To Define Treachery
Chapter V / Act I Scene I
by en extase
How were you created?
You ask for one of my most precious secrets. I may tell you one day, but now, the answer would horrify you...
He had barely beaten closing time. The patrons were few and the artificial lighting contrasted with the darkness outside the windows. The stark fluorescent lights made him him feel overexposed. It was a different feel from what he was used to at Hogwarts. The candlelight was gentle and the dark skies of the Scottish highlands held no resemblance to the metropolitan bright city nights. There was something primitive in the human psyche that associated the night with darkness, and the city by its very nature desecrated that instinct.
It had been a while since Harry had last set foot in a library. Even longer since he'd been in one belonging to the Muggle world.
He did his best to appear composed as he walked into the central atrium, trying to get his bearings. He craned his neck up, looking at the concrete balconies of the higher levels.
Geeze, he thought. What a depressing-looking place.
The library's interior matched its exterior. Harry wondered what kind of dour architecture had been in charge of its design. The only real source of color was from the spines of the books themselves.
Looking at it made him feel… sleepy.
He left the atrium and headed to the staircase. The exhaustion of the day's events was catching up with him fast but he pushed himself further. He just had to keep the light drowsiness at bay until he reached the third floor and he could finally allow himself some time to rest.
He climbed the last steps to the third floor and discretely walked along the nearest wall. It didn't take him long to find the small administrative room with a long counter. It was already dark, the employees there gone home, but he could see the sign lit up red above the door.
He hesitated for a second, before gingerly pushing it open. No alarms went on, so he breathed a sigh of relief.
He let it close behind him, stepping onto the landing between the flight of stairs leading down to the second floor and the one leading to the fourth.
Okay… guess I'll go ahead and settle in.
There was a long windowpane that gave him a slightly higher than street view of the block behind the library. He sat down, resting against the wall opposite the windows.
He squirmed, trying to get himself into position that was remotely comfortable. He realized it was impossible in short order and resigned himself to a less than ideal night of sleep. Mercifully, his tiredness was making it easy to fall asleep. He took off his shoes and set them next to him, giving a great yawn as he finally allowed himself to relax.
He adjusted his body every few minutes, but was otherwise placid as he looked out of the window. It wasn't much to look at, with office buildings interspersed with lower boutiques. It was as still as a photograph save for the occasional car driving quietly past, the beams of the front lights briefly illuminating the air before vanishing.
Harry sat up ramrod straight. He crawled closer to the windows, peering. He could have sworn that he'd seen a dark shape swooping low over the rooftops…
A stray bird no doubt, but he couldn't help but hope it was an owl.
He hoped the school's staff was taking good care of Hedwig…
I'm coming soon, he thought, eyelids drooping.
He fell into a blessedly deep sleep.
When morning came, Harry woke up bleary-eyed and with a groan.
The exertions of the previous day had fully caught up with him, and his body made its displeasure known. He grimaced. There had been a cool draft that made him feel stiff like a toy soldier, which only aggravated the soreness in his joints. There was some swelling in his feet and he had to sit still for a while, rubbing them to coax circulation before putting his shoes on agian.
He heard the bustle of activity on the other side of the door and quickly got up, alert.
He went up the stairs and let himself into an area on the fourth floor, emerging in an empty hallway. He quickly slipped between the bookcases of the closest aisle. It was honestly child's play, moving without arousing suspicion for the first few delicate minutes and then blending in with the rest of the visitors. His first year of Hogwarts and dealing with Madame Pince alone had been enough to make him stealthy even without the invisibility cloak.
The first order of business was hitting the restroom. He washed up, and the feeling of cold water splashing his face cleared his mind somewhat.
At the time, he had eagerly agreed to Albert's proposed timeframe for their plan to get out of Birmingham. But now that it came to actually waiting it out, he found that he was harboring a very hostile discontent.
How was he going to burn this much time?!
He was in the library, after all.
Harry wandered between the bookcases endlessly. He held up his arm as he walked, fingertips skimming the rows of dusty book jackets. Just his luck. Killing time in the library while in absolutely no mood to read. He wasn't even sure which section he was in. Older patrons were browsing near him and he hadn't seen hide nor hair of anyone his age, so it was evident that he wasn't in the juvenile fiction section.
When I was your age, I read voraciously, plied my teachers for scraps of spellwork that lay ahead in the curriculum, beseeched the permission of the librarians to bring texts home over the summers. To me, magic was still miraculous, still perfect in my mind...
Riddle's words, spoken to him on those stairs in the seer's hideaway.
Would Hermione be disturbed to know that the teenage Lord Voldemort had been a voracious reader?
He chuckled darkly to himself. What a grim direction his thoughts had taken.
And it wasn't that he didn't like reading himself. As a lonely kid in primary school, books had been his portal to escape. His refuge where Dudley and the other bullies-in-the-making never bothered to check when they searched for him. He'd always earned the best marks in class in English.
But there were just too many distractions harassing him. It made two days seem like an eternity, an excruciating wait made even less bearable by the fact that he seemed to be recovering a littletoowell from his marathon he'd ran yesterday.
"Ugh," he said eloquently.
He was in that strange state where his body was plagued by soreness but his mind felt sharp and energetic.
The bottom line was that Albert had laid out a clear and concise plan, and Harry saw no reason to doubt him.
He strode down the end of the next aisle.
Something caught his eye.
He slowed down.
Albert had said something about playing a role in one of the ancient playwright's works.
Hmmm. Never read anything by him... might as well check it out.
He skimmed the respectably long stretch of books under Shakespeare's name until he found Othello in regal, gold lettering. It was an old edition with a rough, leathery binding. He looked at it contemplatively, then removed it from the shelf and went to the main reading room of the third floor.
The lights were bright enough; he switched off the reading lamp as soon as he seated himself at the unoccupied end of the long, mahogany table. Abandoned books were scattered along it and a pair of older fellows who he wagered were university students were studying a few seats down.
Hermione would feel downright comfortable here, he thought affectionately.
He set the Othello in front of him and flipped it open.
Act I Scene I.
"Roderigo: thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate," Harry read under his breath.
It took him three tries to get the gist of the opening exchange between the two characters. He knew there were supposed to be fanciful mechanics like iambic pentameter or whatever, but the rhythm of the words in front of him were utterly alien. If he was holding a conversation like someone like this, he'd check out mid-sentence with a bullet to the head.
"...Iago: Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city…"
He made it through the opening scene of the first act with some difficulty, and leaned back, face schooled in an impassive expression.
He thought it'd be... cooler. To his young mind, Italy seemed exotic, especially Venice. A faraway city of canals and gondolas. Yet his attention was draining away with each line he read.
He made a scoffing noise that was a little too loud, drawing glares from the university students.
It's no use, he thought exasperatedly.
If only H.G. Wells had created an actual time machine, he thought, seeing a copy of the book slightly further down the table. He'd read War of the Worlds in class, and had found the writing only slightly more entertaining than what he'd just seen from Shakespeare.
He pushed his chair back and hopped to his feet, determined not to be defeated by the sheer monotony threatening to swallow him whole. He had gone too far to let himself be overwhelmed by.
He brightened when he remembered there was nothing keeping him in the library against his will. He pushed Othello to the side before he made his way to the stairs and back to the entrance hall.
He yawned as he made his exit, enjoying the wave of fresh air and the warmth of the sunlight.
Feeling more awake, his mind dwelt on his plans for the next two days as he walked to look for a place to eat. The urgency of his mission was weighing heavily on his mind, and he was certain that no matter what, the wait would feel too long whether he stayed in the library or not.
He slipped his hand inside his pocket, checking to make sure Albert's wallet was still there. He thumbed the edges absentmindedly as he strolled into a quaint, unassuming cafe at the edge of the promenade that connected the memorial at the center of the square and the entrance to the library. He ordered a breakfast pastry and a serving of tea. As Albert had promised, there was more than enough cash to cover his expenses.
It was an unusual stroke of good fortune for him to meet the ex-mafioso when he was utterly alone and helpless. Although, maybe not so unusual. A run of bad luck can only continue for so long before the pendulum swung back in his favor. It was one of those strange coincidences in his life. He had, after all once met the wizard, Dedalus Diggle, on the streets of London long before ever entering Diagon Alley.
He picked a seat by the window and ate slowly, trying to drive out the anxieties that were crowding his thoughts. A part of him wanted to explore the city more while the rest, and greater part of him, knew that it was most prudent to stay close to the library. He didn't feel completely comfortable straying too far, and there was a slim chance that Albert might seek him out ahead of schedule.
He frowned as he gazed outside.
It just didn't seem right, looking out and seeing several people at all stages of their lives go about their business and knowing that he shouldered graver responsibilities than they. It was like an invisible pressure, slowly building...
At one point, a car that he was almost certain was a Ford Anglia model drove past. A smile stretched across his lips.
What I wouldn't give to have the Weasley's car right now…
His smile froze.
That thought turned the mood somber very fast.
How can I face Ron after this...?
How fast things unravel even when things start looking brighter.
He had intended on telling Dumbledore the whole, unvarnished truth... but what he had done to Ginny was a dark, foreboding uncertainty.
It threw everything into question. He had operated under the assumption that Dumbledore would take his side... but in the end, the facts were cold and unforgiving. He had ended Ginny's life, to keep Riddle from fully forming. That was what was holding him together. The dark glee when he imagined the vengeance that would befall the spirit from the diary when the headmaster learned. The silent promise of pain in his eyes every time he looked at Riddle.
His hatred had always been the first thing on his mind during the confrontation in the Chamber. Ginny had come second.
His hand started trembling again. He stared at it, eyes dead.
Something so set in stone, that he had held onto as he endured his imprisonment...
Was going to Dumbledore the right move...?
He bit his lip.
No... I still have to do the right thing.
He pushed his plate aside, appetite gone.
He could make it.
The library felt cold.
He paced the young adults section half-heartedly. It should have been more to his liking. He just couldn't quite settle in and let his attention be captivated by the farmboys going about their chores before their hometowns were inevitably sacked and put to the torch...
He was in a dark mood. He decided to give Shakespeare another chance and stalked back to the fourth floor.
Wasn't this what had raised his body of work to the pinnacle of literature? How his heroes and heroines of olden times were pulled in different directions and torn apart?
He rounded the corner to the reading room.
And stopped dead.
Diagonally across the table from where he'd been sitting in the morning, someone very familiar was also doing his reading.
"Oh, good of you to drop by," Riddle greeted without so much as looking up. "Please. Sit."
A full minute came and went before he could move his mouth.
"What are you doing here?" he blurted.
"Light research. And I do believe I asked you to sit."
Harry slowly complied.
His eyes did not leave Riddle as he pulled the chair back and seated himself.
The worm of fear was back. It squirmed and he had to fight back the nauseousness.
Count to ten, he thought. Or you'll go mad.
Glowering, Harry sat there, as stiff a board.
"What do you want," he said flatly.
"Well, since you're asking... Help me with these books," Riddle said, pushing a stack of books toward him. Harry eyed it warily as it made a squeaking noise as it slid across the tabletop.
"And what am I supposed to be doing with them?"
"Why, reading them, of course."
He spared a moment to consider the subject that Riddle had apparently taken an interest in. The absurdity of it made him smile in disbelief.
The Woodland Trust, third volume.
"What the hell is this?"
"I'm looking for where yew grows native in Britain. And don't curse. It's impolite."
Harry stared down at the unlikely cover, dumbfounded. A sick smile twisted his lips as he finally tore his gaze away.
"You're not reading it," Riddle said pointedly.
"Nope," Harry stated flatly. "And I'm not going to."
Riddle shrugged, and licked his thumb to flick the page of the book in front of him over to the next. "Suit yourself."
Harry stared at him with daggers in his eyes. For the briefest of moments he considered outright getting up and leaving.
Something tells me that would be too provocative.
Minutes crawled past, the older boy doing nothing but quietly reading and occasionally scratching the side of his nose. A flash of anger accompanied the quickening of Harry's pulse as he stared down the other boy. There was no fear on Riddle's face that he'd escape from his grasp. No concern whatsoever that Harry would be his undoing.
His face burned with helpless rage and in contrast only a mild annoyance showed on Riddle's. And he knew he wasn't even the source of that irritation. The only consolation Harry had was that even the seemingly omniscient spirit of the Dark Lord was not above the boredom of reading.
What a pathetic state of affairs.
His gaze drifted sideways to where Othello lay, innocently. He reached out slow enough that he wouldn't draw Riddle's attention and dragged it in front of him and flipped to where he'd left off... Which was all of page two.
"What are you reading?" he asked.
Harry looked up with a scowl, covering the headings at the top of the pages to keep them hidden from the prying eyes of the inquisitive Dark Lord.
"What do you care?" he snapped.
Tom shrugged. "Fine."
The two nemeses minded their own business, the older trying to track down the information he sought and the younger trying to distract himself. From an outsider's perspective, they looked like study partners who had just had a row over an assignment. Or two siblings irritated at one another.
Harry jerked his head at the analogy, sickened by it.
But - unbelievably - the dire circumstances he found himself in was at least making Shakespeare interesting enough to hold his attention.
He calmed himself, trying to escape into the words.
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:
But he; as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war...
The genus Betula contains fifty known taxa...
"Wait, the hell is this…?"
He looked up sharply, and saw the subtle hint of a smile right as Riddle raised the book in his hands so that it hid his face.
"You switched out my book!" he accused in a furious whisper.
"You weren't cooperating…"
Fuming, Harry slammed The Woodland Trust shut. He looked around at the bookshelves behind him, and spotted the familiar spine. It stood out to him, tucked as it was right in the middle of books belonging to the same set.
He seized it and stalked past to his place at the table, thumbing quickly to where he'd been before being interrupted. His face was reddened from anger.
And, in conclusion,
Nonsuits my mediators; for, 'Certes,' says he,
'I have already chose my officer.'
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
The branches are said to yield four different types of...
He slammed the book shut again and launched to his feet, once again searching high and low for Othello.
He found it and scarcely made it half a paragraph before it happened again.
He swallowed the indignity of being observed by the other patrons of the library. The apparent sight of an ill-tempered boy slamming his book shut and replacing it with another, only to repeat the cycle a minute later, must have made him seem bonkers. He cracked a disbelieving smile against his will on his fifth trip. People were starting to notice, but he refused to bow down, kept making the rounds each time Tom switched the books.
This happened for the better part of the next ten minutes.
He was starting to get good at finding the book, even when it appeared backwards so that its spine was hidden or upside down. He could tell just by the size and the hue of the paper.
"This is childish," Riddle said in annoyance, this time abstaining from switching the books. "Just do as I say!"
"No you're childish, trying to force a kid you kidnapped to do your reading for you," Harry hissed, his voice rising above what even the callous killer seated across from him was comfortable with near so many Muggles.
The odds that Tom would openly begin murdering the hundred visitors and the library's staff in open daylight were long, and they both knew this. He knew that the Ministry of Magic had mechanisms in place to respond swiftly if they detected untoward use of magic, especially if a wizard started outright massacring Muggles in the middle of a major city.
"There's an awful lot of people here I'd have to kill if you displeased me…"
A tiny part of him wanted him to scream that it was all a bluff, but his confidence was gone, broken into a million shattered and scattered little pieces.
He had no weapons. He was not even on the same playing field.
Humiliated, Harry opened the Woodland Trust to the table of contents.
And started reading about trees.
He was sure the universe was laughing at him.
A/N: A month and a half for an update isn't too terrible, is it? I may have a warped sense of timing now considering how depressingly dead my favorites list is, ugh.