Warnings: future SLASH (boy x boy), MAJOR NO-MAGIC!AU (Alternate Universe), possible BLOOD and FAMILY SITUATIONS in future chapters, AGE-GAP RELATIONSHIP(S)
Pairings: TMR/HP, pre-established HG/RW and LL/NL and LE/JP, open to suggestions for other characters
Standard disclaimer applies: I do not own Harry Potter or any brand you recognize in this story. J.K. Rowling is credited with the creation of these characters (I'm not fond of using OCs in my own fanfiction)
The crunch of snow beneath his feet was loud.
Tom stopped, and then he heard it—silence, blessed silence. No cars, no birds, no bustling crowds or crying children or sirens, loud on the streets and loud in his ears. There was none of it now, and had it not been for his already solemn mood, perhaps he would've smiled.
There was no reason to smile now.
Tom stood still, considering the spotless white before him. His boots sunk into the snow, dusted lightly in the white, and he wondered, not for the first time, why he'd stopped. It wasn't hard to start moving again—but why, why couldn't he bring himself to—
Something dropped into the snow. And then again. And again. And again.
Slowly, he pulled his hand from his pocket and reached up to brush his cheek. It was wet.
Tom didn't know how to deal with tears. Oh, he knew what not to do—if he tried to rub them away, tried to rub the horrid salty water from his eyes, only more would come and then the corners of his eyes would become red, his nose would sniffle, and the almost slimy quality of drying tears would be all over his cheeks and hands—
He turned around.
The large double gates of the cemetery stood tall and brooding, solitary and silent.
"I'm free now," he said into the frigid air, and then louder, "I'm free. I've been free, for years. It's my choice whether I want to go back or not. Not any influence of yours, old man. I'm free of you. And you know what else?"
A hard gust of wind blew, shoving into him with an unexpected force, but Tom did not move.
"You didn't accomplish anything. I am, and always have been, Lord Voldemort. I haven't changed—never needed to. All you've done is given me a free pass to do as I please. And I will—but I'm not a fool. You've left some trap for me, haven't you? Well, that's fine. I'll wait. I'm cautious, not hesitant. I'll do as I please," he paused, "I'm free now."
Have been for years.
As if someone was laughing at him, the snow began to fall, cold dust landing on his wet cheeks and red nose, a direct and purposeful, "sure. Whatever. I know you're lying—and I don't care," to the face.
The crunch of the snow beneath his feet was loud as Tom stomped away, leaving footprints in the grainy snow. There was no silence anymore. Not here.
Out of spite, Tom decided to visit the one place he'd not been for nine years.
It was in the bad part of Little Hangleton, where those with malignant intentions or nowhere to go lived. It was where the homeless were shameless, already lost and glassy-eyed, and the crooks and robbers trod unrivaled. Despite this, Tom expected the building—small shack, really—to be relatively untouched from nine years ago. In his mind, no one would dare mess with it; not if they wanted their fingers attached and eyeballs still in their eye sockets.
He was wrong.
When he arrived, Tom almost thought his memory proved faulty, because there was nothing there. He turned to the street sign, deformed and rugged, but the letters on it told him he was where he meant to be. Tom looked this way and that, eyes searching for a familiar landmark—or lack of one—to tell him he was wrong, terribly wrong, but everything else was in place.
Everything else was where it was supposed to be.
Everything but the shack.
The Manor, they'd called it, Tom recalled. Even though it was nothing but a little shack, it'd been something grand in their hearts and minds for those who had nowhere else to go. So it'd been The Manor from the beginning, and still that in his thoughts while living with his two guardians in a real manor.
No one would dare touch it—everyone knew who lived there, and no one wanted to mess with the Death Eaters, who boasted such infamous names as Barty Crouch Jr., the Carrow Siblings, Antonin Dolohov and Thorfinn Rowle—
And the "Demon Child", Lord. Voldemort to his followers, my lord in their affection.
Someone with deadly intelligence, sharpened power, a charisma heavier than dead winter's chill—
And only eleven, Tom remembered. Had it truly been ten years since then?
The Manor no longer stood. It seemed like the only thing that withstood the test of time was his memories—certainly, none of his followers would've let it fall had they still been here. Barty would've been up in arms. Thorfinn would've personally hunted down whoever had done it, not to mention the Carrows would've been able to stop any attempts alone since they were always home if they weren't out on a hunt—
Antonin would've patched everything up, had he been here. Antonin would've fixed everything, so his lord wouldn't have had to see any damages. He wouldn't have let Tom experience the displeasure of being so disrespected.
And it hurt, because they obviously weren't here to do all of those things. Hadn't been here for awhile, clearly. They'd either left, or gotten caught, or… or…
Because Tom hadn't been here to protect them.
Albus must've been laughing at him for the four years he'd been dead. Imagine, Tom thinking he still had a choice, stubbornly clinging to the idea of being able to return to a life he'd been pulled out from, whenever he wanted—while that life ceased to exist.
The people he knew were gone. The place he'd made a sanctuary out of was equally gone with them, and all Tom felt was emptiness in the knowledge of their absence. Eleven had been their glory years. He'd been wrenched out when he was twelve, which meant… five. Five years he'd lived in luxury and forced peace, and then four years he'd spent in that same world without any force behind it.
Nine years away.
He could've come back sooner. Four years sooner.
If he had, would everything still be here?
Tom didn't know. Thinking about it was painful. He was twenty-one now, grown up from that eleven year old Tom Riddle that only had his rough, unpolished strengths to help him survive in an unfair world. He was twenty-one, grown and polished and tamed—and the only similarity he shared with his self of ten years ago was the pattern of losing everything he claimed his own.
I am Lord Voldemort seemed like such a petty thing now.
Unable to bear the sight, Tom turned around and left in some other direction than whence he came. He didn't want to be here anymore—karma, some would say, for the spite he'd stored in his heart for all these years. He wanted to be strong, independent, trusting in only his self and flourishing because of it—but that was a lie.
He felt like scum.
Maybe, in the end, it was true—he'd learned nothing at all from his time with Albus and Gellert. Nothing at all—nothing. Instead of laughing at him from wherever height they watched him from, they were probably crying for his stupidity.
Tom aimed a rough, enraged kick at a lump of snow, sending it flying and momentarily blinding his vision with white.
He ended up on a wooden bridge at the other end of the village. It was at the border, before the dirt road lead to cities and towns so much… bigger than here. It was the road "home," or at least "home" as Tom had known it for the last few years.
It was Christmas. He'd used his vacation hours to get a few more days off, until New Years and past his birthday. Now he might be on the way to returning early, away from the lonely grave and memories of the past to big buildings and a sleek, modern office. He could go back. He would go back.
But it hurt to see what The Manor had become, because he hated Little Hangleton, except for that tiny little shack, and knowing that it'd been taken away—
That he hadn't done anything to stop it—
That he hadn't known—
It hurt, because the idea that he was as bad as the village he hated was humiliating and beating a loud drum solo in his head. The world was spinning, and all Tom could do was bury his face in his hands and wait for it to stop.
Before, when he felt lower than the ground he walked on, when he couldn't breathe and his head ached and he was lonely, Albus and Gellert had been there. A warm, wrinkled hand would be resting on his shoulder and a cup of tea would be waiting in front of him. The seats before the fireplace would be warm and welcoming, and they'd throw a blanket over him and tug him gently forward, putting him into one of the plush chairs, and then proceed to recount tales of their own days of youth over his head, the sound and stories leading him away from whatever miseries weighed his mind.
Because they all were similar. Their stories weren't usually happy, or found some humor in the grimmest of situations. They learned knowledge of the beauty found in contentment and safety, security that most took for granted in the bustling crowds of city life.
People simply couldn't understand them, because most people never lived a day—never mind weeks, months, durations of time unthinkable and inhumane—where their survival came under question, when it was their lives or someone else's, and Tom couldn't stand being around those people. They were soft, in his opinion, and it sickened him how little it would take to crush them in the palm of his hands.
Whenever he voiced those thoughts, the two old men would only smile at him knowingly, as if he still had much to learn, and they too had gone through such a phase, and everything would be okay.
Tom still didn't understand, even though now he spent his days working with such people.
"Sir, are you alright?"
Tom scowled. He looked up, away from the river below, to give a harsh tongue-lashing to whoever had disturbed him, but the insults died away before they'd even made it past his throat when he saw the stranger.
He knew this man.
Those eyes, those low cheekbones—long, pointed nose and ruffled, parted hair—but the usual insanity and rage in his eyes were gone, replaced with a blunt edge and aged look. Tom knew this man, knew him well, knew him like—like—
Like he'd known all his followers. His family.
"…My lord…? Is that—is that you?"
Tom blinked, squinted; tried to make sense of it all, but found he couldn't in the least. Why was he here, what had happened, was everything—everyone—all these questions, and yet he did not know if he truly wanted the answers.
The man's amazed face broke out into a grin Tom well remembered. Barty had always been smiling, even when he was angry, even when he was hurt, even when he was at a disadvantage. It had been his most intimidating aspect, that perpetual grin—it would be insane, or soft, or pleased or excited or forced, all on the same face and Tom remembered liking that nature of it well.
Barty had been his closest. One of his favorites.
And now the man stood here in front of him, and Tom didn't know what to do.
"My lord—I thought I'd never see you again! They took you away, and I—we—we knew—but it was okay, because, well—I'm just so, so grateful to see you again, my lord—and all grown up! You're… you look exactly how we'd thought you'd look—"
Tom's voice cut him off. "Barty."
"My… my lord?"
"The Manor is gone."
Barty paused, and then, shame-faced, he nodded his head. "Yes… A lot of things have happened since then. Some of us are better, some of us are no different. But we all remember you, my lord. We all hoped the best for you. We all hoped—"
"Hoped for what?"
"That we'd never have to see you again," Barty whispered. "Oh, we wanted to see you, but our lives aren't the types of lives you should be living. You were young then. We knew—we knew that when they took you away, you'd be given another chance. And you could take it, because you were young then—you didn't have to end up like us—"
"But what if I wanted to go back?" interrupted Tom. "What if I wanted to go back to that life—"
"No," Barty shook his head vigorously, "You were always meant to be something more. You were born in a bad spot, you saved us, but you were always meant to be more. Please don't say those things, my lord—you're all grown now, aren't you? They took care of you. I can see it with your clothes, by the way you stand. They took care of you—they were good people, in the end. You've got a job now, don't you? A good job. A high-paying job. That's the life you should live. Not in the slums, not surrounded by death, not with blood on your hands and a gun in your jacket—"
"Why?" Tom asked despite himself, "Why do you think this life is better? This life of complacency? This life of social pandering, of suits and ties and company banquets—of a life where no one knows what it feels like to be on either end of a gun, or struggling with keeping a mind sane in the face of destruction? Why is this better? Barty, where is everyone? They're alive, aren't they? I need to—"
"My lord, we'd prefer if you didn't."
"How can you disobey me—"
Barty cut him off, raising his voice. "We've always wanted what was best for you, my lord. You were what kept us together. You were—you were everything to us. None of us could bear it if you ended up with us again, after you've managed to escape… Not everyone can escape this life. You know that—I know you do—" He took a breath.
"Everyone is alive, my lord. We've survived. Some of us are better, some of us are still the same—Abraxas is running a drug cartel, and every so often he helps Evan get out of his usual trouble. Antonin managed to get a minimum wage job. Alecto and Amycus have been moving town to town—we don't know where they are now, but every so often they stop and check in. Thorfinn is still… well, you know how he loves his hunts. And I'm… I've got a job in construction now. I'm out. But not free, my lord, not free like you are. Never. So that's why it's best if… well…
I was lucky today, I suppose," Barty finished, "Lucky because I got to see you. But I don't think it's going to happen again. You're free now—you can't go getting yourself caged again. It might've felt like freedom, but it wasn't. I know you know it wasn't."
"In jail. Stealing, this time, but I'm not sure. He's been in several times. I think he might soon be in for good—who knows what they'll catch him for next time. He's got a, a sidekick, s'pose you could say. Rat-faced man, goes by the name of Peter Pettigrew. No one quite likes him."
Barty continued to talk for awhile, sensing Tom's aversion to the subject of his current life and moving on to everyone else's. He talked and talked, spoke of many things and many stories that he'd been told or experienced since their parting. At some point, it became a balm for him too—and his voice grew enthusiastic as he craved to savor the time they had together.
Tom was mostly silent, but he listened well and clung to every word of his previous acquaintances.
"—And… well. My lord. I'm not sure how to say this, but I'm proud of you, my lord. All of us are. I'm prouder of you than the time you shot Thicknesse in the heart with a single bullet to save me. You've grown up now—and I'm so, so proud… I—"
"You aren't disappointed?"
Barty blinked. "Why would I be?"
"Because the one you saw as a leader, the one you saw with so much potential in him, wielding it like the deadliest poison—the one you respected, loved so well—has grown up into… into…"
Barty seemed to understand. He clapped a hand to Tom's shoulder, shaking it and grinning like a loon as he did it. He treated Tom like a comrade, a true friend, instead of a follower. For some reason, Tom found he preferred it this way.
"How many eleven year olds did I know who could have men—criminals, the most untrustworthy, pathetic lot of them all!—twice, thrice his age bow down to him and vow their loyalty? How many? But the one, my lord! But the one! And how many did I know grow up to be such handsome, fine fellows—fine in the ways of the world, fine in the ways of society, fine still in their beliefs? But the one, my lord! And I'm speaking to him! I can see it in your eyes—you've lost nothing, my lord. Your ways haven't bent to anyone's. And you're alive! You've managed to survive! How can I not be proud of you?"
"I've… lost nothing."
"Nothing at all." Barty cleared his throat, "Well, hm, my lord—I know I've just gotten through telling you that we'd all much prefer it you go and live life to the best that you can instead of surviving it to the best of your abilities, but on behalf of everyone, I find I must say—well, if you ever… run… into any trouble… your most loyal are certain to be able to take care of it for you. Be it in any manner."
Tom's words caught Barty by surprise, and he stumbled, letting go of the bridge's railings and tripping on a loose board. "Pardon?"
Tom chuckled. "You have my thanks, Barty. For all that you are, for all that everyone was. And I think I'll stay in my world for a bit longer, explore it a bit more, before I think about going back to before again."
"That's a relief," Barty muttered under his breath as he sighed. "Well then. If you need it, here's our number. Abraxas has been… taking care of us, so to speak, even the ones of us who are out. He keeps an eye out for us, you see… And I'll be damned if I can't make well enough of my own life to not need it anymore. But ah, here it is. A-and you, my lord, where is it that you are now, actually?"
"…London," Tom replied. "They certainly didn't shirk my education. But I'm determined, nonetheless, to make my own name, rather than use theirs."
Barty grinned. "I'll look forward to seeing your name in the paper one day then. Err, at least, for a good reason, if you please. I'd be mighty upset if you run another Purge with anyone else."
"You'll be the first to know if I plan another," Tom said, waving the piece of paper he'd been given.
"And the first to talk you out of it."
"Hopefully that, yes. Strings have been pulled for me, but it only takes a big enough… event to have the right people release them."
"Ah, then those two—"
A flash of understanding crossed Barty's eyes. "Ah—"
"But they made sure that the "Demon Child" no longer existed. The only one who has evidence now is the new Commissioner. I've met him personally; there'll be no problems if I make no problems, so he said."
"That's—that's good. That's very good."
They both paused, looking out along the path of the river. "So this is goodbye?"
"A farewell," Tom agreed. "Though I don't think you'll be completely able to cut off all contact as you like."
"Antonin would hit me," Barty agreed, "several times."
They shook hands as equals, parting in opposite directions.
Five years later, Tom raised his glass to an empty room.
"It's taken me a long time," he began, "to finally be able to praise you, and thank you for all that you've done, but I suppose you went to your graves expecting that." He took a sip of wine. "I believe this is Gellert's favorite, yes?"
No reply. Silence, but Tom looked satisfied.
"Forgiveness, I believe, is like alcohol. In great doses it comes to mean little, and as such, little sense is left, but in modest, sincere amounts, there is some pleasure to it, and certain occasions do call for its consumption. Not all people appreciate forgiveness—are not able to, in fact, simply because it isn't to their tastes. Some are too proud, some are too distrustful—some have given it up, lost their faith in it. Some say it flippantly, some are unable to say it—some are even addicted to pleading for it.
Forgiveness does not bless all.
But I digress."
Tom looked at the two empty seats before him, arranged purposefully so that none of his other chairs were at the table. "I believe my thanks are long overdue. I also believe your forgiveness has been waiting for my plea for a long time. I didn't understand, then, what you meant when you told me how proud you were of me when I did nothing but bite at the hand of your kindness. And when you told me your only regret was to never see me grow up into a man, to never see me fall in love, to never see me raise children of my own and find my peace there—I didn't understand.
And I'm sorry, Albus. I'm sorry, Gellert.
And I think you understand."
Tom took another sip of wine. "I've met someone who I think I'll fall in love with. Coincidentally, he is the son of James Potter—you remember him, don't you Albus? The rookie police officer you praised—and equally coincidental, he seems to be an embodiment of everything you two valued in a person. He loves, sincerely, unconditionally, and is loved well in return.
You would've liked to meet him, I think. With him, I think I've found my peace—and I'd like to be in love with him, if I can, and I'd like nothing more for him to be in love with me just the same—"
"Because I don't think I know how to love someone properly," he admitted to the silent room, "and I think only Harry would have the patience to show me how. He is a precious friend, a true joy, and you would've probably thought the same.
So I thank you both, ask for your forgiveness and receive it with due respect, because I finally understand now. Simply because people have been nurtured by different types of lives doesn't mean they can care any less than the next—that we are all human, all possess the capacity to love and to cry, to hold dear and to be proud of, is what should be valued.
And I find such things in Harry, just as you had found in each other.
So thank you, for believing in me when I could not believe in myself.
Perhaps we'll meet again, a long time from now, and you can meet this dearest friend of mine."
After he finished saying what he needed to say, Tom let the silence sink in for moments more. He didn't know how long he sat there, but when he opened his eyes again, there was a calmness in his heart that had not been there before. With this in mind, he stood, turned, and then headed for bed.
The glass of wine remained there in the center of the table until the next morning, when he cleaned it and set all of the chairs back to their proper place, and there was no more evidence of the night before in the house other than what lie content in his heart.
Soo... Happy (belated) Thanksgiving to all Americans!
I actually wanted to make this chapter the chapter about the regionals, but then I realized I should also do a back story about Tom otherwise some future stuff is gonna be like a slap in the face and everyone will be asking questions. Also, this builds off of the last cutscene very nicely (that last scene was actually kind of dark, for those that didn't catch it in Cutscene 8X), and we did get some gaming elements then too...
So I thought, hey why not. Some real life drama ain't too bad. And if I ever wanted to write a sequel of The Game, I just built up some back story for it too! Haha. So there. (Don't go expecting a sequel now.)
Umm... yeah so Happy Thanksgiving! Hope everyone is fat and full and thankful (happy Black Friday too)!
Also thanks for your support! We're almost at 700 reviews guys! ^_^~ If you have any questions/concerns/hellos, drop a review or a PM.