The day was cold. It always was now. Not as if there was ice covering the ground like some throwback to the last ice age, but cold enough that there was a nip in the air, and the chill that worked its way into your very marrow never left, no matter how much you tried to alleviate it. Eventually, you became used to the way your fingertips were numb and icy pressed against your face, and the feeling that there wasn't quite enough muscle and cartilage left to cushion your bones as they moved against each other. That was life, after all.
What was left of it.
Voldemort leaned back in his seat, watching the faint glow of light as the sun rose. Thick clouds of vapour fogged out the sky, barring sight of that brilliant blue to all but the birds, and there weren't many of them these days, but a golden halo pierced the curling plumes of moisture in the shape of a disk, so that the creatures that still survived might know whether it was day or night. A small mercy, after all.
Mankind had destroyed itself, toppled under its own weight. He'd had such plans for the wizarding world. They could have been great, and he'd have led them to glory and triumph.
Pipe dreams, he realised now. He had been a powerful leader, but that meant nothing when there was no one left to lead.
He breathed out, and the breath fogged before his face. Through the mist that settled over the grass he could make out stony ruins, the massive skeleton of the castle as if it were some gigantic sea creature buried so far below the surface that it would never be found. There was still the lingering scent of battle magic around the place, and gunpowder, worked so far into the stone that it was more part of Hogwarts than his memories of the place. Memories were as fickle as the tide, now, leaving little fragments of the past lined up in a haphazard row along the shore. Magic screaming through his veins like white hot heat, confrontations with the older Slytherin prefect, green and silver ties discarded in a pile to the side of moving, sweating bodies.
The past was full of heat, and life, and anger. He still wasn't quite used to the empty feeling where emotion used to be, but he could remember what Mrs. Cole had told him in the orphanage when he was no more than ten.
"The light that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast, Tom."
He'd all burnt out, like Hogwarts had. All that was left now was ruin, and a few glowing cinders fuelled by lingering threads of magic that wouldn't die for centuries.
He'd found the chair in the wreckage. It was strange really, to find that the chintz armchair had survived, barring a few burns, where the rest of the world hadn't. To think that Dumbledore had managed to leave something of himself to haunt him even now. He'd had to laugh, at that point, even if it hurt. Raw throat, all seared flesh and dry rasps. He'd dragged the monstrosity out from under the rubble, and positioned it so that he could watch the sun as it rose. He'd chosen a precarious point, a fragment of the second floor that was still standing. It seemed symbolic, in a perverse way. He'd chastised himself out loud, trying out his voice more than anything else, for thinking of symbolism now. It might fit, but it was as useless as wondering if he'd ever see the sun again.
Empty fruit, eaten inside out by the maggot of humanity. Plans to purge the school, turned to plans to purge the world, turned to reality.
Symbolism, oh yes.
In the beginning he'd been furious. This was the reason he'd wanted to destroy the Muggle world. Damn the inevitable inbreeding. Damn their technology. The bombs had been useful, but the virus had destroyed everything. Bella had tortured him into insanity, and he'd still managed to ruin the world. Even the great Albus Dumbledore cracked and broken eventually, but with a man so high up the food chain the results were suitably catastrophic. When you mix magic and Muggle technology, there isn't a person in the world who has enough resistance to survive the illness. Your common epidemic has a 33.3 resistance from the human population. This time not even a third survived.
Really, Voldemort reflected, he might as well be god in this new world of silence and death. Hogwarts weren't the only ruins left, oh no. He'd ventured to Hogsmeade, and thankfully by now the corpses had almost completely rotted. There skin was turning to fertile soil. At some point it looked like some of the leftover explosives had been triggered, by an animal perhaps, because the town fell into a shallow, blackened crater halfway through.
London had been horrific. There were too many corpses even to count, and half the city was overrun by the Thames, flooding its banks and undercutting the few remaining protections. There were places knee-deep in thick, black slime that passed for water there, and rats were everywhere. Voldemort had found himself a boat and poled his way through, because it felt like it was a calling, at the time. He could pretend he was Charon, the boatman of the Underworld, taking the last trip from the mortal realms to Hades. Perhaps, when he reached the opposite bank, he'd leave the emptiness behind, and find Hades filled to the brim with squirming, fleshy bodies, all packed in because Hell had finally run out of room for them all.
"The land of death isn't indefinite, you know. You keep killing people and some time it will fill up, and they'll come back to pull you down with them."
The Dementors had left. They'd faded into the fog and the clouds, and he'd known that the last person had died, because he didn't have enough of a soul left for them to want to take, and without souls there was no reason for them to stay.
He'd travelled over England, all over, searching aimlessly for another survivor. The thought that he was the only one didn't bother him as much as he'd imagined it would. He'd always been alone, he knew. The rest of them were just his tools, moving, breathing tools. He wasn't unused to solitude, and the quiet let him fall into a pleasurable melancholy. He'd have left this dreary, rainy little island for the continents, but nothing worked anymore, and he found that his anger wasn't the only thing that had burnt out, leaving only a husk. He couldn't even levitate a grain of sand, and the Channel Tunnel had collapsed, been flooded.
After visiting the major cities, now mass graveyards, he found himself gravitating towards Hogwarts once more. He always had really. It wasn't somewhere you could leave behind.
He'd followed the train tracks up from London, passing the wreckage of the train halfway, paint all melted and set in cold bubble. It had taken him months, but he'd arrived. It had been the first time he'd used a bicycle in near seventy years, but there weren't exactly horses lying around for riding.
When he'd arrived, he'd known that he had come home.
One day, he awoke to something more than silence. He thought at first that he might have been hallucinating, again, but the murmur of voices slowly resolved itself into one. A familiar one behind the gritty quality that played back to him like an old film.
"…'V is for Victor squashed under a train, W is for Winnie embedded in ice, X is for Xerxes devoured by mice, Y is for Yorick whose head was knocked in, Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin.'"
Voldemort opened his eyes slowly. He was still in the battered chintz chair, facing the east, but there was someone else sprawled in what might have been called a haphazard position, reading a book. He would have called it 'haphazard', because the boy was still all arms and legs without anything else to speak of, but it was too self-conscious, too planned, as if he were trying to play the boy he had been, before all the death.
His head raised slowly from the book, but his eyes had already flicked upwards, peering out through dark lashes to gauge his reaction.
"Edward Gorey?" Voldemort asked at last.
The boy shrugged. "I thought it was appropriate. Found it in Lancaster."
"I would have thought Poe more fitting."
"I don't know much literature," he admitted, and then laughed humourlessly. It was a dry sound, like stone grinding against stone. Voldemort knew then, that the boy was just as empty as he was. "Muggles. I've begun to see what you mean about them."
Voldemort watched him for a long moment, taking in the way his posture was just a little too stiff, his eyes too agitated in their sockets, flicked from left to right. His left was still just as vibrant as before, as if he hadn't seen the death of millions. The other had turned a milky white, the iris fractured like split glass by the cut running down his face. He felt a peculiar sense of satisfaction to find that he still had it. All the other signs of his existence had disappeared, and he knew that if he lifted that mop of hair then the all-famous scar would be gone, peeled away like solidified wax.
"They're dead, Potter. All of them."
The boy laughed again, a high, nervous sound.
"Yeah. They are."
The next day, he thought he might have been dreaming. He hadn't dreamt in a long time, but it could have happened. The hallucinations hadn't come back. They'd been absent for years.
He found the boy staring forlornly at the bare patch of ground where the gamekeeper's hut had stood. He thought of him as a boy, still. He was eternity, just like he was, stuck on the verge of adulthood, but lacking a childhood. The paragon of youth. It was all so dreadfully ironic. He shouldn't be so innocent still, but he'd frozen in time.
"I thought there might be something left," he said finally.
"There are potions vials, and explosives," Voldemort replied. "The forest has rodents in it, and spiders still."
"Ron didn't like spiders," he said weakly.
Voldemort felt a smile curve his lips. The death had been fitting, then. Small surprises still arose, even with everything gone.
"And there used to be…pumpkins…over there," he mumbled. Voldemort wondered vaguely whether the boy had caught the madness and become delirious. "And the tomato plants…" He walked forwards until he was standing in the place only he could remember, "…about here. Perhaps…perhaps I should grow something…"
"Nothing will grow there," Voldemort told him absently. "Infertility curse. Wouldn't step into the circle, if I were you…"
He didn't grimace, as he'd thought he might, but he was careful in his steps as if balancing on something thin at a great height as he gently padded round the edge of the bare patch.
"It was a thought though," he said finally. "There's no one else left, I think, and the food is rotting in the stores. What do you eat?" he asked, as if noticing he was there for the first time.
"I don't eat, Potter. The rituals were enough." Voldemort tired of watching those innocent, ignorant eyes, and turned back towards the castle. He wouldn't have turned his back on the boy before, but there weren't instincts left to warn him, nor many memories left that he could learn from.
There were other things near the chintz armchair that had become both room and bed for him these past months. 'Amphigorey' lay where Potter had discarded it, but there was a worn satchel filled with other books, and a leftover Chocolate Frog card. He was both charmed and bemused to find that it was himself. What a peculiarly inane thing for him to have survived on, in print.
It appeared that the boy had developed a taste for the gothic. There was the 'Gormenghast' trilogy, 'Dracula', 'Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde', 'Orthello' and 'King Lear'. Scattered in between were a few cheap comics, marked long ago by some leak in the ceiling of wherever they had been stored, making the ink run. He flicked through an early version of 'Spiderman', and then looked hopefully through the books in search of Poe.
No such luck.
He had been rather fond of Poe, in his time. With a sigh, he started on 'Gormenghast'. The middle one had always been his favourite. He would have gone for 'King Lear', but Shakespeare always managed to strike too close to home.
He had reached the part, nearing the end, of the rising flood and endless rain, when Potter interrupted again. He realised with a jolt that he had spent almost two days at the book.
Potter had a bruise on his cheek, and an armload of sweets and food, which he dropped unceremoniously to the floor.
"You know, Potter, I was rather enjoying imagining a world without you."
The boy snorted. "I don't even think we can live without each other. Isn't that what the prophecy really means? Whoever wins the battle gets to rule the world."
"If you've visited London, you'll understand that you'll be nothing more than the prince of rats."
Potter grunted and tore open a box of chocolate. "I didn't want to go to London. Went to Surrey though. My relatives are dead and rotting."
Voldemort turned back to his book. "You could have killed them yourself, you know."
"I know," he said. "It would have been glorious, really. I had it all planned out. I was always rather disappointed that you never managed to use the creative Muggle methods of torture."
Voldemort raised a brow and flicked his eyes back to him. "The rack is not inventive?"
Potter laughed, bitterly. "Sure, that's inventive. But it's old. You should see some of the stuff you can do with household products. I'd have killed them with their own normality," he murmured, his one working eye taking on a distant, dreamy look.
"You missed your chance," he said dismissively. "We're the only people in England left."
"I should argue about that, really," Harry observed after a long pause. "But there's no point anymore, is there?"
Voldemort didn't turn to look at him again. "No, there is not."
As it turned out, there were still packets of seeds in the nearest town, and the boy planted them to see if they would grow. In the soil, so steeped in magic, they twisted and became strange. Still, Potter nurtured them as if he loved them. He gave them names that sounded similar to people he once knew, until Voldemort realised that the boy no longer remembered their real names.
Some rare mutation had occurred when he was unaware, and they'd fallen into an odd coexistence.
Seeing the boy's peculiarities gave him some sense that he had been lacking, of what not to let himself become. One day, he left to find his main base, travelling across the ruined land until he reached it. The stone walls closed around him like a second skin, and the shiver that ran through his body told him that he'd left a piece of himself here, waiting to be found in the case of such a situation arising.
He passed through the Death Eater quarters, curious to see if he could guess which skeletons belonged to whom. He found Rodolphus easily, missing his front tooth. Wormtail's silver hand had merged with his wrist and decayed with his skin, until all that was left were little metal bones. Bella, he remembered, had fractured an ankle, and it had healed strangely.
Snape's skull leered at him from the side of his cell as he passed it.
In his quarters, he found another body. For a moment, he thought that maybe it was his own, but the hip shape was different. A woman, he concluded, but who?
On his desk, the papers were still there, undamaged, his own neat script covering them. There were the plans for the diversions and spells, half-finished rituals, and endless pages on a topic that sparked something in his mind.
They could first be seen at the beginning of the Bible, Adam carved out of mud. He knew, by rote, that all myths had a grain of truth in them. If he was the god of this empty world, then the task of life rested in his hands. Humanity had festered like an open wound before it had been obliterated, but it could be built again, he saw. Mother need not be the source of all life, after all, and Muggles had banks filled with frozen sperm and eggs, did they not?
Sinking into his chair, he turned one dusty page after the other. There were plenty of corpses for experimentation with, and London was built on a bed of clay. Shifting another stack of parchment towards him, he heard a dull clatter. Curious, he moved aside the sheets strewn on the desk, feeling ahead with one hand.
His fingers encountered wood, and a small thrill shot through him. Lifting the length of yew, he inhaled deeply. Things were coming back to him, now, until the flurry of images all spiralled downwards towards one word.