He sat back, stunned.
How was it even possible?! Of all the, pardon the phrase, gin-joints.. in all the cities in the world – How the hell had they both ended up here.. How had he ended up here?!
How was it possible that Harry was still alive?!
He narrowed his eyes, trying to determine whether it was perhaps another boy.. a boy who merely resembled his former-enemy.
His hair was longer. His body almost unrecognisably changed – gone was any hint of innocent adolescence – the boy who he was watching could not have been mistaken for innocent in any way whatsoever.
The black light shimmered over the expanse of pale skin as the figure moved and undulated for the howling, slavering audience.
As the boy turned, the glint of green shimmered momentarily in his eyes before they slid closed.
His hands stroked down the exposed expanse of his muscled abdomen and on to his groin.
A thick line was visible in the tight vinyl pants. Harry’s fingers teased over himself as he dropped to his knees, his head falling back. He displayed a preternatural flexibility as he bent backward and then tumbled like an acrobat, to land lightly on his fingertips, lowering himself, seemingly lost in his own world of sensation as he rubbed himself suggestively against the stage.
It was..very..easy to imagine him doing the same to a willing body beneath him.
The rest of the...dance... if it could be called a dance, passed in a haze. He couldn’t drag his eyes away.
It was him.. He was certain of it.
When the boy had retreated amid resounding cheers, he got up surreptitiously from the table in the back of the seedy bar and moved to the exit.
It hadn’t appeared that Harry had recognised him.. Surely if he had he wouldn’t have finished his dance. He’d have gotten the hell out of there, if he’d seen him
Still. Something was telling him that the unfamiliar creature he’d just watched, spellbound, for almost half an hour, was far more aware of his surroundings than he seemed.
He couldn’t risk using his magic to try to detect him. If Harry had decided to escape – there was precious little he could do about it right now.
Still.. perhaps he truly hadn’t noticed him. Perhaps it was merely his own paranoia – although Merlin knew that it could not be considered paranoia when they were actually after you.
He walked around the bar until he found an alley that led to the back exit.
It took several hours before the door opened and two laughing boys spilled out – but he had become very good at waiting. Most of his life was spent rather passively these days. Those were the good moments.
He recognised the boys from earlier acts. They were both outstandingly pretty specimens of young male flesh. As were all of the exotic dancers, and indeed most of the bartenders and serving staff in the moderate male revue bar in the Sydney backstreet.
Standing as he was, in the shadow of the doorway, the dancers walked past him without looking twice
He waited, telling himself that he was wasting his time. He needed to be moving on.. finding a place to settle for the night. It had been an idle whim to step inside the bar. There was a hostel further down the street which he had been intending to stay in. Hostels were his preference these days – when he was given the option. He tried to keep moving.
In the beginning he had fled to Canada and had actually begun to build a life.. He had used the funds he had with him to acquire an apartment.. had sought work.. It had taken less than two months before he had aurors on his back. He had had to run, leaving all of his new-seeded life behind.
It had been a modest life too..
He had cursed it each day – the pitiful conditions to which he was forced to accustom himself.. A bed of his own.. half a bookshelf of books.. muggle takeaway food.
Of course now he had no bed of his own.. no books at all.. he was lucky if he could occasionally scrape together enough money from what he stole..and far less frequently earned.. to acquire a room in a hostel – where he might have a shower and enjoy the luxury of a door between himself and the animals he shared his current world with..
If not.. it was sometimes a shelter.. more often a hidden corner of a rail bridge.. a park.. an alley.. Wherever he could find a place out of the wind and cold.
The worst part was the knowing that all of his discomfort.. the freezing.. the starving.. the blinding anger at those around him could all be eased with a gesture.. He need only think the words for a warming charm.. It would take no effort at all to summon a bread roll from the table.. Even less to sever the head of the bullish muggle policeman shoving him along and out of whatever temporary shelter he had found for himself tonight..
But if he were to do that.. if he were to weaken – even in sleep – and use his magic...
Well... the last time he had used it to defend himself from a half drunken rowdy looking for a fight – he had spent the next weeks running for his life. They had chased him constantly. It had been a stroke of luck that had saved him in the end, not any skill of his own or incompetence on the part of his pursuers. He couldn’t take that kind of risk again.
So he kept to himself.. he avoided all forms of confrontation. He stayed in motion.
He had managed to steal another fat wallet from an impatient businessman the day before yesterday.
It was laughable. Of all the astounding things he had done.. and seen.. and learned in his life – the skill that was of most use to him now.. at the end of all things.. was the primary survival tool he had developed in a filthy muggle orphanage.
It was as if he had come full circle, he thought to himself sometimes.
So long ago and he still remembered the feeling of lying in bed with a constant painful ache in his belly because he had not been granted the opportunity to eat.. again..
Stealing had made his life bearable. The other children were not treated as he was. If they were hungry – they would be given another slice of bread.. another half bowl of watery soup.
He learned to slip out through the back fence and fleece muggles for money.. The money for food.. clothing. Once he had bought socks.. It had been a difficult choice at the time. It seemed a risk to purchase something so permanent when he might need the money for more immediate concerns soon enough.
And now.. decades later – it seemed he was back in that world in which calculations of primary need predominated.
After he had opened the wallet and found.. glory of glories – two hundred dollars inside, he had been painfully tempted to use some of the money to purchase a winter coat. The days were growing shorter and soon enough he would be hard pressed to find shelter outside without risking illness.
He could not afford to become sick.
He couldn’t risk remaining anywhere for more than a few days.. a week or two at the most. If he were to become ill enough to be found and taken to a muggle hospital..
His life might be a continual movement from agony to agony but he was not yet prepared to die!
He had not bought the coat.
He had hidden half of the money in a dusty pipe near an abandoned industrial building and had taken the other half in search of a hostel..
...in search of a shower.
A phone book in a telephone booth provided an address within walking distance.
He had been intending to take a room and then go out and buy something to eat. Nothing too expensive. Something that would keep.. that he could transport with him. Perhaps two-minute noodles.. They could be eaten without water if need pressed.
He didn’t know how it was that he came to wander into the bar. It was..a completely pointless risk.
Perhaps, he conceded, he had been lonely. It had been... a while...since he had last looked at another being with anything approximating desire. These days, all of his calculations were ordered around potential risk.
He had been obliged to waste several dollars on a beer, which he nursed for hours as he sat and watched the dancers ply their trade one by one.
It was..strangely comforting.
And arousing, of course.. But primarily comforting – to discover that he was still capable of feeling attraction.
That was.. until Harry stalked out onto the stage under dark purple lights.
He wrapped his arms around himself more tightly and shivered in the dark.
The hostel would be closed now.
He needed to move soon and look for a suitable place to bed down for the night. Night! It was almost morning. Harry had apparated away – if it was him.. Or perhaps he had left through the main entrance. He had been here for hours.
“Not dead yet, I see”
The voice emerged from the darkness directly opposite him, startling him. There was nothing visible although he scoured the wall and looked over the entire area to the best of his ability.. There was no trace of a disillusioned form. If the boy was there, he was either using a potion of some kind or an invisibility cloak.
“Not quite” he offered softly.
There was a long silence. He took a hesitant step forward, looking about uncertainly. Had the boy left?!
“What do you want?! How did you find me?!”
He stopped. The voice came from directly behind him and he felt the cold line of a blade on his throat.
The metal shifted incrementally against his skin when he swallowed.
“I was not looking for you. I...did not even intend to step into the bar – it was entirely coincidental.
I want...to continue to survive. Nothing more.”
The knife pressed harder against his throat and he closed his eyes, trying frantically to think of how he might best escape further pursuit if he needed to use magic to heal himself. He cursed himself for having hidden the rest of the money - he would not be able to retrieve it if he needed to jump away from Sydney in a hurry.
Then the knife was removed smoothly.
He breathed out.
Further down the alley a dark shadow appeared, flinging something fabric-like off itself and bunching it under its arm. He recognised the boy’s form. He was walking slowly.
“Well. Come on then” the hard voice growled irritably.
Tom hesitated for only a moment.
His better judgement was telling him to turn away and get the hell out of there. Go and retrieve the rest of the money and get as far away from this city as he could tonight.
Logic and memory dictated that this was one of the most dangerous threats in the world for him.. After all – This was ‘the one with the power to vanquish him’ – even if he might arguably be said to be quite effectively vanquished already.
Every sense in his body that opposed death was screaming out that he needed to escape.
He turned down the alley and followed the shadow of the boy that he had spent the better part of his life trying to defeat.
Harry did not slow any more for him as he followed him down the almost empty street, although Tom was sure that he was monitoring his pursuit very closely. The colour of the sky spoke of the coming dawn as Harry turned and climbed the white steps up to a modest apartment building.
Some almost alien part of his own mind wanted to sneer. Most of the rest of him looked up at the tidy stone building as if it were an edifice of diamond studded golden luxury. Harry had apparently successfully built something approximating a life for himself here.
He had succeeded where Tom himself had failed.
That almost depressed him.
He walked up the stone steps after the boy, who had left the foyer door ajar for him. Inside, the building proved to be clean and well appointed. He could hear quiet steps ascending the stairs. He had the strong feeling that the only reason that he heard them at all was because Harry was choosing to give him an audible sign of his progress, that he might find the correct apartment.
Climbing the stairs took him longer than it did Harry.
He reasoned that it was more to do with his present state of malnutrition than it was a factor of his age. After all.. he was physically not much older than Harry himself.
Although.. in his mind he felt two hundred years old sometimes.
Still.. at least Severus had come through in the end.. before everything went to hell.. If he had not been able to restore his appearance, he would undoubtedly have been killed immediately when he fled. His former.. rather reptilian.. visage was not at all easy to disguise.
The potion that Severus had developed had been the decisive success factor in the ritual that he had designed to restore himself. ...Although...perhaps that restoration had contributed to his loss of control over his own servants.. to their dwindling fear and respect...which had allowed such a coup d’etat to take place.
After all.. in the wake of the ritual he found himself suddenly far younger than virtually all of his men. He resembled more the lovely young toys at the revels than he did their own rough darkness.
Physically he was now..once again.. a young man in the prime of his life.
Directly following the ritual he had seemed to be somewhere in his late teens – now however, he estimated his visual age at perhaps twenty four. It was difficult to remember exactly what he had looked like at that age..He had spent so many years in dusty tombs and hidden cities looking for the answers to immortality and power. There had not been an overabundance of mirrors in the dark depths and he had barely looked up from the books, scrolls and tablets he was working upon.
He had wondered at one point whether he might have better preserved his more intimidating appearance – whether things might have gone differently... however in light of the other factors involved, he thought that it probably would not have saved him. The rot within his ranks was already too far advanced.
No.. if he had not carried out the ritual.. if he had not reacquired a human face.. a youthful body.. he would almost certainly be dead by now.
The door hung ajar.
He approached it tentatively, feeling the cold sweat break out on his brow suddenly.
Even as he had slowly climbed the stairs, he had felt that he could turn about and run... but entering this blind alley of the apartment door unsettled him beyond everything thus far..
He hesitated just outside the door for a long minute, his hand an inch away from the wood.. He was telling himself that he was not yet weary enough of surviving to risk his life on this.
There was no sound. The door did not move.. No voice demanded he hurry, no hand closed the door in his face. It seemed rather that all of time held it’s breath.
Then he pushed the door open.
Within, there was a very dim light emanating from a room at the end of a hallway. The door to the room was only open a crack. The rest of the dark hallway evidenced three further doors, all closed.
He felt sufficiently confident to step into the hall, however he could not bring himself to close the door behind himself. He feared that if it closed, it would lock.. if it locked.. then the aurors and the bounty hunters and the horribles would all pour in and take him..
So he stepped gingerly closer to the door at the end of the hallway and the slightly flickering light that he decided was probably a candle.
He had reached halfway down the hallway when the apartment door closed with an audible clap. He whirled, panicked, in time to brush shoulders with Harry, who stalked past him with an impatient irritable expression.
“Well that took bloody long enough” the other boy snapped and strode through the door at the end of the hall, pushing wide the door and revealing a small lounge with a candle burning on the table.
“You know.. I never saw you as the timid type, Voldemort” he growled from somewhere further into the room
Tom sighed, feeling a faint pang in his chest. He hadn’t heard that name in a while.
He looked uneasily at the apartment door again. It might not be locked. He could try it...
No. He would not confirm to the boy his discomfort at being here.
He turned around and trailed after the boy into the candle-lit room.
“You’ll want a shower” Harry informed him when he walked in. He was dragging some blankets and pillows out of a linen closet at the end of the room. “You’re not sleeping on my couch in the state you’re in. I’ll lend you some clothes while you wash yours.” He marched to the long dark shadow of the sofa and dropped the blankets and pillow on it pointedly.
“Bathroom’s the first door in the hall. I’ll leave the clothes here. Don’t do anything stupid – This is your only warning.”
At that he turned on his heel and let himself through a door at the end of the small lounge next to the linen cupboard, closing it after himself.
After a moment Tom saw a yellow light appear in the crack under the door.
He looked at the blankets and pillow on the sofa. The small candle on the coffee table.
If Harry wanted to trap him.. it was possible he could be offering this ..hospitality.. simply to distract him while the re-enforcements were on their way... but he didn’t think so. In fact.. from the way the boy behaved and from the way things had been going toward the end, he rather suspected the boy was every bit as desperate a fugitive as himself, in his own way. There was no room in the current wizarding world for Dark Lords or Saviours. Lucius Malfoy had seen to that..
Swallowing, he retreated to the hallway and moved to the first door.
A small clean bathroom in white and blue tile was displayed when he flicked on the switch near the door. There was a toilet and a shower over a bathtub with a blue and white plaid nylon shower curtain. Opposite him, over the sink, a mirror displayed his own dirty face and greasy hair to him. His eyes bothered him. The dark blue orbs were marked by a feral tension that had never been resident there even as a child. They displayed his low burning fear transparently as he looked away from the mirror uncomfortably
He breathed a soft calming sigh and closed himself into the room, trying to let go of the jangling of his anxious nerves.
Peeling off the layers of filthy fabric he dropped them in a small pile on the floor at the end of the bathtub before he turned on the shower.
The steam started to fill the room almost immediately. He was relieved when it obscured his face in the mirror.
As he stepped under the hot spray he couldn’t quite suppress a tiny ache of gratefulness that Harry Potter was apparently a far better person than he himself.
If he had been in his position, he would probably have killed him, to be on the safe side.
After a minute, he looked down and grimaced at the brown taint of the water sloughing the dirt off his body. The bathtub would probably need to be cleaned when he was finished. He ignored the shame that pricked him momentarily and reached for the soap in the little tray that was stuck on the wall with suction cups. For a very long time, he scrubbed himself all over, turning around in circles and basking in the glorious heat.
When he felt tolerably clean he turned to the shampoo and washed his hair no less than three times, hesitating indecisively before he also used a tiny amount of the conditioner.
He stepped out onto the bathmat and reached for the towel, feeling like a new person.
He never had that feeling when he got to use a shower in a hostel. They were invariably shared bathrooms and the shower would be tiny, uncomfortable and lukewarm.
There would as often as not be a filthy rubber mat in the bottom and the towels one could rent were always sandpapery things that barely covered one’s hips. Nothing like the thick plushy sky blue bath sheet that was currently caressing his body.
And of course there was always the fact that after he had washed he would be forced to climb back into dirty clothes, simply for lack of alternate options.
He wrapped the towel around his waist, tucking it in, and gingerly picked up the pile of dirty clothing, holding it apart from him like something that could contaminate his new clean body if he drew too close.
In the other room he found that an empty washing basket had been placed beside the sofa while a small pile of folded garments were laid upon the back of the sofa.
He dropped his lumpen rags in the washing basket and moved to look at the clothes Harry had laid aside for him.
There was a set of pajamas..
He hadn’t worn pajamas since he’d been at Hogwarts..
Beneath them was a pair of black jeans and a grey long sleeved tee shirt. The material felt soft and warm. He stroked it with his fingertips. At the bottom of the pile lay a pair of black lycra boxer shorts and a thick woolly pair of socks.
He sat down on the sofa and took deep breaths for a minute, blinking and trying to dispel the sudden wash of emotion that was threatening to actually bring tears to his eyes. It was foolish to react this way. To clothes no less! He was being weak.. Even choosing to follow the boy back here instead of leaving and playing it safe was a sign of his weakness.
He turned and picked up the clothes off the back of the sofa, bringing them down to his lap over the towel. Leaning forward he smelled a faint fresh scent. It was somewhat woodsy. The clothing smelled so good.
Eventually he stood and dressed in the boxers, socks, jeans and teeshirt.
He couldn’t possibly put on pajamas. What if he had to run?!
He left his boots at the side of the sofa. He had had to persuade himself with difficulty not to put them on. But they were muddy and filthy.. he couldn’t soil the sofa with them.
The boxers and jeans were slightly too large for him.. they hung a little. He wished he had a belt..
He wished he could simply charm them to the correct size.
Nevertheless the long sleeved tee shirt felt amazing against his skin. He wrapped his arms around himself, stroking its plush fabric.
He stood in the dark for a moment. Behind the thick curtains he could see the telltale lines of yellow on the floor that indicated the sun was rising in the outside world.
With yet another agonised thought of immediately putting on his boots and getting the hell out of this apartment by whatever means necessary, he reached for the blanket and pillow.
When he lowered himself onto the firm velour surface of the sofa and spread the blanket over himself he felt at once relieved and fundamentally insecure.
If he slept here.. If he allowed himself to remain vulnerable around the boy in the other room... It was tantamount to complete surrender... He was placing his survival in the hands of his enemy.
He sighed, rubbing his fingers over his eyes miserably.
Then he sat up and reached for his boots.
The voice startled him.
He half turned and spotted a shadow near the curtain that he hadn’t looked at twice before. How did the blasted boy do that?! Had he been under some kind of notice-me-not charm? Did he still have full use of his magic!?
Did he realise that Tom did not!?
“..Yes.” he muttered. “I..cannot stay.”
The boy didn’t seem overly perturbed, merely curious. Tom fumbled for an answer that did not sound like he was running away.
“I have.. other things to do. It is none of your concern.”
“Well that’s bullshit...” the boy observed snidely.
“Are you afraid of me?!”
He sounded amused.
Tom turned around and scowled at the shadow, whose face he couldn’t make out.
Damnable creature. How dare he suggest that-..
At that moment Harry stepped forward and the barest hint of the candlelight caught his face. Tom was suddenly painfully reminded of the blindingly lovely creature he’d witnessed dancing on stage.
Harry wore loose dark trousers and a tight dark teeshirt. He moved like something silky and powerful – like a creature entirely in its element. Tom found himself holding his breath as he approached.
“The war’s over, Voldemort.” Harry sneered down at him mildly.
“We lost. Both of us. The Ministry won. The purebloods won.. If I turn you in now – I might as well sign myself up for the kiss at the same time. They’d deport me if I were discovered here.
...and I’ve lost the appetite for killing – though I’ll defend myself if you find you really can’t let it go without a last fight..
Leave.. if you want. I won’t stop you. The door isn’t warded. You can keep the clothes. You look like you need them more than I do.
He looked up into the eyes that were black in the dim light. Not green at all..
He didn’t manage to finish the question. It was too large to complete. Why had the boy not run?.. Why had he spoken with him?.. invited him back here.. Why had he offered these things?.. Why did it seem almost as if he did not wish him to leave?.. Why did he himself not wish to leave?!. Why was he trying to force himself to put his boots on and walk out the door, right now?!
The silky boy shrugged.
“Because you remind me of someone I used to be. Everything is gone and we remain. Because you watched me dance. What does it matter?! I don’t have the energy to debate it with you. It’s been a long night for me and I’m going to get some rest. Stay or go, as you like. If you’re going, shut the door after you.”
He turned with catlike grace and walked noiselessly to the back room, letting himself in and tossing the door back after him. It didn’t close. A couple of inches remained uncaringly open. It was as if Harry did not even require the empty gesture of protection that a closed door would afford.
Tom realised suddenly that he must have been in the room since he returned from the bathroom. The door definitely had not opened. He would have spotted that.
It meant, of course, that Harry had stood and watched him have an embarrassing moment over thrice damned fresh laundry.
And of course he had watched him dress..
However the embarrassment of being observed to be near tears over the scent of washing powder far outweighed the thought of the boy seeing him in his altogether, even considering how emaciated he had become over the last years.
It burned him to be so pathetic before his enemy. To have the boy entirely dismiss him as any threat at all...
He reached for his boots.
He paused, his clean fingertips hovering over the muddy leather.
For a moment, under the shower, he had felt human again.
He listened to the silence from the bedroom and wondered if the boy was lying there in the dark listening just as hard to see if he would leave.