To Define Treachery
Chapter VI / Waiting for the Last Train
by en extase
"We're done here."
Harry started, eyelids flying open.
His glasses had fallen from his face and lay askew on top of the pages in front of him. Though 'reading' was a rather charitable term. He'd been pretending to read. He'd even given it an honest effort at one point, though the wheels had quickly fallen off. Not even Hermione would subject herself to the torment that was learning about dendrites. The idea that there were apparently renowned experts in the field of forestry made him shudder.
He hurriedly donned his glasses and looked around. Riddle was pushing his chair back and rising, shutting the tome in front of him and sliding it next to a small tower of books. And just as well, the tower was too high to risk stacking another on top of it.
Did Riddle actually go through all of those?
He had no idea how long he'd been sleeping. Riddle looked irritable at a glance, but otherwise seemed untroubled.
"Get up," Riddle said, this time more forcefully.
Harry got up.
He wordlessly fell into step behind Riddle as they returned to the first floor and made their way to the exit. His eyes bored into Riddle's back, but of course the older boy showed no sign of worry or wariness.
All things taken into consideration, he had come to grips with his failed gambit to escape his incarcerator relatively fast. The shock had come and gone.
The receptionist at the first floor circulation desk, a middle-aged woman with long, brown hair, smiled at him as they left. He smiled back weakly, then ducked his head.
He looked at the bookcases and the reading rooms as they passed them. He hadn't been here long but it had been a safe alcove for him to hide in.
Illusions can seem... convincingly real.
The open air should have refreshed him, the charge of coldness bringing him to that heightened level of wakefulness. But stepping outside didn't make him feel free.
His face lost none of its paleness despite the sunshine. A vague sense of dread hovered over him like a vulture, waiting to make a feast out of him. It drew closer when a foul-tempered older gentlemen bumped into Riddle and promptly burst into a tirade laden with curse. But despite Harry's fear, Riddle only smiled and kept walking.
At every moment Harry expected some calamity to occur. A car collision at the crossing. The monument in the middle of Centenary Square detonating in a conflagration of fire and stone.
Some kind of retribution for his defiance.
But it did not come.
Stop thinking about that, he thought.
He had lasted this long without losing his mind. Allowing his mind to be clouded by the feeling of defeat would be playing into Riddle's hands. He had to stay positive, fill his head with uplifting imagery.
He imagined planting a dagger into Riddle's unprotected back.
That did the job nicely.
It's not over yet, he thought fiercely.
He still had one day to make it to his rendezvous with Albert.
The urge to scream at the top of his lungs was starting to build. They had walked into the ground floor of an apartment complex. A Muggle man had passed them on their way to the elevator without so much as blinking at him.
How could he not see that Riddle did not belong?
It was one thing to resolve not to feel helpless but it was another to actually make good on that.
In stark contrast to the ball of suppressed energy Harry was, Riddle seemed so relaxed.
He had to admit that Riddle moved fast. Scarcely a few hours had gone by since they'd first ran into each other again. In that length of time, he'd already apparently secured fairly spacious living quarters. Tom had suddenly tapped his wand - Harry's wand - against the doorknob of room 815 and just like that, they were in.
He tried not to show any sign of distress at the sound of the door being closed.
It wasn't much of a stretch to say that his chances of escaping again had shrunk to nil.
He should have made a run for it... logically speaking, he stood the best chance of getting away out in the open. From the moment he'd awoken in the seer's summer getaway, he'd searched night and day for a way out but to no avail. The same was likely to play out again... But there had been zero real opportunities. There were always pedestrians nearby, or a passing car, and he couldn't take the risk of provoking collateral damage by Riddle.
He bit down on his tongue.
Maybe he should have taken action. Riddle might have stopped him and cursed a few Muggles, perhaps fatally, but surely the mere possibility of successfully escaping outweighed their lives...
He stopped that train of thought right in his tracks.
That brief flirtation with that dark region of possibilities left him dazed.
Shivering, he let out a rattling breath.
He had to believe that he could make it through this without staining his hands red with blood. Or at least, anymore than it was already.
Your chances might have dropped off, but you've got to stay calm...
He knew this, so Riddle knew this.
Riddle had so far been airtight in keeping him leashed. But he was bound to make a mistake at some point. It just didn't make sense to him, for someone to go this long without making mistakes. Or maybe Riddle already had and he just hadn't been smart enough to recognize it...
He forced himself to speak up as he walked into the living room.
"Another summer home of an old friend?" Harry asked sarcastically as he surveyed their new residence.
It looked like it had been inhabited recently. There were miscellaneous pieces of mail lying on the countertop in the kitchenette and the pillows on the couches were not in their proper order. A cluster of bananas and apples lay on a platter on the kitchen table, and aside from a few bruises looked freshly bought. A light layer of dust had accumulated on the screen of the television propped up against the far wall.
"Not this time. This is just some Muggle's apartment."
"What did you do to the owner?" he demanded, whirling around to face Riddle.
The older boy didn't look at him as he rifled through the drawers in the island countertop, eyes scanning their contents swiftly.
"You show such concern for complete strangers."
He spoke quietly, but the distaste rang clear.
Harry waited for him to answer properly, but he did not elaborate any further.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"What does it matter what I did to some meaningless Muggle?" Riddle asked in a low voice, "You've never met him. You never will."
He shut the drawers and stalked towards him, a dark look on his face.
Tom took hold of Harry's chin harshly and forced the boy to look up at him. Then he yanked him up by the scruff of his neck. Harry had been slow to react, not realizing that Riddle was about to get violent - but when he processed the hands on him he resisted hysterically, kicking and screaming until a silencing charm was placed on him and nothing left his mouth. Riddle planted him down in front of the window and forced him to look. The blinds flew up at a flick of a wand, letting the dying sunlight to stream in and bathe them in their glow.
"Look out this window, and tell me..." Riddled hissed dangerously, "If the man living here were to die, what do you think would change?"
Harry's eyes were glued to the portrait of the city starting to die down.
"What would look different? Tell me!"
"It wouldn't look different. It wouldn't if lots of people just died," Harry croaked, "That doesn't mean they don't matter..."
Riddle let him go with a sneer, turning on his heel and walking back to the entrance.
"We won't be here long. The diary's on the coffee table, write at your leisure."
The clouds looked darker than usual. Veins of dark indigo ran through them, foretelling the coming of a storm. The spell of cold weather apparently wasn't going away anytime soon.
The editions of the texts had been a decade or so out of date, but they were right.
Tom inspected the tree with a close eye. Yew. There was life, but in the only way that mattered, it was all but dead. He flicked the holly wand he'd taken from Harry, opening an incision in the bank. Its lifeblood was mere amber sap, uninfused with the blessings of magic that enchanted the groves of the wandwood-trees grown in the Ministry's hidden orchards. Fit for kindling, not to serve as the instrument of warlocks.
Wandwood trees were a funny thing. Like all living things, they had a lifespan and throughout their centuries they grew and shriveled into nothing, there were certain peaks and lows of relevance. Each species had a different time to be harvested, whereupon the wandsmith would make it suitable for pairing with the core.
For yew, it was mid-winter.
He was off by almost an entire season, but it suited the purpose he had for it just fine.
He severed a piece of the lowest branch and pocketed it. A gust of wind rustled the shirt he wore but when he looked at his arms his skin looked smooth. Not a hint of goosebumps.
Tom took a moment to breathe.
The frigid air entered his lungs and he held his breath for a long while, before letting it go.
His breath crystallized in the air in front of him. He watched the wisps float upward before dissolving into miniature clouds.
There were still things about his body that made him feel unsettled, not entirely clean. He couldn't feel the cold, for one. He'd taken off his jacket, hoping for something to break through the crawling sensation over his skin that was there at all hours of the day and curtailed his efforts to sleep at night. It had lessened as his prisoner wrote in the diary, but it was always there, a splinter in his mind.
Which brought him to Harry Potter.
Harry was... tiresome. Dealing with the twelve year-old Boy-Who-Lived drained him of his energy the way studying advanced runes in his fifth year had, when he'd had little idea what he was doing.
It was an interesting study in the human spirit, observing the boy.
The boy was caught in the middle of so many damning factors.
His own age and lack of experience, which meant Harry had no hope of fighting him and winning in combat.
His single-mindedness, which kept his attention focused where Tom wanted it to be and not where it should.
His Gryffindor moral constraints, which kept him docile and held him back from doing what he had to do to regain his freedom.
But there was always that undercurrent of fanatical determination. He'd put him in a cage for weeks but Harry hadn't let it corrode his determination, bolting the second he saw an opening. Even after letting him run around downtown Birmingham uninterrupted for an entire day and then bursting his bubble, Harry was already bouncing back. He absolutely refused to bow down or be cowed.
In a way, it was admirable. Few of his followers had shown that kind of conviction.
He ran his hand through his hair. He wasn't given to making such distressed gestures, but every so often his thoughts drifted back to the seer who'd spurned him.
He shook his head, annoyed.
He had other things he wanted to accomplish before the night was done.
Harry lay sprawled on the floor, staring up at the ceiling fan as its blades lazily spun in circles.
That was him. Running 'round and round...
Once again, he had fallen into Riddle's clutches. Only, that wasn't really correct.
He had never really escaped in the first place.
He pulled himself upright, and looked disdainfully at the diary lying on the coffee table in front of the duvet.
He entertained the idea of drawing crude graffiti of stick figures with massive floppy dicks in the diary. That had been the one time he'd been able to piss off the diary, then after that it had simply ignored him for a while. He refrained from doing it again, more out of his own feelings of immaturity than because it annoyed the diary.
He picked up a fountain pen.
You got me pretty good there, he wrote.
That was how he usually started. Something flippant, that didn't give away too much of his state of mind.
A few seconds passed before the elegant, flowing script of Tom M. Riddle appeared.
Why, thank you. You should take notes.
The diary was always like that. Self-congratulatory and insufferable.
So you can be like me one day.
Sometimes he'd bait it with something resembling reluctant praise and it would just... preen. Who thought a sentient book could be so smug.
He twirled the pen in between his fingers before catching it between his index and thumb.
The diary never missed an opportunity to aggrandize itself, but when Harry tried to probe further and glean some insight into Riddle's plans, it shut up real fast.
Yes, yew, it confirmed.
Though to be honest, it wasn't really much of a stretch to take that extra step.
Does this mean I can get my wand back soon?
Prior to his... therapy sessions with the diary, Harry had never been able to inject sarcasm into the written word. It was an art form in and of itself, and he was slowly but steadily getting better at it.
He still wasn't sure of the exact nature of the connection between the diary and the physical, flesh-and-blood, walking Tom Riddle. Did Riddle know what he wrote in the diary in real-time? Were they one and the same?
Even after spending, it frustrated him to know he had learned so little of his enemy. He had assumptions, but there was always that element of doubt that shrouded every aspect of the diary.
I know you're getting a wand... and you're trying to find people you once knew...
He was fairly sure that the diary had some level of independence from Riddle. Over the course of the last few weeks he had written at nearly every interval in the day, and always the diary was there to respond within seconds. It didn't strike him as likely that the physical manifestation of Riddle was the one responding to him through a telepathic link or something. His timing had been random enough that it was inconceivable that Riddle hadn't been busy atone point or another, and every time the lag had only been a few short seconds.
Or then again, maybe Riddle was simply that good at multitasking, able to respond through the diary even while prosecuting his plans.
I like that about you, Harry. Always thinking.
And thus concluded as civil a conversation as he could have hoped for.
That was the tone of their exchanges. A twisted facsimile of the times he wrote in the diary the first times during his second year, before he had learned the truth.
He let out a dismal laugh as he threw himself back onto the duvet and turned to his side, burying his face into a pillow.
Why couldn't you have just been the prefect of Slytherin? he thought, The model to the younger students? The diary that wrote back, helping me solve the mystery of the Chamber?
Why did you have to be evil...?
Tom turned to the side, shielding his face from the headlights of the black van as it drove past. He waited for them to disappear from view before turning his gaze to his objective.
Lucifia was the name his source had given him.
There was no address painted anywhere on the exterior of the warehouse, but he knew the reclusive underworld figure was inside somewhere. The parking lot was deserted save for a few broken-down cars that were rusting. The windows were dark and shuttered off and he had no idea of the defenses inside. Embedded deep in an industrial district of East London, this place was far from the prying eyes of curious tourists and ordinary law-abiding citizens.
He put his hands in his pockets of his jacket and took a stroll.
There were cameras mounted atop the streetlights, the roof, and along the midpoint storey and they moved as he did, tracking him. He didn't look at them; just continued on his way. The Muggle surveillance did not bother him overmuch. Rather, it was the magical defenses that would require his attention. There was a chance that Lucifia had already seen him but he wasn't going to let it slide. His very presence itself was suspicious; it was unlikely for a stranger to stumble across this particular niche in the city unless he was there for business matters.
Although in a way, he did have business here. He just hadn't announced it yet.
In the worst case scenario, he would resort to violence, but he felt reasonably confident that he could handle this with class. He hoped to make a future ally.
He walked away down an alley between two abandoned, looming storehouses, out of sight.
He took a moment to order his thoughts. The defenses were finely wrought. They reminded him of the estates of his pureblood friends, raised by warlocks of long ago and tied to the land with offerings of blood. These wards were not as old, but they nearly as potent. Like static electricity lying fallow in the air, their presence brushed lightly against his sense of touch.
He had to think this through.
He had gotten a sense of the boundaries of the protective magic, staying just clear while he got a feel for its composition. The element of Muggle technology complicated things slightly... he had no means of disabling the cameras unseen, which put pressure on him to resort to magic. Which would trigger the wards.
The only real way to approach Curse-Breaking and move past magical barriers was by seizing control. That was the key.
Some doctrines taught one to think of wards like walls, a fortification similar to the old castles and keeps of the feudal ages.
But wards weren't like that.
They were like a weave of scores of threads, all tightly bound together. You had to pluck the right ones and know how the variegated wards were in tune with each other. Then you stood a chance at disrupting how they communicated with each other, at ghosting in unannounced.
He cast the charm. He would have preferred an invisibility cloak, but regrettably, he had none in his possession. The downfall of purely charm-based invisibility veils was that they really didn't render one invisible. They dimmed your appearance, made you transparent, but there were faint traces that exposed your form when you were in motion. And their greatest flaw in comparison to cloaks was that they were easily dispelled.
He slipped past the outer demarcation of the wards, and in doing so, triggered them.
Like a viper he pounced. He could feel the stirrings of agitated magic, the pulsations travel outward from the point of contact as the protections reacted. His mind blank, he reacted on pure instinct alone. For a split second he flickered into view but his charm renewed itself immediately after, and his mind was already two steps ahead. He knew the paths of the pulses like the back of his hand. He seized them all before they could light up the rest of the network and held tight, and gradually the strands stilled, leaving the overall fabric undisturbed.
He quietly crossed the parking lot and let himself in through one of the side doors.
There was a grinding noise of metal being shaped, audible now that he'd entered within the warehouse's threshold.
Cautious, he followed the noise. He was in a custodial hallway, and navigated his way to a racking staging area. Forklift trucks were parked near a stack of raw materials and metal girders. Crates were piled on the racks, tightly sealed.
Reaching the other side of the staging area, he found a door leading to a stairwell. The sound was muffled when the door closed shut and he emerged on the second floor. There was nothing of interest there, so he climbed higher and stepped out into a corridor on the third floor.
He found the source of the sound. He could feel the minute vibrations coursing through the floor and walls from a closed door at the end of the corridor.
He stepped closer lightly, taking care not to make any undue noise. Reaching it, he knocked on it.
The grinding sound abruptly ceased.
"Hi," he said in a friendly tone, "Hopefully you aren't too busy at the moment...?"
He listened, waiting for an answer patiently.
When no response came, he tried again.
"Don't worry, I'm not a solicitor-"
Then the answer came.
The roar of bullets greeted him, blasting through the door. They abruptly veered off course before they reached him, ricocheting off the walls and the spent shell casings littering the floor. He wrinkled his nose at the pulverized wood-dust that was clouding the air as the doorframe was reduced to slag.
The flow of bullets ended as the clip ran empty.
He cleared his throat, pushing the door open. The hinges creaked weakly as he let it clatter against the wall.
"Let me fix that for you," he said, repairing it with a discrete tap of Harry's wand.
In a flash, the countless bullet-holes sealed themselves and the bent frame straightened.
He looked around as he walked in.
The workshop was quite large, merging with a living quarters. A variety of bandsaws and presses and other heavy machinery were scattered throughout the room. There were traces of metal shavings and broken drill bits littering the floor but they were confined to the workshop side of the room. A desk at the center of the room served as a kind of dividing line, cables running from power outlets in the walls and running to double-display monitors showing the live surveillance from the cameras outside.
On the opposite half of the room, a queen-sized bed occupied the corner, the covers drawn and alternately striped with black and white with a small band of stuffed animals and plushies huddled together. Next to it was a nightstand, and bordering that was a mahogany wardrobe. Posters of rockstars, movie gods, and famous female teenage idols from the Muggle world plastered the walls. There was plenty of pink and light blues, but the picture of a typical Muggle adolescent girl was broken by the assortment of rifles, handguns, and shotguns with their gleaming barrels mounted in between the posters.
"A gunsmith moonlighting as a wandsmith," he commented, eyes taking in the rather unusual decorations, "How fascinating."
The girl looked not much older than he was. She had long blonde hair with streaks of bubblegum pink highlights colouring the bangs that framed her face. She was clad in a black tanktop and white booty shorts, something he could not remember any of the Slytherin witches ever having the courage to wear. A pair of uzis were leveled at him.
"We could duel," he offered, "You might have better luck making me leave that way."
The girl simply looked at him, her gaze guarded as she considered her next course of action.
He had made no threatening move toward her - besides showing up inside her hideout after having circumvented high-caliber wards without her noticing. Regardless of whatever run-ins she may have had with cutthroats and enforcers in the past, he doubted she had ever been in a confrontation with someone this cheerfully confident.
Tom was not surprised that she opted for dialogue.
She tossed the uzis aside and drew her wand, raising it at him in its stead.
"I should have known you weren't here by accident. Who sent you?" she asked flatly.
"No one did. I had simply heard you had skill as a wandmaker... I hoped you would make one for me."
He produced the length of yew.
"First of all, most of my clients come to me months in advance," she said haughtily, still not lowering her wand, "Second, it's not winter yet. Using that yew would be wasting it."
He seated himself as he hopped up onto a plywood bench opposite her work station, legs dangling.
"I'm not really all that concerned about how it performs. I just need it to work."
He tossed the sliver of yew to her.
Lucifia snatched it out of the air with her free hand. She looked at Tom's expectant expression, and without taking her eyes off him, let it lie across the flat of her palm, weighing it.
"What specifications do you want?"
"Thirteen and a half inches... there should be some kind of pattern of black speckles around the base. Half an inch wide at the bottom and tapering toward the end at the halfway point. Ideally, I'd like a feather from a very specific phoenix, but I doubt you have one in your possession, so the core can be anything."
The disbelief on her face was comical.
"At least pretend you want it to work, you stupid prick."
"Fine, dragon heartstring," he said with a shrug, "Will that do?"
She huffed indignantly at his answer.
Then she went very still, eyes narrowing as she dwelt on the specifications he'd relayed to her.
"Who are you?" she asked, looking at him intently.
"Just an admirer of his, that's all," Tom said off-handedly. "Now if you please, give me a date where I can expect it."
He quietly decided not to draw Harry's wand unless he absolutely had to. This girl knew her modern wandlore, and he didn't want involvement from outside parties that he couldn't predict.
He made a show of opening his hands and showing her his palms as if offering something to her. Galleons levitated themselves out from his sleeves, rotating in the air lazily before organizing themselves into a triad of glittering stacks beside him.
"You came very highly recommended," Tom practically purred, "I apologize for not requesting this commission in advance. Please accept this as recompense."
The young wandmaker watched warily, her attention successfully captivated. There was enough to cover the cost of a custom wand a few times over. But she had also noted his effortless display of wandless magic and now there was more uncertainty than confidence in her eyes.
"So... if you give a date for me to swing by..."
"Um... sure," Lucifia said, though she still looked perplexed, "If all you want is a functional wand, nothing special, I can get it done by this time on Tuesday no problem."
"I'll stop by then," he said politely, turning to leave.
He remained careful as he made his exit, ready to act should Lucifia activate any traps. The sound of metal being shaped did not resume, though he didn't read much into it. He hardly expected her to go back to her work straight away.
So. Now he was on course to obtaining a wand. Not his wand, but it was necessary for the furthering of his goals.
He Disapparated, the grimy view of the abandoned industrial district of London dissolving away, and he reappeared in an equally deserted alleyway in downtown Birmingham.
Scarcely after taking three steps, he heard another crack, far too close to him for comfort.
He turned around, only for a fist to slam into his face.
He staggered backward.
It was a shame to say that he was approximately no good at all in a fistfight. He didn't even have the time to raise his arms before another blow to the side of the temple sent him reeling. He tried to stay upright but his legs gave out and he fell crashing to the ground.
His assailant stood over him, reached down, and yanked him back onto his feet.
Tom was not short by any means, but the man who'd waylaid him was even taller, lifting him clear off the ground.
What a time to let down my guard.
"Let go of me," he croaked out, wide-eyed, but whoever was doing this to him didn't grant his request, thrusting him against the brick wall.
"Good to see you too," the man greeted. "It's been a while."
Tom gingerly raised a hand to touch his bottom lip, grimacing at the coppery taste of blood on his tongue.
"Damn," he chuckled weakly, "Lighten up!"
He doubled over as the man drove into his unprotected stomach with a haymaker, toppling to the ground where he lay, gasping. Harry's wand was still strapped to the underside of his arm, concealed by his jacket sleeve. His fingers twitched, but he knew he couldn't make his move just yet. He propped himself up onto an elbow, looking up at his attacker.
"The boy thinks you're just a Muggle off the streets," he managed, spitting out a mouthful of blood.
"Who are you?"
The ridiculousness of the question left him speechless for a moment. Then he laughed.
"You don't recognize me?"
The man kicked him, the force of it flinging him over and onto his back. He let out another groan.
"Who are you?" the man repeated forcefully. "How do you even know what Tom Riddle looks like?"
Tom squeezed his eyes shut, trying to make the pounding his head recede.
"Because I am him."
The man's laughter gave away nothing and he felt a stab of frustration. His facial features were conjured and there was some kind of voice-alteration spell as well.
"If you were, you'd be a better liar."
"Who are you?" Tom returned. "So much denial, yet you're the one who's hiding behind a glamour."
The man said nothing. Neither did he strike him again, and Tom drew himself back up, fixating him with a cold, piercing gaze.
"I know you're from my circle... I will find out who you are," he said in a low voice.
From the tone of his veiled threat, one wouldn't have thought he was lying on the ground at someone else's mercy.
The brown-haired man drew back, recoiling despite his position of advantage over him. It was slight motion, but it was enough for Tom to know he still held power over his former friend, whoever he was.
"If you're actually him, you probably will," the man muttered, eyes darkening, "Now onto important things. Where is he?"
"Who are you referring to?" Tom asked neutrally.
"Why, my good friend Hostage-taking Harry, of course. Who else?"
"Why do you want to know?"
He slugged Tom again, making him coil up in agony.
"I'm not in the mood to be tested. You're bringing me to him and then we'll be on our way."
Inside, Tom was burning with rage. He could feel the trickle of blood from his lower lip as it trickled down his chin and dripped to the ground below.
How dare he...
But his face was pleasant.
"Fine," Tom said softly, "I'll show you."
If he were to be honest with himself, Tom would have to admit that he hadn't expected the process of reconnecting with old acquaintances to be so... painful.
Even if he does come around, I'm going to have the hold him under the Cruciatus for ten hours, he decided.
Harry's newfound friend was sharp, not giving him even a fractional window of opportunity to Disapparate away. He had appeared not far from the apartment complex so the walk was short. With the wand pressed into his back, he was forced to keep moving. He worked over the plans percolating in his heads, dismissing them one by one.
The same Muggle man from his arrival with Harry in tow stepped out of the elevator. This time he did notice the dried blood on Tom's face and the man apparently holding him captive with what looked like a wooden stick. They both smiled pleasantly at him, and the fellow hurried off.
They waited as the elevator brought them to the eighth floor.
"So," Tom stated neutrally, "You do mean to help him."
A simple statement of fact.
"What can I say," the man said with a light laugh, "I thought he'd be an insufferable little prat, but he's a decent kid... I won't have you troubling him, no matter who you are."
"Is that so..."
There was the ding! as it slid to a stop.
His gaze stayed forward as he was prodded in the back. He put no no resistance, stepping out into the hallway.
A few more steps...
He stopped unexpectedly, a few steps short of the door to room 815.
The man at his back tensed up as he sensed that something was wrong, then whirled around to deflect the oncoming blast of scarlet light originating from the far end of the hallway.
Tom drew his wand.
Harry supposed this was a step up from his previous accommodations. He had access to the entire abode and the glass of the windows were not obfuscated by that permanent ice-mist enchantment. A glance at the digital clock on top of the telly confirmed that it was 8 in the morning.
His earlier assessment had been quite true - his chances of escaping an enclosed area without the aid of magic were essentially zero. He had tried prising the covers over the ventilation shaft, but they had been sealed. He had reckoned that his best hope was for Riddle to relocate. After all, Riddle had said they wouldn't be here long.
The only problem was, Riddle had not come back since shutting him in the apartment room.
He dragged himself to his feet, irked by the growling of his stomach.
The pantry was well-stocked, and he munched joylessly on some pastries. He couldn't really taste the sugar.
His hopes were fading fast. It was all he could do to keep from being disheartened.
It's okay, he tried to tell himself, Even if this I miss this, there will be other moments...
He looked toward the doorway as he heard it unlock, and Riddle stepped inside.
"Good morning, Harry."
His heart leapt at the sight of the heir of Slytherin and the irony of his joy was not lost on him. He had to blink twice though as Riddle drew closer and he saw him up close.
Was it him, or were those bruises on his face?
"What do you want?" he asked guardedly.
"Just to accompany me on a morning stroll."
Slytherins wished they had a poker face like his that moment.
He looked away, appearing as though considering some mundane choice.
This is it... the last chance.
He looked up at Riddle.
Riddle waited as he threw on another layer of clothing and donned his shoes. They made their way to the ground floor in silence.
He was still resolved not to make a break for it until there were no Muggles around. He was certain that Riddle would be expecting that... but the alternative wasn't something he could stomach.
"So... it got cold rather early this year, didn't it," Tom remarked as they stepped outside.
"I guess it did," Harry agreed.
He had to stifle a disbelieving laugh.
The weather? Really?
Tom continued to make idle conversation and he mumbled in response. All the while, he kept his eyes peeled for a sliver of a chance, but it wasn't coming.
He tried to rein in his frustration as their stroll encompassed three blocks, then four, then five. He had endured the waiting game for so long already, he could afford a little more patience to bide his time. Till the right moment.
But it wasn't coming.
If anything, the flow of pedestrians was growing.
Something isn't right...
There was some kind of ulterior motive behind Riddle bringing him here. He had assumed it was to probe him with questions, but Riddle could have done that without them setting foot out of the apartment.
Gnawing on his lip, he shot a discrete glance at the map plastered to the glass of a bus stop as they passed it.
He looked at Riddle through the corner of his eye, but he hadn't appeared to have noticed.
He kept sneaking looks at directories, at addresses, trying to get his bearings in this part of the city he was new to. By now he had a hazy knowledge of the city's overall layout, where the nerve centers of activity were, where the major nodes of its public transportation system were. The feeling of unease was growing.
He stared at the ground, watching the lines in the pavement pass by as he thought furiously.
Then it him him.
They were moving toward New Street.
He stopped dead.
"Harry? You look pale."
Swallowing, he fell back into step with Riddle. His heart rate was starting to climb.
He looked at the street signs, replaying their names over and over again, but nothing contradicted his conclusion. And finally - unbelievably - the front entrance to the train station came into view. He stared at it dumbly, before Riddle pushed him hard and he stumbled toward it.
Harry bolted, but the older boy was faster. He yanked desperately at his arm, but Tom was stronger too, and he couldn't shake off the death grip
"AL! GET OUT-!" Harry shouted desperately before he felt the familiar sensation of a silencing charm enfolding him.
He was helpless as they walked in. He looked wildly around in Tom's arms, eyes searching through the crowd, hoping, praying -
Don't be here, don't here, don't here -
Albert was standing there in the enclosed waiting area, looking up at the display clocks on the pillars.
"Let this be a lesson to you," Riddle stated softly. "Do not defy me. Do not even think to disobey, for I will not be so merciful next time."
All traces of cordiality had vanished from his voice, leaving only a serrated edge of cruelty and malice.
Harry held his breath as a voice over the intercom announced the arrival of the train bound for London.
Albert started moving forward, toward the edge of the platform.
"I know what's running through your mind right now, Harry..." Riddle murmured sadly, "'Don't do this... let him go... he's just a Muggle...'"
Harry squirmed in his grip but Riddle held fast.
"The world won't change if he's gone," he said, amused, "But don't think of him as just another Muggle. Think of him as a consequence. Now watch carefully..."
Albert reached the edge and let himself drop down. The sound of countless wheels screeching over metal rails was building up. There was a growing perplexed murmur rising from the gathered onlookers as he positioned himself at the center of the tracks.
This wasn't how things were supposed to turn out.
They were supposed to be on that train, heading elsewhere.
To the end of this nightmare.
Time slowed to a crawl.
He could not tear his eyes away as Albert turned toward him, raising his hand and waving just like he had at the front steps of the library.
Then, in a blink of an eye, he was gone.
Harry's hands flew to his hand to muffle a scream even though he couldn't utter a thing.
No no no no no no no no -
His mind went blank, every frail shard of thought drowned out by the roar of the passing train. Everything was muted; the screams of the crowd, the screeching of the emergency brakes as the conductor reacted far too late.
"It's called the Imperius Curse," Riddle whispered playfully into his ear, "Maybe I'll teach it to you one day."
A/N: New milestone, 30,000 words! Help me celebrate by leaving a review. Here's to breaking 40,000, then 50,000...