Chapter 18:

"With lies you may go ahead in the world, but you can never go back…"

Russian Proverb

Neville breathed slowly. Harry was gone again, but he had no idea as to where.

Did it matter? Sometimes Neville questioned himself. He was supposed to care. Harry was a vampire and so blatantly Dark that it hurt. Neville was Light, raised by a harsh Light grandmother who expected him to follow in the brightly-lit footsteps of his amazing parents. Neville's fist clenched in the bed sheets and he turned, releasing a small whimper.

He wasn't supposed to remember what had happened to his dear Light parents.

The obliviate used on him as a child was clumsy; the Healer too rushed in flood of patients from the aftermath of the war to care much about the memories of one child… Even if said child's most horrible memory was that of his parents screaming as they were tortured into insanity and the Cruciatus was turned upon him by Dark enchanters.

At times Neville wondered why he was sticking by Harry when it became more obvious as time went on that the vampire was nowhere near the young Golden Boy he'd been when they first became friends.

"He cares for us, Neville. You know what he's like. If it comes down to it, he'd protect his friends from anything, even rabid Horklumps!" Luna's eyes had been strangely clear when she said the words. Voicing his qualms to Luna about Harry's vampirism and allegiances had made his talk with his old friend a thousand times easier, but Neville still wondered.

Neville turned under the covers again. The dorm wasn't the same without Harry and Ron.

The night was too quiet.

The woman across from Tonks had a high-boned, imperial face. Her dark eyes were sharp and bottomless, and her face held the lines of ageless grace in spite of her hard life.

Nymphadora favored studying the wood grain of the table over looking at her.

"Mum…" her voice cracked.

"Dora…I heard."

"Yeah, I-I…"

"Why did you wait so long to come to me?" Andromeda's voice held a gentle reproach.

"I…need to be strong. I needed to keep on going, but I c-can't-" Tonks stopped again, and this time there were tears welling in her eyes. Her mother rose, circling the table to take Tonks' hands in her own.

"Dora, you are an Auror, a member of the Order, and one of the strongest young women I've ever met – and not just because you're my daughter," Andromeda smiled, tucking a piece of mousy hair behind Tonk's ear. "But it's alright to feel. Anger, betrayal, grief. That's all perfectly normal for something like this."

"S-something like this?" Nymphadora choked, her throat closing. "I l-loved him. I was going to give him my heart, and then…h-he left me. For the Dark. For another man!" She was on the verge of a breakdown, but her mother seemed to realize it and clasped her shoulders with firm hands, forcing Tonks to stare into her dark eyes.

"Yes, he did. That was Remus' choice and I doubt anything you could've done would have changed his mind. The man has chosen his path, Dora. Now you must choose yours. Are you going to fight for your choice, your beliefs, or are you going to wallow in self-pity? I should hope I've taught you better than that." Though the words were spoken tenderly, there was no mistaking the note of reproof in her voice. Tonks stared at her hands, scarred from battle and hardly recognizable as her own after so long spent under a different guise. She took a deep breath and looked up at her mother, the endless well of patience, love, and kindness who had supported her since before she could remember. As her mother waited, Tonks surveyed her memories, plunging into long days filled with ceaseless training and espionage for a man who never gave her more than vague reassurances that everything would be alright; despite her loss, despite the pain and the never-ending numbness toward the rest of the world. She looked up.

"I…am very tired. Can I please rest here for a bit?" she questioned softly, pulling out her wand and setting it on the table. A light reached Andromeda's eyes, one which her daughter hadn't seen in a very long time. She reached over and pocketed the wand, out of Tonks' sight.

"Of course, Dora," Andromeda smiled.

Tom was naked when Harry hauled him to the bedroom, but the vampire hadn't been thinking about that. He'd been too fixated on getting him out of that evil circle-from-Hell and getting the man somewhere comfortable to aid in his recovery.

Soon enough he had him settled, but Tom remained still and unresponsive. Thankfully, he was breathing and Harry could hear his heart beating regularly.

After many years of paper dullness, color adorned Tom's cheeks.

Once Harry covered him in the comfortable duvet, he had nothing to do but wait with Tom and take in the alterations wrought upon the Lord's body. So much had changed! His skin was no longer a translucent off-white tone, but carried color - still pale but much more alive. His hair had grown from previously bare skin, sweeping out and curling around Tom's ears in dark waves which made Harry want to touch the locks at any given moment. The only difference from years previous was the peppering of regal gray around his temples and brow.

The biggest transformation lay in Tom's face. Harry's eyes slid over the thin lips and proud nose set against high cheekbones, knowing that this was what Tom was meant to look like. As much as Tom liked snakes, he'd never wanted to be one such as he'd been. This man carried his age well. As strange as it was to think about, Harry was glad the nearly sixty-year old wizard looked closer to thirty-five or forty.

'…Because that would be really weird.' Harry laughed aloud at the thought. 'Weird' in his life was a relative term.

Tom was handsome on the brink of beautiful, and the man's slack face brought memories of teenage love back down on him full force. He flushed, trying to ignore the sudden heat under his robes as he examined Tom's tall, bony body, wrought thin by stress and a constant stream of energy-sucking Dark arts. Harry's gaze fell on his hands. They were still marvelously long-fingered but missing the extra joint that had adorned them for so long, and Tom's nails were cracked and bleeding - probably from scrabbling at the stone floor in the throes of agony. He sent a quick spell at the digits to close the wounds. If anything, Harry thought he'd missed Tom's hands the most. They were warm and soft and dexterous, inducing pleasure and comfort in equal measure. Now they were finally familiar again and that relieved Harry, no matter how accustomed he'd grown to Tom's new body.

He took Tom's hand. It was warm and fit well in his, just as Harry remembered, though perhaps a bit broader and without calloused old skin. He smiled, suddenly overcome by a wave of fatigue. He could not leave Tom, not after his ordeal, but they hadn't slept in the same bed once since he'd traveled back. 'But,' he reasoned, 'surely it would be alright…'

Harry gingerly lowered himself next to Tom, his body on top of the duvet but his face pressed close enough that he could nearly feel the thrum of Tom's blood beneath the skin. Tom was warm, very different from himself in the absence of a heartbeat, so Harry drew closer, finally pressing his nose into the crook of the man's neck.

He went to sleep with a contented smile on his lips.

Tom glared into the mirror, and crimson eyes blazed back at him with astounding ferocity despite being set in his old face. Their color was the last remaining evidence of his tattered soul; the mark of those he'd killed and the blood of hundreds on his hands.

Truthfully, he assumed that they were the byproduct of his damaged diary. The item had been summoned and used in the circle, but the piece of soul it had harbored was destroyed four years ago - lost forever. It brought some amusement when he remembered Aspen's profuse apologies for that - the boy had been a mere second year at the time and the situation was far from repairable now. Voldemort would simply have to live with his eyes. They would forever mark the stain of his actions and the missing piece of his soul, but at least he would have one person who did not care about that.

He moved slowly over to the bed, body stiff and aching from the agony he'd suffered not hours before. In the wee hours of the morning Aspen was still asleep, curled on top of the duvet with his hands stretched out, reaching across the expanse that Voldemort had recently vacated. It was endearing to wake to the lithe young man pressed against him, and Voldemort definitely hadn't wanted to get up, but he desperately needed to see; to note the changes in himself that would set him back on the path of sanity…

As he watched Aspen let out a low groan, scooting closer to the warm spot the Lord had left behind.

This was the first chance in a long time that Voldemort had had to simply study Aspen. The young man was still wearing his bottle-green robes from the party the night before - he frowned when he noticed how shy the fringe came of Aspen's wrists. He was going to replace those, knowing that Aspen would never think to do it. His hands twitched, itching to act on his thoughts, but Voldemort stilled them – now was not the time to be worrying about robes.

Merlin, how long had it been since he'd just looked at his lover without clouds of stress and danger hanging over them both? Aspen's jaw cut a sharp contrast against the dark pillow, the faintest hint of scruff about his chin making Tom smile. Weak circles under his eyes made Tom frown in turn. The young man was working far too hard to take care of himself, doing everything he could to further Tom in the world, to care for him.

And damn if he didn't find that endearing.

Voldemort was still gazing at Aspen when his body chose to remind him how very, very naked he was. He groaned – now was not the time with his love still asleep, his body a mass of aches, and a disgusting amount of blood crusting under his finger nails. Now was not the time.

Tom sank to the bed carefully, trying to unsuccessfully shove down his sudden arousal. It was not to be.

Aspen chose that moment to sniff, opening his eyes just a hair. "Mornin' all right?" he managed around a yawn that served to emphasize sharp incisors. Amusement flooded him, but Voldemort only allowed himself a raise of an eyebrow.

"It's so early in the morning that I suspect 'Night' is a better term. Obviously, I am recovered." A moment later Tom softened, his hand drifting of its own volition to brush Aspen's face.

"That's good," the younger smiled. "Merlin, you're more bloody gorgeous now than you were as a teen." Tom started, taken aback at the unexpected compliment, and watched a red patch to rival Weasley's hair spread across Aspen's cheeks. Apparently Voldemort's new body came with a libido nearly impossible to ignore, every part of it urging him to press forward and kiss the other.

'Why not?' Before he knew he was moving, he brushed his lips against Aspen's in what began as a chaste kiss and ended with Tom pressing Aspen back into his pillow, their hands tangled in each other's hair.

He felt heat course through him. This was another part of what he'd been missing, what had left him the moment Aspen disappeared in his teens. This-this ache for life, to partake of its moments instead of hoarding time, had finally returned.

When they pulled back for air, Aspen ran a finger down the line of his jaw. The eyes of the young man beneath Tom were wide, almost incredulous.

"I – wow, I just - it worked! You've even got stubble."

Voldemort blinked. He had a supple new (or old, depending on how one views such matters) body, a returning dynamic libido, and his teenage lover flushed underneath him. The aforementioned young man was talking about hair.

"I think you have far too many clothes on," the Dark Lord growled, banishing the dress robes with twitching eyebrow. Then his hands set to work.

The sex had been bloody wonderful. Harry sighed, staring at his warm cereal. Hell, it had been more than wonderful, it was amazing. It'd been somewhat of a shock to see ruby eyes still staring down at him in the wee hours of the morning, but his shock was quickly set aside as Tom's purely human features threatened to overwhelm him. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd felt such burning, unadulterated lust. In what he had gleaned from Tom's hooded eyes and demanding hands and mouth, Tom couldn't either. Only once did the man flinch as Harry's hand brushed over raw skin. He'd paused, but Tom's possessive kiss silenced all protestations against Tom's pain. From there everything had been about the heat and friction as they pressed into one another and the sight of Tom's face flushed with passion-

And if Harry didn't stop that line of thought he would be experiencing something very embarrassing in front of the rest of the students who'd chosen to remain over the winter holidays. Harry flushed, coming out of his euphoric haze to realize that Neville was shooting him confused looks across the table and wary stares from the Slytherins were pricking the back of his neck.

Harry hastily spooned a few bites of cereal to his mouth and took a draw off his pumpkin juice in an attempt to cool down. Harry really didn't feel like explaining the sordid details of his unexpected mood to Neville - Harry was halfway through another gulp when he realized something was wrong. The pumpkin juice tasted sharp and strange on his tongue… Harry choked as his fingers spasmed around the goblet, which dropped with a clatter and a splash on the wooden table. The sharp taste on his tongue was so achingly familiar, but Harry couldn't place it.

The next instant his whole body spasmed, then went limp as Harry lost control of his voluntary muscles. His heart stopped in an attempt to block the progress of whatever had entered his body while his mind froze in shock and terror as a wave of nausea rolled in his stomach. Harry gasped as he desperately tried to figure out what could cause such a reaction. The first that leapt to mind was Romilda's love potion or meat reacting with his blood supplement, or – a distant memory swam to the surface, hazy in reminiscence as Harry recalled a sharp, impossible smell and a bubbling cauldron of what appeared to be water.

'No. It can't be!'

Someone – probably a first year girl – shrieked as Harry collapsed against the table.

A/N: Here's the (unbetaed) chapter for all of you wondering about the Veritaserum. For future reference, I hate FF . net. They keep stealing my page dividers and frustrating me with their content limitations. On top of that, receiving reviews like "update!1! LOL" make me want to throw my computer into a wall. I will be active on LJ.

I've had good personal reasons for not updating which I will not share. UCG is officially on hiatus as I work on projects more interesting to me - deal with it.