Chapter 1: Carpe diem
There are those, who would flay the skin from their flanks to grovel at the feet of divinity. There are those, who would cast off the shape of their container to bow before hellebore and mumble verses and words in cracked noises. Incense cloying, wax dripping to hiss and sear and burn again...again. There are those, who would chop the limbs that grounded them and let their spirit rise upwards into the grasp of the heavenly choir, leaving behind mutilated flesh carved by their own hand.
Then I will punish their transgression with the rod And their iniquity with stripes; Psalm 89:32
There are those who under worship saw duty instilled by other. There are those who took their love, and used it to justify hate. Under candlelight and broken stone, altars cracked by unseen strife. Water blessed by saint, given to those begging for a drink until drink turned to drunk and from there it burned like fire. Dripping, pouring, again...again.
But the next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place;2 Kings 8:15
Flashes again, heat and humility and humble forced through his blood into spirit itself. There are things more important than our own pleasures, there are things more important than the suffering of the body.
Again, again, until the wordless coos were banished with the glint of polished metal. The scarlet light tinted from the window of the Virgin Mary. The thrashing and woeful throes of creatures made from hellfire.
And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;’Mark 16:17
The sins of the impure will be baptized with blood and worship.
There are those with faith to guide their hand and trust in actions predetermined.
There are those, who beg for less; and scream as heaven crashes down.
“Please God, let me live.”
There are those, who beg and cry over their salvation; where even the Lord turns their back in shame.
Number 12 Grimmauld Place was a dark, gloomy place. It was filled with a sort of presence hard to explain- it felt like a hundred eyes watched you no matter where you went. Although, that may have been the large wall of severed House Elves.
The stairs creaked, the walls smelled of mildew and peeling paper, even the furniture had strange teeth marks as if something had been gnawing on it for quite a while. It wasn’t pleasant under any circumstances, but it wasn’t the Dursley’s so with that logic, it was home.
Once you overlooked the large cases of potentially dangerous artifacts, the house had a sort of charm to it. It had memories from the small soot stains on the ceiling to the part of the carpet where dozens of feet had stamped it flat over decades. Harry wasn’t one to say any of this out loud, but he actually liked the house.
His godfather most certainly did not, and Harry was beginning to suspect them and had put several of the soot stains there himself.
They had been cleaning the house almost insanely so. Mrs. Weasley leaping at the couch cushions wielding a feather duster instead of a sword. She could have fit in one of the paintings where knights fought off dragons; except she used a mop to challenge a suspiciously large fur ball to a duel to the death. Harry was pretty sure the fur ball had never seen something as terrifying as that woman.
Only a few days into summer break and already Harry’s fingers felt numb and sore from scrubbing, he wasn’t sure he had ever smelled as lemony before in his life. His hair was messy, at one point he and Ginny tried to tie it back with countless hair clips but they too were consumed by the ravenous black mane. Sirius had laughed so hard at the sad attempt, he even let the disgruntled girl try to make stubby braids in his black hair.
Harry couldn’t argue that life was bad, but there were moments where he felt such overwhelming frustration he wanted to punch a wall. Moments while cleaning where he simply remembered the chaos of the Triwizard Tournament, moments where he felt the hot rotten breath of the Horntail snapping just behind his shoulder- only for him to spin around and see nothing but dust.
There were moments, when he glanced in a mirror and bright red eyes stared back at him. Moments where he swallowed water and he was convinced that he was going to drown. Small moments, but moments nonetheless.
It was better now, now that he could stay up at night leaning against Padfoot on a couch, watching a fireplace flicker without the stress of impending grades. There were times where he could walk to the kitchen and grab an apple to eat, a novelty that was embarrassing and shameful to take pride in. Times, where he breathed in and although the air was stale and molded, he was so overwhelmingly happy he couldn’t not smile.
He didn’t like to think about the graveyard. He didn’t like to think of the muted noise of someone hitting the ground. It sounded just like a dozen other times; when Dudley broke his glasses when he tripped him at the playground, when they learned Stunners for the first time and Hermione had been a little too good at it, when Ron fell out of bed in the morning forgetting that his feet needed to support his weight, when Cedric’s lifeless body collapsed onto dew coated grass.
It all sounded the same, but it left his heart stuttering just a little too frantically. Like a pocket watch wound a little too tightly. Gears grinding together- pull too quick then watch it spin itself out.
Sometimes his hands would clench into tight fists, knuckles turning white. Sometimes he wanted to turn and punch and punch until his skin split and bled. He felt like he deserved it sometimes. He didn’t kill Cedric, but he may have well done it himself.
He would never forget it, not until he stopped breathing.
“Harry!” Someone startled him, causing Harry to jolt from where he had been dozing off. Hermione was looking at him inquisitively, a small hint of concern threatening to bubble over. He had been trying his best to disguise anything that may have been not normal. She hadn’t been that close to him during the School Year (something they had already discussed and put behind them) so any new habits of his weren’t yet familiar to her.
He forced his face into a small smile, forced but not obviously so. “Yeah 'Mione? Ready to go?”
Hermione tucked one loose strand of hair behind her ear, visibly uncomfortable. “Ah, yes. Ginny finished up in the library so we’re gathering in the parlor to portkey over.”
Harry nodded, already aware of the plan. There was going to be a large discussion here at the Order headquarters, one so large that the risk of exposing other members or nonmembers (much to the Twin’s frustration) was too dangerous. They were all being moved into the Weasley household for a couple days until all discussions were finished.
“Professor Moody is escorting us!” Hermione smiled weakly, unable to hide how much the man discomforted her. The large bulging eye and uncanny habits left much to be wanted, but he was intelligent company and not someone who treated Harry like a fragile child. Harry liked his company over a few choice members.
“Harry!” Mrs. Weasley waved at him dramatically, although there wasn't any way he could possible miss her. It was an endearing action, although one that continued to baffle Harry as time went on. “Over here! Do you have everything? Don’t leave anything behind! Ginny, Dear, did you get those spare pastries in the kitchen- Fred! George! Stop that!”
Harry sighed through his nose at the familiar ruckus, sliding into the group of Red hair that crowded around him like a friendly pile of Kneazles. They were all clutching one large nondescript umbrella with one hand, the other was being held by a scowling Alastor Moody.
“Good, all set?” Moody grumbled, bulging eye rolling around jerkily, “excellent, we’re making excellent time. Alright, hang on tight, Willow.”
They vanished, then landed. Harry promptly vomited on the grass.
“Get it together, Potter!” Moody howled playfully, swatting Harry’s hunched over back with the now ordinary umbrella. “Deep breaths! Get your feet under ya!”
Harry wheezed and tried to ignore the snot that was drooling from his nose with the bold intent of Hagrid’s hound. Moody grinned when he saw Harry summon his limitless amount of stubborn willpower. He straightened jerkily, and Moody laughed a barking raspy noise.
“There you go!” Moody sneered playfully, twirling the umbrella in one hand, “off now, reckon they’ll be waiting. Albus told me to keep an eye on you, seem you’re a magnet for trouble, eh?”
Harry didn’t quite know what to say in response, so he coughed sourly into one hand and rolled his shoulders.
“Make my life exciting, Potter.” Moody grinned, starting off with a shuffling gait towards the Burrow towering in the distance, “Albus warned me of that. Told me not to let you go stumbling off.”
“I wouldn’t go stumbling off looking for trouble if I wanted to.” Harry snidely muttered, pausing before recovering with a quiet, “sir.”
Moody cackled, looking more thrilled by the lack of professionalism. He smacked one of his large hands on Harry’s back, nearly sending him flying. “You’re a lively one! Good! Keep that spirit, it’ll keep you alive!”
Harry could imagine the large bruise forming on his back. He was going to get questions about that for sure.
“Tell ya what.” Moody’s face twisted into what may have been a smile, although the missing chunk of his nose made his entire expression seem garish. “I’m workin’ on a ritual. May be good experience to see some advanced magic in practice.”
Harry instantly perked up. “A ritual? Like the-.”
Harry thought of red eyes. His arm burned. He flinched.
Moody didn’t look like he pitied Harry, which was more than most people gave him. Harry already liked Moody a lot more because of that.
“You’ve seen a ritual already, boy.” Moody grunted sharply, “You manage to get out of bed before dawn I’ll show you some real magic alright. Of course, only observational purposes.”
Harry couldn’t stop the wide breathless smile that spread across his face. “Of course, sir.”
Moody chuckled lowly, swatting him with the umbrella. “Cheeky brat! Get inside! Molly will be making a fuss if you keep your bird's nest of a head out here any more!”
Mrs. Weasley did make a racket, shushing him up the stairs to drop his bag off in Ron’s room where he’d be sharing it. He had tried to explain that he really was fine with a few blankets on the floor, but apparently the Weasley household couldn’t fathom ever a situation where that would be necessary. A bright cot was shoved in the corner, larger than the one Harry had grown up sleeping on under the stairs.
“Bloody sucks,” Ron grumbled under his breath, flopping on his own bed, “that we got kicked out for a stupid Order meeting. Why can’t we just stay in our rooms?”
Harry dug through his bag and pulled out a few of the supplies he had taken with him, particularly the snacks he had weaseled away with Sirius’ help. “Well, maybe they know Fred and George would try to sneak in.”
Ron made a small grumbling noise of agreement, fumbling on his side table for a specific magazine in the stack of Quidditch posts.
Harry occupied himself the best he could, trying not to think about what Sirius could be doing so far away.
Dinner was a wonderful home cooked meal, made with far too much fuss. Harry was perfectly content with whatever he was given, but apparently eating his meal without all the additives was somehow a crime. Ginny nearly launched herself across the table when Harry forgo the gravy and side sauces. Mrs. Weasley invaded his space herself, pouring so much gravy on his plate, Harry was sure his potato would start to float.
Feeling much more content and cozy, the house was filled with warmth and laughter. Stories and discussions about what had been going on in the world, speculation about the next year at Hogwarts even though the summer break just started. Fred and George talked to Harry in codewords that were so convoluted, Harry couldn’t figure out what on earth they meant when obviously discussing their funding for their prank shop. Maybe the idea of a Skivvering furball was some sort of cat? Or maybe they were literally talking about a fur ball.
Harry went to bed with a small alarm clock ready to jump out of his hand for dawn, with the reassurance that Ron could sleep through a tornado.
The rune circle was pretty and organic in a way the Graveyard wasn’t. An area of the field had been cleared out, a small circle surrounded by bright green sprouts that would one day turn into corn plants towering above their heads. Moody was fumbling around the edges, adjusting large mounds of turquoise stones that Harry had seen in some jewelry. He was sure Hermione had a necklace with one of the sky blue rocks.
“Potter!” Moody barked, pointing at one nondescript lump of what looked like coal, “go fetch me that rock!”
Harry hopped up from where he was sitting on the ground, grabbed the lump of coal, and handed it to the larger wizard. Moody didn’t even look up before he dropped the stone, smashing it under his heel until it was small fragments. Harry didn’t understand any of this.
He was sure he would do better in Divination than any of this weird rune creating business.
Moody finally felt satisfied with his odd little circle when he rotated a completely normal quaffle four times on a pedestal. It looked like a normal quaffle, so Harry really didn’t understand why he was so focused on it.
“Alright!” Moody almost roared, the sunrise peeking over the horizon now to chase away the dew, “stand back Potter! If I manage to do this right, we’ll have a great aid to our war!”
Harry jolted upright in interest, “we will? What are you making? A weapon?”
Moody barked out a laugh, “close! This ritual summons your signature from when its the most desperate! In almost all cases it summons you when you’re on your bloody deathbed but with war, I reckon I’d be most desperate only when we’ve somehow lost!”
Harry blinked a few times, unable to begin to understand.
“Normally this ritual is bloody useless,” Moody scoffed at the ground and the nice quaffle. Maybe he’d give it to Fred and George once they were done, they could use a new quaffle for sure. “But if I manage this right, my older self would be something that Dark Lord never expects! Hah! We’d have won!”
Harry didn’t want to argue that Moody wasn’t quite the sanest, so really a highly desperate Moody may not be the best idea.
“Okay, sir.” Harry shrugged unsure, sitting back on the dirt of obediently watch. “I’ll get help if you set yourself on fire.”
Moody sent him a stink eye although it was an affectionate one. He grinned a toothy grimace, then began to twirl and dance while shouting gibberish. No, it was a step up from that. It was gibberish, with meaning.
Harry lowered his chin to rest in his palm, already expecting the man to be struck by lightning. He should have stayed in bed.
The ritual worked, but they had overlooked a few things.
They thought that Moody would be the most desperate between them, that through the trauma and battle’s he’d seen, any stage where he truly became desperate would surely be more powerful. The ritual locked onto the nearest signatures, scanning through the dimensions unbound by time for anything that fulfilled the requirement. Moody had a few instances of desperation, where anxiety and adrenaline peaked into a concoction of potential.
Harry hadn’t thought he was really that desperate in his lifetime. Maybe he had some trauma, maybe he had nightmares nightly. It couldn’t be at all able to fulfill the specifications.
A moment, of utter despair and utmost desperation. A level of panic and unholy fear that left you unable to function on even the most instinctual level. Something so wounded and rancid, it tainted who you were down to your core.
The London Blitz was something horrible. Something bloody and cruel like a feral dog with its leg in a trap. Desperation; willing to chew its own muscle and tendons and snap its bone because it wanted to live.
‘Please God, let me live.’
‘Please God, let me live.’
War, was something unbound by time.
War rarely ever changed, really.
‘...I don’t want to die.’
The first thing that Harry thought, was that the smell of cranberries was a strange smell for a ritual. He had been preparing himself for a sharp bite of sulfur, or maybe the gagging fumes of the Divination tower. Maybe a little sparks or ominous chanting in the wind. He didn’t know much about rituals so he was genuinely expecting anything that had an unsettling feeling to it.
Instead, there was a pungent recognizable smell of cranberries, like Ron had accidentally flipped a bowl of jelly across the entire table.
There was a thin wispy line of pink smoke, opaque like a ribbon. It wiggled in the air, like a tentacle from the Giant Squid waving a friendly hello. Moody stood in the middle of it all, his thin hair rising above his head dramatically. Harry almost laughed from the ridiculousness of it all.
There was a tiny pop, Harry thought it was his jaw at first. Sometimes he yawned and it made a similar noise. His forehead itched, then burned.
“Shit!” Harry cursed, hands slapping against his forehead against the sharp burn of his scar. For some reason it was wet, although he could tell it wasn’t the same type of pain he knew. It was...something deeper and sore, but not so unbearable that he couldn’t breathe.
Moody’s arms lifted, and Harry almost laughed at how asinine everything was.
Another tiny pop, like someone a few feet away popped an especially impressive bubblegum bubble, and then there was a person.
‘Oh’ Harry thought to himself numbly, ‘that’s not Moody.’
‘Oh.’ Harry quickly thought again once his brain comprehended what exactly had happened. ‘Oh shite.’
It was a teenager, thin with long limbs. Wearing clothing Harry couldn’t imagine Dudley ever wearing or let alone fitting in even in a few sizes larger. Muted colours and fraying edges that looked itchy even from the slight distance. They looked like they belonged in a second hand store, or maybe a British archive.
The thin cuffs were too big, the pants were rolled up and hacked off with dull scissors or a knife. Harry had worn worse, so it wasn’t that bad.
The boy was splayed on the ground, adjusting slowly with a small groan so quiet Harry almost missed it. Arms moved, legs adjusted. There wasn’t any blood spewing anywhere, so already that was better than expected.
Moody sharply finished the ritual, lowing his arms and transitioning from shaman to confused auror. Obviously, the boy slowly recovering was not Moody.
Another low groan, long heavily bruised fingers curling into a low fist as whoever it was jerked up into a kneeling position. Messy greasy hair in messy clumps hid the face, although clearly male.
“Uh,” Harry wisely said.
The newcomer lifted one black and blue hand up to clutch his temple, slurring out a low but still audible, “Wot’ ‘he bleedin’ ‘ell?”
“Cockney.” Harry blurted intelligently.
Barely a second happened before the stranger was swinging his left hand to his side where something was strapped there- then a sword popped out.
Well, a sword was an exaggeration but it was larger than a knife. Ornate and antique, dirty and muddied up but held in a tight grip. A bloody dagger, and Harry was respectfully paranoid when facing suspicious individuals wielding sharp blades. His arm throbbed at the memory.
“Oi!” Moody shouted the moment he spotted the knife, kicking upwards to displace the flat of it with his prosthetic leg. The knife didn’t fly away, but it was jerked in a thin grip so it wasn’t as dangerous. “Put that away, boy!”
The stranger reeled back, predatory lunging backwards onto mismatching boots. There was a hole in the one, no socks.
“Cop the bloody hell fire from me!” They spit out sharply, nearly equaling Professor Snape in level of frigidity. Harry instantly took a step back, some sort of gut instinct telling him to back off.
Moody’s scowl sunk in and he pulled his wand, jerking it at the ready. The stranger spotted it and twisted back- his skin was sickly pale and somewhat yellow in a few spots- then made an undisguised choking noise.
“A bloody wand, i’n’it?” A choked noise, then a skittering step backwards. Moody instantly stiffened, holding his wand ready. Harry realized that pulling his wand would likely be a good idea, so he too fumbled to get it out of his back pocket.
The stranger and one hand through his disgusting hair, pushing it up out of his face although the bloodied knuckles muffled his hysterical: “ Bollocks. ”
The hand lowered, Harry made a loud “ah!” and took a step backwards. Moody looked very exasperated.
“Who are you?” Moody grumbled out.
Tom Riddle’s gaunt bruised face glared, thin lips pulling back savagely. He was a feral animal, something chained up and abandoned in a junkyard and a skeleton of instinctual drive to survive, and pure spite.
“Cockney.” Harry blurted again, although his voice was more wondering than horrified.
Tom’s face twitched, dark eyes lined with thick purple bags. Bloodied knuckles smoothed disgusting hair and brushed against a flaking stain on his left cheekbone. It fell away like a dark powder, soot, or blood.
“Ah, my apologies.” Tom Riddle spoke, hoarse and guttural and in all ways a snarl. No cockney in sight, although Harry could never forget that surreal drawl from a face he’d never forget.
Tom Riddle’s eyes flashed darkly, the waxy glimmer of his skin made him look sickly. Tom Riddle bared his teeth and said, “I stress, fuck you.”
It took awhile to wrestle him into compliance. Most of the time Harry stood there in dumb shock, Moody did most of the talking. It took nearly as long to explain what happened (which nobody could figure out), as it took to get the dagger out of Tom Riddle’s hand. Being threatened at wandpoint gave the world a special perspective. The cockney accent vanished, instead there was a smooth drawl that hitched a little at first but now sounded as natural as breathing.
“Cockney.” Harry whispered to himself almost in bliss, feeling very satisfied with the knowledge.
Tom Riddle was practically frog marched into the house with the tip of a wand pressed against the back of his neck. The other was seething, a restrained unit of violent intent that Harry felt worried would lash out at any moment. Harry had a strange sense that even without a wand or a knife, Tom Riddle could kill them if he wanted to.
Tom Riddle sat down in the chair Moody pointed at him to sit in. His leg moved, calf balancing on his knee. His head tilted just so, and suddenly Harry felt like he had seen this boy in the chamber below the castle years ago.
“So,” Moody grumbled sourly, looking composed although Harry knew he was just as bewildered. “You must be confused.”
Tom Riddle’s fingers tapped along the exposed skin of his wrist. The skin looked sickly, his nails broken and chipped into small nubs.
“Unfortunately.” Tom clipped out, yet impossibly the word drawled out patronizingly. Harry wondered how Snape never mastered an intimidating aura with a single word. Moody ran one hand down his face tiredly, magical eye rolling in its socket.
“Alright, the bag.” Moody grunted, and Tom Riddle very fluidly reached for the small side bag on his hip. It looked like canvas, nondescript. Fairly small but well secured to his side. Harry could have sworn he’d seen the clothes Tom was wearing before, although he had no idea where.
Tom placed it on the table next to him, eyes never leaving Moody.
“Leave it,” Moody demanded, slowly hobbling over to slide the bag further away using the tip of his wand. Moody mumbled something, swishing his wand. The bag glowed ever so slightly.
“Enchanted,” Moody growled, Harry felt something grow tenser. Tom blinked slowly, not bothered.
Moody unzipped the zipper, ignoring the small tear near the metal teeth. He reached inside, jerking the flap open wide so he could peer inside. Whatever his magical eye saw, it clearly wasn’t what he wanted to find.
“Fine,” Moody grunted sharply, “go clean up. Kitchen sink. Po...Harry, go let Mrs. Weasley know.”
“Right, sir.” Harry scrambled to his feet. His feet made obnoxious squeaking noises on the floor, Tom Riddle didn’t even look at him.
Mrs. Weasley took to the idea that there was a stranger in her kitchen quite well. In hindsight, with how often Harry popped by unannounced it likely wasn’t odd at all. Once Harry explained that Moody somehow summoned a boy through cranberries and ribbons, she was already ignoring him and muttering about breakfast. Harry had a strange feeling that Tom wouldn’t be that cheery for homemade toast.
“Mrs. Weasley, I really think that you should wait!” Harry scrambled after, trying to keep his voice low so he wouldn't wake the other occupants of the house. Dealing with a gaggle of Weasleys was always much more difficult than the matriarch herself.
“None of that, Harry!” Mrs. Weasley shushed him gently, hurrying into the kitchen with a fond smile. “No dearie! Leave it all to me!”
Harry couldn’t express in all the words in the English language, how much of a bad idea that was.
They entered the kitchen just as the boy in question was retreating to a corner. One of Mrs. Weasley’s bright dish towels was wiping across his face, other portions of it looked thick with grime. Other sections looked reddish and almost crusted over.
“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley looked taken aback although she recovered quickly, like a mother who had seen almost every possible monstrosity in her kitchen before. “Don’t worry, dearie! I’ll fetch you another one!”
Tom Riddle’s eyes peered out, clouded and distrusting. The dish towel was completely ruined.
“Wow,” Harry spoke without thinking as he was prone to doing when tired or overwhelmed, “that is a lot of dirt.”
Tom Riddle’s face twitched and he splashed more water on his face- a small dish that Mrs. Weasley normally used for decorative fruit. It was a smart idea, Harry didn’t know why he hadn’t ever considered having a bowl of water instead of constantly fighting with the magical taps.
He splashed and ran his broken nails over skin, clawing and leaving ever so faint red lines. Scrubbing away dirt without considering a new cloth or something else. Harry doubted he used any of the soap offered for washing dishes.
“Here dear!” Mrs. Weasley returned, holding out not only a clean full body towel, but a few washcloths made for scrubbing. Tom said nothing, he set to work scrubbing with a mindless efficiency that both startled Harry and made him uncomfortable. The water in the bowl quickly clouded over. Tom then went so far as to dunk part of his head in the water, scrubbing without care for the lack of soap.
“Ah,” Harry interrupted after a few seconds of staring at this surreal display. “There’s ah, soap.”
Tom didn’t look at him.
Tom dumped the water down the drain, flipping the bowl for drying before he used the towel to scrub his hair dry. It stuck up in weird clumps; the white towel was grey from oils. It overall was...odd.
Tom stepped away, lifting the hem of his shirt to wipe against the sharp cut of his jaw. It was dirtier than the towel, but looked like a mindless habit. Harry spotted dark purples and red, sick yellows like pus sprinkled over a sunken bony-.
“You done?” Tom Riddle spoke, voice hoarse and raspy. It wasn’t at all the smooth baritone that Harry remembered from the chamber. It sounded...rattly.
“Er, yes I ah, I-...” Harry scrambled over an excuse, unable to think, “ah…”
“You also repeated cockney earlier,” Tom echoed flatly, “not very bright, are you?”
Harry flushed, feeling the heat burn in his face. Tom ignored him, using fingers to comb through his wet black hair.
“You caught me off guard.” Harry finally managed to explain, Tom ignored him and skirted out of the kitchen and back to the table, taking a seat in the chair from earlier. He looked better, cleaner although not pristine. His face wasn’t coated in dirt, but the waxy yellowish tinge was still there.
Moody grunted once from the other chair, having been waiting.
“Alright,” Tom spoke first, taking control of the conversation. “Perhaps an agreement would benefit us both. I only want my bag and I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Oh,” Harry blurted in cold realization. “Oh you don’t know.”
“Quiet, Harry.” Moody interrupted with a low voice, squinting both his eyes across the table at Tom. “What year is it?”
Tom looked on guard, cautious and perplexed by the questions. He smiled, all soft gentle movements that hid the jaded ends of his barbed words. “How unfortunate, you must be confused.”
“Answer the question, Riddle, was it?” Moody glanced at Harry who nodded mutely.
Tom’s face flickered ever so slightly, eyes observing Harry for the first time the entire morning.
“I see,” Tom stated flatly, all pleasantries gone, “You appear to know my name yet I am unfamiliar with my captors.”
Moody reclined in his chair, his prosthetic scratched over the floor. “What year is it, Riddle.”
It wasn’t phrased like a question, maybe that was why Tom finally answered.
“September.” Tom clipped out coldly. “1942. You know this.”’
Harry inhaled so sharply he choked on his spit. He hurriedly turned away, hacking and wheezing as he nearly asphyxiated on his own saliva.
“Yeah,” Moody grimaced with a slight disgruntled noise hidden in his tone, “that’s a problem.”
Tom’s eyes flickered back and forth again, face carefully blank. “What year is it.”
Moody almost grinned. “You’re in for a big surprise. Harry, let Mrs. Weasley know her dining room is off limits for the day. Send a message to Headquarters, tell Nymphadora that I am having a broom malfunction.”
Harry almost laughed at the strange phrase, “I didn’t know you enjoyed flying, sir.”
Moody didn’t take his eyes away from the challenging stare Tom directed at him. “I don’t. It’s a code I use for when things have gone horribly wrong.”
Tom almost smiled.
“You understand the situation.” Moody finished with a blunt nod, sliding a sheaf of paper across the table.
Tom mechanically picked the paper up, not glancing at the written contents once. Tom blinked slowly, purposefully, before he started to speak.
“You say that I am in the future, although you refuse to disclose any factual evidence or information regarding how far.” Tom started accusatory. “You also state you used a form of ritual, however in my knowledge all rituals with direct affect on individuals are banned by Ministry use. You have kidnapped me, which is a...hefty criminal violation. You state that I will follow your direction based on... not providing proper evidence for your claims?”
“Well,” Moody grumbled with a small huff, “if you want to play entitled, then fine. Do you realize that since you aren’t supposed to exist, you don’t have any rights?”
“Philosophy, is an interest of mine.” Tom began sharply. “Your mistaken perceptions of legalities are not dismissable over the treatment I am receiving currently.”
“Big words for a brat screaming cockney when you weren’t off your arse yet.”
“How fortunate for you, that I had not anticipated being victim of illegal ritual magic.”
Moody huffed a little and scratched his face. “You’re a cocky one, aren’t ya?”
Tom didn’t say anything in response.
The door opened with a bang. Someone fell inside, clumsily catching themselves on the edge of the table before missing and dropping further. A yelp, a flash of purple, and then a woman was poking her head up over the edge.
“Hi!” She cheered happily, hair changing into a vibrant blue before their eyes, “My name is Tonks! Oh wow, where you find this one, Moody?’
Tom bristled, eyes flickering over her colourful hair.
“A metamorphmagus.” Tom spoke, voice a low purr that had rumbles and hitches throughout. He sounded like an alley cat. “A pleasure, I’ve never been permitted such company prior.”
Tonks’ eyebrows rose and her mouth dropped into a little ‘o’ in realization. Moody huffed quietly.
“Auror Tonks,” Moody waved towards another unoccupied seat, “we’re got a temporal disturbance. Department of Mysteries wet dream right here.”
Tom’s eyebrows twitched slightly, Tonks flung herself in the unoccupied chair.
“Wotcher!” She beamed excitedly, “a temporal disturbance! How exciting, when are you from?”
“1942,” Moody grunted, tapping the table top twice, “September. Not only a yearly displacement, but the entire summer.”
“Well that’s unusual.” Tonks confessed with a wide stare and a few quick blinks, “but time travelers are all unusual. You look horrible! Well, I mean you likely look great but right now you’re looking a bit peckish.”
Tom blinked slowly, and folded his calf on his leg again. “I request a representative from the Ministry for all further discussions.”
Tonks’ expression fell. She looked at Moody, who had an equally faltering face.
“Oh, so I was right then.” Tom continued without taking a breath. “Perhaps you are aurors, perhaps not. You’re running from an independent affiliation, which somehow accidentally targeted me. Runic magic is not permitted, yet you were experienced with the runic layout I saw before you dragged me here. I wonder, if I were to activate the trace, how quickly would Ministry officials investigate and find your little experiment?”
Moody slammed one hand on the table. Nobody jumped.
“You know damn well trace magic was removed over ages of 11 in the 40’s.” Moody growled out coldly. “Your threat may work for anyone who doesn’t know ministry operations, but you’re a goddamn brat in our experience.”’
Tom’s eyes flickered down to the table, where parts of Moody’s fingers had been blown off over the year. “Ah yes. An expert I see.”
Tonks choked audible and flushed so hard her hair turned red.
“Cheeky.” Moody grumbled low, looking more aggravated by the second.
“So,” Tonks recovered although her voice hitched slightly, “I’ve got...some, questions ya’ know just to-.”
“Full name?” Moody practically shouted.
Tom’s lower lip curled slightly. “Tom. Riddle.”
They already knew that, but it looked like Tom was going to cooperate since they were at a stalemate.
“Thank you Tom!” Tonks chirped out, fumbling with the sheet of paper Moody slid to her. She pulled her wand, twisting it to conjure a quill. Her tongue poked out the corner of her mouth as she hastily scribbled down his name. “How old are ya?”
Tom folded his fingers carefully together, face blank. “Fifteen years old.”
“Right around our problem trio’s age.” Tonks hummed to herself, writing that down too, “birthday? And year?
Tom’s face finally wrinkled slightly in distaste. “December 31st. 1927.”
Moody’s face didn’t change, but Tonks made a small noise of interest. She grinned excitedly, her hair flickering ever so slightly as her joy became visible.
“Wow!” She chattered like a small animal, scribbling something on her paper. “I mean, I knew it was real since Moody here wouldn’t make this up, but its so wild! Do you want something to eat? I can get you a drink!”
Tom’s face was flat, he didn’t look nearly as amused as Tonks was.
“Have you been treated okay?” Tonks asked with a small tilt to her head, “Mrs. Weasley can grab you a blanket if you’re cold!”
Tom’s lower lip curled downwards ever so slightly. “This is pathetic.”
Tonks made a small pshh noise and flipped her hand dismissively. “After this would you like a shower? You’re looking a bit mangled, what happened to look like that?”
Tom shifted in his chair ever so slightly, his face just as neutral as before.
“You okay, mate?” Tonks asked worriedly, her eyebrows furrowing in alarm.
“...You’re asking me closed questions, not relevant to the topic at hand. You will not answer any of my questions, lest you shift the control of this interrogation into my hands. You’re aiming to deliberately trick me into believing i’m not in any trouble.” Tom spoke flat, eyes flickering to Tonks bluntly. “This is standard interrogation practice.”
Moody huffed once again, then shifted his weight. His chair slid against the floor ever so slightly.
“Wow, you are bloody brilliant.” Tonks recovered with a small degree of awe, “I heard that I was supposed to be careful, but that's wicked. How did you ever learn this crummy stuff?”
Tonks made a small scoffing noise. He crossed his arms, tone as offended as he looked. “Free narrative questions now. Are you going to deviate from the textbook and give me a challenge or are you planning to go through your little checklist?”
Tonks blinked three times in rapid succession.
“When you were summoned here, did you notice anything odd before?” Moody grumbled sourly.
Tom smiled, his teeth were briefly exposed. “Direct questions now. Did you abandon your free narrative inquiry so soon? My, and I thought you were experienced.”
“I’ve interrogated enough brats to know when you’re not going to get anywhere,” Moody rumbled low in his throat like a large dog. “I’ve interrogated more psychopaths and murderers than you’ll ever know, boy. This is outright ignorance at its finest.”
Tom’s eyes were perceptively sharp. “Is that so? When I arrived here, where were you in direction to myself? You were close, startlingly so. You admitted to the illegal ritual which although you performed supposedly successful, you are not distressed or worried at all. Your interrogation techniques are standard but you’ve not acknowledged proper auror regulation for investigations or witnesses. I believe I’ve summarized our situation clearly, although you could certainly add to it. I’m so terribly sorry if I’ve overwhelmed you, would you like me to repeat myself at a slower speed? You do know how an investigation works, I believe?”
Moody’s face darkened in restrained rage. Tonks gaped in confusion.
Tom’s grin spread a hair’s length further. “Closed questions, free narrative questions, direct and cross-questioning. Very standard. Is there anything else that you can tell me about this?”
Tonks flushed in embarrassment as she recognized the last question, as a review question; the final standard tool for investigative interrogations.
Moody made a low crackling noise in his throat that may have been his sanity slowly draining from his missing eye socket.
“Oh dear,” Tom spoke in a mockery of anything polite. “That sounds quite ill. I have it on good assurance that Mrs. Weasley would love to provide you a drink. Isn’t that right?”
His eyes slid ever so slowly to Tonks, who recovered from her flush into something a shade more pale.
Moody’s cheek twitches. “I have half a mind to curse you, brat. But that duper’s delight will kick you enough.”
Tom’s fake pleasant smile didn’t shift. “How petty to accuse me of ever finding pleasure in deceiving others. Why, that’s such a cruel accusation. Truly, piercing.”
Tonks looked over at Moody, her discomfort nearly screaming. Her entire body posture hunkered inwards on herself, her face timid and uncertain. “Moody? Should I...ah, contact…”
Moody grimaced, even he looked unsure. “We’re saving the veritasium for more high profile suspects. I don’t want to waste it.”
Tom twitched, face blank. It was impossible to tell if the thought of the truth serum was actually that horrific, or if he took even more offense to not being a high profile suspect.
Moody sighed through his nose, the noise was broken slightly into a low whistle from the air escaping the bits of cartilage that never healed properly. “Listen, Riddle. Your situation is very delicate and you had best cooperate. We can make this very easy, or make this very difficult. Either way, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.”
Tom Riddle sighed slightly, “I thought we were past stating obvious information, auror.”
Tonks’s hand twitched in a very clear sign of restraint.
“Then we do this how you want to,” Moody settled bluntly, “quid pro quo.”
For the first time, Tom’s eyes flared with a spark of interest.
“Quid pro quo,” he played with the words, rolling them with a strange sort of fluidity to the words. “ Do ut des. ' I give, so that you may give.’ Fascinating concept, a naked contract.”
Moody didn’t raise to the bait. “You know Latin.”
Tom resist the urge to roll his eyes. “Naked contract, nudum pactum. Context is popular in all areas, auror. Foresake the devil and all his works , along those lines.”
Tonks very carefully made sure that her confusion was not visible. Moody seemed to understand, he nodded ever so slowly and laid his hands flat on the table. The gnarled joints and slightly misaligned bones as that much more apparent. Tom eyed his hands in boredom, following suit although with a lazy curve to his wrist. Somehow, the sight of the gesture made Tonks’ skin crawl.
Moody started, asking very bluntly: What were you doing before you were summoned.
Tom smiled like he had won something highly sought. In London.
Tom spoke smoothly like the velvet feel of a flower petal: where am I.
Moody told him, and they talked.
They talked, answering and asking in turn. Tonks nearly bristled as the topics started to delve into more uncertain areas; where precisely they were located currently. Which family Moody and Tonks came from. Who the boy was that was in the room earlier. Who knew that Tom was here.
“Alright,” Tonks interrupted after Tom’s smooth words manage to unnerve even Moody. “You’ve asked enough. What are your intentions towards others?”
Tom’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Amusement masked behind a dull face. He was nearly gleeful in her hasty interruption. “ My intentions? Oh dear, you make it seem as if I’m courting.”
Tonks twitched, she hadn’t ever wanted to punch a suspect so hard in her life.
“I can see why you’re so hesitant,” Tom spoke calmly. “I understand that my conversation is generally so enthralling.”
Tonks’ heart beat quickly. She knew he couldn’t hear it.
“I imagine how wretched it would be to ever be handcuffed to myself.” His eyes were far too vibrant with amusement. “Oh dear, you look so bluenose to be upstaged.”
It took Tonks a split second to recognize that he had incorporated slang that was heavily out of date. A sentence in common English that seemed peculiar, but had an entire double meaning she had no context to understand.
“Wow,” She stated bluntly without even pretending to keep her composure. “You’re a bloody arse.”
Tom’s eyes flickered in delight having won the interrogation. “A phrase I’ve heard commonly heard directed at me after my discussions is vade retro satana. Perhaps in a few months, you’ll have a rudimentary understanding to appropriately use it.”
Aurors were required to know introductory Latin for work; it had been that way for centuries.
Tonks tilted her head, and seriously contemplated smashing Tom Riddle’s teeth out.
Harry wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but from the muffled noises coming through the silencing ward it wasn’t anything good.
The door was closed shut but there wasn’t a standard privacy ward up, otherwise he would have heard nothing. It seemed like a good idea, if there were any shouts of alarm he’d be able to hear it.
Tonks had slipped inside not that long ago, sending him a single wink before she went in to face the lion. So far, it didn’t sound like they’d made any leeway.
Harry glanced towards the stairs as Hermione descended sleepily, yawning widely. She jolted in surprise at seeing him up so early, it was still well before breakfast.
“Harry!” She startled with a small smile, “you’re up early today!”
Harry sheepishly ran one hand through the disaster of his hair. “Yeah, I was helping Moody with something. It didn’t...work out right.”
Hermione blinked a few times in surprise, “didn’t work out? Are you hurt? What happened?”
Harry wasn’t sure how to breach the subject of Lord Voldemort having dirtied a dish towel from dirt on his now existing nose, so he simply shrugged again.
Hermione poked her head around, seeing the closed doors that artificially were muffled. Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“Yeah that's, ah…” Harry trailed off badly, “that’s the bit that didn’t work out right. Moody’s fine though!”
Hermione nodded slowly, then turned and walked into the kitchen to help Mrs. Weasley with breakfast. Harry let out an internal sigh of relief.
The rest of the house started to wake up, but still Moody and Tonks didn’t come out of the room. The conversation went on longer, then Fred and George were popping around stealing bits of toast and loudly arguing about the prophets report. Ron stumbled down later, foggy eyed and exhausted.
“Hey mate,” Ron yawned loudly, “didn’t hear you get up.”
Harry grimaced and nodded slowly, “ah yeah, I was helping Moody with something.”
Ron grunted once then stumbled off for morning juice.
Everything about it was odd, he didn’t understand it at all. Why was Tom Riddle here now? Why did he suddenly appear in a ritual to summon an alternate version of Moody? What happened to Voldemort if Tom Riddle was here?
How old was he? Had he-. Had he opened the chamber yet?
The door opened ever so slightly, Tonks poked her head out- her hair a soft shade of blue. Her face lit up happily, although the small crinkle on the corner of her eye suggested she was thoroughly ticked by something. “Wotcher Harry! Could you go get a change of clothes? Reckon you're pretty close!”
“Er, sure.” Harry fumbled; Tom Riddle had seemed pretty thin when Harry saw him last. Maybe they were close in size, although the Tom he knew from the diary had been much taller. Maybe a delayed growth spurt?
Harry hurried up to Ron’s room, searching through his bag for a spare change of clothing. Nothing too bright or bold, although Harry was half tempted to drag out his Gryffindor shirt in loud red and gold. He settled for something he didn’t wear much, a dark navy and a pair of trousers that were the longest pair. He was going to see if Mrs. Weasley could hem them for him, but the length should be fine. He swiped a clean pair of other necessities, one of the small traveling sprays that magically cleaned hair. It wasn’t too ruddy for smell after a Quidditch practice either. Oliver Wood had sworn by them, and honestly during exam season they were miracles to have around.
Harry hurried back downstairs, careful not to drop any of the clothing he hoarded. Tonks lit up the moment she spotted him, moving from her reclined posture against the door. Harry wondered if her acting like a bodyguard was intentional, or truly coincidence.
“Thanks mate!” Tonks grinned, meaning in for a whisper, “think you’re up to saying hi? He’s bloody off his rocker.”
Harry blinked twice and quickly recovered, “really? I thought he would be...er...intellectual.”
“More like an ass of the finest caliber.” Tonks pouted, rolling her eyes and gesturing him to slide in the door. She closed it quickly after him, protecting his back.
Oh, it was strange.
He could see Tom Riddle from the diary in his face, in the sharp shape of his cheekbones and the point of his chin. The cold way his eyes took him in, systematically scanning over his face and body until they flickered away uninterested.
“Alright,” Moody grumbled, looking like a giant in Mrs. Weasley's small dining room chairs, “We’ve got clothes that should fit. We got through your bag, you change into new things, then we’ll let you loose.”
Tom Riddle blinked slowly, like Crookshanks when waiting for dinner. “How thoughtful.”
Harry twitched at the voice, not the smooth baritone he remembered. It was higher in pitch, hoarse and crackled although it was fairly well disguised. In fact, Tom Riddle that Harry remembered looked very different.
Moody didn’t appreciate the dry commentary, but he pulled out the bag that Tom had arrived with, and set it on the table between them. Tom made no movement forward.
Harry was suddenly very aware that Tonks was boxing off the only exit in the room.
“I’m going to pull out every single thing in this bag, and then I’m going to cast diagnostics.” Moody rumbled low in his throat, “once I have confiscated anything I think dangerous, you’ll strip and we’ll repeat. I take anything I find suspicious.”
Tom tilted his head ever so slightly to the side, “I’m waiting.”
Harry shivered and sat down in the seat provided, trying not to make too big a noise.
He was sitting across from Lord Voldemort, some of the traits already were agonizingly similar. The long shape of his fingers, the way he tilted his head ever so slightly and kept nearly a smirk on his face. It was terrifying, even with two aurors in the room with him.
“Alright.” Moody began lowly, folding his hands in front of him. “Where did you get this bag.”
Tom’s face didn’t change at all. “Would you believe me if I said I found it?”
“You don’t find bags like that.” Tonks huffed from the door in a sour voice, “you stole it from someone.”
Tom made a small cut off exhale of amusement. “I am certain, that the previous owner is not searching for it.”
The tone of voice, the suggestion; Harry shivered and averted his eyes.
Moody pulled out his wand, an old chipped thing, and tapped the bag once. Obediently, the bag unzipped itself.
“Now,” Moody grumbled, muttering quietly as he removed something from his pocket. It restored itself to proper size- revealing itself as the knife that Tom had arrived with. The look of the thing made Harry unsettled, or maybe it was the dark stains near the handle.
“Where did you get this?” Moody asked.
Tom smiled, “the same place I found my bag.”
Tonks huffed ever so quietly.
“...Alright.” Moody accepted, then he began to flick his wand with small incantations to summon all possessions out of the bag.
Harry was increasingly amazed as more and more things seemed to fly out of the small pouch. The small canvas of the bag looked normal, then cans and tins started stacking themselves neatly. Empty wrappers, papers and fliers that unwrinkled themselves and folded out neatly into a little stack on the side. Other small bits and ends started flying out of the bag magically; bits of mangled wire and brass. Small pins that were too tarnished to read. Bits of scrap cloth and hardened cotton- stained with thick blood that had dried on it. Makeshift bandages, long threads attached to shiny needles that looked a bit soot stained on the end.
The oddities gathered. Empty water bags that were flaccid like leather. More knives, some of them as long as Harry’s hand. Grimy glass bottles with screw tops, little tickets with inked print that bled on the corners.
Moody jerked his wand and growled, using a different incantation. From inside the bag, something very recognizable shot out. Moody caught it magically, placing it on the table between them like it was a live bomb.
Tom Riddle’s wand was pale, lighter than normal wands. Nearly white actually, like the skin on birch trees. Longer than Harry’s, almost proportional to Tom Riddle’s long fingers. Moody set it on the table between them- Harry would never forget the sight of that wand in his life.
‘I want to see your face when I kill you.’
Harry twitched, knowing he was making a small noise as his eyes locked to the innocent weapon. Tonks took a few steps closer, her presence a comforting warmth behind him.
“Interesting looking wand.” Moody growled flatly, bulging eye rolling around strangely. “Who you kill to make it?”
Tom huffed, a small noise that sounded so odd coming from him. “You and I both know creating wands is a near impossible task without years of training. Bone isn’t a conduit, auror.”
“Yew, right?” Harry blurted, unable to shake the coldness that gripped him so tightly. “And Phoenix feather.”
Tom’s eyes slid to him, locking on him firmly. Harry tensed his body, careful to keep from trembling.
“...Correct,” Tom spoke, voice softer than before. He tilted his head, like a raven eyeing the roadkill in front of it, “curious how you know such a thing.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Moody forcefully directed the topic back to the assortment of objects on the table. “I want to know when and where you got these things from, and why.”
“Wait!” Tonks blurted, leaning over Harry so close her side brushed his shoulder, “Is that a rubber?”
Harry choked, and much to his horror Tonks flipped her wand with a simple levitating charm and sent a few small packets floating from the table.
Moody didn’t think it was odd, but Harry could feel him blushing all the way to his ears.
Tom didn’t seem scandalized at all, in fact he looked bored with a highly uncomfortable object floating directly in front of his face.
“You’re a bit young.” Moody stated bluntly.
Tom’s mouth twitched ever so slowly. “They’re given to everyone, auror. You know as well as I that they’re used for more than original purpose.”
Moody gave a small nod of admittance, completely ignoring the single thing which made Harry want to run from the room more than Voldemort in the flesh.
The condoms (Harry still was stuttering over the idea of them) were pushed to the side, as well as the tins of food once Tonks ran some diagnostics. From there on, Moody would levitate a single object for Tom to explain, and then move to the pile of sorted objects. Metal from a destroyed building, wiring from a smashed lamp post. Cloth from clothes, dirtied bandages he hadn’t time to clean yet.
The biggest object that made Harry pale, was a single unassuming diary.
Leather, soft and scarred around the corners. Held shut by a loose cloth ribbon securing it shut. The last time Harry had seen that diary, he had heard Tom Riddle screaming and the warm gush of inky blood over his skin.
Tonks picked up on his distress and silently plucked the book, starting to unravel the cloth knot.
Tom made the smallest noise, a small sound of protest that died a second after he started.
Tonks hands kept moving, although her body tensed much further.
“What’s in it, eh?” Moody asked suspiciously.
Tom’s face looked the same, except something darker with a low seething edge was starting to be apparent. “I would prefer the contents to remain undisclosed.”
Tonks flipped the cover carefully, her eyes scanning the name written at the top, then she started to flip through the pages.
They were written in, thick ink in small script that filled both the front and back of each page. A sea of ink on the sparse expanses of white parchment. Every page, covered again and again. Tonks eyes flickered back and forth, darting from one random page to the next. Tom Riddle tensed, hunkering down ever so slightly as he stared at her unrelentingly.
Tonks hesitated at one part, finger hovering over the lettering.
“What is it?” Moody asked.
“...Nothing of concern, sir.” Tonks reported back. “It appears to be a historical war diary, personal data not private data or information of concerning content. I suggest we continue with the clothing check.”
Moody frowned, visibly annoyed hat whatever was in the book provided no harm. Tonks set it on the table, staring at the cracked leather cover for a moment before she slid it towards Tom.
Tom reached for it, slowly pulling it closer to his side. It seemed odd, that with a choice between his wand or a diary he would choose the latter.
“Harry?” Tonks prompted, startling the boy into sliding the procured clothing across the table.
“You’re to strip,” Moody began with a low rumble, jerking his chin at the clothing, “we’ve offered this which should work out fine. I’ll go through that book of yours more in depth and if there’s nothing in it that's of concern, then you can have it back. Your wand will be confiscated until a time we change our mind over it. Once you're dressed, we’re having breakfast with the rest of the house.”
Tom’s fingers tapped on the cover of his book. “A reasonable plan. Allow me a moment.”
Tom stood slowly, making his movements clear. He had no embarrassed stutter or waiver of his hand; he seemed confident or uncaring over modesty. He stripped off the outer shirt, disregarding it in a neat folded pile on the desk.
Tonks whistled, pointing her arm suddenly. “Right arm, bicep. You’ve got a rune of some sort.”
Harry couldn’t even see it, but when Tom reached over and unfastened something it flickered into sight. It looked grimy and old, something sewn into a grey stained bandage tied tightly around the diameter. Small designs or vigils or shapes were very faintly imprinted on, although staring too long made Harry’s head ache.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” Moody huffed, squinting at the nondescript magic once Tom placed it on the table. “That’s what, an avoidance rune and an awareness one? Trying to stay out of sight? Made with blood, my, that’s rather dark in nature isn’t it?”
Tom didn’t look intimidated or impressed. “Apologies, I simply hadn’t the time to skip to my nearest post shop and request ink, auror. With the bombs dropping.”
Moody didn’t seem too upset, but Harry felt his gut twist oddly.
Tom continued stripping, both Tonks and Harry looking away to keep the act private. Moody didn’t bother, although something clearly made the older wizard wheeze out a startled breath. When Tonks and Harry looked back, Tom was rolling the too wide waistband of Harry’s pants tighter, using one of the long ropes from his bag (after asking permission in the most disrespectful manner) in a makeshift belt. Harry wasn’t a big person by any means, but his clothing on Tom both dwarfed the thin flesh on his arms and thighs, while hanging inches too short on his ankles and wrists.
“Is this satisfactory?” Tom asked in the most condescendingly polite way.
Moody’s face barely twitched. “You’ve played this well brat, but you’ve overlooked something important. You think you have an upper hand and you haven’t realized you’re here under our mercy.”
Tom’s smile slipped into something irritated. “Oh? Enlighten me how your disregard for basic humanitarian measures is considered mercy? You’ve been especially rude, it would be a shame if the authorities were informed.’
Moody stood, his chair scraping loudly. He smiled, a wide grinned toothy expression that made Harry instantly take a step out of his way.
“Bold!” Moody commended, “but you’ve been thinking this wrong. You’re bloody intelligent, I’ll give you that. The thing is, Riddle.” Moody sounded nearly ready to laugh.
He walked to the main door throwing the doors open to snap the ward around them. Tom was watching him with a small expression of growing paranoia and outright frustration. He didn’t take well to the blatant insult that he had done something wrong.
“You see,” Moody began, the toothy smirk unrelenting. “You may be in the future, but you're not the first bloody one here.”
Tom’s eyes twitched, moving subconsciously as he frantically thought through all the possible things he could have done wrong. He had been so sure…
“Hello?” Someone piped up curiously, poking around the door-frame to peep in. “mum said break’ is ready if you wanted to-.”
Harry’s heart fell and shattered in icy cold realization. Ginny Weasley paled, curdling like spoiled milk. Tom stared at her blankly, not understanding.
“Welcome to the future you backstabbing murdering bastard.” Moody laughed.
Ginny Weasley blinked rapidly, swayed slightly, and began to scream.
Chapter 2: Quid pro quo
The culture shock of the world, when you surface and find yourself in a place you never wanted to be.
I hope you enjoy this chapter! It got away from me a lot, I was going to emphasize some parts more and others less, but well, I'll get to it eventually. I hope you like it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tom Riddle was positively charming and helpful.
After the initial freak out (where Ginny had to be restrained by the twins to prevent her violent assault with a knife), Tom froze up in visible shock and confusion. It was a very obvious expression, his jaw slacking in surprise and alarm at the noise.
There were a few minutes where he stood there in dumb shock, barely reacting past the minimal signs of comprehension. Harry could almost hear the way his brain was hurrying to catch up with the information thrown at him- he certainly was adapting better than Harry would have.
There was a visible restart; Tom blinking quickly and nearly twitching as he processed. At some point, something worked, and his entire body and face relaxed into something subtly off.
His posture was relaxed and calm, shoulders rolled and spine slumped. His face was open, the corners of his eyes relaxed into a somewhat innocent expression. It didn’t fit him, not in the way he was nearly spitting venom just earlier.
“I’m sorry,” Tom apologized in a somewhat sympathetic tone of voice, “I...I don’t think we’ve met-.”
Ginny screamed; the twins pulled her out of the room with visible difficulty.
Moody’s grin twisted into a somewhat disappointed expression, looking more annoyed at the lackluster response.
“Er…” Hermione trailed off, not understanding the scene. “I’m..sorry about that?” Hermione chewed her lower lip nervously. “She’s had a rough time.”
Harry felt a chill run down his spine as Tom nodded sympathetically, his face was incredibly convincing.
“Don’t be so quick, Granger.” Moody grumbled sourly, “this one’s trouble.”
Tonks huffed quietly, crossing her arms annoyed although she said nothing more. She puffed out a small breath, playing with a single strand of hair.
“I’m going to head back to headquarters.” Moody rumbled lowly, keeping his magical eye on Tom. “Get in touch with...our head. As well as Dalour, reckon it would be good to bring him in.”
Mrs. Weasley’s hands slipped on the small bowl in her hands. A small puff of flour exploded upwards, painting a sleeve on her arm white.
“Oh,” she breathed in surprise, “Mr. Dalour? Oh you poor dear!” She gasped, turning her attention onto Tom.
Tom bristled before in a split second shifting it to uncomfortable hesitancy. It was nearly perfect how quickly he changed.
“Yeah,” Moody huffed sourly, “definitely Dalour. Tonks will be staying to keep an eye out on you all, call in if anything happens. Don’t be afraid to incapacitate him.”
“Trust me, I’m not worried.” Tonks responded curtly, layering on the thickness of her annoyance.
Ron looked at Harry in outright surprise. “Blimey mate, what did you bloody do?”
“Surprisingly, it wasn’t my fault this time.” Harry defended himself, causing Hermione to giggle softly.
The strange atmosphere didn’t last long. Almost in rhythm, Mrs. Weasley stole them to tackle a new task at hand. Hermione settled on an easier job- setting the table with cutlery. The twins hadn’t returned, likely still calming Ginny down from her fit earlier. Tonks took a steady watchful position near the fireplace. Hermione and Tom (surprisingly enough) was taken into the kitchen to assist in breakfast itself.
Harry didn’t know what the more surprising factor was, the way that Tom incorporated himself smoothly into the operation, or the way he had obvious experience with cooking. Nothing was done by magic either, instead he worked his bruised hands through flour and dough without a second of pause. Kneading and mixing flour and salt with a spoon so old it probably was made before Tom was born. He didn’t argue once.
“Oh thank you dear!” Mrs. Weasley cooed, eyes filled with stars as the biscuits were placed in the oven. Hermione watched as she shredded potatoes, questions obvious in her eye.
“So, Tom!” Mrs. Weasley started, the chipper tone was so amusing to Harry he almost laughed. “Where are you from?”
Tom didn’t blink at the inquiry, although his voice was noticeably lighter than the previous interrogation. “London, ma’am.”
Tonks mouthed it to herself, eye twitching in controlled rage. “Ma’am?”
Mrs. Weasley cooed, oblivious to the distressing elephant in the room. “Oh lovely! Lovely lovely, you must be going to Hogwarts! What was your last name again, dear?”
Tom smiled pleasantly and ignored the question, assisting with the stacks of toast.
He eyed the muggle toaster with obvious distrust, and veered away from its use. Hermione took it up easily, swapping off her fry pan without care. Tom took to it like a fish in water, or maybe it was just his ability to mask his reactions which made it seem so effortless.
Soon, they were sliding heaps of biscuits and hash browns on the table, passing large mounds of butter to one another. The twins returned, a pale visibly seething girl between them.
Ginny threw herself into her chair, the small glass of juice in front of her rattled.
“Don’t throw yourself onto the chair!” Mrs. Weasley scolded firmly, looking ready to toss a dish towel at her. “Tonks dear, are you able to join us?”
Tonks shook her head slowly, not looking away from Tom. “I’d rather not, I have a feeling I’ll be needed anyways.”
Harry quickly glanced at Tom, whose expression had sharpened ever so slightly.
They sat down, Tom’s skin seeming even more waxy with the others sitting nearby. Everyone began to pass the food around, taking servings while offering small talk. Whenever Tom made a word, Ginny began a low nearly feral growling which quickly silenced him into merely smiling. Tonks seemed to share the anger, nearly bristling at every word.
Tom barely ate, instead he pushed the food around on his plate lazily. Harry could see the way his face seemed tighter.
“Tom dear? Aren’t you going to eat any?” Mrs. Weasley asked concerned.
Tom’s face twitched ever so slightly, his fork scraped his plate loudly.
“Of course ma’am.” Tom responded smoothly, obediently. His face paled further as he considered his hash browns.
Tom started to eat, politely and carefully. Once he started, he didn’t stop.
Any sort of reservation he had for appearance seemed to vanish the moment he actually ate; his hands tensed and flexed like it took all sanity he had to keep using an utensil.
Everyone watched with grotesque fascination as Tom ate and ate and ate. He ate like he was starving, more and more with increasing desperation. His servings became empty, he tensed in a hunched position over his plate like he was protecting the breadcrumbs he had left.
Tonks made a small noise, waltzing across the kitchen to grab the nearby rubbish bin. She nearly skipped over, looking very satisfied as she nudged it to Tom’s side.
“Oh,” Harry blurted in realization, looking around at the fairly rich fatty foods he had long since grown accustomed too.
Tom managed a single glare, nearly trembling with the force of his willpower.
Ginny looked smug. Tom’s lip curled into something like a snarl- but then he dropped to the side.
Tonks hadn’t been surprised but it was still something horrific to see someone vomit violently. Tom’s borrowed clothing hung on him, but it didn’t disguise the aggressive cramping and the way his entire body jerked with each painful spasm. The food he just ate came up, dripping in runny yellow stomach acid. Large chunks, barely chewed in his ravenous hunger.
He vomited again and again, until his mouth opened so far it looked on the verge of dislocating. Jawbone moving absurdly far under his skin, shifting visibly under the skin of his temple. His hair was matting with sweat where it had begun to air dry.
He retched, primal wet gasping noises as nothing else came up. It was easy to tell he hadn’t eaten for a while; the white film on his tongue suggested similarly.
“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley managed, sounding pained, “perhaps we should move on to the living room.”
Tom managed to open one eye, curled over on himself in his pitiful state. Even now, he looked ready to lunge.
Tom deposited himself on a couch, sprawling across it in both a display of distress, and something of boasting arrogance. He seemed to be glaring at Ginny, proclaiming with his body language ‘this may be your house, but this couch is now mine.’
It was true, Tom had an aura that surrounded him that left you unsettled and far too aware of your own body. Every insecurity came to the front of your mind, every vulnerability felt glaringly obvious. Even when Tom Riddle was laying on a couch, stinking of vomit and distress.
Tom looked more annoyed that they had seen his sickness, not that he had experienced it at all.
“Moody will be back soon,” Tonks assured them politely, still keeping guard as they settled awkwardly on couches. “I got an update, Mr. Dalour will be by likely before Moody comes back.”
Mrs. Weasley nodded quickly, “of course of course! I feel horrid, is there anything else I can get you, Tom dear? A nice cup of tea?”
Tom didn’t blink from his leisurely sprawl. “No thank you, ma’am. I thank you for your hospitality.”
Mrs. Weasley flushed, Tonks growled. Tom closed his eyes and looked completely at peace.
They could have mistaken him for sleeping if not for the way his fingers twitched ever so slightly at every noise. At Tonks’ request, Harry remained in the room with her. Maybe it was because he too knew about the situation, or maybe it was because Harry knew him. Ron and Hermione weren’t granted similar permission, and Ginny seemed completely banned from remaining in the same room as Tom unsupervised. The redhead could likely kill Tom with a spoon and pure determination.
After a period of time that felt much longer due to basic situational anxiety, the fireplace flared green and a wizard stumbled out. He wore standard scratchy robes that signified he had some sort of medical position or worked in a medical facility. His hair was trimmed carefully- another symbol of his position.
Tom’s countenance sharpened as he too came to a similar realization.
“Wonderful,” Mr. Dalour sighed, slightly nasally voice entirely unwelcome. He walked further into the room, depositing a small briefcase that looked made from toad leather. He flipped the latches, pulling out an obnoxiously large book and an ordinary never-ending-ink quill. “It’s been a hell of a morning, you’re lucky it's my day off and you’re paying my sick days. What have we here, miss auror?”
Tonks crossed her arms slowly, looking stonily at the room. “Basic evaluation, suspecting a full situation four although there may be other things included. This ‘ere is Harry who’ll be staying as witness. That’s Tom, who you’re working on.”
Mr. Dalour stilled for a second in blatant surprise, then looked at Tom in something of a new light.
“Tom, eh?” The man frowned, wrinkling his nose into a small sniffle, “you must be someone pretty important to call me out so quickly.”
Tom didn’t shift from his sprawled posture. He didn’t move further than the bare minimum required to talk: “So they say.”
Mr. Dalour almost smiled, then went to flip his book to an empty page. Harry peered at the white expanse, and although there were no words written Harry’s mind filled with static like a swarm of bees. He doubted he’d be able to read anything he wrote anyways.
“So, Mr. Tom.” Dalour began with a sniff, “what brings you to my attention?”
Tom didn’t react further. Solid and stationary like an alligator half submerged. “You tell me. I presume that a full situation four is code for a categorical of shock although you seem well versed with it already. Wartime does that, mediwizard?”
Mr. Dalour scribbled down what looked like distorted gibberish to Harry’s eyes. “A category of shock, eh? What makes you believe that?”
Tom’s eyes narrowed slightly, and finally he shifted upright into a seated position. Lazily, long limbs folding and not hitching even with the expanse of bruising across his hands and the prominence of his exposed collarbone.
Tom rose into a seated position, posture tall and strong with the gaunt lines of his face drawing sharper and skeletal. Harry’s breathing became much more laborious as he could vividly imagine scarlet eyes on the half smirk of amusement.
“Oh, you believe you’re so clever.”
Mr. Dalour kept writing, pausing after a particularly large stretch to sigh and look at Tom with a very tired expression.
“Yes, I am clever. I have done this for a long time and frankly this is my day off so I would love to have this finished as soon as possible. Please answer some questions for me, and we can proceed as quickly as possible with this.”
Tom’s smirk didn’t waver; he tilted his head like a curious feline watching a finch in the window.
“Thank you,” Mr. Dolour cleared his throat quietly. “You stated shock previously. Have you been exposed to situations where you believe you’d develop shock?”
Tom’s eyes slowly slid to the side over towards Tonks. “What wards are in place for the confidentiality of this discussion?”
“Perimeter.” Tonks clipped out shortly. “Nothing extensive. Due to the risk of your status. The rest of the house isn’t privy to this but the findings are our information too. I’ve activated a ward on Mr. Dolour’s entry where we’ll know if you lie, but we’re not forcing you to tell the truth either. Don’t make us have to change that.”
Tom smiled and slowly spoke. “My favourite colour is purple.”
There was a thrum, a strange prickly sensation of odd. It made Harry squirm uncomfortably, although Tonks and the new man didn’t seem that surprised by the feel.
Tom seemed to chew something over curiously. “Interesting choice. I’m not familiar with the spell.”
“It would be impressive if you did.” Mr. Dolour sighed, scribbling something down with a critical eye as Tom twitched ever so slightly.
“Please answer the question, Tom have you been in situations where you believe may have led to developing some sort of trauma?”
Tom smiled, curious and sharp.
Tonks bristled slightly as seconds continued on and still Tom said nothing.
“Tom,” Mr. Dolour sighed tiredly. “I understand this situation may be incredibly stressful. I’m trying to help you, and I reckon you aren’t used to that. Have you had many people help you before?”
Tom looked far too curious.
Harry felt like his tongue was swollen and heavy in his mouth.
“Do you think you can help me?” Tom asked politely, calm and blunt. “Truly? Or do you believe that your work with labeling and categorizing madness is all you can contribute. Is this your ideal place in the world, or have you accepted that your worthless contribution means so little you’ve settled for scum.”
Tonks looked ready to take one step forward, Mr. Dolour lifted one hand calmly.
“I see you’re feeling a bit targeted right now, and I’m sorry about that.” He apologized. “I only want to help you, Tom. Is it okay if I help you?”
Tom’s lip curled back ever so slightly. “You are a pathetic contribution to the world.”
The ward didn’t thrum; Tom Riddle’s truthful opinion felt unshakably cold. Mr. Dolour scribbled in his book.
“Do you feel afraid of me?” Tom asked calmly.
“No.” Mr. Dolour didn’t look up from where he was writing. Completely at ease.
Harry wanted to interrupt, to argue that Tom Riddle certainly was dangerous. The man seemed completely unaware.
“I’ve killed a rabbit with a knife.” Tom spoke calmly. The ward thrummed with an unmistakable sense of wrong wrong wrong.
Tom’s expression didn’t change. “I’ve hung a rabbit and watched it die because I wanted to.”
The wards didn’t thrum.
Mr. Dolour stopped writing instantly.
“Tom,” Mr. Dolour asked calmly, although it was a forced level of professionalism. “That’s something quite impressive. Why did you want the rabbit to die?”
Tom didn’t rise to it, instead he stared at the man with something difficult to read.
“You don’t need to be here, you know.” Tom dismissed without acknowledging his questions. “I understand why they summoned you. They think I’m mad, I’ve heard it often enough. I don’t need a mediwizard.”
Mr. Dolour sighed heavily. “The idea may be a bit uncomfortable, but perhaps you could try? You may feel better talking. Do you feel sometimes like you are alone?”
Tom’s eyebrows shifted ever so slightly, curious. “I don’t need a doctor.”
Mr. Dolour looked ready to rub his temples. “Tom-.”
“Have you ever been terrified?” Tom asked quietly, eyes bright and unsettling. “Have you ever believed you were going to die, doctor?”
There was a cold atmosphere that descended on them, that chilled them deeper than any admission would. The easy way Tom asked that, like nothing mattered in perspective.
“...No I haven’t-.”
“I have.” Tom spoke with a smile that did not fit on his face. A sharpness to his expression that made even Tonks twitch. “I’ve watched men like you squirm like rats.”
Tom’s smile exposed his gums; his teeth were starting to yellow and his gums looked inflamed and sore.
“I would love to watch you rot.”
The wards didn’t thrum.
A thick heavy suffocating silence weighed on them, oppressing. It laid over them like heavy cream, sweet and saccharine.
Tonks cleared her throat and Mr. Dolour exhaled shakily, closing his book with somewhat shaking fingers.
“Right.” Mr. Dolour spoke, his voice hoarse and somewhat shaky. “I’m going to...I’m...tell Alastor that I’m removing myself from this case I don’t...Don’t contact me again I…”
Harry wasn’t surprised at all when Mr. Dolour scrambled off, unsettled and shaken by the honesty of Tom’s words.
“Forgive me father,” Tom grinned feral, “it has been a while since my last confession .”
Tom was living proud, calm and confident. Mrs. Weasley didn’t understand why Mr. Dolour, the order mediwizard for referrals left so suddenly. Normally the man was quite professional- perhaps a bit skittish but nothing that would explain his hasty departure.
Tonks seemed even more frustrated, tense and scathing over the smallest things. It wasn’t even noon yet and Mrs. Weasley was unsure of how to continue with the day.
The floo surged with fire, a small puff of ash and two figures were emerging.
“Moony!” Harry blurted, lunging to his feet with a breathless grin. Tom, having taken to his couch in a defensive sprawl. He watched with a clinical eye, not rising to any sort of mock niceties considering his morning so far.
“Hello Harry.” Remus smiled back, accepting the hug from the smaller boy. It was more of a collapse against the man’s larger frame, but he caught him instantly.
“Harry!” Remus hurried in a hushed but worried voice, “are you alright?”
“I’ve had a really tiring day, Moony.”
Remus patted his back twice, looking very uncomfortable.
“Remus!” Tonks grinned, rushing from her guard post with a relieved whoosh of air. “ Please tell me Moody is coming back!”
Remus looked equally startled by her own exhaustion. “I- yes. He’s fetching A- oh. I had…” Remus trailed off, finally catching eye of Tom.
Tom stood, slowly rising to his short lanky state. He hunkered slightly, swaying and blinking quickly once he stood tall before he adjusted to the sudden change in altitude. Then he prowled, striding across the short distance of the living room.
Remus took an instinctual step backwards, dragging Harry with him. Remus made a low rumble, something deeper than a whine but quieter than a snarl. Tom’s eyes glinted like a sharp stone. He said nothing.
The fireplace burned brightly again, a plume of green fire. A wizard stepped out, casually brushing soot off his bright maroon robes.
“Oh dear,” Albus Dumbledore spoke calmly, observing Tom with a hard look built into his face, “it seems this is quite a situation.”
Tom’s face froze in shock, unable to comprehend. Worse than before, like an epiphany had formed in all the worst ways.
“No.” Tom blurted, word slurred slightly with the numbness of his mouth. “No, no. You aren’t- you- you’re bloody kidding me.”
Dumbledore smiled thinly, not friendly but not outright cruel. “Hello again, Tom. You’ve aged well.”
Tom made a whine, a low noise of distress before the smooth composition of his words shifted into the rough rhyming slang of his cockney from before. He spluttered over pure sounds, hissing syllables before he spat out a furious line of “ I manage ter get oray and I end up wiv this crap, isit?”
Albus Dumbledore blinked quickly in surprise before he chuckled quietly, almost fond. “Ah, I missed that accent of yours. It vanished by your sixth year if I recall correctly.”
Tom recoiled; his mouth opening and closing before he hunched in fury. “I 'ope yer choke on yor stewpid candies yer goat.”
“Ah,” Dumbledore sighed in relief, “what a beautiful sound.”
Remus smoothly tried to interrupt. “Albus? Perhaps we should…”
“Ah, yes. You’re most certainly right, my friend.” Albus nodded carefully, stroking his long beard- braided off on one side messily. “Molly? A cup of tea would be splendid.”
“Oh yes!” She hurried, searching for a well worn kettle.
Tom’s nostrils flared and he walked backwards, not retreating but instead returning to his couch to watch the proceedings in his natural state; angrily.
“I understand we have had quite an interesting day.” Albus confessed, lowering himself on a nearby chair with a sigh of his old bones. “Ah, I see young Harry here has been keeping you company.”
“The more I hear about him,” Tom began in the once more composed tone, careful British. “The more I find his existence irritable.”
Remus choked on a laugh, and Harry found himself nearly grinning at the hilarity of the situation. Oh Merlin, he couldn’t wait for when the boy learned about the scar on his head.
“Ah, I see.” Dumbledore nodded in sympathy, “this must be quite alarming for you, Tom. What was the last thing you remember?”
Tom glared with unadulterated hate. “Don’t go betraying your intentions now, professor. One may mistake it for compassion.”
Dumbledore nodded slowly, accepting the saucer of tea that Molly quickly gave him. She skirted off, leaving the group in their tense stand off.
“I apologize for any mixed signals I’ve given you,” Dumbledore apologized slowly, “I have your best intentions in mind.”
Tom tilted his head, nostrils flaring. For however cruel and sharp he was with Tonks and Moody, it was nothing compared to the glowing coals of fury that raged behind Tom’s eyes.
“Don’t lie to me now, professor.” Tom grinned behind sharp bared teeth. “You were always fond of your white lies and half baked truths.”
Dumbledore’s face wrinkled in confusion. “I am sorry I don’t understand-.”
Tom’s face twisted into something that could never be considered pretty. Pinched and strained, waxy skin over a taught canvas that painted him in shades of blood.
“Did you hope I’d die?” Tom asked him, low in a snarl. “Is that why you sent me back? Again and again?”
Remus tensed, Tonks shrunk and Dumbledore aged like something exposed to the horrors of the world.
“Oh,” Dumbledore breathed quietly and tired. “Oh I am so sorry. Tom, the war is long finished. Grindlewald was arrested many years ago. There are no more bombs to threaten you.”
Tom rolled his neck, cracking it audibly. His collarbone shifted under the parchment of his skin.
“Maybe for you it did.” Tom answered after a pause, tasting the words in his throat like stale bread over a tiring day. “It feels to me that I’ve left one war only to join another. This time, only I am against the world.”
Dumbledore looked downward with a small nod, sighing through his nose. He clutched his cup of tea tightly, the thin wafts of steam trickling upwards.
“I apologize, for all the ways I have failed you.” Dumbledore admitted, “and with that I feel it is of utmost importance to inform you of the situation.”
Tom looked ready to lunge across the room, no weapon be damped, to try and assault his way into solitary confinement.
“You see, Tom.” Dumbledore pressed one old weathered hand to his temple. “You succeeded.”
Tom froze and his blood chilled.
“Albus,” Remus whispered alarmed, unsure.
“I failed you.” Dumbledore confessed to the room. “I failed to address your trauma, your injuries and your requests for aid. I failed you, and you succeeded to become the most feared Dark Lord of all time.”
Tom looked sickly pale, looking ready to vomit once more. “You’re lying.”
Dumbledore smiled thinly, face nearly as gaunt. “No. I’m not. After leaving Hogwarts, you traveled on a crusade and partook in rituals and magics so dark it tainted and befouled you into something hideous. Perhaps you were beyond my hope long before, but I view this as my chance to correct the flaws of my past.”
Tom shook his head jerkily. “I- I do not-.”
“You murdered people.” Harry blurted, the well of rage that he normally did not feel flooded over him and saturated his bones. “You murdered Cedric. You murdered my parents!”
Tom kept shaking his head in numb shock.
“You’re a bloody monster!” Harry screamed, jolting to his feet. Tonks grabbed his arm, holding him back.
“I didn’t-.” Tom began, quiet and unsure. Eyes wide and perplexed, disoriented and lost and so very confused. “I didn’t-.”
“I am so sorry for you, Tom.” Dumbledore confessed quietly. “For all your pain and suffering. I have ignored you and in your negligence you have suffered far more than anyone should ever.”
Tom reclined back, closing his eyes simply so he didn’t have to look at Dumbledore’s face any more.
His lips were twitching, thin and twitching on his sickly face. Harry was too far away to hear, and the blurry tears in his eyes distorted his vision too much for him to read his lips.
Tonks could read whatever it was, and it left her to exhale in a shaky sob.
Tom made a low noise, something small and hurt. It rose in volume, until it started to warble into something of a scream. It rose and rose into a pitch so high, Harry could feel the hair on his skin crawl and his teeth rumble with the vibrations of it.
Dumbledore waved his wand, whispering words quietly. It must have done something, because Mrs. Weasley and Ron and Hermione and everyone else who sprinted into the room froze just on the threshold of the room.
Tom’s head was tilted back, throat barred and jerking with the viciousness of his voice. Louder and louder, like death throes of a dream now impossible to ever reach.
Tom Riddle screamed, because it was the only thing louder than sobbing.
It was impossible to describe. The level of isolation impossible to ever experience.
You could pack your things and run, take your name and your money and cross countries and continents but you were never truly alone. You would always leave memories behind you, a spiderweb of people who knew your face and your voice who could repeat it fondly or with scorn. You could always return to a place you once knew as home, a place where people would remember you regardless if they wanted to or not.
You had a name, an identity. Proof of your existence through the eyes of the world around you. You were alive, you were alive at one point, you were alive always.
(How excruciatingly isolating it was, to realize that even memories no longer proved your existence.)
There were various philosophical debates on the concept of individuality and existence. The notion that personhood could only be obtained in a specific instances of altering factors. If X and Y are achieved, then a person is indeed, a person.
Tom Riddle had no past, no patron saint to swear his loyalty. No head of house to assure that he was their student, no establishment to claim he belonged. He had no family, no friends who would recognize someone that defied the absolute of time. He had no plans, no ambition that or goals attainable not out of inability, but out of pure impossibility.
(A person existed if they could X and Y. Was Tom a person, when variables were no longer symbolic? When letters were foreign splashes of ink which meant nothing to him, as he meant nothing now to the world?)
Tom sat on the couch, legs curled close to his body as he stared at a wall. Not glancing away even as the house began to thrum with activity. Dumbledore sat there with him, calm and patient. Sipping his third cup of tea. Perhaps if Tom waited long enough, the caffeine would send the man into cardiac arrest.
Tom had no future ambitions. His political route was blocked now by the thoroughly tainted and foreign structure of the ministry. He had worked through the unstable hysteria of wartime politics, the immoral greed of those in powers. If the war was over, then it would be something utterly new. He had no vantage points, no steps along pureblood names to gain height along the social structure. Abraxas may be dead now; he always had that insufferable wheeze. Orion seemed like a distant thought, too scatterbrained to ever be of much use. Where would he be now? Married off and softened with domesticity? Had Cygnus fallen into the madness that claimed his father and his father before that? Would the others have died and moved on without ever considering where Tom had vanished to such a long time ago- a student they once knew in a passing memory.
Where would he go? Where would Tom walk when he had no motivation to step forward?
Tom stared at the wall, and welcomed the tide of black nothingness he normally felt at nights in the muggle world. When the sirens thrummed and the walls shook and he cared so little he didn’t stir from where he slept.
If he was wearing the beads he found on an abandoned prayer bench, he’d twirl them between his fingers in sacrilegious pondering.
What had he brought with him? A bag full of useless muggle objects, his diary and his wand. His trunk was stashed under a shattered staircase, nearly impossible for most to reach. Impossible for anyone to open without a knowing hand on its torn leather fasteners. His books, his research, his potions and schoolwork were all lost to time.
He was alone, abandoned in way so completely different; he believed he were accustomed to isolation but he knew now he was privileged.
“Granted the situation, it seems unfair to withhold you from a proper education.” Dumbledore admitted calmly. “Fortunately, I am now the Headmaster of Hogwarts so your admission into our school is well within my abilities.”
Tom stared at the wall, and wondered when the family that lived here before filled the cracks in its mortar and smoothed it with paint. He wondered how deep the rot of its beams ran, or if they warded it and locked out the bombs like the selfish wizards did to everyone else.
“...It is convenient that you had your wand on you at the time of your appearance.” Dumbledore continued, not caring that Tom had yet to respond. “It is a truly tedious task to find an alternative wand.”
Tom wondered where Dumbledore was, if he stayed in the castle as Tom was locked out of bomb shelters by jeering children.
“We will be able to sort you of course, after we have run proper medical tests and other treatment if necessary. It wouldn’t do to have you walking around with injuries.”
Devil-spawn! Die in the fire devil spawn!
Tom’s lips moved numbly as he whispered to himself ever so quietly, “Ipse venena bibas. Ipse venena bibas.”
Ipse venene bibas! Drink the poison yourself! Rid yourself of this child, Satan!
Tom inhaled slowly and deeply, his chest expanding as he exhaled and thought. “You’re claiming to shelter me although an unmarked individual will never achieve much in the world.”
Dumbledore didn’t look bothered by the statement. “That’s true. It’s fortunate that our friends can claim identity for you. An exchange student, a child seeking asylum from less happier lands.”
Tom didn’t look away from the wall. “A lie. A forgery of identity. I do not exist, I’m nobody.”
Ipse venena bibas!
Dumbledore’s fingers shifted on the teacup in his hand. “That may be true. Perhaps use this chance as an opportunity to achieve that which you never could. Use this as redemption. In your religion, if I recall correctly, this may be called redemption.
Tom smiled at the thought. At the old man trying to use the words and chanting carved into his skull from the desperate and the afraid.
The way that candles burned him, how wax made his skin crawl and rosemary and hawthorn made his back itch.
Would the man use religion against him if he knew the lengths men went in the face of fear? How men found the devil in the body of those who constantly defied.
“Redemption.” Tom tasted the word. It tasted like stomach acid, burning his gums and mixing with blood.
'No one is as good and merciful as the Lord. But even He does not forgive the unrepentant.'
Tom would drink Dumbledore’s poison, because he knew not else what to do. A dozen lashes, a cross held in shaking fingers as bombs shook the earth like a roar from some demonic creature.
‘Please God let me live.’
“I’ll play your game.” Tom spoke, slowly dragging his eyes from the wall. “Do not mistake me. I do not believe in God or that petty worship.”
A hundred lashes. Spit oil and flame to baptize the monster from his skin. A hundred lashes. Pray until your knees bled and the priest beat the devil out of you.
Dumbledore looked surprised or at least as much as he showed. “Ah, forgive me. I meant no offense, I had mistakenly presumed you were religious in the muggle Catholicism.”
Tom smiled thinly. Any longer, and he would bite his cheek to spill blood down his face. “What tests are you mandating I partake in, Dumbledore.”
Dumbledore calmed, looking well versed in this particular path. “Ah, well, we have arrangements to make, Tom.”
Tom Riddle smiled sharply, and wished the collar of thorns on his leg would bleed him dry.
“This is Tom Riddle,” Dumbledore pleasantly introduced to everyone in the Burrow, smiling happily although Tom was succeeding in giving a rather vicious glare just over his shoulder. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, he is our new guest for an undetermined amount of time. I hope you help make him feel welcome, and yes Ginervra I am well aware of his identity. You see, Tom Riddle here is fifteen years old, and through an anomaly he has appeared in our time.”
The twins inhaled in surprise, glancing at each other in delight. Hermione looked alarmed and very worried. Harry could understand that considering all of the drama they experienced with a time turner.
“Tom here comes from when I taught Transfiguration,” Dumbledore chuckled heartily, “what a wonderful time. Due to how our timeline appears to have remained in tact, I believe that this has altered into an alternate existence where information will not destroy our own existence. However, you see, Tom’s older self unfortunately went on to be named an adversary of ours.”
Ginny lunged forward, it was only Tonks’ quick instincts which prevented the younger girl from clawing her nails across Tom’s face. Tom took a half step back almost as fast, carefully remaining out of reach.
“You monster!” Ginny screamed, face turning blotchy and red. “I hope you die!”
Ron gaped, Hermione looked stricken. Mrs. Weasley had yet to understand exactly the situation.
“Yes well, that may be a similar interest of many.” Dumbledore admitted in thought. Remus looked pained and ready to leave without acknowledging the elephant in the room.
“He’s Voldemort.” Harry found himself saying, cracking the stick of tension that had developed the moment Dumbledore showed up. “”I mean, he isn’t yet, but he’s Voldemort from before he turned Voldemort.”
“What?” Tom asked quietly, although now faced with a half dozen horrified faces. “Vol de mort? Theft of death?”
Dumbledore hummed in thought, “curious. I had always beloved you intended to use the homonym, flight of death sounds much fancier in French, don't you agree?”
Tom’s face quickly changed into carefully restrained desire for manslaughter.
“Harry.” Hermione blurted in stunned confusion, “I...that...you don’t mean that, truly?”
“Err, he is.” Harry uncomfortably confirmed, “I’d recognize that face anywhere.”
“Yeah! Like when you tried to bloody murder me!” Ginny screamed, thrashing in Tonks’ arms.
Tom huffed and soured, “You likely deserved it you gink.”
Ginny’s face twitched slightly at the unfamiliar word before she assumed correctly it was an insult and returned to shrieking.
Dumbledore sighed tiredly, waving one wand with a mutter to silence the room.
“Now then.” He smiled politely, “I understand that Mr. Dolour was here earlier?”
“He quit.” Tonks informed curtly. “Bastard scared him off.”
Remus looked at Tom with a small downwards tilt to his mouth. Tom ignored him.
“Ah, I assumed such would happen.” Dumbledore nodded wisely. “Mr. Dolour was only an investigative referral. It was unlikely he would accomplish much other than providing the name of the professional we’d be best with. Fortunately, I thought ahead once I was informed of the situation and already contacted Madam Dimitriu for her services.”
Remus choked quietly and looked alarmed. “Albus? You contacted Crina Dimitriu?”
Dumbledore blinked innocently, “why, of course. I thought a spectacular occasion would warrant a spectacular woman.”
“Wonderful.” Tom drawled although it sounded aggressive, “another mediwitch?”
“Of course not.” Dumbledore chuckled fondly, “she’s a mindhealer and practitioner of high regard. Merlin knows, she’s ever so fascinated with my stories of Fawkes!”
Tom grimaced and glanced away quickly.
“What about Hogwarts?” Mrs. Weasley interjected worriedly. “I know the holidays merely just started but I can’t help but be concerned-.”
“Do not worry, Molly.” Dumbledore soothed, “If necessary, I will provide guardianship over Tom-.”
“ No you wouldn’t dare!”
“-and provide the required mentoring he sorely needs.” Dumbledore assured calmly. “I believe he will need no further monitoring after a gentle summer break. Although I do believe a shopping venture is sorely required.”
The amount of rage on Tom’s face could not be contained. He looked ready to lunge, to scream and try and murder Dumbledore with his hands alone. Harry took a step back, already shaken by the unfathomable display of anger and hatred. The fireplace thrummed and the kitchen area was even more cramped with the emergence of Moody once more.
“Ah, wonderful timing.” Albus beamed. “Off you go, Alastor will be escorting you to Diagon for necessities.”
“Wait, now?” Mrs. Weasley squeaked in alarm, “oh dear! I have things to-.”
“Don’t worry about it, Molly.” Tonks beamed, finally releasing the seething Ginny to bump into Remus’ side. “We’ll take the squirt.”
“I’ll come too.” Harry blurted suddenly, “er, I wanted to visit my vault.”
“But mate-.” Ron started, only for Moody to cut him off.
“Great! Let’s get going then.” Moody grumbled, using his cane to shove Harry away and towards the fireplace, “nice and easy. Quicker we do this the less painful it is.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Tom gritted out in a low seething voice. He looked like he was being escorted to trial, the only thing he was missing was the shackles.
They marched into the fire, barely having enough time to prepare.
Diagon was busy at noon. The summer events weren’t yet in full swing, the patio furniture wasn’t outside and the fountains weren’t flowing. The traffic was less, but still active enough that witnesses were around.
Tom looked around quickly, calm if not for the frantic gleam in his eyes. Windows were new, stores were vacant or painted in bright foreign colours advertising things uncommon. The cobblestone was clean, the sky didn’t glimmer with bomb repelling wards. It felt like a dream.
“You er, okay?” Harry asked unsure. He knew deep in his gut the strange level of culture shock. He could almost feel the nausea that was twisting the other teens stomach, leaving him cramping with anxiety.
“...I’m fine.” Tom clipped out abruptly, harshly with how vibrant and joyous the day was. The air smelled clean, a small smell of baking bread drifted down from further up the alley. It was still a bit cold enough to wear a slight jacket. Tom had only the shirt Harry brought him, hanging off him wrongly.
“First up, clothing.” Remus skirted the three towards the closest clothing store, not Madam Malkins but something cheaper. They were on the Order’s budget after all, they had to make due. Tonks and Moody stuck outside, leaning against the doorway imposingly. Tom huffed so quietly Harry wasn’t sure anyone else noticed it.
The woman at the register looked alarmed by Tom’s state, or maybe by the clothing he was wearing. His shoes weren’t even proper, instead they were charmed to be bigger so they wouldn't fall off. In moments the poor woman had run off for the manager, looking overwhelmed with the situation.
The manager emerged, and looked just as frazzled as the attendant before.
“Hello, we’re looking for a full wardrobe.” Remus smiled although it looked pained. “Complete.”
“Oh,” the manager gaped over a second, swallowing quickly, “ah...house fire, dear?”
Tom’s yellowish waxy skin and slight bloodshot hue to his eye suggested anything other than a house fire. He didn’t dignify her with an answer.
“Of course,” She nodded, shaken by his cold dismissal. “We have various sizes, arranged by sizes and style of course. Do you know your size-.”
“Fatigue jacket. 34 long.” He clipped out sharply.
Harry, Remus, and the manager blinked at the foreign sizing. Tom exhaled through his nose, shouldered past them, and began snatching things without care.
It an unnecessarily long time to find something that fit decently, didn’t cling so tightly it emphasized the unnatural shape of his ribcage, and to argue that his boots should not be a size larger than his actual foot size.
Harry felt thoroughly exhausted by the time Remus and Tom managed to get in a spitting match over the necessity of multiple jackets. Merlin have mercy for however Tom Riddle did his casual shopping.
The shirts they managed to settle on did fit better, although Remus informed that he was looking around Sirius’ house for old outdated clothing that may fit better. Donations were better than nothing, and nobody saw the point to give Tom a dozen different shirts to wear when he arrived wearing clearly stolen garments.
They stormed out of the store with significantly less money than when they went in. It didn’t seem like too much for Harry, but having lived with the Weasleys for a while he had grown used to the standard monetary funds for purchases.
“Bookstore.” Moody grumbled, jerking his head to another secondhand store. Harry hadn’t ever been inside, but Tom followed without another word. Harry noted that Tom and Tonks really really did not seem to get along.
They had free reign once inside; Tom practically bolted into the forest of shelves and cobwebs. Harry couldn’t even blame him.
Moody stayed near the front, but Remus and Tonks slipped to the sides to watch and follow him down the rows.
Something about it felt wrong, it felt disgustingly so. Harry couldn’t place it, but it made him feel like peeling off his skin. The blatant distrust, the lack of regard over Tom’s own ability to shop.
Tom was in a new place, a new world with no wand or allies. Why was he under such a harsh guard? Why was he being escorted around like a prisoner? Sure Voldemort had done horrible things, but this was Tom Riddle, someone who apparently was randomly thrown into a pool filled with sharks. It felt wrong to treat him like this. It felt wrong to make him believe he was the enemy in another war.
Harry steadied his breath, then followed down the path of the book store Tom took.
It took a while to find him, and when he did Tom was pressing his forehead to one of the shelves. Harry couldn’t place any of the titles of the books, some in a completely different language while others were in runic forms. Harry didn’t understand, but something about Tom’s posturing looked very vulnerable.
“...What books are you looking for?” Harry offered, breaking the quiet. The shelves creaked a little, the lights buzzed with a huff of gas through piping.
Tom inhaled with a rattling noise, peeking one eye open with a glazed look. “Why are you following me.”
It was deadpan and curt, and Harry felt very guilty.
He cleared his throat quietly, and stuck one of his hands out awkwardly. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. My names Harry Potter, and uh, you’re Tom Riddle.”
Tom looked at him from the corner of his eye. “Most presume I go by Voldemort.”
Harry kept his hand outstretched. “Do you?”
A creak of the shelves, then Tom pulled away from where he leaned against the bookshelves, eyes scanning over the titles and names of the books.
“They’re different.” Tom muttered in lieu of his name, nodding towards the spines facing them. “It doesn’t seem like it, but I checked. If it was only English titles then it would be an ordering choice, but other languages are different. Censored.”
Harry squinted at one book that looked like like doodles than letters. “Er...you read this?”
“Yes.” Tom bit out curtly, trailing a bruised finger along the books. “French. Latin. Passable in Gaelic, I can read Coptic and Arabic. A few others. These books are all censored by the Ministry. You had a purge.”
Moody appeared at the end of the row, although Tonks and Remus were still out of sight.
“Eh! Looking for texts already?” Moody asked with a satisfied snarl, drawing his wand in a blatant threat.
“Your government is a worried one, isn’t it.” Tom muttered instead, tapping on something that was clearly Latin. “What else is outlawed now. Livestock rearing? Knitting?”
“Brat.” Moody seethed, muttering something which flashed and suddenly Tom was buckling. His left leg twitching visibly. Tom growled, and Harry found himself feeling sick once more.
“Pick your bloody books.” Moody spat, scarred remnants of his nose upturning, “we’re leaving soon you Death Eater scum.”
Tom said nothing, his leg kept jerking. Once Moody passed around the corner, Harry reached down to help Tom upright.
“I’m fine!” Tom hissed lowly, visibly limping as he forced himself further into the lines of text, yanking what appeared to be random books off the shelf. “Leave me alone.”
“What were you looking for?” Harry asked awkwardly. Tom looked at him skeptic, on the verge of ignoring him again.
For some reason, the boy found something in Harry’s honest question. His hand twitched around the two books in his arms, but he spoke nonetheless.
“Sections on magical theory are removed.” Tom explained bluntly. “Light magic theory and environmental remains. Mental and dark magical theory aren’t here anymore.”
Harry had never heard about mental magical theory. Dark magic was...dark magic. Things that murdered people.
“If you open your mouth and say something based off biased opinion instead of fact, I am sorely tempted to throw this book at your face.” Tom snapped out impatiently.
Harry blinked quickly, “err, sorry. I uh, I thought dark magic hurt people. I didn’t know that there was magical theory behind it.”
Tom’s shoulders trembled with the force of his irritated breathing. “Lord forgive me. Why can I not escape utter ridiculous government propaganda. What have I done to deserve this.”
“A lot,” Harry impulsively blurted. “You did say you killed a rabbit.”
Tom closed his eyes and spoke very slowly. “Harry Potter. I have a feeling, that you are going to be a truly exemplar prick in my side.”
“Oh,” Harry very wisely said, “you really don’t want to know.”
Tom made a small noise of dismissal, grabbed another nearby book and stomped dramatically to the front of the store. He was still limping.
Harry didn’t think the cursing was justified.
(Tom hadn’t done anything to deserve it.)
Maybe in a few years if someone asked Harry to look back on it, and to say when things changed, he would say this.
There were a lot of moments that people remembered. Things or quirks about people you always fondly talked about. A tone of their laugh, the way their eyes lit up. Maybe the sound of their screaming, or the first time you heard them cry.
When Harry thought about Tom Riddle, he thought he’d think of the high pitched screaming; of a basilisk chasing him with intent to feast. He thought he’d recall the bone deep fear, the terror that made his teeth rattle.
But he didn’t think that anymore. Sometimes there were moments which stuck out more than any emotion or sight. A quiet isolating event or something shared that impacts you like a knife between the ribs. Something you could explain but when put in words it became meaningless, like ash on your tongue.
Tom Riddle sat on the ground, dirtying his new clothes on the floor of a vault layered with thick dust. Not a coin or bauble in sight. The gentle rise and fall of his breathing echoed over everything he now owned; nothing.
Harry didn’t know how to explain it. When he thought of Tom Riddle, he thought of a thin boy kneeling in a future where he had lost everything from the very start.
They returned back to the house, a bundle of bags and books that meant nothing. A sign of knowledge that now promised nothing but a distraction from time. A way to avoid life itself.
The household was sharp and tense, the atmosphere had darkened and dampened into something sour. Dinner was rapidly approaching, and Tom snuck away to the room assigned as his like a fox hiding in a badgers den. He didn’t emerge, instead he stuck to the small stool in the corner with his newly acquired book and ignored the world around him. His door was lodged open, Harry was partially impressed Moody hadn’t simply removed the door from the hinges. Nobody really followed him yet, not when the imposing mystery lady would arrive later that evening to meet Tom. A highly qualified mindhealer for a highly troubled case.
“If you’re going to stare.” Tom murmured lowly from his place in the corner, small and unassuming. “‘You best do it out of my line of sight. It’s distracting.”
Harry felt alarmed that his staring was that obvious, but then he felt that was one of the politest things Tom had ever told him.
“Sorry,” Harry apologized just to break the atmosphere. “The book is interesting.”
Tom didn’t look up from the book. “This is Latin. You don’t know Latin.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably, “maybe I do?”
Tom peered over the book at him with a bored expression. “ Matulae.”
Harry blinked at the foreign word, “er, pardon?”
“A pot.” Tom translated bluntly. “Or rather, a vessel for liquids. I’m sure you identify with it quite well. Also translated as blockhead.”
Harry flushed and scratched the back of his neck. “Are you going to use Latin just to insult me?”
“No, I also use it to explain how I take my tea.” Tom deadpanned sourly. “ Leave.”
Harry felt suitably embarrassed but also rather curious. It was an interesting sort of conversation, or dialect that Tom seemed to use without pause. A struggle to understand some articulations or reasons behind why he structured a sentence the way he did, but it was fascinating. It reminded Harry of a few conversations with Hermione, interspersed with the blatant humour of Ron when he was tired.
“You mentioned something about dark magic theory.” Harry felt like he was butchering the explanation already despite having said nothing at all. “I’ve never heard about it.”
Tom looked ready to groan. He closed his eyes and lifted one hand from the book to press against his temple. “If you’re asking me to educate you, you’ll ask proper or ask not at all.”
Harry felt properly scolded; almost embarrassed by the informal approach.
“Er, sorry.” Harry winced at his own apology. “...Could you ah...educate me?”
Tom stared at him bored. Harry felt the urge to throw on a ‘Sir?’ afterwards.
“You really are a blockhead.” Tom deadpanned with a sigh. “Light and Dark magic theory. You understand that some styles of magic require different techniques to properly use. Basic introductory spells mandate proper annunciation and wand movements while others require intent and focus.”
Harry visibly brightened. “Like the Patronus charm! Yeah, you need to use a happy memory for that but there isn’t really a wand movement.”
Tom looked surprised. He closed his book, setting it to the side to give Harry his full attention. For some reason, it felt very important.
“...yes.” Tom admitted slowly, cautiously. His eyes flickered to the doorway for a second before back at Harry. His head tilted ever so slightly, interested. “The patronus charm is a difficult spell which is heavily inclined towards light magical theory. Do you know why?”
Harry’s mind blanked. “Because you...need to be happy?”
“A moron,” Tom mused contently, “you are an absolute moron. No you daft cobblestone. Light magic theory applies internal emotional processes into external effect. The patronus charm requires you to experience joy and then externalizes it.”
Harry was suddenly aware that his jaw was dropped.
“...what?” He asked, dazed.
Tom looked at him in disbelief. “Light magic theory and the tie to emotions. You must be bloody- you surely know that. There was a lesson on it in my second year.”
“I have never heard that before in my entire life.” Harry admitted uncomfortably. “Light magic has to do with your emotions?”
“No no,” Tom groaned quietly, more in disbelief over the situation, “light magic theory externalizes your emotions. Dark magic theory conjures or creates emotions based on environment. They’re inverse of one another- have you never heard of this?”
Harry shook his head, and Tom stared at the Latin book in dismay.
“...What are the regulations on dark magic artifacts?” Tom asked suddenly, shifting the topic abruptly.
Harry’s mind scrambled. “Err...in my second year they were going to a few pureblood houses to search for illegal artifacts?”
Tom inhaled heavily through his nose. “The names of the houses. The old houses or all pureblood estates? The London ones or also the country homes?”
Harry scrambled, “I...I don’t know? Draco got- err- the Malfoy’s had their house searched. I don’t know what they found but I know a lot of people were complaining about it.”
Tom stared at a wall, and didn’t look away. “Abraxas would have argued. The Wizengamot would never have...he...what about the other families. The Blacks, Lestranges. Rowle.”
Harry struggled with the position he was in. How do you tell a young Dark Lord that all the families he knew were either insane, imprisoned, or wanted by the law for various shady dealings.
“Er...they’re in jail I think.” Harry tried to remember. “Lestrange is. Azkaban.”
“The ‘ell?” The low brass cockney emphasized just how stunned Tom was.
“Yeah.” Harry grimace, “there’s a lot of uh, illegal dark magic going around. It’s hurt a lot of people and now there’s laws to prevent people from being hurt.”
Tom stared at Harry, his face impossible to read. There was something in his eyes, an exhaustion that was so deep Harry couldn’t explain it if he tried.
“No, Potter.” Tom sighed, looking very very tired, “this is war propaganda.”
The bombs didn’t drop during the day. The Zeppelins and planes stayed away in the morning hours, when the overcast sky and dull sun would light up the destruction from the night before. The sunlight was security from a foreign threat, and the start of a domestic one.
The streets that weren’t as destroyed always filled quickly with the people that remained. The people with money and vouchers, the tickets for food and clothing and the vanity that came with it. They were the ones that the police would still come for, the areas where the muggings and theft didn’t frequent. It was also the area where Tom was most likely to be caught, to be thrown to the side for abandoning the cause. He was young, but he looked older.
Tom slid sideways, pressing against a few of the houses with walls still in tact. The air smelled like ash, a wet mildew smell from the fires in the night that were put out with sewage water. It was nearly harder to find freshwater than it was to fine safety.
Tom walked, ignoring the chill in the air. His coat was fine, it wouldn’t need to be patched for a while still. His boots on the other hand were starting to fall apart, the stitching decayed from the days they spent under compost. He’d need new ones soon or he’d risk something much worse.
Tom glanced upwards with a frown. He couldn’t see it, but ever since the disaster with the opposing front a ward had been placed up. A safety net and a call for surrender all at once. Tom couldn’t ever see it, but he could feel it thrum under his skin. Under the bloodied bits of his nails. Sure, the trace on him removed itself once he came of age but in the war-zone, all magic could be detected. Since the murdering, the explosions of fire and Germans, all magic was to be illegal in muggle populated zones. Cast a spell under the ward of war, and lose your finger to the agony of ministry caliber magic.
Lose a finger, or lose both feet to rot. The choice was alluring, and he knew the spell to locate the recently dead. The corpses that were still warm.
(He hadn’t done magic in a while, not even when the rattling bombs made him flinch. A finger or his feet. A finger or his feet.)
Tom kept walking, scuffing his boots on the dusty plaster that rained down from a broken building. Soon the churches would fall, their delicate stained glass would shower them with hail. Tom wondered if the planes had targets in mind during the night, or if they let their explosions rain like hellfire with no cause.
Tom kept walking, a small bit of cobblestone rattled. He heard a cough, a wet one filled with phlegm or mucus. Tom was interested immediately.
It was hard to navigate the bombing zones, where a single step could mean your last. Bits of exposed metal could pierce your leg and infect you. Rats could scurry free with the madness that left them frothing. Fires sometimes never stopped burning in the core; shifted rubble would send it ablaze. It was a dangerous life for the urchins of the world. Tom hadn’t the chance to bathe in a while now.
He located the coughing, a man who had chosen to sleep in a random house. It was struck, and Tom ignored how the likelihood of he being in the same situation increased every night. The man had rubble on him, splintered wood piercing his skin and clothing. It too, was fraying on the edges.
Tom walked in the remnants of the house, mindful of the broken glass on the floor. He would have taken any bottles of drink the man had hoarded, his throat was parched.
The man wheezed, glancing at him tiredly. Blood on his face, internal bleeding then. He’d die soon.
The man said something, gibberish to Tom’s starving mind. It took a second for Tom to think, to associate sounds with words and meanings.
“Le français?” Tom asked, slurring a little on the language. The man wheezed again, voice deep and wet.
“Parlez vous français?” The man gurgled out, accent in his mother-tongue unmistakable.
Tom breathed in the ash and plaster in the air and shifted his language to another he learned out of necessity. “Yes, I do.”
The man laughed, amused beyond words. His skin was waxy and shiny, he looked old but not so old grey could speckle his hair yet.
“How special am I,” The man wheezed out, hand sifting and curling in the sawdust at his side, “to have company on my deathbed.”
Tom eyed him carefully, looking around the small shelter the man had spent the last night in. “I like your boots.”
The man wiggled his feet, the relatively undamaged shoes scuffed the floor. “Bah, they’re yours once I’m dead.”
Tom nodded, and settled himself on the floor. It wasn’t safe to be out during the day when the crime started.
The man wheezed, and Tom started searching through his bag. It was easier to take inventory during the sunlight, even when his bag was as deep as it was.
“What have you got?” The man asked him, voice wetter than before.
“Nothing for you.” Tom deadpanned, and ignored the man.
The sun moved overhead, the shadows stretched. Tom wondered if the man’s jacket would fit him, maybe he should take it too.
“You not go to war, boy?” The man asked, slurring but still comprehensible.
“Too young.” Tom responded curtly.
“Ah,” The french man nodded understandingly, “street rat. Smart to stay out of sight. Dangerous during the day.”
“Dangerous during the nights.” Tom countered lazily, not paying the man any thought.
“Dangerous always,” the man cackled, pausing to heave and retch. He had eaten something, it made his vomit less watery and more grey than yellow. Tom would have to search to find whatever food he had stashed. “Dangerous world.”
Tom ignored him and kept taking inventory. He’d need to find water soon; the canal was too rancid to bother with but the stench may have kept people from the near houses.
“Dangerous dangerous world.” the Frenchman mumbled to himself. “Fled here, France too dangerous even for a poor Frenchman like myself.”
Maybe the man had water hidden around here somewhere, jars of it or an area he cleansed it of worms.
“Terrible thing, war.”
“Good and evil always fight.” Tom retorted lazily, ready to recite bible passages that had been shoved down his throat. He could recite them easily, even before the war. Spoken over and over so many times his throat had paper-cuts and his lips were red like the flesh of an apple.
“No!” The man laughed as if Tom’s words were particularly funny. “I have seen monsters, but they wear many faces, boy. No such thing as good and evil in this world, no such thing.”
Tom tilted his head slightly, the mad ramblings were of a curious sort. “What then? What of the front and the soldiers in battle? Who are we fighting?”
The Frenchman's eyes were glazed, his breathing irregular and strained. “Not evil, and we are not good. Only power for men, and we fight for it because we are strong enough for it.”
Tom hummed and watched as the man started to shiver, whispering to himself over and over. “Only power...power and those too weak...weak to seek it.”
Tom ignored him, and gave him the decency of privacy when he died. Tom removed the jacket and his boots as the death rattles still shook his body; before his muscles stiffened and he became as hard as cobblestone.
Tom huffed as he noticed the jacket wasn’t the right size, it would only get in the way. He draped it over the man’s face, another casualty that people would forget. The rats would feast on him now, and maybe in the eyes of starvation someone would feast on the rats.
Tom took his boots; he was right, they were his size.
Chapter 3: Angels are bright still, although the brightest fell.
Where one prison is exchanged for another.
Sorry for the delay, exams got to me and then winter sunk into my skull a little too cruelly. Here we go, it's a bit shorter but this chapter was late anyways.
Happy Holidays everyone, and a good New Year
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The walls of 12 Grimmauld place were bleak, old peeling wallpaper and a faint musk of mildew.
The house had been recently fixed, scrubbed and cleaned to the best of their ability. Tom could tell, from the faint smell of cleaner in the air and the way the floor slipped under his socks. If he traced his fingers on the walls, he knew he’d feel where the paper started to flake from amateur brushing.
Tom sat in his room, a glorified prison cell, and had his eyes closed. The clothes given to him fit, everything else was supplied with a thinly held barb for the concept of freedom. It was stabbing close to the life Tom had forcibly left behind him. Out of one prison cell into another. He wondered when boredom would haunt him. He wondered when he’d need to start hiding tins of spam under his mattress.
“So,” Sirius spoke, exhaling heavily through his nose. He was sitting backwards on a chair, one hand propping his chin up. “You’re looking good for a monster.”
Tom’s face twitched, he didn’t dignify the man with a formed expression.
The sheets on the bed were soft, luxury compared to what he was used to. His wand was still absent, as were his boots. He wasn’t overly attached to them anyways.
His books were stacked on the nearby table, a converted sewing table that had been combed through for needles or scissors. Nothing Tom could ever use as a weapon, god forbid Tom be let loose with a needle.
His thigh stung under the bite of metal. His palms itched from the unfamiliar soap that his body was not used to. It didn’t burn like lye, it was softer and dainty.
“How much longer are you going to lock me up?” Tom asked, a low flat murmur that barely resounded in the room.
Sirius watched and felt a small anxious cough disguised as a laugh. “So, you speak.”
Tom opened his eyes very slowly. Sirius’ face twitched into something like a grin.
“Well, what do you know.” Sirius huffed out, “your eyes aren’t all snake face.”
Tom’s face remained blank. He distantly considered spitting some meaningless words out in parseltongue but the effort was beyond him.
Sirius shifted on the chair, it scraped slightly.
“Alright kid.” Sirius started with a small cough, “so err...Albus is out getting some medical witch I think. I was here to make sure you didn’t…”
Tom cracked his knuckle quietly. “What. Go on a rampage? Attack you with a sugar spoon?”
Sirius grimaced slightly. “Merlin, you’re not allowed in the kitchen. Or anywhere with knives. Bollocks, I need to check the loo…”
Tom snorted and rolled his eyes with enough force his head shifted slightly. “Are you going to let me out or not.”
Sirius stood, the chair scraped. He walked towards the door- showing his back to Tom. Tom made no movement, and with a low spell the lock clicked open.
“Alright, have at it.” Sirius beckoned with a small scoff of frustration. Tom stood, his trousers brushing over his blankets with a soft noise. His thigh stung.
“Are you going to escort me around?” Tom asked tonelessly, walking past Sirius without looking back. “Escort me like a prison guard?”
“Pretty wordy, aren’t you?” Sirius retorted.
Tom said nothing more. He investigated the hallway curiously, opening the unlocked doors to peer in with blank expressions. He didn’t cringe at the dusty closets filled with cobwebs; at the moth eaten sheets and old rotten brooms. Tom had a remarkably accepting expression when faced with an infestation of roaches under one floorboard.
He kept walking, investigating until he knew the rooms on the same floor. With how isolated Tom was from the rest of the building, the only surprise he encountered was a large spoiled Hippogriff squawking at him the moment he walked in.
Tom uttered one of those curses, the low whimsical one that made Sirius gawk and cackle at the unexpected accent. Buckbeak wasn’t amused, instead Tom for a small moment faced a very real probability of being maimed.
“ Ssshite!” Tom Riddle spat out, ducking low and stumbling out of the room. The twang was still audible, distorting on what may have been a stutter or some sort of speech impediment. Buckbeak roared at him, feathers flaring in anger. Tom shrieked back nearly as loud: “ Gormless cack!”
Sirius wheezed, and forgot how to breathe.
Tom’s face was ugly, the bright flush on his cheekbones only highlighted the shadows under his eyes.
“Watch out,” Sirius smirked, wide eyed and all teeth, “I’ve got a Hippogriff.”
Tom’s breathes were heaving, his grin in response was nothing but feral teeth.
“Is it safe to have him out in public?” Hermione whispered, watching Tom over the top of her book.
“Er…” Ron trailed off, glancing up from his chess set he was putting up a valiant battle against. “I...don’t think so?”
“Padfoot is here.” Harry pointed out quietly, trying not to stare too much. “He wouldn’t put us in any harm.”
“Are you…. sure?” Hermione whispered back worriedly.
“You all are aware,” Tom Riddle spoke from across the room, staring at the book in his long bruised fingers, “That you whisper very loudly. And I have very little patience left today.”
“He’s a bit grouchy.” Sirius added in, “he met Buckbeak earlier.”
“That hellbeast,” Tom snarled out quietly, voice mumbled slightly from behind his book. “Should be shot.”
“Testy.” Sirius rolled his eyes, pulling out his wand to play mindlessly with sparks he conjured.
“Is that…” Hermione’s voice rose in pitch to a near squeak, “...safe? Couldn’t he steal your wand?”
“Eh?” Sirius blinked in surprise. “ Him? I bloody hope not.”
Tom made a noise that couldn’t have been disguised; indignant sputtering was always understandable.
“Padfoot would stop anything.” Ron grunted, shifting one protesting chest piece. “Or just bite him. Like that one time.”
“I said I was sorry.” Sirius defended with a playful huff. “But no, I doubt we’re compatible.”
“Compatible?” Hermione perked up curiously, “like how a wand chooses a wizard?”
Tom lowered his book with a look of outright disgust. “How are you all so daft you dismiss the most basic information? Oh, my mistake, you’re country has simply burned and destroyed historical information because you’re being run by incompetent oafs.”
“Wow,” Sirius sighed with a small twitch of his cheek, “I wish you had said that with your adorable little accent.”
Tom’s face was impressively, composed.
“Wands do not choose the wizard,” Tom snarled out viciously, personally offended by the slights and misinformation shared in the room. “Our magical cores are shaped through our experiences and are attuned to us personally. You can’t just use someone else's wand.”
“What.” Ron blinked with wide eyes, mouth dropping into a small gape. “Why the hell not? I’ve done it all the time.”
Tom looked ready to storm off.
“You blow up.” Sirius interjected with a slightly disappointed sigh. “It’s uh...a bit more obvious with...certain magic types. If...say, Malfoy were to use your mum’s wand, I reckon the ferret would lose his entire damn arm.”
Ron tried to resist smiling, he failed.
“But if you used your brothers wand, you likely wouldn’t have anything happen. It depends on blood relation a fair bit, and the type of magic you’ve used more.”
“I doubt any of your wands would react appropriately to me.” Tom sniped out sourly, flipping a page in his book. “And not due to your irritating misconceptions over light and dark magic, my magical core and channeling is superior to any of your wand’s capabilities.”
Ron soured and jerked his chin out. “Oi! Prove it then you shite!”
Tom snapped his book shut. Sirius looked ready to intervene.
“Do you think me a fool?” Tom spat back sourly, eyes burning with the level of his frustrations. “You think i am unaware of my positioning? I have nothing to prove to you, you blood traitor.”
Sirius tilted his head with a small frown. “No, actually...there’s some weight to it. Here.”
Then, much to Harry’s horror, Sirius flipped his wand around and offered it to Tom handle first.
The room chilled, Hermione’s breathing stopped. Tom stilled.
“...you’re not being cute, Black.” Tom spoke lowly.
“I know.” Sirius responded sharply. “I want to test this. Shoot sparks, and if you do anything else, I’ll tear out your throat and be done with you.”
Tom inhaled slowly through his nose. He reached out, and took Sirius’ wand in his left hand.
He held it daintily, the wand seeming small in his loose grip. Pale skin, cautious eyes.
“Periculum.” Tom spoke smoothly, voice shifting into something more fluid as clearly Latin- and with a muffled Bang! Red sparks shot from the end of the wand.
Almost instantaneously, Tom jerked his head back and gave a low hiss of pain. Strained and wheezed, hitched breath from between locked jaws.
Sirius jumped slightly the moment his wand clattered to the ground, bouncing slightly on the floor boards.
Tom didn’t look at his hand, he stared forward at the wall. His nostrils flared ever so slightly, in pace with the controlled heavy breathing.
His left hand flexed, slowly uncoiling to slide as subtly as he could towards his book again. Visible, even across the room, his hand smoked dark grey tendrils. Thick blisters were bubbling, a small odor of charred meat.
“That’s what happens when you have incompatible magic.” Sirius chirped out, plucking his wand from the floor. Tom’s face didn’t shift. A thin trail of blood was twisting down his wrist, hiding under his sleeve.
For the first time, Hermione had nothing to say.
The front door opened with a soft creak and the unmistakable sound of Albus Dumbledore. Following after, the sharp clicking of heels on wooden flooring.
Tom Riddle hoped dearly, that there was another individual; he feared the day Albus Dumbledore discovered stilettos.
Voices became louder, and from the stairwell two people emerged.
“Headmaster!” Harry grinned breathlessly, Ron looking up with a grunt. Hermione smiled weakly, relieved that a symbol of stability had returned somewhat.
“Oh,” Sirius spoke, the word falling out of his mouth like a deer stumbling over ice. “ Oh no.”
Tom quietly scanned his eyes over the woman trailing behind the headmaster. She couldn’t have been too old; she has the marks of age no amount of potions or skin treatments could ever remove. Thin and unassuming, but physical stature meant little in the world of magic.
“Ah,” Albus chuckled softly, “I see you recognize our esteemed guest.”
Sirius backpedaled, wordlessly floundering before he gave a small meep.
Well, that was quite interesting.
“Sirius Black,” the woman spoke, a slight accent on her words although her English was flawless. Something rounded and articulated differently- Belgian? Romanian perhaps?
Sirius crumpled in on himself, the woman didn’t smile.
“Escaped convict, detained in Azkaban for a marvelous amount of time. I presume you spent such time in hiding,” she rattled off with a small quirk in her tone. “Impressive, perhaps I should invite you for dinner?”
Harry gaped, and Sirius paled.
“Oh, don’t tease the boy too much.” Albus chuckled lowly, “I’m afraid he may run away from you.”
“Or chew off his leg in desperation to escape.” The woman responded smoothly and calmly. “I assume I require no introductions, however for the sake of dramatics I may as well. I’m Crina Dimitriu, dragged away from my work due to Albus’ pleading.”
Tom did not like this woman, by the way Sirius Black ( an escaped convict? ) flinched away from her.
“I’ve heard quite a bit about you, Mr. Black,” Crina continued calmly. “Word spreads at my work. Unfortunately, I wasn’t bribed, nor paid to attend to your madness.”
Crina Dimitriu turned around, she was wearing tall heels under her rather unremarkable clothing; trousers and a conservative robe.
“Mr. Riddle, I presume.” She spoke. Eyes sharp but ordinary. On further glance, her facial shape led him to hesitantly associate her with Romanian ancestry. “We have an appointment.”
The room vacated- Sirius Black all too eager to escape. Quickly, Ron, Hermione, and Harry also left under Albus Dumbledore’s calm beckons. The living room door slid closed, separating the fairly large room from the rest of the house.
“Well, that was exhausting.” Crina sighed, using her hand to wipe the dust off one of the chairs. It puffed in the air, wafting around softly.
Tom watched her with a small frown. His hand stung, his thigh throbbed.
The door slid open, Albus popping his head in once again. “Ah, the wine you requested.”
Crina crossed one leg over her knee, “Thank you, Albus dear. I certainly hope it is from the vineyard you specified. I would have fetched it myself if not for your so timely invitation. How unfortunate you interrupted me, an old habit of yours I believe.”
Albus shifted ever so slightly uncomfortable, levitating the bottle across the room. Tom noticed how it was faintly blue, a deep azure that wasn’t anything he recognized. Perhaps glass companies changed with the time period as well. “Ah, I apologize, Crina dear. I assure you I will make it worth your time.”
Crina’s eyes focused on Tom, even as she retrieved the bottle from the air and began to trace her fingernails along the cork stopper. “I doubt you have anything to provide me, Albus, that will be worth my time. The only worthwhile opportunity is currently trying to determine why I’m here. Tom Riddle, I believe. And I rarely forget names.”
Tom’s face twitched ever so slightly at the sudden attentive eyes on his face.
“How unfortunate,” Tom began, wetting his lips, “that I care so little for yours.”
She tilted her head ever so slightly, not seeming surprised or offended with his barb. “How wonderful to hear.” She responded politely, “I do hate wasting time talking about hobbies of no interest. Since you’ve helpfully defined our dynamic already, you’ve determined our topic of approach. It seems there’s a discussion to be had, Mr. Riddle.”
Tom’s eyes widened slightly, Albus exhaled with a wheeze.
“Ah, yes.” Albus Dumbledore shifted slightly, “Crina, you may discuss-.”
“Although Mr. Riddle is under the age of adulthood, you are not his guardian or legal representative.” Crina coolly interjected, “as such, he is not your responsibility nor is he your charge. Our discussions are confidential, Albus dear. They’re also in no way able to be influenced by yourself, or I may as well return home to work on my book.”
Albus Dumbledore’s jaw snapped shut, he looked suitably chastised.
“Ah, my mistake.” He began, pausing a small moment. “Forgive me. Shout if ah...my presence is needed.”
Albus ducked out of the door and closed it quietly. Crina gave a small sigh, pulling out a thin wand to tap against the wine bottle. It magically opened, the cork unraveling. From the bag she brought with her, she pulled out a crystal stemmed glass. Tom watched in hidden confusion as she poured herself a modest glass of the dark red liquid.
“As I briefly stated,” she began calmly, “your unique status as nonexistent equates to my…. forgetful oversight of laws concerning liability to your guardian. Your actions in no way affect others, and I operate under no obligation to disclose information regardless of content or intent. You are neither of majority, or minority. You do not exist, and I hardly see the need to mention this failure to Albus.”
She finally glanced up, pulling another crystal glass from her bag. “Wine? You are, after all, not an age.”
Tom gave the briefest of nods, so thoroughly overwhelmed he couldn’t think of a way to counter the strange persona of this woman.
“Excellent.” She hummed, flicking her wand with the barest whispers of spells. “Funny, isn’t it? I know two offensive spells and another dozen for opening and sealing bottles of wine depending on content.” She rolled her eyes in annoyance, “chardonnay requires a...less forceful touch.”
She flicked her wand and spoke, sending the crystal glass levitating to Tom’s side. He plucked it with his right hand, holding it daintily. Crina hadn’t a sip yet, and he was no fool to drink before she had.
“Tell me, Mr. Riddle, where am I from?” Crina asked flatly.
Tom swirled the glass slightly. “Romania.”
She nodded without any sign of disapproval. “Romanian magical education is divided into specialized fields determined on profession. In my youth, I decided to investigate mind magics more thoroughly.”
Tom stiffened ever so slightly. “Legilimency is a difficult art.”
Crina smiled, a thin upwards quirk of her lip that was hidden a second later by her sip of wine. “That’s true.” she spoke after she swallowed, lips stained red. “I do not claim mastery over Legilimency. I find more natural resonance with Occlumency. In fact, the world certification board agrees with my claim that I am an expert in the field.”
Tom took a sip of his own wine. It was smooth, then a harsh snap of sour on his tongue. It burned through his nose in the taste of alcohol.
“I have mastery over astral projection, and consensual possession and shared sensory detection.” Crina continued calmly, “although on average I open more wine bottles than I do open other’s senses.”
Tom took another sip calmly.
“I have published several books exploring the mental abilities of those afflicted with various curses. I’ve also been called in to assist with cognitive examinations for a few dark cognitive spells, such as broken personalities. A few studies were published, if you care for such meaningless information.”
Tom tried to ignore the small sliver that pierced him at that. “Why do you assume it would be meaningless information if you spent so much time on it?”
Crina leaned back to make herself more comfortable on her chair. “Meaningless, because it does not apply to you, Mr. Riddle. I’m one of the most accomplished mental medi witches in the world, and I do hate having my time wasted. Not everyone can be bribed with alcohol.”
Tom’s face twitched ever so slightly. “You appear far too young to be so accomplished in such a short time.”
Crina didn’t so much as blink. “My job is very stressful. I take more relaxing baths than advised for my own sanity.”
“You sit in bubbles and forget the world?” Tom asked coldly.
“Of course not.” Crina took a sip from her wine glass. “I splurge with lavender and volcanic salts. Do give me some credit, Mr. Riddle. Not all of us crawled our way out of a worm infested trench.”
Tom’s hand curled around the glass in his clutches. The other flexed until blisters ruptured.
“Oh dear,” Crina noted, not seeming very disturbed by the sight of dried blood and puss. “That looks like incompatible magic damage. I wonder why you would ever attempt something so self injurious.”
A pause, then Crina shook her head. “I apologize, that was rhetorical. A patient of mine refuses to talk so I do enough for both of us.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you ceased talking all together.”’ Tom smiled, bitingly sharp.
“Because my words are threatening.” Crina translated. “Because you enjoy the false sense of fear you inspire in others. Unfortunately, I’ve been exposed to countless horrors and you do not impress me as you hope to.”
Tom ignored the sharp bite and how his anger spiked for a small moment. “Do you ever grow tired of rambling?”
“Do you ever grow tired of attempting to inspire fear in others despite no physical proof of your abilities?” Crina countered with almost a flair of something playful. “Perhaps you should wring a birds neck for me. Stab a kitten to show me your true psychopathic nature, Mr. Riddle.”
Tom felt conflicted. He could obey the seething voice in his mind which urged him to lash out and confirm he was something to be feared. On the other hand, by doing such things it would confirm that everything she had said was valid and as such, applicable to him. Tom Riddle had survived so long by being the most intelligent creature in the room. He thrived off knowing he had an advantage, and any time he was without was surely chaos.
Tom Riddle bit his tongue, and resisted rising to the anger in his blood. Crina smiled, bowing her head in the most subtle display of admiration yet.
“Impressive.” She murmured calmly, “I was nearly certain you’d snap at that one.”
Tom’s hand twitched ever so slightly, and he didn’t respond.
“I think that hand of yours is quite impressive.” Crina mentioned, taking a small sip. Her glass was running low on wine, but she seemed in no way hampered by it. “The fact you willingly used someones wand while knowing the possible ramifications of it. You measured your risks and reward and ignored the ramifications of pain or injury. You haven’t hesitated once, and your glass hasn’t tipped despite your agitation. Ambidextrous?”
Tom’s mouth twitched slightly. “A dominant left hand is a sign of the devil's’ child.”
“There are more signs to you than having a left hand dominant.” Crina pointed out.
Tom gave a small nod of his head in return.
“How desperate you must feel.” Crina continued quietly, trailing off with her fingers tapping against crystal. “To willingly maim yourself with that. Based on your own magical signature and the state of the room when I entered, you used Mr. Blacks?”
Tom said nothing, and that itself gave him away.
“How curious,” Crina mused with a first spark of pure curiosity in her eyes. “Your core and signature must be very divergent to react so...hostile, over someone different than you. You must be incredibly protective over your wand then, who has it?”
Tom took a sip of his drink and tasted it quietly. He swallowed, and swallowed his pride. “Albus Dumbledore.”
“I’ll speak with him to have it returned.” Crina responded almost instantly. “Tell me, do you make yourself hurt?”
Tom didn’t respond and Crina huffed quietly.
“Forgive me,” she apologized tensely. “I forgot myself. At times it is difficult speaking with youth due to the...censorship over such...topics. May I diverge the topic into more familiar territory?”
Tom eyed her carefully. “You propose this how?”
Crina set her glass on the floor and reached into her bag again. She retrieved a small paper box, along with something plastic and unfamiliar to him. She opened the carton, and Tom would never forget the paper poison that soothed him when the ground rattled.
“This entire carton is yours.” She passed it over politely. “I assume you can figure the lighter. It is muggle in origin, but simple to operate. Nicotine withdrawal is cruel given your situation, and an oversight of the moronic collection operating as your warden.”
Tom fumbled out one of the sleek paper rolls. The small stains on his fingers still remained, it had been a while since he had found a package in the broken ruins of the bomb sites.
The lighter had a button, he clicked it and burned his fingers with a familiar kiss of warmth.
“You have your smokes,” She beckoned calmly, “I have my wine. I want you to talk to me, Mr. Riddle. You’re more fascinating than I presumed, and we all know you're not adapting as well as you pretend. Granted, you are an excellent actor.”
Tom inhaled, choking himself silent on the fumes he embraced. Asbestos under his skin, a cooling buzz to calm the hive of wasps that injected venom in his blood. The opportunities this woman provided gave him an out, with a sacrifice of his pride and security.
“Are you working for Dumbledore?” Tom asked, muffled with smog.
“No,” she responded with a smile, “Dumbledore is one of my patients. Or rather...he cross examines information of mine to assure it is credible. Dumbledore works for me.”
Oh, that was something different.
“Perhaps we should start this conversation differently, but productively.” She offered with neutral ground. “What was the last spell you performed?”
Tom told her, rolling Latin over his tongue like it was the wine she drank.
She nodded without any sign of displeasure. “The corpse locating curse. What were you searching corpses for?”
“Clothing.” Tom said briefly without hesitation. “My shirt was ruined, I was scavenging the dead for a shirt not rotting.”
“Mm.” Crina said. “You must hate the clothes stores.”
Tom almost laughed. “Viscerally.”
Crina tipped her now empty glass. “Tom Riddle, I believe we are going to have wonderful conversations.”
“You’re walking down a road, and you see a wounded bird.” Crina paused, tilting her head ever so slightly. The lines by the corner of her eyes were more noticeable now. “Or...rather, you see a wounded man. Perhaps that would be more understandable? You see a wounded man, laying sheltered near a building. What is your first thought, Tom?”
There was the urge to lie, to say the proper answer the one she expected. There was the urge to say the truthful thing, the only option that may leave her in shock and revolted by his nature.
“It’s...a man.” Tom began, the word feeling odd and numb as he spoke the truth in the first time in his memory. “An injured man. I don’t care.”
Crina smiled thinly, the unique expression he finally could place after an hour of her time. It wasn’t judging or sharp. It wasn’t approval or disappointment either, it was her...expression of equality. Of recognizing they both were individuals that had topics to discuss.
“My first thought is recognition that it is injured as well.” She confirmed softly. “And yet, I want to use the opportunity to murder it. I want to crush its bones. There is a primal rejection of weakness which nobody ever discusses. The culling of the weakened sprouts, the removal of weeds. It is as common and as natural as the desire to protect and nurture. Of course, I wouldn’t crush it, but my first thought is to do so.”
Crina shifted her body forward ever so slightly. “I am perfectly sane and I experience such thoughts. Why do you believe yourself to be such a monster?”
Tom’s mouth felt slimy and cold. “I am a monster.”
Crina for the first time, frowned.
“Is that the label you’ve associated with yourself now? A monster?” She seemed disappointed, or upset by something Tom couldn’t place. “In the world, we do not have true monsters. We have concepts and unexplained phenomena which we accredit to monsters. A murderer does not make you a monster, Tom Riddle.”
Tom flinched. He felt hollow, like something had clawed his innards like a pumpkin on Halloween. “You have no idea of what I’ve done, and what I will do.”
Crina made a small noise, a little airy sigh. “How lazy, to discredit your future and whatever faith you have to something as minor as coincidence.”
“Leave my faith out of this.”
“I imagine,” she bit out sharply, cutting deep into him like bared wire on his thigh. “That you’ve done all you can in your life to convince others that you are just as demonic as you wish you were. Perhaps then, you imagine, there is a reason for why everyone has abandoned you.”
“There is a medical witch coming,” Crina spoke lazily, finally relaxed enough after having made some sort of progress into Tom’s psyche. “She’s waiting outside. She’ll run a complete medical check and background. There’s countless vaccinations you’re out of date on.”
The buzz of nicotine was the only thing soothing him to where he wouldn’t lash out. “I presumed as much.”
“Once again, you don’t exist in the world of documentation.” Crina informed him calmly, “all medical notes are linked to my own diagnostics reports and documentation. I will be aware of all findings, but of course, nobody else will have legal availability to view such findings.”
“I doubt you’d inform Dumbledore of it even if I were dying.” Tom spoke dryly, bitterly. He inhaled a thick drag that made his vision swim.
“You’re right.” Crina smiled behind a small twist of her lips. “I wouldn’t. He gives me a headache and only causes more paperwork. Would you prefer I remain for the duration of your examination, or simply Owl you obnoxiously at a later time with all findings we need to address?”
“Owl me.” Tom responded snappish. “Better yet, purchase me an owl.”
“I’d be concerned you’d kill it out of spite.” Crina hummed.
“Aren’t psychologists not supposed to form attachments to their patients?”
Crina smiled thinly, the small expressions of her approval. “You’re correct. I only accept specific clients with qualities I find interesting. I cannot help but find myself attached to them. I have only known you for a short time, but already I am quite attached to you. Does that made me a fool, Tom?”
He scoffed loudly. “Yes. You’re always a fool for becoming fond of someone.”
Crina smiled, the lines on the edges of her eyes crinkled. “I said I had formed an attachment. Why does the idea of attachment equate to fondness? Is that what you believe? That to be enthralled with the mind of another, it will ultimately result in friendship or love or family?”
Tom’s teeth bared slightly. “I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t.” She agreed. “I doubt you’ve ever allowed yourself to form attachments in your entire life. Or at least, not to those of the living.”
Tom didn’t flinch, but by the small smirk on Crina’s face, she knew she won that debate anyways.
“I’ll be in touch.” Crina smiled, packing up her wine glasses and the half empty bottle. She left him with the half empty packet of cigarettes and the muggle lighter.
“Try not to hurt anyone else.” Crina spoke in a quiet drawl, “hurting yourself is within my paycheck. I don’t apply to others.”
She walked past him, her heels clicked. The moment the door closed, Tom grabbed the nearest pillow and threw it across the room with a shriek.
He grabbed the half burned cigarette, lighting it desperately to inhale so forcefully the filter burned and burned his fingertips. He was choking out smoke when the door opened and a plump witch stumbled in.
She took one glance at the smoke before her eyes got wide in alarm. She hurriedly closed the door, taking out her wand with fumbling fingers.
“Oh dear is that Dragonpox?” She hurried out, eyes wide on the smoke.
“No.” Tom ground out, flipping the burned end to put out the ash on the couch. It sizzled satisfyingly. “It’s muggle.”
“Oh.” The witch breathed in confusion, but thankfully didn’t address it any further. “Well, we’re here for a full examination for documentation Mr. Riddle! Can I ask some basic health questions before we begin the examination?”’
Tom couldn’t argue anyways, so he let it go.
“Have you ever stayed in a hospital before?” She asked chipper. Tom’s eye almost twitched.
“Muggle disease.” He ground his teeth. “Scarlet fever.”
She blinked in alarm and scribbled it down, “Do you have any ongoing medical conditions such as asthma?”
Tom very pointedly did not look at the cigarettes still by his side.
The questions continued, going on and on for various issues Tom couldn’t answer, or were simple. The date of his last dental visit (which Tom had never seen), any injury as an infant was beyond his knowledge. The entire section regarding family history was completely foreign to him.
It was irritating and demeaning, especially with the apparently latent infection of a few diseases he recognized in name; cholera, giardia. The mediwizard looked particularly ill when she managed to pull a half dozen insects out from irritable scabies.
“Right.” She squeaked, looking slightly green. “You’re 5 foot and 7 inches, which is 170 centimeters. A bit...oh, a bit light, dearie. You’re 101 pounds, or 45.8 kilograms. That’s a body mass index of 15.9, which is a bit light for your age-.”
Tom rolled his eyes and casually ignored the alarmed ramblings of the woman. He only tuned back in when she was displaying obvious fretting over various nutrient deficiencies.
Oh it was going to be delightful once she forced him to strip.
Eventually the time came, and she had a small worried flush to her skin. By the time he was forced to take off his shirt, she had already locked on to a few things that stood out wrong. The hollows of his collarbones, the way his ribs protruded. The scar tissue of amateur potions he hadn’t managed to remedy with commercial potions. Small cuts were still scabbed, small marks were still bleeding.
“Oh.” She whispered in horror, her squeamish face twisting even further. “Sweet Merlin.”
Ah, she’d found his back then.
She didn’t touch, and he took savage glee in the way her eyes lingered far too long on the crude handmade needle tattoo on his forearm, warding him away from minor illnesses and sickness; the lashes and bleeding wounds, or the large purple bruises symmetrical on his waist.
“Dreamless sleep potions as well.” Tom spoke in a tone almost purring, chipper in how the mediwitch likely would be taking a vacation day tomorrow, “at least a month’s worth.”
“Okay.” She hoarsely accepted, blinking quickly before she started scribbling rapidly.
Tom hadn’t realized what a pathetic world he lived in, with pathetic people. He was already missing in a strange sick way the intelligent company of Crina Dimitriu
He was foolish to stay in the public areas of the room, but he couldn’t remain in the stuffy shroud of dust he was forced to endure his psychiatric session in.
Already, the word seemed sick and disgusting on his tongue. Mental sickness, the names for madness that sent men from the trenches to their deaths. He had seen them firsthand, the men screaming and clutching their skulls at demons nobody could see. Tom thought them pathetic, but something about Crina made everything different. Someone intelligent wouldn’t waste their time on meaningless buffoons, those without hope. Someone like her wouldn’t waste a life goal on discussing and interrogating those already consumed by madness.
But he couldn’t imagine him needing something like mind healing. He didn’t need a straitjacket, the electricity and cutting his brain in half he had heard the Germans were trying out. To be different would be his death, to be different would call for holy water.
He shivered at the thought, so he fled to the drawing room with most sunlight and curled in a chair as small and unassuming as possible. His diary was in his lap, unopened but a comforting weight on his lap. The cracked cover was dirtied in one corner, he’d have to find oil somewhere to soften it and fix it the best he could.
The door opened. The youngest girl of the redheads came in with the older girl, Hermione he remembered.
The younger froze, then glared at him with a silent snarl.
“Oh great.” The younger girl snarled out viciously, hands twisting as if ready to draw a wand. Tom’s left hand, healed of the burns, flared in phantom pain.
“I’m not sitting in a room with a monster!” The younger girl screamed furiously.
Hermione tried to shush her, or restrain her in some way. Tom let his eyes slide away, gazing at the paintings on the walls instead. He remembered them foggily, from the descriptions Orion gave him.
“Get that bloody book away from me!” The girl screamed, pointing at the diary in Tom’s lap. Tom felt a headache flare.
“Then get me something good to read!” He snapped back irritated. The leather was smooth and soft in his grip, something to help ground himself.
Hermione glared at him and gave a small scoff. “I only have Shakespeare and I doubt you’d have enough patience to enjoy classic literature.”
Tom had a fairly stressful day. He had endured countless challenges, but enduring the stupidity of aggressors was a tad too much. Tom inhaled shakily and exhaled smoothly. He calmed with a synthetic cold, a small smirk that curled on the edges viciously.
The younger girl, Ginny, paled and ducked out of the room instantly. Hermione froze, almost unable to believe what she had seen.
“I wouldn’t appreciate classics.” Tom sniped out short and coldly. The words seemed to hang there, and Tom’s smirk was a little bit more vicious. He scanned through his memory, the nights at the orphanage of reading books by lantern light because of boredom.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” Tom startled, words rolling gently as he remembered the lines of playwright on old stained paper. “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time.”
Hermione stared at him, the horror from before was starting to bubble, transfiguring itself into something curious and restrained. “...Macbeth?” She guessed quietly.
Tom’s grin was as sharp as before. “I find the tragedies more appealing. Romance is his wasted effort.”
Hermione shuddered. “People would argue that Romeo and Juliet was his best work.”
“How unfortunate.” Tom spoke cruelly, “that people tend to be moronic to a fault.”
“You can’t blame people in general!” Hermione’s voice rose to a high pitched squeal. “That's, that’s bigotry!”
Tom’s expression didn’t falter. “If you want to debate over literature, I advise you to read. Whatever knowledge you possess now is inferior. Philosophy, then come back to me.”
Hermione flushed, an ugly splotchy red that Tom took savage delight in. Her eyes welled and watered slightly, she sniffled at the insult then stormed out. The door clicked shut behind her, rattling in its frame. Somewhere in the house, a portrait began to scream.
Tom looked back at the book in his lap and flipped open his diary to a random page. The spidery scrawl of his own handwriting mocked him, the words even more so. He could remember every entry, every moment as he wrote in darkness or in the light that pierced the mortar dust and smoke. A fault in his memory, that he struggled to remember such basic trivial things.
He let the book close again, and traced the small cracks along its spine and cover. His thigh burned, and he was very hungry.
He was partially surprised he was even invited to dinner that night. With his ( painful ) appointment with Crina earlier, to the horrified mediwitch that had passed him the prescription potions for nutrients, weight gains, and dreamless sleep, and then lashing out at both Hermione and Ginny (her name was), it was a miracle he was given food.
He ignored them all to the best of his abilities, well aware of how Sirius Black was sitting next to him at the table as his warden. He could smell food being prepared, the thick smell of yeast that only accompanied with fresh bread. Already he was salivating for a bite, but had enough knowledge to recognize consuming food at this point would only irritate his delicate stomach.
He could likely have some of the bread, for it was taunting him at this rate.
“No!” Ginny screamed from in the kitchen. “I refuse! I am not having dinner with that monster!”
“Ginny Weasley!” Her mother screamed back in turn, “do not call him such things!”
“I bet you he wants to murder everyone!’ Ginny screamed, voice rattling the glasses of water on the table. “I bet you he wants to slaughter all the muggles!”
Tom sighed and traced sigils into the table. He knew it wouldn’t do anything, but it was helpful to keep his mind sharp for what he would need to carve eventually. “I don’t. If that matters at all.”
“Probably not.” Sirius consoled with a small huff. “You really messed with her. Or, you will. Bloody hell this is confusing.”
Tom felt a small surge of annoyance, that this was an annoyance to him. Oh, it was entirely a minor inconvenience for Tom, being thrown into a world where he had nothing going for him.
The food was set on the table, daggers being shot at Tom from every source. He ignored it, at least this he was used to receiving at the orphanage. He was ready for the rug to be torn out from under him, for them to jeer and laugh about how he ‘did you really think you’d be eating today? Go to your room!’
He was arching forward, curling slightly over the empty placement of his plate. Sirius watched him, his eyes oppressive and heavy on Tom’s back. Tom’s stomach gurgled, cramping agonizingly although he knew not to listen to its anguished cries.
“Well.” Mrs. Weasley startled, smiling although it was partially forced. Tom’s eyes were locked on the bread in front of him, focused with the single minded intent of a predator. “I’m so happy we’re all back here together!”
Ginny snorted from where she was seated a fair distance away. Well without of striking reach with a butter knife. “Shouldn’t our resident monster say something?”
‘Shouldn’t our devil-touched say something?’
Tom’s eyes didn’t leave the table as the well familiar blessing scattered through his thoughts. It was impossible to forget it now, from the way he was forced to speak out loud for everyone at every meal. The way they would cane him if he refused to speak even as a child.
Tom opened his mouth and regurgitated blessings with the taste of acid. “Bless the Lord for the bounty he has provided and he in my body repel, the touch of Satan that rots my flesh and renders me impure Bless he who shall carve his mark upon my skin and rid me of evil of self glorification, amen.”
‘Amen.’ The children in the orphanage would echo.
Tom lunged forward, and tore into the bread like a wolf tearing into a carcass.
He heard the news of Dunkirk, in the papers that brushed through the streets.
The troops were coming home, fed with tea and biscuits when Tom was scrounging for bits of molded cheese. The rats of London, swamped in grease and dust.
The wand he had in his hand wasn’t the best, but it worked with his core to a fair amount. He had scrounged through the room of forgotten things, testing out various sorts to determine what would function the best. He knew, that with the eyes of Professor Dumbledore watching him, he likely would be checked for recent magic use in his ministry registered wand. It was much safer to have a second wand, even though it wasn’t perfect.
It made his flesh crawl, itching like ivy and pox on his skin. It didn’t make him bleed or explode, so he counted it a win.
The troops were returning, and he knew they would scavenge through London for the shreds of familiarity they left behind. They were fools to come back, to add to the festering cesspool of rot and pollution that the Thames was.
There were corpses in the buildings, a fire had spread last night and the ash and smoke was so thick even Tom choked on it from kilometers away. He knew many must have burned, roasting under the pain of it all.
The ward was still in effect over London, the backlash of any magic being used in the city. A deterrent to more terrorism, but at this point, Tom was scraping low on his supplies. His last shirt had caught fire from one unexpected bombing, his trousers survived only from his quick rolling in the plaster coating the streets. His bag was miraculously fine, but he wouldn’t last long without any sort of clothing at night.
He could always try robbing a store, but with no weaponry he knew it wouldn’t result well. He needed to search the dead; if he was lucky, he may find tickets for food or genuine clothing on the corpses.
He pulled out the borrowed wand, placing it next to his medical supplies he already had ready to go. Holding his wand in his right hand, he inhaled and tried to calm his nerves.
He spoke the incantation, feeling the thrum of absolute pleasure buzz through his nerves from the use of dark aligned magic. It was a heavily influenced curse, seeking fresh dead for the selection pool of inferi. He wasn’t looking to reanimate any bodies now, but the curse cared little for intent beyond what it could perform.Tom exhaled in an exhilarated wheeze, nearly falling into the trance from the bliss from it. It had been a long while since he could relax.
Then, the ward crushed down on him, like a boot on a small child.
Tom choked, the wand dropping from his hand. His bones rattled, his spine crackled, and he bent into contorted positions on the ground. A pitiful wheeze as the breath was stolen from his skin. His eyes flickered shut and he drooped, allowing himself to suffer as the wards crushed him, oppressive and heavy as it tore through his skin in obvious displeasure.
It faded, and the sticky warmth of blood drained from the gouges in his side. Large gashes, flayed sections of skin. Tom ignored the gruesome marks of archaic magic the ministry implemented. They were all afraid, especially since the rampage Grindelwald had done earlier. Tom reached for the gauze and bandages and started to try and piece his flesh back together.
He could see from the corner of his vision the purplish hue that permeated walls. The glowing violet that detailed to his eyes only the shape of a dead body. He could see around four in his eyesight, hidden in the small closets of bombed homes. Likely trying to find shelter in their last moments. They now gave Tom a chance to survive.
He stumbled his way to his feet, ignoring the small animal whine that spilled from his lips as his torso throbbed in pain and bled anew.
Maybe, if he was lucky, one of the corpses had bandages nearby. He was running low on water.
Chapter 4: Mea culpa
The memories of what we have done, haunt us in our dreams.
Warning, there is implied dark content in this chapter.
This is the introduction of the darker themes I'm trying to use in this work. They will steadily increase and be more blatant as the story goes on.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
O my God, I thank you for having preserved me today
and for having given me so many blessings and graces.
I renew my dedication to you and ask your pardon for
all my sins.
In old times, before the dawn of medicine and the age of eternal glory, the thoughts of the unconscious mind were interpreted as the word of God. The dreams and sightless passage were written and spoken and from that, prophecy of the land immortal became true. People would bottle the blood of women who passed in their sleep; would sell elixirs that lesser men would beg for. A child would cut off their thumbs with innocent eyes and like a lamb, ask if they too would be received.
Tom wondered once, what use nightmares had in the world. Surely if God spoke to them in their dreams, then nightmares would be there no longer. Were nightmares and night terrors the touch of a devil, or a sign that Sin has sunk itself so deep even the messenger had begun to rot. Tom’s head was filled with wood lice, gnawing and shaking free with bits of shattered bone.
He wondered if his sins were so foul, that he would be tormented every night for his actions. He knew now that with this curse of being out of time, that his torment was for things he had yet to do. Tom didn’t believe in God, but sometimes through the haze of starlight and monsters chewing on his toes, he wondered if he was wrong.
Tom screamed at night, jolting awake with heaving breaths and flashes of things he couldn’t remember. His left knee throbbed; he likely flexed or kicked in his sleep and made it sore.
His nightclothes clung to him, wet with perspiration. His hair was askew like unbrushed wool. Eyes wild like the wolf, hands crooked and flexed like the wood of the Shepard's crook.
Tom wasn’t truly awake yet, mind fogged and clouded and buzzing with half formed fears. His lips moved slightly, muscle memory repeating his apologies over and over. Mumbling out slurred words as slowly awareness came to him.
The wallpaper across from him had peeled away, curling away as the glue hardened with bubbles and lumps. Boiled in place and leaving the paper to curl downwards like the tongue of a curious toad. The floorboards were weirdly shaped, nails sticking upwards like thumbtacks. His side table had toppled, the sheets on his bed were thin ribbons. The doorknob was gone and around the base a muddle of hardened molten metal.
The door burst open, swinging on lopsided joints. There was nothing to impede it now that the lock resembled a sheet of ice.
“Kid!” Sirius barked out, his wand held up and glowing. He didn’t go for the light switch. Tom glanced upwards, and wasn’t at all surprised to see that the bulb had shattered.
“What.” Tom tried to snap back, but the shaky feel to his voice was far too apparently to get away with a countenance of composure.
Sirius Black stared at him in the dim light, stepping carefully around the glass and upright nails scattered across the floor.
“Real mouse trap in here, innit?” Sirius muttered to himself, nearly stepping on one longer nail that evaded his eye. Tom kept his eyes on the mounds of blanket the hid his feet. His thigh was throbbing, which was a bad sign.
Sirius finally made it closer, just as Tom’s rapid breathing was only a tad shaky. The man frowned then made a soft sigh, clearly noticing how Tom’s clothing stuck to his backside.
“C’mon.” Sirius soothed, using one thumb to indicate the open doorway, “there’s a bit of a lumpy couch you can sleep on for tonight. I don’t think you have other sleep clothes, I’ll find something.”
Tom said nothing, but as he swung his legs across the bed he hissed instinctively curling. Small specs of red dotted along his left pant leg.
“Hurt yourself, eh?” Sirius murmured quietly, soothing as he lowered himself onto the bed carefully next to the still recovering teen. Sirius grabbed one of the long strips of what was once Tom’s sheets, doubling it up to a suitable thickness.
Tom winced, peeling the sleep pants downwards, finally getting to the source of the issue. Something which reminded Sirius of a garter from his wilder days, except this one was made of metal and a thick woven hair. The metal spikes pointed inwards, like little talons that clawed into the meat of Tom’s thigh. Scarce hair and thick black scabs like the shell of beetles. The skin of his leg was silvery and translucent, spotted scar tissue that indicated a level of casualness to the grisly scene.
“It looks like your magic made you heal.” Sirius grimaced, drawing his wand closer for inspection. “Your trashing tore your skin more than this….thing, would have otherwise.”
“A cilice.” Tom bit out, fishing his long thin fingers under the metal teeth to loosen the scabs. Without care for grace, he pulled- freeing the teeth from his thigh only to dig them deeper on the other side. Blood dripped anew, trailing downwards in disappointing tear marks. Tom didn’t show any sign that it pained him, or perhaps he learned to care naught.
Sirius said nothing even as Tom undid the belt’s latch, peeling away each of the metal teeth from his thigh one at a time like peeling the sticker off a new broom. It popped tree, his leg looking as if gnawed on by some ravenous creature of his own demise.
Without a care, he fashioned it tightly (Sirius paled) on his other thigh and pulled his trousers up as if the blood stains and leaking wounds meant nothing to him. Maybe they didn’t.
Tom climbed to his feet, toes flexing on the floorboards. Eyes glazed and tired, dark circles haunting him even when awake.
“Let’s go.” Sirius murmured gently, guiding a safe passage across the room. The tacks, when Tom drew near, all rattled away from him. The glass melted into the cracks between the boards.
The door swung open on its creaky lopsided joints. The tapestries on the walls were all shredded, the lights burst and useless. It looked like there was a fire from one broken light. Only Tom’s room had a melted door handle or upwards nails.
Commotion was bustling as the house slowly woke. It was an early hour, far before the sun would rise. Tom followed after Sirius, quietly allowing himself to be lead to the one living room where a large velvet couch looked lumpy, but inviting.
“I’ll have to search the main floor. You shredded most blankets in the house I reckon.” Sirius confessed quietly, keeping his voice a low murmur since Tom was still exhausted.
Cabinets and doors were opening, voices were muffled but increasing in volume. Tom pulled one knee to his chest, pressing his forehead against in with hopes the pressure would soothe the throbbing and spinning of the world.
Sirius returned in a little while, a thick flannel blanket over one arm. Tom cracked one eye open to scan the surface- there were thin ribbon tears along the sides like the dull claws of a cat.
“The others are awake, really messed with the whole house.” Sirius informed him gently. The differences in his character was startling. Tom said nothing, but he did curl slightly tighter as the blanket coated his sides and back with a soothing pressure.
His head was spinning, flashes of memories he couldn’t quite place. His stomach was clenched and churning on the unfortunate precipice of vomiting, yet his body burned with perspiration and vertigo behind his eyelids.
The door swung open, louder mumbles. Tom resisted a whine of annoyance.
“You!” Someone screamed, high pitch and agonizing. Rapid feet, and Sirius stepped forward with a hushed noise to soothe the attacker away.
“Don’t worry, Ginny.” Sirius murmured gently, holding the small girl’s shoulders with each hand carefully, “Ginny, it’s fine. I’ve got it under control.”
The door was open like a dam, and more people poured in like mountain runoff. Wedging themselves into the cracks of cobblestone. Tom kept his eyes closed and tried to ignore the whispers that always followed him.
“What happened!” Hermione asked, voice thicker with sleep but very worried. She hesitated a moment before rushing to hug the youngest Weasley, comforting her and restraining her in one movement.
“Padfoot?” Harry asked, slipping through the doorway with Ron following behind, “Padfoot what was with the clawing?”
“It was nothing,” Sirius hushed the group, trying in vain to escort them out of the room. “Just some unexpected accidental magic.”
“ What?” Ron asked dumbly, looking quite gobsmacked. “Gin’ didn’t do anything!”
“Except now my blankets are all torn to hell!” Ginny screamed, her voice an octave too high for Tom’s threshold.
He groaned quietly, pressing his face even further into his knees. Similarly soothing the ache behind his eyes, and drawing the eyes of others onto his small body.
“Oh,” Harry clued in first, blinking quickly before he grimaced in sympathy. “Yeah, that would..be bad.”
Sirius sighed in exasperation, and tried once more to escort the group out.
“I bet you did this on purpose!” Ginny spat, thrashing in Hermione’s grip. “I bloody liked that blanket!”
Tom’s hand clenched as he straightened his head slowly, shifting his body slightly so that the blanket fell from where it shrouded him.
“I am trying,” Tom spat out, voice filled with venom, “to get some ruddy sleep.”
“You’re the one that woke us up.” Ron muttered scathingly. Still loud enough that Tom head.
Tom was tired of this.
“Get out.” He snapped, eyes blazing. He jerkily forced himself to his feet, the ground swaying ever so slightly as his vision adjusted. “Get out.”
Ginny stuck her chin out, “make me you bastard.”
Tom’s lip curled, his head hurt, and his thigh was beginning to really bother him. “I want you to get out.”
A chill, a heavy suffocating weight. Tom swayed further, Sirius cursed. Ginny stiffened in Hermione’s grip before she twitched and began to turn. Slow and bewitched, vacant in eye.
“Bollocks.” Sirius muttered, one hand grabbing Ginny to shake her free from whatever light compulsion Tom managed in his tired state.
“Get out!” Tom spat again, hand twitching and curling into fists at his side. Hermione and Ron took a step backwards as self-preservation controlled their actions. Harry watched with large, irritatingly sympathetic eyes.
“Stop this.” Sirius barked sharply at Tom, then returned to shaking the groggy and confused Ginny. “Hermione, take Ginny and get out of here.”
“Yes, Sirius.” Hermione stuttered, grabbing the hand of the younger girl before dragging her out of the room. Ron hurried after, tending to his younger sister.
Harry watched, gnawing on his lower lip as Tom began to sway ever so slightly from where he stood.
“You er, had a nightmare.” Harry blurted with no tact. “I uh, I don’t mean…”
“Get the hell out of here.” Tom growled low, looking ready to grab the nearest lamp fixture to throw at the boy’s head.
“I just-.” Harry stuttered over his words uncomfortably. He ducked his head sheepishly, almost bashfully. “I...I sometimes see…”
Harry paused, then looked at Tom skeptic.
Tom didn’t like it. He didn’t like how Harry almost appeared to see through him, like his eyes were scanning over his soul and the actions of his desperation. He didn’t like how the conversation stopped and froze, how Sirius stiffened in comprehension by the act of conversation cessation.
“What?” Tom snapped out, although it twisted on the end with an emotion nobody could place.
“...Nothing.” Harry finished, wringing his hands nervously, “just...you know you’re safe here...right?”
No. I’m not. Tom thought viciously.
Harry said nothing, but he did finally walk from the room just as everyone had walked out of Tom’s life before.
The morning brought awareness and light on the situation- and on the heavy bags under Tom Riddle’s eyes. It was obvious the other hadn’t gotten a lick of sleep after the night screaming. The level of viciousness in his gaze didn’t waver, even as he was served a plate of bland eggs and plain toast. It was still uncertain if too much grease and lard would bother his sensitive stomach, so only bland foods were given to him.
“You look horrible.” Ginny said quite delighted, sitting near him with her heavy plate of bacon. Harry knew, that the redhead generally didn’t enjoy such fatty foods so early. The smell was rich in the air; Tom leaned away nauseated.
“Hmm?” Ginny asked, maintaining eye contact as her teeth crunched through the crispy meat.
Tom said nothing, but the shadows of his glare only looked more sulky with the purple marks and translucent skin.
“Ginny, eat with manners.” Hermione spoke in a hushed voice to the girl, still mindful of how dangerous Tom Riddle was.
Ginny huffed and snapped her mouth closed.
“You look like you didn’t get any sleep.” Harry awkwardly broke the praise.
Tom said nothing, but began to cut into his toast with aggressive talons of a fork.
“You aren’t chatty.” Ron muttered into his plate of potatoes, scooping up a large mound to fill his face.
Ginny brightened, her whole body perking up. “Then lets chat about something we all have opinions on!”
Harry felt something cold and heavy settle in his gut, “Ginny-.”
“Murder!” She practically crowed out, propping her face up as she stared intently at Tom with a look of a wolf staring down its food. “What’s your opinion, Tom.”
Tom inhaled through his nose, and continued to dig into his toast.
“Surely you must think murder is okay in some instances.” Ginny’s words were gaining more of a bite. “ I can think of a few individuals.”
Tom set his fork down with a clatter. His face shifted into a smile that looked out of place with the juxtaposition of his eyes. The bags made him look more ghastly, tired and fed up with the girl’s antics.
“Oh I see,” He began, almost demonic with how his lips pulled back, “philosophy is your beast of burden. Well then, Ginny, most humans share a bias toward the value of empathy, which makes a Kantian notion of ethics quite natural to us. If murder were not forbidden by law and social taboo, individuals would still experience guilt for doing it. From many perspectives, the injunction against murder is more than just a...social convention. It is an evolved or a psychogenic trait, and as such a universal concept to anthropologism. From this point of view, yes murder is wrong.”
Ginny stared. Ron’s potato fell from his spoon onto his plate with a small splat.
“...You know Kant?” Hermione whispered, more to herself.
Tom tilted his head ever so slightly, eyes focused on the very overwhelmed young girl. “Even in your confession over desire for murder, it seems obvious your desire for murder contravenes even the most basic values of empathy. What a horrid existence a beast must experience to have as such.”
Harry blinked quickly. He didn’t quite understand everything Tom just said, but he was fairly sure he had just somehow insulted Ginny quite cruelly.
“Well.” Hermione cleared her throat shakily, “I’ll be reading today.”
She paused, looking at Tom shyly and still fairly unsure. “...If you’re bored, I do have a few books that may be of interest.”
Tom ignored her, and tore into his toast once again.
Alastor peered at the torn shreds of fabric. Gathered from all over the house.
“Which floor was this one from?” He asked, prodding one bunch of cloth that had thin hairline tears all across the length.
“Kitchen.” Sirius nodded, crossing his arms from the doorway. “Other end is from Ginny’s room, the furthest floor in the house.”
Moody frowned, tracing the scraps and tears with one heavily calloused finger. “You saying that boy managed to tear up fabric from every floor in the house.”
“Not only that.” Sirius jerked his head towards the general direction of his room. “The nails were upturned, the doorknob melted too. Multiple levels of accidental magic.”
Moody exhaled in a rush, running one hand through his wiry hair. “Merlin. You said he did conscious control of Ginevra?”
“A basic compulsion.” Sirius agreed with a small frown, “physical contact shook her out of it. He was desperate, night terrors.”
“Ah,” Moody grimaced sympathetically, “bastard things. Any other signs?”
“He tried my wand. Horrible reaction.” Sirius shrugged slightly. “I’m not too sure any wand here would work.”
“Potter’s might.” Moody agreed with another grimace. “Don’t let him touch Potter’s wand. This level of accidental magic may just destroy half the house with a proper conduit, even without a spell.”
“Maybe I should set him on my mother’s portrait.” Sirius jokingly offered, “maybe he could shut that bitch up.”
Moody managed a small sideways grin, “might be so. Keep an eye on him, those sleeping potions are coming in once we finish scanning them all. Can’t ever be too safe, poison’s a thing. He’s been a good little prisoner, hasn’t he?”
“Perfect.” Sirius dryly countered. “He’d even listen and take notes for Bins’ lectures.”
Moody laughed, a loud scratchy noise. He shook his head fondly, shifting the wreckage of destroyed blankets and drapes to the side. “Keep him comfortable. We’ll open his leash a little, see what he does with more room. No point muzzling him if he knows not to bite.”
“I really hate the dog expressions.” Sirius sulked, but nodded nonetheless. “We need to bring in Crina?”
“Crazy woman is off hunting down dark wizards.” Moody shivered, “hate having her around. Makes my skin crawl.”
“Imagine my situation.” Sirius shivered, “she bloody well singled me out. ”
Moody shook his head sympathetically. “Poor bastard. I heard even Albus is a bit frightened of her.”
Sirius visibly shuddered, “any woman able to make bloody Grindelwald cry is someone to stay the hell away from. Merlin, let me know when she comes around, I wanna be hiding as far away as I can.”
“Have you ever murdered anyone?” Harry asked Tom, not looking at the boy’s trouser leg where it was stained with blood from an unknown source.
Tom didn’t look startled, or interested by the question. “I don’t have a wand.”
Harry shook his head and locked his jaw. “Before. Did you ever murder anyone?”
Tom paused, running his finger over the cloth of his shirt in a soothing habit Harry noticed. IT looked like the boy was marveling over the fabric, the leisurely comfort he had never known before.
“Magic outside of school,” Tom began in a slow thick voice, heavy with implications. “Is illegal. I may have...fantasized of it. I’m not foolish enough to take away the opportunity I have. Or had.”
Harry nodded, looked down at his folded hands.
“My first year at Hogwarts,” Harry started awkwardly. “I...I think...there was a teacher trying to kill me. Nobody actually told me what happened, but I think I killed him.”
Tom didn’t look over. Almost like it was uninteresting.
“I’ll never forget it.” Harry continued in a low murmur, “the sounds of his screaming. He...he had a stutter but when you scream...it’s so..”
Harry shuddered uncomfortably, then looked away.
Tom ignored him, or maybe he never cared to begin with.
“No no no.” Tom gasped out, scrambling over broken bits of rubble and dust. The shadow from the hidden alcove obscured colour, but the smell was reeking and no movement betrayed him. “Oh God oh God.”
Tom shook his head, trying to get the thick cloying smell of rust out of his nose. So thick and pungent he could taste it, like liver under-cooked.
“Get up.” Tom whispered, his fingers sore and bleeding from where they caught on the rough edges of the brick. One nail was broken, chipped away when he clawed at the cobblestone.
The man didn’t get up. It smelled thick and sickly.
“Oh lord.” Tom gasped out, barely aware of how his chest was heaving and his sight obscured in what little light was there. “Oh God, I’m bloody well so sorry oh shit-.”
Tom shakily scrambled even further, his trousers catching from how poorly they were fastened. “I didn’t mean ter.” He whispered brokenly, uncaring of the whistling wheeze of his hysteria.
The man didn’t get up. In what little light filtered through the crack in the exposed cellar ceiling, the man’s eyes were open and unseeing.
Tom had heard that sometimes rocks could leave men blind. Like fever when they burned too hot. He hoped it was that. He knew it wasn’t.
“T-Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Tom choked out, a bubbling wet laugh as the blood kept spreading towards his legs. It didn’t matter, his trousers were already stained and damp.
“Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Tom chanted, his skin itching and burning. He could feel his hips throb, where they would be stained dark with bruises. He leaned over and heaved, bile mixing with tears and more to leave a salty foul mixture in his throat. He wished he could scrub it out until his teeth fell out.
The man stared at him blankly. The gash across his temple vicious and wide- the brick Tom managed to pull free in the throes of his panic.
‘Wait, no I didn’t say yer-.’
‘Oh shut up ya tramp. I’m already payin’ yer-.’
Tom squeezed his eyes closed tighter and clawed his broken fingertips into the dust around him. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as write as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wo-.”
‘Pretty little thing, ain’t yer? Hold still yer little shite-.’
Tom leaned over and puked again, hating how shaky he felt.
He shouldn’t be like this. He shouldn’t be trembling. He had done this before- he was starving. He sometimes puked later but he never was too hurt and it didn’t matter. Sometimes his eyes bleed red when he couldn’t breathe but he was starving and Diagon wasn’t opening and he didn’t want to-.
‘How much fer an hour, brat?’
Tom’s breathing hitched. He forced himself to his feet, and tried not to think of how wet and warm the man felt when Tom fished out the meager amount of coinage he had. It was barely any, it was a fortune in these times.
Tom was starving; and he didn’t mean to.
The man was dead, and his stomach rumbled. Tom leant over and heaved again, trying to not slip on the gore he couldn’t see when the body began to rattle in death throes.
“I didn’t mean ter.” Tom whispered to himself, shaking like a leaf as he made his way out of the ruined cellar, ascending towards the street where over salvagers scoured the ruins for anything to survive. “I didn't mean ter.”
The brick was nearby, lumpy and misshapen. The angle was all wrong, but with hysteria came blessed strength, and accidental aim on a weakened skull. Tom slung his arm behind his back, thrashing to be free of the grip. The brick met, and Tom-.
He leant against a nearby building, feeling flushed and shaky. He didn’t mean to. He-.
He knew he was drawing attention to himself. With his bloodied pants and vomit stained shirt. He hoped nobody looked further on his collar, but he doubted anyone would care other than an upturned nose. Tom was trying to survive, morals and ethics be damned in the face of death.
The nearest store was a bookstore, on the center street of Vauxhall Bridge Road. It was unharmed from the bombs, and had a still surviving bridge over the cesspool of the River Thames. Tom knew that if not for the vomit in his nose, he’d smell the sewage and death that filled the streets.
Tom began walking, trying not to limp. The road was open, a few people bustling but barely giving him a glance. He looked like he had wandered through shrapnel, or was hit in the last night. The whistling still throbbed in one of his ears.
The book shoppe had a bell above the door, the smell of sawdust from new locks on the doors and windows. Tom shuffled in, trying to wipe his nose and face the best he could from his teary eyes. At most this would be an alibi if he needed it. He didn’t think it would matter. The man would rot in a cellar, disgusting and ashamed of his vulnerable state. Exposed and trapped and he would bloat and draw in flies. Tom felt like hurling all over again.
“Do you have coin?” The shopkeeper snapped, eyeing him sharply. Tom’s state was rather poor, the sweat on his neck and brow only emphasized.
“Yeah.” Tom cleared his throat, trying to disguise the cracking of it, “Er, somethin’ small. Basic.”
The man snorted, looking at Tom with a grimace. He plucked one ordinary book, something which had seen better days.
“Steer,” The man held the floppy book, waving it calmly. “It’ll hold ya.”
“Thanks.” Tom gave a jerky nod, plucking a set of the basic pens. He didn’t need something fancy, just an alibi. Just something basic.
“Write your name in it.” the man tapped the brown cover sharply. “That way your grave can get a stone on it. Proper name for proper heaven.”
Tom nodded jerkily, plucking the proffered pen (much better than the one he just selected for purchase), and scribbled on the inside cover Tom Marvolo Riddle.
He passed over the pen, fanning the page to help the ink dry.
“Keep it in your inner pocket.” The man pulled his own jacket away, gesturing to the location on his breast. “Safest place. Useless if we can’t recognize your face after its bloody wrecked.”
Tom nodded, keeping his head low. The idea that one day he may just...be a book to document his entire life.
He shivered, passed the coins and took the book. The diary really.
He shivered again, hiding back to where he had stashed his trunk and books, his wand hidden out of sight. He didn’t know any wards but when he returned to civilization he’d have to research basic ones. He needed to find better trousers, and stay low for a while. He couldn’t... work, when there were bruises on his thighs. His stomach cramped, his book burned in his pocket.
He could find food another time, he was used to it. He needed to hunker down, protect his things another night and pray he survived the night.
He fumbled with his book, flipping it open to smooth unmarked parchment. Not the quality of books he adored, but the quality he deserved.
‘The eyes stared at him, facing judgement and yet Tom was the one-’
Tom’s breathe left him in rattled as his bloodied fingers clutched his trousers tighter. He was so sore, he was so tired.
(He wondered, if there was a chance of salvation left for him now that he succumbed to a mortal Sin.)
He shakily picked up his pen, and pressed it to paper.
Dear God, he wrote, the words chanted at him and carved into his skull flowed from his fingers easier than English. I know I am touched by devils words and I beg forgiveness for the sin of all I am.
I'm sorry that I'm alive.
Chapter 5: Delectatio morosa
Where self-preservation is subjective,
and picking your poison only leads to some things worse.
This chapter implies distressing images, as well as darker subjects. This is the start of the decline into more morbid darker territory, thank you all so much for reading up to this point, and I hope you can keep reading.
Remember to take a break if you all need to.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The blessed gift of being a burden, was the ability to hide yourself.
To be someone easily forgotten, or remembered only through scathing looks and violent curses. Moments of weakness, times when even your mind struggled to recall what was true. The adoration that walked aside hatred, gave Tom the ability to disappear.
So, Tom allowed himself to vanish.
The cessation, of existence.
The choice to fade as if you were never anything at all.
Nobody would admit that they had fallen into habit, that they had grown accustomed to Tom lurking around the house. The paranoia and anxiety that felt like a heavy curtain was drawn- sunlight and fresh air that nobody could truly describe other than the sheer absence of him.
The children smiled more, Ginny played and laughed again. And Tom hadn’t been seen in days.
Sure, it could have been something horrible, but on request Albus had reached out and Crina (over a rather venomous Floo call) informed them that Tom was, in her words, an ‘intelligent individual who does not require coddling, and is aware of his actions.’
So, they had left him be. Food delivered on a clockwork schedule, left outside his door or passed inside to the pale, unsettling child with unblinking eyes.
They made sure of course, that Tom wasn’t getting up to anything... bad, but from what Sirius had reported the interior of Tom’s room looked and seemed casual. There didn’t appear to be anything wrong, or anything suspicious as to what his intent was.
Tom didn’t come out, so everyone else could.
Behind the door, Tom knew this rationally as well. He knew that his existence itself was burden on the new society constructed in the arms of an old dusty house that stank of rot. His bed was clean (after purchasing new linens for the entire building) and food well cooked. Richer and thicker than anything he had before- leaving him heaving and gagging on bile as the vanishing chamber pot stunk with that ever so thin layer of acid that never quite left. At night he snuck out, walking silently with bruised and practiced feet down the staircases to raid the pantries of bread and preserved foods. Plums, apples, tarts that he didn’t think would go missing. The bits that had fallen off in the back of the oven, the remnants of stew in a pot not yet cleansed. The bottles of milk that had been set aside to be recycled- still containing a saucers worth at the bottom. The food nobody thought of except in passing, the sustenance that would always be forgotten.
Tom gorged and gorged, feasting on the scraps he knew nobody would notice. The portions and hidden things he could sneak back and hide in the crease under his mattress. Compressed under time, but something Sirius hadn’t quite discovered yet.
His potions were there too, a soft blue that spoke to him with comfort very little could offer. Prowling back to his room, careful to remain hidden from the few awake portraits, Tom slithered towards the foot of the mattress to pluck one of the vials with grease stained fingers. Dreamless sleep potion tasted like something sweet and thick, the sugary remnants of syrup and vanilla.
Already he could feel it press in on him, heavy weight on the feeble state of an insomniac. He stashed the vial, curled onto his bed and pulled the covers so high he could imagine he was back in a ruin of his own making. Maybe now, cast out and shunned by the only place in the world he dared think he belonged- he’d finally find a place carved out for him.
Tom woke with a scream bubbling on his lips, sour and tasteless and the pained gurgle of a distended abdomen.
Another explosion, another bright flash of colour like gunshots outside his door with an accompanying roar of some otherworldly beast. Sparks of blue fizzled under the door, revealing their origin to be something as... innocent as fireworks.
Another bang, another rattle on the door like the furious shrieks of the starving trying to break in.
Tom’s hands curled on the sheet, his clothing sweat damp and clinging to his side. His stomach was engorged and rounded, nausea and bile haunting behind his teeth.
Another explosion, another flash of light-
‘Please God let me live, please God let me live-.’
“Yeah Fred!” Someone shouted hoarsely, laughing just beyond his little door and down the stairwell. “Try the chimera one!”
A roar, like a waterfall or the scream of a bomber falling down from heaven.
Down down- down, until it exploded like a flower unfurling with the acrid stench of gunpowder.
Please God let me live-
The fireworks all exploded with cheers like children screaming.
Tom could feel his body shake, like how his window pane rattled- and with the scream of bombs Tom scrambled across his bed and fished out another vial.
He couldn’t think- he was going to hurl and everything was spinning and distorting ever so slightly. A mask over his face, ropes pulled too tightly against his chest and he couldn’t breathe.
He slumped over boneless onto the bed, clearly unconscious.
The window rattled; a dragon made of sparks screaming as it fell to earth in a blaze of fire.
The saddest thing, about being unwanted.
(Nobody cared when you started to fall from grace.)
“Shopping trip!” George shouted, making sure that his twin was echoing the same message all throughout the house. “Get your ruddy arses up and moving! Shopping trip!”
“George!” Mrs. Weasley shouted back, “language!”
“Sorry mum!” They echoed, already sprinting past Ron who was looking spectacularly dopey. “Come on! Off we go to wake the sleeping dragon!”
“To pluck the feral Hippogriff!”
“To defeat the savvy sphinx!”
Hermione huffed, looking on disapprovingly as the twins rushed up the stairs, cackling and laughing over something. They vanished from sight, and Hermione turned her sights on Harry.
“Oh no.” Harry recognized the look in her eye and instantly went on the defensive. “Mione, Mione I don’t care-.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit reckless!” She hissed out, completely ignoring the disclaimer already in the air. “That’s Tom Riddle! Taking him out in public? Honestly!”
“She’s got a point, mate.” Ron yawned.
Harry’s eyes widened as he glanced between the two of them. “Wait, why do you think you need to convince me? Tom Riddle is- he- look, he’s bloody brilliant so of course I think it’s a bit stupid on our part. But we can’t just keep him locked up!”
“ I think it’s a good idea.” Ron muttered, but with no real bite.
Something seethed, a small puddle of rage making itself coolly present. Harry glared, his face flattening into something vaguely dismissive. “Oh right. It’s not like you know what it’s like to live in a cage.”
Ron winced and Hermione instantly looked away in guilt.
“Come on,” Harry muttered sourly, “let’s just get some fresh air.”
Diagon Alley was active in the way only summer could be. Children and friends running around, peering inside extravagant displays in windows while ice cream dripped onto the cobblestone from toddler’s meaty fists.
Tom didn’t look happy about it, although the dark bags under his eyes had vanished. He likely had been sleeping much more now that nobody really saw him.
“Alright!” Mrs. Weasley chirped happily, trying to herd her red haired children, and Harry, Hermione, and Tom through the streets. Tom was visibly stiff, weaving through the crowd of people with a small curled lip. A grimace, or maybe a snarl in the making.
“Aww, don’t worry mum!” Fred laughed, looping one of his arms around Tom’s stiff shoulders. “We’ll watch him for you!”
“Yeah, don’t you worry!” George cheered, casually grabbing Tom’s other shoulder. They turned instantly, jerking with the speed of the movement and the twins dragged Tom to a nearby post shop.
“I wouldn’t want to be him.” Ron grimaced, shaking his head in sympathy. Hermione looked in the direction nervously, “you don’t think he could use their wands, right?”
“Likely not,” Harry spoke, not understanding but feeling like he knew it wouldn’t work. “Did it look to you guys like...Fred and George really wanted to drag Tom away?”
“You’re seeing things, mate.” Ron huffed, eyes locked on a new racing broom model in one window, “nobody would want to hang out with that monster.”
“Right…” Harry confirmed, feeling his skin itch.
Tom was smart, it wasn’t hard to understand why he was dragged away so quickly.
At first he thought it was to separate him from the younger girl, the sister of the twins. He could feel the subtle jerking over his shoulders, the arranged walking that guided him in sync to one nondescript stationary shop. As if it was arranged previously to the moment.
What would the twins want with him, other than retribution for his existence?
Tom couldn’t help the slight stiffening of his muscles, the tensing of his shoulders and sharper gait he retained as he was gracelessly dragged by red haired guides. He felt like a cheap commodity, dragged around through the crowd of faceless strangers.
Through the quill shop, behind a stack of books made of suede and leather strips. Tom’s eyes glanced over them, skimming the merchandise with no interest. His ears open and focused, listening to the change in steady breathing.
“Alright,” Tom began, voice low and steady. His fingers traced the thick vane on a turkey feather quill, bright with autumn colours. “What is it you want from me?”
The twins didn’t appear surprised or unsettled by his ability to read the tension. They frowned slightly, unwavered by his boldness.
“We’re making new inventions,” one started, the one with slightly faster cadence. Fred, if he recalled correctly.
“But the ingredients we need aren’t in Diagon.” The other grimaced, rolling one shoulder to try and loosen the tension gathered there.
Tom nodded slowly, plucking the quill to play with it absentmindedly between his fingers. “You’re looking for apothecaries with specialized ingredients.” A spark of inspiration struck; he peered from the corner of his eyes at the two older wizards with a small tug of his lips. “You’re looking for backstreet apothecaries. And- oh, you think I know Knockturn.”
“Don’t you?” Fred asked, voice blunt and cut with a challenge in his posture.
Tom placed the quill back on its stand. “It’s been a while. I’m sure things haven’t changed too much.”
“If you try anything,” the one twin started, eyes sharp and cold, “we’ll make you regret being born.”
Tom withheld the snappish retort, and instead smiled as thinly as he knew how.
He was right, Knockturn hadn’t changed at all. There was a sense of...immortality, in the weathered stone and rusting iron. The bits of broken gargoyles that eroded in the rain. Time had no relevance to the storekeepers, or the hags that begged for coins on the corners.
Tom knew that he and the twins looked out of place- not wearing the shapeless black cloaks that frequented the shoulders of others even in the heat of summer. The small fog and mildew made the hair on the back of Tom’s neck stick to him, damp with perspiration. It smelled like tar and burnt potions, overripe oranges on the cusp of rot.
“Stay close.” Tom muttered under his breath, wishing more than anything a nearby vampire would pluck one of the twins with a savage grin. Tom knew, that they wouldn’t do such things, but the clutches of fear were strong powers indeed.
There were a few apothecaries, specializing in various categories. Poisons and potions, enhancements and tonics. One a fair bit further sold an assortment of ingredients and prepared potions on stock, some more illegal than others. It was more realistic that the selection would overwhelm the boy, proving Tom precious time to bargain with whispers with the shop owner.
(He would never admit it, but the clinking of dreamless sleep was running low. Prescriptions were...difficult, to refill for substances such as that. In the depths of Knockturn, such things were as available as candy and shrunken heads.)
“Here,” Tom murmured quietly, trying to not draw attention as he slipped under the awning and through the various long beads. The rattled with the movement, sounding like rain on a rooftop as the twins followed behind. It was infinitely darker inside the shroud, dimmer and softer on the eye. The sign was covered in cobwebs, the steps chipped and decaying from salt ground into the mortar.
“This is the place,” Tom muttered, opening the door and sliding in, uncaring of how tentative and hesitant the twins were behind him.
The inside looked just as he remembered it, although more stock. The business must have done well for itself- there were more jars and more price tags spattered all throughout.
He could have recognized it with his eyes closed, through the thick scent of slightly rotten ingredients. The low musty odor of a vial cracked along the seam, the smell of burnt wax or a bit too ripe fruit. Formaldehyde stuffed into preserved eyes, to the point of unflatteringly bloating.
Tom could feel his skin itch, a low flushing heat that burned in his vessels and a strange itchiness under his teeth. It thrummed like magic, except it was the carnal hubris of men. He ignored it, he had a handle on it. It wasn’t an issue until he deemed it so.
The twins broke apart from him, instantly shuffling towards shelves with ingredients. Tom spotted what looked like a decapitated birds head before his lip curled in disgust. This shop was far below him, but he had lowered himself further before for the sake of survival.
(Was it really? Survival? Was what the unconscious cravings of his throat told him? He had done everything within his power to live, and yet here he was. It wasn’t poison, but it very well should have been.
‘No, it isn’t.’ a louder part of him protested sharply. ‘What use is all our effort if we’re too weak and sickened to act when the time is right?’ )
Tom walked to the front counter, keeping his face blank. The man at the desk, browsing a gossip magazine stained with rust on one edge, barely looked up. His stool was tilting to one side, or perhaps the style of leisure came at a risk to decency.
“I want to browse your selection.” Tom spoke quietly, firm and flat although his ears were peeled for any sign of the twins overhearing.
The cashier didn’t seem interested, or perhaps the gossip of modern day have evolved beyond the disgusting propaganda Tom knew all too well.
“Talk to Arch.” The cashier blurted lazily, one crooked thumb over his shoulder beckoned Tom to the small half door that separated the store from the stock. The sheep from the more intelligent survivors of the flock.
Tom didn’t thank the man, but he did brush past him firm enough to jeopardize his balance with the cost of dropping the out of date magazine. Tom didn’t smile, but he sure felt the urge to when the old lazy man spat cursed in a low mumble.
The back of the store didn’t look any cleaner or nicer from the front. The boxes were crates, splintered on the edges from steel forcing the nails to uproot. It looked smuggled, illegal merchandise hidden in plain sight behind a cheaply made air freshener advertising Norwegian Pine!
Tom resisted the urge to sneeze, even when he found ‘Arch’ leaning against one of the splintering crates smoking something purple and foul out of a pipe that looked far too exotic for such a... wonderful business.
“Oi,” The other spoke, voice deeper and more hoarse then it should have been for his age. Likely the pipe, the smoke shifting his throat and disfiguring it but the clutches of an addiction were always so lovely. “Watcha doin’ here, brat?”
Tom’s face didn’t shift, Arch scowled and set his pipe down carefully. His teeth were starting to shimmer like mother-of-pearl, dyed lavender on the edges. Tom didn’t know the substance in question, but it smelled sickly like all things did.
“Looking for something.” Tom countered, flat and sounding as exhausted as he felt. “Dreamless sleep.”
“Eh?” The other squinted at him, the wrinkles along his eyes betraying his age despite the soft texture of his skin. A sign of youth potion, treatments that- as far as Tom knew although things could have changed- were illegal. Hadn’t they required blood from those under the magical age?
“Dreamless sleep, eh?” The other, Arch, clicked his tongue, scratching his chin. The sound irritated Tom, although he reacted no further than a slow blink. “I tell you what, I got plenty more of whatever you want. Juice to knock a dragon out.”
Tom nearly twitched. Nearly. “Only dreamless sleep.”
Arch huffed and his hand twitched towards his pipe. He didn’t grab it, but Tom could recognize the action all the same. “So that’s your poison, eh? Ruddy cheap piece of shit, go big or get bloody out I say, but no, drives away all the hags. Ugh, brat. Fine, cough up your silver I’ll crack at it.”
Arch slid to his feet, sliding his feet across the floor in a loud scuffing sound, mumbling and spitting all the same time. Tom followed the stench and kept his face blank. His skin itched and his throat felt raw.
“Here’s your bloody shite.” Arch kicked a crate, fumbling for what looked like a metal crowbar before he smashed the lid off, pulling out what looked like a beaker of something slate grey- maybe blue in better lighting.
Shit quality, likely mixed and cut with other cheaper ingredients. It came in a beaker for God’s sake, like the jugs you got of Butterbeer at the discount grocer.
Tom’s nose twitched ever so slightly as Arch shook it, small frothy white bubbles mixing through the carefully sealed beaker. The wax wasn’t broken.
“Here’s your ruddy tea.” Arch huffed, setting it on top of a nearby table amidst the cigar stubs, “four sickles.”
A steep price for something so poorly made. Tom could likely bargain, but he had a set amount of time before the twins noticed his absence and came looking. Catching him in the back room would only make things worse, so Tom had to quickly take the situation into something he had control over.
A throb in his temple, a thick churning bubble in his gut. Oil and water- Tom felt like vomiting.
“I don’t have coins on me.” Tom made himself speak, careful to not look at the jar to reveal just how much he need- wanted it. “I have something else.”
Arch stared, eyebrows lifting in a condescendingly haughty grin, before it started to sink into something surprised and flat. “Oh yeah?”
“Not here.” Tom choked the words out, they tasted bitter and sour. Maybe he was the thing going rotten in this store. “I’ll show you in the back.”
Arch huffed and jammed his hands in his pocket, slinking down between the creaky crates and splintering floorboards to a thick iron door with bars across the window. The alleyway stunk of feces and something starting to decay. Maybe a dog had taken residency in the filth, maybe the dog had become the filth.
“Yeah?” Arch asked, baring his teeth with something sharp, “You’re outside now, yeah? Watcha say I don’t letcha back in.”
Tom’s face hurt and he kept it flat. His hands trembled but he made sure the man didn’t see. That’s who he was, after all, a man. He looked youthful from illegal remedies, potions with blood and other fluids that reversed appearance at the harm of some prepubescent sniffling brat. It took a special type of individual to stomach that; Tom knew how to find them in the shady bars or those hidden with pregnant wives.
(Tom felt like fucking puking already; it took him months to learn to stomach it.)
“I don’t have coins.” Tom repeated bluntly. Arch’s eyebrows rose and the glimmer of something unspoken sealed itself in a bargain between the two. Tom felt disgusted with himself so innately, he wished he could pretend nothing would ever come of this.
(Tom wondered, with salt burning his eyes, on his cheeks, if this is Hell.)
It always took a moment, a few minutes of wide unseeing eyes and uncontrollable shivers before the world came back in focus. His breath rattled his chest, the shuddering inhale forcing his chest to expand and everything to continue. The cold numbness would pass as all things did, as well as everything else rotten.
“Oi!” Someone shouted, peering into the alleyway with a furrowed brow. Tom winced, pulling his knees up to his chest with a small twitch down his spine.
The stranger approached the ally, sneaking in to squint into the darkness of the overhand. “My word! Boy, are you alright? Don’t you know it’s dangerous down here?”
Tom internally sighed and winced at his poor timing. He slowly lifted his head, throwing a glare in the man’s general direction.
The man was middle aged, a strange mustache that looked more fitting for a ministry monkey worker than a wizard in the alleys of Knockturn. The ensemble of clothing suggested something else as well, likely dirty money in all sorts like that.
Tom was already riding the highs of revulsion, self loathing twisting its way in a wild untamable beast which reared back and whispered into his tired ear, ‘he has coins, then.’
Tom’s mouth twitched, he saw the man’s eyes flicker southern.
“I’m fine.” Tom croaked, voice a low breathy rasp. The man winced second hand, approaching more out of concern than fear of grime to taint his leather shoes. “You don’t look fine, my boy. Do you need help? A hand?”
A hand extended, held out politely. Eyes roamed over Tom’s clothing, catching on the stains both old and forming. The hand didn’t retract.
“I’m fine.” Tom repeated, then took the hand daintily, not pulling back even as the man squeezed perhaps a tad bit tighter than the norm. His thumb and finger wrapped around the knobby bones of Tom’s wrist, a shackle of blood and skin.
“My dear,” The man grimaced slightly, eyes flickering towards something dead in the corner of the ally, “my name is Balazir Doge, who might you be?”
Tom noticed, that Doge didn’t release his grip around his wrist.
“Nobody of importance,” Tom croaked out ugly, not wincing as his body ached, “unless you care.”
Doge hesitated a moment too long to ever provide certainty in Tom’s mind.
“Knockturn isn’t nice.” Tom whispered, eyes flickering to the grip- likely to bruise at this rate. “Why are you here, Doge.”
The grip tightened. It would bruise.
“I could ask you the same thing.” Doge responded in a lower voice, eyes scanning over Tom’s clean but mangled and knotted hair. Messy and gnarled at the roots from unfortunate treatment. “You likely could find work in better areas, my dear.”
Tom’s smile exposed all teeth, loose in their sockets and rattling like the hiss in his chest.
“I ah, search for potential clients in a selection of the taverns in the area.” Doge cleared his throat quickly, “a worker for the ministry, you see.”
That didn’t explain why he was lurking in the shadows of a darkened alley, why he was so eager to step into the shade to offer a hand to a child.
The man’s eyes flickered up at the stone building, maybe he recognized the apothecary for what it was, or maybe he saw something in Tom himself.
Doge released his wrist, instead working his way up toward his elbow, then higher.
(Tom didn’t shiver, he refused to flinch away.)
(He could manage it he could bloody fucking manage it.)
A stroke of thumb along Tom’s sharp jawline, around the sunken hollows of his cheeks- already filling out with fat. One of Doge’s hands could likely smother his entire face with the barest of efforts.
“I think,” Doge started, sounding strangely out of breath, “that you need some help, my dear. Here here- take this.”
Doge’s grip didn’t shift, but his free hand dug into his pockets to retrieve a small coin purse made of velvet. He seemed to realize a moment too late how impossible the task would be to fish out coins with only one hand and the tight drawstring. Instead of removing the calluses on the pad of his fingers from tracing now the shell of Tom’s ear, he snuck his left hand under Tom’s coat- to deposit the coin purse on Tom’s inner pocket.
‘Don’t move’ Tom hissed to himself, skin crawling and vomit burning on the back of his tongue. ‘Play along.’
Doge’s hand retreated far too slowly, before diving back into one of his waistcoat pockets to fetch a small card of stationary. High quality, bold with fine font displaying words Tom couldn’t see from the angle.
“My contact.” Doge spoke, voice hoarse and partially strained, “It ah, nifty piece of magic. It ah, if I am within the alley it will...point you to my location. For...consultation. I ah, do enjoy the local taverns.”
Tom’s eyes didn’t look away. Doge’s hand felt like boiling poison, eroding his skin with every touch. “It looks like I may be seeing you again, then.”
Doge exhaled with the smallest shiver, then stepped away from his indecently close position. “Buy yourself something precious, my dear.”
He departed, stiff in gait until he hastily vanished from the sight of the ally. Tom instantly reached toward his face, clawing with short rugged nails against the spots where the man had touched his skin. Dried salt flaked away, like snowflakes onto the ally ground.
The coin purse felt heavy, thick with money that could refill his stock for ages. Tom greedily fished it out, mouth salivating at the Pavlovian instinct where money equated to food.
(Tom wouldn’t be able to eat for hours, not with how sick he felt.)
The coins were tarnished and dirty, a few shining within the bundle. Copper and silver- Knuts and Sickles. Maybe one galleon within the pot- more money than Tom remembered having in a long, long time.
Tom leant back and exhaled brokenly. He should stretch it out, be frugal with what little he had even as drool threatened to slip down the tracks that had long since dried already. Tom knew his face likely was disgusting, and yet he had been given... charity.
Tom hated pity, but at this point he needed to take the gift horse and not question it. In this case, the gifted sickles that could buy him an entire crate of the shit potion in stock.
Tom hung his head, shivered, and ducked quietly into the store once again.
The twins didn’t seem to notice his absence, but the clock on the wall spoke that it had been only around twenty minutes since he slipped through the back door. Time moved so slowly, when every second lasted much longer than it should. The sink in the back of the store bled rusted water, but anything was better than the grime across Tom’s flesh. A smirking smug look from Arch didn’t help, nor did his raised eyebrow when Tom deposited the small sack of coins and left the store with a dozen beakers of caravan potions lab dreamless sleep, stashed in a small bottomless bag he had been given back from his previous belongings. Nostalgia, of the old times he explained to the auror in charge of him. A bag that although seemed harmless, was now pinned to his thigh under his clothing with metal spikes and blood- the cilice Sirius never commented on.
Tom itched to return, but wandering back from the shady crevices of Knockturn took time with the two twins bickering nervously over borderline illegal potion ingredients. Nothing compared to the literal crime attached to Tom’s side.
They kept walking, out of the fog and towards the fresh air. The business card in Tom’s pocket burned the entire stroll.
“Where are they?” Fred muttered, squinting above the crowd to try and spot anyone.
“Oi!” George grinned, pointing in one direction, “found Ronnikins! Over at ice cream!”
The two whooped, grabbing Tom tightly to drag him through the wades of people. They parted, like Moses and Tom found himself biting his tongue at the irony.
The ice cream parlour was of course, crowded. The splash of red hair betrayed itself to be Ron, however the accompaniment quickly became recognizable. Hermione eagerly was flipping through a book, still glossy with its tags. Harry was curiously prodding what looked to be a sherbert vampire bat, which was snapping in protest at his spoon as if the charmed creature actually was sentient. Tom would have long since stabbed the ruddy thing.
“Hey!” Fred waved, hopping the small fence. George grabbed Tom’s wrist- (Tom flinched but neither paid it any attention) and forcibly threw him over the fence into the less cluttered area of the outside patio.
“There you are!” Ron huffed, chocolate smeared on the corner of his mouth. “He didn’t run off? Shame, you coulda’ cursed ‘em.”
“Ron!” Hermione hissed with a glare, “did you find what you needed?”
“Yep, not a problem.” Fred dismissed, sneaking forward to boldly nip the ear off the squabbling sherbert bat. “Oo, didn’t reckon you were an orange bloke, Harry.”
Harry shrugged, not upset with his bat at all. “It looked interesting.”
George came back, dragging two chairs. He plopped one near Hermione who scooched to the side. The other was on the other side of Harry, between him and a girl Tom hadn’t looked at yet.
Fred hopped into the seat near Hermione, George casually flopping over the armrest to lay in his twin’s lap. Nobody acted like it was odd, perhaps the level of physical affection was something more permitted in this time.
Tom daintily sat in his chair, keeping his spine straight and his eyes unseeing forward directly between Hermione’s critical eye and Ron’s grudging glare. He had already made his opinions known in regard of how Tom should be treated.
“So, uh.” Harry started awkwardly, “how’s your summer, Luna.”
Tom didn’t look, he kept himself composed. His skin still burned, his body still felt wrong, canvas stretched too tight over a wooden frame.
He stared between the two, and Tom let himself float.
(People always said that rats were the ones to feed on vermin, the ones that feasted on the lowest level of society and brought plagues to others.
Tom never found that fitting.
Why was he, a damn orphan rat, when his greatest desire was to survive?
Why was he doomed to die over the selfish nature of others? Tom wasn’t going to allow himself to starve to death, he would do everything necessary to ensure he lived.
Tom wasn’t a rat, he was a scavenger.)
“-Om.” Someone said, gently and softly and very curiously. “That’s a nice name. I haven’t seen you before, are you new to Hogwarts?”
Tom snapped back into his skull, whiplash ringing a headache behind his eyes. He turned his head slowly- feeling small bubbles pop in his neck with the stiffness of his posture.
The girl there had her head tilted curiously, a small melodic lilt to her voice. Her eyes were wide, a starry blue that was slightly darkened with the dim lighting, blonde hair held back with bumblebee styled hair ties.
Tom stiffened, his entire skeleton locking into place. His stomach tilted, his eyes widened. He could feel, the individual beads of sweat that pinpricked so quickly along his upper lip. The unflattering moments he knew in himself as well as the thrum of adrenaline coursing through his veins. Fight or Flight; live or die.
“Hi,” the girl smiled distantly, looking at her starburst of colours in her little ice cream cup. “I’m Luna. You look very out of place here, did you transfer from somewhere?”
Tom said nothing, the tendons in his hands bulging with the strength behind holding it back.
(He was so tired, so stressed. The tide of emotions and fear washed the world into shades of white and grey.)
“Yes!” Hermione blurted out of place, “he ah, he’s staying the summer with us!”
“Oh,” The girl smiled at him, “That’s nice. I’m going to get more ice cream, daddy said he’d meet me in a little while anyways, he’s talking to a new intern at the quibbler.”
Tom couldn’t breathe, he could feel sweat trickling down the nape of his neck.
The girl looked at him with big blue eyes, and bright blonde hair. He couldn’t hear an accent, but you couldn’t trust anyone they’d steal him away in a heartbeat; freak, unnatural, demon-child, experiment-.
“I wonder what I should get next,” Luna hummed, frowning at her bowl, “would you like to come with me, Tom?”
No, no, no
“I’d rather not.” His voice was strained, forced casual and clipped. He could see Hermione’s eyebrows raise at the sound of something off.
Don’t trust them, don’t trust a bloody Kraut. They’ll sell you out they’ll kill yer bleedin’ mother.
“Really?” Luna said, eyes looking downcast as she stood slowly, her chair scraping as she offered one hand with a small smile, “I insist. I’ll pay, my treat.”
Yeh hear it, kid? They’ll take ya, and they’ll rip yer skull open and see what makes you tick you little bloody freak! Yer ‘ear me! They’ll rip you apart you li-
“Come with me,” Luna urged.
Blonde hair, blue eyes.
Tom knew he made a noise, small and nearly silent from the back of his throat. He could feel Harry startle, the rub of fabric on cheap plastic chairs.
They’ll rip fresh meat like you apart like a fu-
The table shattered, impounding inwards like a giant stepped on it. The girl, Luna, screamed as the impact knocked her off her feet- collapsing to the floor under the weight of broken wood. The bright cloth awning shriveled through a sudden shift- hot and cold, heat and ice with a rattling snap as thermal shock exploded.
Glasses rained in shrapnel, loud bangs of ice and metal warping like gunfire. A blonde haired girl on the ground-
“Wegghen!” Tom spat, shrieking in poorly accented German. It warbled as he jerked himself backwards, eyes locked on the struggling Kraut. He heard they had been using children, luring them out. Slaughtering entire cities, stealing families in the night. “Wegghen!”
Another thermal shock, his skull hurt and his sinuses felt numb with the sudden chill. Snow was gathering on the ground- a table over was on fire.
The alley of Diagon screamed, shoppers rushing away from the quickly spiraling out of control situation. More magic, a larger snap! As the railing itself warped into dangerously sharp points.
“Luna!” Hermione screamed, scrambling to her feet, eyes flitting between Tom who was looking more feral than sane.
“Harry!” Ron shouted, tugging his leg out from underneath the internally smashed table.
Harry seemed to understand, because the next thing Tom could barely comprehend, someone tackled him sideways onto the ground.
(Either the adrenaline or stress of the day was enough for the impact to knock him clean cold- or maybe it was the metal corner his temple slammed into on the way down.)
After the bombing, the worst night yet, the sky was grey with dirt. Yellow, like tarnished brass, clouded in the sky.
High above in the rising sun, there were birds. Like the gulls near the coast, circling for fresh fish. The fishermen hadn’t brought back seafood in a long time. Instead, the harbour was filled with military boats, bringing in covered blankets that sometime already were stinking.
Tom watched the birds, too large for normal species, soar on the thermals twisting through the ruins of some neighbourhoods.
Vultures weren’t common in Britain, in fact they had been extinct for as long as Tom knew. A lack of big game, a food supply unable to sustain them.
He saw them dive, flocking and soaring with wings large and brown over sites trailing ash and char.
Tom wondered, if by the end of this, he too, would be a vulture.
Chapter 6: Flatus vocis
Where Crina decides that sometimes enough is enough.
I was bored today and in all honesty, I have no idea how I did this either.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tom was slowly growing more insane by the hour. The lack of stimuli, the carefully monitored eyes and wards that washed over his skin like a jolt of electricity.
He hated it, far far more than he would ever admit. He allowed it to slide off him, a guarded calm expression as internally he seethed over the audacity of it all.
Hermione Granger seemed to be the only one recognizing his struggles. She certainly wasn’t a friend, but she had been treating him differently ever since the excursion to Diagon, and the incident as everyone was so quietly stating. The incident, being Luna Lovegood, a pureblood soon-to-be fourth year receiving broken bones in both legs under the weight of crushed concrete and a large decorative table. Since then, Tonks had been quite accommodating in avoiding a specific phenotype involving blue eyes and blonde hair. How wonderful.
Tom, as one commonly does, was nearly reaching combustion in the forced casualness of the communal living room. Sirius Black, his excellent caretaker watched him with a barely repressed grimace. Hermione was staring at him firmly, both Ron and Harry attempting to ignore the increasing tension with a game of exploding snap. Another round, and perhaps Tom would be the one to snap instead.
“Okay,” Hermione huffed, her hands clenching into fists to somehow inspire an internal sense of confidence. “I- ah-.” She licked her lip, eyebrow furrowing before she boldly stated, “One plus One equals Two.”
Harry and Ron, timidly, stopped their game to look at her a bit concerned.
“You alright there?” Ron kindly asked, “books touched you a bit too much?”
Sirius didn’t say anything, but he too looked ready to fetch the poor girl a drink as if she had been overworking herself.
Tom felt the buzz of energy in his mind stir at the question, a gentle invitation into an argument he could burn. He looked at her, evaluating the competitive gleam in her eye.
Tom didn’t smile, but he did smoothly counter, “one plus one equals three.”
Now all eyes were on him, pondering the notion that he had finally lost his mind.
Hermione didn’t light up, but she did cross her legs and look at him with some sort of academic interest. “The number one has already been assigned mathematical significance and its value properly appreciated and accepted.” She puffed.
Tom barely looked at her. “Give me statements.”
Ron looked at Sirius, who looked at the red head in dismay.
“I don’t understand what’s going on.” Ron blinked slowly, “Harry? Mate? Any of this making sense to you?”
“Not a word.” Harry mused, pondering the cards on the table.
“The mathematical value of one is certain,” Hermione started. “The principles of addition are certain. That entails that the mathematical value of one and addition create the value of two.”
Tom finally turned to look at her. Something shifting in his eye. “If I were to not believe the value of one, nor the principle of mathematical addition, I should then conclude that the value of two is not possible to understand.”
Hermione twitched. “No, they’re independent.”
“Relativism isn’t an applicable approach.” Tom snapped back sourly, looking almost disappointed. “I thought you knew philosophy.”
Hermione flushed, and looked downcast quickly, ashamed of her hasty word choice.
“Above that,” Tom murmured quietly, glancing downwards at where his foot twitches every so often. “The idea of mathematics is something intangible and thus, subjective. It is ridiculous to entertain analysis over intangible subjects.”
“I caught one word there,” Harry confided in Ron, “they’re talking about ghosts.”
Hermione stiffened sharply. “If you want to discuss magical theory-.”
“For God’s sake, that’s far above you.” Tom snapped viciously. “You play with the idea of numbers, I take it you’re a fan of Arithmancy?”
“You aren’t?” Hermione huffed, looking insulted.
“I tested out.” Tom smiled sharply, his eyes shadowed by the crease in his brow. “It was a waste of my time and ventures. I found it not necessary.”
“Un-.” Hermione spluttered, “It- it is the concrete foundation for constructing spells-.”
“Based on the subjective values of language!” Tom spat back, practically bristling. “You’re pathetic notion of One plus One- tell me, Granger, duex et deux font quatre, is that true or false?”
Hermione’s mouth opened, jaw lifting and closing as she spluttered over a response, “I don’t speak French!”
“Good! Then you comprehend the absolute insignificant value of words! Words are concepts constructed by individual societies, the only value of words or numbers are the significance we assign over them- do you agree that in certain cultures there is no existence of the number zero?’
“I- yes!” Hermione shouted.
“Then you should understand that such notion or meaning assigned to the number two could equally be assigned to three! One plus one equals three!”
The two were nearly panting, Hermione’s chest heaving while Tom’s hands had taken to uncontrollable twitching. His cheekbone was shifting as well, as if ready to spasm in his frustration.
“That doesn’t account for Arithmancy!” Hermione composed herself, speaking in a flat tone that wavered slightly towards the end. “Where the value of numbers is assigned to consonants and syllables-.”
“Which are societal constructs.” Tom deadpanned. “Different languages use alternative ways to structure sentences, as well as the removal or addition of entire letters which cause your mathematical reasoning to be void.”
“It’s how you make spells!” Hermione snapped shortly. “That’s how it’s always been!”
Tom’s smile dug deeper, contorting his face like a snarl. “You are insufferable. You want to understand just how asinine your petty views of logic are? Fine.”
Tom stood, a sudden sharp movement as he stalked a few steps forward, standing in the center of the room with his eyes locked on the girl sitting at a lower elevation to him.
“Accio,” Tom spoke slowly, voice deep and seething, “in your basic Arithmancy courses, you assign numerical values per letter. Accio in order of the English alphabet is then assigned the values, one, three, three, nine, fifteen. If you use your addition then division- which is what your basic introductory generally uses, you have a sum of thirty one. If you use the Latin alphabet with groupings of letters assigned per number, you have one, three, three, nine, six.”
Hermione was quickly losing her angry flush, intrigue and guilt colouring her face instead.
“Following Latin based spell construction-” Tom was going off on his tirade, “we sum these values and then break them into a single number equation- which would be two plus two equals four, which oh wonderful abides your construct of mathematical value.”
Tom’s eyes sharpened, something delightful and wicked playing in his mind. “However, if I were to alter this value into something impossible, shifting the value into something that does not equate to the same value- the word cito, similar in definition yet different root structure. Do you agree, that Cito should not work in place of Accio?”
Hermione couldn’t make noise, instead she made a strangled croaking noise.
“Better yet,” Tom continued on his tirade, seeming to enjoy himself, “let’s work under the presumption that the word flowerpot is not equal in value and assignment to an entirely different language, and now somehow a first person conjugation of a verb as well-.”
“What?” Sirius was croaking out, looking just as mystified and confused as Harry felt. “I- flowerpot?”
“The idea of words and their associated meaning is something purely cognitive,” Tom ignored the man, gazing at Hermione intensely. “If I were to cognitively assign the noun flowerpot my own understanding of an entirely different selection of sound, I too could shift the idea of spells entirely.”
“That’s not possible.” Hermione finally managed to croak out, looking as if in the midst of an existential crisis. “That- that sort of- magic doesn’t work like that-.”
Tom’s lip curled. He outstretched one hand, contorted in a claw in the general direction of a decorative pillow across the room.
“ Flowerpot,” He spoke, spitting the word as if it was something foul, “ -pillow.”
The pillow shot to his hand, and Tom swayed slightly with a small grimace.
“What.” Ron started, eyes bulging out. “ What.”
Sirius jumped to his feet, looking ready to tackle Tom to the floor.
“No!” Hermione looked on the verge of screaming, both hands fisting her hair and tugging on the roots, “I- you can’t do that. You- that is against the rules set in place and established by the idea of spellcasting I- no.”
“He broke magic.” Harry spoke numbly. “He just bloody broke magic.”
“You said you know philosophy,” Tom hissed, bending in half to reach Hermione’s level in height. His voice thickened in the level of his frustration, a strange lyrical style change in emphasis as Cockney stirred its low social class- head, “Yer self-entitled, dog an’ tick , Hampton Wick.”
The door opened, a woman’s head peered in with a somewhat flat expression. She frowned ever so slightly, her hair pulled back into a hasty and somewhat styled bun.
“Oh,” She said, flatly and unimpressed yet somehow not alarmed by the mounting hysteria, “is this a bad time?”
Sirius flinched back with a meek noise, sitting quickly on the couch as if to be a smaller target. Crina’s nose wrinkled slightly, although her face smoothed as she observed Tom’s fury and Hermione’s pale complexion. “Oh dear, are you scaring the children again?”
Tom craned his neck halfway, glaring at her with a frozen snarl and the eyes of someone a minute and a knife away from murder. “Bugger off.”
Crina clicked her tongue, stepping through the threshold casually. “Oh, you’ve given the poor girl an existential crisis. What did you ask?”
Tom’s neck bulged slightly, a thin rope of muscle protruding as he tensed his body to control himself. “The concept of words and numbers.”
Crina nodded slowly, “that’s an interesting one. Does truth exist without evidence?”
Tom exhaled quickly through his nose. “The idea of morality and right and wrong are not practical concepts.”
Crina nodded politely. “That’s a fascinating one. Mr. Black, would you like to contribute to the discussion? I’m sure you’re perspective would be delectable.”
Sirius paled. He sat up, then stood in a single jerky movement. His footsteps were loud thuds on the floor, until he left the room and ventured further down the hall.
“There bloody is good and evil.” Ron muttered under his breath, scowling at the table. “Bloody monsters.”
“Oh?” Crina asked, elevating her voice slightly higher so Ron could realize (with a shiver of shame) that he had been heard. “Would you like to extrapolate on that idea, Mr. Weasley?”
“Uh.” Ron said wisely, choking on his words.
“There is no such thing as good and evil.” Tom countered with something flat, determined and...secure. Unfaltering, knowing without hesitation that what he said, was something set stronger than conceptualization. “Only power, and others too…”
“-weak to seek it.” Harry finished in a small strained noise.
Tom’s eyes met his, locking on in a wordless soundless question. Harry twitched, feeling more exposed than he ever wanted to be.
“Come on guys,” Harry broke the eye contact, standing quickly to try and corral his friends, “let’s uh...leave Tom to his…”
Harry didn’t finish his sentence- they were already leaving.
Harry felt Tom’s eyes on him all the way until he managed out of sight.
Crina settled herself casually, taking the seat Tom had sat in prior to her visiting. Tom bristled, recognizing that the only reasonable seating now was the single armchair Hermione had been occupying just prior. That, or he could walk across the entire room to sit an absurdly far distance away- he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of it.
“I find it quite lovely that you have such obvious fascination.” Crina began delicately, reaching into her always present bag to pluck out- much to his surprise, a package of smokes. “Would you like one?”
She made no movement to get up, nor to throw it at him. Tom bristled once more, weighing the benefits of ignoring the tantalizing offering, or having to grovel at her hand for a forbidden gift.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Crina rolled her eyes, setting the package down gently next to her. She fished out something else, long and ornate. It was shorter than a wand, but only just; Tom realized that he had recognized matrons wielding such things with tails of smoke following them.
“That’s a bit long.” Tom remarked dryly, eyes flickering over the accessory- likely bone or horn from the slight impurities along the length. “Are you going to the theatre?”
Crina glanced down at the cigarette holder, frowning slightly as if disappointed. “I was hoping it was something racy, considering I’m lacking the elbow length gloves.”
Tom eyed the package, still sealed in a thin plastic package. Crina fumbled with the foreign device, looking slightly annoyed with the intricacies of the (now) antique.
“Dare I ask how you came to own one?” Tom asked dryly, finally standing to prowl forward. His temper had soothed in the face of Crina’s intimidating intellect- fumbling with a hollow stick like it was a great secret.
“I’ve been investigating.” Crina began to murmurer lowly, almost guiltily. “I’d be a poor professional if I hadn’t researched to better suit my patients.”
“Your research,” Tom rolled the word tauntingly, “is getting me fags and wasting my time.”
Crina’s nose twitched. “My research, involves you showing me how to use this blasted thing. Also, in this era what you call ‘fag’ is now a social slur. If you repeat it, I fear I’ll have to punish you accordingly.”
Tom ignored her- it was unlikely she could dish out any sort of punishment at all. He did make a note of the turn of phrase, such a slip could be disastrous in the wrong setting. He pondered, plucking the metal lighter to turn paper ablaze, how much had changed in his absence.
He loaded Crina’s holder, securing it in place as well as the second filter. He didn’t laugh, but he knew he wouldn’t forget Crina’s wrecked wheezing and coughing as smoke invaded her lungs and brought tears to her eyes.
Tom, maintaining eye contact, pulled so harshly a third of his stick burned in a small crackle of paper and nicotine. Crina scowled as well as she could with teary eyes.
“I heard you were shopping,” Crina spoke, voice hoarse and a far cry from the usual smooth tone she forced herself to maintain.
Tom said nothing, closing his eyes and relaxing as fire and poison stained his fingertips.
“Well,” Crina continued wistfully, “I was enjoying my evening. I had just drawn a bath, you see. To me those are...ah...considering my audience, perhaps I should say that my baths are heavenly to me. Truly, a sacred moment of unity between relaxation, and the stress headaches my patients gift me.”
Tom flicked the cigarette butt on the floor, watching in boredom as the ember grew- nearly catching flame on the threadbare carpet, before it extinguished itself in a tuft of rancid smoke.
“Or well,” Crina shrugged, twirling the cigarette in her hand, forming smoke trails in the air in front of her. “Perhaps I would have enjoyed such a thing, if not for your wardens intruding so forcefully. Do you not feel guilty, Tom?” Crina asked, eyes wide with fake innocence, “that poor, poor Albus encroached upon my watery temple?”
Tom snorted under his breath, a foul dirty sound that instantly filled him with self loathing. Crina smiled ever so slightly, satisfied with her barbs of humour before she choked on smoke and left herself wheezing once more.
“You’re doing that purely for show.” Tom noted, understanding the appeal yet also finding her pathetically idiotic to reveal such an obvious flaw with her demeanor.
Crina looked miserable, scowling at the burning cylinder as if it was at fault for her decisions. “Obviously. How else am I going to succeed in my malevolent ambitions in destroying the social hierarchy to reinstate a less aggravating world?”
Tom did not laugh. He exhaled quickly through his nose, but he did not laugh.
“Unfortunately, I do indeed have a purpose for trespassing.”
Obviously, Crina had explained before that she did not like being here unless she had to.
“I have tests for you,” Crina explained, extinguishing the butt of her cigarette with her pointed shoe. “Various types, academic, reflex, processing as well as magical core. I know, simple things truly. I am willing to wager half of my wine cellar that you are not dyslexic.”
“Only half?” Tom asked with a small quirk of his eyebrow.
“You’re not worth all my wine.” Crina said simply, tapping the top sheaf of paper. “These tests are average based through all of primary education, through to Hogwart’s curriculum that Albus was so kind to provide for me. I added in international testing grounds to see your score in subjects not generally taught in the Hogwrts Ciriculum- of course these are only the paper based since I am not a licensed test evaluate for practical work. After that, we can go further into other informational records. This stack would take a lesser man a few hours. I’ll give you one.”
Tom eyed the bundle, it was quite a bit.
“Feel free to remove the reading comprehension tests,” Crina tapped the stack, “I’ll be testing you on my own, through the battlefield of verbal combat. I’ll be back in an hour, I do enjoy vexing Mr. Black.”
Crina stood, deposited the stack, and gave a small casual wave as she slipped out of the room. Tom knew the papers had anti-cheating wards, perhaps even runes woven into the fibers somewhere. They felt thick and firm, ministry level with a...phrasing which led Tom to believe it must have come from an international operation.
He plucked the fountain pen Crina had left him, much more functional than a quill.
Fifty eight minutes of scribbling, he finished the stack.
“Albus!” Minerva McGonagall spoke in a hushed tone, frantically rolling through the parchment provided for her. The first floor meeting room had been cleared away, a small quasi map on the wall that constantly updated based on their information. The majority of their information was stored there, hidden in very secure boxes and shelves.
“Albus! These results!” Minerva continued, staring at them in partial awe. They were...they were extraordinary.
A knock on the door and Albus’ weary sigh alerted Minerva, that perhaps there was more to this story than she could see.
The door opened slowly, a middle aged woman with a youthful face stood in the threshold. Her eyes skimmed over Minerva dismissively, landing on Albus.
“I presume you’ve ignored the results.” She hummed, her voice a practiced flat tone that prickled Minerva’s neck. Whenever she had heard such an inflection, it generally came with scoffing or aggravated barbs from her students. Someone who embraced such a….a...a irritating tone was outlandish.
Albus rubbed his nose, shifting the glasses on his face slightly before he stood slowly. “Minerva?” He asked, offering one arm tiredly.
“Of course!” She rushed, accepting his arm as if to support him. The woman didn’t seem interested, or perhaps she cared so little for age with her...her potion fake face, that the needs of the older were beyond her.
Albus more led Minerva, than Minerva led him. Up the stairs, then some more. Towards a smaller communal room that Minerva remembered a few members preferring to spend time in, on the assortment of couches and chairs over the larger rectangular shaped room.
The younger woman walked in first, uncaring if they followed. Already Minerva was biting back choice words.
They slipped through the doorway, Albus instantly taking a lopsided armchair missing one carved foot. Minerva settled herself nearby on a lumpy couch, sniffing in disdain as the woman decided to settle herself on a- clearly, transfigured chair more similar to a throne than something humble.
“Hello,” the woman began, in the same flat tone although her eyes finally focused on Minerva with jarring accuracy, “I am Mind Healer Dimitriu. I am the Overseer of Nurmengard Castle, as well as the Convener of the International Committee of Magical Cognitive Research and Health. I understand that the UK is currently not a member of the ICMCRH, however due to my residency and multiple patients spanning global, it is necessary information to provide.”
Minerva stiffened in alarm, looking over at Dumbledore who had the smallest wince frozen on his face.
“I- excuse me?” Minerva whispered in alarm, “ Nurmengard?”
“It’s a recent position.” Mind Healer Dimitriu said equally flat. “The political Premier experienced an unexplained psychotic episode. I hear he is still in recovery, of course not under my care. The Austrian Ministry of Magical Conduct assigned me formal international certification for the activities of Nurmengard Castle.”
Minerva leaned back in her chair, feeling quite faint.
“I always knew you would achieve much, Crina, dear.”’ Albus spoke, his voice soft in his age.
Crina- her first name it must be, smiled ever so flatly. “Of course, Albus. And yet,” She inhaled, reclining in her seat as if perplexed by something sitting before her, “you requested I perform a full diagnostic review over my own patient, share the results of said review, and when the academic performance is on display you seem to...repudiate, the admission of my client into your school?”
Minerva quickly looked down at the scroll still clenched between her fingers.
“We had not agreed on this.” Albus spoke quietly.
“We hadn’t.” Crina agreed, looking almost excited by the conversation. “You mandated I perform a complete diagnostic on personality disorders . I know you were anticipating something quite horrid, Albus. Perhaps you should look at the results and tell me what is missing?”
Minerva scanned through the document all over again, shuddering at the number scoring and registry along most performance tests.
“The boy is unwell.” Dumbledore spoke.
“He isn’t, and that’s your problem.” Crina’s smile didn’t meet the cool flatness of her eyes. “You have little understanding of the mind, Albus. You already have labeled the child as a monster, and yet there is no diagnosis to be made for Antisocial, Narcissistic, Borderline, Schizoid, or Bipolar personality disorder. In fact, it appears that only negligence has left him in the state he is currently exhibiting.”
Albus aged, his hand running against the side of his face tiredly. “Crina, you cannot possibly-.”
“My client,” Crina started, cutting him off instantly, “has a highly functioning declarative memory, as well as processing abilities far above that of his age. His cognitive reasoning skills challenge that of an adult, his emotional intelligence is above average, Albus, and his stimuli decoding time are astounding.”
Crina pointed at the sheaf in Minerva’s hands. “You will see that not only are his academic performances suitable for the curriculum he has learned, but his alternative studies he has pursued out of boredom already surpass the minimum for international testing for his age. If you allocated proper supplies or even materials, my client could easily take his NEWTS by the following summer. Instead, you suggest I lock him up in Nurmengard Castle.”
Minerva inhaled in horror, jerking away from Albus who looked far too tired for the discussion.
“Albus.” Minerva whispered in horror, feeling more stunned as the Headmaster merely sighed into his hand.
Minerva settled herself, and made eye contact with Crina.
“Excellent.” Crina said calmly, as if she had been waiting for this the entire time. “I find it necessary to inform you that my client has, what I suspect to be, an autoimmune disorder that has damaged his current ability to defend against minor diseases.”
Minerva nodded slowly, trying not to shudder under the intimidating woman’s gaze. “Madam Pomfrey, our resident Mediwitch, is well suited for any sort of ailment.”
“I know.” Crina said calmly. “I suggest, that my client be housed outside of your dorm system. Your hospital wing provides a selection of individual patient rooms which can easily be outfitted to suit his needs.”
Minerva’s eyebrows rose, “but, the class schedule-.”
“Can be adjusted.” Crina consoled her, “admittedly, I believe there will be a selection of extracurricular coursework for international academic pursuits. I also, wish to ask Albus to return to me my client’s wand.”
The room settled into a heavy, cold atmosphere once more.
“Crina-.” Albus spoke, his voice hoarse.
“The episode you contacted me for was a single prompted event.” Crina clarified flatly. “Such repeats are unlikely. If you would prefer, I can ask my client to come in the room.”
“He’s here?” Minerva asked, licking her lower lip nervously, “I’d like to speak with him.”
“Wonderful.” Crina blinked, waving her wand. The door nearest her creaked open, an individual jerkily rising from some sort of casual lounging near the wall.
“Oh.” Minerva said.
Tom Riddle’s eyes flickered over Albus dismissively, settling on Minerva with something unreadable. He held one hand out, palm up patiently.
“His wand, Albus.” Crina repeated, “you’ve been unethically withholding my client’s belongings long enough.”
Albus bowed his head in defeat.
His wand felt odd in his hand after he had gone so long without it. As familiar as his knife, or bag. As important to him as his journal.
Tom wasn’t an idiot, he knew by the tired look on Albus’ face that Crina had done him a great service in getting him enrolled. It was something he truthfully hadn’t thought he’d achieve- he imagined being locked up for a long time now.
It would be...odd, returning to Hogwarts. Not to the dungeons, but to some private room by the Hospital Wing. Classes changing depending on his performance, on his interest.
Crina had provided him a list of various courses permitted by international students, things that would rely on essay and written format with a practical towards the end of the year that he’d have to show up for appointment for. Beyond that, he’d be taking general classes if they appeared to challenge his intellect enough to keep him active.
There was one thing, that he was not that excited for.
Crina was intelligent, she was well aware that Tom could not be left alone to his own devices. He couldn’t be... released to roam the streets alone. He was still a security risk, but he had enough personal rights and the ability of autonomy to not be pinned down like a dog.
So, Crina casually offered an alternative that Dumbledore found acceptable, and the headmistress found horrific.
Tom didn’t care- what was one more handmade tattoo rune to the other he had imprinted on his arm?
It wasn’t one of his worst ideas, but it was far from his best.
Tom knew that the focus of Ancient Runes were far beyond him, he had taken the course and looked into supplementary materials when the content became too dull, but he was playing with fire. Literally.
The nearest newspaper store was destroyed, raided by the crime that had increased. All of the men went off to war, all of the boys went off to war. Where were the policemen? The fire department? The law or the jurisdiction? The illegal selling of food stamps, of batons and knives taken off corpses. The wagons filled with rations, being hauled away by nameless people to sell to the hungry women on street corners wishing they were swollen with babe. Perhaps then, they would be fed and survive if not the child.
Tom wasn’t fortunate like that. He had tried getting into Diagon alley through London almost every night, every time he tried it was sealed shut. The last time he tried magic, it left him crippled on the ground in a pile of his own fluids. He hadn’t tried since, not foolish enough to test a ministry level ward twice.
He was on his own for now, but magic wasn’t only defined as the ability of a wand.
He didn’t want to use wandless magic, what little he could manage that was. If the ward crashed so heavily on his wand, would it smite him with an accident as well? Could it detect his every movements?
He wasn’t safe in the eyes of the muggles, and he wasn’t an ally in the eyes of the wizarding world. The Orphanage had long since been abandoned, raided by hungry homeless men looking for anything to eat or sell.
Tom would be a prize in their eyes, so Tom made sure they would never look at him again.
“Notice-me-not.” Tom whispered to himself, over and over as if the simple mantra would soothe the shaking in his hands. He wished he hadn’t used his last cigarettes up a few days ago, he would kill for something to steady his nerves.
He held the needle carefully, flickering it in and out of the candle flame. He’d have to find a new one soon, this one was shrinking until soon it would be nothing but a stump.
In and out he passed the needle, careful to not let any dust touch the tip. He’d have to find a new sewing kid after this, but if this worked then he’d be fine for however long it took for the ink to bleed out.
He pulled it out of the flame, letting it cool before he fished for the sewing thread wound round a spool. He looped it once, twice, six times around the end of the needle, close enough to the tip only a single stem of straw could be pricked before caught in the tight bound string.
“Okay,” Tom murmured to himself, dipping the needle and string into the inkwell at his side, mixed with muggle black printing ink and the last bits of his ink from Hogwarts. It swished darkly, quickly staining the cotton thread and sinking deep into its pores.
Letting it soak, Tom fished for the bit of charcoal he had, twisting his arm around to trace carefully the rune pictured in his spellbook, faintly visible in the light of his stumpy candle. He had to redraw one of his lines, making it too long.
The hairs on his arm prickled, distorting the picture he carefully sketched. He should have used the knife he’d stolen and cut off the hair before he began. He doubted the blade was sharp enough to shave; he should have burned the hair down to the root.
It was too late to do that now, not with what little candlelight he had left. Tom dug out a sock- his only clean one left, and shoved it between his teeth. He knew it wouldn’t hurt too long, but he couldn’t afford to take breaks and after a while the buzzing would cause his hand to flail.
With unsteady hands drawn by paranoia and hunger, Tom fished out the little sewing needle and punctured his skin. The needle stung, sharp and quick. The compression on the cotton string squeezed out the ink it had absorbed, and forced it under his flesh in a mark of his own making. Again, and again, until little blackened pinpricks bloomed under his skin and little droplets of blood dripped down his arm.
Again and again, until magic rune bled black on his skin and the candle finally, burned out.
Chapter 7: Intra muros
Where Tom knows the world works like Economics.
Honestly, hang on.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Crina is unusually interested in you.”
Harry jumped, hand jerking reflexively. He stared at the dark stain over his summer homework, already bleeding and disfiguring the word he had managed to write. With a small sigh, he scribbled it out, knowing that Snape would likely mark him down an entire letter grade for the countless smears throughout the parchment.
Tom had been watching him for a while now, leisurely like a large cat. His eyes were sharp and intimidating, something about his constant observation reminded Harry uneasily of Aunt Petunia’s glare through the windows. Watching his every action, waiting for some sort of falter.
“Yeah well,” Harry huffed, glancing over his butchered scroll to see if he should consider rewriting all of it anyways. Hermione likely could help him, she had finished her summer homework nearly the first week off. “What can I say, adults seem to love sticking their noses in my business.”
Tom didn’t scoff or smile like Harry expected. His expression remained the same, ever constant watching. It was still odd to see him about, dressed in casual clothing (if slightly ill fitting) and sprawled across moth eaten furniture. Harry could only ever remember Tom Riddle from the Chamber, dressed in pristine clothing and silken undershirts. Now, he looked younger, gaunter, and somehow more real then the pressing veil of adrenaline from Harry’s youth.
“She thought it was ironic.” Tom spoke, a dull lull that didn’t reflect his face, “that I found myself interested in you. Do you know why that is?”
Harry swallowed thickly and ducked his head back down to scribble a few more useless sentences onto his essay. “No bloody clue.”
“I don’t believe that.” Tom said. He stood then, long legs folding like some sort of marionette. Graceful and seemingly defying the basic rules of gravity. Nearly floating as he walked, silent padding steps over the thinning carpet.
Tom bent over at the waist, head drawn near to Harry’s elevation from where he was scribbling on a coffee table.
Tom frowned, an ever so slight quirk of his chapped and splitting lips. Harry hadn’t remembered the ghost of the diary ever looking so horribly sick.
“Why are you lying to me?” Tom asked, voice soft and whispering. Practiced, and carefully said. Harry, against his attempts, felt a sharp reflex shiver down his spine. His hand twitched, scribbling more ink onto the poor parchment.
Tom Riddle was handsome, a delicate nearly feminine bone structure that only seemed more obvious with the hollows of his cheeks. They were filling out some, but not nearly as quickly as the dark bags under his eyes had vanished. Nearly overnight, they were gone. The difficult shade of Tom Riddle’s eyes- a blue or green or some weirdly named colour in between, was darkened slightly from the poor lamp light. An illusion, because the thin skin under Tom’s eyes certainly looked almost silvery from this close.
“I’m not lying.” Harry blurted, instantly ashamed and deeply uncomfortable with how close the other boy had gotten so quickly. “Honestly, I’ve got no ruddy clue why you’re obsessed with me.”
Tom’s brow furrowed ever so slightly, his bottom lip stuck out in a honest to Merlin pout. “I am not obsessed with you.”
Harry had a gut feeling, a strange sixth sense that told him that Tom was still keenly interested. “Yeah? Then get out of my ruddy space.”
Tom barely blinked, but did seem somehow a bit disappointed. “Your essay is wrong. Next time you’re writing about antidotes, at least spell the word correctly.”
Harry cursed and scribbled out the title of his essay, where sure enough he had misplaced the ‘i’. “Yeah? Well next time you want to get up in my personal bubble, consider a breath mint.”
Tom settled himself back on the couch, his posture more stiff and proper in contrast to before. His eyes flickered to the mess of ink stains and font- towards the right side of the parchment the words became scrunched together and started to tilt downwards the page.
Harry kept writing, trying his best to ignore the eyes on him, it was almost as bad as having Snape in the room himself.
Harry was almost wishing that Ron was there to keep him company, or even Hermione. The former had brutally shot down any such opportunities to be around Tom, the latter was half concerned and half offended that Harry hadn’t completed his homework already. Harry was pretty sure Ron hadn’t even touched his stack of assignments, but then again he doubted he would until the train ride back.
Until then, Harry was trapped in a cloud of cheap smelling parchment and the slippery aroma of ink. He didn’t think ink even had a smell at first, but four hours of writing proved him wrong.
“Don’t you have something better to be doing?” Harry asked, trying to keep how ticked he was out of his voice. He knew he failed, but maybe letting Tom know just how annoyed he was would help out.
“I don’t.” Tom said, far too calmly. Harry chanced glancing up, scowling as Tom clearly hadn’t looked away from him once.
“Can’t you just…” Harry waved his quill, trying to shoo him away with the feather, “... go? Begone? Uh...the power of Christ compels you?”
Tom frowned, very unimpressed. “Do you expect me to burst into flame? To hiss? Oh dear, are my eyes turning black?”
“‘I can throw some ink in your eyes.” Harry offered.
“Why is Crina interested in you?” Tom said, unblinking.
“Merlin, you’re still on about that?” Harry groaned, resisting the urge to really throw ink at the boy’s face. “I’ve never even met the bloody woman!”
Tom’s brow furrowed ever so slightly. “Yet she’s quite taken with you. She doesn’t spare time for imbeciles-.”
“Wow, you’re more pretentious when you’re cranky.” Harry retorted.
Tom ignored him, “which means somehow, you’re special. Tell me why you’re special.”
Harry huffed and scribbled out the word ‘Magik’ the moment he realized he spelled it with a ‘k’. “
“Tell me, now.”
“ Now .” Harry responded, pitching his voice a bit deeper to poorly imitate Tom.
“That was atrocious.” Tom said. “You misspelled chartreuse, which is irrelevant given that you’re discussing the wrong antidote.”
Harry looked at his paper. Apparently, chartreuse did not start with an ‘s’.
“It baffles me that someone so...mediocre, could have drawn such attention.” Tom confessed with what seemed like disdain. “I’ve barely seen any redeeming qualities in you, yet you’re handled with such preciously careful touch.”
Harry didn’t look up. “If you’re going to keep using fancy words, you may as well write my bloody paper for me.”
“I wouldn’t, because I’m curious when you’re going to recognize you’ve been writing about the poison, and not the antidote this entire time.” Tom confessed with almost a soft shyness. Fake, of course. “I must say, I do love the triple negatives in the fourth sentence down. Truly conveys the full span of your intellect.”
Harry stared at his paper, partially in acceptance. Good thing he would have failed it anyways.
“Tell me why Crina likes you, now.” Tom demanded sharply. A crackling pressure of something weighing heavy on him, gravity crashing on his skull.
Harry grimaced, placing his quill down and inking his inkwell. The relentless pressure did not cease, even as his ears popped loudly.
“Can you bloody quit!” Harry snapped foully, “just because you have your wand doesn’t mean you can be a goddamn arse about it!”
Harry’s nostrils flared. Tom didn’t have his wand anywhere near him.
Tom Riddle’s eyes were wide, larger than normal. Something about the crease near the corners gave away his surprise, or maybe Harry was just spectacularly in-tune with knowing Voldemort’s emotions after all this time. The pressure on his skull removed itself, a heavy burden finally sliding free.
Harry was annoyed, no- he was just shy of pissed. The outright nerve that Riddle had ever since he arrived, his posh attitude and his shite manners. All of it was piling up to one good fist and a nice shiner under Riddle’s eye. Of course, Harry wasn’t going to do that, but the mental image was pretty nice.
“You’re a prick.” Harry informed him harshly. “An outright, entitled, prick. I don’t give a shite about your sob story, you can at least stop acting better than others!”
Tom flinched, his head recoiling in something reptilian. His lip curled, his nose shifted, and Harry was faced with a mirroring snarl.
Harry’s hands itched to throw a punch, or at least a few.
“I-.” Tom’s voice cracked, changing from a restrained vibrating into a surprising octave crack. Tom blinked, recoiling once again before he stared at his hands in something glazed. “You’re...loud, aren’t you?”
Harry huffed and grabbed his parchment and inkwell, not bothering with a response. He stormed off, through the doorway and down the hallway towards the kitchen.
He spotted Sirius first, exchanging a joke of some sort with the twins. The moment his dark eyes rested on Harry his smile faltered and his large palms held his shoulders gently.
“Easy there,” Sirius whistled, “you look a little ticked, Harry.”
“I hate him!” Harry blurted, exploding in a single loud hoarse shout. “I bloody hate Riddle’s guts! He’s- he’s- he’s such a goddamn prick!”
Sirius nodded slowly, eyes searching from Harry’s back and forth. “Why don’t you take a break here. I’ll go watch him, see if I can figure what got you so riled. Even tamed animals can snap once in a while, yeah? Go, take a breather.”
Harry nodded slowly, unable to ever express the relief he felt. It was a balm to the stinging wounds he was too angry to lick himself. “Thank’s Padfoot.”
“No worries.” Sirius smiled, clapping his shoulder once more before he brushed past.
Tom stared at the coffee table, eyes set on the small ink splash already staining into the old wood. Walburga would have made a fuss of her ancient lineage being tarnished, even if it was just a table.
Harry Potter, the grandchild of the Potter who Tom knew in school. Some Gryffindor brute he never cared to remember, other than his lordship and placement in the world of blood purity.
Harry Potter, likely a pureblood, and yet without the courtesy that he had forced himself to learn. Like the lack of tact in the Weasley line, yet something…else. An inherent absence of knowledge, a gap over what should be known and recognized and what was there at all.
Not only that, but the other had been fuming with anger. A frustration so tangible, it had somehow infected Tom and coaxed flames to burn and in turn, his own irritation rising forth. He hadn’t remembered such unhampered irritation before, or rather, Tom actively tried to forget it.
Tom controlled his emotions with a leash and a woven whip. He made them heel or forced them to behind clenched teeth. He should not have been so...inexplicably furious. The only factor was the boy, Harry Potter, who somehow caused his temper to rise.
Was he an...an empath? Empaths generally received as well as generated output, he would have long since realized Tom’s method of self restraint and control and drawn attention to it. Perhaps he was a...legilimens of some exotic variety?
Even that fell short, and no further ideas came to mind. Tom stared at the ink stain and pondered things that should not be.
Why was Harry Potter the one to greet him after he was stolen away and taken prisoner? Why was he there instead of the girl, or the red headed bastard family? Why was Harry Potter being treated with such tender care and yet no appearance of blood kin came forth?
“Oi,” a deeper voice grumbled from the doorway. A rough hoarse voice that Tom knew as Black. Sirius Black, Crina had said he was an escaped convict. Convicted of what, he wondered.
Tom said nothing, and Sirius helped himself into the room, taking a seat on a chair that Crina tended to use for her own sessions. Tom still stared at the ink stain, wondered if perhaps it would shift and transform before his eyes into one of those ink blot tests he had taken. They never were happy with what Tom said.
“Harry Potter.” Tom spoke, softly although he knew he had drawn the man’s attention. “He is related to you.”
Sirius didn’t say anything, a confirmation in the silence. Maybe Black realized it was stupid to try and play lies now, or perhaps he figured the information was as worthless as Tom was dangerous. “He’s my godson.”
“Godson.” Tom said, a low musing whisper. The ink blot twisted, into the contorted shape of a rearing horse, of a chair missing its legs. “His family, murdered then I take it?”
Sirius adjusted his seat on the chair, and said nothing more. That’s how things were in life, war and murder and death all above. Either by gun, or broken bottle to the neck, or a noose fashioned out of bed sheets. It all ended the same, the finality of a sound cut off.
Harry Potter, orphan of a pureblood line. Associating with mudbloods and blood traitors, locked in a house as a war waged beyond its walls. Somehow, Harry Potter made Tom very, very angry.
“I’m out of books to read.” Tom murmured softly, gently as loathsome as he was to admit it. “Supplies, given the new arrangements.”
“Yeah,” Sirius grunted, annoyed over the precious emotional state of his poor godson. “I heard about that. You’re going to be a bloody handful.”
Tom’s arm prickled, the outer bicep on his left side. A soft change in temperature, like a breeze wafting over his skin. The ward was in place, a tracker like a collar around his neck. Worse came to worse, he could sever it with his knife. A broken ward had no placement, but the alarm it would ring would be enough to shorten his lead for an unmentionable amount of time.
“Everyone treats your godson very carefully.” Tom said out loud. “Did he watch them die?”
Sirius stared at him, an expression Tom knew all too well and one he hated to see. Tom stared at the ink blot, and waited for the doctors to tell him that something whispered him temptations.
“No.” Sirius said after a while, coughing out words. “Bad circumstances, around him.”
“I gather,” Tom’s fingers twitched and his throat burned for a cigarette. “With his godfather being an escaped convict- oh don’t look at me like that. I’m as much a prisoner here as you are.”
Sirius’ eyes were dark, like Walburga's. So dark the iris was shaded and hidden in the shade of his brow. “At least I’m innocent. I know that.”
Tom didn’t allow his face to change. He didn’t allow anything to betray his intentions. “I need books to read.”
Sirius snorted in disbelief, “what, you can’t find anything in this godforsaken bloody house?”
Tom tapped his arm twice, not bothering to look in Black’s direction. “I’m not trusted with such available information. I’ve run out of things to read.”
Sirius twitched a bit. “Summer still is pretty long isn’t it. Damn, you’d likely burn this house down before you went shopping for school.”
Tom wondered if he threw ink on the walls, if they’d arrange themselves like constellations. He wondered if he could steal a bottle from somewhere and paint the underside of his bed in rune marks to nullify magic, and practice the spells he itched to do.
“I’ll see if Tonks wants to go shopping.” Sirius conceded with a small frown, “you know you’d have a half dozen tracers on you.”
Tom shrugged one shoulder, trying to seem like it didn’t bother him. It did, but sacrifices were always to be made.
“Alright,” Tonks clipped at him sharply, her eyes sharp for her age. “You’ve got two tracers on. Along with the ward. If you leave Diagon at all, the tracers will alert me and knock you unconscious. If you’re running when you leave Diagon, they will knock you unconscious painfully. I will know the moment you try to go into Knockturn. I will know every building you are inside at every moment. If the timer on your wrist beeps, you are to meet back here with me instantly, do you understand me?”
Tom’s jaw slowly relaxed with a creek. He painted a smile across his face, one that left Tonk’s nostrils flaring with barely withheld fury. Curious, how her anger only amused him while Potter’s left him infected.
“Get out of here.” Tonks snapped with a scowl, going so far as to clap the side of his ear painfully. Tom didn’t allow it to phase him. He watched her leave into a nearby store- one that sold an assortment of alcoholic beverages. Some things never changed.
Tom walked and ducked his head, mingling into the crowd of people in the fading light of mid afternoon. The summers lasted long, but always lingered in the hazy shades of orange and reds that painted dusk. The buildings were pretty and whole, unmarked by bombs that always ignored the hidden world. For some reason, it angered Tom.
A business card in his pocket, starting to go soft from the many times his fingers traced its creases, felt warm. He plucked it out, reading the word and font with regretful hesitancy. So the man was here after all, with a pocket full of coin compared to Tom’s measly few.
At most he’d browse the stores, testing the wares of second-hand shops in hopes that some books with faded covers had some content long since forbidden.
Tom smiled a welcoming face, carved from clay by scarred hands and broken fingernails.
Doge, in his exotic fabric and polished shoes, smiled genuinely.
“Oh hello!” Doge enthused, tipping his hat like some charming man. “Oh Tom, how wonderful to see you so soon! My, you’re looking much ah, in fine health.”
Tom let his eyes trail over the worn covers, made from card-stock and cloth with gnawed ends and dog eared corners. “Thank you, I’ve been feeling much better.”
Tom pulled a book, listening to the soft sounds of fabric on fabric, the gently hiss of an old bookstore with history stacked like little boxes. Tom opened the cover and scanned the contents, philosophy or something else intangible.
“You’re quite a reader, then?” Doge asked, circling around him to lean against the wood of the shelf. Sweat stained mahogany, the reek of expensive cologne.
Tom bit his tongue and looked at Doge’s expensive shoes. “When I can manage it.”
‘I can manage it,’ he wanted to spit, ‘I don’t need you,’
Doge’s eyes were darkened, “oh, I don’t think that’ll be a problem now, will it? Go ahead, browse to your delight.”
Tom didn’t shiver, he didn’t look up from polished Italian leather and the smell of polished mahogany. “Go ahead, Tom. My treat.”
The faintest brush of fingers on his neck, as soft as turning a page. Tom let his eyes flutter closed, and strung himself together.
“Thank you,” Tom murmured, forcing sour reverence in his voice. It was a tone he had practiced since infancy, the look of fake adoration. “How many would be okay?”
White teeth, straightened and bleached with chemicals. “All of them.” You.
“You’re much too thin.” Doge clicked his tongue softly, one of his hands wrapping around the bone of Tom’s wrist. Pale, fluttering blue with spiderweb veins. “Look at your wrist, so small and feeble.”
Tom exhaled quietly, ignoring the man at the register who saw nothing of concern. The man placed books and books within the back, stacks and stories Tom wondered for their worth. The trade off, of parchment and cloth for mahogany and leather.
“Much too small.” Doge repeated, quieter in an afterthought, “there’s quite a bakery nearby, such lovely pastries they offer. Allow me to indulge.”
Tom smiled, his lips tight to hide the yellowing of his enamel and the slight twist of his canines. There was a scar across his shoulders, where the skin had healed too tight. It felt odd, warm and tugging across his back.
“This way, my dear.” Doge murmured, one hand across his back with fingertips hooking under the curve of his shoulder blades.
Honey filled pastries, sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg. Oranges, sweet and sour on his lips.
The bakery was a bed and breakfast, catered for the French who visited with thick accents and even thicker wallets.
‘There’s something about frogs,’ Tom thought to himself, gazing at bright cheery walls. Painted by hand for the subtle touches magic couldn’t make. ‘Heavy handed, strokes of red-orange-ruby all over.’
Tom’s scars itched, where they tingled and sparked under rough flesh. Where shrapnel burned his calves and he had not yet dug with needles to pull it free. The ripened smell of vanilla candles, memories of the previous occupants. Tom wished he had his diary, where he could scrawl his mind over the roar of gunfire.
‘Sweaty mahogany, automaton legs fold over,’ he would write.
‘Murky cider-scented Van-Gogh,’ he thought, ignoring the unwanted whispers of ‘lovely lovely love.’
Tom felt wrong in his skin, drawn too tightly. Rattling, like the bombs that ached to be released. Unobtainable, never contained and waiting to spill over and ruin everything.
Whispered ‘you?’ and Tom ignored the rattling that originated from his own chest.
Tom’s flaking peeling lips, from the dry muggy heat; salivating, swallowing, suffocating.
Tom realized he had fucked up, when he remembered he was no poet at all.
Tonks frowned, looking over her ward. She double checked the ward, spotted the tracking location from where he had visited. A bookstore, a bakery, a general store for clothing that explained the new thin cloak thrown over his shoulders. He was quite thin, perhaps the heat was still something cold.
“You done?” Tonks asked, arching one eyebrow in surprise. Sirius had said the boy seemed restless, Tonks imagined he’d reap the occasion and stay as long as he could. The alley was nice, cute shops and decorative displays. She had already grabbed a few bottles for Remus and Moody, the one brandy that Dumbledore had confessed his adoration for.
Tom shrugged, pale in the light. Maybe they should let him get out more, he was like a bloody marble statue. Quiet like one too.
“Fine, come here.” Tonks reached out, snatching his shoulder in a white knuckle grip. He inhaled sharply, a quiet soft noise she was almost surprised to hear. A jumpy little bastard, wasn’t he.
The public floo was fine to get them the proper distance away, then a short jaunt to portkey away.
Tom followed her, always a step out of place, half hauled behind her with a lame gait. Tonks reckoned he did it half on purpose, half uncoordinated.
The house was a welcome relief, and yet Tom still said nothing. Silent on his journey home, like he was a humble traveler passing through.
“Remember to take your goddamn shoes off!” Tonks hollered at him, unable to shake the uneasy feeling that something had shaken the boy quite sharply. Had he tested the boundary of the wards? Had someone recognized him? It was impossible, only the Order knew of his existence and even with that only a handful knew of his identity. The boy was a strange one, perhaps Tonks had to call that shrink of his again.
“Tonks!” Mrs. Weasley called, popping her head into the foyer again. “Oh hello dear! You’re back so soon?”
“Yeah, kid didn’t take long. Reckon the bustle was too much for him.” Tonks jerked her head towards the staircase Tom had ascended out of site.
Mrs. Weasley shifted uncomfortably, “ah, you know how boys are. Could you help me with supper? I had thought you’d be gone longer, it would be wonderful to have another pair of hands!”
“Sure thing!” Tonks popped to her feet, stumbling over the shoes she just rid herself of. It was a miracle that her balance hadn’t given her a busted leg already.
Tom sat in the clawfoot tub, skin flinching away from the icy porcelain. Water turned so hot thin wafts of steam danced over the surface, obscured with darkened water.
The baths always were quite marvelous, much better than the livestock trough Tom remembered crouching in, doused over and over with icy water drawn from pump or fetched from the Thames. Then, Tom always stank of sewage long after.
The water here was a luxury, hot to the touch. It brought a warm rosy flush to Tom’s skin, a red hue that did nothing to stop the blackened bruises from forming. Broken patches of blood, congealing like jelly below his skin.
He hurt, he throbbed in certain spots like those white and black dogs that chased the wagons towards the burning buildings. The sharp sting of torn skin under some hungry cause.
“Shit.” Tom hissed, quiet under his breath like the thousands of times he’d done it before. The soap was soft and buttery, nothing like the lump of rockish slime and the demanding harsh ‘scrub.’
Tom scrubbed anyways, over and over across his skin, across his lungs. Until the water darkened, and blood oozed free. Tom hated when he bled.
‘Scrub.’ he ordered himself, and so he did.
Harry frowned down at dinner, poking the bits of potatoes. It really was good food, but he didn’t have much of an appetite.
Tom was looking different, oddly guarded. Distant but not vacant. He looked almost ill, if one could be ill without any injury to body or mind. Something was haunting him, bothering him, or maybe he was so lost in thought their very presence meant nothing to him.
“You going to eat, you daft murderer?” Ron grunted, chewing with his mouth open.
Tom turned his eyes upon Ron, very slowly. Maybe it was the slight glaze, or the way his iris’ seemed too bright for his thin skin. Flushed red from his bath, like he decided suddenly he wanted to relax royally as everyone waited before eating.
“I would love,” Tom began, softly and in thought, “to bash a brick over your skull.”
Ron scowled at him ugly, his cheeks bulging with foot. “Yeah well, me too mate. Except, you know, your bloody noggin.”
Tom stared at him, then looked aside at the wall. He hadn’t touched anything despite the food placed before him.
“I heard you got books.” Hermione offered for conversation, slightly clipped about it. “Anything interesting.”
“No.” Tom said. He didn’t say anything after.
“Oh come on, don’t be grouchy.” Sirius grumbled, grouchily. If he saw the irony, he didn’t mention anything.
Tom’s jaw tensed, and Harry winced as he felt the heavy oppressive weight smack into him again like being clobbered with a cast iron skillet.
It annoyed him a fair bit, although the others seemed blissfully unaware. Harry grimaced as the pressure made something buzz high pitched, a headache in the making.
“Stop that!” Harry snapped, locking eyes with the distant acting Tom.
“You shouldn’t be able to do that.” Tom said casually, lost in thought. Harry didn’t think he had been there with them the entire dinner. “You shouldn’t be able to influence either.”
“Influence?” Ron asked, the world garbled around his half dozen baby carrots crammed into his mouth all at once.
Influence, that was...that would be weird. Harry hadn’t really influenced anything, it was just Tom with his goddamn annoying ass aura, trying to force them into submission via headache.
“I’m not the one trying to give me an earache.” Harry argued, Tom snorted softly and gazed at the wall once again.
Harry’s nose wrinkled, his hands curling into fists. What he would do to bloody knock some sense into-
Harry paused in thought, and stared at Tom’s clenched fist. White knuckled, but he seemed so distant and unaware of it. It could only be coincidence. Complete bloody coincidence.
Despite that, Harry was slightly intrigued, slightly curious by it all. He had some sort of influence? Like how Voldemort made his scar hurt every time he was close? Those strange flashes of thoughts and the disjointed dreams that had been bothering him for months? Did he have some sort of….backwards effect on Tom?
Wouldn’t that be ironic, the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Give-Headaches.
Something was...still interesting. Maybe he could somehow reverse it?
Harry stared at Tom, and thought sharply, ‘get up and dance around the table.’
Tom didn’t so much as twitch.
Harry huffed slightly under his breath, piercing one of his baby carrots to bite into. Merlin, sometimes Riddle really pissed him off. If he was going to sit at the table with them, at least he could bloody eat.
“What kind of books did you get?” Sirius tried, uninterested and slightly cautious. Tom didn’t look away. He did offer an abrupt, rude, “piss off.”
Harry’s hand curled into fists as he forced himself not to stand up sharply. Tom may have been an ungrateful prick but still.
“Rude much?” Ron muttered sourly. Tom then, gave Ron an absolutely foul look.
Harry felt that same prickle of annoyance, “fuck off, Riddle.”
(Like a positive feedback loop; fangs were bared and hackles lifted.)
“I don’t concern myself with inbreds.” Tom responded sharply.
Harry didn’t normally get pissed, but something about Tom just- just bloody-
(Harry didn’t know what it was, but maybe something in Tom’s distant eyes looked a bit like Cedrics.)
The two surged at each other, or clashed without words. Tom grabbed his steak knife, blunt little cutlery. Harry spotted it and-.
Harry imagined with the impulsive nature of intrusive thoughts, how savagely delightful it would be to view Tom with a knife in his forearm-.
“The bloody fuck!” Sirius shrieked, throwing out his arm to knock Hermione and Ron out of harm’s way. Harry leapt back himself, careful to be out of dangers way-.
Tom Riddle stared at him, face paling into something a shade away from the ivory tablecloth. A small spot of blood was growing, like spilled wine on the surface.
“Oh my-.” Hermione covered her mouth skittering back as Ron quickly shoved her even further. Sirius stared, unsure exactly what to do or what even happened.
Harry couldn’t help the nausea the bubbled in his throat, disgustingly bitter and citrus and- and the oddly specific smell of mahogany wood.
Tom steadied his breathing. He did not look at his arm where a shiny butter knife lodged itself in his forearm- his hand still clutching the handle.
Chapter 8: Pari passu
Where Crina has questionable wardrobe tastes, Tom is as dickish as usual, and Harry wonders how he gets roped into things.
Sorry for the delay everyone!
I went on a vacation and hadn't the time to write. This is a personal birthday gift from me to all of you! Have a wonderful day, and stay warm! This winter is fairly crazy in North America, but I hear it's really hot in Australia. Stay safe!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry didn't imagine that he'd be spending his Friday morning sitting on the couch in the living room, awkwardly holding a saucer of tea. On the table next to him, a tiny platter of biscuits was out on display on the dainty white porcelain. The tarts were admittedly, quite good.
Sirius sat next to him, an awkward ball of tension that vibrates slightly from his legs into the worn-down flooring. Any longer, and his leg would start to shake so severely it would knock the precariously balanced cup of tea off his lap. Sirius looked like he hadn't realized what his restless leg was tempting.
Harry felt even more out of place, not entirely sure what was going on in the room, but the nervous anxiety was contagious. If Harry wasn't carefully, his leg would start tapping away on the floor boards as well.
"So," Crina spoke, this time wearing clothing that seemed very...unusual for her normal style. Harry didn't know her well, but everything about her objected to the current uniform. Hair pulled back into twin strands which somehow worked like a hairband. Harry couldn't say how it was doing that, but on the best of days he could manage brushing only half of his hair. He didn't have much ground to stand on.
She was wearing a... thick, sort of coat. Not a robe, but certainly not a cloak either. Dark shiny leather that fastened on shiny brass buttons, latching into place just around her collarbones. From there it was a stiff triangle flaring out, enough dark fur propping her strange coat into its perfect triangle, that Harry could easily imagine Hagrid wearing such a thing. Obviously, it would be too short for him- maybe a decorative fur scarf. From what Harry could see under the fur pine tree outfit, Crina was wearing some sort of dark trousers, equally shiny as the leather bits on the top of her shoulders. She looked ridiculous, official in some strange occupancy but nearly outrageous in the living room. Harry pondered how she hadn't fainted from the heat of it.
"I understand that there is an event we are to discuss." Crina said, voice smooth and slow. It was difficult to take her seriously, with the horrendous fur nightmare spanning off her shoulders. It was impossible to even see her arms through it all- how could she sit?
"Ah, yes." Dumbledore nodded, taking his time to sip from his own cup of tea. He didn't seem to think that Crina's wardrobe was unusual, however the old man himself was wearing an outer robe the shade of ripe cantaloupe. "Harry, if you will?"
Harry blinked quickly, trying to grab his scattered thoughts. It took some effort to repress the urge to blurt out what sort of animal was glued to Crina's side, or what all she had hidden under all that fur. She could maybe fit a half dozen house elves, maybe a goblin if they squeezed.
"Uh," Harry stuttered over his focus, "so err...Tom stabbed himself."
Tom Riddle, who was looking much more normal and not-insane compared to Crina, glared.
Harry tilted his head and tried not to imagine her cloak on anyone besides Professor Lockhart. "Err, so uh. We were...a bit uh, mad at one another. And we...uh, we were fighting, and he stabbed himself."
For dramatic emphasis, Harry mimed stabbing his arm with an imaginary knife. He clicked his tongue, sound effects and all.
Crina's face didn't shift. If she was surprised by the unexpected random bout of self-injury, she didn't show it. Instead, she gazed out at Harry, 70 percent fur and cloak, 30 percent person, and blinked slowly.
"That's the story." Sirius grunted low, his voice soothing from Harry's side. "That's all there is to it."
"Tom...stabbed himself." Crina repeated. When she said it out loud, it did sound stupid.
"Well when you say it like that." Sirius muttered lowly, shifting more into Harry's side. Harry couldn't describe how comforting it was to have the warm weight next to him; Dumbledore was reassuring in his own way but up against Crina, it was nice to have some close friends.
"That seems quite an argument." Crina mused thoughtfully, glancing off to stare at a wall. "Tom? Were you intending to stab Harry Potter?"
Tom's jaw shifted ever so slightly, his eyes locked on Harry in an icy glare. They seemed duller, sharper than he remembered.
"Well," Crina smiled, even though Tom had said nothing, "I see why you called me away so quickly, Albus. This does seem quite interesting, doesn't it? Uncontrollable rage, mutilation with a butter knife. Wonderful, limiting the wound."
Sirius jerked. "You aren't going to scold that bloody monster!"
The welcome warming embrace of Crina slipped away into something frosty. "If my client wished to legitimately cause harm, I have little doubt in his abilities. The question at hand, is why this occurred. I understand that emotional situations may...influence actions but resorting to stabbing oneself is incredibly out of character."
"You think I was cursed." Tom said.
Crina tilted her head slightly, glancing at Tom from the side of her eyes. "You've suspected as much already. This asks the question, who cursed you?"
Tom glared at Harry, and Harry began to have a very cold uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.
"Now, Crina." Albus interjected smoothly. "Let's not jump to assumptions. I understand that this situation is quite stressful, but I don't believe anyone would go so far as to curse the boy."
"No, you don't think anyone could curse him under your watch." Crina mused softly, looking at Albus with a far too observant gaze. Her head tilted, ever so slightly. "You have him warded, don't you? No, you wouldn't be so...lax in your obsession."
Dumbledore said nothing. Harry spotted Tom's lip twitched into something close to a smile.
"Regardless, we've deviated from the topic at hand." Crina alerted the room. "Unless you would care to accompany me to my work, I suggest we discuss the reason why I'm here."
Albus twitched ever so slightly under her tone. Harry remembered, that Crina worked at a prison. Apparently, a prison with a horrible uniform.
"Tom stabbed himself." Crina said, voice firm. "I am confident, that his actions were not his own. This leads me to assume, that some sort of influence led to this decision. Of course, no magic was observed, which forces me to ask this question. I understand that a member of your order is a practiced Legilimens."
Albus' face turned rocky. He shook his head slightly, serious despite the casualness of his movements "I'm afraid that avenue is not available. Tom has not interacted with any of our mind arts."
"Is that so." Crina said. Her fingers tapped along the couch, hidden under all the fur. "Harry Potter, is it?"
Sirius stiffened on Harry's side, a low nearly impossible to hear growl in his throat.
"Uh, yes." Harry nodded, clearing his throat softly, "uh, nice to meet you."
He didn't like Crina's gaze on him. He didn't know why Riddle could stand it.
"I've heard such standard things about you, Mr. Potter." Crina spoke, voice smooth and low although rhetoric in nature. "In every sense, you are completely unextraordinary, and yet, you defy the odds."
Harry's arm burned, the thick rope-like scar that wove between the bones of his forearm. It throbbed and itched, like the strange anxious lump in the back of his throat.
"I don't know much about you," Crina admitted, a surprising admittance of her own weakness, "but your involvement with everything seems too...uncanny, to be anything of coincidence."
Sirius shifted slightly, a steady warmth and reassurance against Harry's side. Harry swallowed thickly, managing to summon whatever bravery he had to spit out a quick, "yeah? If you wanna be famous instead, go right ahead."
"I already am." Crina barely blinked, unresponsive to his snap. "Tom, are you close with Mr. Potter?"
Tom smiled something plastic and fake, wrong and twisted across his face. "I would love to see him struck with a blasting curse."
Harry felt annoyance prickle. He jutted his chin at the bait, ready to throw back his own insult.
"Interesting." Crina broke the tension. "Mr. Potter, would you give me consent to evaluate your magical resonance?"
Harry began to open his mouth to protest, since he had no idea what exactly that meant. Was it some sort of medical spell? He had received plenty of those in the Hospital wing, but those normally didn't have as fancy a term as resonance. No, this sounded much more severe, or maybe more obscure.
Sirius nudged him slightly, clearly unhappy with the situation.
"Will it hurt?"
"Not more than other spells you know of." Crina answered, reaching up to unclasp the brass buttons that held her cloak together. It crumpled around her hips, revealing a much more maneuverable leather outfit that looked a fair bit more snug than other things. Maybe something Tonks would wear, but Hermione or Ginny wouldn't be caught dead in the dark leather.
"Harry," Dumbledore spoke carefully, "if you don't want to partake in this, then it is unnecessary. Crina believes that...somehow, the ritual in which Mr. Riddle was pulled through somehow linked you, to Mr. Riddle. The incident with the knife was a... moment, of instability."
Harry's heart thudded loud in his ears. "Riddle's in my head?"
"No." Crina abruptly spoke. "There is no creature or being ever capable of entering your mind without you knowing. Even spells have weakness in the action of how they operate. I wish to perform a magical resonance spell, it is a... fire, that burns the things your magic has touched."
Harry shifted unsure, Tom glared at him with wild eyes and a bloodied bandage around his arm.
"Okay," Harry agreed, standing on two feet. Sirius stayed close, patting his shoulder reassuringly. Crina stepped closer- clicking boots that looked to be the same material as the tight fitted leather shirt. On closer scrutiny, it almost looked like some sort of...armor.
Crina pulled her wand from a spot on her hip, holding it carefully pointed away from both of them. Harry couldn't help but feel appreciative for it; he didn't know how he'd feel with a wand pointing between his eyes so spontaneously.
"I'm going to incant the spell and tap your chest." Crina said, her free hand prodding her own chest to represent where. Center, near his sternum. "From there, it will sting. This is temporary, you may sit down during this without affecting the results."
Harry nodded slowly, trying not to twitch as Crina's wand tapped his chest twice quickly. She spoke something, accented and thick and muffled in Harry's ears. He wondered if that was how the spell was supposed to be, or if she had changed language to keep it out of the ears of the sharp eyes across the room, watching everything far too carefully.
The stinging hurt, but it was nothing worse than a decent quidditch fall. Harry grimaced, shuffling himself back on the couch as he waited for the bright throbbing pain to fade. It was like having Ron fall asleep on his legs or waking up with one arm stuck under him all night.
Colours faded into existence, thin hazy shapes and swirls like the purplish fog that wafted down from the divination tower. The only thing it was missing was the perfume in the air, the one that always made Harry sneeze a little.
Harry's eyes were trained to spot a flicker of gold, or colours out of alignment. It was because of this, that he spotted the thin flickering rope no thicker than his pinky finger. It was drawn tight, clear white or maybe somewhat grey, fading off in a single straight direction.
Harry lifted his arm, watching with fascination as the cloud of smoky blue followed him- like the colour of a soul a Dementor kissed.
Crina's eyes flickered downward, spotting the thin rope after a few moments of patiently weaving. She watched for a moment, before she stretched out one hand to gently waft her hand through the cloud. It dispersed and rebuilt itself, a thin translucent sheen.
"It appears," Crina mused softly, "that you two have a... magical linkage. Onset from the passage you traveled, Tom. This would explain the intrusive rise of your emotions."
Tom stared at the small cloud, drifting around like a visual representation of something smelly. Tom said nothing when he spotted the line trailing off in his direction- impossible to miss.
Dumbledore stroked his chin. "Well, this is no more a hindrance than the case of the hiccups!"
Crina hummed tonelessly, tapping Harry's chest once more. Slowly, the fog began to dispel. "Perhaps so. Now that we've concluded the discussion of cutlery weaponry, perhaps we shall move to our next topic of discussion."
"Hogwarts." Albus finished for her.
Sirius, vehemently, objection. "No way. Look, the kid stabbed himself. You don't want that monster around other students-."
Crina spun on her heels sharply. "Mr. Black, are you aware of the basic requirements to be considered a monster even by psychological aspects? No? Then I kindly request you cease talking at this moment. Perhaps you may have interacted with mediwitches or low-level examiners, but you cannot lie and smile to one experienced in the mind arts and falsify a scoring. The labels of monster are slurs directed at individuals with personality disorders, however such disorders are present from birth. You cannot falsify biological lacking of specific compositions; unless you intend to undermine or challenge my authority, I humbly ask of you to shut up."
The room was quiet, Sirius looking thoroughly scandalized by the event. Harry couldn't help the small surge of guilt that welled in his throat.
Tom Riddle looked down at his arm, face expressionless yet his eyes were shifting with something Harry couldn't describe.
"I don't like him." Sirius muttered, hip brushing against the doorframe as he scowled in the general location of the stairwell. "I don't like the look in his eyes."
Harry couldn't argue. There was something...he couldn't describe in Tom Riddle's eyes. The sharpness, the cruelty.
"It doesn't mean we can't make him stay here." Harry muttered back, leaning back against the wallpaper stiffly. "It's...nobody should be locked up like that."
Sirius' face faltered, sinking into something understanding no matter how much he hated that. "Damnit, I know...It's just…"
"He isn't going to hurt me." Harry defended with a weak smile, "If anything, I'm the one who could take him on."
Sirius chuckled weakly, "you're both beanpoles. Scrawny little guys. I reckon I could take you with one arm."
Harry couldn't argue that, but he did duck down and try to escape the large hand that grabbed his hair and ruffled the mess. Sirius took it as a personal challenge to make the birds nest worse- at least fluffed up and gnarled enough Harry could hide a few snitches in its tangled mess.
The atmosphere sobered with the knowledge that time passed regardless of their denial. The clocks were ticking faster now, a challenge magic could not halt. Well, except for Tom, but even that wasn't understood.
"I'm going to miss you." Harry confessed quietly, all too aware of the mirror Sirius had given him before. "I'll send Hedwig, when I can."
Sirius chuckled, a low rumbling noise that Harry felt through his chest and into his heart. "Don't worry, it'll be over before you know it. Cause some chaos for me, eh?"
There was something humbling and comforting about the tall peaks of Hogwarts, the silhouette in the morning fog that made Harry's heart twinge. He loved Sirius and his house, but the musty smell of it didn't quite feel as welcome as the old parchment and cold stone air. If Harry had an option, he would live his entire life inside the soothing walls of his first real home.
Tom Riddle on the other hand, he could live contently without.
"This is a waste." Tom said calmly, looking pleasantly irritable with the ornate window of the carriage approaching the castle across the dirt road. The carriage rattled as it rolled over a thick root- Harry had been trying to ignore the horrific looking monster pulling the carriage. Something told him that Hagrid had petitioned for a new assortment of questionably dangerous beasts.
"It's a nice view." Harry muttered, trying not to rise to the obvious barb. Tom didn't respond, but his eyes were watching the castle's towers emerge from the distance. Even his usual coat of petty could not remain in the rush of instinctual joy that Hogwarts offered them, her gates open with a quiet 'welcome home.'
The carriage came to a stop and Harry quickly clambered out, taking care to veer away from the large equine looking creature.
Tom came out, a bit more graceful although on closer examination the movement looked more instinctual than anything. Harry dismissed it as the other having been shuffled around in carriages quite often.
Tom did take care to veer away from Harry, leaving an outrageously large gap between them. Harry had walked closer to Malfoy even.
Tom did reach up absentmindedly to pat against the thick cordlike muscle of the monster. Its dark pelt twitched under his curious fingers, pulling tense over the ridges of its protruding vertebra. Harry couldn't help but stare at the sight- wasn't Tom the one who had leapt away nearly screaming bloody murder at the sight of Luna, but here he was casually petting one of Hagrid's beasts?
Then again, Luna would likely have liked this strange creature as well, so maybe Luna wasn't a good comparison for someone normal. For all Harry knew, Luna could be part…Sphinx or something equally wacky. With all the strange things Hermione had a guilty pleasure reading in those Witch Weekly gossip magazines, Luna could be the next greatest seer of all time, or part Elvish or something equally ridiculous.
"What are you doing?" Harry found himself blurting, watching almost curious with how chaotic the action was. It had a level of habit to it, an uncaring soothing of a timid animal. Harry found himself wondering if Tom treated humans with that same level of uncaring action.
Tom didn't offer an answer, instead choosing to be as prick-ish as normal. Harry really should have been used to the silent treatment at this point, but it never failed to annoy him how Tom could dismiss him so quickly and casually.
"You know, the castle may be different now." Harry chased after Tom.
"Doubtful." Tom shot him down almost as quickly.
Harry felt a small surge of annoyance that always seemed to bubble up in the presence of Tom's unique ever so loving compassion for others. "You'd be surprised. Two years ago, a car flew into the Whomping Willow."
Tom shifted ever so slightly- nowhere near a trip but enough of an unplanned movement that Harry could recognize he caught him off guard. The Whomping Willow had been planted, according to Sirius, to guard the tunnel for Remus to escape through. Tom would have no knowledge of the tree, or the current abilities of Muggle technology; for all he knew, flying cars were muggle inventions.
"I see." Tom said. Internally, Harry cheered at having caught Tom so off guard that the other boy even responded. That was one step in the right direction.
They managed to ascend the bumpy polished path stomped into existence under the many boots of thousands of students. In all honesty, at this point it was so sleek and slippery, someone was going to slip on the near shining rocks. They had all this magic, and not a single person had thought of putting up a guard rail? Or investing in some thick bags of salt from then it got icy around Yule?
The castle was a comforting sight but still uncomfortable without the constant thrum and noise of students. It was odd to see the staircases silent and locked in place- unmoving without passengers. Tom, even with his prickly exterior, was a comforting warmth walking alongside him.
They walked through the halls, a few portraits throwing questions in their direction. Tom responded to a few with pleasant smiles, going so far to even greet an odd number of them by name. The portraits always had difficulty with grasping the movement and gap in time; a few responded to Tom with equal greetings, ignorant of what had ever passed outside their wooden frames.
The large doors of the Hospital Wing were familiar to Harry- even the small scratch marks from the time Fred and George tried to bust him out second year with the use of exploding decorative fruit. The pear had somehow gotten half fused to the door and detonated, leaving a nice lumpy sear mark near the left hinge. For months it smelled like burnt sugar and fennel.
The doors slid open with a small creak, although Harry assumed it was more for aesthetics instead of poor maintenance of the hinges. Dumbledore always was someone fond of dramatics. Tom's face didn't twitch at the piercing noise, so Harry assumed it had been the same even in his time.
The hospital beds were empty, even the one on the far left that Harry had declared his own. The wooden headboard still had his transfigured starling trophy on the top, like an obscure decorative feathered gargoyle. Hermione had teased in a huff that his hair already looked like a bird's nest- may as well offer him a bird for a get-well present after he had nearly been kissed by a Dementor last year. It was flattering, or insulting, that the monument to Harry-being-hurt was still there.
A small shuffle and from one of the back rooms Madam Pomfrey emerged, hair pinned back professionally under her ever-present headgear. It was admirable how prim and proper she always seemed to be, even when removing an inkwell from a Hufflepuff's throat after his friends dared him to eat it.
"Mr. Potter!" She huffed, a small playful scowl tilting on her lips. "You better not be in here as my patient! Term hasn't even begun!"
Harry took half a step backwards without thinking, already lifting his hands in a defensive gesture. "Erm, not me, ma'am."
"Pardon my interruption," Tom smoothly slid into the conversation, like the oily bastard he was. "It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am. I believe I am the origin of our presence here. I was under the assumption that word had already been given, my greatest apologies if this was an inconvenience to your work."
Madam Pomfrey paused, blinking twice before the small smile on her face shifted into a more neutral professional expression.
She folded her hands in front of her, the white and soft pastel blue of her robes only emphasized the crease lines and wrinkles across her older face. Harry wouldn't call her motherly, but there was something distinctly maternal about her actions.
"Oh, none of that." The mediwitch assured. "I am staff here at Hogwarts, and everyone is welcome regardless of what injury of ailment worries you."
Tom's face was perfect as it shifted through the movements into an open cheerful expression. If Harry hadn't known the boy, he would have believed it. Tom was like a boggart, somehow able to transform before your very eyes into something that twisted your innards and made the small animal brain part of your head scream.
"Oh, thank you, ma'am." Tom bowed, one hand over his chest in a loose relaxed gesture that meant nothing to Harry.
It evidently meant something to Madam Pomfrey, who was falling for his fake weasel act by the minute.
"Oh, none of that," Madam Pomfrey said. "I have your room already set up. I heard from Albus that you have a condition it seems? That may require constant medical intervention upon spikes?"
Tom barely batted an eye, "so it appears. I believe all pertinent documentation has been owled in advance, ma'am?"
Madam Pomfrey licked one finger before she shuffled to a nearby cabinet, thumbing through various cream and yellowish folders before she plucked out a stack of parchment, connected by what looked like a hair clip. "Everything seems to be in order, Mr. Riddle. I see that you require…oh my, quite a collection of vaccinations."
Tom's smile didn't waver, he managed to shift his shoulder slightly into a halfhearted shrug- something that Harry instantly interpreted as being sheepish. Harry knew better, but his body reading skills and brain very stupidly told him opposite.
"Ah," Madam Pomfrey nodded knowingly, "one of those families. No worries, dear. We'll have all of this sorted out in the next few days. Your room is one of the longer care rooms I have available, normally only used as isolation I'm afraid. It isn't much, but I have attempted to connect it to the facilities I have here."
Harry poked his head in as the Mediwitch showed them into one nondescript door sitting next to a decorative rubbery looking plant. Harry would have presumed it was a closet, except Hermione had been housed in one of these isolation rooms for a few days after the Polyjuice mishap.
The room was small, clearly it had been renovated to seem homier, but it was impossible to scrape away all the medical qualities. The random sink by the door, the small crevices in the wall for some sort of apparatus, the small bed mounted into the floor itself, and the sheer overwhelming amount of lights.
It was better, with the small rugs and wall hangings. A small painting even of a soothing bubbling brook hung near a window- which Harry knew couldn't be opened.
"I have you connected to the Infirmary Wing's washroom." Madam Pomfrey looked apologetic, "it's a public loo, of course. I wouldn't keep any toiletries within, but the door does connect from the back of your closet."
"Many thanks, Madam." Tom tucked his chin in, another more casual bow of some antiquated respect. Harry didn't quite understand, but Madam Pomfrey looked at Tom quite fondly afterwards.
Harry was afraid, that by the time school started, she'd be completely wrapped around his finger.
"You don't have access to my medical files or other tools I use, I'm afraid." Her expression turned stony and firm. Maybe she wouldn't be wrapped around his finger.
Tom managed to look shocked, as if such a concept was obvious. "I would never. I completely understand and value your work, I would hate to abuse the trust and compassion you have already provided so selflessly."
What a prick, Harry thought to himself.
"I do have to do a mandatory evaluation of you, I'm afraid." Poppy grimaced slightly, "due to the nature of your residency here, I'm mandated by law to perform an evaluation monthly for changes in your physical and mental states."
Tom didn't look alarmed. "Why, of course Madam. I believe that baseline records have already been established, but if you would prefer, I am comfortable being under your wing and at your mercy."
Madam Pomfrey flushed, eyes shining in relief. "You're a breath of fresh air. I've forgotten what It's like to have a competent patient for once."
"Hey." Harry couldn't help but defend himself. "I'm a wonderful patient!"
Pomfrey scowled at him, trying not to smile fondly. "Of course, you are, Mr. Potter. Hop along now, I believe your head of house may be waiting for you in your tower!"
"Oh," Harry blinked in sudden realization, "wait, what house is Tom going to be in?"
Tom twitched ever so slightly, eyes a sharp venomous stare behind Poppy's back. Poppy shifted a bit into a more professional stance, her arms interlocking at the palms in front of her. "Tom here is a medical patient, which under Hogwarts criteria, is a neutral space for houses. Tom will be in no house, and divided across various courses as the Headmaster has constructed his schedule personally. This of course, exempts him from playing on any Quidditch teams, or aiding in the House Cup."
Tom, in Harry's opinion, didn't look too upset with this information.
"However," Poppy continued, "Tom has no head of house."
Harry blinked twice. "Err, so…"
Poppy rolled her eyes and walked off, snatching a bottle of disinfectant and a few clean rags. She seemed to be on a mission, and Harry was not danger-friendly enough to bother her now. He could take on a three-headed dog any day, but interrupting Madam Pomfrey? No- Harry still remembered how that Skele-grow tasted.
"You don't seem too upset with this all." Harry said to Tom.
Tom managed another venomous side-eye. "I have nothing to be worried over. The arrangement works and allows me to operate independent of Hogwarts's curriculum."
"Does that mean you don't have to take potions with Snape?" Harry asked, eyebrows shooting up. Harry would have paid money to see Tom resisting Snape's barbed tongue, or Malfoy's git face. "Lucky bastard."
Tom's eye twitched slightly, although it was impossible to determine why exactly. "Friend of yours, I take it?"
Harry shivered, flinching back near violently. The small gleam of satisfaction in Tom's eye let Harry know he had done so on purpose. "Slimy git."
"So, you say, dame." Tom's eyes were near burning with the amount of rude delight in the exchange, "or shall I name you something else? Twist and twirl? Fanny?"
Harry spluttered, not quite sure how to respond, especially with the sudden lyrical near rhyming jolt of Tom's voice at the presence of that dreaded cockney once more.
"Oh, button up, mare." Tom drawled, almost a croon that felt very old and strange to hear. It reminded Harry of when Dudley had gone through that phase of thinking it was fancy to be into classical idea; when he bought a designer bomber jacket and greased his hair and made Harry's uncle buy him a vintage record player to play gravely albums.
Harry felt himself trying to kick his brain into gear- like the busted-up car lost in the Forbidden forest. Somewhere in the back of his skull, his conscience was slamming on the clutch, trying to force the gears into alignment with a horrible grinding noise.
"What?" Harry croaked out, and Tom grinned like a snapping turtle.
"Don't hurt yourself." Tom nearly purred, entire body and tone shifting into something even more scary to Harry. Not sharp and predatory- like when he had a butter knife puncturing through his arm. Back then, Tom had been all teeth and exposed whites of his eyes.
This was in contrast, the exact opposite. The antithesis of then. His mouth was all lips, quirked and pulled back thinly, his eyes half lidded but still sharp and dark.
Harry didn't like this Tom, the way he donned a new layer and presence like a cloak. Wrapping himself up, like an onion. Or a rose if Harry wanted to get metaphorical, at least Roses had thorns and were- in the greater schemes of things- absolutely useless.
"Don't miss me too much," Tom crooned, twirling and sauntering away into his decorated isolation room. Harry hoped that maybe Tom would catch the flu from living in there. Or the plague.
On the other side of the door, Tom's face faltered and pulled back with the same level of disgust as removing a particularly itchy sunburn. He shuddered once, trying to get the acidic taste out of his mouth.
The room was nice enough, it would serve his purpose. Larger than the rooms he was used to, more isolated yet it had more privacy. A constant warden to his cell, but a warden who, for now, was oblivious.
Tom's trunk and things were already there, tucked neatly under the small cot. Less comfortable than his old bed in the Slytherin dungeons, yet kilometers more comfortable than a wool sleeping bag on broken cobblestone.
He yanked out books, sliding them onto the mediocre flimsy bookshelf offered for his convenience. It obviously used to hold medical supplies; soap and gloves and the sort. If Tom was lucky, he may find a chunk of the lye yellow block somewhere under the exposed piping. The type of soap that bruised over his knuckles and left his skin yellow and smelling.
The books were stacked, spines exposed and set in order from topic instead of last name. Various concepts, as well as two journals he had managed to purchase for his thoughts to fill. Let them read those books and pour through his notes when they inevitably scoured his room for suspicious things. He'd need to find a hiding place soon.
Until then, the Hospital Wing was the best possible place for Tom to hide illegal dreamless sleep potions. A heavy stock for incoming students was nothing to be alarmed by; flu season was approaching anyways. From what Tom had gathered, the war was especially vicious, nightmares would be common.
The thick beakers he had were fairly suspicious he'd admit, but Tom was nothing if not clever and quick at hand. Snatching empty vials and bottles was easier than snatching coin purses or food tickets. Cleaning them was even easier with a sink in his room.
Tom had found himself in worse situations before; ridden with disease or lancing infected blisters with red-hot needles.
He could survive easily; a school year was nothing to him. The lack of allies was disconcerting, as well as a line of new teachers he had to investigate and charm all in only a series of months. He could do it, but already the stress and anxiety of his work was weighing on him. It made his head throb dully, a distant headache brewing on the horizon.
Not to mention his joints still ached with growing pains from the prescribed nutrition potions, combating his malnutrition and anemia in a single fell swoop. Tom wouldn't be surprised if his hair stopped falling out and his cheeks filled by October. Maybe then, the small painless black zits along his hips would fade as well. Long after the green-yellow bruises in the shapes of fingers did.
Chapter 9: ab absurdo
Tom is at school, and somehow, saves the day.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The term started with the usual bumble and hustle that drove Harry into the warmth of Hogwart’s walls. It was a bit odd to be in her hallways before the other students arrived, to see the portraits quiet and snoozing as he walked down the threadbare carpets.
It all changed of course when the large red train blew smoke, calling out a greeting from many mountains away. Harry ran, sprinting in mismatched socks and untied shoes all the way down to the station, laughing and welcoming friends and family alike.
Hermione and Ron instantly found him, although Hedwig’s large white plumage certainly helped. The great bird chattered out her own greetings, chewing on Ginny’s hair teasingly as the younger girl gave Harry a hug.
“We were worried for you!” Hermione said, beaming wide in the comfort of her second come. “Did everything go alright?”
“Absolutely perfect.” Harry couldn’t help but smile, the wonderful atmosphere contagious to everyone.
The younger wide eyed students were shuffled off towards the boats. The rest of the platform began a slow lumbering crawl down the station, waiting in groups for the big horseless carriages. At least, they had been horseless in Harry’s memory, but the mental image of Tom’s absentminded pat along the creature’s neck was still too vivid.
He glanced at the beasts with a small grimace. Pressing his luck to be exempt by the large warm animals. They still unnerved him; related to the Muggle notion of horror and grotesque imagery to ever be something calming. They were hairless, black coats slinging to each bone like when Aunt Petunia microwaved something with plastic wrap. It always came out weirdly sealed, vacuumed tight and radiating heat near visible.
Hermione didn’t glance at them, neither did Ron. The closest reptilian head tilted slightly, eying Hedwig on Harry’s head with its milky white eye.
“So, uh.” Harry paused, knowing the creatures weren’t imaginary since Tom had so kindly pointed out before. “Do you see the big horses or is that just me?”
Hermione threw him a look, climbing into the carriage. If she had been speculating he had lost his sanity, his question did little to defend his case.
“Mate, there’s nothing there.” Ron pointed out, patting Harry’s shoulder sympathetically in a large heavy clap.
“Don’t tease him too much,” Ginny stuck out her tongue, “Merlin knows what spending a week with him does to a person. Oh! Luna! Over here!”
From the gloom in the direction of the train station, a smaller blonde girl bounced over. She had Pig’s cage in her hands, the little owl looked to be getting motion sickness with her happy skipping.
“Here you are, Ginny.” Her eyes looked slightly cloudy and her voice was calm in wake of the green looking bird. “What are you all talking about?”
“The horses!” Harry pointed, trying to find some sort of neutral ground. The last thing he wanted was to have another strange hidden bond with Tom, this one manifesting in the sight of emaciated pony rides. “They can’t see them!”
Luna blinked curiously and looked at the front of the carriage. It was hard to tell if she was perplexed, or if that was just her resting expression. “You mean the thestrals? Is there something different about this one?”
“Thestrals,” Harry repeated, before turning to look at Hermione in petty triumph, “ thestrals.”
Hermione gaped before closing her mouth with a huff. Luna, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice the amused atmosphere in the carriage that slowly rolled along towards the castle.
The Entrance Hall burned a glimmering display of torches, bouncing off the starless black ceiling in silvery trails of imaginary moonlight. Candles floated instead, operating as makeshift constellations that the Hogwarts’ ghosts seemed to find great pleasure in mapping. Harry noticed other students ducked their heads low as he passed, whispering to one another. He ignored them, and wished distantly that he could forget it as easily as Tom could.
Luna drifted away from them, finding her own seat at the Ravenclaw table. Ginny similarly broke away to be engulfed by her yearmates.
Harry took his seat, somewhere near Neville and Ron, but through the shape of many bodies he could distinctly hear Lavender’s recognizable laughter. It was comforting to know the girl was already back into gossip. It felt like no time had passed at all.
Hagrid wasn’t at the staff table, his large form difficult to miss. It was obvious, no matter how many times Harry scanned his eyes up and down the length. The Half-giant wasn’t present, and instead, it looked like someone's aunt was sitting next to Dumbledore.
Well, perhaps someone's aunt. She had a smile pressed so firmly onto her face, it looked ironed on like those magazines Aunt Petunia always scoffed at. Her cheeks rosy and plump, but a colour Harry doubted anyone could achieve naturally. Squat, short curly brown hair. She reminded Harry slightly of a rather pleased mouse, except draped in such a nauseatingly bright pink robe.
Harry didn’t recognize her, but when she took a sip from her goblet he quickly corrected his assumption that she resembled a mouse, to that of a toad.
“Who is that woman?” Harry asked, smart enough not to point. Hermione leant over, squinting at her with a frown.
“I don’t know, likely the new Defense professor.”
“Nice cardigan.” Ron said.
The first years joined, and despite knowing ahead of time, Harry was almost expecting Tom to come marching in with them. His height would dwarf the terrified children, although his deep scowl and large pointy hat may have made up for it. Looking at the staff table, Dumbledore looked nearly ready to laugh; Harry wondered if the man was thinking along the same line.
Harry craned his neck, peering around to see where the boy was. Dumbledore wasn’t likely to make an announcement and draw attention to Tom’s position, but it wasn’t exactly a secret. The Heads of House would likely mention it after the feast- but even then, Tom should be somewhere in the hall.
“I already looked,” Hermione muttered quietly, eyes flickering around. “He’s not here.”
Ron didn’t notice their trepidation, instead, he was caught in a vicious battle between a chicken leg and his teeth.
The students dug in, and slowly, began to fill themselves. Once the noise level of the hall slowly started to creep upwards, more talking mouths than chewing, Dumbledore stepped forward. Talking instantly ceased into a low hush.
The start of term notices, the casual things Harry had learned to ignore halfheartedly. He should really compile a list of rules and regulations, cross through them for everything he had broken so far. Trespassing the corridor, attacking a teacher, going into the forbidden forest, kicking a werewolf although that one didn’t accomplish much.
Harry did notice, when the new woman stood, and interrupted the headmaster.
“Oh dear.” Hermione said.
Her voice was high-pitched, breathy and a little girlish. It was an odd juxtaposition to consider her a toad with such a high strained noise. A bullfrog maybe, wearing bad lipstick and clothing that made Dumbledore’s silvery robes look normal.
She cleared her throat with a little ‘hem hem’, and Harry nodded. Definitely a toad.
Harry noticed that she had finished talking only when Hermione gasped audibly. His attentiveness ebbed, like his ears were shifting to the wrong telly channel and never managed to come back. A few students had already ignored her- Lavender had returned to gossiping.
“That was horrible.” Hermione said in a low voice. “It explained a lot.”
“You managed to listen?” Ron asked, his eyes as glazed over as Luna’s on a normal day.
“That woman, is a ministry official.” Hermione gritted out, “it means that the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts. They’re starting to overstep, or maybe they’re afraid and grabbing power.”
Harry looked at her, and traced the woman- Umbridge’s face with his eyes. Across the carefully pinned hair and painted cheeks. The way her expression never fell. Plastic, and rehearsed. She reminded him of Aunt Marge, but not like her at all. Something told Harry that this woman wouldn’t own a dog, but that she was the dog. An innate sense of wrongness about her that made Harry want to duck his head low and stay out of sight. He hadn’t felt that way at Hogwarts ever before. Not in his home.
There was a great clatter and banging around them; Dumbledore had dismissed the school. Everyone leaped up, even Hermione who looked a bit flustered by it all.
They departed, bolting really to fetch the confused first-years and guide them to the tower. Harry couldn’t help the small fond smile at the sight of the tiny children, running around frantically with large hats. They reminded Harry of traffic cones.
He knew he should be irritated with Ron and Hermione’s new duties, but he had since come to terms with it. They may be prefects, but Harry had been assigned his own unofficial job. He didn’t have a fancy badge or privileges, but he did have a single individual who he had to somehow convince to not go on a murder spree.
‘If he did,’ Harry thought tiredly, ‘I could borrow some first-years. Use them to reroute traffic.’
Harry, in his blessed daydreams, yelped like Hedwig when someone snatched his arm and yanked him out of the flow of movement.
It wasn’t far out of the way, just to the landing of the first staircases. It felt secluded, even though they were in plain sight of nearly the entire school. The sound and voices were aimed one way, leaving the landing muted and quiet.
Tom stared at him, as quiet as could be.
“Where were you?” Harry blurted instantly, “In the hall?”
Tom’s face didn’t shift, not a hair out of place on his precious little head. “The back room.”
Harry knew that room, the same area the champions had gathered after they were selected. It was a small thing, but supplied tables and little chairs for staff that didn’t want to sit at the staff table. More a supply or gathering area really, but still vivid enough in Harry’s memory he didn’t challenge it.
“You hear the speech then?” Harry asked, a bit curious. Hermione was a bit ticked by the new woman, it would be interesting to see Tom’s own personal opinions on the matter.
Then, Harry started to actually look at Tom.
There was something about Tom’s clipped tone which felt odd to Harry. The small subtle movements of body language that contrasted with his mental image. Harry knew body language- he wasn’t nearly as good at reading people like Ron impossibly seemed to be, but he could tell the most basic things. The small inflections or twitching of fingers that almost always came with an answering slap. The low way one would divert their eyes and speak quieter to skirt under the attention of someone else. Harry hadn’t seen it in a long time, he had only spotted a mutated form in the way Neville stuttered with both anxiety and adoration for his sharp grandmother. He had felt it, just earlier. Under the beady eyed woman who now apparently was testing Hogwarts.
This was different, because Harry had no misunderstandings about Tom’s blatant distaste for them all, but here he was acting so eerily submissive and natural Harry wondered if this was his natural state. Tiptoeing through a minefield with a barely withheld grin, knowing that although others would be blown apart he would be just fine.
It wasn’t quite something that was wrong either. That was the worst bit, the thing Harry couldn’t quite force himself to forget. There was a lewd casualness to it, a civility to one another based on the acceptance that some people apparently deserved to be a little bit more flinching than another.
Sometimes when Snape spoke to Harry, in that sharp dry tone with those lazy summer insults, Harry had to bite his tongue to not mumble back ‘Yes Aunt Petunia.’
Harry didn’t know how to explain to Ron or Hermione how that could be. How sometimes a look someone gave you made you taste the bitterness of soap or the stinging crack of a hand on skin. Tom though, Tom said absolutely nothing but every twitch and every blank look screamed to Harry like Aunt Marge shouting at Ripper to get down, boy!
Harry wasn’t fond of Umbridge before, even if most of her political jargon had passed over his head. It wasn’t her appearance or the smug look on her face, but it was the way a couple hours across the entire Great Hall had reduced Harry to those buried moments. The way, even indirectly, the both of them were waiting for the sting of ruler across their knuckles, or a palm against their face.
Harry wondered if Neville could feel it too, or if his mutated mixture of genuine love and stern backhands had rendered his own perception stunted.
Tom’s body twisted slightly, tilting them so that their backs were to the crowds of students ascending the stairs. The sound muffled just a tad further, another layer to this weirdly private moment between them.
Harry didn’t like it, that something about a ministry worker could worry Tom (that’s all this could be) to this degree.
Harry had a bad experience with the Ministry before; both through Sirius and Cedric. It wasn’t an organization he was particularly fond of, or trusted as it clearly wanted its citizens to. With the propaganda twist that Rita Skeeter threw into the Daily Prophet, Harry was far to skeptic to take any words at face value. He wondered if that was his own paranoia speaking, or if his self preservation had finally reared its head to combat his own reckless tendencies.
(Clearly, his reputation had spoken for him in advance.)
“Don’t trust her.” Tom spoke to him, voice low and inexplicably hoarse. The hand on Harry’s arm tightened ever so, Tom’s fractured splintered nails digging into Harry’s sleeve and leaving the smallest pinpricks of moon on his skin. “The Ministry woman.”
Harry hadn’t even realized that Tom hadn’t let go. Instead, his grip only tightened.
“Umbridge?” Harry asked stupidly, because there was nobody else that itched and rubbed him so wrongly. The vague sense of predatory glee, of confidence that she could and would tear them all apart. Plus, she was the only odd thing in the entire speech.
“She’s the Minister’s assistant.” Tom kept speaking, voice low but quick. Some syllables chopping together in a unique cadence Harry knew he couldn’t replicate. Historians would likely weep at the sound of it. “You don’t obtain that position through bruised knees alone.”
Harry felt his face flush at the dismissive implication Tom provided. Tom ignored him and kept talking, face blank and staring forward. Harry realized, that it was unlikely anyone else even noticed their conversation. “The political beast isn’t one you can... outfly on a broomstick. That woman appears simple and obnoxious, yet in her current position and power there is very little who can interfere, and very few she can’t touch. She can ruin your life if you allow her.”
“How do you know this?” Harry couldn’t help but ask. His brain felt a bit melted with how quickly everything had escalated. “That she’s trouble?”
“They always are.” Tom said, vague and cryptid. “If you’re going through hell, keep going. The ministry- this woman is not supposed to be here. She will put you through hell, and expect your cooperation. Do not give it to her, do not turn into sheep.”
Harry tried to think of where he had heard the saying before, and why Tom so vehemently spat it like it was revolting on his tongue. “Do you know her?”
“No.” Tom dismissed bluntly. “I know her kind.”
He let go of his arm, took a few steps to smoothly incorporate himself into the flow of students, and vanished.
“Prat.” Harry said.
History of Magic was the most painful subject taught at Hogwarts. And that was including Potions. Potions at least, if you were lucky, would knock you out before torturing you. Goblin Wars had no mercy.
Only Hermione managed to take notes, which readily were a hot commodity and could likely end such Goblin Wars. Harry wondered if the Goblins had such a system of communication, or if all the wars were results of poor information management over the conversion rate of a tulip bulb to gold.
Today, the Gryffindors suggested for an hour and half, surviving in the alluring haze of sleep and Hermione’s quill scratching. Hermione shot them all filthy looks, but in the end sheer numbers won and left her frantically taking notes.
Spirits plummeted further as the Gryffindors descended into the dungeons, surviving the first two hours of the year in Snape’s wonderful company. He didn’t seem any more chipper or cheerful, although that would be more surprising than seeing the greasy haired man taking care of a unicorn. Harry was nearly gleeful at the prospect of not needing to take Potions ever again after this year.
Lunch was a casual affair, shepherds pie and thick gravy. At this rate, Harry wasn’t sure he’d leave for Christmas break without needing a new pair of trousers.
Despite that, Harry couldn’t help but wonder distantly how Tom was getting along. Harry didn’t know everything about the boy’s situation, but what he gathered was that he’d be studying independently of any house affiliated classes. Hermione likely understood it better, but Harry was stuck in Divination with Ron instead.
Professor Trelawney finished her explanation of something, flinging her hand dramatically in a reenactment of turning pages. Harry tiredly flipped open the assigned material to browse through the introduction of The Dream Oracle.
“This makes no sense, mate.” Ron shuddered, squinting at the pictures in the book which were only marginally more clear than piles of tea leaves. “I know I dreamt about flying the other night. Does that mean I’m running away from my problems?”
Harry shrugged, flipping the pages further. “Maybe a Hungarian Horntail is going to chase you. Destiny and all that.”
“I bloody hope not,” Ron shuddered, scribbling it down anyways on the worksheet. “What about you, mate? Any weird dreams recently?”
Harry’s brows scrunched. He wasn’t going to share his dreams with anyone- not the ones that reflected back the graveyard. He already knew well enough what that meant; he didn’t need an old book telling him that a great evil was chasing him.
Inspiration struck and Harry nodded ever so slowly in thought. “Yeah actually. A few weeks ago I had a really weird dream.
“Firecrackers I think.” Harry said. “Or something like that. Maybe exploding snap, you and the twins weren’t playing it when I was sleeping, right?”
Ron looked a bit baffled. “No, mum got rid of our deck. Don’t reckon there are any firecrackers where we were...uh, staying.”
“Huh.” Harry shrugged, and of course, Trelawney heard.
“Oh!” She wheezed, sounding in need of some clean air rather than a message, “what are your dreams telling you, my boy!”
Ron quickly skittered backwards, leaving Trelawney’s large bug eyes blinking at him instead.
“Uh,” Harry’s mind scattered, “uh...b-blasting curses? Or uh...fireworks?”
Trelawney nodded so quickly, her earrings rattled like little a cat toy. “ And? And what else, my child!”
Harry shrugged one shoulder helplessly.
“The atmosphere! The smell!” Trelawney continued, flinging her arms with the risk of actually punching Harry in the nose. “The smell! What did it smell like!”
“I don’t know!” Harry blurted in alarm, “smoke! Dust! You know, broken building!”
Trelawney hummed a noise like a broken cat purring, “and the feeling! The feeling, boy!”
Cold. Empty. Isolating and chilling- enough that Harry jerked so hard when he woke up he fell from the bed. That was how he remembered the dream- the strange yet unsafe dream. It had terrified him, left him sweating and chilled to the bone despite the summer heat.
Trelawney scoffed, offended as Harry stopped talking. She danced off, intruding on Neville who was in the middle of some large tale about his grandmother and large quilting scissors.
“What a mess.” Ron complained, packing up before they started down the steps. “Reckon she’s going to ever leave you alone?”
“Not in my lifetime.” Harry said, hoping that the strange eerie sensation he had been reminded of would leave him alone.
It didn’t, even as they entered the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. They found Professor Umbridge already seated at the teacher's desk, wearing the same pink eyesore as the night before.
The class filed in, Hermione patting their shoulders as they all managed to find desks near one another. The class was quiet, unsure of how to act in the presence of an unknown teacher.
The class escalated in boredom, and a strange heavy oppression that had Hermione’s rarely seen, petty grudge, rearing its curly hair.
Harry found it fascinating, Hermione had never neglected reading before- especially when instructed. She sat stiff backed, arm straight in the air unwavering. She was staring straight at Professor Umbridge, face composed and flat.
Professor Umbridge looked just as determinedly anywhere else in the class.
After a few more minutes, the majority of the class was now watching Hermione. The introduction they had all been assigned to read was so painful, they were finding near perverse glee in staring at Hermione’s unwavering determination. Truly, an inspiration.
Slightly more than half the class was staring at Hermione rather than at the book, then, the door to the room opened.
If they had been doing anything exciting, such as watching grass grow, they may have missed it. The doors gave a low click, a gentle slide of hinges. In desperation for any sort of stimuli, half of the class twisted their neck eagerly. Harry wondered if their guest would put them out of their misery.
Oh, oh. Maybe Tom would.
“Pardon the intrusion,” Tom said, voice smooth and flat. Nearly monotone except somehow- it wasn’t. Harry wouldn’t normally marvel at Tom’s unique voice and cadence, but at this point Harry would nearly cry in happiness at the opportunity to sift cat litter.
Umbridge’s face didn’t sour, a testament to Hermione’s irritating inquiry.
“Not at all.” Professor Umbridge’s voice was sickly sweet. “I do ask that you arrive to class at the proper time, lest you make me very displeased.”
Tom didn’t pause a second, managing to slide himself into an unoccupied desk near the back of the class calmly. Lavender, sitting next to him now, looked ready to swoon.
“A reasonable request.” Tom continued. “However, I am not part of this class. At this time, I’m investigating potential coursework to determine if attending such would be a benefit of my time. I thank you for your hospitality, madam. It also appears, that a student of yours has a question.”
Hermione pointedly, wiggled her fingers in the air.
‘Wow,’ Harry thought in distant amusement. Now he really, really wanted Tom to join their class long term.
Umbridge looked taken aback- although even Hermione looked vindicate amused by their unlikely avenging angel.
“I see.” Professor Umbridge clipped out, voice ever so sharp now that her fake politeness was gone. “I’m sure you will find this course more than beneficial by your standards, Mr…”
“Riddle.” Tom responded instantly, rehearsed nearly. “I thank you for such a warm welcome. Would you entertain a query of mine about your course aims- simply a curious student to our new esteemed Professor. If not, I of course entirely understand.”
Oh, Tom was good.
“Well, Mr. Riddle, I think the course aims are perfectly clear.” said Professor Umbridge in a voice of determined sweetness.
“Pardon my cretinous company, madam. I am wondering at what point the British Ministry curriculum permitted a coursework aimed towards defensive magic to not contain any defensive magic within its instruction. Forgive me, for witless minds, but at what point did the Ministry of Magic’s OWL requirements for Auror certification no longer need practical magic?”
Professor Umbridge stared. Tom stared a moment longer, then he nodded slowly as if in confirmation.
He stood, polite as ever and offered a charming smile. “I understand. I thank you for your patience, and beg forgiveness for absurdity. I see your curriculum is not one I should partake in-.”
Professor Umbridge flushed, a small thing that Ron watched with a look of pure glee.
“You cannot graduate without OWLS in Defense Against Dark Arts!” She snapped, giving a tiny dramatic stomp.
Tom gathered his things, unbothered. “I already have taken my OWLS, madam. I’m in the first percentile. Have a pleasant evening.”
Tom slipped out, and Harry felt like applauding.
Tom made his way very calmly towards the nearest loo, confident that his display would force the woman to maintain her classroom with an iron grip. Nobody would be slipping out until the hour was done.
The loo was quiet and empty, barren here unlike the others would be. A tap dripped quietly, some younger student having not closed the faucet all the way. The various stalls were open, informing Tom of their vacancy.
Tom closed the heavy door to the loo, pulling his wand to mutter a few selective locking charms. Nothing suspicious, but enough he’d have moments of warning before someone barged in.
Tom didn’t have privacy in his own washroom, even though it was intended for such. The only moments he could steel for himself were those taken in the daylight hours.
He had little time, but more time than he needed. He needed to simply document and dot along the line, a temporary tattoo. He was so used to the needle poking his skin, the sharpened nib of a quill was nothing to him.
Yanking his trousers down slightly, he bunched and shifted fabric to observe the small lesions he had spotted not long ago. Originally small, he had dismissed them as minor skin infections or perhaps a hex he hadn’t noticed until later. He wouldn’t put it past the younger Weasley to try and target him.
The lesions were small and painless, a strange deep blue with a black center. A bit of his skin had worn off; instead of yellow pus instead dripped discharge like watered down ink. Black and thin, staining over the few conjured bandages he had pressed against the tiny spots, wrapping around his upper thighs. No larger than a knut, little specks of ink around the perimeter from where Tom had been attentively tracking the size. They weren’t getting larger, but they weren’t shrinking either.
The only thing that came to mind was that the small sores were related to his….ill advised consumption of a specific potion. An ache he knew now, a dependency he hated like the itch on his bones.
He’d keep monitoring the small spots, and search for something else if they ever turned worse.
Chapter 10: Ad locum
Where Tom investigates and finds the name.
I hope you all enjoy! Here's our first glimpse of Grindelwald and Crina once more!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The castle was distant and foreign in a way unlike anything Tom could imagine.
He knew the walls, he knew the stone pathways. They greeted him, as if no time had passed at all. Despite that, there were differences. New paintings on the corners, different trophies and names. Tom was no fool, he had paused outside the showcases and found his own name listed on the gilded plaques. Tom M. Riddle, Head Boy. Service to the School.
It wasn’t him, but at the same time it was. A legacy he didn’t know, a face he hadn’t seen in a mirror.
Tom Riddle was no fool, he knew things were wrong and different. Tainted foully. The other students didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps the secret spoken blatantly was something unknown only to the majority. It wouldn’t be the first time.
It felt like the war, and yet nobody seemed concerned. The new Defense teacher only assured him of that- a political figurehead with little to no expertise in teaching. He had seen this before, the purge and surge of propaganda and public information. Tom wouldn’t be surprised if slowly throughout the year the books in the library were removed one by one.
He would have to search them quickly- find his way into the restricted section as soon as he could. He wasn’t naive enough to assume that Dumbledore hadn’t already filtered the selection. Anything that could help him would already be hidden behind locked doors.
A week into term and the whispers started. The thick low mutter of rumors that hadn’t ever faded in social norm. Whispers Tom couldn’t help but notice, but names and gasps he couldn’t identify. He didn’t understand the reason for it- the hidden panic.
“He says he saw Cedric Diggory murdered…”
“He reckons he dueled with You-Know-Who…”
“Come off it…”
“Who does he think he’s kidding?”
Tom bit his cheek and kept walking. The suspiciously absent tie evident, the plain black scarf around his throat that belonged to no house in particular.
No, Tom didn’t know who. That was the problem. An entire war was evolving and bubbling- or something scarily like it. Tom knew little to nothing, and it bothered him more than he’d admit.
Apparently Potter had gotten into a shouting match. Already stirring trouble and spitting venom at the ministry worker. The unqualified teacher who fancied herself something better. It was sickening, painfully familiar.
He knew this castle like old faded photographs. He knew his face like it wasn’t his own.
He was thankful at least that Potter had apparently stirred chaos within the castle. The rumors were focused on his apparent imploding, it seemed poor Potter was a few moments away from lashing out. The world fancied him a dark wizard, apparently a murdered to a select group. Potter didn’t have a bone in his body capable of injustice.
“Excuse me,” Tom smiled, pulling his lips back into something kind and open, “I was wondering if perhaps you could help me?”
The girl glanced up, her eyes widened in surprise at the question. He had approached her from out of the blue, intimidatingly so. She had her face crammed in a decently thick book, squinting at the small font in what looked like herbology. Likely for materials to write an essay on, or studying intensely for the quizzes common at the start of the term.
“Uh, hello.” She greeted, blinking in bafflement. She glanced at the page number, sliding the book closed and to her side. Her bag was thin, distinctly wizard in structure and material. She’d do.
“I appreciate it,” Tom said. He kept his face smooth and unimposing. “I’m new here- a transfer. I’m a bit at a loss of everything going on here.”
Her eyebrows furrowed and she chewed her lower lip. Perhaps his age, maybe the year above. Wonderful, she already was staring a bit too long on the sharp cut of his jaw and his hair. He knew those lingering glances, and how to use them.
“It’s a bit overwhelming.” Tom said, taking steps forward to settle into the small impression of the window. The girl wiggled to the side, offering him more space.
“Oh, It’s a confusing castle.” She assured him. Glancing down at her hands shyly, “the teachers are all nice here- oh, well, except Professor Snape. He’s...a bit scary.”
Professor Snape, the potions professor if he recalled correctly. He used the same room as Professor Slughorn, the same deep classroom with fumes sunken into the walls.
“Sounds like that Potter folk is too.” Tom said, shrugging one shoulder. His body rolled with the movement, her eyes stared a second at his neck. “A murderer?”
Tom started to lean away, a small shift of his body. The girl latched on, Tom felt almost disgusted by her generosity.
“He isn’t bad!” She blurted, shuffling her fingers again. “Well, he’s...last year he came back with the cup- the Twiwizard Cup, we had the tournament here. And Cedric- Cedric Diggory, was dead! He said that You-Know-Who did it, but...but You-Know-Who is gone, so…”
Tom’s mind scrambled, jolting far too quickly. His temples twinged as quickly he tried to process everything he could. You-Know-Who? Had Grindelwald survived? Had his supporters managed to catch hold and retain it over the years?
“That’s horrible.” Tom said. “I had no idea. How is this school running if there was a murder?”
“Well…” the girl paused. Tom should have known her name, but he cared too little to ask for it now. “...Truth be told, Hogwarts has rotten luck. Last year there was the Triwizard Tournament nonsense, and two years before that the Chamber of Secrets opened and then vanished!”
Tom froze. His blood curdled. “The Chamber of Secrets?”
“Oh yes! It’s a famous myth- well, more infamous now. There was a monster or a dark wizard petrifying students! It took a girl down there, and then closed. Nobody was hurt and our teacher vanished- Professor Lockhart! He was quite wonderful, not too bright though…”
The Chamber of Secrets. Tom had been looking for that for...for years. The link, the secret words spoken and implied to be parseltongue. The Chamber had opened, which meant that the school had witnesses detailing how to get inside. Someone in the castle knew where the Chamber was, and someone had...had released the basilisk.
Who? How? Had the bloodline somehow survived? Was there another parselmouth?
“So uh…” The girl glanced down at her book. “What year are you? Do you have that essay on Nettle for Professor Sprout too?”
“No.” Tom’s eyes flickered down at the book. It was an older model, the same collection from a book he knew but many many years a different edition. The content would be similar, unlikely to have changed over time. Worst come worst, he could express his concerns with Ms. Dimitriu and she would likely send him resources. “Thank you for your aid. I’ve been quite worried over that Potter fellow, you’ve made me feel much better.”
The girl bit her lip and nodded. She looked a little guilty, a little pleased with herself. “He’s not all bad! I mean...he’s a bit mean sometimes, snaps a bit too. But he’s kind too! Seems he’s just got a horrid life…”
Tom mentally summoned his restraint, and forced his shoulders to lean inwards. He shifted his body language, diverting his focus on the startled and slightly flushed girl.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know much about him. I’ve been gone a long time, you see.”
“Oh.” She said. “He, uh, he’s...his parents died! When he was young! But ah, you probably knew that!”
Tom didn’t but she didn’t know that. “Oh? Thank you so much for this by the way. We...I traveled a lot- South Africa for a while. I haven’t heard much about this...You-Know-Who…”
“Oh.” She squeaked. “I uh, what do you want to know?”
Crina leant back in her chair, the wood creaking slightly. One high laced boot crossed over the other, resting gently on her knee.
The folder and parchment under her fingers crinkled slightly as she poured over the picture, the subtle shades of ink splattered and folded- creased in a mirror image. She despised the useless tests, but they were fascinating tools for subconscious processing even when the individual was aware of them.
“Rorschach.” Crina said, her voice echoing slightly in that way stone seemed to make. “Outdated, although I shouldn’t say such things when they’re still used in wizarding medicine.”
The ink blot, large and spanning across the paper stared at her. Mocking her in its blatant unimportant splatter.
“I never think of you to use something outdated.”
“None of that,” Crina said, not looking up from her papers. “I appreciate the attempt, but flattery has long since been wasted on me. Especially given that I already know it’s merely words.”
Crina’s face didn’t twist in a smile. Her patient chuckled deeply, low and tired. The room was cold- it was why Crina took to wearing her thick fur to insulate. It was comfortable, perhaps a bit obnoxious, but it disguised her figure and had protected her time and time again.
“You haven’t been around much,” a small pause. “Have you found someone more interesting?”
“I have.” Crina said, unrolling the sheaf of parchment attached to squint at the handwriting. Small and precise, a bit loose and scribble in that rhythm that suggested fountain pens rather than quills. Crina knew that feeling well, it was interesting to see the difference between writing. She could mark the point he alternated between using his left hand and his right to scribble down his assignment.
“Oh dear, I hope he isn’t a stubborn one.”
“That title is held by you alone,” Crina finally smiled, an upwards quirk of her lips. “Don’t be jealous now. You’re still the king of this castle.”
“A king behind bars and shackled to an iron ball.”
Crina’s smile was a tad bit sharper. She looked down at her notes, tracing them carefully to document them to memory. She’d transfer the more important ones over to her files, the books where she compiled data and evidence. These results were particularly intriguing.
“Is he younger than me?”
“Everyone is.” Crina said. “It’s ink blots. It’s always death and disaster with your type.”
“And cannibalism with Julius.”
Crina nearly snorted. “Ah yes, poor Julius. The Italians took him away far too soon, I’d have loved to see his thoughts on other documents, but you know how international wizarding organizations are.”
Crina mouthed the words quietly to herself, quick enough that her patient couldn’t read her lips. ‘Severed limbs and a blood splash. Old and dried up; several days.’ That was interesting, not too many people had analyzed the pattern of ‘blood’ in the splash. Crina herself thought it looked like a rather happy looking badger personally.
“They’re giving you trouble then, the British?”
Crina sighed through her nose, a slight high whine in it. “Gellert, I understand that you may believe yourself to know my business, but you must remember, you’re my prisoner.”
Gellert Grindelwald’s eyes were dark, half hidden in the lighting. Nurmengard didn’t offer much in the option for lighting- no windows without thick iron barriers. No doorways without locks. Lanterns were bewitched to burn on oil, extinguishing the moment they spilled. There was no fire in Nurmengard, there was no escape in Nurmengard.
“Oh?” Gellert asked, his accent thick but still retained. One last morsel of his pride, scraped off the stone floor and cradled in his lap. “I couldn’t ever forget.”
Crina didn’t look up from her notes. She didn’t bother the man with a moment of her thoughts. Yes, he sat across from her, but he was still her prisoner. Shackled to an iron weight- archaic, but effective. Even the werewolf they had was unable to tear the ball from its leg.
“You flatter me.” Crina said. Her eyes skimmed over Tom’s handwriting, reading his interpretation to a splotch of red ink. Vultures flying, a cat between them.
Gellert’s eyes dropped, sliding off her thick fur coat to glance at the wood of her chair. The lantern burned between them. “I would be a fool, to ever doubt you, Frau Overseer Dimitriu.”
Crina’s eyes were equally dark as she briefly glanced up. Her pen pausing in its scribbling. The shadows thrown across her face emphasized the lines near the corners of her eyes. Crows feet, the slight wrinkles from concentration.
“You’re awfully chatty.” Crina said.
“Perhaps I’m concerned for your new interest.”
“You’re not.” Crina said. Her frown dipped lower, her eyes cold and calculating. “You care little for the fate of others. You care only for yourself.”
Grindelwald smiled, a thin expression obscured by his beard. White, coarse. His eyes were still sharp, still cruel. Crina was no fool.
“You care only because I’ve seemingly been distracted.” Crina said. She knew her patients well. “I haven’t been. I have eyes in my castle, and you are still a prisoner. One of your own making.”
Grindelwald nodded ever so slightly, calmly. This was simply a conversation between old friends. “Have my wölfe been well?”
Crina set her pen down. “Lupescu. I gave them a name. Not your crude definition.”
Gellert’s eyes sharpened ever so slightly. “You bastardized them.”
“You bred them.” Crina said. “From animagi if I recall correctly. Quite an intelligent group, wolves with animagi blood. Quite loyal, and very vicious.”
“The loyal guard dogs of Nurmengard.” Gellert’s lip curled slightly, his cheeks pulled back into a wordless snarl. “They are mine.”
“The Lupescu,” Crina said pointedly, “are mine. I am the Overseer of Nurmengard. They are my guards. Do we have a misunderstanding, inmate?”
Grindelwald snarled wordlessly. His torso arched slightly, shadows under his eyes more pronounced. The man was intelligent, still sharp in mind. Crina took no risks, and held no bargains.
Grindelwald’s nostrils flared as he breathed in and out quickly. Crina casually picked up her pen, writing her notes. Basking in the delight that she could do what he could not.
“No…” Gellert ground out, adjusting himself from his seated position on the chair. His amputated arms- ending just above the elbows, shifted in the knotted ends of his robe sleeves. “...we don’t have a misunderstanding.”
The international registry for magical testing was advanced, and confusing. A headache for paperwork, skimming through the multitude of forms held together with thick white thread. Crina often wondered why the magical world hadn’t accepted stables and incorporated them into the culture. It seemed exhausting, to sew pages together line compiling a new book.
If section 1A(c) is not applicable, move to section 2F
Crina sighed, and turned the page skimming for 2F. Honestly, she should have gone to a Goblin consultant for taxes with how elaborately annoying these forms were.
Her pen scratched, filling out simple things. Crina was the leader of Nurmengard- she often had registry into national databases for informational purposes. Highly illegal, but then again, many purebloods tended to have children in the preference of their home. The majority of reported births were just sent via documentation, not eye witness accounts. Archaic, unreliable, and very convenient.
Tom had his own information deeply sunken in the British database. It was impossible to access and remove the ministry forms, but the original forms of the British Muggle World were easy to steal from the registry of orphans. Along with it, documentation and faded pictures. The pictures of Tom in his youth was the documentation Crina needed to assure nobody would ever look an eye at her forged file.
His fake identity number was scrawled into the necessary spot, his legal name filled out in Crina’s font.
Already Tom’s file was thick, the scores from rudimentary test and her own careful statements of exemptions from various courses. History, astronomy, the areas of study that Tom had already proved he knew more information than the international standards. It wouldn’t be long until she’d be forced to meet with one of the representatives of the international educational standards. She wasn’t sure how the meeting would go, especially since Crina had tentatively placed Tom as her ward.
“Oh Tom,” Crina sighed, tapping her lip as she looked through the evaluations and reports sent to her from Hogwarts. Required of course, small updates from teachers and from Dumbledore himself. It wasn’t anything major, and Albus was being remarkably polite about it all. They’d need to work on Tom’s sharp tongue, it wasn’t good to have already infuriated a few teachers.
Actually, Crina didn’t recognize the name of the one teacher he had apparently infuriated. No, the wording was off. The teacher he had displayed exaggerated impudent behaviour.
“Who are you?” Crina asked. Placing the file to the side as she fetched a different piece of parchment, scribbling down the name of the teacher who had placed the request. D. L. Umbridge. She didn’t recognize that name.
“Mika.” Crina said, elevating her voice to be heard in the hallway. A moment before the door opened, the heavy oak creaking slightly as a younger woman poked her head in.
“Yes Frau Dimitriu?”
Crina folded her fingers in her lap. The name was unsettling to her, for reasons she couldn’t quite describe. “Mika, could you fetch me the registry of aurors from Britain? And the International registry for education degrees- the most recent model.”
Mika nodded, slipping out of the room. The records room was under more heavy security, each inmate having a thick sheaf of parchment detailing their every recorded document until the day they died. Only Crina and her staff could enter- the few Mediwitches and Wizards she hired, the secretaries that managed the intake and output of finances from the government to handle the cost of living. Mika was a wonderful secretary, able to sort and diverge mail and requests into piles. She was useful too, and was paid admirably for working in such a haunting place.
The door opened after a soft knock. Mika walked in, the two books stacked in her arms. The thick scar across her face looked ghastly in the lantern lighting. A shame, she would have been an attractive woman if not for it; certainly able to find employment outside of a prison.
“Thank you,” Crina accepted the books, setting them to the side. Mika slipped out of the room, and Crina opened the book to the directory with a small oof. They were stupidly thick, annoying and crinkly.
Magical Britain Auror Registry and Employment. She turned to the last name selection, filtering down the U’s to where Umbridge should have been. Crina traced the letters with her finger, finding Ulura, and Unaru, but no Umbridge.
She closed the book, nearly choking on the cloud of dust that wafted up. The other book revealed similar results- the last Umbridge who managed an education degree was generations prior- at least it affirmed that this mysterious teacher was a pureblood in England. If only Crina could access that database.
Despite it all, something about the name bothered her deeply.
There were many new books in the Hogwarts Library, ignored in favour of another.
Tom knew how to look normal, how to find what he needed.
You-Know-Who, listed under an assortment of various books. On the back page of Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century. Listed in careful writing “A compendium of important wWzarding events from the twentieth century, including the story of the Boy Who Lived.”
One of the highlights in Modern Magical History. The third section of The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.
Each book, listed the reoccurring name. Over and over, written again and again and again.
The Boy Who Lived!
The Death Eaters!
Tom closed the book with a snap. Staring at the shelves blankly.
It wasn’t a coincidence. The hostility, the hate and scorn. Only a few people seemed to recognize him, to falter at his smile. If everyone had known of...of this great secret, then digging for information would be much more difficult.
Something unsaid, sitting in broad daylight. Written in history books and passed around in afterthought. Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.
This...This threat. The murder apparently last year- right before Tom arrived. The extra security, the hushed whispers and glares in Harry Potter’s direction. The Slytherin students seemed more vengeful, vindictive under a heavy weight. A social stigma, one he felt on street corners and under military issued uniforms.
A student had died before he arrived, and now there was a ministry employee keeping an eye on the castle. This was...it was a political move, a careful slide to obtain power. Something about the castle was threatening the society and political stability of the country as a whole- which tended to mean that they were right.
Harry Potter was...impossible. A child able to survive a killing curse and somehow defeat a Dark Lord as a baby. That…
“Magic doesn’t work like that.” Tom whispered. His mind was a mess, running circles around and around. Things didn’t make sense, but he couldn’t tell if it was the lack of information or his own lack of education. Was it possible to survive the killing curse? Had it...was it something achievable now?
No, if it was then Harry Potter wouldn’t be so famous. It was still odd, unexplained. There was no such thing as coincidence or luck, things always failed due to flaws. Harry Potter was no such holy being, he was not blessed or spared in the fate of the devil. He existed due to the flaws of this Dark Lord, an oversight he hadn’t known.
Harry Potter existed due to...to some..divine effort. Some sort of unexplained miracle that everyone wrote off. Tom didn’t believe in that- he prayed but he did not believe in mercy and salvation of the Lord. There was something wrong about Harry Potter, that the ministry feared and marked him as a target.
Tom slid the thick book back on the shelf, fingers trailing over its old spine.
The book had been specific, listing the hearings and results of ministry hearings. Death Eaters, caught and convicted after the end of the war.
(And entire war passed in Tom’s absence. An entire war. )
A few names he recognized, knew their ancestors. Lestrange, Black, Crabbe, Nott. He knew their faces, from his classmates and upper years, Parkinson’s thick jawline as he ate unripe pears at breakfast.
They were all dead, or gone. Mysteriously so, leaving behind children he didn’t know but recognized in names. Abraxas Malfoy. Cygnus Black. They left behind a legacy- one of which frequented the corridors near the covered bridge.
Malfoy, Tom recognized. Harry Potter had ranted about him, seething the name. Legacy or not, it seemed that the connotation of dark magic had seeped into Pureblood names themselves.
Tom turned and walked out of the library, careful to not draw attention. He took no books with him, left no prints for what he knew and what he didn’t.
Malfoy was easy to recognize. Platinum blonde hair- shorter than his grandfather. His jawline was sharper too, a curve to his nose that reminded Tom of the rounded shift of Cygnus. Purebloods interbred, made offspring noble in everything but intelligence.
Tom watched him with darkened eyes, and judged him for what he knew.
Malfoy was listed as the Death Eaters- or at least his father had been tried and found to be under the Imperius curse. Simple, foolproof, stupid. More likely he had been caught, and scrambled to remain clear in name.
Tom tapped his wand, running his fingers over the smooth wood. It rested against his forearms, warm and comforting. He wished he had a knife, able to slip between ribs if he needed it.
One of the lackeys noticed him, the more gluttonous one. Thick face, no distinction between jaw and neck. He could carve away the fat and lard, feed the birds suet ground from his bones and still have enough for dinner. Tom hated him by definition.
“Oi!” The one shouted, squinting at him. The taller one had features Tom couldn’t remember outside of maybe dinner in the Great Hall. “Who’re you?’
Tom didn’t respond. The two approached. Malfoy swaggered, cloak flapping around his thick boots. Brand new, expensive, unnecessary.
A long time ago, Tom would have made himself humble. He would have smiled and seduced Malfoy until the poor sod was craving his own praise. Weak mind, weak willed. Tom had little care for things now.
“Malfoy.” Tom deadpanned. Voice dull, strong. Malfoy jerked slightly, the smile wavering ever so slightly.
“Oi! Who’re you?” Malfoy asked, one hand through his hair as the other tapped on his wand. “Eh? You mute?”
Tom didn’t blink. “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. What is his name.”
Malfoy flinched, looking offended before he drew his wand dramatically. “What! Grab a book yourself! I’m not your bloody paper boy! You hear me, eh? You thick or something?”
‘What a disgrace.’ Tom thought to himself, mourning the loss of Abraxas to the years.
“What is his name.” Tom stated, calm and uncaring.
Something must have unsettled Malfoy, either Tom’s deposition or his flat affect. It bothered him, a hint of animal fear tainting the corner of his light eyes.
One of Malfoy’s lackeys cracked his knuckles menacingly. Tom had murdered a man twice his size with a brick.
“I don’t have time for this,” Tom said. “If you don’t know, it’s unbecoming to pretend.”
Malfoy flushed, easy to rile.
“It’s Lord Voldemort, you filthy mudblood.” Malfoy sneered, although he too flinched as he said the words. “‘You too daft to learn basic history? You need someone to tie your boots too?”
Lord Voldemort. French. Flight from Death.
Why, would a British wizard claim a french title?
(Tom knew, why he would use French. There’s no such thing as good and evil. )
Tom turned, eerily leaving without acknowledging Malfoy’s slurs.
Tom walked, forcing his breathing to stay steady. His hands itched, his eyes felt raw and burned. Eerily, the skin below his nostrils felt hot, feverish although the rest of his skin felt more akin to chilled.
It was perhaps a bit past noon, but the joys of self-education mandated that Tom constructed his own schedule.
He couldn’t possibly think- let alone- let alone learn when-
“ Vol de mort.” Tom spoke, tongue rolling around in foreign tongue. Frogs always said things so romantically, a caress on his tongue.
Tom slipped into the hospital wing. He locked his bedroom. He pulled out his potions and turned a blind eye to his clock. It was the afternoon and Tom couldn’t think.
Who would choose french for a title, when they were distinctly British?
“There is no such thing as good and evil, only power and those too weak to seek it.” Tom said, tongue lolling. Loving in that gentle tone that French man told to him at death’s doors.
Tom tipped back the Dreamless Sleep Potion, settled himself on his bed, and tried to keep himself together a bit longer.
(Tom knew why one would choose French.)
He had always planned to.
When Dennis had been comforted, and taken away to get ice cream with the aid, Ms. Wool had taken Tom aside.
He knew he was in trouble from the start, from the strict unhappy look on her face. Tom knew that she would be upset with him, but Tom had never really liked Dennis. It was worth it, to string up that rabbit from the rafters. Dennis didn’t even notice as his things went missing.
“Come with me.” Ms Wool snapped, her grip on his arm was too tight. He let himself be dragged along, shoes scraping on the ground as she hauled him down the street. Past the fence and out to the road- down the river. Were they going to the Thames?
“Where are we going?” He asked her. Her lip curled back angrily.
“I am so sick of you.”
Tom thought that was fair.
St. Mary-le-Bow Church was tall and pretty. Her large bells always rang out at noon. On Sundays they all filtered into her hall, sticking to the back and off the pews so the other city people could sit and worship. It was a Friday, so Tom was confused why Mrs. Wool was dragging him into her doors. He had never been inside St. Mary-le-Bow when not shoved in wool. When not squeezed into clothing too tight for him, with little ribbons strangling his throat.
Her ceilings were painted a soft blue, like the sky when they visited the countryside. Tom always found the colour interesting.
“Madam Wool, my child.” The old man said from the back. His clothing old and stiff looking. Tom had never seen the clergy out of it before, even on the picnics they sometimes had in the summer. “What has brought you to me?”
“I can’t take it,” Ms. Wool said, yanking Tom’s wrist to make him stumble forward, shoes tapping on the clean floor. “He- this- Father, he strung a rabbit from my ceiling.”
The man’s face furrowed, looking worried and unsure. “A rabbit, you say?”
“From my ceiling!” Ms. Wool said, pointing towards the roof of the cathedral. “Twelve feet, father! He snapped its neck!”
The priest’s brow furrowed more. “Do not worry, my child. You are in the house of God, and I see your suffering. We have heard your prayers, and we offer you safety.”
Ms. Wool dropped to her knees, hands covering her face. She was crying, thick shaking sobs. Tom stared in surprise and awe. He had never seen Ms. Wool cry before.
“I will send word to our local bishop, that his services are needed to redeem this child.” the priest smiled. He offered one hand kindly, gesturing for Tom to approach from the narrow walkway between the pews. “You are Tom? I have heard so much about you- will you aid me in our journey?”
Tom swallowed uncomfortably and nodded. He felt under-dressed, dirty in his normal clothes. The church was loud, it echoed weird without the dozens of people. He felt small.
Tom walked quietly, his steps echoing. Ms. Wool was still crying, her wails of relief sounded distorted and funny off the stained glass and old wooden benches.
“Don’t be afraid,” the priest said, he seemed much more friendly now instead of when he stood up at the altar on Sundays. “I keep my things below, would you come with me, my child?”
Tom didn’t want to. He nodded.
“Can you tell me, Tom? Do you hear whispers of temptation?”
Tom shifted, unsure. The new man looked less friendly. Older, scary. His eyes were sharp and in the lantern light he seemed to stare at Tom intently.
“I don’t know.” Tom said, struggling slightly.
The priest nodded, looking calm as he took Tom’s hands in his. “It’s okay now. We will help you now. Do you know, when you see the nurses how they tie your arm to prick your arm?”
Tom nodded once again, his tongue limp and unresponsive in his mouth.
“We will do the same, to keep you safe.” The priest smiled. “It’s okay now, my child. You can rest, and we will work.”
“When can I go back?” Tom asked.
“When the day of our Lord has ended.”
Tom waited, and waited.
Candles burned and he sneezed and gagged. His skin tickled and burned, searing hot where wax dripped.
“Can I go?” Tom asked, a soft whisper in the quiet room. “Please?”
Wax hurt, his skin itched. The lines along his shoulders were throbbing quite painfully.
“Just a bit longer, my child.”
“Most cunning serpent, you shall no more dare to deceive the human race, persecute the Church, torment God’s elect and sift them as wheat.”
Tom stared, counting the grooves in the rocks of the cellar ceiling. It smelled like brimstone and paint, wet stinging acid and the salty burn of his tears.
They had cut open small spots along his arms- thin little nicks. They stuffed it with flowers and herbs like tea. It clotted like seed cakes and his blood turned it rancid black.
Tom lay there, all Saturday. All Sunday, until the Lord's Day came from the end.
Tom went home, limping and quiet. Ms. Wool seemed relieved, delighted to see him once more.
The snakes in the garden were still whispering to him.