saturday to give the sixth years lessons in apparation. Apparently the headmaster had fine enough control over the wards of the castle (or some of them, anyway) to lift the apparation wards for the Great Hall, allowing them to practice. Unfortunately, Joshua would have to wait until August to test, unlike those of his classmates who would be old enough in April to do so early.

He also finally got to meet the basilisk in the Chamber, mainly for it to be able to scent him and know he was off-limits as prey. It would not do, after all, for him to have to take refuge down there and be confronted with a gigantic snake angered by encroachment on its territory.

That summer they went on a hiking trip around some of the islands which surrounded the main landmass of the United Kingdom. True, a number of inattentive folks lost money, and some work was traded for food or straw in a barn to sleep the night on, but as they were hardly rich they had to make do with what they could. Tom was of a mind to imagine the possibilities of where to create a special vault which would not be so obvious as to be anywhere near London, or even the school. It wasn’t like they would have to cross to mainland Europe, though that was another option.

It was during that trip that Tom chose to make his second Horcrux, this time using a muggle rapist as the sacrifice for the Gaunt ring. Joshua watched, much as he did not want to, as Tom stunned both aggressor and victim, then cast the killing curse on the man, followed by another spell to implant the split part of his soul into the ring. Thus, Joshua knew exactly how to make a Horcrux of his own, though he held no plans to do so anytime soon. Why take the risk when he had no real notion of how they had affected his friend, the man who became Voldemort?

The victim was healed up and her memory of the incident removed, Tom having gained the skill to do so. Joshua was still a bit shaky on that and needed practice, and besides, he had not quite seen his seventeenth birthday.

The creation of that Horcrux had the result of Joshua experiencing a crisis of conscience. He knew that Tom was far more cold than he was, and far less caring in general about the lives of others. It boded well that the sacrifice was a bad man, and something bad had happened back, yet that man’s actions were not directly related to them, rather to another. Was it wrong to have stopped him permanently? Was it actually possible for someone to be rehabilitated after such crimes? He tried to think of if he had a sister, and it had been her. How likely would it have been for him to kill the man? He might not believe so much in black and white, or dark and light, but there was a wrong and right, even if perspective played a huge role in any of it.

In the end he said nothing, and Tom did not comment on his exceptionally thoughtful demeanor.

“We need to begin experiments on phase-shifting of space,” Tom said bright and early one morning as they were making breakfast over an open campfire.

“For the vault?”

“Yes, among other things. If we can phase-shift even a small area and key it only to ourselves, it should be more or less inviolate, and invisible to muggles.”

“What about dead-space?”

Tom arched a questioning brow.

“Where do we go when we portkey or apparate? We pass through something, but are we just moving so fast through normal space that we’re like . . . un-phased? Like a collection of tiny pieces which slips through other matter? Or are we moving through a different, er, dimension? One that’s like our reality folded so that we travel near instantaneously from one spot to another, at least with apparation. If so, could we utilize that space for storage? Nothing I’ve seen in any of the apparation material explains exactly what’s going on, just how to do it, and even that depends a great deal on belief.”

Tom nodded thoughtfully. “That, my friend, is a very interesting question. And the two things may be related.”

“It would be amazingly helpful if we could have storage options, like pouches or whatever, that were a gateway to a section of fold-space. We wouldn’t have to worry about volume or weight. We could carry anything, so to speak. Or even rings. Imagine a ring you could wear that looks like simple jewelry, nothing special. But when you took it off you could expand it, and reach through it, and pull out whatever you needed.”

A slow smile graced Tom’s face. “There are days when you truly amaze me, Joshua. We’re going to have an interesting year, between this research and the NEWTs.”

“Well, the idea of a ring occurred to me due to several things. First, it’s innocuous. Second, it could be resized fairly easily, and only function as a . . . gateway . . . when expanded. Third, even if people were to scan it for magic, they may only see what they think is a simple resizing charm.”

Tom’s smile widened. “We definitely have much to work on.”

Joshua was slightly annoyed to realize that he was hampered in their experiments by not yet having attained his seventeenth birthday, but he did well enough otherwise. They had spent years working magic without a wand, after all, and what they were attempting had no real correlating spells.

A minor breakthrough was achieved one sunny day in early August when Tom made an illegal portkey and managed to slow the trip down through sheer force of will, long enough for the both of them to have a look around at what they were traveling through. The only comparison Joshua could make was like being in outer space, except that it wasn’t inhospitably cold and they could breathe.

Careful study of their memories after the fact revealed that it was a nearly featureless plain of existence, the endless twilight broken by vague ghostly shapes corresponding to what was present in the real world. Tom looked exceptionally thoughtful, and when he spoke it was slowly done. “In theory, we could link a ring to the representation of something that already exists, such as a trunk, for example.”

“Er, but trunks can be moved,” he pointed out.

“True, but it is already something which is designed to hold things. I wonder if doing it that way would reinforce the magic . . . sympathetically. Also, even though something like a storage room would not move, it could still be destroyed, so in that sense it would not necessarily be a better choice.”

“Hm.” Joshua looked out over the landscape, not really seeing any of it. “What about an underground cave, then? If it were reinforced, I mean, and preferably one with only a single entrance. That would give us a physical basis for our dead-space copy. If we had to we could magically carve one out of rock and seal the entrance afterward.”

Tom made an indistinct sound and shifted, then said, “We would have to pervert the magic involved with travel, warp it. It might be easier to work with portkeys as they already employ a physical component. We also need to decide what to make the rings out of. Something light but sturdy, I think, so that when they’re shrunk down to ring size they will not be too heavy to wear.”

He tore his gaze away from nothingness and looked directly at his friend. “This is because expanding them from a normal ring would thin the material too much and open up the possibility of easy breakage.”

“Correct.” Tom flashed him a small smile.

“Well, we’re never going to find a diamond large enough, so I guess we’ve just become metallurgy students?”

Their experiments for the remainder of the summer involved using cheap metals, however, and those rings were not shrunk at all. Given that they had a rough plan of action the two of them found a seemingly abandoned cottage and made careful note of their surroundings. A delay comprised of Joshua getting his apparation license took them only a few hours and they had shortly returned. Though, they also stocked up on food supplies after a run-in with some of London’s seedier residents, who were induced to hand over any money they had. Joshua was well pleased to be able to apparate on his own finally, even if the sensations involved were nearly as unpleasant as being taken side-along; being the one in control did make a difference.

The cottage was very run down and barely useful when it came to avoiding the elements, but the attraction was that it appeared unlikely they would be interrupted, and it sported a stone bin with a decaying wooden lid, which they intended to use for their initial tests. The iron from an old cart wheel served as their preliminary ring. The portkey magic had to be twisted to accomplish the porting of only inanimate objects rather than beings, and to make the target location stop just short of the physical world, within the metaphysical, and allow for the ring to serve as both entrance and exit.

It could not be said that they were brilliant enough to manage their goal so quickly, though they did make progress. Tom reluctantly joined Joshua in packing up the evening of the thirty-first, then joined him on their shared bedroll to look up at the stars.

“Being Head Boy this year should be useful,” Joshua idly commented.

“It would be even more useful if it came with a room to myself,” Tom responded. “Not, of course, that I would deny you free access. Still, this appointment shows that the staff does not think ill of me, Dumbledore excepted.”

“He might not have openly objected. He probably just pushed for a different candidate. After all, people might begin to wonder why he seemed to have it in for you, and start questioning him. I can’t imagine he could come up with anything solid. It’s not like you ever get in trouble.”

Tom snorted softly. “Dumbledore’s opinion of me seems to be based solely on just how sullen I seemed to be when I first met him, and then because I was sorted into Slytherin.”

Joshua rolled onto his side and briefly touched Tom’s arm. “Sullen because I disappeared?”

“Mm. That was most of it. But I wouldn’t doubt that he nosed around to see what the others thought of me. He seems to have precious little regard when it comes to personal privacy.”

“Well, what about after our NEWTs?” he asked, rolling onto his back again.

“There are some things I wish to track down, but overall, I plan to become a power in this world. I’m already off to a good start.”

Joshua shivered involuntarily, thinking of Voldemort and how he seemed in some respects no better than Grindelwald. How had it all gone so wrong?

“Are you cold?” Tom inquired.

He winced internally; he could not lie to his friend. “No, just thinking about something.” And before Tom could ask he added, “One of those things I can’t seem to talk about. I really dislike the distance it puts between us. I should be able to tell you anything, though I guess I understand in this instance why I can’t.”

Tom was silent for a long time before finally saying, “Let’s get some sleep.”

*

He was sitting in front of the fire in the Slytherin common room, glad, for the time being, to be alone with a book. Everyone else had long since gone to bed, for which he was grateful. However, the book was no distraction from his wandering thoughts, which kept returning to the Slug Club meeting held earlier that Halloween evening. The date alone made him uneasy, not something he could control, but the meeting was also a cause for the same. Slughorn had spent the night chatting amiably with all of his hand-picked invitees, flattering and even subtly flirting with them. He was like a bloated spider placing silk-wrapped bodies at advantageous spots on his web, to be later returned to for feeding.

It made him want to snarl whenever Slughorn honed in on Tom. For himself he simply bore it, getting the impression that Slughorn was not quite sure what use Joshua could be to him in the future. Even worse were the other students who did the same to Tom, eyes alight with something which caused him agitation, and even . . . jealousy. That surprised him. Was he concerned that someone else could rise to his unique position in Tom’s eyes, that someone would somehow manage to steal away his friend’s time? Or was he afraid that it would be even more upsetting, with someone managing to gain Tom’s love? He shook his head and sighed, then nearly squeaked when someone sat next to him. A sidelong look revealed it to be Tom, whose eyes fairly glittered in the flickering light from the fire.

“What are you reading?”

He shook his head again. “I’m not even sure at this point,” he replied, snapping the book shut and setting it aside.

“You are distracted and distressed,” Tom accused. “You did not even notice I was approaching you. Does this have something to do with the things you cannot speak of?”

He raised his brows in surprise. “No, not at all. I was thinking about the meeting,” he said with a shrug. “I can’t say that I . . . appreciate . . . the way people act during them.”

Tom arched a brow. “They do have their uses.”

“I realize that.”

“You’re not appreciative of the fawning masses?” Tom inquired lazily.

“I’m not appreciative of the way they look at you,” he snapped, then looked away, feeling a sense of mild horror at his admission.

Tom shifted closer and leaned back, a thick silence falling between them. A minute later an arm snaked around his shoulders and pulled Joshua closer. “You are my only,” Tom said softly.

“Your only what? Brother?”

“No,” was the sharp reply. “Do you think I am pleased when others try to gain your attention, casting such looks at you?”

“What looks?” He frowned and angled his head toward Tom, who snorted.

“Such innocence. You recognize it, yet you don’t.” Tom pulled his arm away and angled his body to face him. “Would you recognize it if one of them did this?” he asked, then grasped Joshua’s chin with one hand and leaned in to kiss him.

He hissed as he was released, his mind an incoherent mess. He calmed quickly, far too used to bizarre situations to be out of it for too long. Tom certainly did not need to know how fast his heart was beating. “Interesting demonstration,” he said dryly. “Will there be more of those in the future?”

“Oh, that depends on you,” Tom said, a little too casually.

Joshua studied his friend intently, finally saying, “That was my first kiss, you know. I wonder from whom my next shall come.”

Tom growled and lurched forward, reaching out to grasp Joshua’s chin again. “It had better be from me. All of them.”

He smiled a bit shyly before he caught himself and smirked instead. Maybe this explained all those frigid looks Tom kept giving certain people. “And why is that?”

Tom released him with a stilted laugh. “You have me at a disadvantage,” he reluctantly admitted.

“No,” he said, shaking his head.

Tom looked at him, really looked at him, and gave him one of those small smiles. “It’s late.”

*

Tuesdays suddenly became the day each week when they would steal away from everyone. Rather, evening. Joshua knew after a time that their circle of ‘friends’ had come to the conclusion that they were plotting. Instead, they were exploring this new direction in their relationship, at once tentative and forceful. Neither of them really understood it, as neither of them had much in the way of example to work from.

Tom’s kisses were heady, his hands one moment dexterous, another ambisinistrous, his lips sure and hesitant, his manner spontaneous and calculated. Joshua found it exhilarating and terrifying. How much of this could be with each Horcrux Tom made? How much of it was curiosity and possessiveness, and how much of it was genuine attachment on a basis deeper than friendship? It was too late, anyway. He knew that if another kind of love existed he had already fallen into it.

Oh, not mere lust. He saw with carefully watchful eyes how those around him comported themselves. They saw it as a fulfillment of base needs, or even as a game. Few had the light in their eyes of genuine caring. Then again, knowing what he did of pure-bloods and their customs, that only made sense. They came together for alliances, to increase wealth and power. The smart ones married outside their circles, to pure-bloods from other countries. Very few managed to find that elusive thing called love.

It was nearing Christmas when he brought himself to whisper, “Will this ruin things between us, if it doesn’t work out?”

Tom gave him one of those focused looks, the ones that seemed to look straight into his soul. “Maybe so, but are you not willing to risk it considering it might become more than either of us can presently imagine?” Tom countered. “Whom else do I trust? Whom else do you trust? We are too powerful to not realize that most everyone around us looks at us with eyes hungry to share in that power, with little real care for either of us. Some would even seek to use us, to steal it from us, then discard us like broken toys.”

“I understand that. But I’m talking about feelings, not . . . simple lust. Not some pure-blood-style agreement between us.” Will you still care about me if you keep splitting your soul?

“What happens happens, Joshua.”

“That’s an awfully fatalistic way of looking at things.”

“Risk is risky.” Tom forced an end to the conversation by kissing him like he meant it.

When break actually rolled around they were nearly alone in Slytherin, certainly among the upper years. It gave them more freedom, though they remained cautious and careful. One never knew. And when Christmas arrived they opened their gifts in their dorm room. Neither of them purchased anything for others, but that did not stop others from doing so for them.

Joshua was amused when Tom produced a small package from somewhere in his clothing and handed it over. Opening it revealed a ring etched with numerous miniscule runes. “Is this . . . what I think it is?”

“A working prototype, yes,” Tom said a bit smugly. “It’s set to that stone bin.”

“And what, if anything, have you placed inside?”

“Well, I admit I was curious about the effects, so I sent through several apples.”

Joshua wrinkled his nose slightly, wondering. “How long ago?”

“A week. They were fresh at the time, and there were no spells placed on them.”

He nodded and focused his will, touching the rune meant to enlarge the ring, followed shortly by saying, “Evoco apple.” An apple appeared within the enlarged ring, then fell straight down, onto his lap. Joshua set the ring aside after reducing it with another tap to a rune, then picked up the apple and examined it. A quick flick of his left wrist brought a knife to his hand, which he used to cut the apple in half. It appeared to be still fresh. “It might be interesting to see what one looks like in another week, or a month.”

“I agree,” Tom said, his expression one of satisfaction. “Time may have no real meaning there, or it may just pass at a different rate. Certainly something we should be aware of prior to putting something like potions in a storage spot.”

“What about an inventory?”

At the question Tom’s expression turned smug and he grabbed the ring and expanded it before pointing to a particular rune. A moment later he looked slightly discomfited. “It does need a little more work, but it functions.”

Joshua discounted that flaw entirely. “This is brilliant! I had no idea you were being such a sneaky bastard and had gotten so close without me catching on, even with us still discussing the project,” he said admiringly, and was pleased to see Tom’s expression shift back toward smugness. “We’ll just have to make it perfect. I know we can do it.”

“Yes. Yes we can,” Tom said confidently.

After that they continued to spend their spare time (not Tuesdays) working on the project, slowly refining it until the point where they felt they could create one for real.