AU second year. What do you do when all you ever thought was true... isn't? A slightly different encounter in a bookshop is about to force Harry to confront just that. 1st in the Ascendancy.
Non Ignara Mali, Miseris Succurrere Disco
Not unacquainted with misfortune, I learn to assist the wretched
Yes. I'm here.
The reply rang through his existence, not seen or heard so much as felt, and if he'd still had a body to do it with, Tom knew he would have wept at the unexpected beauty and elegance of those three simple words. As it was, he spent a moment just basking in the feeling, in the knowledge that he wasn't alone.
"Please," he said at last, for once in his life not caring that it sounded like he was begging. After all, that was exactly what he was doing. "Please, don't leave me."
This time his savior answered back more quickly, and Tom clung to that answer with all he had. He made it a part of him, driving it so far into his consciousness that, should he ever dream again, it would have a starring role.
I won't. I promise.
Harry looked up from the diary as he heard footsteps thundering up the stairs. Ron burst into the room a moment later, panting a little from the exertion. "Sorry, mate," he said, dropping onto his bed. "The twins are back at it again, and Mum looked like she was going to go spare, so I cleared the area."
The Boy-Who-Lived forced a grin, pushing down his annoyance into a little ball deep inside. After all, it was Ron's room; he had every right to burst in if he wanted. "Sounds like a smart move, all right," he commented, at the same time tilting the diary away from his best friend as casually as he could. For some reason that Harry couldn't quite pin down, he wanted to keep it and its inhabitant to himself as long as he possibly could.
But that left him with nothing else to say, and the room slowly descended into an awkward silence. "So, ah..." Ron began. "You reckon you're ready to head back to school, yet?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Not that your family isn't great," he was quick to add, "but Hogwarts is..."
The redhead grinned. "Yeah, I know. You belong there." Harry nodded again, feeling a twinge of guilt as he recalled his earlier irritation. It was a great way to repay his best friend, it really was, especially when said friend understood him so well.
"What about you?'' he asked quickly. "Are you ready to go back?" It wasn't really changing the subject...
Ron sighed. "Yeah. I guess so." At his friend's questioning glance, he shrugged. "I love my family, and while I'm at school I miss them like crazy, but..." He shrugged again.
Harry looked away, grinning. The Weasley clan could be rather overwhelming.
"Hey, what's that?" The wizard glanced back to find Ron staring curiously at the book in his hands.
"Er. It's my diary," Harry answered with utter verisimilitude, if not the complete truth.
"Ah. Hands off, right?" Ron chewed his lip, his hazel eyes thoughtful. "I don't remember you ever keeping one before."
Harry shook his head quickly. "I only just started. Picked it up in the bookstore one day." Again, true. He reached for the quill again, dipping it into the ink bottle. "I thought I'd just turn in early after I finished this up," he said, trying to make it sound casual.
"Right, mate. I'll keep quiet." Harry sent a quick prayer of gratitude winging upwards that Ron didn't seem offended, and gave him a genuine smile.
"Thank you," he said quietly, but if his friend recognized the words meant more than they at first seemed, he showed no sign of it. The redhead just nodded, rearranging himself on his bed until he was looking up at the ceiling.
Still smiling, Harry bent back to the diary. My name is Harry, he wrote as neatly as he could. Even after nearly a year he still wasn't entirely used to writing with a quill. On the cover it says this diary belongs to Tom Riddle. Is that you?
The answer was scrawled back almost before he'd lifted the nub from the page. Yes.
Harry bit his lip, trying to figure out how to ask his next question without being rude. I'm sorry if I offend you, but-
How did I get stuck a diary?
I found an old spell in a manuscript to essentially combine a wizard's essence with an inanimate object. I was overconfident and didn't read the fine print that said it wouldn't be just my essence combined with it but my entire consciousness.
The wizard winced. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to be trapped inside a book, and he wasn't at all sure he wanted to find out, either. Is there any way to reverse it? he asked.
The original me tried to find one for a few years afterwards, but nothing came of it, and he eventually stopped talking to me all together.
Harry felt a stir of anger in his gut. I don't know if I can help, but I won't leave you alone, he wrote.
Thank you. Tom seemed to be calming a bit; his writing was getting much clearer than it had been. Could you tell me what year it is?
1992, Harry answered.
There was a long pause. ...Bugger me. Fifty years!
Harry winced again. Something told him he would be doing a lot of that in the future. Tom? he asked, when nothing more appeared in the diary for a minute or two.
I'm... fine. It just... surprised me.
The wizard had a feeling that was an understatement, but Tom didn't seem to want to elaborate, so he let it go. Harry flicked a glance towards Ron, and then dipped his quill again. It's time to sleep. I'll be back in the morning, I promise.
Nothing happened for a long minute. Then Tom finally responded. Alright.
That was all he said, but Harry had a feeling Tom didn't really believe him when he said he would come back. And who could blame him, after his creator, someone who was really just another copy of himself (and just which one would have been the copy, and which real?) had abandoned him. I promise, he wrote again, and closed the diary.
He would keep that promise, Harry vowed to himself as Ron agreeably turned out the lights with a softly spoken word. And it was only partly to do with how shitty he felt, lying there in the darkness.
"Is it done?"
The man smiled vaguely, leaning against the white marble balcony and looking up at the sky. "The centaurs would say Mercury is bright tonight," he responded.
His friend growled. "Blast it, enough with your bloody Divination! I never could understand what you saw in the subject. A more ridiculous bunch of twaddle I've never seen."
The man snorted, straightening and tucking his hands into the voluminous sleeves of his pale robes. "With that fraud Trelawney teaching it, of course you wouldn't. But it is a viable tool for predicting the future." He paused and sneered, his everyday persona briefly coming to the fore. "Well, the planets are. Tea leaves are nothing but disgusting little blobs that the deluded see shapes in."
Scowling, the other wizard moved up to stand next to him at the balcony's edge. "Did you do it or not?" he demanded, bringing the conversation back to its original topic.
"Yes, I did," the pale man replied with an irritated sigh. "Really, you doubt me after this many years?"
He was still looking at the stars, but he heard the snort beside him. "With Potter involved? I'd be shocked if everything did go to plan. The brat positively has a gift for throwing even the best-laid plans out the window."
"I'll have to take your word for it. A meeting that lasted less than a minute is hardly anything to base the judgment of a personality on." A cloud briefly passed over the nearly full moon, obscuring the pale man's frown. "...It may not work," he said after a long moment of silence. "We may have mistranslated it."
His friend's mouth tightened. "Perhaps. Even so, it was never anything more than a distant hope. We must continue to lay other plans."
"And you must continue to play your part," he finished for him. "Does Dumbledore suspect?"
His friend, dark to his light, sighed, his face momentarily losing its customary scowl and showing his weariness to the night. "Of course he suspects," he answered tersely. "The man suspects anyone and everyone."
"More than usual, then?"
There was a pause. "I don't believe so."
"But you're not sure." The pale man looked down from the sky for the first time, searching his friend's face. "You're sure you want to continue this farce?"
The other wizard started to answer, and was interrupted by a sleepy voice from behind them. "Father? Uncle Severus? What are you doing here?"
Lucius Malfoy turned to see his son and heir standing in the entrance to his rooms. "It's nothing, Draco," he said fondly, suppressing the sadness the sight of his only child always brought to his heart. Draco had so much potential, but it was too much of a risk to share everything with him. "Severus is merely visiting."
The boy glanced at his godfather, who nodded in agreement. His lips pursed, reminiscent of his father only moments before, and the two adults knew he wasn't fully convinced. "Alright," he said anyway. "I was just wondering why you were still up. It's good to see you, Uncle. Good night."
Lucius sighed as Draco withdrew back into the house, obviously sulking at their refusal to tell him their secrets. "...I hate this," he murmured.
"Someday, perhaps we may tell him," Severus said. "Once all our plans are not teetering on the thinnest of threads."
The pale wizard nodded. "A nightcap?" he offered after a couple of minutes. "Before you return to Hogwarts?"
Severus nodded his acceptance, and turned to go inside, but he paused when the other man made no such movement. "I'll join you in just a moment," Lucius told him, leaning back against the balcony.
Once his oldest surviving friend was gone, the pureblood sighed again, and looked back up at the stars. It was too far away to see with the naked eye; he knew that, but it seemed to make no difference to what his senses told him. He could almost feel its influence beaming on him, on them all.
Oh, yes, Mercury was, indeed, bright tonight.
Change was in the air.
Author's Note: This is the end of what had already been written. Future chapters will be posted as they're finished.