In which Lily catches up with a man who's been off-screen for years, realizes the pointlessness of her own actions, and makes a choice.
Lily numbly found herself taking the seat.
Though the pub was filled with noise, she hardly seemed to hear it, it was nothing more than a dull roar somewhere in the distance. In a way, it, just like everything else, had ceased to matter.
"You're looking well," he said.
She wasn't surprised he hadn't been caught yet, despite sitting here in human form. Oh, of course he was disguised and nobody was going to expect bright orange from Sirius Black's hair but–no, Lily imagined that even if someone didn't know this was Tom Riddle they still wouldn't know it was Sirius Black. They just wouldn't be able to tell themselves why the man's eyes were so sharp.
Although his voice wasn't shaking, and the words weren't coming out in spurts and stammers, his hands were still shaking violently. She remembered, in her detentions so long ago they may have been in another lifetime, how Quirinus Quirrell's hands had shook as he poured tea.
"Nothing?" he asked, eyebrow raising and lips twitching into something meant to be a smile, "Really, and you were always so verbose."
Here she let out an awful, terrible, laugh.
She raked her hands through her hair and…
It was somehow funny. All that buildup to meeting her godfather, all that preparing for how it could and probably would go wrong, and this had never been on the table. She'd prepared herself for rejection, contempt, fear but not the overwhelmingly likely possibility that "Wait a tick, he's just going to be another bloody Tom Riddle." Even though, in her short life, it was always Tom Riddle.
Lily let out a sigh and looked him in the eye. It was odd, seeing him behind another man's face. She'd recognized hints of him in Squirrel, but she hadn't known him quite so well then. Now though, he was unmistakable, not so much in his facial features or even how he held himself but the very air about him. The disguised Sirius Black was nothing more than a cheap costume.
"I'm guessing you'd like to talk about the stone," Lily finally said.
"In due time," he corrected, sipping at his pint.
"What better time is there?" Lily asked dully, "What else could we possibly have to chat about?"
Where had chatting ever gotten the pair of them?
Their last encounter had ended with him smashing her head in and her slamming a knife through his chest.
She wondered dully if things would end the same way today. Of course, he had to know that she would now return from the dead and that it wouldn't get him his stone. It would only serve as the most gratuitous, pointless, violence to ever exist.
"You came to see Sirius Black, didn't you?" he asked with a raised eyebrow, "Are you giving up on him so soon?"
"Is there even anything left of him?" Lily asked in turn.
Quirrell—he'd never recovered. Of course, Lily hadn't known there was a man to recover, only that something was terribly wrong. Then she'd unwittingly aided in his demise by giving Hindenburg everything he needed to destroy him completely. If Quirrell had ever had hope to regain his sense of self—Lily wouldn't have known how to help.
As for Sirius Black–
She'd had many detentions with Quirrell, but Tom Riddle hadn't been able to speak through Quirrell's lips quite so easily until after she'd started dosing him with the stone.
"Come now, you must have sought him out for some reason or another," he prompted, looking dreadfully amused, and of course neither confirming nor denying just how much of Sirius was left.
Which Lily supposed meant there was little to nothing at all. Even if there was something—he'd never be the same. Much the same way Ginny Weasley would never be the same.
A sudden thought struck her, one filled with almost hysterical panic, what was the point of it all? All this nonsense with Pettigrew, the months wasted on him, the anxiety over what would happen next… It was all pointless.
It'd be the same as if she'd discovered Sirius Black dead in a ditch somewhere.
No, it was worse, much worse. If he were dead in the traditional sense, then at least his legacy might be restored. This—if he were exonerated then it would be Tom Riddle in Sirius Black's skin reaping the benefits. It'd be grave robbing and then some.
But then, if she were to take Pettigrew back, undo everything—then Sirius Black would have died a man falsely accused with no one knowing the truth. And to the Tom Riddle possessing him—what difference would that make to him? Should Black be executed he'd just move on to the next chap in line.
"I gave Pettigrew over to an auror," Lily found herself saying, the words hollow and unfeeling, "If all goes well, then he'll be put on trial and Sirius Black might be exonerated."
"Really," he said, looking quite pleased, "And here you went and beat me to it, I was wondering if you would."
He motioned to himself idly, "Of course, Black wanted to murder the man, destroyed himself with that hopeless dream of vengeance, but it's such a waste. After all, with his name cleared, Black has money, prestige, seats in the Wizengamot, custody of the girl who lived, and a nice sob story to go with all of it."
Which, Lily supposed, was why Hindenburg had made himself at home in Sirius Black's head to begin with. And here Lily had handed him all that on a silver platter, against Wizard Lenin's wishes as well.
If she'd just delivered Pettigrew to him—well, then Hindenburg would simply find someone else, and Sirius Black would be dead.
"Well," Lily said after a pause, "I suppose this is the part where I say I'm happy for you."
"Thank you," he said.
He didn't say anything else.
Her hands twitched in her lap, her heart started pounding, and inside her mind there was the increasing thought that she should do something here.
Except, nothing obvious came to mind.
If she killed him, then she'd only be killing what was left of Sirius Black. He'd survive, would inhabit some other poor soul, and they'd be back here in this pub or one very like it in a few years' time.
He wasn't looking at her, didn't seem inclined to harm her or attempt to wrestle the stone from her, but—if she left, she was all but giving her explicit permission to take Hermione, Luna, or anyone at all hostage again. And if she didn't give him the stone, even when they were threatened—it was no skin off his nose, was it?
She imagined the only reason he hadn't done this already was the dementors guarding Hogwarts. Pettigrew had to have been his highest priority, then Lily and the philosopher's stone would come after. To think, they'd been good for anything at all or that she could ever be even remotely grateful for their presence.
Did she go to Wizard Lenin?
Cold dread seeped through her.
He'd want to know.
They always knew Hindenburg was out there, somewhere, and that he'd make contact again if only for that stone, but there'd been no hint of him. Lily, at the very least, had pushed him out of her mind to focus on other things.
And she'd have to tell him that she, even unwittingly, aided him for—for what? For a noble cause? For a wishy-washy concept like justice? For a man that Lily had never, and now would never, meet who might have been able to provide something Lily had thought, for a second, she was missing in her life?
And he'd demand she murder Pettigrew before he could be taken to trial. She could see him asking her, even now, what honor was worth to Sirius Black, who was already dead?
And he would not understand when Lily—when she insisted that it was worth something.
Sirius Black was innocent and even if he was already dead—the world should know that he was innocent.
Which meant that she couldn't leave the table, couldn't kill the man in front of her, and couldn't undo anything she'd done either.
"I'm glad you're here," he said in the sudden silence, "Because it has occurred to me that we could reach a—compromise of sorts."
She looked up at him, "What could we possibly compromise about?"
"Well, I want the stone," he said, motioning to her, "You, I imagine, would like it if I didn't make trouble for your friends. I can't see why we both can't have what we want."
Lily laughed, "Is that right?"
"Voldemort's already back," the man continued, "Dreadfully ironic considering I have nothing to do with it. Surely, though, I can't do anything worse. Not that the state of the wizarding world ever concerned you to begin with."
"Doesn't it?" Lily asked dryly.
Of course, he was right, or else she wouldn't have put her support behind Wizard Lenin to begin with. However, just because he was right didn't mean—well, it didn't mean whatever the hell he thought it meant.
"I'm not overly attached to Voldemort," the man mused, "It was useful, for a time, but there are other means to get what I want."
"Are there?" Lily asked dryly and—it was funny, but Wizard Lenin had been very attached to that title. He'd never considered abandoning it or his people, it was a persona he'd built for himself and he held onto it with both hands.
Perhaps–perhaps it was that Hindenburg, this original Tom Riddle as it were, had never dealt with a loss of a sense of self. He'd lost his body, yes, but he'd never been torn from his very soul with the knowledge that some other Tom Riddle was still out there. He didn't need anything to define him, not even Voldemort, because he simply was. Wizard Lenin didn't have that.
"Of course," he said, "If it eases your mind—I can promise to be legitimate."
"Legitimate," Lily parroted, the word feeling empty.
"Can't you imagine?" he asked with a smile, "Exonerated Sirius Black, betrayed by the corrupt government, panicking over the resurrection of a dark lord. Good looking, brave, guardian of the girl who lived—who better to become Minister of Magic in these dark times? Who better, even, to take emergency powers?"
"And what if he isn't exonerated?" Lily asked.
"Then I still have the stone and some other, plucky, chap can run for minister," he said with a smile.
Yes, Lily imagined as much.
"What if Voldemort beats you to it," Lily asked, "What if he gains power before you can be elected in as minister?"
"Then there will be a resistance," the man dismissed, "The trouble with Voldemort, Lily, is that he was never meant to rule. He was meant to destroy, to burn the foundations of this country to the ground. A man like Voldemort—he doesn't stay in power long."
He said it so—easily. As if it really meant nothing to him. All that work, all those years, all those dreams were—nothing. And Lily, all at once, realized that this was a Tom Riddle emptied out of Tom Riddle. Everything that had gone to the diary or to Wizard Lenin had been removed from him until all that was left was—she wasn't even sure what was left of him.
But it was something that wasn't attached to anything.
Something that just wanted power. Never mind what power meant, or what to do with power, but just raw power to have and to hold.
And Lily realized something else, "You called me Lily. You—know, don't you?"
He raised an eyebrow, "About your time travel? Well, a few years ago I had thought it was your mother but—you're more than just a spitting image. I was quite upset with you at the time but now I suppose—well, it's a bit funny that in the end you lost more than I did. I lost my body, inconvenient, but you sold your future to me. Your family, your godfather, your very destiny, you have nothing left that hasn't been ruined by me."
Well, he wasn't wrong. Had they not crossed paths—she would have been a very different person living a very different life. However, she'd never—regretted what she was or where she was.
All at once she was done.
It wasn't that she feared what would happen next, or there was no way out, she was just done.
"Fine," she said.
"Fine?" he asked in turn.
"We make an unbreakable vow," Lily said, nodding her head to Rabbit, "Rabbit here is our witness. I give you the stone, you go legitimate. No hunting down my friends, no murders, no arson, you leave the dark lording to the dark lord and you convince these people to give you everything you ever wanted."
It wouldn't be hard, she knew that. He was, after all, so very good at things like this. And if it caused Wizard Lenin angst, well, then he had a government to fight against. Then, at least, he kept 'Voldemort' and no one would ever wrestle it from him.
She would have to meet with Wizard Lenin—he wouldn't understand but—what else could she do?
What was the point of doing anything else?
She reached out with a hand.
He took it.
Author's Note: Thanks to Vinelle for betaing the chapter.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter