In which, in a fit of PTSD triggered by an adorably competitive and angry antichrist, Lily murders snake, Lily rediscovers that life is a meaningless charade and free will only a comforting illusion, and a young Tom Riddle considers the terrifying possibility that not only is he not alone but that perhaps he is outmatched.
"You know, you brought this on yourself," Lily said as she looked over at the opposite wall in her new tiny orphanage bedroom where, for at least five hours, the equally tiny Tom Riddle had been stuck with invisible bindings. He said nothing to this, couldn't, given that Lily had stolen his voice hours ago. However, he did wriggle ominously and mouth some rather dirty words for a ten-year-old boy.
With the Dursleys, certainly, Lily would never have gotten away with what he was silently screaming at her. Then again, Lily couldn't get away with saying the word 'magic' so the Dursleys had an infamously low bar as far as dirty words went.
More, it said a lot, Lily thought, that even with the morning light sneaking into the room, even half-dressed and with dark haggard circles under his eyes, he could still glare so ferociously for hours on end.
Even when she'd turned her back to him in the middle of the night, forced herself to stare at the off-white wall and try not to think of times yet to come and times gone, she could feel his eyes against the skin of her neck like the ghost of a tip of a blade.
Now, hours later, Lily, with a thought and a casual hand motion, returned his voice to him. He immediately took advantage of this to hiss at her, eyes burning and wriggling harder as if the movement, his concentration, and will alone would be enough to free him, "You will regret this, witch!"
"One cannot impersonate the antichrist," Lily said with an air of wisdom, looking away from him to instead stare out the window, at the bleak view of an unfamiliar London stretching before her, painted flat in that gray early morning light, "And expect to be taken seriously, especially when one's elders and betters are not in the mood for such melodramatic bullshit."
To be honest, Lily wasn't sure she'd ever be in the mood again if she ever had been to begin with.
He seemed beyond reason, his voice hoarse from silent screaming throughout the night even as he cried out, "I will kill you!"
"Yes, you said that already," Lily noted, her own voice quiet and distant. He'd made sure to repeat it, scream it loudly in the dark before Lily had thought to just shut him up and then mouth it over and over until Lily hadn't seen any point in looking at him anymore.
And, she'd note, there was some bitter irony in that he would more than live up to that promise. In one capacity or another, Tom Marvolo Riddle would kill her more than any other being would dare to try.
A day and a morning in, Lily thought, and she was almost drowning in the unspoken, bitter, irony. How had Wizard Lenin stomached it? No, he hadn't, had chosen not to. How had Wizard Trotsky stomached it?
"Hey, look at me!" he commanded, the words almost echoing, if not against the wall then against his will and hers, trying to find some crack or some weakness in the walls that guarded her mind and her heart.
For that alone Lily didn't want to look didn't want to indulge him. Couldn't bring herself to no matter that she was doing all of this for him. No, for that fact alone, she didn't want to do it. Couldn't just… humor him like that.
Even after hours of sleeping, she was still so damn tired.
"I said look at me!"
Lily sighed, spared one last glance towards the world outside her window, towards her own rather miserable reflection inside the glass, then turned back around to Tom Riddle and without further ado finally dropped him from the wall.
He fell to the floor in a heap, brushing himself off and glaring, doing his best to look as if he wasn't out of sorts at all and had this all perfectly under control. Like he'd meant to go and stick himself to a wall all night and if he was there it was only to humor Lily and make her feel as if she was important.
Finally, with a sneer, and crossing his arms as if that alone was the only thing keeping him from crossing the room and throttling her with his tiny fingers, he asked, "So, Mrs. Cole gave you the empty bed then?"
"It seems like it," Lily said. He hadn't asked about it the night before. No, Lily had just woken up to the sight of him leering over her with affront, rage, and sadistic glee written all over his tiny pale aristocratic features. That, of course, was when he ended up being stuck to the wall the whole night.
He snorted, pouted, then said, "She's never given anyone that bed, well, not since the beginning. They've all learned their lesson about that. Or at least, I thought she had. She must really loathe you."
This last was said with an oddly speculative gleam in his large pale eyes, as if the morning was helping him see at least part of Lily in a new light, or else from a different angle than yesterday when she'd had the gall to sit at his table.
"I think she believes we deserve each other," Lily noted rather drily.
Lily may have convinced the matron to do her bidding, but she'd probably been subconsciously yanked around so many times by baby Wizard Lenin that her subconscious was now trying to get rid of Lily the easiest way possible. Which, in her head, was probably watching Lily and Tom Riddle eat each other alive behind closed doors.
"Deserve each other," he said dully, giving her a flat unimpressed look, like he was trying decide if anyone could truly deserved to be in his presence.
"You don't think so?" Lily asked, tilting her head to get a better look at him. He really was such a tiny ball of rage. Granted, as an adult she supposed both Wizard Lenin and Wizard Trotsky and perhaps even the original were all just bigger balls of rage that expressed themselves in different ways, but when he was compressed like this it was just so much more evident and almost odd looking.
Like along with his head and his too large eyes, his body had yet to grow into the all-consuming rage he held in his soul. It gave him this sort of wet angry kitten type look that just… Well, one did not use those words to describe Wizard Lenin.
"Who do you think you are?" he asked instead, to which Lily blinked, mind wandering down the philosophic avenues of that question that he no doubt hadn't really intended.
Who did she think she was? Who did the world think she was and who did she think she was beneath all of that? What did he see when he looked at her, even now, no especially now when he didn't truly know her at all?
"I'm not sure," she finally said, "I've… been having a more difficult time than you'd expect with that sort of question recently."
That wasn't the answer he expected or wanted if his unamused look was anything to go by or his flat, "What?"
"It's not an easy question," Lily mused, "Who are you? Think about it, for a moment. It's not just a name, not just what you want to be or wish you were, but something far beneath all of that. Beneath everything you thought you were, everything people tell you that you are, even beneath all the memories shoved in your head that might not belong to you at all. And who do I think I am… I, I can't say I know anymore, if I'm being honest. Perhaps I never really did."
Perhaps, at the heart of things, no one did.
Lily, now staring past little Tom and at the wall behind his head, wasn't sure that she liked being honest with herself anymore. It was… a stark and cold thing, honesty, far more blunt and cruel than she had ever given it credit for.
"You're a little touched in the head, aren't you?" Tom Riddle finally said, and there, there was something of Wizard Lenin in his expression, that uncontained dubious disbelief that widened his eyes and stretched his dark eyebrows up his forehead as if he could no longer contain them.
All she could do was grin in hopeless nostalgia and say, "Perhaps, but then, who do you think you are?"
The eyebrows were lowered, unamused once again, as he huffed, "I'm Tom Marvolo Riddle, and whatever I am, whatever you are, I'm worth ten-thousand times more than that."
She just blinked, took in the certainty of him saying that, the way he almost glowed with confidence and said, "I wish I could answer that question so easily."
He sneered, an apparent automatic response of his, and then sat back down on his bed, observing her with narrowed blue eyes. Finally, he said, "You're like me though, not as good obviously but… I didn't think there was anyone like me."
"It's a big world," Lily said with a shrug and a wave of her hand, as if to dismiss his words, "And you live in a tiny orphanage."
He didn't seem to like the idea of that if his expression was anything to go by, and as each silent second passed by, he seemed to like that idea even less. Finally, he said slowly, "So, there are more out there after all."
Lily opened her mouth then closed it, wondering if now was a good time that there were plenty here in London, but they were all just ignoring Tom and others like him until he was conveniently eleven and age appropriate for Hogwarts. Somehow, that didn't seem like something Wizard Lenin, Wizard Trotsky, or especially this tiny prototype of them both, would take well.
So, she just said, motioning to herself, "Well, there's only one me."
He just looked at her, stared for a moment, then said, "I don't like you. It's a pity, the only other person I've met… And you're just so presumptuous, I think I might hate you more just because of that! I really am going to have to teach you a lesson. Worse than I taught Billy Stubbs with his stupid bunny, or even Amy and Dennis!"
"Oh, dear lord," Lily said, rubbing at her head and feeling a headache come on and all that exhaustion of the previous night coming back, "Please don't, I've had a really long…"
This only seemed to spur him on further. He stood, hands balled at his sides, glass on the window rattling and the furniture shaking beneath his rage-filled magic, "You think you can just walk in here and sleep in my room and sit at my table just because you have… You have some, some small portion, of what I have! Like that makes you equal!"
"Look, Le… Tom, I'm really not…" she started but oh, he was in no mood to listen to her talk as he stalked closer, shadows rising behind him.
"No, you're really not," Tom hissed, voice oddly warped as his grin grew too wide and too jagged, "And I'll prove to you that you're really not! Show you that you're only better than them because I let you be better than them!"
This was said with a point towards the window, towards the men outside in London's east side beginning to go to work in the morning, worn and impoverished and rough around the edges. As if only Tom Riddle's passing attention, his momentary interest, made her even slightly worthier than them.
Lily said nothing to this, just followed his finger to the view outside, to a London so very unfamiliar to her. Suddenly, she realized that she didn't have to do this, she didn't have to stand here and do this at all. Then, without another word, she stepped out of the room and into the hallway, conjuring a less scratchy sweater for herself out of nothing and stepping down the stairs even as Tom Riddle poked his head out after her.
"Where do you think you're going?!" he called after her, and at the question Lily felt the step beneath her tremble and buckle, to the point where she would normally then tumble down the rest of the stairs and probably break something if not for the fact that, with the slightest defying of gravity, she avoided that pitfall all together.
"Out," Lily said without even looking back, "To London."
"London?!" Tom darted out, apparently unconcerned that he was barely wearing anything at all, was still in his half undone 1930's orphan pajamas, feet pale and bare as he practically sprinted after her, "You can't go into London!"
"Can and will," Lily said shortly as she opened the front door to the world outside, breathing in the air that was not quite clean yet was a different sort of smell than the London she herself was so familiar with.
"I won't let you!" Tom said, darting out the door in front of her, "You and I have business!"
"People to be, places to see, you understand how it is," Lily said shortly as she stepped around him, shoving him out of the way with an almost unthinking glitch and hurling him to the ground even as she made her way to the orphanage's front iron gate, "I'm sure you'll find some way to entertain yourself in the meantime. Look, why don't you compare the size of your dick to one of the other orphans? I'm sure you'll slaughter the competition and it will make you feel very superior."
His face burned bright red as he staggered to his feet, then whipping out with his own force of will to slam her to the ground with him, unfortunately meeting her invisible impenetrable wall of magic.
He spluttered, tried again, face growing redder with the concentration even as he wheezed out, "You can't… You can't do that!"
Lily didn't even bother to answer that she in fact could and did and that perhaps Tom Riddle needed to acknowledge that, when something you didn't believe in refused to disappear, perhaps it was time to accept it as some sort of reality or another.
She set her hand on the handle to the gate, leaving a whisper of her presence in the orphanage, something no one would think to second guess or else even miss, and with that she pushed outwards and stepped outside into the great unknown, the prototype of her own world, and turned off towards the direction of the Leaky Cauldron with unhurried footsteps.
Only, looking behind her at the sound of soft feet pounding on the pavement, she caught sight of sprinting Tom Riddle catching up to her, still in his pajamas and without any shoes on, holding a tiny snake.
"Oh, sweet Jesus," Lily said, increasing her pace and moving quickly down the sidewalk, past bleak storefronts and rundown apartment buildings, but Tom Riddle just ran that much faster until finally he was right next to her.
"Mrs. Cole's going to flay you for this," Tom Riddle the tiny antichrist said, with some mix between amusement and true annoyance, as if Mrs. Cole should have the chance to flay Lily until Tom himself did, "No, she'll throw you right back out on the street. You only just got here yesterday and you're already running away!"
"First, I'm not running away," Lily said rather shortly, "I've learned that we're all stuck on some metaphorical treadmill or another and that running faster just gets you nowhere at all that much quicker. You can't run from yourself, not truly."
His eyebrows lowered, softly holding onto the snake as it curled around his wrist as he asked rather derisively, "What's a treadmill?"
"A metaphor," Lily said shortly before continuing with her list, "Second, I was going to come back anyways, I just needed a bit of a break."
"A break, from what?" he looked like he honestly had no idea, like he hadn't been screaming at her a day and a half, like he wasn't everything she hoped he wouldn't be and only showed the seeds of what he one day would be.
"And third," Lily said instead of answering, "None of them are going to notice I'm even gone. You on the other hand, well, if I was you I'd scamper back home before anyone catches on."
If he was smart he'd scamper back before anyone on the street paid him any mind either. However, he seemed entirely unconcerned by the possibility of being noticed in his outfit, or even of stepping on broken glass or what have you with vulnerable feet. Still, Lily wasn't sure if he unconsciously realized it or not, but he probably was perfectly fine. Maybe it was pity, or maybe it was something instinctive, but around both of them Lily was deflecting attention as well as adding an extra unseen layer to the bottom of his feet.
He'd never thank her for it, she thought glumly, he'd probably never even notice.
"What do you mean?" he asked, but by the blank almost unwillingly awed look on his face he knew exactly what she meant, "You mean you made them think…"
"Something like that," Lily interjected, "It's more of an impression of my presence than anything else. Not any real illusion, if that's what you're getting at."
He said nothing for a moment, just quietly looked at her, seeming to see nothing of the street, of the early morning London and all its inhabitants as they slowly made their way westward through the city. Finally, he quietly asked, voice small and still containing that soft note of awe, "You can do that?"
He then frowned, looking down at his hand and then the snake happily staring back up at him (well, for all that snakes could look happy). Suddenly, with a look of determination he was shoving it into her face.
"Oh god," Lily said, the memory of the basilisk, of Morgan and the crucified snakes on the Gaunt shack, suddenly very present in her head as she made eye contact with it, "Snakes, why is it always snakes?"
"I can talk to him," Tom said smugly, unnaturally proud of his innate ability to impersonate either a Disney princess or else the satanic version of Aqua Man, "Watch!"
He then tilted his head, looked down at the snake, concentrating and began to hiss unintelligible sweet nothings towards it. No, that was a lie, it was… Almost intelligible. Like it was a language that she had known intimately once, could know again, but was at the edge of her hearing, fuzzy as if she was only half listening to fuzzy words from the Dursley's television with the vacuum cleaner on.
Lily watched as it the snake wiggled its head in an unnatural sort of nodding motion, curled up his wrist and flicked its tongue out a few times.
"That's… super," Lily said slowly, and at her unenthusiastic reply Tom seemed to realize just how unimpressed she really was.
He turned, looked at her, face flushing a bright red and then, looking down at the snake again he said something particularly menacing through a series of hisses. The snake then reared as if it was a cobra, hissing at her, then lunged across the divide with its tiny snake body, aided in speed and ferocity by Tom Riddle's force of will.
Lily at a speed far too fast not to be some glitch in the universe stepped aside and, as she moved, instinctively set the snake on fire. They both watched as it dropped to the pavement, curled and writhed in agony, hissing a sound of dying despair, until finally it stopped moving at all.
For a moment, neither Lily nor Tom said anything at all, just stared at its charred remains now littering the street.
Finally, in the tense and terrible silence, Lily said, "I'm sure it lived a good, if short, life."
Tom just looked at her, for a moment his face blank, and then twisting into uncomprehending agony as his face reddened further and tears gathered at the corner of his eyes, shaking his head as he looked at her in disbelief, "Why would you do that?!"
And somehow, even now, in this inconsequential morning on this inconsequential street, she could feel her heart ripping in half.
"I… I am a thing of destruction," she said slowly, reaching out for his thin, small, so small shoulder and squeezing it. Squeezed even as he kept staring at the departed snake, that brief flicker of life, and anywhere but at her, "And… And there are consequences to all the actions we take, things we can't even begin to predict. And I… I really am not overly fond of snakes."
Life was such a small thing, such a bright flicker in the long endless dark, there and then gone again, with only a memory left for mourning…
That wasn't enough, she was sure, not nearly enough. So, instead, still holding his shoulder, she said, "I'll take you back."
With that and no other warning she teleported them back into the orphanage bedroom, leaving Tom to stumble forward as he tried to orient himself and his new surroundings, looking at her with wide and fearful eyes.
She just smiled, ever so slightly, certain that the twist of her lips wasn't reaching her eyes as she promised, "I'll be back later."
With that she was gone again, teleporting with a loud crack straight past Diagon Alley instead into the heart of London's magical black market, her own strange home away from home, that…
She turned and looked, took three steps back, looked to her right, to her left, then looked again. Where Riddle Inc. normally was, with its intimidating warning sign and terrifying vampires lurking inside, was instead an empty run-down building, surrounded on all sides by the homeless, the hags, and the prostitutes.
She took a few more steps back, stared again as if that would put things in the right order, or somehow summon an exasperated Frank from the ether but it remained the same.
"Oh, oh wait, oh wait a minute…" Lily said to herself, and she thought back, years and years ago to when she had inexplicably been drawn into this whole business, when Wizard Lenin had said something about Lily Riddle appearing out of nowhere and when had that been?
Had it… Had that been 1937 too? Had she appeared in 1937, disappeared in 1938 and…
Lily fell to her knees tearing at her hair, looking at the sky as if to ask god himself, "Do I even have the illusion of free will anymore?!"
God, predictably, didn't answer, just left her with the clear summer skies, the twittering of birds, and a completely empty building that was supposed to be a drug lord's shady lair. Suddenly Lily laughed, shaking her head and shuddering with laughter at the thought that none of this was funny but was somehow hilarious.
It was like, like everything she ever did, or everything that fell into place and everything that didn't, was something that had already happened or was somehow already written. Like everything really was that inconsequential, as unimportant and inconsequential as Lily had always claimed it was.
Except, even when Lily thought she had accepted and internalized that truth, some part of her must have forgotten or refused to believe it.
Because if she had then she couldn't laugh at it now, could she?
"Well, Lily Riddle," Lily said with a smile as she picked herself up off the street, "I like it, it has a ring to it, a nice… A nice homage, I would have picked it anyway."
Part of him and part of her, not really his style, not an anagram, but with a nice ring to its simplicity as well as its true nature. Because wouldn't Lily Riddle become in and of herself quite the riddle? One solved only by looking backward?
"You hear that?" Lily asked, looking up at the clear sky with burning eyes, throwing out her hands wide as if to encompass everything she was and could be, "I would have picked it anyway!"
She would have found Frank anyway too, Frank and all the rest, fed the wizarding world muggle narcotics the likes of which they'd never seen or dreamt of before, built this and her terrifying and terrible reputation from scratch. Maybe it was scripted because it was natural, because there wasn't a reason that she wouldn't, flung in the past without reason find them and find what Wizard Lenin had once been at the same time.
Why in the world would she do anything else?
Wasn't it her destiny, her glorious purpose, to at once both destroy the wizarding world and save it?
With that she turned, walking away from a memory of a place that did not exist, through Knockturn Alley and into the brighter and friendlier Diagon Alley. There she would walk the streets, noting how it really hadn't managed to change at all in over fifty years, and would sit outside the marble steps of Gringotts and think about money and the flow of money and how she bet her ass they didn't check for counterfeit muggle money.
And if not that, then well, there was always a philosopher's stone, out of time and out of place, resting somewhere inside of her bottomless pocket.
"This will be fun," Lily said to the building and oblivious wizards and witches who passed by her without a thought in the world, wearing the same robes and same hats they'd be sporting more than half a century later, "I'm tired of being the absurd heroine, I think, or even the anti-hero. It's hard work, endless pointless hard work, and no one will ever thank you for it. Or, if they do, then it's always for the entirely wrong reasons. I can play the dark lord for a turn, can't I?"
Plus, Lily suspected that she'd be more than halfway decent at it, enough to even, more than fifty years from now, impress the ever-unimpressible Wizard Lenin. And that, she thought with a strange smile, a lighter smile than she'd had in ages, was maybe more than enough.
Perhaps it was best, she thought, that he didn't know she'd picked up so much of that from him.
In the end it was well into the afternoon when she returned, the children all returned from school lessons and in the orphanage's small back yard. Beneath a small tree, in the shade, she appeared in front of Tom Riddle.
Even now he glared out at the other children, separated from them as if cut off by some invisible and impenetrable bubble, only Lily daring to appear in front of him. At the large crack of her arrival he didn't even turn to look at her, just drew his knees closer to his chest and looked past her, past her and into his small and familiar world.
His own little fiefdom, she thought.
Finally, looking down at him, at how it was still so strange to see him both smaller and younger than her, to acknowledge that he had once been this and had somehow grown and transformed into what she would later know, she said, "I'm sorry."
He said nothing.
With a sigh Lily moved next to him, sat down beside him so that her back was also resting against the tree, so that she too could stare out at the other children. They were now also looking at her with abject terror, fear for her and of her, that she could sit so close to him.
Absently, Lily wondered just what he'd done to them.
"It's a small world you live in, Tom," Lily finally said, trying to think of what to say, what Uncle Death might say if it was her except that Tom would never be her at all. Death, she thought to herself, how long had it been since she'd seen him? Had he thought of her or did he look at her the way she couldn't help but look at Tom Riddle?
She wanted to see him now, she suddenly thought, she wanted to sit and drink tea and talk and ask why. Why had any of this happened? Why did she ruin so many things in her life without even meaning to? And what would he say, what could he say, to Tom Riddle in her place? Except, except just as Tom Riddle wasn't her she couldn't really be Uncle Death.
No, she could only say what she thought he might need to hear, to move him past this small moment and towards something far greater if more terrifying for it, "That's not a bad thing, not a bad or good thing, but it is something you should think about. More, I think it's something you've allowed yourself to grow content with."
Finally, he looked over at her, stark disbelief written on his face, even while Lily tilted her head towards him with a smile and said, "It's nice, isn't it, to be a big fish in a small pond?"
"But it is a small pond," Lily interjected before he could finish, "And you'll never really know one way or another, where you land in the world, until you leave it."
He said nothing, buried his face further into his knees, looked as if he was contemplating setting the grass beneath her feet on fire. However, no one said Tom Riddle, even a young angry Tom Riddle, couldn't learn from his mistakes.
So, he just sat, staring ahead not saying a word, as if looking away from her would be enough to make her disappear.
Still, she thought as she rested her head against the tree, there was something oddly nice about it. Something that almost reminded her of those early days before Hogwarts, when she had been in her own small suburban pond, and she and Wizard Lenin had sat together and watched the summer clouds roll by while he dreamed of worlds so much larger to conquer…
And when he was quiet, when he was staring out into the horizon with that dark and determined look in his eyes, Lily could almost imagine that nothing had changed at all.
Author's Note: Expect some very blatant references to some old side fics coming up here folks. As well as Uncle Death's reintroduction to the story, it has been a while since we've seen his friendly face, hasn't it? And of course, Tiny Tom, the angrier and less crippled version of Tiny Tim, must not forget about him.
New in the world of Lily is "The Night Before the Morning After" a Lily/Lenin aftermath to "Life in the Fast Lane" starring Draco being terrified, drunk, and traumatized for life.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter