Summary: A year after the final battle, select death eaters are given the chance to complete a "redemption program" where they must live without magic for six months under supervision. Harry is assigned to watch over a mysterious dark wizard who has been locked up in a secret cell at the Ministry since the battle. HP/LV.
Author's Note: This story is written for Ralinde's Death Eater Redemption Competition. The Death Eater Redemption program and its conditions are her ideas. The Latin title of this story can be translated as "Comfort for the Wretched". The title is taken from the words of Mephistopheles in Marlowe's play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: "Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris" ("It is a comfort for the wretched to have had company in their anguish"). And yes, I know that Voldemort is not a death eater, but Ralinde kindly allowed me to enter this story anyway.
Rating: M for Harry Potter/Voldemort slash and brief mention of implied child abuse.
In the beginning, there is nothing but anguish.
pain pain pain
pain pain pain
White-hot and blinding, it sears my very soul, tears me to shreds, over and over and over, without cessation on mercy. I want to scream, but I have no voice. The pain fills the whole world, and there is nothing beyond it. All that I am is swallowed up by the terrible fire of this agony.
pain pain pain
But slowly, slowly, slowly something begins to stir in my mind. The anguish is still there, but perhaps it has lessened now, for I begin to grow aware of myself, of my thoughts, of my wounded flesh. I am a man, and these are my limbs, flailing in torment. Words form in my mind, and I recognize that I am the one thinking them: Hurt. I am hurting. I am in pain.
Who am I?
Where am I?
I open my eyes and try to see, but everything is dark around me. Stone. I can smell stone now, damp and cold and ancient, and I am aware of cold metal pressing against my burning wrists. Shackled? Yes, I am shackled. Imprisoned. I must be a prisoner somewhere, trapped behind walls of stone. But where? And why?
I listen, and after a while, I begin to hear distant voices, faint footsteps. There must be others nearby, men who can talk and walk. I raise my voice and try to call out to them, but it takes a long time before my voice comes back to me. But then it happens, and a scream tears itself from my throat.
I hear footsteps now, running, and a distant voice shouts in the darkness: "It's him... He is stirring." I hear the clicking of a metal lock, and a door creaks open. A shaft of yellow light falls into the darkened room, and I close my eyes against the piercing brilliance.
When I open my eyes again, I find myself lying on a cot, shackled to the wall. Two men in dark robes are standing over me, and they shine a light in my face. The light, a softer glow this time, appears to come from a thin wooden stick that one of them is holding.
I gaze at them. One of them is small and pale and ferrety, and the other tall and dark-skinned. The pale man trembles as he looks into my face. "He is still alive, then," he whispers. "Oh, Merlin - he's alive! What shall we do with him, sir? Try to kill him?"
The other man looks at me for a long time. Then he says: "We do not kill, except in battle. We will send him to the program, of course, like all the others."
The pale man gasps. "Him? You can't be serious, Minister Shacklebolt. The rehabilitation program was meant for the death eaters, not for him."
The man named Shacklebolt studies my face. "I know what the program was meant for, Cattermole. I was the one who founded it. I believed in Dumbledore's idea of redemption then, and I believe in it now."
Cattermole falters: "But he is... He is..." He shrinks back when I meet his gaze. I feel a surge of dark joy welling in my heart when I see the expression in his eyes. I must be someone. I must be powerful, if this man fears me this much.
"That's the thing, Cattermole." The man called Shacklebolt speaks calmly. "I am not precisely sure what he is. He was the Dark Lord until the moment when his own killing curse struck him. But who was he when he began to stir in the crypt three days later? Who is he now, when he has lain shackled and senseless in this cell for a year, alone with his anguished dreams? Who is he now, when every shred of magic has left him? You can see the change that has come over him; he appears more human in form now. Look at his eyes and his face - he has the appearance of a man. Which part of him was destroyed by the killing curse, and which part was spared?" He shakes his head slowly. "Did the curse destroy the monster and spare the man? Or is he still a monster? I simply do not know. But I do know this, Cattermole: I believe in the program, and in the power of redemption."
Cattermole trembles slightly. "Redemption? Perhaps for the others, yes. For the followers, the ones like the Malfoys and Runcorn and Crabbe and Nott... But there can be no redemption for him, sir. He is still dangerous and full of deceit, make no mistake about it."
"He has no magic any more," says the other man quietly. "I took that from him myself. We didn't do that to any of the others - it causes too much pain, both physical and mental. Some say that it is worse than the Cruciatus curse. But I had to do it to him, or we could not risk letting him live. The others were not as dangerous; we simply took their wands, with the promise that they would get them back if they complete the program." A sight smile brushes over his dark, handsome face. "Even your colleague Runcorn appears to have adjusted to Muggle life; he has almost completed the program. He will get his wand back next month. I trust that you will find him a changed man - and if not, I want to know about it."
It takes a while for me to understand the meaning of what he says. Magic? I had magic, and he took it from me? That was the pain? Shacklebolt must have seen the hatred flare in my eyes, for he turns his glance away from me.
Cattermole peers at me, still half terrified by the looks of him. "But the others had Muggle mentors who looked after them, and wizards who guarded them. No one will want to watch over him..."
Shacklebolt looks at me again, and there is something in his dark eyes I do not understand. It is not fear; it seems more like a strange sadness. "Yes," he says finally. "I know one who will."
"Who?" Cattermole's eyes are large in the dim light of the cell.
Shacklebolt smiles. "Harry, of course."
A few days later, when the last remnants of my physical agony have left me, a young man comes into my cell. Something stirs in my heart when I see him; it is almost as if I remember. Perhaps I knew him once? He is little more than a boy, thin, with unruly dark hair and curiously luminous eyes. His eyes are a brilliant, almost otherworldly green. Green as magic, green as death...
They boy looks at me without fear, and he sits down next to me on my cot. "Do you remember me?" he asks softly.
I think about it for a moment. Then I say, my voice thick and rusty from not speaking for so long: "No. Except perhaps your eyes. I think I may remember you eyes."
He studies my face. "And do you remember who you are?"
I shake my head. "No. But I have heard enough that I understand that I was once a great wizard, and that my magic was taken from me."
He regards me with his unsettling green gaze. "You were a great wizard, but you chose to do great evil. You caused terrible devastation in the world, and many suffered at your hands. You tried to make yourself immortal, but you failed."
I raise my head. "How did I try to make myself immortal?" I try to make my voice sound neutral, uninterested.
He stares gravely at me. "By destroying your own soul. You committed murders and splintered your soul, until you became something less than human. You had hidden pieces of your soul in objects that were precious to you, but my friends and I destroyed them all. In the end, you tried to kill me, but your killing curse rebounded and hit you instead. Everyone still thinks you are dead; the Ministry did not reveal to the public that you somehow survived the curse as well. And now Kingsley Shacklebolt - that's the Minister - wants to give you a choice, the same choice he has given those of your followers who survived: You can either stay imprisoned for life, or you can take part in his experiment. If you choose the experiment, you will have to live a normal life without magic for half a year. You will try to learn to be human again. At the end of that time, the Ministry will hold a hearing and decide whether there is any hope of redemption for you."
"I have no magic any more, unlike these other wizards in his experiment." I feel the anger flare through me. "He took it away from me, and the pain of it almost killed me. I wish it had."
"You wish for death?" There is a curious expression in the boy's eyes now. "Perhaps you have changed then, after all." His voice is a whisper.
"What do you have to do with any of this?" I ask. "You say I tried to kill you. So why are you here now, talking to me?"
He draws a deep breath. "Because," he says simply, "I am the one you will be living with. If you choose to leave this cell, I mean."
"Why?" What the boy is saying makes no sense. Why would he agree to something like that? He is trying to trick me, isn't he? But there is no deceit in his eyes.
He brushes his hair awkwardly away from his forehead, and I can see a jagged scar there. A jolt of recognition sears through me for just an instant, and then it is gone. "Because you gave me this scar once," he says. "Because you made me into one of your horcruxes."
"Horcruxes?" There is something familiar about the word. Something sweet, like a dark secret.
He leans forward. "A splinter of your soul lived in me, for years and years. It was destroyed when you fired the killing curse at me for the second time. But I feel... I feel that I know you, Tom. I know you like no one else ever will, because we were once one... I can't feel your thoughts any more, as I used to, but there is still a strange bond between us. If anyone can help you become human again, it's me."
He pauses for a moment, then reaches out with a trembling hand, as if to touch my face. "You are beginning to look more like Tom again now," he says softly.
I jerk my head away, and his hand falls limply by his side. He sits in awkward silence for a moment, and then he says: "So what will it be, Tom? This cell, or a cottage by the sea?"
I look at the strange boy who claims that we once shared a soul, and a hesitant memory shapes itself in my mind, a faint whisper of something that once was... Do I remember being a part of him? Yes, I must, for there is something about him that tugs at my heart.
And he must feel it too; there must be something left of this magical bond between us, since he offers to help me out of this cell. What a naive fool the Minister is, assigning him to guard over me! I can feel a plan forming itself in my mind. There is something that binds us together still, this boy and me, and from the way the Minister spoke of him, he seems to be a powerful magician. Perhaps, if I play my cards very carefully, I will succeed in winning him over to my side. And then he will help me find a way to restore my lost magic.
I meet the luminous green gaze. "The cottage by the sea," I whisper. "Please..."
The small shell-studded cottage stands by itself near the windswept coast. The remote location suits me; I have no desire to see anyone except the boy. The boy draws a wooden stick from his pocket as we are about to enter the cottage, and he whispers some words in an alien tongue as he draws a circle in the air. I understand at once that the words are meant to protect the cottage from anyone entering, but that they also have the power to keep me from leaving. Wand, I remember suddenly. The stick in his hand is a wand. I had one of those once. I wonder what happened to my wand.
The cottage is small and plain, but not unpleasant. There is a small sitting room with a view of the sea, a few simple bedrooms, and a surprisingly spacious kitchen.
The boy nods in the direction of the stove. "This is where we will be cooking our food. Fleur, who usually lives here with her husband, does not believe in using magic in the kitchen; she says it taints the flavors of the food. So this is a Muggle kitchen. I don't suppose you know how to cook?"
He grins. "Somehow, I didn't think so. I can cook for us in the beginning. You should learn, though. There are all sorts of cookbooks here." He indicates a wooden bookshelf brimming with old leather-bound books. "They have instructions for how to cook things, I think. I never use cookbooks myself; I just throw things together."
I pull one of the books off the shelf and turn the yellowed pages. The text is in French, and the instructions are precise and detailed, although the language seems unnecessarily florid. Perhaps I once followed instructions much like these to make... potions? Yes, potions. I think I must have been very clever at potions.
"I believe I can follow these instructions," I say, and the boy smiles at me.
"Knock yourself out, then!" he says. "All the ingredients you will need are here in the fridge and the pantry. I'm going to go and floo someone."
Floo? The word sounds familiar, but I don't remember what it is. I don't want to show him my ignorance, so I busy myself with gathering the ingredients I will need for our supper. I will make an omelette basquaise; that looks easy enough.
After a few moments, I can hear the boy talking to someone in the living room, and I peek quietly though the half-open door. He is talking to someone... in the fireplace? Yes, somehow it makes sense to do that. I recognize Shacklebolt's voice, and I understand that the boy is giving a report about me. There are magical wards in place to ensure the boy's safety and to keep me from escaping. But I have no intention of escaping; I need to stay here and get to know the green-eyed boy. I listen for a few moments, but it is not particularly interesting, so I turn back to the book of instructions.
Separating eggs is difficult; it takes me several attempts to get it right. Whisking egg whites until they are stiff takes a surprisingly long time, and my wrist begins to ache before I finally achieve the desired result: Stiff glossy peaks of white form in the bowl, and I feel a small flicker of joy at my accomplishment. I fold the egg whites gently into the egg yolks; the instructions warn in eloquent French of dire consequences if too much force is used.
There is another voice coming from the living room now, a girl's voice this time. It sounds as if she is complaining about something. "No, Ginny," the boy says. "I can't tell you where I am or what I'll be doing for the next six months. It's better that you don't know, trust me. Yes, I know that it's a long time to be apart, but I have something important to do. No, you can't visit me."
I should hope not, I think to myself. I need these six months alone with the boy who was once my soul.
There is a wine cabinet in the kitchen, and I browse the bottles curiously. Our absent hosts have passable tastes in wine, although there is nothing very expensive or spectacular in their collection. I appear to have some knowledge of wines. I select a Beaujolais that seems to hold some promise; a vague memory tells me that the Moulin-à-Vent wines are superior to their rather uninteresting neighbors. I open the bottle and pour two glasses.
"Was that your girlfriend?" I ask the boy casually as I put the two plates on the kitchen table a little later. "The one you were speaking to before, in the fireplace?"
The boy nods briefly and looks at the omelette in front of him in surprise. "How did you do that? This looks perfect! I've tried making omelettes before, but they just turn into scrambled eggs."
"The secret to a perfect omelette," I say gravely, "is patience. If you rush it, you will destroy its soul."
"What?" He looks startled, and I feel myself smiling.
"I am merely telling you what the book said."
He laughs then. "You know, I think I can imagine Fleur's cookbooks saying precisely that." He takes a bite of his omelette, and his eyes widen in surprise. "But... But this is wonderful! Perhaps you have hidden talents, Tom!"
I take a bite of my own food as well. It tastes good, and I realize that I am very hungry. They must have kept me nourished somehow while I was in my cell, perhaps by magic, but I do not think I have eaten for a very long time.
We eat our simple meal and sip at our wine. The wine makes the boy talkative, as I hoped it would. I ask him a few delicate questions, and before long, he tells me the entire story of the two of us. I listen attentively, and as the story unfolds, my memories begin to return to me, and I feel my heart grow heavy under their weight. Yes, I recall the graveyard in the mist, and my followers arriving, gazing at me with fear and adoration... I remember the shifty man with the pale skin and the hooked nose, the one I never quite trusted... And I remember him. The boy.
"Harry," I speak his name slowly. "Yes, I remember you now, Harry. But I never knew you were my horcrux..."
I open another bottle of wine, and he keeps talking. I begin talking too, helping him fill in the details of the story of our curiously intertwined souls. What a strange and twisted tale it is! Night falls, and Harry lights a few candles. Their flickering light falls warm and golden over his face, and I wonder to myself how I could have been so terribly blind to the bond that once existed between us. I can almost feel it, even now.
When he has told me the entire story, he sits silently for a moment and stares into the flames of the candles. "How odd," he says quietly, "that it should feel so easy to talk to you. I have tried talking to others about everything that happened, but they don't really understand. No one does, not even Ginny. She doesn't want to talk about the past any more."
He nods. "The one your shadow self tried to kill in the Chamber of Secrets." He is silent for a moment. Then he says: "Did you ever have a girlfriend, Tom?"
"Or..." A slight blush brushes over his face now. "Or a boyfriend?"
I shake my head. "No. I dislike being touched."
He ponders this for a moment. Then a small chuckle escapes him. "Yes, that was the impression I got when we met each other in front of the Mirror of Erised..."
I recall Quirrell's crumbling body, falling to pieces at the slight touch of a small child's skin, and a sudden surprising desire to laugh wells up in me. I try to suppress it, but the laughter bubbles up in me. Harry is startled at first, but then he begins to laugh as well, giggling as helplessly as I do. We laugh and laugh, and the knowledge that no one but the two of us would ever find his joke even remotely funny, makes me feel... Pleased? Warm? Whole? No, I can't find a word for it.
Perhaps, I think to myself, when I get my magic back, I shall make this boy into my horcrux all over again... Yes, I think I should like to do so.
My bedroom is right next to his, up under the eaves of the cottage. I wash my face and hands as I get ready for bed, and I look curiously into the little silver-framed mirror that hangs over my wash-basin. The face in the mirror is only half-familiar: Silver-grey eyes fringed by dark lashes, pale skin, a full mouth, dark curls... I look to be around thirty years old, or maybe forty. I realize with a start that my face still has some beauty to it.
I was beautiful when I was a boy, and I recall now how much I hated that accursed beauty. People always want to touch what is beautiful, and I was no exception. I tried to hide from them, but they always found me: The old caretaker at the orphanage, the gardener, a few of the older boys... "Come here," they would always say, pulling me down on their laps. "Sit with me for a little while..." And then they would caress me and stroke me until their breaths became rapid and shallow, and their hands more insistent... I shudder at the memory. After a while I learned to hurt them, the people who touched me. Perhaps I thought everything would be different at Hogwarts, but it wasn't. Not really. I was better at magic than most, so I managed to keep the older boys at arm's length, but Slughorn would always find me, and he would always rest his hand on my arm, on my shoulder, around my waist...
The first thing I did when I became the Dark Lord was to change my face. Oh, the joy of looking into the mirror and seeing the crimson eyes staring back at me, and my once so lovely features twisted into monstrous shapes! I loved watching others cringe in fear when they saw me. They shrank back at the very sight of my face, and no one dared to touch me ever again.
I study my face in the mirror now. Why did they give me my human face back when they took my magic? I don't want it. Surely, there must be a way to change my face back, even without magic? Perhaps I will give myself scars with a kitchen knife, to rid myself of this unwelcome beauty. Yes, I think I will. I scratch tentatively at my pale skin with my fingernails.
I hear the boy stirring in the next room, and I change my mind. Perhaps he will be frightened of me if I change too much. He seems to like my face like this. I recall him almost touching me in my prison cell. For some reason, the thought of him wanting to touch me doesn't seem as disturbing as I would have expected. It must be because he was once my horcrux. I gaze at my face in the mirror, and I imagine his strong, brown hands brushing over my pale skin. I feel no disgust or anger at the thought, just a strange whisper of sweetness, similar to the feeling I had the first time I rested my cheek against Slytherin's locket. Perhaps, if he ever tries to touch my face again, I shall let him, just for a brief moment.
We talk a great deal in the days and weeks that follow, and the talking is surprisingly pleasant. We go for long walks together along the deserted beach in the mornings, gathering shells and looking out over the water. In the evenings, after we eat the increasingly elaborate meals I cook, we sit in front of our driftwood fire in the little cottage. Harry laughs easily, and I find myself trying to think of witty things to say, just to make him laugh.
Sometimes he laughs at me, which I don't like at all in the beginning, but Harry is quick to remind me that I laugh at him, too.
"I didn't laugh at you," I point out, still half annoyed, "but rather at your disastrous attempt at making a mushroom soufflé. If that is what that dish was actually supposed to be."
Harry smiles. "Yes, I did make a mess of the soufflé, didn't I?"
"Make a mess of it? That's an understatement. You destroyed its soul, Harry."
He giggles and stretches out comfortably in front of the fire. "Well, I didn't laugh at you earlier today either, but rather at your fear of water. If I had only known that the Dark Lord didn't know how to swim, I could have defeated you a lot sooner. All this time, I was studying complicated spells and charms and magic to learn how to vanquish you, when I could just have shoved you into the lake!" The thought seems to amuse him.
"Well, I never learned how to swim." My annoyance disappears when I see the glitter in his green eyes. "Perhaps you should teach me."
"All right!" He accepts the challenge at once. "Well, except..."
He hesitates. "Well, I would have to hold on to you while you are practicing the strokes, and I know you don't like to be touched."
"Oh." I look into the flickering flames, and I feel my cheeks grow warm. "I think I can learn to tolerate that."
I float in the chilly water, and his arms are strong and warm around my waist. I move my arms and legs as he has shown me, and it is not as difficult as I imagined. It feels almost like flying.
Suddenly, he lets go, and I feel myself beginning to sink. But his voice is calling to me, from somewhere far away, and it says: Swim, Tom, swim!
And then, miraculously, I am swimming. I glide through the cold water, and a feeling of exhilaration surges through me. I am swimming! I move in a great circle and end up back where Harry is standing, watching me with shining eyes.
"You did it, Tom!" He pulls me up to my feet and gives me a quick hug. "You did it!" But then a sudden blush creeps over his face, and he lets go of me. "Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to do that."
"It's all right," I say quickly, my breath still coming in quick gasps. He is pulling away from me, but I put my hands on his shoulders and pull him closer. I can feel his breath against my face now, and it sends a shiver down my spine. I lean forward and kiss him, quickly and clumsily, on the mouth.
He stands completely still, petrified. Then, after a long moment, he whispers: "Why did you do that, Tom?"
I don't know what to say, but he seems to expect an answer. Finally, I say: "That was for teaching me how to swim." And for being my horcrux, I think to myself, but I don't say it out loud.
He smiles a little at that, but he still refuses to meet my glance. "I'm sorry," I say softly. "I shouldn't have done that. Besides, I didn't do it very well, did I?"
Harry is laughing again now, and I am relieved to see the familiar sparkle in his eyes. "Well, no. It was a rather terrible kiss, actually. Yet another thing the Dark Lord never learned to do properly."
"I don't suppose... I don't suppose you will want to teach me-?" I try to make my voice sound casual, but I am afraid that there is a tremor to it that betrays me.
Harry gazes at me for a long time. Then he brushes my cheek lightly with his hand and whispers: "I suppose I could." The touch of his lips against mine is soft as a breath of wind.
"More." I breathe the word against his mouth, and he kisses me again and again, until the world is spinning around me. I cling to him as if he were a rock and I were a man drowning.
I do not sleep in my own bed that night, but in his. We kiss each other, again and again, until our breaths turn to moans and our hands tear at the clothes that separate us. I am a clumsy lover, and he is little better, but the pleasure of being one with him is so intense that none of that matters. It feels as if my very being is on fire, and I cannot stop gazing at him, at the beauty of him as he comes in my arms. I come over and over, in his mouth, in his hair, in his hand, and buried deep inside his flesh. We are one, wondrously, achingly one. How wrong I was, to believe that he was no longer my horcrux! For I recognize my soul, quite clearly, when I look into his green eyes.
"You are a quick learner, Tom," he whispers afterwards. He lies quite still, with his arms wrapped tightly around me, his skin warm against mine.
I kiss him on the mouth. "So are you, love. We should have done this much sooner. If I had only known that you are my horcrux-"
I can feel him smiling into the kiss. "Were your horcrux, Tom. I'm not any more, remember?"
I trace the outline of his face with my finger. "But I think you are, Harry. You are still my horcrux, in spite of any bizarre visions you may have had about Dumbledore at a train station... I can feel it. In here." I place his hand against my heart.
Harry looks at me curiously. "Why do you think I am still your horcrux, Tom?"
"Well..." I try to explain it to him. "First of all, I feel that you are mine. I don't like it when you floo with that girlfriend of yours, at all. When you talk to her, it feels as if she is trying to take away something that belongs to me."
"I see." Harry seems to be smiling now. "Anything else?"
I think about it. "Your touch is very pleasurable to me, and I find myself craving it all the time." I brush my hand over his chest, and he makes a delightful little breathy sound. "And I don't want you to leave me, ever. I want to stay here with you for all eternity, even after I have my magic back."
"You were hoping to get your magic back?" Harry's eyes grow wide in the shadowy room. "That's impossible, Tom. Once your magic is gone, it is gone."
"But I have it back," I whisper. "I can feel it singing in my veins now; it feels like fire and ice all at once. What could that be, but magic?"
He smiles and kisses me softly on the lips. "A different sort of magic, Tom. A magic that is just you and me."
I stare at him. "So this is not my old magic? And you... You are not my horcrux any more either?"
He wraps his arms around me. "No, Tom. I'm not your horcrux. But I am your soul."
I brush my fingers over his warm skin. "Not my horcrux, but my soul?" I think about it for a moment. Then I kiss his soft, perpetually messy hair. "I think I can live with that... As long as you will stay with me, always."
"Always," he breathes, and I feel a rush of magic surge through my veins.
Our magic. Solamen miseris.