47 Days to Change (a translation) @snow_owl01
Mercy or Duty

Chapter 28

NOTE: This is a translation of a Chinese HP Fanfiction by 墨玉绿

BETA: the brilliant and awesome AzulticSerpens

August 27, 1939

Perhaps it was because Slytherins tended to be exceptionally talented at reading people; perhaps it was because Gryffindors were bad at hiding their emotions. Either way, Tom had become keenly aware that something had changed after Harry returned home. Once again, Harry was tense and wary around him.

"I'm full. I'm going to... I'm going to stay in my room today. Tom, leave the dishes. I'll wash them later."

Harry excused himself as soon as he finished eating. He stood up suddenly; it almost seemed like he was running away from the kitchen table.

"No need. I can wash them," the handsome young boy replied politely.

He gave his guardian a bright smile, looking as calm and poised as ever, although his hands trembled ever so slightly as he stabbed at his lunch with unnecessary force, the pork loin turning into mush under his fork.

Of course, someone as brilliant and sharp as Tom was bound to notice that their relationship turning sour with detachment and distrust.

But if Tom didn't even know the reason behind such changes, what could he do?

Tom sneered, plucking the fork from the pile of uneaten meat mush.

Harry closed the curtains tightly, before collapsing onto bed again.

He couldn't pretend that everything was all right. Every moment of every day, the boy's maturing features reminded him of the Dark Lord, who was only growing more powerful and perfect on the other side of the timeline. Everything that he had seen in the future told him that nothing had changed — that nothing could be changed.

Harry felt like he was living in a nightmarish loop. He didn't know what to do — he couldn't be ruthless enough to leave the boy and go back home, yet he wasn't noble enough to act like nothing was wrong. His conscience and emotions pulled him in opposite directions, guilt and fear and worry trapping him in an unsolvable dilemma. His mind reeled; the pain from time-travelling still tormenting his body.

Harry felt like he was drowning, grasping at straws as he shakily reminded himself — I can't give up! There is... there is still hope.

It was only 1939. There was still hope for the future.

Tom didn't know the future, but Harry, who did, was equally powerless to stop time's inevitable progress. Fate plucked the crisscrossing stings of its instrument, which connected the destinies of all the lives across time and space. It nodded —it is time!

It wasn't until the first V1 bombs fell out of the sky like hideous birds and exploded all over London that Harry realized what was most important to him.

Even though he had attended Hogwarts since the age of eleven and wasn't familiar with muggle history, when he heard those ear-splitting sirens and low-rumbling booms, he realized what was happening instantly. As an Englishman, even he would never forget the scars and destruction left by the two muggle wars.

The Second World War. The Blitz.

During World War II, in preparation for Operation Sea Lion, Hitler had commanded the Nazi Air Force to air-bomb London for seventy-six straight days and nights, reducing the crown jewel of the proud imperial Britannia— the empire on which the sun never set— to a field of burning rubble and death.

Before the realization had sunk in, Harry felt the ground shake beneath his feet, followed by more deafening booms in the distance. Bombs exploded all around them; an endless assault of fire and falling debris pelting the pavement like heavy rain, beating and swallowing up the ancient city.

Even their quiet suburban house started to shake violently, plaster dust raining from the ceiling. Overhead lights flickered and went dark, swinging madly on thin wires.

Screams and panic filled London. Desperate wails mixed in with ominous droning of oncoming airplanes, cutting through the darkening London sky, ruthlessly shattering all of the peace and prosperity streaming through its streets just a moment ago.

KABOOM!

The sound seemed to land next to their ears, loud enough to cause momentary deafness. The floor rumbled upon impact and the house rattled like a doll house.

Harry stumbled forward before bracing himself against a wall. This was the first time he had truly experienced the terrible power of muggle war machinery.

Compared to wizard duels, muggle weapons of mass destruction were more cold and terrifying. These unseen metallic weapons took lives so easily, without any regard to collateral damage, without even confronting their victims like wizards do for their duels. Even facing the Avada Kedavra was better than this, to be crushed like bugs under these apathetic machines and chemicals, under the uncaring and calculating orders of distant enemies— under war, life itself became insignificant, and people everywhere were reduced to tiny cogs in the machine, trapped and powerless and disposable.

Harry paled but stayed calm.

Harry was confident that he would not die here — at least not right now. No matter what disaster or trouble he ran into, Harry couldn't die in the past, because his body and soul didn't belong here. You see, based on the fact that his body never aged in the past, Hermione had theorized that Fate couldn't let people die outside of their own timelines. Time had its own set rules — the future and the past were bound by complex laws that even Fate couldn't break. And so, Harry was safe as long as he remained in the past, protected by time and Fate itself.

Thus was another reason why Hermione agreed for Harry to return, despite the drain on his body. At least, here, in the past, he was relatively safe under Fate's protection and outside of Voldemort's reach.

She had said, "Harry, Fate has one flaw— while you remain in the past, it can't erase your existence, no matter how much it may want to. While it may despise your attempts to change history, at the very least, Fate cannot kill you. Therefore, your very presence there... can become your biggest weapon."

But the boy... he belonged to this timeline, and so... he could die here.

Once the ugly thought popped into his head, disgust and self-loathing flooded his mind. Yet, the thought lingered...From the ugliest and most selfish corner of his human nature, it grew and grew until it became uncontrollable, undeniable, and unforgivable.

"HARRY!" Tom hurried to his side. The boy's knotted eyebrows were the only signs of his panic. Tom took a deep breath, temple throbbing with an unsettling intuition. He reached out for Harry's hand.

"Harry, we need to get to the wizarding world, now!"

Before Tom could take another step, Harry jerked back suddenly and avoided his outstretched hand. Tom's hand froze in midair. Hot August air turned chilly and suffocating around them.

Harry looked at the boy and suddenly he couldn't breathe. Outside, the warring world faded away and the only thing Harry noticed were those familiar dark eyes peering up at him. Harry's own heart drummed wildly in his chest, squeezing so painfully that Harry thought that it might explode.

Still, that vile thought lingered in his mind, like a burning fuse refusing to be extinguished, like a poisonous snake swaying to the tempting music of the snake-charmer's flute. It guided him toward some dark and disgusting corner of his mind, tempting him with thoughts too horrible to even think about.

Harry blinked, gasping for air.

Yes, Harry came from the future and couldn't die in the past. But Tom... Tom belonged in the past and had no extra protection.

As long as... as Tom Riddle stayed in this house, then he might...die.

What if this child...Tom Riddle had died in the London Blitz of 1939?

What if Voldemort have never existed? In a future without Voldemort, his parents might still be alive and Sirius might be there with them, waiting for him. Dumbledore might be there too, and this time, he wouldn't be expecting Harry to save the world. If Tom Riddle had died in the past, then Harry Potter of the future would never become the Boy-Who-Lived. He would just be Harry, a boy like everyone else. He could become a professional seeker; he could save his friends and family from their premature deaths; he could fall asleep without be haunted by nightmares; he could be... free.

This could be his one opportunity to fix everything.

Even full-grown wizards would have difficulties surviving the constant bombardment of artillery shells, never mind a helpless first-year.

Harry didn't even have to do anything. Really. All he needed to do was to abandon the boy here and... just let fate decide the rest.

Harry's lips trembled uncontrollably, bile rising to his throat. He couldn't speak; he couldn't think.

A distant voice was ringing in his head, as irresistibly sweet as sirens' song, luring him deeper and deeper into foul and unforgivable territories.

"Yes, yes. Kill him."

KABOOM!

A shell landed right across the street. It exploded in a ball of shocking light and heat, sending broken blocks of cement and steel outward in sparks of fireworks.

Debris rammed through the walls and windows.

"Protego!" Harry cast the shielding charm on instinct, and just in time too, as a palm-sized rock flew toward him and bounced off the invisible shield.

Tom, who remained quiet and obedient by his side, ducked away. The boy was not familiar with shield charms like 'protego', so he couldn't even do anything to protect himself.

The house quivered terribly. And like toy blocks that had been knocked over, it began to collapse in and onto itself, piece by piece.

Harry clutched his wand. Its hard handle dug into his palm, and somehow it felt very heavy. His heart squeezed painfully.

Harry turned away. He had to restrain himself from checking on Tom, to make sure that child was safe. He was the Dark Lord; he was a child.

"Protego!" Tom whipped out his own wand, trying out the new spell he had just heard Harry use. But... nothing happened. Tom frowned, as he awkwardly dodged several items falling from the shelves.

Tom clamped down hard on his lips until he tasted iron. The taste of blood seemed to calm him. He refocused and raised his wand again.

As expected from the future Dark Lord, thought Harry. He watched the boy's action in silence; the yew wand's tip glimmered briefly as an invisible dome was expelled outward, protecting its master from falling debris. Harry stood very still; his arms felt impossibly heavy. He gave a bitter smile, before raising his own wand, its trembling tip pointing toward the young boy.

Finite Incantatem. Stupefy. Expelliarmus.

A million options flashed in his head. Harry opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He felt like he was choking on the dusty air, the acrid scent of chemicals and burning things filling his nostrils.

Tom pointed his wand overhead. Gasping for breath, he could barely keep the shielding charm in place. He stood facing Harry, upright, composed, not avoiding the other's wand and not panicking; he just stood there, looking up at Harry with clear black eyes.

Harry found it difficult to meet the boy's gaze, although there was no trace of accusation or anger in those deep dark eyes. Tom was only staring at him intently like he always did, with an unreadable, polite, little smile.

"Harry—" Tom's eyes fixed onto Harry. He called out to the young man with their usual familiarity, smiling sweetly as if he couldn't see the wand pointing directly in his face. "Harry— are you going to abandon me?"

Amid the ruins of their old house, the little boy, who would grow up to be his mortal enemy, was struggling to maintain a fragile shielding charm cloaking his thin body. His small hands quivered as he held up his wand, but his eyes remained clear and calm as he peered up at Harry, asking: Are you going to abandon me?

Once again, Harry found it hard to breathe. Like a fish stranded on dry sand, his mouth flapped wordlessly, opening and closing repeatedly, but he just couldn't answer that simple question.

He told himself — You must think of the big picture, Harry Potter. Think about Hermione, think about Ron, think about Ginny, think about all the faithful members of Dumbledore's army... they are all counting on you. Think about the Dark Lord you met that day... Voldemort is real!

Even if he had the potential of a Dark Lord, right now Tom Riddle was still a small first-year, who couldn't possibly maintain a complex shielding charm for long. Finally, the light from the tip of the yew wand flickered and vanished.

At the same time, an overhead beam snapped in two with a loud crackle. In clouds of dust, large cement blocks and wooden planks fell around them, blocking off access to all the windows and doors, trapping them within this dark, teetering house.

Now there really is no escape — Harry gave an ironic smile and lowered his wand. There was no need to cast spells, anymore.

He was trapped. Both of them were trapped by tragic circumstances.

Tom clutched his wand with both hands. Settling dust in the air hid the turmoil rippling in his eyes; his young face hardened with steely resolve as he searched for redemption or regret in those familiar green eyes, but he only found an overwhelming sorrow reflecting back at him. Tom's face darkened still as he raised his wand towards the young man, the spell, which he had spent all of last year studying, was on the tip of his tongue.

The young man only said, "I'm sorry."

TN:

Miss Author said she is aware of the historic inaccuracy presented in the fic (i.e. Wrong dates of the blitz and operation sea lion ... etc) But hey, for plot reasons, ignore these discrepancies.

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