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Chapter Thirty-Four—Patterns

"We have not truly discussed how you feel about your soulmate."

Harry settled back in his chair and tried not to cross his arms. "Yes, we have. It's clear that I love him and he exasperates me."

"I would like to see another memory of yours. Perhaps a time that you listened to others discussing your soulmate and what you felt during then?"

Harry exhaled slowly. Gerald kept watching him with those terribly understanding eyes, but there was something he hadn't explained. "First, tell me why this is so important."

The Mind-Healer nodded. "Because I think that you haven't acknowledged your own conflicting feelings. I listened to you last week say that he was the most important person in your life, and then five minutes later, you said your parents were."

Harry frowned. He couldn't remember saying that. "I mean—people can feel that someone is important to them in different ways."

"Of course. I simply wanted to bring the contradiction to your attention, and ask what you thought about it. And also," Gerald added before Harry could answer him, "to tell you that I think your situation is different than some others I've seen. Yes, someone whose soulmate is Muggleborn when they're a pureblood and have grown up with a belief in blood purity has difficulty. But they have not been surrounded with people telling them day in and day out that their soulmate as a person is evil. Rather, it's the category their soulmate belongs to that is perceived as undesirable. Do you see the difference?"

Harry stirred restlessly. Yes, he saw the difference. He just didn't think it needed to be central to the Healer's regime, and he said so.

Gerald considered him calmly. "Not central. But part of it. Until recently, Tom Riddle was a man that you were willing to kill yourself to avoid. You tried to erase your mark. You constructed an elaborate deception at every level of your life, not even letting your godfather and your best friends know about your mark. It nearly cost you Sirius's life, and it played a part in costing you your best friends. I do not believe that you could have gone from that stance to accepting your soulmate as yours and solely yours without doing inner violence to yourself."

Harry rubbed his hands along his legs, his eyes fastened on his knees. This was something he hadn't really been able to talk about with anyone else. That much was true. And it was equally true that he hadn't really been ready to talk about it. Tom was curious, of course, but Harry didn't want to reveal anything that would make him attack his mum and dad and godfather.

And his parents… They were making the best of a bad situation, and Harry knew it. They had regrets about being involved with the Order of the Phoenix in the first place, and with Dumbledore. They wished things could have been different.

But they would listen to his misgivings about falling in love with Tom and urge him to break free if he had any misgivings. Acceptance didn't factor into their thinking unless he was deeply and one hundred percent in love with Tom, even though, with the Order broken and Dumbledore mad, Harry didn't know what they thought Harry would do.

Flee into the Muggle world? That was a possibility, and one that he could see his mother suggesting when she'd grown up there.

"Harry?"

Harry jolted, and lifted his head. "Yeah," he said hoarsely. "I feel like Tom wants me to become his grateful soulmate and burn the past, and my parents want me to see that he's evil and turn away. After having given it a good long try, so that I never have the temptation to return to him in the future."

The bond thrummed, and Tom reached out, his words gliding as softly as sharks in shallow water. Are you all right, darling?

I want to concentrate on what I'm doing with Mind-Healer Laufrey.

The bond immediately closed down. Harry sighed. That was Tom for you. He would yield in an instant as long as he thought Harry was doing something else that he wanted him to do.

And it made Harry wonder exactly how well Tom would accept the political compromises and the like that Harry wanted to offer in the future.

"Is there anyone you can talk to about that besides me?"

Harry considered that, but had to shake his head. "Tom is such a smooth talker that I think he fools himself half the time. My parents are trying desperately to be supportive, but they also would be thrilled if they thought I was doubting our bond. My godfather…has his own problems."

"And is your social circle so small?" Gerald asked gently. "You couldn't ask another friend, or a professor from your Hogwarts years?"

Harry blinked, hard. He hadn't even thought of that. Of course, he'd felt distant from most people in the school because he was hiding the secret of his soul-mark, and so he'd assumed they felt the same way.

But…well, he had shared a bedroom with Neville Longbottom for seven years. And friendship with Luna Lovegood for five of those. They hadn't tried to talk to him much since the end of their Hogwarts years, but Harry hadn't reached out, either. He was busy trying to help the Order with his low-level Ministry job and the information he could pass to them, and he knew Neville was busy with his Herbology business.

Luna? He had no idea what she was doing.

"I know some people who might be willing to talk to me," Harry said, and sighed a little as he massaged his sternum. It felt as if a weight had tumbled off his shoulders, although he knew there was no guarantee that Neville or Luna would be a perfect audience. Neville's parents had been sympathetic to the Order even though they'd never joined. Luna would listen, but she might not be able to offer any reasonable advice.

"Why does that feel so much better?" he muttered to himself.

"You know that you are not alone," Gerald said, and Harry jolted, actually having forgotten for a second that the man was there. "I can offer you a listening ear, but I shouldn't be the only one. And you may not need them to tell you what to do next. I have the feeling that many people have done that already. Instead, they can offer you companionship."

Harry nodded slowly. This Mind-Healing was working out a lot better than he'd ever thought.

He couldn't tell Tom that, though. The smugness that would come through the bond would drown him.

Ignoring the curiosity he could feel plucking at him right now like the fingers of a child, Harry tilted his head and asked, "Are we looking at memories today?"

"If you can find one that would not be too painful for you, I think it would prove valuable."

Harry nodded, and thought of one he could have Gerald see, but as far as he was concerned, he'd already heard the best advice of the day.


"Thank you for welcoming us into your home, Mrs. Lovegood."

"You should call me Pandora. And I did it because Mama said that I should try to figure out what you were up to."

Tom blinked, but controlled his reaction other than that. He didn't often deal with Pandora Lovegood, Madam Moonwell's daughter, since she was an experimental charms researcher without much reason to come before the Wizengamot. Madam Moonwell was direct, too, but she played the political game with relish for its own sake. Pandora simply did not care.

"Well, I told you that," he said, as he settled back into the violently blue chair in the violently orange drawing room. Harry took the seat next to him, his part of the bond bright as candles with amusement. Tom petted the bond and watched as Harry arched his back, trying to pretend to be unaffected. "We came here because we need your assistance with a ritual, and Harry would like to speak with your daughter."

"But you have more of a purpose than that." Pandora studied him with her extraordinarily bright blue eyes. They looked like chips of ice implanted into her face. "You do nothing without a political motive."

"Why do you think that?"

"Mama says that you want to be a dictator."

Harry tucked his chin into his chest, and the bond chattered with laughter.

"I won't help you with dictatorship rituals," Pandora continued, a hint of censure in her voice. "You would have to achieve that on your own, and I don't think that dictatorship is morally right anyway."

Harry appeared to almost be gasping to himself. Tom sent an irritated thought down the bond, but it didn't help. He sighed and looked Pandora in the face.

"I promise you that this ritual has nothing to do with dictatorship. I am a Parselmouth, as you know, and Harry can understand Parseltongue, as my marked soulmate. However, I would like to deepen the bond, and that means granting him a stronger connection to snakes, such that he could speak it himself."

Surprise came from Harry's end of the bond like a shaft of sunlight. Tom smiled and kept looking away from him, patiently, at Pandora, who had sat up in her chair and looked interested in the problem for the first time.

You didn't tell me that that was what we were going to do. Just find me a snake!

I thought the Parseltongue would come about for you as a natural consequence of that ritual, and so would the deepening of our bond. However, it is just as well that we could not complete that particular ritual that night, because I found this one. It will serve us better.

What does Luna's mother have to do with it?

Luckily, Pandora answered that for herself, and spared Tom at least a little of the effort of dealing with his exasperating soulmate. "You want me for my expertise with snakeskin."

Tom nodded. "I couldn't think of any other expert in the wizarding world."

That was perhaps less than flattering, but truth was the only thing that would really work with Pandora Lovegood. After staring at him for a moment, she nodded back. "Well, it is true that I have performed experiments that could make up for the missing parts in the ritual."

"Will someone please tell me the secret that the two of you seem to share?" Harry interrupted. "What ritual? Why is it missing parts?"

Pandora stared at him in turn. "He didn't tell you?"

"No."

"There is a ritual to grant Parseltongue to a human being, but it hasn't been performed in years because parts of the original manuscript where it was recorded have gaps," Tom said hastily. There was a difference between letting Pandora shoulder some of the burden of dealing with Harry and letting her create distrust between them. "It also needs a Parselmouth who is willing to share the gift, and, well, there have been few enough of those. Our soulmates can understand us. For most, that has been enough."

"But not for you."

"Nothing will be enough until we share everything."

Harry stared at him and swallowed, then said, "I'm pretty sure that Mind-Healer Laufrey would have something to say about that and how possessive you sound."

But the bond had a single shiver of silver in the middle of it. Harry might never want the consequences of that possessiveness bearing down on him, but he liked that Tom felt it. Tom lounged back in his chair and smiled smugly.

"If you are quite done flirting in front of me?"

Tom could feel the blush trying to curdle on his cheeks, and shook his head sharply. Harry looked at him with a question in his eyes, but Tom only sent back, She didn't mean it, she just wants to get on with the conversation, and faced Pandora again. "Yes," he said. "We are."

She nodded. "You believe that you can fill in the gaps in the ritual with snakeskin. Shed skin could complete the ritual circle in the places where the manuscript is missing the placement of the original ingredients, and living snakes coming to you and sending enough venom into your soulmate's system could possibly compensate for the missing instructions for the venom potion."

"Excuse me, what?"

"Snakes need to bite you to get their venom into you," said Pandora, switching her gaze to Harry. "Possibly."

"Possibly?"

"We don't exactly know," Pandora said, sounding a little impatient. "That is why the ritual hasn't been performed before. There are so many breaks and gaps in it…" She stared off into the distance for a moment, smiling, then shook herself and focused on Harry. "But you will see that for yourself."

"You haven't asked if I agreed to this."

Tom knew very well that the words were meant for him and not Pandora. He faced Harry. "Will you agree to it?"

Harry stared at him, his head tilted a little to the side as if that would make it easier to examine Tom and emerge with the correct answer. Tom let him examine all he needed. He knew Harry would make the correct decision, would see how much Tom cared for him and how much this mattered to him.

"Why is it so important to you?" Harry asked. "To know that I can speak Parseltongue with you and not just understand it?"

Of course, not without some questions, Tom conceded, while the bond between them rang blue and smelled of mint. Still, he didn't mind having this conversation in front of Pandora. She wouldn't care enough to repeat it to anyone.

He got up and walked over to Harry's chair, kneeling down to take his hand. Harry started and glared at him, eyes traveling back and forth for a moment between Pandora and Tom. Tom shook his head just slightly. He still didn't care, and the sooner Harry acknowledged that, the better off they would be.

"Tom?" Harry's voice was a whisper.

"Listen to me, love," Tom said, soft and clear. "I want to share everything that I am with you."

"But we already do. I can understand Parseltongue. You introduced me to someone you wanted me to meet." The wary flicker down the bond said that Harry thought it would be best not to mention Nagini aloud. "I just don't understand why that isn't enough for you."

Tom raised Harry's hand and kissed it. "Don't you?" The devotion he felt for Harry poured down the bond like a flood of dark water, and Harry closed his eyes and shivered like someone who was drowning in it.

"I suppose I do," Harry murmured. "But you must have another motive for wanting me to speak Parseltongue as well as understand it."

"Why?"

"Because you were going to perform the other ritual at first, the one that would have just summoned a snake. What changed your mind?"

Tom hesitated, and Harry glanced at him, eyes as bright and sharp as a hawk's. "Tom. I can't help you if you don't trust me."

Tom grimaced and nodded. He hadn't wanted to worry or trouble Harry, and he still wasn't sure of his conclusions. But now he had no choice, and this was the kind of conversation he would have chosen not to have in front of Pandora.

Well, he had options to maintain their privacy.

"I suspect that Dumbledore is going to be hard to stop."

Harry frowned and replied mentally down the bond, adjusting without a single instruction needing to be passed. Merlin, Tom loved this man. But we knew that already. What does that have to do with me gaining Parseltongue?

"I've done research that leads me to believe Dumbledore has been following the orders of phoenixes. The legends I told you of, that they can change reality, that they bring multiple versions of reality into existence? I have uncovered evidence, from talking with your parents and godfather, that he named his Order after the version of reality that he wanted to bring into existence."

Harry sat up. You didn't tell them?

At least he had not asked if Tom had hurt them, and at least he knew Tom well enough to realize that Tom would withhold his hand, no matter how frustrated he was with someone else, if those people mattered to Harry. Tom shook his head. "They would have answered, but it would create resentment there is no need to stir. And it was better when they answered my questions innocent of what I wanted rather than trying to guess and predict what I wanted to hear."

Harry thought about that, the bond quivering with flickers of light, too sharp and quick for Tom to read them as words. Then he looked at Tom and asked, What did they reveal?

Tom shifted up so that he was standing beside Harry's chair, since his knees had started to ache, and placed a hand on Harry's shoulder, shifting also to the mental bond. Speaking in Parseltongue when Harry was speaking mentally had begun to seem a little silly. They hinted that Albus created the Order to change reality. He involved the Order, and the soulmated pairs in it, in powerful ritual magic.

Well, yes, he did. But I never heard of a ritual that could literally change reality.

In a way, that is what all of them do. Inside the circle, the world is—

I know that the world is different inside the circle, and when you break the circle, the change spreads and ripples out into the world, Harry snapped. I still don't think that Dumbledore could have achieved results like that. The rituals he had the Order do were all different, not dedicated to a single goal.

Tell me truly, Harry. Would you know if they had been?

Harry's fingers made indentations in the cushion he was sitting on. Then he said, But I don't see what a ritual to create a refuge for the Order and a ritual to create a powerful spell to kill you would have in common.

To change the world. To bring the vision that he wanted forwards.

But that ripple effect I was talking about—I know it only lasts a short time. That's why rituals have more success taking effect inside the circle, or only changing something in their immediate area once the circle is broken. How could Dumbledore add them together when the ripples from one ritual would have faded by the time he did another?

Tom frowned. That is a difficulty with the theory.

Harry didn't say anything else, just raising his eyebrows. The bond went rather an acid yellow with smugness, which Tom thought was not his soulmate's most attractive color.

But, Tom added, since he has been following the orders of phoenixes, one of them might have told him how to chain certain rituals together, to harness their effects and keep the ripples from dissipating.

You're talking about the whole thing, the Order and what it did, as part of some gigantic ritual, too big to see?

Tom smiled, proud that Harry had guessed what he was hinting at so fast, although to be absolutely fair, Harry might have picked that up from his thoughts. Exactly. Dumbledore might not even have been conscious of it, not if he was following the directions of a phoenix that didn't reveal why it wanted him to do certain things.

Harry tapped his fingers against the chair. And how can we fight back against something like that? How can we be sure that me gaining Parseltongue is something that would give us a weapon, instead of just another step in the phoenix's plan?

Tom shook his head. We can't be sure, of course, but we do know that we've inconvenienced Dumbledore and at least slowed down whatever plan he's working on. And this is a weapon that would give us more advantages.

Harry considered it, the thoughts moving through his mind like chiming bells. Then he nodded. Let's do it.

Tom touched his forehead, the most intimate he was willing to get in front of a third party, and turned around to face Pandora. "We'll be honored to work with you on the reconstruction of the ritual, Mrs. Lovegood."

"And I do need to speak to Luna," Harry added, moving them back to the part of the business Tom had almost forgotten about. "Would she be willing to speak to me today, Mrs. Lovegood? Or is she busy?"

Tom settled back, the bond smoothing out on his own. He had received reports on Luna Lovegood when she was still a student at Hogwarts, since his observers had been unable to figure out if she would be useful to his cause or not, and he knew that he had nothing to fear from her, either for Harry or the bond.

"She's in her workshop, I believe," said Pandora, and then turned back to Tom. "We should discuss what snakeskins we will use for the ritual."

"Yes, we should," Tom said, and nodded to Harry. Harry rolled his eyes as he stood up.

You don't need to dismiss me like a house-elf.

I am showing that I trust you out of my sight.

The bond grew flat and dark for a moment, and then Harry glided away and Tom shook his head. He faced Pandora, who said, "Have you gained fourfold powers yet? It will affect how strong we need to make the ritual circle."


Harry found the workshop exactly where he expected to find it, behind the main house. At Hogwarts, Luna had worked in a small hut attached to Hagrid's house, and she had sculpted a path of white stone that led to it. Harry had just had to go back the way he and Tom came, and then find the path of white stone and follow it.

He stood well back from the door and carefully knocked. The door of this little house was torn and scarred with what looked like potions stains, but Harry knew Luna well enough to know that probably wasn't the case. He waited, and finally her footsteps sounded and she opened the door.

She gave him a deep, delighted smile. "Harry. Come in. Just duck under the cobwebs. They're part of the new design." She turned and ducked into the house herself. Harry followed, stooping lower than he probably needed to, but all he really needed to remember was one evening when a cobweb in his hair had been followed by third-degree burns. He'd be cautious when Luna said to be for the rest of his life.

The interior of the workshop was a small, cheerful place, painted eggshell-blue on one wall and eye-searing yellow on two more and tropical orange on the final one. Harry didn't know if that was part of the experiments, or just something Luna had wanted to do to make it glow. In the center of the small house was a table, made of metal, with a few smoking holes and stains in the middle of it. Two chairs were the only other furniture, although one of them was lying on the floor.

"Pick that one up and dust off the seat with your wand, and it should be safe to sit on," Luna said absently, rattling through what seemed to be a pile of metal rods near the fireplace on the orange wall.

Harry followed her instructions precisely, and by the time he had, Luna was walking over to him with a cup of tea. It steamed and smelled like jasmine. Harry shook his head and accepted it. He had stopped asking Luna how she did it long ago. He either got a long explanation that depended mostly on non-existent beasts or a mysterious smile.

"What brings you here?" Luna asked, sitting down on the other chair. Something popped and broke, and the chair leaped beneath her, but Luna didn't even spill her tea. "Did you finally find your soulmate?"

Harry nodded. He wasn't surprised she knew, although knowing her, it was probably going to be from something a swan had told her in a dream instead of from the papers. "And he's the Minister."

"I never knew you wanted to go into politics."

Harry sighed. "I didn't. I was actually trying to stay away from them. But I was born with his name on my arm. I always knew who he was. I just—wanted to try and pretend that I didn't. I thought I might be able to stay away from him for the rest of my life."

Luna sat up, staring at him. Harry concealed a wince. He had known that she'd be able to accept that his phoenix had somehow matched Tom's if that was the truth, but she wouldn't have thought he'd lie to her.

"Why did you tell me that your soul-mark was a phoenix?"

Harry swallowed. Yes, that kind of direct question meant she was upset. "Because my parents and Dumbledore were afraid of what Tom would become with fourfold powers. So they tried their best to raise me away from him and make sure he'd never know. He might not have, but he got intrigued with me and then touched my real soul-mark."

"What is the phoenix on your arm, if not your real soul-mark?"

Harry blinked. He hadn't expected the tone in her voice. "A Muggle tattoo I got. I used it to conceal my soul-mark in the shackles along the edges." He tilted his arm and pointed out the words to Luna, although he held his arm further back so that she couldn't touch them. He didn't think he wanted to explain that to Tom.

Luna, to her credit, only leaned in a little and studied the words intently, as if trying to memorize the way they dodged in and out among the curls of flame and broken shackles on the phoenix. Then she sat back in her chair. "You know that I haven't found my soulmate yet."

Harry nodded. Luna's soul-mark was a delicate, flowing green thing that might be flowers and might be a vine and might be a creature that lived in either one, and ornamented her back. Harry had seen it once, and admired it.

"I wouldn't think of trying to hide from them."

Harry swallowed around the thickness of his tongue, and then awkwardly swallowed the tea that he was trying to drink. He put the cup down. "I know, Luna, but—"

"And if someone told me that I had to hide from them, I would be very upset. With the person who told me that, not with my soulmate."

"My family said—"

"And I would tell someone else," Luna said, her eyes sharpening on him to the point where they felt like nails pinning Harry to the chair. "Not decide that the best thing I could possibly do was keep the secret."

Harry closed his eyes. He had entertained visions in his head of what would have happened if he'd run away to Tom when he was in his fifth year, and what would have happened if he'd succeeded in erasing the mark. Never once had he thought about what have happened if he'd confessed his secret to Luna.

"I thought we were friends."

Harry gave a difficult swallow. "We are."

"Then why did you hide something like this from me? What was the point? I could have helped you. I would have sent an owl if you needed me to."

Harry blinked his eyes open again, the old bewilderment of dealing with Luna overcoming his reluctance to see her expression at the moment. "An owl."

"If you didn't want to write to your soulmate because you were worried that your handwriting would betray you. I could have sent him a disguised letter, and then he wouldn't know what your handwriting looked like."

Harry chuckled a little, and reached out a hand. Luna frowned, but then took it. She gave him one firm shake and used the hold to tilt his arm to the side so that she could see the name written along his wrist.

"I don't understand why you were so reluctant. I know you weren't interested in politics, but that's not the same thing as hating them. And that's not the same thing as hating your soulmate."

"I know. I didn't—hate him, except when I thought about how much my parents and the Order hated him, and what it meant that I would have to hide from him for years."

Luna looked him in the eye. "What did they tell you about him?"

"That he hated all Muggleborns and Muggles and was waging a secret war against them. Or rather, gathering the forces to wage a secret war. That he would do anything he could to bring down the Muggle world and separate Muggleborns from it—if he didn't just kill all of them. I thought my soulmate was a genocidal Dark Lord."

"You could have talked to me. Or someone else." But it was clear that Luna would have preferred him talking to her. "And we would have told you that he wasn't."

Harry swallowed again, and didn't look away. "But that's exactly it. My parents and Dumbledore and—other people thought he had the whole world fooled. I couldn't trust anything that anybody outside the Order said about him. If someone else had found out he was my soulmate, my parents believed, they would have betrayed me to him and he would have persuaded me to turn against anything righteous."

"Why would he have persuaded you to do that?"

"Because I wanted to believe so much that I was special and wasn't evil for being born with this mark on my arm. There was a time when I was fifteen or so that I would have just collapsed into his arms and he could have done whatever he wanted with me and the magic we'd generate together."

Luna was the one to close her eyes this time, shuddering as if Harry had hit her. "You aren't evil. You deserved whatever he could give you. You still do." She whispered it.

Harry nodded, then touched her arm when Luna just kept holding his, because after all, she couldn't see what he was doing with her eyes closed. "I know that now. Or Tom is helping me to learn it. I'm visiting with a Mind-Healer and all that shit. But please don't be angry with me for not telling you before now, Luna. It wasn't healthy, to think that my mark made me evil, but it was what I believed for a long time."

"I forgive you," Luna said finally, when they'd sat in silence for long enough that Harry thought she might send him away in anger. "But only if you promise never to keep a secret like that from me again."

She opened her eyes, and Harry caught his breath. The blaze in her blue eyes was like a punch in the face. He had sometimes envied her soulmate when they were younger, wishing that he could simply be with her and the whole complicated mess of his soul-mark wasn't real. Now, he envied her soulmate just for having someone this intense.

"I'll have to keep it a secret if Tom tells me to," Harry said, because Tom came first and he needed Luna to understand that. "But otherwise, fine."

Luna beamed at him and stood up to hug him. Harry leaned against her, glad that his heartbeat couldn't be as loud to her as it sounded to him. He had one of his friends back, one who had been missing from his life for a long time.

And someone who hadn't been involved with the Order's nonsense. After the loss of Ron and Hermione, Harry hadn't realized how deeply he needed that.

Damn my Mind-Healer. He was right again. Of course he was.


"Are you all right, James? You've been staring at that letter for ten minutes."

James took a deep, shaky breath and smoothed out the letter that a plain barn owl had brought him. He leaned back in his chair and looked his wife in the eye. Lily was frowning, biting her lip, and the bond between them sang with harmonies of discontent and fear.

"It's a letter from Harry's friend Luna Lovegood," James said, and watched Lily tilt her head for a long moment before she nodded in recollection. "She addressed it to me, but I think it's meant for both of us. You should read it."

He held it out, not needing to stand at Lily's side to know the words her eyes were now passing over. He had stared at it long enough to memorize it, especially since it wasn't very lengthy.

Dear Mr. Potter,

I wanted you to know that it was very wrong to make Harry think his soulmate was evil and that he was evil because he had Minister Riddle's soul-mark. You could have studied Riddle for yourself and tried to find out if he was really fighting a secret war. Or you could have withdrawn from the Order and tried to make sure that there was a way Harry could have his soulmate without losing himself in the bond. You didn't do either of those things. You just believed blindly and followed along, and that means that Harry is much more in danger of losing himself to the bond than if you'd been smart. He swung from being isolated to being the center of someone's world. What do you think that's doing to him?

And then her name at the bottom.

James massaged his forehead. At the moment, he felt as if he had his own scar there, or a second soul-mark, throbbing purposefully. Shame flooded him with each breath.

Miss Lovegood was right. It was no wonder that Harry was falling so deeply for Riddle's charm. They'd isolated Harry for so much of his childhood and made it impossible for him to hold back or regard Riddle critically or neutrally. He'd just had it drilled into his head that his situation with his soulmate was hopeless, and nothing could change, and he could never have what other people had, and then when he found out he could have it—

Or a shadow of it—

Of course he'd seized it with both hands.

James sighed and looked up at Lily. She had put the letter down on the side of the table and was regarding him with a quiet, fixed gaze that he recognized.

"So we need to stop being so critical of Riddle?" James asked. His voice cracked. He didn't want to. It was one thing to discover that the man wasn't a Dark Lord in the way Albus had insisted on for so long, and quite another to trust him, especially to guard Harry's heart.

"We can still criticize him," Lily said. "But criticize him for what he does, not for what we're afraid he'll do."

James nodded slowly. He could see the sense of that, especially since the gleam in Riddle's eye from time to time told James that he was enjoying the way James's suspicions were turning his son away from him.

But on the other hand, someone had to watch Riddle. Lily could be the friendly face. James would fade into the background and make vague comments and nods and smiles, and wait.

And when the truth was finally revealed—and James had the feeling it wouldn't be long—then he could be the one to strike at Riddle and take him out.