A/N: Firstly, I have to say that I'm not happy with this chapter. In the future I will hopefully revise it so that it resembles something remotely intelligent, but presently I am simply too busy, and I think that shows in my writing.
IMPORTANT: THIS STORY IS AS OF NOW ON HIATUS. I will be living abroad for the next eleven months without a laptop, so it is unlikely that I will be able to update. This story is not abandoned. You can expect updates again beginning in July 2014.
"To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god."
~ Jorge Luis Borges
"But I didn't understand then. That I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair."
Hadrian had never thought himself a masochist.
He took no pleasure in pain, neither others' nor his own. Instead he relished the texture of vellum beneath his quill, of parchment pages between his fingers as words seeped into the caverns of his imagination. He lived for idle mornings spent reading before the fire and quiet evenings passed across a chessboard from Tom. He cherished the rain, the leaves that changed so subtly with the seasons, and ivory keys, home beneath his hands.
Hadrian Peverell was no masochist; his own pain brought him no joy.
And yet something about Tom Riddle forced him to reconsider. And perhaps all the worrying was for naught, perhaps Hadrian was simply a pedant amusing himself with one-sided debates on semantics.
But perhaps not.
For when Tom smiled at him, with his artfully quirked lips and emotion that didn't quite reach his wine-dark eyes, his smiles sank deep into Hadrian, through the orbs of his eyes and into his innermost depths, and behind his pupils they mutated, evolved into something sinister and unspeakable. Something that tasted of honey but cut like obsidian, that roiled and contorted in the pit of his stomach. And that something chipped away at him, bit by bit, not destroying him, exactly, but indubitably diminishing him so that every time his lips met Tom's, there was something quiet left behind. Like sediment in a bottle of wine.
And sometimes, more often as the weeks wore on, the smiles were genuine. Sometimes they were unconscious and unaffected; secret smiles for Hadrian and Hadrian alone. Sometimes the smiles weren't meant to hurt, weren't intendedto manipulate or pacify or belittle or anything, but were instead involuntary, artless reactions to words softly spoken or the barest of touches.
Those smiles were the most painful; for their innocence, they cut all the deeper.
No, Hadrian was no masochist. But perhaps, for Tom, he could become one.
Everything went to shit on a Tuesday.
It was snowing when they Apparated into the shadows of Knockturn Alley, coins burning hot in their pockets and robes pulled tight about them to ward away the late January frigidity. Several of their ranks slipped as they appeared, the icy cobblestone providing little purchase for the soles of their duelling boots, and Tom wavered, unsteady on his feet, until Hadrian's gloved fingers curled around his arm, steadying him. The half-blood laid his hand atop his Horcrux's briefly in gratitude, turning to press a ghost of a kiss against his neck—it was dark here, in the shadows of the alley—but wasted no time hurrying down the narrow street and toward the shouting he could hear, carried by the wind, from Diagon Alley.
Already, adrenaline pumped in his veins. For Tom, the moments preceding battle were heady, thick with anticipation.
Grindelwald was attacking (and, if the number of fallen men in the blue of the Aurors was any indication, the Dark Lord was winning). The snow fell thickly, not so much in flakes as in clumps, and Tom had to squint as he burst into the foray. The street appeared a blur of purple as Grindelwald's men swarmed, overcoming the Aurors and, all too soon, the Resistance. Within minutes, many of the green-adorned Resistance soldiers had joined the Aurors on the ground.
A frenzied grin unfurled on Tom's lips, and he whirled through the battlefield, disarming and dismembering in equal measure. Long gone were the days when his skill had come solely from books; Tom Riddle was a seasoned soldier, now, a man of war.
It seemed to Tom that Grindelwald's army was a hydra; for every purple-robed wizard that fell, two appeared to take his place. And yet despite the army's apparent immeasurability, as Tom forced his way through the melee, he left in his wake an effective stream of incapacitated (by bonds, bodily harm, or (more often) death) enemy soldiers.
Hadrian was duelling too, of course, several yards away. Tom wasn't watching him per se—his attention was focused on his opponents, but he could feel the vampire, sense him at the edge of his mind and of his soul. And watching Hadrian duel was intoxicating. His wonted grace was sharper in battle, honed to a sanguinary point that sliced and choked and jabbed and killed, and Tom revelled in it, revelled in that it was all his.
As the battle wore on, the two wizards drew closer together until finally they stood duelling back to back, an unbeatable duo from whom Grindelwald's men seemed to shrink like Gryffindors from subtlety.
Tom fought alone. He had always fought alone, and yet somehow Hadrian's presence behind him was neither cumbersome nor irritating, but instead heartening and invigorating. They worked so well together, and Tom reflected that perhaps he had been wrong all these years, to shun company and help, but no. Hadrian was simply different. No other could complement Tom so honestly, and perhaps it was due to their shared soul that Hadrian could sense his attacks and his defensive strategies. He was, thought the half-blood, a good man to have as an ally.
The Slytherin heir dispelled an incoming Cruciatus with a parseltongue shield, one of the few he had to speak. Behind him, he felt Hadrian tense, and it was only then that he remembered the effect which the language of snakes had on other Speakers.
"Careful, Hadrian!" he yelled over the din of the clash, "You mustn't let me distract you, however alluring I might be. Had I known that curses got you all hot and bothered, I would've been sure to use them more often in bed!"
The remark earned him an elbow to the ribs. Tom smirked, feral, and in his euphoria didn't see the sickly green spell arcing toward him until it was too late.
"Fuck, Tom! Look out!" Hadrian's voice seemed distant as time seemed to slow, and Tom stood still, frozen, his laughter frozen in his lungs, the ghost of his smirk still etched on his face. He knew, logically, that he wasn't fast enough to dodge the killing curse. He knew that he didn't have time to summon something to deflect it.
He knew that he probably deserved this, somehow. Perhaps this was the world's way of effecting balance. Maybe Tom had killed too many people to go on living.
Apparently, Hadrian disagreed.
It was easy to forget that his Horcrux wasn't human, sometimes. Sometimes he seemed so small, fragile almost, but as Hadrian pushed him to the ground, he did so with enough force to crack at least one of Tom's ribs, and the half-blood was forced to remember the extent of Hadrian's strength. Tom didn't feel the pain, though.
Or maybe he did. Later, he would tell himself that the pain he felt deep within his chest was due to his broken bones. Later, he would wonder if he might have punctured a lung, such was the extent of his pain. Later, Tom would loath himself for his stupidity, in more ways than one.
It was anticlimactic, almost, how the vampire crumpled when the spell impacted his chest. It seemed such a small reward for his heroic actions, and as he fell to the ground, Tom thought that maybe if the vampire had screamed he would have forgiven him. Maybe if he acted as though dying for Tom was a burden, as though he hated death, Tom wouldn't have cracked.
Because it had been instinctual, almost, how Hadrian moved to save him; it had been altruism at its purist, and all the more vile for it.
Because Tom wasn't worth it.
The half-blood raised himself from the ground on shaking arms, the sounds of the battlefield blurring around him. All he could hear was his anger, hot and red, pulsing in his veins and burning him alive. He crawled, trembling, toward Hadrian's body and, looping a bloodied hand around the vampire's bicep, Apparated out of the melee and into a neighbouring alleyway. The Apparation unbalanced him as it always did, and without Hadrian there to steady him, Tom collapsed to the cold cobblestone.
Beside him, Hadrian groaned. Tom scrambled to his feet, coughing up blood. The vampire lay sprawled across the ground, his green eyes half-lidded with exhaustion and evidently weak but also evidently alive.
"You're alive," Tom stated, and to his horror his voice cracked. He swallowed.
"'Course I am," Hadrian slurred. "'M a vampire, 'member? It'll take more'n a little Avada Kedavra t' off me."
At his sides, Tom's fists clenched. His fingernails carved small lunulae into the flesh of his palms.
"I thought you were dead."
The vampire seemed to sober quickly enough at the remark.
"I did too, for a minute."
Tom burned. All at once he found himself standing above Hadrian's prone form, glaring. "You're not allowed to do that."
Hadrian chuckled, and Tom's anger turned to rage. Couldn't he see? Couldn't he understand that Tom wasn't worth his sacrifice, that Hadrian's life was worth more than any one man's? Couldn't he see that no one should care that much for Tom? He was a freak, damn it, and he didn't deserve this!
"To do what, save your sorry arse?"
"To do so at your own expense." Now, Tom's voice cracked with something different entirely. Hadrian's brows drew together, as if he couldn't discern the source of Tom's ire. "You really don't understand, do you?"
Hadrian clambered to his feet, dusting off his robes. It was an inefficacious gesture, for blood had soaked through the fabric in several places. "No, Tom, I don't. Usually, when someone saves your life, the proper response is 'thank you,' but apparently when I save your life, it's as though I've committed some horrid offence."
Tom turned away, pulling at his hair. Hadrian's eyes had been so cold, he'd been so still, and Tom couldn't—he couldn't—
"I can't lose you!"
Silence rang in the wake of his outburst, and Tom refused to meet Hadrian's eyes. "It's just that—if you died for me, I would never be able to forgive myself. You're—more important to me than you know."
But Hadrian's eyes had narrowed. "I'm not your possession, Tom. I'm a person, with a free will, and if I want to save your life then you can't stop me!"
How could the vampire be this dense? Tom very nearly growled.
"I can bloody well try!" he retorted, and knew instantly that it was the wrong thing to say. Hadrian's cheeks flushed with anger, his nostrils flared, and Tom didn't give a damn, because Hadrian had to understand his worth. Tom would make him understand.
"Why do you care so much anyway? I know you're cold, Tom, but I think I've earned the right to be treated like a fucking person. What am I to you? Am I your fuckbuddy? Your plaything? Your toy?"
"You're my bloody Horcrux!"
The air seemed to grow exponentially colder as neither of them so much as breathed. Hadrian had wilted, the fight gone out of him, and Tom could practically see his brilliant mind working, see him putting the pieces together.
"Your Horcrux." his voice was distant, cold, and Tom felt it like a knife between his already throbbing ribs. "All this time I thought—but it doesn't matter what I thought. Your Horcrux," he muttered to himself, and Tom reached out to take his hand, to tell the vampire that no, that wasn't right, he was so much more than his Horcrux, but Hadrian flinched back from his touch, eyes flinty.
"Don't presume to touch me, Riddle," and the sound of his surname hissed so spitefully by the voice he loved was a slap in Tom's face. "I can't believe the extent of my own stupidity. I gave you—"
"No. Don't lie to me, Tom." and the vampire's voice sounded so damn broken that for a moment Tom wished himself dead. "I don't have time for your lies, not anymore."
And then Tom was standing alone in the alleyway, fingers blue with cold, as the sounds of battle echoed in the distance.
Inside his mind, all was silent.
Bayard was alone in the flat when he heard the sound of knocking. Marius was out somewhere, no doubt amusing himself in one of the Muggle libraries, and so Bayard was making stew.
The problem with living with his cousin was that he never knew how many to cook for, because as often as not, the Moroccan man didn't return to the flat at night at all. It wasn't that he was sleeping around—actually, Bayard suspected that Marius was ignorant of most such carnal matters. No, Marius simply had a tendency to lose track of time, and would sometimes end up wandering the streets of Paris until the wee hours of the morning.
When he was around for dinner, they both ate well. Marius was by far the superior cook of the two, and he'd memorised the recipes for many traditional Moroccan dishes that Bayard had come to adore. Sometimes his cousin returned with baskets of groceries so full that he couldn't even open the door without the aid of his wand.
Still, it was strange for him to knock.
Bayard placed a lid on the stew, and hurried to the door. He dismantled the wards absently, the motions made quick with habit. And yet when he opened the bright red door (Bayard had insisted that a red front door would bring them prosperity, or some such rot, but Bayard had been happy enough to facilitate his cousin's idiosyncrasies), he was greeted not by his cousin but by a rather bedraggled Hadrian Peverell.
He appeared to have arrived on foot, expensive leather shoes splattered with mud, and Bayard could see it in his mind: Hadrian, hurrying down the rain-washed Parisian streets, hands sunken deep into woollen pockets and shoes clacking like a broken metronome against the wet cobblestone. The rain had washed his colours out, leaving him quite pale. Beneath his soiled battle robes, his shirt was drenched, sticking to his skin in lean strokes of translucent white, the barest whisper of pallid skin beneath. Bayard hated himself a little, for staring. But the most pathetic thing about Hadrian's appearance wasn't the state of his habiliments; by far, the most disconcerting aspect was the dead, beaten, bruised quality of his usually vital eyes.
"What happened, mon cher?" Bayard asked, ushering the other wizard inside. He had known Hadrian since the boy was seven, and never had he seen him look quite so desolate. Even when Carina died, Hadrian had put forth a strong, unaffected front. Now, he looked like a veritable corpse. Bayard gestured him to the settee, sitting down beside him and wrapping an arm around him. The boy was stiff, at first, but slowly relaxed into his embrace, burying his face in Bayard's chest and grasping the fabric of his robes. "What's wrong, Hadrian?"
The younger wizard was trembling slightly, whether with cold or with distress Bayard couldn't discern, and when he spoke, his voice shook a little. "You were right."
Dread settled in the frenchman's gut as he tried to recall what the boy was referring to. "About what?"
"About Tom Riddle," he said.
Bayard squeezed his eyes shut, and maybe once he would have felt vindicated by his prediction, but now, with Hadrian in his arms in such a state, the wizard felt no satisfaction.
He pressed a kiss to the top of the younger wizard's head, and swore that Tom Riddle would suffer.
How is it possible to find order in memory? Hadrian wondered as he stared out into the flat, dull grey of the Parisian sky, leaning silently against the window frame. It would be logical to begin at the beginning, methodically, like a pianist playing a concerto. And yet there were a thousand places to start, for there were a thousand memories of Tom Riddle.
Hadrian fingered the tender, pink skin of his left wrist that had, for so long, glistered silver. No longer; now his bracelet decorated another's wrist, where it would remain forevermore. There it would lie, indestructible in a way that Hadrian's heart was not, an eternal reminder of his devotion to one who had manipulated him, used him, broken him.
People break too easily, he thought. So do hearts, and dreams.
After all, this was no concerto. And Hadrian had never been good at following the music anyway; at some point, playing the piano had become playing for Tom, and now he found that he couldn't separate the two completely.
And he wasn't a pianist, not anymore.
No, no one memory was a better place to begin than any other—for perhaps it had started when Tom gave him the Hallow, but no, it had to have been before that—the first time they made love. No, that wasn't it either. It must have started that day in the Three Broomsticks. Or perhaps it was even earlier: the first time they met, at the Gathering. But that still wasn't the beginning, was it?
Perhaps they had been doomed the day two Parselmouths were sorted into Slytherin.
Hadrian leaned his forehead against the cold glass of the window, relished the numbness begat by the chill of the glass pane against the lightening bolt which marred his skin and his soul. He wished the ache in his chest could be so easily anaesthetised. It was his fault, really. He had known that he wouldn't come out of this unscathed, that Tom was dangerous in more ways than his magic. But knowing hadn't stopped him, had it? He had plunged in head first, even if he didn't know it at the time.
With Tom, the world turned too fast, burned too bright, and Hadrian was coming to realise that he had been damned since—well, he had been damned since the beginning.
Hadrian watched as his breath fogged the glass, blurred the blinking lights of the city outside. Dusk was falling, and so was rain; fat drops trickled down the windowpanes, leaving in their wake wet trails like the paths tears leave on the cheeks of the miserable.
Thunder rolled in the distance.
Hadrian didn't regret a moment.