Another round of coughing left him gasping for air and his chest felt like it had been trampled on by a herd of Hippogriffs the way it hurt. Even drawing in a breath felt like trying to swallow a hedgehog. He shivered at the same time as it felt like he was going to burn up. Merlin, how he missed the blanket and the pillow. The Warden had taken both away the same day he noticed them, proclaiming that Voldemort might get them back if he behaved. If he behaved, he thought annoyed. Like he was some sort of pet to be trained. Then again, they had managed to ´train´ him somewhat with the rules. Saints, he was tired.
He was half aware of someone leaning over him and a cool hand on his forehead before the darkness closed in and he allowed himself to drift off.
When he came to in a coughing fit he thought he was going to cough up a lung the way each cough raked through his body. Finally able to breath he suddenly felt something pressed against his lips and an order to swallow. Something warm slid down his throat, easing the soreness and leaving behind a distinct taste of ginger. It felt good, and he couldn´t remember the last time he had something to eat or drink that he had managed to keep down.
It had started as a simple cough that had developed into a worse one, and then his chest had started to ach, as well as his throat. His head and rest of his body was pounding and he kept switching between being too warm and too cold. The last day he had been coughing up blood as well.
Stanley had dismissed the coughing as nothing and continued on with the days as always, but that morning Voldemort hadn´t manage to get to his knees without keeling over and the coughing had been worse than ever. When Stanley had seen the blood on Voldemort´s palm he had left and Voldemort hadn´t seen him since.
Now someone was in the cell. More than one from what little Voldemort managed to gather around him. Trying to think was like trying to push through a heavy fog that wouldn´t yield. Deciding that he couldn´t be bothered to care he simply curled up on his side once the cup was taken away. Something cold and long was pushed into his mouth and he belatedly realized it was a thermometer. It was left there for a little while before it was removed.
“The fever is far too high!”
The voice sounded angry and pissed of, and familiar although Voldemort couldn´t place it. He blinked and tried to focus on the conversation that was taking place over him, but all he could see was black spots dancing in front of his eyes and a buzzing sound in his ears. He started coughing again and someone moved him up into a sitting position. A cold cloth or something was placed on his neck and a pair of arms supported him as he coughed into his hand. It was shaking by the time he removed it, and he saw that there was a fair amount of blood on it before someone used a cloth to wash his hand.
Breathing was hard as it felt like he was breathing through a straw. He couldn´t get enough air down and ended up heaving, panic setting in as he didn´t get enough to breath.
“Easy,” he heard a voice mutter beside his ear as something, a blanket he thought, was draped around him. “Lay down.” He was carefully placed back down on the floor, this time a pillow was placed under his head before he could feel the person standing up and moving a way. He wanted to ask what they were arguing about, but his mouth felt like cotton.
The darkness moved at the edge of his vision and as it moved inwards he allowed himself to be sucked under.
He woke slowly. His eyelids were heavy as stones and his body felt sluggish. He lifted his hand to rub at his eyes and was surprised at the feeling of a mattress underneath him and a duvet over him. Forcing his eyes up he was met with the sight of a white ceiling with a lamp in the middle. Confused he let his eyes fall down and was surprised to see he was in a bedroom.
Using his right hand he pushed himself up into a sitting position and looked around. He was in a double bed that was covered in a navy blue duvet and pillow. On each side there was a dark brown nightstand with lamps on, the type with a metal foot and a white top. One was on and he was surprised to notice it was running on electricity. Not many wizarding homes at electricity, they preferred candles or enchanted sources of light.
The floor was a dark brown wall-to-wall carpet that worked well with the cream coloured walls. There were two windows, one on each side of the bed. On the opposite wall there was a fireplace, a wardrobe and a dresser, with a mirror on top. A desk and chair, and an empty bookshelf were against the right wall along with a door, and on the left wall there was another door.
He assumed one led into a bathroom and one into a hallway. A green, gigantic plant was standing between the door and the desk and helped to give the room a more homely feel.
Two bottles of pills on the nightstand caught his attention and he reached out and picked one of them up. Doxycyclline 50mg. He frowned as he looked at the label. According to it a Doctor Percival had issued the pills to one Tom M. Riddle a week earlier. He looked at the name of the drug again. He thought it was an antibiotic if he remembered correctly. The instructions read one pill every 12 hours.
He picked up the second bottle. Apparently sleeping pills from the information on the label. These were also issued to one Tom M. Riddle a week earlier. Might explain why he felt a bit groggy.
Where in the world was he? It wasn´t a hospital, that much was clear. Nor was it Azkaban or the Ministry. It simply looked a guestroom in some house.
He wasn’t restrained in anyway but to his surprise he found that his left arm was in a cast from the elbow and down to his fingers. He tried to wiggle the fingers a little and was rewarded with a sharp pain that radiated up his arm. He hissed and made a mental note not to do that again.
A quick inventory told him that he was mostly uninjured and that most of his previous injuries had nearly healed. His back felt better than it had in ages, and his ribs were wrapped in bandages under the t-skirt he was wearing. Pulling one of his legs up to his chest he noticed that they were wrapped in bandages and as he swung his legs out from the bed and carefully tried to stand he found that he could actually stand on his own. He couldn´t help but smile as he took a couple of careful steps. How long had it been since he had been standing and walking on his own? He could feel the lack of muscles in his legs, but the feeling of being able to move around was giving him a real thrill. He stumbled and probably looked like a new-born colt trying to walk for the first time, but he didn´t care.
Slowly he made his way over to the window and looked out. He was staring out into a street and a park that was across from the house. On the ground he could see muggles and cars moving back and forth in the snow that was falling quietly, painting the world white once more.
Curious he tried to open the window and it swung open easily, letting in the cold air and the smell of winter. He took a deep breath as he breathed in fresh air for the first time in years. The smell was wonderful and the feeling of air against his face even more so. For a moment he just stood there enjoying the feeling of peace and the fact that he seemed to have quit coughing and felt more or less in good form. A bit groggy, but that was nothing the fresh air couldn´t cure.
In the end the cold started to seep into his body and he shivered. Closing the window he made his way over to the fireplace. He stumbled slightly and had to put a hand on the dresser to support himself. A quick search made it clear the fireplace wasn´t connected to the Floo.
Opening the wardrobe he found some clothes, all in dark colours, same with the dresser. Unsure he looked between the two doors before choosing the one on the left side of the bed. It led, not surprisingly, to a bathroom. The room contained a toilet, a shower and a counter with sink and a mirror, all in a cream colour, with grey tiles on the walls and dark grey tiles on the floor. He looked at the shower. A hot shower would be heavenly. He hadn´t had one in several years. Normally Stanley brought him to a washroom, which more or less just was a room with a hose and a drain in the middle. He was normally chained kneeling up with his arms out to each side as Stanley used cold water to wash him down and then dry him with the coarsest towel imaginable.
Voldemort stared down at the cast on his arm and swore. He couldn´t take the cast into the shower. It would have to be covered with something and he had nothing to use.
Slowly he closed the door and headed for the one on the right side. He expected it to be locked. After all, who would be insane enough to leave him alone in a bedroom and not lock the door?
To his surprise the door was unlocked. The handled turning easily as he twisted it and pulled the door towards him. Frowning he stepped out onto the landing and glanced over the banister. A long elaborate stairwell led down to the ground floor four floors down. One the landing where he was standing there was one other door. He assumed it was another bedroom and ignored it.
Using the banister for support he slowly made his way down to the third floor. He noticed the elegant carvings of snakes that twisted and made up the banister. The walls where however mostly empty. No portraits or pictures. Just smooth cream coloured walls that was a contrast to the dark wooden stairs and banister. A couple of lamps that was mounted on the walls gave of a warm glow.
Reaching the third floor he was met with a hallway with several doors. One was opened enough for the light to shine out and soft music from what Voldemort assumed to be a radio could be heard. Glancing downwards towards the second and first floor, he decided to check the room on the third floor before going further down. Ideally he should probably bolt down the stairs and run for the exit, but in his condition and in this weather that would be just plain stupid.
Apparently whoever had bought him to the house had no intention of hurting him, at least not at the moment.
He stopped outside the door and peered in. It looked like a study of some kind. The music was playing a slow tune, by the sound of it Voldemort thought it was a wizarding radio. He was proven right when the music was interrupted by a voice reminding everyone to listen to the Minister speech later that night a 9 o´clock.
Slowly he reached out and pushed the door open, before walking in.
The study was small. There was a desk at the other end of the room, several bookcases along the left wall and windows against the right with bookcases in between. On the short wall to the right there was a large fireplace with a couch and two armchairs in front, a coffee table in the middle. The room was done in a light shade of wood, with brown walls and a darker brown wooden floor. Under the desk and the couch and armchairs there were identically looking carpets in a light brown colour.
The figure at the desk seemed to be engrossed in the paper he was writing on because he didn´t look up until one of the floorboards creaked as Voldemort stepped on it.
Green eyes looked up and smiled.
“Hey. You´re up.”
Voldemort couldn´t figure out what to say. Why was he in Harry Potter´s home? Was this some sort of new form for torture they had devised or something worse?
“How are you feeling?” Harry rose from the chair and came around the desk. He quickly approached and when he reached out a hand Voldemort instantly flinched back and dropped to his knees. He closed his eyes and swore. The reaction was so ingrained in him after all the years that he had reacted automatically. Harry probably wasn´t approaching to punish him for not kneeling, he most likely wanted checking for a fever or something. His thoughts was proven correctly as Harry simply put a hand on his forehead and looking pleased when it felt cool to the touch.
“I see the fever has broken. How´s the cough?”
Voldemort glanced up for a moment before focusing on his hands instead.
“Better,” he said, his throat feeling like sandpaper. Harry most have noticed because he went back to the desk and returned with a goblet in his hand. He held it out and not knowing if he should take it or not Voldemort ended up staring at it like he had never seen a goblet before. The rational part of his mind knew Harry wanted him to take the goblet and drink from it, but the more traumatized part of his brain kept reminding him of all the times he had tried to take a goblet from the Warden and all the painful ways the man had found to punish him for the act.
In the end Harry lifted the goblet to Voldemort´s lip and held it as the Dark Lord drank deeply. He tilted it so that Voldemort didn´t drink too much too fast, and took the goblet away once Voldemort indicated that he had enough. He swallowed the last of the water and cast a glance upwards.
“Thank you, My Lord.” The words came easy for some reason. Merlin, he was pathetic, he thought, closing his eyes. Three years of torture and abuse had managed to reduce him to an obedient pet. He hated himself in that moment, but he couldn´t find the will to stand back up either. The fear of what could happen kept him firmly grounded on his knees.
“Your welcome.” Harry sounded thoughtful.
Voldemort watched as Harry turned the nearest armchair around so that it was facing Voldemort and sat down. Pivoting on the spot Voldemort turned 45 degrees so that he was facing the Lord of the House. He assumed Harry was going to give him some sort of explanation on why he was currently in what he assumed was Harry´s house and not in Azkaban.
Again the thought about standing and sitting down in the other armchair occurred to him, but again the fear kept him from acting. He assumed Harry would have invited him to stand if he wanted Voldemort off his knees.
He sighed soundless. Well, apparently Harry appreciated his new, forced, manners. That was fine. He was long beyond caring about any humiliation the boy could put him through anyway. If it would keep the Gryffindor happy and away from any thoughts about horcrux hunting and Voldemort from being in pain, he would happily oblige.
“This is Grimmauld Place nr. 12. It belonged to the Black family and I inherited it when Sirius died at the Ministry several years ago. I have to admit it took a couple of years to actually make this place liveable. Took forever to get the old portraits out, not to mention all the cursed objects they had stored around. Anyway,” Harry waved a hand to dismiss the train of thought.
“It seems like waterboarding isn´t good for ones health. You developed bronchitis and pneumonia. Not to mention your fever was skyrocketing and you had trouble breathing. Because of the collar a magical healer was out of the question. Taking of the collar was also out of the question. In the end I got a special dispensation from the Wizengamot and the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to take you to a muggle doctor.”
What? Voldemort assumed he looked about as confused as he felt. Well, that explained the pills.
Harry smiled. “Yeah, I know. Not something you would approve of, but you were in such a bad condition we really didn´t have much of a choice. Seeing as the Warden isn´t one to be trusted with your health I also got permission to bring you here. Just to mention it before you get any stupid ideas about running, the house is warded and the collar is fixed with a perimeter spell, which will choke you if you try to step outside this house. The Floo is disconnected and there are no vanishing cabinets in this house. The dispensation lasts until your fever breaks and you can be returned to Azkaban, which would be now then.”
The thought of returning to that hellhole of a place made his pulse racing. He opened his mouth, but had no idea what to say. Please don’t send me back? No, he hadn´t fallen so far that he was going to beg Potter to let him stay. And on what grounds should the argument be made that he should be allowed to stay? He was a convicted criminal who was serving a lifetime sentence.
He settled for nodding. The thoughts running around in his head like a herd of wild horses.
“Why?” he finally asked.
Harry looked confused. “Why what?”
“Why did you help?”
“You were sick. The fever might have broken on it´s own, but it could also have killed the vessel your currently in, and since I don´t know how the horcruxes work exactly, I wasn’t going to risk you being turned into a wraith again or what ever happened last time. I would prefer for you to be able to continue to help me with my case.”
Purely selfish reasons then. Voldemort could accept that. He looked down at his hands and the cast. Harry seemed to notice because he continued.
“Ah, yes. The doctor took care of some of your other injuries. The arm had to be broken and set correctly before the cast could be fitted. Your back was in a horrible state of infections and open wounds. That´s mostly healed somewhat. The soles of your feet will need a little longer, but as long as the bandages stay on you should be able to stand on your own. You have two broken ribs on your right side and two cracked, as well as three bruised on the left side. The bandage around you middle should help keep them in place as they heal. The various bruises on your hips, neck and arms will fade in time. Your ankle was in a bad shape, but only sprained and has mostly healed on it´s own by now. We have kept you more or less asleep for a week only waking you to get you to eat and drink. You were hardly lucid during any of it so I don´t expect you to remember.”
Perfect. He was as good as new and in good shape to be tortured all over again. The Warden would be so pleased, so would the guards.
“I´m assuming you might be hungry?”
What, a last meal before he was ushered back to Azkaban? Nevertheless he wasn´t exactly fed regularly in Azkaban so he should take the chance to eat when he could. Still the question made his mind jump back to all the previous times the Warden had asked that same question.
Are you hungry, pet?
Would you like to eat today?
I assume you want to eat?
The voice sounded so real at Voldemort for a moment thought the Warden was in the house and felt himself freeze. The blood was pounding in his ears, and his vision blackened. He remembered the rules however and nodded. “Yes, My Lord.”
Well, you know the price, pet. The voice was teasing as the man leaned back in his chair, opening his legs. Voldemort closed his eyes. Of course, the bloody price for the food was always the same. Get the man off and he got to eat. Refuse and he would not eat that day and Stanley would beat him into submission for disobeying. Damned if you do, damned if you don´t as the muggle proverb went.
He shuffled forward and put a hand on the mans´ knees pushing his legs apart. As he settled between the legs he heard a sharp intake of breath somewhere over him. Strange, his mind thought. He couldn´t remember the Warden ever being anything other than eager. Unsure about the unusual situation he reached for the belt with his good hand, wondering slightly how he was going to get it open with just one hand.
Before he could ponder on the problem a hand grasped his wrist, stopping him. A hand lifted his chin and through the blood pounding in his ears he could hear a voice that was distinctly not the Wardens.
The sound of his given name made him slam back into reality. Everything shifted into focus and he found himself kneeling before Harry, his wrist held in the younger man´s grasp and Harry´s other hand was under his chin lifting it. He blinked and tried to make sense of the situation.
“Hey, you with me, Tom?”
He wanted to snap and tell Potter his name wasn´t Tom, but he couldn´t find the words. Instead he just nodded slowly. His thoughts felt like a jumbled mess. He closed his eyes and felt the whole world tilt slightly and himself falling against something solid.
“Easy,” he heard a voice over him and a hand was pushed through his hair. “Perhaps we should get you back into bed.”
Voldemort just kept his eyes closed and waited for the vertigo to tilt into a normal position. He opened his eyes again and stared into the fireplace. He was still sitting between Harry´s legs, this time leaning against his right thigh. His body was shaking slightly and for a moment he wondered what was wrong with him. He wasn´t used to having so little control over himself. He would have been embarrassed if it hadn´t been for everything he had been through over the last couple of years.
A flashback he realised. Harry´s words had brought forward a flashback and his mind had thought he was back in Azkaban and with the Warden, instead of in Harry´s house with Harry asking him if he wanted something to eat.
Harry was still pushing his hand through his hair and muttering nonsense. It was comforting in a way he didn´t want to identify. His breathing slowed, as did his pulse. The world came back into focus and he looked up and met the green eyes over him.
“Hey,” Harry smiled. “Back with me?”
Voldemort swallowed and nodded. Looking down he saw that Harry was still holding his wrist. He tugged slightly and the younger man let go and allowed Voldemort to pull his hand to his chest.
“I take it you had a flashback?”
He nodded again. “I´m sorry, My Lord,” he muttered, dragging a hand over his face and trying to figure out what to do.
Over him Harry laughed. “To be honest I was tempted to take you up on your offer there.”
Why didn´t you then? Voldemort thought but didn´t ask. Probably some moral conscience that got in the way he assumed.
“Do you want to go back to bed?”
“Thought you were returning med to Azkaban, My Lord?” he croaked, his voice cracking at the end.
The silence was answer enough.
He sighed. Better just get it over with and go back. “Just take me back. It won´t get any better if I go back now or after a meal.” Behind him Harry rose from the chair, leaving Voldemort on the ground, trying to compose himself enough to stand without falling down. At the moment he wasn´t sure if his legs would hold him.
“Actually, I had planed to show you this after you ate, but perhaps you should take a look at it first.” Harry walked towards his desk and picked up something. As he turned around he called out. “Kreacher.”
A pop later and an old house elf appeared in the middle of the room. It looked vaguely familiar but Voldemort couldn´t place it. Harry quickly asked him to bring up food and water and after bowing the creature disappeared.
“Here.” Harry sat back down in the chair and handed Voldemort a sealed envelope.
Confused he looked at the wax seal on the back that bore the seal of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement before turning it over. The front only said Tom M. Riddle.
“Go on.” Harry looked strangely pleased.
He broke the seal and opened the letter, quickly scanning the content. After reading the letter once he looked up at Harry before reading it once more, this time more closely. Somewhere in the middle of the letter the house elf returned with a tray with food and water that was placed on the coffee table. Voldemort hardly noticed, he was too engrossed in the letter.