Author's Notes: Written for Taragh McCarthy's Genre Competition on the HPFC forum.
Genre: Urban - Urban fiction, also known as Street lit, is a literary genre set, as the name implies, in a city landscape; however, the genre is as much defined by the race and culture of its characters as the urban setting. The tone for urban fiction is usually dark, focusing on the underside.
Prompt: Word Of Mouth
It was taking time for Tom to adjust to the idea of using that word to describe himself.
He dared not go back to the orphanage so soon after killing his father, his grandparents, and framing his uncle for the murder (oh, it felt delicious to remind himself that he had accomplished that!). He was sure that they would see the murder on him, and while a part of him – the crude, animalistic part – wanted to show it off, he was logical enough to know that if he was caught now, even by the people at his orphanage, it would ruin everything.
So he walked.
It was raining as he wandered the streets of London, near the orphanage. He paused, leaning up against the grimy wall of one of the warehouses that lined the street, and looked around.
The road was very nearly deserted. A few people were walking quickly to get out of the rain, and at a distance was a group of women, crowding beneath an umbrella and discussing something animatedly.
Tom watched them with a wary eye. Those Muggles, whispering – was there a chance that he was the subject of their discussion? They were glancing at him, after all – was it simply because he had no umbrella and was drenching while not betraying any sort of care for it? Or did they know about him? Did they know where he had been; what he had done?
No, even entertaining such a notion was foolish. Word of mouth was did not travel so fast as to bring the news of a triple murder from Little Hangleton all the way to London within hours. Perhaps there had been news of it on the wireless, but Tom doubted it somehow. If his plan had worked – and he had confidence that it had – then the Ministry would be hushing things up very quickly indeed…
So convenient that they were doing his work for him.
Tom looked away from the group with the umbrella, and his eyes fell instead upon a couple hurrying down a back alley to get out of the rain. The woman leaned over and kissed the man on the cheek.
His lip curled. How stupid, how very pitiful and childish they looked. Tom stretched against the brick wall he was leaning against, shifting into a more comfortable position from which to watch them with a delicate sneer. The couple must have been well into their twenties, possibly even older, and here they were, kissing there in the rain like a pair of libidinous teenagers he was so unlucky as to attend school with.
And live with.
A shudder ran quickly down his spine when he reminded himself of the orphanage, and then his lips twitched into a quick, sardonic smirk.
Where are your priorities, Tom?
Here he was. He should have been basking in the glory of committing a murder – and getting away with it – and he was allowing two Muggles who had no sense of discretion to ruin his mood. He should have been ecstatic, doing everything to celebrate what he had accomplished…
And why was he even concerned with them? Why be concerned, when he could kill them now and no one would ever know…
Oh, he reminded himself, but that would be crude. He could not hand out murders indiscriminately – death was something that he should award to those who had earned it from him. Those two shameless Muggles did not deserve the honour of being killed by him…
His hand slipped slowly into the pocket of his jacket to caress the handle of his wand. It had served him so well tonight… His eyes fell shut and his head tipped back against the bricks. Water streamed down his cheeks from the rain, cooling the slight flush that rose over his cheeks as he relived the experience of murder… allowing himself to remember what it had been like–
"What's a young boy like you doing all alone in a place like this?"
At the sound of a woman's voice, close at hand, his eyes snapped open. He raised his head, wiping water from his eyes, mildly irritated at her for disturbing him.
She was a Muggle, obviously enough, standing there in a too-large coat and clutching a carpet bag. Her dark hair was plastered down to her tawny cheeks, and she looked lost, like a child left all alone…
"Do you ask that of everyone you see?" Tom snapped, allowing his irritation to creep into his voice. She had no business speaking to him as though he were a child – why, she wasn't more than a few years older than him.
The woman looked a touch hurt. "No… I don't… I just fancied having someone to talk to."
Oh good God, not one of these types, Tom thought. Now he would have to act as though he cared what was making her so desperate as to want to talk to a stranger – a strange boy wandering London by night without company or protection, no less. He considered turning and leaving immediately, but she might well follow him, the way a dog followed the master who kicked it away.
"I've been down at the station, you see," she said, apparently oblivious to Tom's impatience. But as he pondered whether there was a graceful way to leave, or if it was worth the risk to whip out his wand and stun her and make a run for it, she said something that caught his attention.
"…Waiting for my husband to come back home…"
"Pardon me?" He tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowing. "Was your husband away?"
"Yes, fighting in the war." She sounded proud. "He's a very brave man. But he was supposed to come back on the train today and he wasn't at the station…" She trailed off, a frown creasing her face. "I don't know why."
Tom had a fairly good idea of why. He knew about the war, and about what had happened when men didn't come home. More than likely, the telegraph – that dreaded telegraph that all women left behind were right to fear, the one that told them which hospital their husband was in – simply had not arrived yet.
His hand moved slowly to the handle of his wand once more. Perhaps, he thought, it would be a kindness to bestow death upon this poor woman. Perhaps that would be the decent and moral thing to do… to save her from going home to find that telegraph.
"I know what you're thinking," she said, "but my husband is not dead."
"How can you be sure?" he asked, and his voice was calm.
"Oh, I just am." She nodded her head decisively. "He couldn't die in the war."
Stupid woman. Tom's lip curled derisively and he made no attempt to hide it. Did she really believe that her husband – her Muggle husband, no doubt, if he was fighting in the war – was above death?
"I'm afraid I have to go," he said abruptly, and he turned and walked away before he could draw his wand and give her a lesson in just how vulnerable to death she – and her husband – could be.