Regardless of the series this is part of, this work can stand on its own. This is chapter one out of three.
Part 1 of the Series 'Folded Between Disbelief and Damnation is Your Disused Hope'
In Which The Series is Written Since I Wish to Throw the Two Dark Lords Into Introspection and Passable Post-mortem Therapy via Deus Ex Machina Because I was Getting Antsy About Their Issues. If This Does Not Warn You That It's Definitely AU, Then Nothing Will.
The stage is set for dead dark lords dreaming of distant pasts.
= Unknown Train Station =
In Which Tom Riddle is Thinking (Most Avowedly Not Moping).
Tom Marvolo Riddle was sitting here, waiting for a train that would never arrive.
He didn't question how he knew that for now, a strange accepting lethargy having fallen over him. The bench wasn't too bad, really, especially when considering that he could easily not have any seat at all when the place was this full. He blinked and looked around. He was in King Cross station. Was I going back to Hogwarts again? He mused. What year is this anyway? Was it before or after the Slytherins started respecting him, and he still had to prepare and wage a small war against those that would prank and trap him? Was this the time when he was still partly on edge because he'd successfully opened the Chamber of Secrets and blamed Hagrid for it? He wasn't sure, and somehow his mind didn't think it important for him to try to figure out exactly. There was a hazy mass of people moving all around, sometimes too fast to see clearly, and at other times too slow that each step seems to be taken through marmite. Nobody talked to anyone else. They were each occupied with their own destination, their own personal burdens and thoughts.
Some walked with the clipped no-nonsense march of soldier sent to the war in the American Colonies, uniform and saber included. Another woman moved sedately, her grace and beauty was as telling as her painted face and wig that she was a butterfly of the courts, the French court of Louis XIV, Tom thought randomly, remembering something he had read from long-forgotten school days. Another walked with a relaxed slump, his loose clothes in colours so bright and clashing that Tom had to wince before taking his eyes away from what he firmly believed to be a fashion disaster. He might not be too particular about his clothes but there was a line that had to be drawn somewhere. He didn't know why the first thing he noticed about everyone he'd seen so far was how none of them carried any luggage.
He didn't question how he knew the fears, hopes and longing they carried with them far heavier than any physical belongings could ever be.
There was also the issue of the large wizarding painting placed high on the wall in front of him, still visible across the madding crowd. At first he thought it was a pastoral panorama for its view of the country side; rolling fields, a quaint church steeple in the distance and winding hedgerows were a staple of the English plains. Then, the view changed to a building standing oblivious in genteel poverty, dusted with black from the last industrial revolution, and he felt his stomach churn at the familiarity. This was when he figured out that he wasn't staring at a painting.
He did wonder for a few moments about the skill needed to create it, because photographs don't usually move that far beyond small changes; even wizarding paintings don't experience entire background overhaul. More technical thoughts on transfiguration were easily driven away again when he saw the features of a very familiar boy on screen with sharp observant green eyes.
These were views from a childhood he truly did not wish to remember (truthfully, he preferred to have just erased from his own records).
But remember you would, for that is your burden to bear, a voice in his head pointed out, as the scene changed into one where other children were cowering from a young Tom Riddle came up. A smirk graced his lips in remembrance. Maybe not all of his past was worthless.
Look at the pathetic brats, so full of fear.
An internal snort. Yes, because intimidating a bunch of hapless muggle children is obviously the height of power and wisdom, a second voice piped up, dry and cutting.
If anyone else had said that to him in the Slytherin common room when he was the established rising dark lord, they would immediately be treated to the Cruciatus. The fact that it sounded exactly like him only made him press his lips tighter and gaze back to the milling crowd instead. The size of the display ensured that he could never fully avoid it, though—he could still see what was going on among the orphans of Wool's Orphanage at the corner of his eyes.
They were disrespectful and idiotic, he thought.
And your ego is so fragile that the ignorance of children is so unbearable as to be worth making the adults around you suspicious of your true nature instead of cultivating their trust and cooperation. The voice said again with a scathing dryness that made him wince. Did you ever stop being that pathetic orphan inside and actually turn into a formidable adult wizard? Because you could've fooled me with how you threw a tantrum at every insult to your self-worth.
He suffered the voice stoically. Inwardly, he cringed. Silence ensued and he couldn't explain the feeling of relief that welled up then, but it didn't last long. It would seem that his internal critic was not done.
And while we're talking to ourselves, if idiocy was a cause for punishment, then by the same argument you should've made away with most of Death Eaters before Dumbledore and Potter did it for you.
His temper rose quickly to his head as he clenched his wand, but it melted away with no less speed. Tom let out a long weary sigh, running a hand through his dark hair. Only tiredness remained and it had him wishing that sleep would claim him. The voice was right, of course, that was the problem. He could out-argue anyone else, threaten them or intimidate them (and in his later years, kill them), but he could not out-argue himself nor ignore the truth ringing clearly in the words.
He did not wonder how he could hear truth now. He did not wonder about a lot of things, all irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
They weren't so bad at the beginning, he defended (and why was he forced to defend his Death Eaters to himself? He had no idea). There were all those raids and attacks that the Aurors have never successfully traced, after all.
Oh yes, those were the good old days, the other him mused, we were still innovating new spells and researching groundbreaking potions—they couldn't keep up with us. You know, Snape is admittedly very talented in that area. He could've gone far if he decided to go into research and academia, probably even ended up being a Potions Grandmaster.
Yes, he did have talent, didn't he?
He watched the scenes change in the painting in front of him to a group of young men gathering in a dark room. This was the second generation Death Eaters; it had a bright-eyed and ambitious Lucius Malfoy and a young Snape skulking in a corner, eyes sharp and observant. Snape never quite got out of the brooding phase of teenage angst and dragged it kicking and screaming with him into adulthood. Not that the Dark Lord had ever given him cause to be happy… but this was far from the later years of his personal war (vendetta, the voice inside him corrected with pity, and he didn't deign it with an answer). There goes the faithful and quiet Mulciber, less rowdy than many of his peers and able to actually follow orders intelligently and adjust as the situation demands instead of sticking it to the letter.
For some reason the best use we have for Snape is to teach a bunch of snot-nosed brats, the voice said.
We needed someone to watch Dumbledore, he cut in, before the voice could pick up steam. And he was just the man for it.
Silence reigned again for several moments, the shadowy flitting people passing all around him as noisy as a half-remembered dream. There was a masked man juggling several lit torches on a unicycle. He didn't even blink at the sight.
You know, now that I think of it again, I never figured out why we feel like we have to fight Dumbledore, the voice piped up unexpectedly.
He rolled his eyes. That was obvious, wasn't it? He was an obstacle, we have to remove him.
An obstacle to what, exactly?
Power. Now who's being the idiot here? Tom tried not to dwell too deeply on the fact that he was name-calling himself, nor did he wanted to wonder what that meant about his sanity. There was a scoff and mental laughter.
Power? Are you bloody serious? He could have given us power without a second thought if he liked us! The greatest wizard of his generation and two more after that—and he never did care much for it.
He ignored the minor sting of envy that rose at that. In case your memory is faulty, he didn't like us.
Damn, now he could even feel the mental eye-roll that accompanied the next thoughts that Internal Critic was saying. Because we were stupid enough to think we could pull the wool over his eyes. What did you think he is; another one of those hapless, pathetic, no-name orphans?
The moving pictures within the frame in front of him changed again. It was Wool's Orphanage once more, with a young and self-satisfied Tom Riddle taking half of the desserts of some of the kids nearby. He would've looked away in boredom if he didn't see a vague and familiar shape in one of the windows. He stared, and the picture unexpectedly zoomed towards it.
It was Dumbledore. Dumbledore had been watching him for a while before telling him about Hogwarts. A pang of annoyance went through him.
The scenes changed and he could see a young Slytherin from his year exiting Dumbledore's office—Tom remembered making an example out of the fool. Ah, this must be the first months of Second Year. He was also quite certain that the coward wouldn't have dared to say anything to the transfiguration professor, but Tom still ended up being called to his office one day for a little chat. Halfway through the conversation and around the time Dumbledore probably realised he wouldn't be able to get Tom to admit anything, the professor stared at him with that vexing disappointed look on his face again.
Tom remembered the anger boiling inside him. You don't have any proof, old man, so why can't you ever trust me?
The scene stopped, right there, at the point where the flash of anger crossed his face.
Now, he seemed to have an answer to his own question from his Internal Critic. Because you don't trust him and trust is an exchange. The man is a legillimens for goodness' sakes—even if he can't pick up much of your surface thoughts, he could certainly pick up those of that idiot's. If I were him, I'd be insulted with our sad excuse for subterfuge as well. You don't lie to people like him; you give them half-truths and meet them partway. You don't try to run around someone with that much power and influence; you negotiate and compromise.
There was a put-upon sigh in his mind. You know what I'm talking about—the sort of skills you would've remembered if you weren't so busy throwing tantrums left and right.
Tom snorted. You want me to tell Dumbledore that I've been 'making an example' out of the idiot?
Of course not. I said half-truths, not a Gryffindork's self-incriminating honesty, his other self scoffed. You could say that you had no choice in doing what you did because you want to sleep properly in the Slytherin dorms sometime soon, instead of, well never. If we didn't make an example out of him, we'd still have to spend an hour cleaning the bed from traps every damn night and spending the same amount of time to deactivate and reactivate traps around our chest. It's a pain in the neck, to be honest.
Now that he thought of it again, Tom wasn't even sure he remembered what the idiot classmate's name was. Well, no loss there. It wasn't as if he was important. He was probably one of those people who got themselves killed in the first year of the war. He probably even sent that fool ahead personally without much thought.
Just another nameless cannon fodder.
A beat. Some silence, and then the memories he didn't want to remember came back. It was worse because he didn't just remember it; the giant canvas in front of him kept changing to show the scenes. How the young and impressionable Tom Riddle first entered Hogwarts and wasn't quite aware of the long and measuring looks of his housemates after sorting, of the discussions on blood purity. His life was certainly not sunshine and roses then. He still remembered how hard it was to get chicken blood out of his belongings, before he realised he could ask for a house elf's help. Even then, certain stains would still be removed faster through the use of some highly specific charms than house elf magic.
Like skrewt ichor. Like bubotuber pus.
Speaking of his repertoire of household charms, after a few months in Hogwarts, he could probably give a homemaker witch from the 1800s a run for her money. He'd bet Slytherin's whole fortune that he could write a book and make a career out of it—and wasn't that pertinent ever since the dark lord thing didn't work out very well, did it?
And since when had he picked up a sarcastic internal voice?
All the fools in Slytherin made life such a hassle around then, wasn't it? And for all the strays Dumbledore always picks up, he would never have turned his back from you if he'd known.
He seethed. I don't need his help—
A chuckle broke his thoughts, but he noticed it wasn't even aimed at him this time. I was a worn sound and he liked it less than when it was confrontative. Even the Minister of Magic wouldn't mind selling half his soul for an alliance with Dumbledore. What does your rejection of even the consideration of that power say about that sad orphan's ego of yours when you were but an ickle firstie?
Dumbledore's rejection had stung hadn't it?
He leaned forward and massaged his temples as he could feel a headache brewing already. Was there a way to strangle a facet of your personality? Maybe some dark mind arts he could use towards that? Perhaps lock it deeply in his subconscious and throw away the key? Because he didn't mind throwing himself at studying for several years if there was, even if it meant being stuck to living in a library and not seeing the light of day in the interim. He was beginning not to care too much about how the voice does have a point, and more concerned about just how annoyed he was at it.
When Internal Critic spoke again, there was an unmistakable wistfulness to it.
You would've had him eating from the palm of your hands if he thought he was successful at 'converting' you towards the light. He would've forgiven your mistakes easier, made his own excuses for your lapses.
Impossible, Tom snapped. Deep inside he knew exactly why he was angry—because he didn't want to acknowledge that the possibility exist. It didn't sit well with him to think that he might've unknowingly squandered a good opportunity; that he failed to see such a great opportunity and thus failed at impressing someone so important.
You do remember how he never gave up on Snape, right? Now imagine what he would do for us, who could certainly be a thousand times more agreeable than Snape—if we worked on it.
It was worse this time, since the voice wasn't even angry or sarcastic. It was too calm. And was that a touch of pity that he heard? He sunk his face into his hands, determined to just not think. He didn't want to argue anymore; he didn't even want to think. It was just… It couldn't be true.
Come on, look up. Let me show you something.
It was the same scene in Dumbledore's office with a young Tom Riddle putting forward his best smile and polite behaviour. For all the lack of sound from the picture, he could hear the noises clearly in his head and a few other things besides. He could recall the whistle of Dumbledore's kettle, the tinkling of teaspoons mixing sugar in along the subtle scent of the baked goods offered. Now that he could look at the scene from the outside, he could see the wary edge of Tom-the-student's movements. It wasn't a surprise—of course he was nervous, he rarely felt as threatened as when he was in Dumbledore's presence.
This time, though, he could see the young Tom looking away when Dumbledore asked him whether he had any problem, the grip on his teacup tightening momentarily before loosening again, as he turned back to the professor with the same smile he had before.
Do you know what spells are best for removing blood from clothing, Professor? Young Tom asked. I would have run out of uniforms to wear if the house elfs don't keep any spare. My clothes are… a mess.
The boy gave a rueful grin.
His Internal Critic shook his head, and he could feel surprise emanating from it. This is… wait, this wasn't what I wanted to show you. This is a different path, but never mind that. Let's just see it until it ends.
He could see the moment Dumbledore's expression changed from calm sunny seas to mast-breaking gales, gigantic capsizing waves and drenching stormclouds. Tom would swear that he could feel the backwash of magic on his skin right there, the goosebump raising tingles of the air before the storm, and he had to steel himself to not budge. The younger Tom Riddle backed away into his couch in fear, and Dumbledore's expression smoothed out momentarily into a rueful smile.
I'm sorry Tom. I didn't mean to unleash my anger at you. I was… thinking of other students just now. Would you excuse me for a moment? I just remembered a conversation I need to have with the other professors. Feel free to stay here for as long as you like. My door will always be open to you, at any time of the day.
Tom blinked, radiating honest confusion. Dumbledore lowered his gaze as well as his cup on the table. The transfiguration professor's shoulders were slumped, and it was odd to see this young Dumbledore looking so defeated for some reason. His voice was softer.
For what it's worth, Tom… I'm sorry. I should've seen this earlier.
Tom's eyes widened in surprise; both Tom, on both sides of the picture frame. Before the boy could register the words, nor make heads or tails out of it, Dumbledore swept out of the room.
The older Tom, waiting in an inexplicable station for a train that will not arrive for him, stared at the scene in disbelief.
It… didn't happen that way.
It did and it didn't, the voice that was so annoyingly like his own said. Tom had to fight down the urge to try to strangle it again (at first he considered Crucio, but since it was himself, he didn't think he'd like to feel the pain along with it either).
These are all the threads of fate open to us. It's not just about the choices you've chosen, it's also about the ones you didn't choose.
Tom frowned and stared hard at the painting. So this is a better choice?
The young Tom Riddle stuck alone in Dumbledore's office was confused. After a while, the boy seems to have figured that he could certainly do his homework better there than in the Slytherin common room, and he certainly didn't have to share space like he sometimes have to in the library. Thus it was a completely sound decision for him to work on his homework there. The fact that Dumbledore had left a lot of pastries and finger foods on the table was just icing on the cake.
The older Tom still couldn't get his mind out of how bizarre the scene was to him.
Yet after getting used to it for a while, it was puzzling to note how mundane and normal-looking it was as well. There was a mental shrug in his head.
Is this choice better? Truthfully, I don't know. It depends on how you define better.
Could you be a bit more vague? He didn't bother toning down the sarcasm in it. Maybe throw one or two prophecies along with that?
It's not as if we don't speak like this to other people, his other voice said a tad defensively. In this one, you mentioned blood instead of just booby-trapped dorms. Dumbledore went postal because of it and thought of the worst of things that could've happened. He probably ripped Slughorn a new one for his lack of oversight. Don't worry about earning enmity from your head of house from that, though; he's pretty easy to appease. He forgave you soon enough once you showed that you were heads and shoulders above the rest in potions. On the other hand, Dumbledore never stopped caring about you and insisted from then on that you should never fear in telling the truth to him, any truth, no matter how painful. He learned to listen and you learned to speak to someone. You found that you enjoyed being able to just walk into at least one professor's quarters without exception, even if you kept it a secret from everyone else to prevent jealousy and accusations of favouritism. Even Slughorn doesn't know.
It was strange to see how casual the Tom Riddle in the screen in front of him calmly walked in the direction Dumbledore's quarters on a particular Hogsmeade weekend, confident that no one had tried to follow him. He himself had no care for the frivolous activities others were interested to engage in. It was unbelievable to see how Dumbledore didn't even look up from his grading when Tom walked in. Tom went into the kitchen to make tea for both of them, launching straight into a fervent technical argument without as much as a greeting. Tom argued about the applicability of two different transfiguration theory in changing an non-living object to a living one.
As he went on, it was obvious that Tom's arguments had been precise, relentless and cutting, but for some reason it did not deter Dumbledore the least as he paused to look up. If anything, it made his eyes twinkle brighter as he started giving Tom counter-arguments on how it wasn't as big of an issue as he made it. He also pointed out calmly that there were several more recent research papers he needed to read, if he thought he could easily direct Dumbledore into either of the two extreme arguments he was positing on the issue of souls in transfigured creatures. Tom's jaws had tightened in annoyance, but he relented when he knew he was beat. There was nothing wrong with a tactical retreat, after all.
Points for effort, but I'm sure we're both quite aware that the issue is more complicated than having a soul or not having a soul… and a good morning to you, Mr. Riddle, Dumbledore said.
The younger Tom rolled his eyes, but conceded with grace as he brought the two cups of tea over to a coffee table. Dumbledore had seated himself at the sofa now, and Tom took the seat right across him.
Fine. Good morning to you too, Professor. Dumbledore smiled. The young Slytherin still seemed to be in a strangely grouchy mood as he opened his mouth again.
Why would I need to say 'good morning' to you? You know how the weather is just by a glance out of your window, Professor. I know how the weather is and I would've asked if I needed to know about it. Why do people say unnecessary things?
Tom rolled his eyes and felt like pointing out to Tom-the-boy that people had always expected irrational things from other people, himself included—it was just one of those things he needed to get used to doing in order to be able to blend in better. He also wanted to bat his younger self's head for pulling Dumbledore's attention to a part of him he didn't want people to know—the part that was unlike other people. No need to make the sheep aware they have a wolf in their midst, after all.
To his surprise, Dumbledore didn't take it as negatively as Tom expected. The old wizard considered the question for a while, and the weight of his deliberations surprised even Tom—though not his younger version. It seemed the boy had seen Dumbledore think over his questions often enough. What Dumbledore said the next moment was even more surprising to him.
That's a very good question, Tom.
Tom stared in disbelief. The younger Tom gave Dumbledore a self-satisfied smirk that he could easily read as 'See, I know I'm not being stupid. It's other people that are'.
Was he always that annoyingly smug as a kid? Yes, he thought dryly, yes I was. Dumbledore seemed to have come up with some sort of answer.
The first and foremost explanation that came to my mind is this: greetings like that, is a salute. It is an exchange of a variety of messages in a compact form. It is a statement that you're there, and ready to enter someone else's company. It is a statement of friendliness, of how you mean no harm. It is an acknowledgment of another person's company. It can be any of those reasons. It can be the combination of those and maybe a few others.
From the look on young Tom's face, it seemed that he regretted asking the question. From the unexpected length of the answer, Tom was regretting it too. Dumbledore chuckled.
In short, the principle of it is to to be friendly. I've said about how that is the basic idea behind politeness, haven't I? When you put other people at ease and lower their barriers, it is easier to communicate with them and get them to listen to you and whatever message you have.
I'll just take the answer as being polite, then, young Tom said, still shaking his head.
The scenes changed again, but he could see that the interaction between the two of them were the usual than unusual.
The voice in his head continued its narration.
After a while, the easy rapport you have with him made it obvious to others that you were Dumbledore's golden boy for some mysterious reason, and your housemates never got over their suspicion of you. It alienated almost everyone from your year because of that. Of course you didn't care much about it—what use do you have of them, anyway? You merely tried to do better with the younger Slytherins. That had varying degrees of success, depending on the strategy you ended up using and the person's personality, but let's not go into it right now. You interacted with Dumbledore so often that he gave you the spare keys to his office when you were in Fourth Year. What's more interesting is… let me see…
The scenes in front of him changed rapidly. For a moment he thought he saw the Slytherin table in the Great Hall, with a smug Tom eating calmly there and several envious looks thrown his way. A hex was cast underneath the table, but Tom seemed to be quite used to this because he deflected it with his wand-holding left hand. He managed this while still eating. The scenes changed to a teenage Tom, a prefect badge on him, staring down Reginald Malfoy in the Slytherin common room. Instinctively, he knew that Malfoy was the other Prefect contender, one that Tom had clearly bested but seemed to be in denial for some reason, unlike what he actually remembered of him. The teenaged Tom had a confident smirk, his wand within drawing range and Malfoy's frown had decidedly changed into a scowl. Everyone else held their breath.
The pictures disappeared into something else again.
Now, there was an older Tom in dress robes sharper and more expensive than he himself had ever worn, coasting on the awestruck adoration of the people around him. His charisma was almost a physical force of its own in the way he could part through crowds like Moses did the Red Sea. This Tom was running for Minister of Magic, talking to important people, lobbying them. There was him visiting Hogwarts, talking to Dumbledore with a smug smile on his face.
Castor Yaxley reached out to the younger wizarding families too late, Professor. None of them are going to consider his statements of backing their interest seriously—not for one who is too entrenched to protect the interest of the oldest families. Even if he managed to get the Malfoys, I have the Blacks, Longbottoms and Potter with me. I'm as good as elected now.
The smartly-dressed young Tom Riddle on the screen let the smooth, well-practised smile of a politician to grace his face. Dumbledore had strands of white intertwining in his auburn hair by now, and an unbelievably soft expression on his face.
I never had any doubt that you would be the Minister one day, Tom. I could think of no one better.
At the last seconds, Tom's politician smile shifted slightly into something a little more genuine. The Tom Riddle sitting in a train station unknown leaned forward from his bench, staring at it in disbelief.
The way Dumbledore didn't even react to that showed just how used he was to seeing it.
Tom ground his jaws.
This couldn't be real. Hadn't all those purebloods kept their noses high in the air to look down upon him, until he seized enough power to be Lord Voldemort and forced them to grovel on their knees in front of him? How easily they followed him here, ceding their ground to him and giving him the respect that was always his due! And hadn't Dumbledore hated him? He always had. The old coot couldn't even stop himself from watching Tom and breathing on his neck all the time because he couldn't trust Tom not to be Up to Something otherwise. He wouldn't have supported Tom—what the…
Dumbledore was congratulating Tom and pulling him into an unexpected hug.
The Tom in the scene looked almost as uncomfortable as he himself felt just watching it, but the tension eased out from his shoulders. Then Dumbledore spoke up.
I'm so proud of you, Tom.
"You. Are. Kidding me!"
He exploded. Tom stood up from the bench, anger like he had never felt coursed in his veins as he stalked away from his seat and weave his way through the current of passengers, ignoring the wizards and witches he had bumped into as easily as the muggles. The fist that was gripping his wand in one hand was turning white. He wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it wasn't that bench and that infernal frame of his life's moving pictures. He passed the grand doors of a plaza where stage coaches of various forms and sizes seem to wait. He walked up several grand flight of stairs and down them, getting on stairs that he had to climb manually as well as those that moved on their own for him, whether by apparently magic or muggle technology. He passed windows of tall glasses where steel birds of various sizes and shape waited outside—he gave them but a momentary glance of disbelief before he remembered airplanes, and moved on again. When his energy was spent, he sat on the first bench he could see.
And suddenly he was staring right back at the frames of the frozen scene of his not-life. He threw a cutting spell at it, only to have it bounce away from the painting, leaving the scene to mock him in silence. He sank his face into his hands, not wanting to know about anything at all now about this glory he could have but didn't.
It stung more than he'd expected to see a Dumbledore that believed in him, that knew that what he was doing was for the good of the wizarding world and supported him every step of the way.
His plans could have gone smoother. Much smoother.
Let me read you Hogwarts: A History, 2050 edition from the world generated by that path, the voice spoke softly in his mind, and the scenes in front of him changed rapidly in accordance with the words.
Tom Riddle-Slytherin: Hogwarts Head Boy and a brilliant transfigurations and defence against the dark arts master. He reopened Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets after it had been lost for centuries, thus proving his claim on his Hogwarts' Founder ancestry. He is the protégé of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. He was sworn into office as Minister of Magic in 1955, his proof of Slytherin ancestry providing him a significant advantage in politics. The Slytherins have accused him of being the Great Divider, for some of his close connections to those outside the house created tension in his relations to those within it. Yet ever since the rise of his stellar career, others have said that the Great Reformer is more apt a title for him. This is due to the fact that it was his unusual attitude to seek opportunities everywhere instead of just from one's own House was one that he taught to younger Slytherins, and it opened more opportunities for the house members that had learned from him. His generation thus managed to engender more trust from other houses and assisted with the thawing of inter-house relationships at Hogwarts. Several years later, he successfully led the British magical community as a cohesive front when Dark Lord Sturmweiss, Grindelwald's apprentice, rose in the continent. Great losses were suffered in the first few years of the war as no one had suspected that the older generation of Slytherins that had been disenchanted with the Minister had only gone underground instead of being vanquished and reintegrated into greater society. They hid their true alignments and opinion instead, all this time, siding with the newly rising Dark Lord, undermining the war effort from the inside—
"Enough," he commanded. It was a voice that would have minions scurrying left and right and generated instant obedience.
No choice is guaranteed to be better, the other voice said to him calmly. Even in this wizarding world, war still came to them.
Tom didn't look up at all, preferring the darkness of his mind than these futures he could not have. The words didn't make him feel better because somehow the wizarding world there still looked more solid than the one he remembered, that it had flourished better. It had been a good question, hadn't it? Why did he even think that Dumbledore must be an obstruction to power? It was because for a young Tom Riddle, Dumbledore's rejection had hurt, and Tom marked him as the enemy from then on. He hadn't even considered the myriad of paths open then.
Doubts gnawed his mind. Had his pride stopped him from trying to bridge the difference between them? Had it costed him everything?
Don't get me wrong—Dumbledore's also wrong for not even trying to trust us the slightest bit when we were in Hogwarts, the other voice in his head butted in. He had his share of faults and blame as well. On the other hand, we were a bit obnoxious as a kid and too cocksure by a half. We never managed to compromise well until about later on either, didn't we?
All this epiphanies stung, because he didn't want to consider that his failure had roots that were deceptively simple, even if not easily visible.
"Why are you showing me this?"
At this point, Tom was beyond caring if anyone considered him crazy for having conversations with himself, out loud. An internal sigh surfaced. It was one that he didn't like because it sounded exactly like how he felt. Lost. Broken.
We have a lot to learn, don't we?
"And what could we do about it, anyway?" He asked, through gritted teeth. If he hadn't figured it out before, he certainly figured it out now. He was dead. Not dead in the sense of 'he had just lost a body and hadn't located one of his horcruxes' dead, but dead dead. As in, permanently and irreversibly dead and stuck in some weird afterlife. What does the dead have, after all, but memories of their life?
There was silence—blessed, glorious, silence. It wouldn't last, even he knew about it, but Tom savoured as much of it while he could. What came up next was unexpected.
Do you know what hell is? Humour me, please.
A place of eternal torture and damnation, et cetera?
Hell is living with all the bad choices you made… as you begin to understand their consequences and how your screwed-up life up is mostly of your own making instead of other people's.
He snapped. "Oh for the love of—"
Tom never did have a habit for constantly cursing, nor the impulse to do so most of the time. Yet now, the situation certainly warranted a lot of it. He cursed in all the languages he knew, throwing several in dog-latin and latin as well. He cursed fate for choosing him to be its toy, the universe for allowing him to exist in the first place, and Dumbledore for not saying clearly what is it that he expected from Tom other than 'the right thing'—ask five people about 'the right thing' and you'd get five answers, you complicating confounding old coot! He cursed the thrice-damned fools who can claim to be his parents and he cursed their parentage and how incestuous the family tree probably had been to have generated such imbeciles when they certainly had a genius like him as their offspring. When he was done, he laid on his back on the bench, staring at the gothic arches that passed for ceiling around here. Maybe he could sleep his troubles away. Could he still sleep, anyway? He didn't know. He knew he'd try his best to sleep, though. Maybe it would allow him some form of escape from this limbo.
If it would make you feel better, his Internal Critic spoke up, this time a little more cheerful than it had been. This is actually closer to purgatory than hell.
"What's the sodding difference, anyway?" he asked loudly.
We could get out if we've learned enough.
How much is enough?
A beat passed.
There was a slight embarassment in the answer, telling him for certain that even his Inner Critic had no idea about it. He cursed fate again and closed his eyes. Maybe if he was in a better mood, he would watch the scenes again, but not now. Now, he wanted to forget as much as he was able to.
Now, he wanted to mourn the choices he didn't see back then, the roads he failed to travel on.