Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: One Winged Angel :: 05 :: Introspection

05 • Introspection

Tom sat in a chair, thinking. He wasn’t unduly annoyed that he had not slept terribly well, having already passed off the concern for Harry to the soul bond. However, having one did not equate with being in love. He cared about the boy’s health, of course. Tom snorted softly and shook his head. Young man would be a better term. He could say he wanted to get to know Harry better, but a great deal of what made him who he was now was rooted in pain. Talking things out might help, and it might make things worse.

He also had to wonder if, had his own childhood been better, he would simply have become a bit mad, but relatively harmless, rather than the dark lord he had ended up as. He wondered why Severus had answered his call, even expecting death. He wasn’t going to ask, though. Let the man retain his privacy. That didn’t stop him from speculating on whether or not it was simply that Severus was tired of the game, and tired of being yanked in two directions, trusted by nearly no one.

Tom wondered about quite a lot of things, in point of fact, but his thoughts tended to circle right back around to Harry. It was true that he had done many evil things in his life, but one could not bring back the dead, or ever truly compensate those left behind. He wondered what Harry’s thoughts would be on the expiation of his sins. He had the feeling, though, that no one with a modicum of intelligence and the willingness to see reality would ever view Harry as a child. They might wish it to be so, and actively deny what they knew to be true, but those things would not change what was.

And that brought him back to the concept of love. No one ever had, of course, loved him. Perhaps his mother. There was no way to know. In some respects, Tom imagined that Harry suffered from the same problem. Tom had plenty of people willing to abase themselves out of fear or respect, but he doubted that any of them actually liked him. Getting tortured for your mistakes tended to have that effect. After having had that revealing conversation with Harry, Tom had to think that there were very few people who simply liked Harry, rather than the image, the associations. The dreams of hangers-on could be quite persistent.

He supposed he would simply have to wait and see. In the meantime he could focus a healthy amount of his time on trying to get to know Harry, and perhaps learn what it actually meant to have a friend, one that stood by you for something other than the promise of power or for what services you could perform for them.

He could, however, pay a little visit to the Malfoy home.

*

“Narcissa, how delightful to see you,” he said, his voice lacking any particular inflection. Once he was seated in a comfortable chair and had a glass of wine to sip he said, “Something has come to my attention that I think we ought to discuss.”

She gave him a wintry smile and replied, “As you wish, my lord.”

“As you know, I have certain plans. A great number of plans, actually. And, I do not take kindly to anyone presuming to interfere with those plans. I understand that your son, Draco, has a bit of a problem with our dear Harry Potter,” he said dryly.

“He is not fond of the boy, no, my lord,” Narcissa said cautiously.

Tom—he appeared as Voldemort—arched one brow. “Who would be? Potter is an irritating menace who will be taken care of in due time. What concerns me, my dear, is that your son is getting ideas above his station. It would be a shame if I had to kill him, though, naturally I would have no hesitation in doing so if he vexed me.” Tom could tell by the minute muscle shifts of her face and body that Narcissa was confused by his urbane manner. One presumably did not expect the Dark Lord to appear in one’s home and deal out threats in a casual, offhand way.

“I am quite sure,” he continued, “that Draco can amuse himself most fully by simply tormenting the boy. After all, if he were to presume to displace my very real ambition as regards the Potter brat, I am certain he would come to regret it most keenly. That is, if he had enough of a mind left to appreciate his error and repent before I killed him.” Tom took a moment to glance down at his talon-like fingernails and heave a gentle sigh.

“I will certainly speak with him, my lord,” she assured him.

Tom looked up and gave a slight smirk. “Mm. I expect you will. Let it not be said that I cannot occasionally be magnanimous, my dear. And I expect that your wise counsel will have the desired results. However, if that is not the case, you will be contacting me promptly.”

“Of course, my lord.”

“Splendid. Then I will take my leave.”

Narcissa graciously escorted him out, and Tom returned to his own estate, faintly amused by the conversation they had shared, if one was inclined to give it that label. She was deferential, not obsequious, and he could appreciate that. She was also not unduly proud, merely confident and assured. Of course, she was not a Death Eater. She played, to all accounts, the dutiful wife in that regard. And while it might not have occurred to him in the past, he now idly wondered if she was pleased or dismayed that Lucius was currently enjoying a stay at Azkaban.

“Well,” he murmured, “I have more important things to worry about.” A vague plan had begun to form in the back of his mind regarding Peter, prompted by what Severus had said. While he could certainly see making an example of Bellatrix, and letting others scramble and vie for her position even unto death, Peter was another matter.

It might, in fact, be a wise choice to send Peter off to ostensibly retrieve Harry, or at least deal mayhem, and be the one to unknowingly drink something before departure that would assure his customary tendency toward failure was that much more pronounced. Peter was weak, mentally and magically, though he had performed admirably the few tasks of any real importance that Tom had given him. But then, those relied more on his nature. That he had managed to pull off those deaths might be more out of desperation than skill, though.

At any rate, he could certainly consider the idea, then perhaps discuss it with Harry that night in a vision. Given that Severus had suggested it, he was quite sure the man could come up with something suitable, subtle but potent. And the sooner he began to make amends, the better.

*

Harry awoke, but did not open his eyes. Instead, he lay there for a while, thinking about the fact that Tom had let him go, even actively helped him. How much of it was expediency? He did not doubt that Tom trusted him, nor did he doubt that Tom strongly suspected that Harry knew the original prophecy. But, was that trust born of condescension? Tom had decades of experience, vast amounts of knowledge. In truth, just how much trouble could one boy be to such a man?

Was it that time and destiny had merely lifted Voldemort up from the depths of madness, brought him out of such a focused state of retribution that he had not been thinking clearly? It had been said more than once that Tom, as a student, had been brilliant. Was it, in fact, an elaborate trap? One with even more subtlety than the dreams of the Ministry?

Harry sighed heavily and rolled onto his side. He wanted to believe, badly. He wanted to trust in Tom’s seeming sincerity. If it was a trap, though, was Snape just as much the fool as he was? Harry had not actually seen proof of the man’s release. Was Snape holding back his desire to salivate over the eventual fate of Harry Potter by sheer force of will, waiting on the fruition of his master’s possible grand scheme?

Harry blinked open his eyes and sighed again, feeling very uncertain and unsure.

And if he was—what then? Would it be so easy to forgive the man his crimes? Tom certainly appeared willing to try to set things straight, as much as he could. But could Harry learn to like him, even love him? The book on soul bonds had been an interesting read. He was well aware that destiny, or perhaps fate, decreed that he belonged with Tom, and not in a brotherly sense. As a system of checks and balances, though, it left some few things to be desired. Harry couldn’t quite wrap his mind around a personification of fate messing up so badly as to leave his birth so late, or Tom’s so early.

If that was the intention, then could he actually blame Tom for having killed his parents? And, where did prophecy originate if not from fate?

He rolled his eyes and sat up. He only had two choices. He could spill all to Dumbledore and trust that the man was who he presented himself as, or he could give that trust to Tom on the strength of prophecy and the bond. Frankly, that many of the Order members were trying so desperately to keep him ignorant made Tom’s attitude quite attractive and seductive. And yet, everyone was so happy when he managed each time to perform what should have taken an adult to do. It was never said outright, but it was there.

Sounds filtered into his thoughts, making Harry aware that his family was also rising. He felt very glad that he had locked his door, but wished he felt completely secure in Tom’s control over them. The idea of slipping outside his room to visit the loo made him distinctly nervous. It served to highlight the weaknesses he had, the threads of cowardice he could not entirely eradicate. He wondered if this was how Tom had felt at the orphanage.

Once he heard the last of footsteps headed down to the ground floor, he hauled himself to his feet and crossed to the door, quietly unlocking, then opening it. A few minutes later he was back in his room, quite all right. He supposed that if he got into a sticky situation he could call Dobby to his aid. And on that note, he concentrated. Dobby popped into the room seconds later.

“Master is needing something?”

“Dobby, do you think you could toss together something for me to have as breakfast, please?”

“Dobby is being happy to. Dobby is being back shortly.”

“Thank you.”

Dobby popped out, so Harry sat down at his desk. With a start he realized he had not thought once of Sirius over the past several days. There were so many things he could think about that, about him, and he was still inclined to believe that he had his own share of blame to bear, though his surety of how much was currently in question.

Speaking with Tom on certain matters was enough to push his brain into seeing things from a slightly different perspective. It was true that Dumbledore had kept him in dark on why he would not meet his eyes. Harry freely admitted that he hadn’t understood, made the connection. That Dumbledore held the suspicion that a reborn Voldemort could use Harry in that way, though. . . .

It must be quite convenient that Harry had learned early not to ask questions of authority, generally speaking. It had not been until he had stepped into the wizarding world that he had even felt he could—that is, without being verbally slapped down for the mere presumption. The headmaster’s suspicions had certainly been confirmed when Harry had joined with Voldemort and Nagini, then later when he had shared the man’s rage on looking into Dumbledore’s eyes.

Still, as he himself had said to Tom, there was such a thing as trust for trust. Dumbledore had left him in the dark, and he had done the same in kind. That he was not alone in responsibility made him feel a slight sense of relief, but it did not absolve him of his mistakes. Sirius was also to blame for his lack of forethought, or at least his lack of understanding of Harry’s basic nature. Even then, it was not as though he’d had much opportunity to relieve his ignorance directly.

And then, a thought struck Harry. Were he to reverse the situation, he had no doubt that Sirius would feel just as lousy, just as guilty, and just as conflicted over the entire situation, even if he did believe that Harry was safely up in . . . heaven? Safely with his parents, at any rate. He knew what he would have had to say to Sirius. Harry would have tried to convince Sirius that he was not to blame, to look back fondly on the time they had had together.

Harry had every expectation that, were Sirius to be given just five minutes with him, he would be hearing much the same. And then he remembered what Sirius had said on the night he and Hermione had broken him free of the tower.

With another start Harry realized that he had not been exactly aware that Dobby had long since returned with his meal, and indeed, that he had actually eaten it without thought and without even tasting it. He rubbed his eyes and looked around the room, noticing immediately that his trunk was right where he had left it. Apparently his uncle’s fear of wizard folk was too deep to have actually gone through with his muttered threat.

At least it was one less thing to worry about. He felt obscurely nervous about the upcoming year. How should one react to the knowledge that your dire enemy was currently trying to sidle into your life as a friend and eventual lover? How should one react to the marked difference in not only appearance but also manner?

The person he had known over the past few days—Tom, not Voldemort—had a dry wit and obvious intelligence. He hadn’t spared himself, either, in sarcastic speech, nor hidden his reactions to Harry’s own words, accusatory as they could be. And while he lacked any sense of shyness over discussing some of the harsher realities, he had backed off a number of times when Harry had not wanted to discuss something. All of it could be taken either way: a slow trap, or sincerity.

Again, Harry wanted to believe, with almost desperate need, that Tom was being honest. It all made his head want to explode.

*

The room this time was cozy rather than bare and contained a matching set of squashy chairs. Harry, on his arrival, immediately sat down and cast an opaque look at him.

“I trust that everything went well today?”

Harry nodded, though it was more of an odd tilt of his head. After a moment he said, “I was wondering something.”

“All right.”

“If you feel like telling me, how did you feel at the orphanage? Were you . . . scared? Of the people around you?”

“Yes, I was, but also quite angry.”

Harry quirked up one brow. “Angry because you could not use magic? Angry because you could not, perhaps, use physical force?”

Tom shrugged slightly. “Both, I suppose. But, it isn’t as though I ever made great strides toward becoming apt at hand-to-hand combat, either. I thought magic could solve anything, or should be able to. Not being able to use it was frustrating, vexing. After all, who would have believed me when they came to investigate? I was in Slytherin. That was all anyone needed or wanted to know. And, of course, prior to Hogwarts, I knew nothing of magic.”

Harry chuckled, though it sounded rather flat to his ears. “I still don’t know. . . . Well, I often wonder if I made the right decision.”

“On?”

“Am I really a Gryffindor?” Harry asked. “Sometimes I think I should be in Hufflepuff.”

Tom blinked. “I don’t suppose you’d care to explain that?”

Harry shrugged. “I guess it’s all a matter of strengths. I’m brave, I guess, but also reckless. I don’t always think about something before I charge on ahead. Then again, I do think I’m fairly intelligent, though I don’t always focus on my studies, and I think I’m loyal where it’s warranted. But, I can be fairly. . . . Well, I dunno. I’m not quite sure how I’d characterize the Slytherin bits. But still, if you have all the qualities, why not Hufflepuff? It seems as though they are the only balanced house. The others are distinctly skewed.”

Tom considered that for several moments. “I suppose you could look at it that way. Perhaps the hat saw your Gryffindor traits as being the strongest, knocking you out of balance. But, what decision are you referring to?”

Harry smiled. “Which house to be placed in. Gryffindor wasn’t its first choice, Tom. And, I have no idea if that was due to me alone, or because of what you did to me.”

Tom was getting quite curious, and certainly suspicious. “Then you must be referring to Slytherin.”

“Yes. It said, I think, that I had quite a thirst to prove myself. It also implied very strongly that I had all the qualities that any good Slytherin would need.”

“All right. Then I presume you are wondering just how much of an effect my attempt to kill you actually had. If the sorting hat would have even considered the idea otherwise.” On seeing Harry nod he said, “Personally, I don’t think it did, but, if you’re willing to tell me, just what effect or effects do you think it might have had?”

“Dumbledore says I’m a parselmouth because of you. He thinks you transferred some of your power to me that night.”

Tom shook his head. “I still don’t think so. Yes, being a parselmouth is considered a dark trait, but generally only because it can go hand-in-hand with dark wizards, and even dark lords. Surely, Salazar himself would have treasured the ability for those in his house. But in and of itself? It’s simply an ability. Serpents are no more evil than any other creature. Dementors and the like would be exceptions, of course. As for the possibility of power, what of it? Power is also neutral. It takes will and intent to make it good or evil, Harry.”

Harry gave him a thoughtful look, then said, “Nature versus nurture?”

Tom chuckled. “Always an interesting argument, I’m sure. You could argue that our backgrounds parallel. That may be one reason. But it doesn’t entirely explain why we ended up in different houses. I can only assume you rejected the placement, though I wasn’t aware that the sorting hat could be argued with.”

Harry nodded. “I did. Between what I had already heard, and having met Malfoy, twice, I wasn’t inclined to agree with the hat’s assessment. I thought it would mean I would become. . . .” He shrugged. “I guess it depends on one’s definition of terms such as ambitious and cunning.”

“Do you think that Slytherins as a whole are dark or evil?”

Harry shrugged again and ruffled his hair. “Dark is a grey area. But, no, I don’t. In that much, I’m not blinded by crowd mentality, at least not any longer. It’s difficult, though, because those I tend to notice on a regular basis are those that do their best to make my life miserable. The rest just . . . fade into the background. People like to conveniently forget that Peter was a Gryffindor, those that know of his actions, anyway.”

“Then what might be your definition of dark?”

“Somewhere in the middle, I guess. The discipline doesn’t matter so much as achieving the desired results. Though, by that definition, that kind of person would be on the good side of, er. . . . Well, not evil.”

“Let me ask you this, then. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that I was even now trying to kill you. The wizarding world expects that you will defeat me. How? I hardly think besting me two games out of three at Exploding Snap quite fits the bill.”

“Yes, I see your point. By that definition, I would be classed as dark. Still, how does Dumbledore fit in, then? Did he use a trip jinx on Grindelwald at cliff’s edge? He’s considered a very upright sort.”

“I don’t think he had a smear campaign being waged against him, Harry,” Tom said gently. That earned him a humorless smile. “At any rate, I’m not sure you would have lasted in Slytherin, at least not as you are today. More or less my fault, of course.”

“I’m not sure I understand. And, I don’t want to hear about blame.”

“All right. You might have been knifed in your sleep, for one thing. But the distinction I’m referring to is that if you had adapted, it might have completely changed your personality. You would very likely be cold, hard, and closed off, and possibly a little too free with your wand, all in an effort to protect yourself not only from your house mates, but from the other houses combined.”

Harry’s brow furrowed, then smoothed. “And do those in Slytherin house pry? Interfere?”

“Generally speaking? I would say only if they felt a member was doing something to shame the house. Otherwise, your life is your own. After all, it is hardly a well known—”

Harry looked at him sharply. “That you’re a half-blood? Like me. Yes, that would have been inconvenient. Then you should know that Bellatrix is aware of that detail, if you didn’t already.”

Tom was about to speak when Harry shook his head and said, “This is difficult.”

“Why no blame?”

“I’m not sure I want to answer that at present. Anyway, I felt nervous today, scared even. Knowing they were just outside the door. Wanting to believe that it would be all right. People would laugh, I know. But, as you pointed out, I’ve had a smear campaign against me. If I used magic to protect myself, I seriously wonder if Fudge would find a way to force my expulsion. He already tried because of the dementors. So I wondered about how you might have felt yourself, back then. Poor Potter, can’t even fend off muggles.” His voice was shaded with bitterness and self-mockery.

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I wish you could believe me when I say we’ll find a way to work all of these things out.”

“And if they do?” Harry asked. “If they do, how much of myself do I lose? You’re quite a bit older than I.”

“And you’re quite a bit older than most, mentally. But if I’m hearing the real question, I would say not much, if anything. Yes, you would change, adapt, even as I must. That doesn’t mean one person dominates the other.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

“Yourself, for starters.”

“Really? Did you know—that night you sent Nagini to the Ministry. I felt the same sadistic pleasure you did. I enjoyed it. And when I looked at Dumbledore. Later, I felt dirty, disgusted with myself.”

“I’m sorry, Harry.”

“No blame! No apologies!” he shouted, half rising from his chair, then sinking down. “Sorry doesn’t make it unhappen. Sorry doesn’t help me to understand myself any better.”

Tom sat back and closed his eyes briefly. “You were carried along, Harry, an unwilling passenger. You felt what I felt at the time, what Nagini felt. That in no way translates to you having those feelings personally. I used you, partially possessed you, to see through your eyes at times. If you successfully cast Imperio on your aunt and command her to beat a child, is it her fault that she obeys?”

“No,” Harry said softly, eyes downcast.

“Is it your fault that you unwittingly experienced my own feelings and desires, then? That I overwhelmed you with greater experience? Do you truly believe yourself capable of such feelings?”

There was a decided pause before Harry said, “No.” Several minutes later—Tom opted to remain silent—Harry said, “It doesn’t hurt any longer, you know. Not since my birthday. I have to wonder if Dumbledore is clueless, or just a liar. If this scar is just that. If you hurt me simply because the bond was perverted, twisted.”

“That is possible. Your scar is unique, given the circumstances under which it was obtained. You may be correct. It may be nothing more than a disfigurement.”

After another short pause Harry looked up and said, “Apparently, Uncle Vernon was too intimidated, even after I was locked away, to burn my things.”

“That is good news. However, I am indecisive as to how to react to your statement about Dumbledore.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s about truth and trust, and I am not the right person to explain much of anything about Dumbledore. I am indecisive because you’re losing your balance and I’m not sure how to help. You are, perhaps, developing your own set of questions about the man, your own suspicions. And, while I may be glad to see that you are not blindly following any one person’s lead, and indeed feel enough fire to stand up for yourself, I am also saddened that it’s causing you such distress. Yes, a person can survive without trusting anyone. I did. But that’s all it is. Survival.”

“Sad? Because of the bond.”

Tom shook his head. “I’ve done some reading of my own, Harry. I may be bound to you, but I am not compelled to like you. If we were to come to an understanding, it would be because we wished it. Yes, I know that neither of us would be happy with another because of it, but nothing forces us to be more than . . . acquaintances.”

“Just checking.”

Tom gave a slight nod. “I think, perhaps, you questioned because you do know.”

Harry smiled faintly. “Yes. It was very kind of you to reveal that you researched this on your own.”

Tom couldn’t help the grin that flashed across his face. “Would you like to continue talking, or would you prefer to return to sleep?”

Harry sighed. “Sleep. Will you be visiting again tomorrow?”

“If that is agreeable, then yes.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

Tom nodded, smiled, then relaxed his control on the vision.