The Truth the Dead Know
NOTE: WARNINGS FOR SLASH
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. 'The Truth the Dead Know' is a poem published by Anne Sexton in her 1961 collection 'All My Pretty Ones'.
Summary: In his Fourth-Year, Barty Crouch was sentenced through the Veil instead of being Kissed. Years later, Harry gets his lover back. Warnings for slash. Barty/Harry
The door slammed open, hinges screeching, before the cavalcade poured in with all the subtlety of a hippogriff on fresh ice. Dumbledore was its the head, of course, presenting his wand with a victorious flourish.
He managed to glean only the barest glimpse of triumph on the wrinkled face before it was covered by a thin veneer of righteous indignance.
"You must move aside!"
The headmaster reached out to drag the boy away, but he'd leapt nimbly away. Irritation flickered on the aged countenance, which made him sneer. The old fool was losing it. If you didn't know how to play the game, get lost and get out. He drew his wand, but made no move to fire.
"What do you think you're doing?" the boy yelped, jumping away from them all. "This is Professor Moody!"
None of them dared to shoot off any spells, not when the boy was standing right in front of him, but they didn't quite register how he never did anything, either.
"Get away from him, you stupid boy!" Snape, the bloody traitor, snarled obnoxiously, like he had the right to order around what was his.
His face darkened, and to his great satisfaction, the traitor's sallow skin paled. It was good to know the mongrel still remembered his place.
"I don't know what you're all thinking, but Professor Moody's always helped me!" the boy declared heatedly, loyal to the very end. How the boy hadn't been Sorted into Hufflepuff was beyond him sometimes.
The Gryffindor Head-of-House was the next to make her pitch.
"You must come away; Moody isn't who you think he is!"
McGonagall, he couldn't quite fault. She had tried her hardest to protect the boy, all these years…
Her words proved to be both their undoing. He knew their game was up, had known it was up the moment Dumbledore had come careening through their door. Her words only made the boy realise the truth: there was no way out of this. They could only see alarm on the boy's young face, not even realising it was alarm not for himself, or even for them, but rather alarm for the man at his back.
He took the opportunity to shove the boy where they wouldn't see, sending him sprawling into McGonagall. The boy stumbled forward but immediately whirled about, staring at him with large, betrayed eyes.
And then the spells flew, fast and furious. He got Snape a good one, knocking the bastard clean out of the fight, but it was actually McGonagall, the one whom he'd tried to be careful of because she was holding the boy, his boy, that downed him with a Stunner.
Just before he succumbed he felt his body seize in the throes of Polyjuice, and knew the game was truly up.
He didn't remember the questioning. His tongue felt dead in his head, numbed by Veritaserum. He could only see a pair of terrified emerald eyes, always, always watching and worrying. He knew it'd been a part of their agreement, that if he were ever caught the boy would hold his tongue, but he'd still felt the relief course through his veins when no words fell from those young lips.
It was only the sentencing that woke him from that emerald spell.
"We can't leave his body around for someone to find. Even the Kiss won't be enough. If he escapes again- no. Send him through the Veil."
The Veil. The Veil.
There was no coming back, not this time.
The first thing he saw when he awoke was green.
Green as his home-grown English fields after a heavy downpour, thick and lush and full of life and vibrancy. He remembered drowning in a green like that once.
And then came a jet black as a crow's wing, darker than eternal night and wilder than the grass that grew in old familiar forests.
A hesitant touch on his cheek made him aware, and he was afraid to touch back because the boy before him was so young.
The whisper of a disused name hovered in the air. It made him feel like he was coming home- to something.
The touch came again, slightly surer, but the look in those grass-field-green eyes was no less filled with trepidation.
"Do you remember me? Do you remember us?"
By Merlin's hairy arsecrack, had he gone completely round the bend? What in blazes had he been thinking, consorting with this sylph-like creature? His words hinted at a past between them, a past where this boy had been even younger still. Technically that de-aged him as well, but he couldn't remember a time when he'd been as young as the boy before him.
"Barty," the boy begged piteously, "say something. Anything. Please."
He opened his mouth to speak, but hacked out a lung instead.
"Oh. I'm sorry."
The smooth rim of a cup met his lip, and he drank greedily.
When he looked up again, the boy was looking at him with such kindness and adoration that he had to look away. It made the boy sad though, and he simply couldn't stand for that. He tilted the boy's chin up to get his measure.
"You…seem familiar, somehow," he offered, which was no less than the truth, and yet the words themselves seemed loaded with a wealth of meaning he wasn't fully cognizant of, and a history he didn't quite know.
"But I don't even know your name."
He gripped the boy's face firmer, running his hand up the beardless cheek. There wasn't even the slightest grazing of stubble- good Merlin, how old was this child-
He brushed the long fringe away from bright green eyes, baring an unblemished brow for a brief moment before the boy shied away. "Or how old you are."
The boy took his hand in his own. "Years, Barty, it's been so many years." The words seemed to pain him, and his smile faltered for a moment, before brightening again. "You named me, though," he said, choosing to ignore the other question.
"Did I really?" He smiled, weary muscles crackling with the effort, but he didn't quite mind, not when it meant the return of that pinch of cheek in the boy. He found himself wanting to do everything in his power to keep it there.
The boy laughed, obviously delighted. The sound seemed to brighten the very air around them, causing a still draft to stir.
"Yes you did, really." The boy's smiles thawed his own.
"'Starling'. You named me 'starling'."
"Starling?" he parroted, confused by the apparent non-sequitur. "As in for the bird?"
He looked the boy over with a careful eye for any distinctive flightiness, or perhaps the odd additional appendage that he'd happened to miss. "Why?"
The boy caught him looking, and laughed all the merrier. This time, however, his laugh was tinged with sadness.
"Yes, for the bird," the boy agreed, tightening his grip on his hand. "You named me that after you first saw me fly. You told me that was where I truly belonged, in the sky."
No, wings wouldn't look right on his starling. He hadn't flown with those, but something else, something that was…gone?
"Do you still fly? Have you flown recently, little starling?"
The boy was still smiling sadly. "No," he said softly, "I haven't flown since- I don't. I can't, not anymore. I thought I'd just fold my wings for a little while, till I- till I could get you back. I didn't realise- and now I don't even know where they are."
His smile turned bitter. "I think 'crippling' would be a better name now."
He was pulling the boy into his lap before he was even fully aware what his arms were doing. And then all he could do was relish the feeling of his being back, his being his, a a familiar weight within his numb limbs.
"Hush," he whispered into messy black looks, "don't say that about yourself."
Starling blinked owlishly up at him, and then smiled weakly. "Thank you," he whispered back, clutching his arm. Then he looked up again, painfully shy. "Can I kiss you?"
Some of the surprise must have shown on his face, since Starling flushed pale pink. "I'm sorry," he murmured, "but it's just been such a long time…"
He had a feeling the little bird was manipulating him, what with that subtle upward glance almost coquettishly through his long sooty lashes, but he couldn't quite bring himself to mind, especially when cool lips were pressed against his, breathing into him the breath of life.
They were seated together in the large couch set in the centre of their dome-shaped room. There was no door or entryway, only a silver-coloured drapery set off to the corner. For some reason he felt no urge to go through that anytime soon.
There was a bed on one side of their chamber, just big enough for two full-grown men to share. Beside it was a table with drawers, and then a sink, a cabinet, and a large porcelain bathtub with beautifully carved feet. Books adorned a low shelf on the other side of the bed. A desk and chair sat at the farthest end, although the items that laid on its surface seemed to be obscured to him from this angle.
"Where are we?" he asked. "There isn't a kitchen, or a fireplace, or even a door-"
"It's sort of like the Room of Requirement in Hogwarts," Starling replied calmly, tangling their fingers together between them. "It provides whatever you want, whenever you need it, but a price has to be paid each time."
His ears pricked at that, and he didn't like the sound of what he was hearing. "A price?"
Starling smiled at him, and waved off his concerns with their interlinked hands. "Don't worry about it. It's already been paid."
By whom, he wanted to ask, and for what, but he sensed it wasn't the right time. There were still so many things he didn't know about Starling. Their kisses and soft touches had only inflamed in him the passion he'd once held for the boy, the passion that was now gradually returning, but he could remember nothing else.
"Tell me- about- about us."
Starling laughed again, and the light in his eyes made him look older than his young form.
"There's so much to tell, even though we only knew each other for a year. You were my professor at Hogwarts."
He stifled a groan in Starling's shoulder. "Tell me you're joking. At least tell me I didn't take advantage of you!"
Other- questions bothered him. It seemed incredible that a year-long budding romance could have sent them spiralling together like this. And what happened at the end of year, to tear them apart? Where had Starling been, and where had he gone? And just- how- had he made it back?
Starling was laughing again, merrier than the last. "Barty Crouch, not take advantage of anything or anyone, when given the chance? You've got to be kidding me. You wouldn't be you if you hadn't."
His conscience was damning him to hell right about now. He said as much, causing his starling to swamp them both with his brilliant laughter.
"Would it help, perhaps, if I told you that when I first saw you, I thought I'd never quite seen anything as beautiful?"
There were students out of bed tonight. Perhaps there were students out of bed every night. Who was he to know, and who was he to care?
He honestly didn't want to be dealing with this, but apparently it was his turn for patrol. He thought it was a lot of bollocks, had been ever since he'd been at Hogwarts, but he couldn't pass it over without the old bastard getting suspicious. Well, at least it'd give him the time to get the ingredients he needed out of Snape's storeroom.
He'd done the patrols before, and had never run into any problems. It had always been a straight circuit loop, with nary a detention awarded. Apparently his lucky streak had run out, because not two minutes after he'd raided the cur's stores, he'd run straight into the person he least wanted to see.
Perhaps in retrospect it had been a boon in disguise, since if he hadn't had Moody's magical eye, he wouldn't have been able to see through the boy's invisibility cloak- and which fool would give a child, moreover this one, an invisibility cloak? As things were, the child had frozen on the stair, eyes wide and staring straight at him.
They were both walking contradictions: him, seeing the unseen, while the boy, unseen, staring straight at the seen. He saw those far-too-astute green eyes take in the various ingredients in his arms, and mouth the word in astonishment: 'Polyjuice.'
Then the boy had looked up at his face again, speechless. He narrowed his one good eye, hissing angrily as he hauled the boy by the arm into the nearest empty room and barricaded them in. He was about to turn and torture the boy, or at the very least Obliviate him, but nearly doubled over in pain. Damn it, not the potion, why now, he couldn't-
His disguise was shed, and he stood there, his wand drawn and on guard, despite the oversized robes he now found himself draped in.
But the boy was just staring at him wondrously- not in shock, or fear, or anger, but wonder. Those green eyes were fastidiously seeking out the nuances in his features, wide with marvel and shining clear. He didn't have to be an expert in legilimency to know what has going through the boy's mind. He smirked to himself. He could use this.
"I…think I remember…that first when we met."
The boy turned his head at the sound of his voice.
"Do you?" He smiled, his smaller hand trailing through flat strawberry-blond strands.
"I really did take advantage of you."
"I don't…I wasn't kind, was I?"
"No, you weren't."
"Then- then why-"
"It would've been a lie if you were kind to me," Starling finally said, resting his head against his chest. "But you were just you. You told me right off the bat that you couldn't spare that kind of sentimentality. We were both just trying to stay alive, and-"
"I still shouldn't have put that burden on you," he protested stubbornly.
Starling hummed thoughtfully, not answering at first.
"I like that you're being kind now," he said, "it's a pleasant change. But once you get the rest of your memory back, you're going to regret it. You're only being nice now because you're unsure of yourself, and you think I hold the cards. I don't, you know. You hold far more of them than you think you do."
He didn't understand why Starling was giving up his advantage. "Why-"
"I'm not telling you everything," Starling replied quickly, not meeting his eyes. "There are some things you're going to have to figure out yourself, and some things I think it would be better if they were forgotten between us. But I'll tell you the truth, as much as I can, to every question you ask."
"What if I ask you to tell me everything?"
"Why not?" Starling was right, but he wanted to know what made the boy so confident.
The young face lit up briefly. "For one, everything is subjective. I could tell you everything and nothing at all, and you wouldn't be able to contest it. And secondly-"
His beardless face darkened, and he looked lost. "You just wouldn't ask that of me. Not now, at least. You aren't angry enough to push the subject."
He didn't like what that boded for the two of them. "And what happens when I get angry enough?"
Starling's green eyes seemed to be looking past him at a time that didn't belong to him anymore. "Then you stop caring, and force me to tell you."
"Have I…have I done that before?"
"Do you want to hear the truth?"
"Then yes. Yes you have."
He had to watch himself with the boy. He was so young, and yet so easy to hold in thrall. He wondered if the boy was a bit of a masochist, to throw himself into such a situation involving himself, of all people, but quickly shook the thought from his head. He had to shake all thoughts of the boy from his head. It was too easy to lose himself in between the young, nubile limbs. The boy's adoration was heady, and left him spinning afterward.
He licked a line up the white column of throat, revelling in the vibratto moans he ripped from the skin beneath him. The boy was bent over his teacher's desk for him, spread out like every forbidden desire he could've ever had, so very vocal with the newness of this experience. Young lips kissed him greedily, lacking any finesse as their owner crawled into his lap, thin arms clinging as if he were his only lifeline.
That thought nearly pulled him up short. What kind of life had the boy led before that would lead him to this-
He tore his mind away from those thoughts, and pressed the front of his trousers to the boy's stomach. Small hands fumbled with ties and buttons, nimble in their overeagerness. There was a look of undisguised devotion on that pale, radiant face. He had to stop himself before the boy's simple actions captivated him yet again.
"Get on your knees," he rasped.
The boy obeyed, looking up at him with guileless green eyes. He seemed to know exactly what was expected of him before it was mentioned, and opened his mouth, and-
He shot awake, back drenched with cold sweat, and his cock hardened to the point of torture.
A brush of fingers against his side made him flinch. "Barty?" came the half-asleep mumble.
"It's nothing," he said harshly. "Go back to sleep."
There came another mumble, but no more stirring, so he assumed the boy had fallen back to sleep. He quickly slipped out of bed and fled to the couch, begging his heart to stop its thundering. The naked boy he'd played had been even younger than the one currently in his bed, possibly even abused. And he knew he'd played the boy. There had been an element of sympathy and desire to their relationship, but mostly he'd just wanted to use the boy. Apparently the boy had given him everything he wanted, and more.
He'd given him back his life.
There was a very crucial piece of the puzzle missing here. He didn't understand how he could've been that cruel to a mere child. And yet he couldn't mistake the objective lens with which he'd looked the boy over. He'd thought of the white within those delicious slim thighs, about the untouched virgin body just ripe and begging for him to sully, about how the untutored mouth would open for him, about how absolutely delectable the boy would look once smeared all over and marked as his property.
He hadn't cared for the boy, only wanted to completely possess him. And it frightened him, that even know, with these thoughts still running through his mind, his prick remained unflagging.
He was terrified of knowing if that sentiment had changed before their year was up, or if it hadn't.
A sound from the bed made him freeze. He huddled himself tighter together, willing himself not even to breath to not make a sound.
He glanced at the bed, and when he looked once he just couldn't look away. Fuck, but if the boy wasn't seducing him-
His boxers were gone, and he lay atop their blankets completely naked. He was standing fully at attention, straining against his fleshly sheath, limbs writhing in twisted sheets. One hand lingered on his belly, skirting the stark outline of his ribs. And if that weren't bad enough, he had his legs spread open wide, facing him, hips canted up and wrist bent at an unbelievable angle to facilitate pressing three fingers in, with a fourth looking to enter as well.
"What are you doing?" he moaned, clenching his fist over his groin.
Starling's breathing rang out harshly. "Doing…what you can't."
"Fuck, Starling.,.." he said weakly.
The boy's breath was coming in ragged breaths. "Fuck, that's…exactly…the idea-"
"Merlin forgive me," he muttered as he hobbled back to the bed, touching the boy's hand where it plunged back within himself. "Do you have lube, anything-"
"It's on…the bed…"
He found the bottle quickly, and poured an extravagant amount over his prick. It looked fit to burst. He couldn't ever remember seeing engorged to this size. Then he tugged Starling's hand out, and pressed right in.
"God yes please," the boy keened, thrusting savagely back, giving him no time to adjust before he was pushing and pushing and the boy felt exactly like he'd thought he would, tight and strangling, virginal despite knowing he himself had possessed the boy's virginity that one lifetime ago, their bodies shunting forward and back in a furious rhythm. He grabbed ahold of the slim hips, fingers digging into the bone under the flesh, and devoured him. His head didn't have enough space to care for the boy's pleasure, was utterly consumed with the thought of his own desire and want as he rutted crudely into the body beneath.
Then Starling's arse clenched, causing him to gasp, and then the boy was coming, pulling him over the edge right alongside with him. Starling lay slumped against the blankets, his head back and mouth open, still panting for breath. His arms was splayed aside, and his legs contorted with his torso, moist with a sheen of perspiration and cum.
He'd been right.
Starling looked absolutely gorgeous debauched like that.
Despite it all, the sight made his cock twinge. He hadn't pulled out yet, and Starling clearly felt it jerk within him. The scent of copper mixed with the boy's fragrance, distracting him, but Starling didn't seem to notice. Instead he was crooning at him softly, slender hands stroking the side of his face, swiping stray hairs from his dark eyes.
"You're making me remember a monster," he begged, even as his hands moved of their own accord to frisk the boy's body, coaxing him into another round.
Starling swallowed, and the sound made his throat dry. He could already recall listening to that same mouth, that same throat, gulping down his load, and swallowing with that deep, guttural sound.
"I'm making you remember who you are," the boy whispered back, as he started to move, again and again, and the memories played like a loop in the back of his mind, obliterated by this creature of pleasure before him.
"What do you want, boy?" he demanded harshly.
"Please don't call me boy," the boy said quietly.
"I won't call you by that other name," he said cruelly. "That filth isn't worth saying in my presence."
"Then give me a new one." The boy was looking out the window now, staring out into an amazingly clear sky. "One that you won't hate as much."
When he remembered those words, his heart constricted so tightly and his chest felt fit to burst.
Even 'Starling' had become taboo.
"Why?" he asked the boy when they'd both regained their breath. "Why do you do this to me? Is this revenge? For what I've done to you, for the things I no longer remember?"
"I just want my lover back," Starling said timidly. The boy wouldn't say anything else for the rest of the night.
He didn't like what he'd been to Starling.
He didn't like what he was becoming again.
But he couldn't deny the boy anything, because he was already in love with him.
Laughter warned him of the impending presence before a thin body threw itself into his arms.
"You turned Malfoy into a ferret?" A shy smile blossomed on his face. "You did that for me?"
"It had its merits at the time," he said gruffly, but it was increasingly hard to stay stoic in the face of this boy, who had all the force and subtlety of an untamed typhoon. There were even days when the sun shone bright and emerald eyes glittered just at him that he truly believed the boy could once again do the impossible.
"It was wonderful." He found himself soundly kissed by child lips. "Thank you."
He had to choke back the polite 'it was my pleasure', because it wasn't, not quite yet. But very soon, it just might.
Starling laughed. "Draco? You remember him now?"
"A ferret? Why in the world would I turn a Malfoy into a ferret?"
Starling hadn't stopped laughing. "He'd said something to me- I don't even remember what it was anymore-"
"No- no, I grasped that he'd insulted you somehow…but why would I turn him into a bloody ferret? Surely that had to be something more insulting than that."
He pouted, and Starling's eyes immediately dropped to his mouth. There was faint flush on his cheeks when he said, "Perhaps you meant a weasel, but there'd been a boy there, a Weasley-"
"By Merlin, not the bloody Malfoys and the Weasleys. Their feud is entirely childish and ridiculous."
"Yes," the boy was saying, although his eyes hadn't once lifted from his lips. One hand reached up to trace the lower edge of his mouth. "Yes, childish and ridiculous, exactly that."
Then he leaned forward, and stopped talking altogether.
"Ron hates me now," the boy whispered. He knew the boy couldn't find his eyes, hidden in the shadow as he was, but it wasn't for lack of trying. "He hates me because of you. They all do, even Sirius. Says I've changed, grown distant. Either that or it's a prank well done. No one believes me when I said I didn't put my name in the Goblet."
"And how do you know I had anything to do with it?"
"How do I know the world is round? How do I know the sky is blue? I knew it as I knew all those things; I knew it was you."
"A rhyme. How droll."
A small smile quirked at small lips. "Perhaps someone told it to me once. I can't remember." Then desperation wiped what little pleasure there was off his face, and the boy looked at him pleadingly. "Tell me, please. Why did you do it?"
Abruptly he stalked forward, dark and menacing, not requiring the butchered façade of the grizzled Auror to show his own form of malice. He caught the boy by his throat and slammed him against the wall.
"I don't answer to you."
Despite his actions, the tone he took was soft, gentle, beguiling.
"I told you when I came here, I had only one master, one task. That hasn't changed. Don't think I won't walk away the moment it's done."
He released the boy's neck, fist absently clenching at how small it'd been. How small it was.
The boy coughed, rubbing the soreness from his throat. When he glanced up again, his green eyes had been ablaze. His voice came out thin, but the words were strong and confident.
"You won't leave."
He half-turned, nearly shocked at the boy's idiocy. "What?"
"You won't leave," the boy repeated, surer of himself this time.
He snorted derisively. "Just because of your scrawny arse-"
The boy cut him off with a downward slash of his hand. "That isn't it.
"When you're done, as you say, with that one task from your one master- will you do it? When he tells you to cast that spell will you do it?"
"That isn't even a questi-"
"Isn't it?" he challenged, green eyes darkened and resolute.
"Tell me. Look at me and tell me. When he commands you to kill me, will you do it?"
But the words sounded dead, even to his ears.
Naked hands wrapped around his chest. "What is it?" Starling breathed. "What do you remember this time?"
He'd woken, shivering in the dark, terrified of the truth presented to him.
"You. I was going to have to kill you?"
The boy's undulating motions stilled briefly, before resuming as if he'd said absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
"Have you looked at yourself?" the boy asked. "Have you looked at your arm? Have you seen what's there?"
Of course, now that Starling mentioned it, he realised that he hadn't. He hadn't once looked away from the boy who'd captured his very existence by merely being. So he looked down at his bare arm, and froze in shock.
Emblazoned there, right above the crook of his left elbow, was the Dark Mark.
"It makes so much sense now," he whispered, brushing just the tips of his fingers against the tattoo with reverence. "A Death Eater. I was a Death Eater. And that one master I had- the Dark Lord."
He closed his eyes against the sudden onslaught of emotion. Just saying the words out aloud like that was like a balm over his soul. He hadn't realised how much he'd forgotten about himself, and this part, this was the truly essential part. Now so many things made so much more sense. He understood the cruelty, the harshness. It had all been in the name of his Lord. Anything in the name of his Lord. His Lord, his Lord, he would have done anything to see him return. Had done anything to see him return. Even seduce-
"Who were you?" he asked the boy beside him suspiciously.
Despite the obvious hostility, Starling's lips curled upwards.
"No one at all," he said. "Just a boy in a cupboard."
"What did I want with you?" He was stalking the middle of the room, while the boy draped himself over the couch like an indolent cat, tracing him with his luminous green eyes.
"I had to play a part in the restoration of your Lord." The words drifted over his head like clouds.
"You were a part of the ceremony Pettigrew was to conduct?"
"Yes," Starling replied. "He wanted my blood specifically."
"Your blood," he repeated. "Blood of the enemy."
"Blood of the enemy," the boy confirmed.
His head hurt. He couldn't understand. "Then why-"
"I was willing; more than willing; eager, even. I still am; I won't deny it, not when it's so obviously a lie. I," he said archly, "am not in the habit of lying to myself." He had a feeling Starling was poking at him. Then those emerald orbs softened.
"I'm terrified, Barty," he whispered, not as much to the man but to himself. "I know what you can do. I know what you've done. I'm just scared that you'll do it to me."
After hearing those words he couldn't find it in himself to push the boy any longer, at least not for a while yet. Despite it all, his feelings for the boy hadn't changed. Starling, too, perhaps was grateful for that, and they passed a period of quiet almost-contentment.
Once upon a time he found the boy sitting at his desk. He'd seen Starling there, on occasion, but he'd never really gone up to him before and just asked what he was doing.
"What're you doing?" he asked, brushing up behind the boy's shoulder.
"Everything comes at a price, Barty," he murmured, not stopping to look at his lover. "I thought you knew that."
"I do. Just- whose- what price are you paying?"
Starling fingered his hair almost absently. He suddenly realised that the messy locks that had once barely reached the boy's collar now cascaded down his back in a thick, rippling wave of stark jet. Starling smiled when he realised where his attention was.
"It's the only thing that really grows here," the boy said, smiling. When he turned his head, the long strands stirred heavily. "I suppose that it's supposed to make things a little easier." He leaned back a little and gestured at what lay before him.
"Everyday I take a strand and weave it into that tapestry. The other times I spend rearranging the previous strands into the proper pattern."
The moment he saw where Starling was pointing, he wondered how he could have ever missed it before. In the back of his mind he knew it was just Starling's hair, the same stuff he was running his hand through at this very moment, the same stuff that he'd woken up numerous times with a mouth full of, and yet he'd never seen anything quite like this cloth-of-night that frightened him so. Even his Lord, in his full glory, had never terrified him to this extent. Uncontrollable shivers ran down his spine.
Then Starling touched him, just fleetingly on his bare chest, and warmth flooded his body. The chill was momentarily banished, for now, at least.
"What is it." His voice was hushed.
Starling pointed at the silver drapery at the far end without another word.
He awoke to rapid hammering in the middle of the night. He stifled a groan, and rolled out of bed. It could only be one person. He opened the door to his private room and was immediately slammed in the chest with a blur about half his size.
"What is it?" he groused.
"You've got to hide."
"What?" His brain hadn't quite caught up with him yet.
"The Second Task. They're going to take you. Please- you have to leave. It'll be more than an hour- they'll find out who you are."
He finally realised just what the boy was talking about. "Oh, Merlin. It's- I won't be your hostage. They'll use a student."
Then it suddenly hit him. "Wait-what-" He couldn't find the words. "Precious? Me?"
The boy still hadn't let go of him. "How could you ever doubt it?"
Chills ran down his throat. The arms he had around the boy felt numb. He didn't know what he was doing anymore.
"You gave Neville the book," a small voice said from his midriff. "And you had Diggory tell me-"
"Wha- oh, Longbottom, and Diggory. Yes. Yes to both of them, I did." He was almost half-glad to be off that topic.
"Why didn't you just tell it to me yourself? Like you did the First Task?"
"I don't know," he lied. In truth, he'd wanted to avoid this exact scenario. He'd wanted to push the boy away, couldn't stand that he was so close- who was he lying to? Even now as the boy was standing there trembling, his hands were rubbing soothing circles down the slim back, going lower each time till he stopped just past the gracefully arched small of his back.
The boy turned large green eyes up to him. "You're certain they won't take you?" he asked, quietly begging for that reassurance. The boy had no one left now. He had successfully isolated him from all his pathetic Gryffindor hangers-on, the blind fools for teachers, and even that miserable excuse of a dogfather. There was no one left that the boy could trust, no one except for him. He had expected to feel some sort of pride at this accomplishment, but he merely felt weary.
"Was I ever kind?"
"Do you want to hear the truth?"
"It isn't going to be good, is it?"
"It isn't as bad as you think it is." Staring paused thoughtfully, considering the question. When he was finally afraid of what the boy would say, he was speaking again.
"You weren't, not at first. But that was okay, because I felt that…that we were growing. It just showed me that you were genuine in the beginning. And after that, it was more than I could hope for."
He sifted through his memories, the fragments of what he had, and supposed he could see what the boy meant- if he were a pathetic, deprived excuse for a human. Starling seemed to sense his disbelief and laughed. It was a full merry sound, bright and cheerful like the bird he was named for. He suddenly found himself wanting to see the boy fly.
"You never hid what you planned for me. You knew who I was, you knew what you wanted from me, and you told it to me, upfront. After years and years of people pretending to be kind, to be nice, just because I was- I was so patronised, really, it was all I could hope for. If anything, your coldness only made me believe in the truth of your actions more."
He found himself speechless.
Starling smiled. "Come here," he beckoned.
Unsure, he went.
The boy welcomed him with a soft, wet mouth. He found himself almost pertubed by the gentle actions.
"Why…are you being so kind?"
Starling sighed and looked at the bedspread. "Fundamentally, you aren't a kind man, Barty." Green eyes flickered up, before dropping down to the bedspread again. "I don't want to take that away from you. You weren't kind, or at least you weren't kind often, but it was still a part of you. A part of us."
He ran a hand up a smooth, bare thigh, and the boy obliged him, luring him in with a thoughtless sprawl of his legs. He still felt like he was missing a very large piece of the puzzle, but he found it hard to concentrate with Starling right before him like this, spread out like an offering. It would come, he told himself, as he entered the slim body. It would all come back to him eventually.
He grabbed the boy and slid him away from the insanity of the crowd, pulling him through the empty halls of Hogwarts to the relative privacy of his borrowed office.
He shunted him in, glanced about to make sure there wasn't anyone around, and then closed the door behind them. He turned immediately to the boy. "Well? Did it work? Is he back?"
It was only then that he noticed how pale the boy was. He picked him up- it was still too easy to do so- and set him on the bed. "Harry, talk to me. What happened at the graveyard?"
"He's back, Barty," the boy whispered. "I just- I didn't expect Diggory- I tried to get him away-"
He shook his head dismissively. "The Diggory boy doesn't matter."
Harry stared at him with large, not-quite tearful eyes. "No," he whispered slowly, "I suppose he doesn't."
"So?" he demanded impatiently. "What happened?"
The boy pushed his sleeve up, baring a long, not quite staunched slash vertically down the inside of his wrist. He hissed at the sight of it, and pulled out his wand to heal it.
"Thanks," Harry murmured. "Pettigrew was there, but- it was all strangely civilised. After killing Diggory, he just cut open my arm for the blood. He wanted to make sure there was enough for the potion to work. We- spoke, a little. About how I'd go with you when you left. And then I'd just disappear afterward. I was surprised he'd let me go, just like that, even letting me bring back Diggory's body to his parents, but I suppose I've been surprised a lot this year."
He abruptly softened at the boy's words, and brushed his lips against the lightning-bolt scar adorning his brow. There would be better times, for both his boy and him, now that his Lord had returned.
"Thank you," he rasped, "for giving me my Lord back."
Harry smiled at him, disarmingly tragic. "It was the least I could do," he shrugged.
He ripped the boy from his bed and slammed him against the wall.
Starli- Potter- could barely breathe. "So…you remember."
"How long?" he snapped. "How long?"
"Five years," the boy whispered out.
"What the fuck-" he snarled.
Whatever the boy wanted to say, he couldn't, not for the tightening grip on his throat. He wasn't so sure he wanted to hear the boy's words, either. What had his Lord- how could the bastard keep him here for five whole years, stealing from him not only his Lord but his Lord's triumph-
The boy didn't come to bed anymore after that. He was glad the boy took the decision from his hands. He couldn't even look at the young face anymore.
"How do I get out of this place?" he demanded hoarsely.
The boy froze, and then sighed. His shoulders slumped as if he'd long been resigned to this end.
"You can leave anytime you want." He pointed at a door which had abruptly appeared off to the side of the silver drapery. "You're free to leave anytime you wish."
The simplicity of it all seemed suspicious and almost contrived. He frowned. "Then what are you waiting for?" he asked rudely.
The boy chuckled bitterly. "You must be getting old if you missed that, Barty. You can leave. I cannot, not until my geis is up. If you choose to leave, there will be another price, of course, but it will be mine and mine alone to bear."
A certain hollowness settled in his stomach, but he pushed it away. "Can I return?" He didn't quite know what prompted him to ask that question.
"Why would you even want to? This was- is- your execution chamber." The words themselves were cruel, but there was a pain in the boy's face that still couldn't be hidden, which softened what little edge they had. "This is where you died, Barty. What do you have left here?" He spread his hands around him, and the despair was evident in every line of his body.
"Besides," the boy continued, resolutely not looking up from his work, "what are the odds are that this space will even still be here? Time and space run differently in this place, and this room was created for my purposes and my purposes alone. Once I finish this tapestry, who knows what the next price will be, or if I can even afford to pay it? When that time comes I don't think I'll even care anymore."
He didn't understand what the boy was saying, and said as much.
"This tapestry," the boy explained, pointing at his work, "is my price for getting you back. Should you choose to leave, there'll be another price. Maybe I won't be able to afford it this time. It doesn't matter anymore anyways. You are free to go, and free to leave, as you've always been, Barty." He pointed at the mirror above their little washbasin. "Your Lord awaits, after all."
Insanely glad for this opportunity to look elsewhere, he followed the boy's direction to the mirror, ignoring the feeling of green eyes boring into his back. It was a pretty enough mirror, wrought silver and carefully gilded with shimmering bronze. At first all he saw was his own reflection: a pale, thin face, deep-set brown eyes, with a jaw as sharp as a knife. He'd always been clean-shaven, and that hadn't changed in the time he'd spent here. His strawberry-blond hair was a little longer, the shadows beneath his dark eyes a little deeper, but it was still a face he recognised.
He thought back to the boy's first words- how could this have been beautiful- but ejected those thoughts almost angrily from his mind.
Then the image began to change, and he realised with a shock that he was looking at the Ministry of Magic. The statue on the fountain had been destroyed, but the square seemed livelier than he could ever remembered it being. The view changed, entering the Ministry building itself, and he was astonished to see familiar Death Eater faces everywhere. This was clearly a Dark-run establishment. He was shown, floor after floor, the Lestrange brothers holding twin offices the DMLE now, laughing at the irony of Bella as the Head of the Aurors, and then Malfoy himself in the position of Under-minister. He was quivering with anticipation when the mirror showed him the closed double doors of the Minister's office.
And then they swung open to reveal all his hopes and dreams. This was a man he remembered, a man he hadn't seen for nearly two decades, a man he adored and worshipped with every fibre of his being, in a time he'd only ever previously dreamt of. His Lord was cool and calm and all efficiency, and as the mirror showed him the new legislatures being signed in- Muggle Interaction Restrictions, rescinding the ban on Dark Arts- it felt like a dream.
Suddenly the Dark Lord glanced up, as if aware of the disembodied eyes watching. Scarlet eyes widened in surprise, but a pleased smile grew on face. A secretary was calling for his attention, but the Dark Lord ignored him.
'So Potter was successful,' rang his Lord's voice in his mind. He nearly buckled under the relief of hearing it again. 'You've kept me waiting a long time, Barty.' An almost gentle look crossed his face. 'I dare say you'll keep me waiting a while longer. Give my regards to Potter; you cannot hold this connection anymore. I'll still be waiting, Barty-'
His knees gave out, and the connection snapped. He only caught a glimpse of the silver frame again before he collapsed on the floor. Blearily, he heard the swish of robes behind him, and then slim arms gathered him up and pulled him into bed. He was as helpless as a newborn kitten, those few brief moments of communication with his Lord having drained him of nearly everything he had. Merlin, he was exhausted, but at the same time adrenaline was being pumped through his veins, exhilaration that his Lord had succeeded above all others-
"Did you see what you wanted to, Barty?" came the quiet question.
The boy's words cut him like a knife. "It was just a wish- none of it was real-"
"It was real, Barty," he replied quietly. "Everything you wished for came true. I've watched it happen all these years. With Voldemort's second coming, people really thought he was invincible. That he had truly beaten death. No one could stand up to him after that."
"He has!" he flared, angry at the boy's insinuation.
A cool hand laid itself on his brow, and the boy shushed him. "He's delayed it," he agreed, "prolonged his life. But there is only one inevitability in life, and that is the certainty of death."
There was a certain crispness to the boy's words that made him believe it, despite his loyalty to his Lord. "Why didn't you tell me this before?" he asked instead.
The boy shook his head again, rustling the long trends. "Everything has a price, Barty," he said again. "I can't give you the right answers if you don't ask me the right questions."
These evasive manoeuvres infuriated him, but the resignation he read in the boy's face stopped him from taking it out on the young body.
"Tell it to me, then," he rasped. "Tell me everything."
Green eyes widened.
"What happened?" he demanded. "What can't I remember?"
Harry was running, as far as he could, as fast as he could, away from any and everything that reminded him of- he cut of the thought with a sob. He reached the edge of the wards and dashed beyond them, uncaring of everything now that he was gone. He wasn't expecting the body he collided into.
He looked up at the rejuvenated Dark Lord, green eyes afraid. "H-how-"
The man reached out and tapped his forehead. Harry flinched at the jolt from his scar. "We need to do something about that," Voldemort absently murmured. Then he shook off the mood and continued. "I can feel everything you can. I saw- what happened."
Harry's breath caught, and he slammed his fist against a tree trunk. "I couldn't-I couldn't do anything!" he burst out. "I swore I wouldn't speak, but-"
He had sworn him to it, in the event should anything happen, although Harry had made him promise nothing ever would. It was absurd, in retrospect, but it was still a silly little boy's desperate wish, his one and only desperate plea. Even now just its thought stabbed him through the heart.
"What would you do for the chance to try?"
The question pulled him up short, and he stared up at Voldemort with large eyes. "Try- to get him back?" Then he regained what little self-preservation he had and narrowed his eyes at the man. "What's the catch in this?"
Voldemort spread his arms in mock-innocence. "Nothing. I want you out of this conflict. This will get you out of the way- and demoralise the old coot's troops. And if I manage to get one of my most faithful back-"
Hope surged in the boy's chest. He didn't even think about it. "I'll do it."
And he had.
In the dark of the night, they'd gone straight to the Ministry, the Dark Lord rending through their wards as if they were paper-thin and no better than air, and then down to the Department of Mysteries, straight to the Death Chamber where the Veil was still swinging in an unfelt breeze, mocking them with its recent acquisition. Harry was trembling as he stared at the fluttering Veil. There was no wind in the Death Chamber.
"Take those books-"
Voldemort was speaking, but Harry wasn't listening. He could hear it now, in the near-silent swing of the Veil. It held the whispers of secrets never recorded on parchment and Harry was immediately drawn to it. He instinctively knew his answer wouldn't be found in a dusty tome, but if he'd just had the time to take it all in…
"Voldemort…" he whispered.
The man turned. "What-" Then he saw what he was looking at.
"I just need time with this," he whispered.
Voldemort was shocked. "The texts-"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "The Veil will tell me everything I need to know. Can't you hear it speaking? It might take a while, but this is the only place I'll find out- how."
The man still looked doubtful. "How can you know?"
Harry didn't take his eyes off the Veil. "It's telling me, even now. Just seal me inside the chamber."
Voldemort was even more shocked. "Seal-"
"I have a mirror- Sirius has the other." He didn't even spare a thought for his errant godfather. His eyes hadn't once left the Veil. "I'll bring him back."
The Dark Lord's face softened as they took in the expression on the young face, and he murmured, "I don't doubt it."
And so he'd gone into the chamber, and allowed the Dark Lord to barricade him in, uncaring of anything else that had happened outside. Of course, he still watched his mirror from time to time, just to see his lover's dreams come true, but otherwise than that the passage of time meant nothing to him. There had been friends and acquaintances once, perhaps even a pet dog, but they were from another world, another life that was paler for the lack of his lover. It meant nothing to him now.
It had taken five long years, during which he spent more than half of it just meditating to the sound of those whispers. They told him things he needed to know, things he didn't care to know, and things he'd never wanted to know. He patiently listened to it all, carefully sieving out the necessary information from the unnecessary information. Finally, as a reward they had told him, very simply, that everything had a price, even Barty's life. All he had to do was pay it. And pay it he did. Pay it he had.
He was sitting on the couch with his head in his hands.
"There are so many things that're coming back to me now. But still so many that I don't remember."
"What's troubling you?"
He frowned. "The dogfather of yours- you spoke of him nearly constantly in the beginning. And then-"
The boy's face went slack. "Sirius…when I first met him, I thought, finally, someone who wanted me simply because I was my parents' son, not because I had a great big scar on my head, or would make a good science experiment," he spat bitterly. "I thought he was different.
"But he kept trying to make me into the James he'd lost. I had dreams, you know, of your Lord at the beginning of the year." He nodded to show he remembered what the boy had told him. "He called it a lot of bollocks and said that I should get out into the sun more. He didn't care to hear about them. Reminded him too much of 'darker times', he'd said, as if the times we were living in were any much better."
It was obvious by the way the boy spoke that this was still very much an open wound, no matter what he'd previously said.
"And when the names were drawn- he thought it was the biggest prank ever. Said my father would have milked it for all it was worth. He didn't want to hear that I hadn't done it, said I shouldn't be so falsely humble. If I couldn't even tell him the truth, if all he wanted to hear were lies-"
The boy broke off, curling up on himself on his chair at the desk. It would be easy for him to take advantage of the boy's weakness, to kick him while he was down, and yet he just sat there, watching the defeated figure with blank eyes.
Similarly, it would be so easy to walk through that door that was permanently there now, on the other side of what he now knew to be the Veil, to leave all of this behind and return to his Lord. He didn't know why he did neither of those two things.
"Do you remember your whole life?" the boy asked him in a small voice. "Your life from before?"
"Th-the Longbottoms. Do you ever regret what you did to them?"
The question was unexpected enough that he looked straight into the boy's distraught eyes. "What's brought this up?"
The boy looked upset. "I don't know. I was just thinking- why things are done."
"What's done can't be undone," he said flatly. As soon as the words were out of his mouth he realised how much of a contradiction he himself was to that.
A faint smile decorated the boy's face, telling him the boy knew exactly what he was doing, and yet he didn't say anything more, merely waited for his answer.
"The only thing I regret is leaving them alive. I was younger, brasher, then. Overcome with rage. They just happened to be the ones to bear the brunt of my anger."
Although Bellatrix was celebrated for her insane torturess reputation, it had actually been his first curse that had broken the two Longbottoms. Bellatrix had just sent them spiralling irretrievably over yonder.
"What brought this on?" he asked again.
"I was wondering," the boy said slowly, "if you regretted any of- of this." His words made him freeze, some parts disbelief, other parts pure horror. "If I should have just sent you through as soon as you came back. You might have been happier there."
The boy gave him a tremulous smile. The boy hadn't laughed since before their confrontation, and he found himself abruptly missing the free sound. "I did have a life before you. And I'll be busy, here, you know, with- all that."
He knew the boy's words were a lie. The moment he walked out that door was the moment the boy willingly sent himself through the Veil, and there wouldn't be any returning for him.
One time he caught himself staring at the boy seated at the desk- he almost never left it now- and comparing the figure he had once known to the figure that was.
"What is it?" The question drifted over to him softly, as if the words themselves were reluctant to approach him.
"How old are you?" he asked. "Five years have passed, and yet-" The boy was hardly any taller, his limbs any more developed than his fourteen-year-old form. The only obvious change, it seemed, was in the length of his hair. He hadn't expected to boy to sprout overnight, knowing of the life he'd led outside of Hogwarts, but this was more than a little ridiculous. Even his cock hadn't appeared to have grown.
The boy set down his weaving. He was slightly less than three-quarters done. "Time runs differently here."
Pointing to the mirror, he continued, "While it may have been five years outside, there's no saying how long has passed here, if any time has passed at all. You look at me, and you still see much of the fourteen-year-old I was when you first knew me. I might have grown intellectually, but when I said how my hair was pretty much the only thing that grew here, I meant it. Look at yourself, Barty. You're hardly any changed either."
Great. Just bloody great.
In another life, he'd looked forward to their life together outside Hogwarts because the boy would have grown up. Obviously, so much for that happening. "Just checking," he grumbled.
Why the hell was the damn thing taking so long, his boy was in there with one of the most dangerous magical creatures in existence-
Then it shot over the Horntail's shoulder, and the boy dropped from behind his rock to grab ahold of it speeding past, coming out of the dive into a smooth barrel roll that appeared to be almost instinctive. The boy was a bloody natural in the air, hardly appearing aware of the broom between his legs as he dodged the furious blasts of fire, weaving in and out through the horns and spikes. He caught a glimpse of the boy's face as he soared into the sky; it was free. His flight was completely effortless to him. He'd never quite seen anything this beautiful.
The boy ducked under the slope of one large black wing, banking sharply beneath it before going into another dive- for the egg, this time. It'd taken him a mere two minutes to out-manoeuvre one of the most ridiculous deathtraps they could have conjured for this Merlin-forsaken tournament. He swooped down, flying straight for the tail the Horntail lashed out at him- and then he leapt up into the air, ignoring the astonished screams of the crowd, going over the sweep of the appendage and just catching the broom with one hand while he swung down with the other, snatching the golden egg from the Horntail's clutch. Despite his still dangling half-off, the Firebolt seemed to know exactly what its master desired, and rolled to pull him back on its handle; and then he was speeding off to the stunned cheers of the crowd.
He had been the first one the boy ran to once Madam Pomfrey had let his unscathed self go, skilfully dodging the star-struck attentions of his 'friends'. The boy had jumped into his arms, laughter bubbling past his lips, as he sealed their mouths together.
"You were wonderful," he admitted. He himself had been a Quidditch enthusiast in his youth, still was, and the boy had more raw potential than even the current Quidditch prodigy, the Bulgarian Krum.
"Thank you." The boy accepted his words at face value with a humble demeanour. "It was your suggestion in the first place; I'd never been able to figure it out otherwise."
"No," he told the boy, "that was truly wonderful. You were truly wonderful."
Two spots of colour appeared on pale cheeks. "You really think so?" he asked, pleasantly pleased.
"I've never seen a better talent on a broom," he declared, and the boy's happiness seemed to radiate out of his very pores.
The boy burrowed into his side, tipping his face upwards for another kiss. "Thank you," he said bashfully. "Everyone seems to think I get it from my father, but I never knew him."
"You belong in the sky." He sighed, cradling the form in his lap. "It would be a shame for you to be anywhere else." They fell silent for a moment longer. "I'll call you 'starling', then," he said.
The boy looked at him questioningly.
"Instead of that ridiculous name. Starling. It's fitting. You're only half-grown, but it's already obvious you belong in the sky."
"I remember it now."
"What is it?"
"I remember seeing you fly. You were right. You do belong in the sky."
"You were right. You were the one who had told me those very words." Despite himself, the boy seemed pleased.
"And you haven't flown since? Why?" He was almost horrified at the waste of talent. "It's betraying your very nature."
The boy indicated his Spartan surroundings. "I had to fold my wings, I suppose, as a part of the price. I don't even think I realised they were clipped until you came back to me, and I wanted to spread them again to show you."
He was aghast. "How could you give that up?"
The boy shrugged simply, leaning back in his chair while his dark tresses poured over his shoulders. "I weighed it and found it wanting. Some things are worth more than even freedom, Barty." His green gaze fell to his left elbow. "You of all people should know that."
"You infuriate me," he hissed at the boy.
The boy just looked sad. "But what are you going to do about it?"
He didn't know why, later. It was just- the defeated tone, the defeated words- it was all one too much, one too many, and all he'd seen was red blossom in his mind and then he snapped— lashing out at the boy, yanking him forward by his brittle arm, just to fling him carelessly onto the bed before tearing straight into the boy's limp body. The boy had lain beneath him like a cold dead fish and didn't react once to the rape.
When it was over, the boy merely gathered up the ripped remains of his clothes and returned to his desk and his work on the tapestry, leaving him stunned and vulnerable at the regret he was feeling. He'd never known himself to indulge in self-doubt and pity, but when it came to this boy, all bets were off.
He knew that if he looked under his pillow he'd probably find the boy's torn wings, entrusted to him a lifetime ago, when their days had been full of smiles and kinder loving. He didn't know how to give them back, or if the boy even knew how to use them anymore.
"I hope to make the Third Task as simple as possible for you by clearing all the obstacles out of your way, so you can get to my Lord faster."
"What do you mean?" the boy asked, cocking his head aside. He was sitting on his bed, limbs carefully arranged in a manner of perfect decorum, and yet somehow managed to showcase every aspect of his Quidditch-toned body.
He shrugged. "Set you off on a fairly safe direction. Eliminate your other competitors. That way you'll be able to get to my Lord quickly. He's already been informed of your voluntary participation in this ritual."
The boy looked at him with trepidation. "And after?"
He drew the boy in for a kiss. "It'll be fine," he assured the boy. "My Lord is most pleased with this turn of events. He does not object to you leaving the conflict- as long as you uphold your end of the bargain."
The boy shook his head. "It's nothing. Just a bit of blood and a bit of pain. As long as it means getting out of this mess, and-" his smile turned endearingly shy "-staying with you."
He narrowed his eyes. "They've been getting worse-"
Sighing, the boy flopped on his front, squirming around on his sheets as he sought to get comfortable. He didn't seem to notice how Barty's eyes devoured his small form. "Nothing worse than usual," he said a little too glibly. "I just wish this whole thing was over."
"Don't lie to me-"
"I'm not." If anything, the boy was being even more obvious about it now. "Nothing's changed at all. Honest."
He caught the boy by the jaw, and refused to let the boy drop his eyes. "Don't lie to me," he ordered.
The boy bit his tender lip. "They're calling it a fluke how I've been able to get past everything so easily," he admitted uneasily. "They say I must've gone Dark, it's the only way I could've ever figured out any of this on my own."
He growled savagely. "I'll see them Crucioed for this-"
The boy was still trying to brush it off. "Well, technically it is true. Doesn't this consist of going Dark? It was the only way I could've have had any way of competing on a level footing with the other Champions, let alone being actually given the lead-"
"Stop it," he snapped. "I don't want to hear it." And he didn't. He didn't want to hear the boy's self-effacing schpiel. It disgusted him how he hadn't even had to fool the boy into thinking he was worthless; the boy had already thought of himself as such before he'd ever laid hands on him.
Abruptly he clutched the boy to him. "When all this is over," he swore, "the world will know you for the treasure you are."
He awoke with a sense of disjointedness within his entire being. He remembered the savagery he'd indulged in as one of his Lord's most skilled fighters, the cruelty and flawless skill he'd displayed as one of the top Death Eaters. The blood he'd spilt was clearer in his mind now than it had been in years.
But at the same time he remembered what he liked to call 'the Starling Experience'. The way he'd treated the child at first had been truly abominable. No child, no matter what he'd done in the past, deserved the life the boy had been forced to live, and yet he'd still turned out just as remarkable as he had. The boy had been a perfect blend of submissive and passive-aggressive, using his own apparent weakness to trigger a desired response in him. He'd been played like a fine-tuned instrument, and he wasn't afraid to admit it.
If he had to admit it to himself, he honestly did care for the boy. He'd been in love with him from a long time ago, even while his anger at being misled had obscured it. That had been part of the boy's game, and he had done it perfectly, for him to fall in love with him all over again before revealing the context within which he'd fallen in love with him. All those years ago, when the boy told him he wouldn't leave him- those words were valid even now. Although the door was still there as a threat, he knew he'd never walk through it, not without his boy.
He sat up in bed, and saw the boy's back, as usual, hunched over the desk. Achingly slowly, he rose and went over to him. The boy stiffened at the touch of lips pressed to the back of his ear, and had to force himself to relax.
"Harry," he began, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat, and began again. "Harry."
The boy didn't turn, very careful to keep his face away from him. But he could see the taut line of his shoulders, so tense they were nearly vibrating with the anxiety. In his lap, the tapestry looked very nearly to be done.
"Can I touch you?"
The boy didn't answer for a long time. When he did, it was as if he'd never heard his question in the first place. The boy indicated the tapestry in his lap, and the silver Veil fluttering in an otherworldly breeze.
"These cloths can only be made by people willing to give up everything, to give it all up, just for their wishes to be granted. Did you know that Grindelwald wasn't always in Nurmengard? When Dumbledore first defeated him, the Ministry sent him through the Veil while Dumbledore was recovering. He'd had no say in that sentencing. When he awoke from his magical coma he was utterly devastated by the loss of the man he loved."
He stared at the boy as if he'd never seen him before. Dumbledore…had been in love with Grindelwald? How did no one not know this?
"That Veil you see before you now is Dumbledore's price. The previous Veil was sent into it, along with all its memories, and that in itself was made by another lover who had also once loved and lost. Dumbledore's price was his empathy and his time, which is why the Veil you see is silver in colour. The records only say that the strain of the duel had turned Dumbledore's hair prematurely grey, but that isn't the case. It was the price the Veil had exacted from him for bringing back his lover, and then sending them back to where Dumbledore could have his lover still alive, if incarcerated, rather than gone forever."
The boy ran a reverent hand over the black weave. The patterns were incredibly complex, and yet they appeared so deceptively simple.
"When this is finished, I'll take down the old Veil, and send it through the new one." The boy managed a smile for him. "And your price will be fully paid. You can do anything you'd like then."
He didn't know what to say to that. "Harry," he tried, but the boy suddenly looked distraught.
"Don't call me that!" he hissed, dropping the tapestry back on his desk. "You never liked it before, so don't force yourself to feign it now out of some misbegotten sense of guilt!"
He suddenly realised something that had been bothering him about the boy. "Where's your scar?"
Emerald eyes looked back at him soullessly. "Everything comes at a price, Barty."
He stared at the boy, aghast. It was then that he truly realised just what had been done. He only wanted to be kind to the boy- he knew that now, recognised that feeling within himself.
But the boy could only remembered the pain-filled bittersweet note their relationship had begun on. He had unknowingly turned the boy into the perfect submissive- his perfect submissive, and now that he was coming to terms with who the boy had been and not who he'd made him into, the boy himself was unable to reconcile who he once was to who he thought his lover wanted him to be.
They were stuck in a catch-22.
The boy loved the man he had once been, while he was beginning to love who the boy once was.
It would be easy, he knew, to forget that internal revelation, and revert to the cruelly kind persona he'd had. And yet it still felt like a hoax, like a type of defeat, and it left a rancid taste in his mouth.
The boy was slowly creeping closer on his hands and knees, a look of worry and fright on his face. "Barty?" he whispered. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shout at you. Of course you can do whatever you want. Anything at all, as long as it'll make you happy."
He couldn't help but wonder if the boy would be better off dead. Or perhaps he was the one that deserved death, for destroying-
The name mouthed impishly in the hallway, such a dangerous thing to do, but the boy was always careful that no one could see his true name leave those young lips. Later, when he returned to his private rooms, the boy was already on his bed, eager and awaiting. When the boy caught sight of him, a blinding smile lit up his young face, and he welcomed him with his entire being. Smooth lips caressed his own, even as the boy shyly brought up hands to touch a strong, milk-white neck.
He dove onto the bed atop the boy, causing him to shriek and giggle, rolling around atop the covers as he made the man scrabble after him. Finally he caught the boy, looming over the rosy complexion flush with pleasure and exertion.
"Barty," the boy said reverently, touching his face.
He kissed the young lips, and knew he found a love he'd never thought would last.
The boy's adoration had been so easy to cultivate, so easy to culture, and yet he had found himself almost afraid, even in his animosity, terrified to make the slightest move toward the boy, just because he was so incredibly young. He remembered the first time between them, how it had been an alcove after dark, just two corridors down from the famed entrance of the Chamber of Secrets- the boy had showed him when he'd asked, had been so utterly willing to do anything he asked- and how it had been small hands that had clasped his cheeks and pulled him down for a clumsy little kiss. Ironically, it had been the boy who'd convinced him with his pleading emerald eyes and feather-soft brushes.
"Barty," the boy whispered, fingers clenched tightly in his robes. He had never taken anything more than his shirt off, except for that one mistake- he couldn't bring himself to do that to the boy again, no matter how eager he'd been. It wasn't that the boy was too young; he himself had been so much younger his first time, but there was something about the boymade him precious, brittle like porcelain, and completely untouchable. The boy's ignorance helped, of course; he didn't know what was too fast, what was too slow, just lost himself everytime in kisses upon kisses upon kisses-
Oh, how he adored this boy, would do anything for him, anything that wouldn't contradict his Lord's wishes, but he knew the boy would never ask that of him. The boy was willing to continually give, as much as he had, as much as he could, letting him return the gestures in his own quiet understated way. They worked so well together…
He kissed the boy again, drinking in the flavour of youth and freshness and hope.
As they lay there together in the burgeoning night, he told the boy of better times, of his hopes for the future, of their future. The boy had listened, smiling at the whispered wishes, and pressed closer to him for comfort.
He had been hesitant to ask the boy this question. He was afraid it might give him ideas.
Thankfully, the boy still answered to that name with little, if any, reaction. He turned to him, emerald eyes bright with painful hope.
"What would happen…if you fed the old Veil through the new one, and then we both walked through it together?" The boy had finished with his tapestry just yesterday, and he'd been so terrified that he'd just walk right through without as much as a by-your-leave. He should've known better, though; if anything the boy was expecting him to leave, saw himself as being his burden, which was why he'd been so reluctant to raise the topic in the first place. If the boy somehow got it in his head that his walking through the Veil would make him feel better-
He wouldn't know what he'd do. Follow him, most probably. Death hadn't been that bad the first time. Maybe with his boy-
Green eyes widened at the thought. "I don't know," the boy slowly replied, his plump lips moulding into the sounds of his words. "They've never spoken of it- no one's ever tried."
"It's worth it, don't you think?" he asked, unable to keep the hopeful pleading from leaking into his voice. The boy didn't seem to hear it, though. He just smiled, tentatively, and placed his hands in his lap.
"Of course, if you say so."
The boy obeyed without question, nuzzling into the open palm and crooning deep within his throat. If he squinted hard enough, he could just make out the shadow of the boy he'd fallen in love with. But the boy still remained a shadow; nothing more, nothing less. After all, he had done the unthinkable: he had broken Harry Potter.
Unchanged lips pressed against his own as hair the colour of deepest night pooled in his lap. He gathered the boy to him, sighing at the soft ministrations done to him. Even after everything he'd done, the boy was still no less gentle. One hand gripped the joint between the boy's thigh and his torso. The boy moved into his arms, wrapping himself about his longer chest. He pressed their bodies together, riding his crotch in a hard, rhythmic movement.
Their lovemaking was slow and steady, the heady passion between them cresting like a wave before crashing down on the two of them, leaving them panting for breath on the bed. The boy lay there, trapped underneath by his larger frame and the fact that he couldn't get up without catching his hair under his elbows. He laughed as the boy tried, unsuccessfully, again and again. Finally he just gave up and sank among the sheets, pouting.
He kissed those pouting lips. Their bodies might have been sticky with fluids, but the boy didn't seem to mind.
"Do you want to try?" the boy asked timidly.
"He's out there waiting for me, Starling. Waiting for us."
The boy looked uncertain. "He doesn't want anything to do with me…"
He was getting better at recognising the boy's moods. The boy was testing him, testing his attachment.
Pressing his lips to smooth ones again, he said firmly, "He told me to give you his regards. He is expecting you as much as he is expecting me." He knew he was cheating, but the boy should know better than to ask him to pick a side.
The boy was smiling a little at him, as if he'd always known that would be the answer. Suddenly he rolled over, all long limbs and flying strands and grace, onto his feet beside the bed. For a long moment they stayed frozen in their positions, with him half-off the bed, while the boy was standing tall and erect bare steps away. The only thing that moved was gravity enacting its presence on a glimmering white trail down the inside of his thighs. He couldn't pull his eyes away.
"Come, Barty," the boy breathed, arms open in invitation. "Come to me."
Five years after no one had seen hide or hair of them, Bartemius Crouch Jr. and Harry James Potter reappeared at the Ministry of Magic. Neither of them appeared changed at all since their showing at the conclusion of the Triwizard Tournament, with Barty possessing not even a five o' clock shadow, although if Harry Potter's scar had vanished, no one dared to mention it. They were welcomed by the Dark Lord, who threw a lavish ball in honour of their return. None of Harry Potter's 'friends' survived to see him return, nor did he ask after them. They stayed at the Dark Lord's leisure briefly, just to confer with him, before departing.
The Dark Lord appeared startled.
"I did not intend this for him, Barty."
He bowed his head in acquiescence. "I know, my Lord. But this was unavoidable. This was my own doing, and now I pay for it."
The Dark Lord still seemed to be at a loss. "Through you Potter would have been neutralised as a threat. That would have been sufficient."
He bowed even lower. "I know, my Lord," he said again. "But, as I said-" He raised his arms and shrugged, revealing to his Lord the extent of my hopelessness.
"None of us intended this to happen. I hadn't thought my claws had sunk this deep; I hadn't thought he'd go this far-" He cut his words off with a twist at the end. "And then he played me, just like I taught him. Only it wasn't actually a game; it was real. He was reminding me, in my own way, just what we had. Just what I had lost."
"I did not mean for that to happen, Barty."
Voldemort's voice was quiet, sober. He knew his Lord couldn't apologise, did not ever expect that to happen, and that this was as close as he would ever come. He could accept that. He had to. Otherwise he'd give up entirely.
In the garden, just past the sliding doors, Harry sat dozing beneath a tree in the early summer air, Nagini entwined about his body. His fingers idly scratched her large head, lying on his belly. He didn't seem to mind how she, as a python, was wrapped around his body and could kill him at any given moment if irritated. Knowing Harry, if Nagini was roused into attacking him, he'd probably think he'd deserve it.
Voldemort caught him looking. He smiled weakly at his Lord. "Harry's special like that."
When the boy saw how both he and Voldemort were watching him in the garden, he just smiled and waved.
Word had it that no one knew where they went, but if one thought things through, they weren't really that hard to find. The Dark Lord allowed his protégé use of his Muggle inheritance: the Riddle Manor in Little Hangleton, where Barty could live in almost perfect isolation with Harry Potter. While Barty would sometimes depart the mansion to complete missions for the Dark Lord, Harry was completely dependent on him and would not leave the grounds without his accompaniment. It was better he didn't, anyways; Harry Potter now reminded those who had once known of him of a young Bartemius Crouch Jr., cruelly vicious and liberal with his disciplining. Only when Barty was with him, and sometimes on good days with Voldemort and Nagini, did he revert to his previous nature, all summer-sweet smiles and merry laughter.
He never flew again.
Bellatrix adored the change in Harry, of course, but Barty left him alone as little as possible. His once-stone heart ached every time he looked into emerald eyes that held no trace of the gentle soul Harry was born to be.
One would like to say they lived happily ever after, and perhaps they did, inasmuch as their situation and personalities would allow them. They loved each other, after all.