The end of September snuck up on Tom in a way that it hadn't in years, but perhaps this was warranted, as instead of a count down to the holidays and the students leaving it was instead a rather tense countdown to the trial of one Severus Snape for the murder of Sirius Black.
The investigation had run its course very swiftly, likely because lead investigator James Potter had known exactly where to look and wasted little time looking elsewhere. Severus Snape had been questioned, arrested as the prime suspect, then scheduled for trial before the Wizengamot in that very first week that the aurors had been on the case.
Now, with October looming over the horizon, as Tom graded papers on the tension between the muggle West and the Soviets and what this meant for the wizarding world, he felt as if the shadow of Severus Snape's words from Azkaban were looming over him.
"And you, professor?"
It hadn't quite been Shakespeare, but it had been close enough, and there had been such bitterness and resentment in Severus Snape's dark eyes.
The question now, that rang throughout his mind every so often, was if anyone would come for Tom himself? What, exactly, would a Severus Snape who was fully aware that he would be condemned to his own death, tell his most hated enemy captain James Potter, even at the cost of his own pride? For Lily Evans, for love, how far would he go to tear Tom Riddle down with him? Yes, strange as it sounded, Tom was willing to bet, that in his own way, Severus Snape would do just about anything for Lily Evans.
So, if he told him, if Severus Snape told James Potter about the suggestion once given to him by professor Tom Riddle, what could Tom be charged with?
Conspiracy to murder?
Or something else, something flimsier, did they even need an excuse at all for a mudblood professor who was little more than an exercise in tokenism? These days, with shops being burned to the ground and tension everywhere, he wondered if they would finally admit how far gone they truly were. Would they recognize that they had been clinging to the glory days of the magical British empire, failing with their muggle counterpart, and dying before Tom himself had even finished school?
Even before Ubik, Britain had been collapsing inward on itself, they had long since passed any decent event horizon.
So, if they came for him, what then?
After pondering this for a few weeks, he'd eventually, on the first Sunday he finally had some amount of free time to escape from the castle, made his way to his own house and started to pack ups his basement filled with contraband. Was this an overdramatic overreaction that made him feel more than a little ridiculous and paranoid? Perhaps. However, would it be easier to flee the country if he'd already sorted and packed? Certainly.
Of course, there was always that nagging thought in his head, as he stuffed books into a suitcase the defied the muggle conventions of time and space, that he very likely wouldn't have time to pick up even a small suitcase as the first thing they were likely to do was stakeout his house.
Then again, perhaps not, perhaps they'd count on apparition wards being enough to hold him. Then again, perhaps these hypothetical wards would be enough to hold him, Tom didn't really know, he was certainly more powerful than even the most powerful of wizards but it wasn't something he'd put into practice… That was probably something that he should consider next.
Still, walking into a suitcase bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, securing books onto shelves stored inside, that, at least, was something. Something more than twitching his fingers and waiting, waiting for the hammer to fall even while he tried to pretend that everything was fine (except that beloved Sirius Black, of course, was dead, God rest his rambunctious soul).
He sighed then, walked out to see that yes, he really had packed up the last of it, now stored in an overzealously warded trunk. Now it was quiet again, just down the road Hogwarts waited for his return, not urgently, but certainly before Monday morning and classes began again.
Once again, he had all the time in the world to think when, at this precise moment, thinking was about the last thing that he felt like doing.
With a sigh he trudged back up the stairs, made his way to the kitchen and, like the old man that he was in spirt but not in body, poured himself a goddamn cup of tea while he considered the questions he hadn't managed to find answers to after years of considering them.
Where did he go from here?
If he left England, if he was forced out of Britain as he had always distantly suspected he would be, but now was faced with the almost certainty then where in the world could Tom Marvolo Riddle go?
Europe, the continent, was far too close, too many old ties with Britain, they'd certainly find him and then extradite him. America was nearly as bad for the same reason, it might be a little further, but it along with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and just about any former British Colony or commonwealth had kept close ties with the magical motherland.
Well, that still left a good majority of the world, a world that Tom had spent a lifetime not seeing. In fact, this might be something of a golden opportunity, the kick out the door he needed to get him out of Great Britain and actually see all these places whose history he had taught to his students.
A violent, unneeded, and somewhat irritating kick but a kick none the less.
"That was unbearably optimistic," Tom Riddle said to himself, internally reminding himself that while he didn't necessarily regret goading Severus Snape into murder or Sirius Black's untimely demise, he would not be in this position if he'd just held his tongue and let Severus Snape hang himself.
The sad truth of it was that Lily Evans likely would have been the only one to miss him. Severus Snape would have all too easily made another Moaning Myrtle.
Of course, Tom would also likely one day be in this position because of something else, Severus Snape vindictive and on trial just made that day come surprisingly earlier. Really, as he'd already told Lily, he'd seen this coming years ago, perhaps since he'd been banished from Ubik…
He paused at that, a thought striking him. Lily, what would he tell her? Could he tell her at all? It was very likely to be abrupt, he wouldn't get much of a chance. A single note left behind, and then what? How would he go about contacting her afterwards? And would it even be in either of their best interests for him to write her at all…
He stopped, paused, brow furrowing as he realized just where his thoughts had headed entirely without his permission, "Well, shit."
Admitting attraction was one thing, even having the talk had been one thing, as had been the dating thing they'd embarked on which mostly seemed to have snowballed out of Tom's control, but here he was thinking about what the hell he was going to do in regard to her when he was hypothetically fleeing the country.
Perhaps, even in the back of his head, considering dragging her off with him as they fled the country as a modern day magical version of Bonnie and Clyde, only… not.
Well, Tom, he thought to himself, good to know your priorities are in as good an order as ever. He was beginning to suspect that secretly, despite his sociopathy and general disinterest in sex, he was quite the romantic.
Tom Riddle, scourge of Wool's Orphanage, a romantic…
There were no words.
"I have got to get over this midlife crisis I'm having," he said to himself with a despairing sigh. Well, he had to get over it as soon as he found out whether he was fleeing the country or not, that likely would decide for him.
And if he had any sense at all then fleeing the country would cure Tom of whatever the hell had come over him recently and he'd be back to being whatever he'd been before… Before what? What had been the turning point in his surreal life? Hogwarts? Ubik? Taking the Muggle Studies position?
If he could do it all over again, if he could choose a starting point, a single moment where everything would shift, then where the hell would he even start?
He was about to moodily start his second cup of tea, not quite ready to face the active mourning period of Hogwarts and the constant nostalgia of Sirius Black, it wouldn't kill them if he didn't show up until breakfast on Monday, he wasn't scheduled to patrol the corridors after hours tonight, when a quiet knock sounded at his door.
Tom unconsciously, wordlessly, summoned his wand to his fingertips, breathing out quietly, all his thoughts and nervousness suddenly gone as he realized that this was likely the moment he had been waiting for.
He was out of time.
The knock sounded again, no impatience to it, as if it had all the time in the world. Not Lily's insistent, mulishly stubborn knocking at his door that had become damningly familiar as of late, neither was it the slight hesitance of an unfamiliar student (or Arthur who was still rightfully terrified of Tom).
However, as the silence continued, thrumming in Tom's ears, he couldn't think that it sounded like James Potter knocking at his door, or anyone coming to arrest him for that matter. It lacked authority, insistence… Stepping through his small home, through the living room and finally to the door itself, wand held oh so carefully in hand, he opened it to the person he'd least expected.
There, in dark rather plain wizarding robes, without garnish or family crest or any enchanted niceties to enhance one's features, wearing a pair of almost comically thick glasses, looking as if he was nothing more than a student (dressed, perhaps, in strangely morose clothing) who had wandered too far from the Hogwarts grounds, was the ageless emperor of Ubik.
Tom stared, forced himself to process whatever the hell it was he was seeing. Specifically, to acknowledge that, if he hadn't known Azrael's face concerningly well, then he wouldn't have possibly recognized him, and finally said the last thing he would ever have expected to say to Azrael, "Coming out of nowhere to lecture me on my lackluster love life was one thing, impersonating Clark Kent on my doorstep is just insulting to all of mankind."
Yes, he'd imagined many things he could say or not say to Azrael, whether he was angry, regretful, or even still yearning after all that time (and yearning slightly still although he didn't know quite for what), he'd never pictured that particular sentence coming out of his mouth.
Azrael blinked, somewhat stunned, and had the decency to look at least slightly shocked and embarrassed as he readjusted the glasses and then peered down at himself, "Clark Kent? I don't look like bloody…"
He stopped, or rather forced himself to stop before looking up, and he said with a wry twist of his lips that really had no business being on his face, "Right, well, I suppose what you meant to ask was why am I here when I could be anywhere but here."
"No," Tom said, still somewhat dazed by the surreal experience that he was starting to suspect was now his life, "I was going to ask about the glasses."
And the moment just kept getting decidedly more surreal as Azrael, with what seemed like genuine indignation, asked, "What's wrong with the glasses?"
They looked like he had cut out the lenses from the bottom of a pair of coke bottles they were so thick, they perched precariously on his sculpted nose, completely overwhelming his delicate features and almost succeeded in hiding the strange, alluring, almost elfin cast to Azrael's face. As it was though, they somehow made him look more off, like a cheaper imitation of mankind rather than the generally good approximation that he was on a day to day basis.
His eyes, through the lenses, seemed magnified yet somehow diluted all at once, the green like otherworldly light filtering down from stars, his hair sticking out at odd angles as it always had, casting shadows on the dark frames. This, combined with his plain English wizard's wardrobe, that pale mask like quality of his forever youthful face, and the strange hint of that faded scar on his forehead beneath his hair, turned him into a strange poor wizard's Clark Kent, an utterly alien being trying and failing to disguise himself as what he thought was an ordinary man.
"If you were a dangerously nearsighted old muggle woman on the verge of blindness I'd say they're an excellent choice," Tom finally decided on, because he wasn't sure if it was good or bad, just generally alarming. Although, the shock of it did keep other more dangerous emotions at bay, emotions that Tom had neither the time nor desire to address.
Old issues that had never quite died between them and the abyss that decades had created.
"You do know, Tom, there are some people in this world who are nearsighted," Azrael announced, much to Tom's complete and utter indifference, "I was once this nearsighted, I'll have you know."
Somehow, Tom thought to himself, of all the things that had ever been said to him, including Azrael announcing that he was Death itself (something Tom still hadn't quite come to terms with, truth be told) and that he'd had a wife (something that Tom had at one point realized he'd never come to terms with), it was his announcement of having once been hopelessly nearsighted that Tom just couldn't buy.
He also dearly wanted to point out that wearing a pair of thick glasses, equivalent to wearing a fake mustache, really didn't do much to make him look English or even human at all.
Azrael seemed to grow impatient with Tom's silent pondering, and asked, motioning to the inside of the house, "May I come in?"
"Come in?" Tom asked, jerked out of his own musings and realizing just who was on his doorstep, that mild annoyance now transforming itself into something deeper and burning and altogether scornful, "I haven't seen you in over twenty years, disregarding that last time, and you invite yourself into my house?"
Azrael cringed somewhat, his face falling, a truly bizarre sight given his entire getup, "Right, yes, I can always stay at an inn…"
Tom offered him a thin, unamused, smile then dragged him inside and slammed the door behind him. He then silently motioned for Azrael to follow him, without a word, into the basement, Azrael's eyebrows raising slightly at the sight of his own runes lining the now empty walls.
If he thought anything of the barren state of the room, of the lone suitcase standing in the middle, packed and ready to go, he said nothing. Somehow, Tom thought that he might already know, Azrael had always been strangely prescient that way.
Tom then summoned from one of the cupboards a large bottle of fire whiskey, tossing it towards the god emperor and flopping down into a conjured arm chair with a sigh as he announced, "I have the feeling that I'm going to need that."
"I'm not sure if I should feel flattered or insulted," Azrael said as he eyed the bottle, however, he seemed amused enough as he wandlessly and wordlessly conjured a pair of glasses, pouring the bottle into each.
The light of the runes caught in his hair, even in the center of the room, painting golden streaks in the dark and feather like strands. Here, in the dark, Tom could pretend that his clothes weren't English at all, and that as their bodies hadn't aged neither had their minds, and it was over twenty years ago in the hills of Mars just outside of the lights of the great city, staring up into the dark sky where the Earth glittered back at them in the distance.
And then, with the glass in his hand, Tom remembered that all the time in the world had passed between them, and the moment was gone.
"Hardly flattery, think of it as preparation," Tom said with another sigh, staring into the dark liquid in his own glass, "I may, after all, be arrested for conspiracy to murder."
For a moment, as he choked on fire whiskey, Azrael looked absurdly like Lily had a few weeks earlier, when Tom had confessed all his ill deeds and misgivings over cups of Martian tea. There was the same widening of the green eyes, that same slack look of disbelief on pale sculpted features, then panic as they desperately tried to figure out what one could even say to that and if they believed it all.
With a stricken look, unconsciously identical to Lily Evan's, he asked with a desperation that Tom didn't know he could posess, "Tell me you didn't, tell me you didn't murder Sirius Black."
Tom didn't answer for a moment, just stared across at the man who had once been his best friend, the only person that Tom had once thought he'd ever truly be attracted to. What he saw when he looked across at Azrael, at Death, he couldn't even describe to himself at that moment. Something though, as bitter and burning as fire whiskey. Slowly, casually as if it meant nothing to him at all, Tom asked, "Is that why you're here?"
"I came for the trial, yes," he looked for a moment as if he wanted to add something to this, some caveat or explanation that would illuminate why Azrael, Emperor of Ubik, who had himself been betrayed by Orion Black and in turn banished him and Tom and all of England with them, could feel anything for the man's firstborn son, but Azrael said none of that, instead, he repeated, forcefully, "Did you murder him, Tom?"
Tom chugged back his drink, feeling it burn its way down his throat and all the way to that great gnawing pit in his stomach, and he said the only thing he could think of, the flat and simple truth, "No."
And Azrael had the gall to look relieved, it was small, a slight relaxing of his features, but there none the less. Even Lily, no, understandably Lily had not once looked relieved when she'd been in his position. And for that alone, more than anything else, for that single moment Tom wish he had killed that stupid arrogant brat of a Black himself.
"Then it was…" Azrael started but Tom cut him off before he could even think to finish.
"Severus Snape, yes, I suspect so, as does James Potter and no doubt half of England," Tom said, wincing as he took yet another drink, too quickly, he hadn't eaten enough today and already the walls seemed to be tipping slightly and his thoughts slurring together.
Azrael looked pensive, drink in hand, and a truly regretful tone entered his voice, "He deserved a better life than this."
How often had Tom heard that in the past weeks, how often would he hear it for the rest of his life, from even the most unlikely sources like emperors on Mars who should not even know about Sirius Black's existence.
"Severus, Sirius… Both of them," Azrael said with a shrug and bitter, sorrowful, smile curling his lips, "Beneath everything Severus Snape was… he had the potential to be a good man."
Tom paused in his drinking, there it was again he thought, that strange connection that Azrael seemed to have to events and times he should care nothing about, "Of all the people in all the worlds to argue with me about Sirius Black and Severus Snape… Sirius Black was dangerously unhinged as his father was dangerously unhinged, he would have done something truly idealistic and reckless, as for Severus Snape, he has long since realized that he has nothing to live for. It's a tragedy, certainly, almost Greek in nature, but that does not make either of them good men with potential."
Even without Tom, Tom wondered if the pair of them wouldn't have always come to something like this.
"They had potential," Azrael insisted, downing his own glass, "You may never believe me, but if you, Tom Marvolo Riddle, had the potential to be where you are now then they must have had every door open to them."
And there it was again, for Tom this time, seeing his own template of Tom Marvolo Riddle written over Tom himself, judging him constantly against it and looking for the overlapping parts, ridiculing what didn't fit.
As if Tom Riddle was his standard for everything that could possibly go wrong in a human being.
Tom, viciously, poured himself another glass and swallowed another searing drink down.
"I didn't mean it like that," Azrael said quietly, except, as he removed the glasses from his face and set them on a small conjured coffee table, it was more than clear that he had. He just regretted losing himself long enough to say it.
"I was wondering if I could stay with you, until the trial is over," Azrael finally said, "And I didn't come here, to your house, solely because of that. I had thought… I had thought it would be a good time to see what you were up to, how you have been since we last really talked to each other. Truly, this time, instead of coming down from on high to give you dating advice."
Tom snorted slightly, his anger dissipating without his will as he instead became distantly and almost irritatingly amused, "Well, somehow, it was just like you to come down from on high and give me dating tips. I took your sodding advice, by the way, I told her."
"Ah," Azrael said for a moment, clearly at a loss for what to say as he took another drink of his own, likely concluding what Tom himself would have in his place; that Lily Evans was a sensible human being who would have left without even daring to look back.
Quietly, the alcohol fueling his amazement even now with the ghost of her strange presence in the room, he said, "She didn't leave."
"Really?" Azrael asked.
"Yes, it was the strangest thing… I think she might have done it just to be contrary, honestly," Tom said before pausing, thinking back to that odd day, to the attack on Diagon Alley and then the confession of everything he was to a girl who, despite everything, had accepted it, "Or perhaps not, perhaps she's just a fool."
And Tom was a fool himself for having a fondness for fools.
Azrael said nothing, stared into his glass, a lost look on his features, finally, on seeing Tom staring at him he offered him a wry, rather bitter, smile, "What a brave new world this is."
A brave new world, yes, somehow that was a fitting term for it. A brave new world, that even now, with the threat of arrest over his head, Tom had to find a way to navigate in.
"You'd like her," Tom offered after another drink, the alcohol loosening his tongue perhaps more than it should have been, softening his own bitterness and anger into something nostalgic and bearable, "She reminds me so much of you sometimes."
"Does she?" Azrael asked, but unsurprised, as if he had expected that sort of a comment, as Azrael was always unsurprised by inherently surprising things, "I had always thought I resembled the Potters more."
"No," Tom said with a shake of his head, motioning towards Azrael, "The ridiculous hair, maybe, except yours just might be ten times worse. The eyes though, your face even… Sometimes it's downright eerie."
Azrael laughed, an emotional thing that was at once both delighted and sad, he downed his own drink, "That means more than you probably will ever know, ever want to know…"
"Are you sure she's not your bastard daughter?" Tom asked, before paling, realizing what he'd just asked, and amending, "Wait, no, I'm not sure I actually want to know the answer to that."
Azrael, though, seemed quite entertained by that question, "I'm quite sure she's not my bastard daughter or legitimate daughter for that matter."
"Good, because this is already bloody weird and that would just add a whole other layer of Freudian drama that I'm not prepared to deal with," Tom said, sagging with relief that was all too real, because damn if those two didn't look eerily similar for not being related.
"Believe me Tom, it'd be me who couldn't handle the bloody Freudian drama," Azrael insisted with a laugh before adding with more sobriety, "She is a bit young for you though… And being told is different than knowing."
"Perhaps," Tom allowed, but frankly, at this point, he wouldn't be surprised if Lily would stubbornly hang onto him until the bitter end. If she could have faith in Severus Snape, when the guillotine was hanging over his head, surely, somehow, she could believe in Tom.
Was it terrible that, even slightly tipsy on fire whiskey and growing plastered by the minute, that filled him with a strange lightness an untethered hope that he hadn't felt in such a very long time?
The Martian emperor seemed to have nothing to say to that, instead sat as this odd boy who would never be a man, out of place inside of Tom's barren basement that had once housed everything and anything he thought he couldn't get away with.
How fitting, that despite all odds, Azrael would find himself down here.
And also, how fitting, despite the silence, the anger, the bitterness, the regret, and the hopeless longing he could find nothing to say, nothing meaningful, and that the only thing he could hope to do in a time and place like this was to get hideously drunk with a god emperor.
Still, perhaps, Tom mused to himself, he could live with that.
Author's Note: I told you he'd come back at least, certainly for a little while.
Also, I promise (well, barring other things that need explaining but at least on my end, as of this moment) this is the last time I will bring up shipping politics/madness in an author's note but to clarify again, after having talked over plot with a regular reader who did not mind being uber spoiled they said, "Hey, The Carnivorous Muffin, that's not really a love triangle. That's Tom/Lily and Tom/Harry,". Point being, it's not a threesome at all, it's not really a love triangle, and no, the pairings aren't happening quite at the same time. Now, pairings make me tired, I am done discussing them. Maybe I'll do a giant rant when this fic is finally done on why I do what I do, which at that point I hope will make more sense, but until then, I feel like I've said what I needed to say.
To reiterate again though, for those of you that seem particularly anxious, the endgame is Tom/Harry. Now, does this mean they'll metaphorically go off into the sunset, not really. However, the end of the story will be the end of the story, and we must all live with that.
But don't you love the regular politics? And the awkward drinking reunions? What will happen to our heroes next? Exciting stuff, to be sure.
Thanks for reading and reviewing. Reviews are much appreciated even if you're questioning my shipping choices, that is certainly your prerogative as the reader, and probably good for my ego.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter