Spinner's End was darkest and ugliest at night, Eileen thought. The smoke from the factories blotted out the stars with an oppressive layer of smog, rendering the entire series of ramshackle buildings nothing but spectral abstracts in the moonlight. The river seemed to be nothing but a particularly disagreeable patch of mud without the benefit of light to show its true nature. The pothole-laden streets were perilous and the missing stones looked like gashes bleeding darkness in the moonlight.

Yes, Spinner's End was darkest and ugliest at night. But it wasn't much better in the day. Darkness and ugliness were constant facets of the rotting little town, which made it, ironically, perfect for Eileen. Because in the mind of Eileen Snape, "dark and ugly" were precisely the words that most people thought when looking at her. This didn't bother her, though it had in her youth. Before she'd seen how much more horrible beauty could be when you really held it to the light.

But that was something Eileen was determined, at least for now, to ignore, as she walked home from the pub to the miserable little house she now shared with her husband Tobias, himself an acquisition motivated by Eileen's newfound love for darkness and ugliness. Eileen had chosen him because she knew that hiding in the arms of a Muggle - especially one so utterly removed from any capacity for power – was the safest way to live, after Hogwarts. And because like her, he was lonely, and when he hit her, she at least could see it coming. Not like—

No.

Eileen forced the intrusive thought down and kept walking. Her trips to the pub had grown more frequent since the son she had borne with Tobias – the only person she could bear to love wholeheartedly any more – had begun making his yearly pilgrimages to Hogwarts, where he always seemed to stay even when the holidays would've allowed a return home. That is, if he wasn't sending her curt letters from the mansions of this or that pureblood friend, never containing more details than necessary in that cramped, ornery handwriting he'd developed: handwriting so like hers. Her son's distance hurt Eileen, and since Tobias drank when he was hurt, she had seen no reason not to pick up the habit now that there was no boy to live for who needed her. What was more, Muggle alcohol was cheaper and its effects were easily to dispel than the likes of Ogden's old firewhiskey, and besides, it gave Eileen a savage thrill to think how scandalized her old schoolmates would be if they knew that Eileen Prince, ostensibly a descendant of the sacred 28, was swilling it up in Muggle pubs. In fact, the thought of one schoolmate's reaction caused her particular delight.

It was in thinking of that schoolmate, in fact, that Eileen had drunk most of her way down a bottle of Scotch that night, which she was now feeling in all the most disagreeable ways as she walked home. Something acidic started to claw its way up her ribs and to her throat, and Eileen, now thoroughly versed in the meaning of such signals, paused and grabbed a lamppost while she opened her mouth and let the contents of her stomach expel themselves on the ground. Merlin, she had had too much. She would need an anti-hangover potion when she got home. There was nothing else for it.

Yet even as Eileen puked her guts out in the night, she remained a witch. Which meant she not only knew how to sense the presence of magic, but she knew the feeling of the eyes of men, even if they almost never fell on her. And as she stood up from the lamppost, she felt both eyes and magic, and turned around sharply, trying to catch a glimpse of just who the person was observing her – a powerful witch or wizard, by the feel of it. But the night was empty, except for a few Muggle toughs leering at her from under a bridge as they belted out an obscene goal chant. Eileen fingered her wand absently, seeing this, but knew better than to be truly frightened. She recognized most of the lads' faces, and knew that when they'd been drinking, they'd leer at anything vaguely woman-shaped but mean nothing by it. The eyes she'd felt just a moment ago weren't theirs. Nor, needless to say, was the magic. Both had felt infinitely different, and somehow, infinitely more threatening.

But she didn't feel either now. Maybe whoever it was had decided any self-respecting witch wouldn't be puking after drinking Muggle swill, and moved on? Surely even dark wizards must have had some sort of line where a person became too pathetic to bother with. Yes. That must be it. Someone had probably sensed her magic and thought to approach, but thought better of it when they saw the state of her. Just as Eileen wanted. Being pathetic was her best defense, not just for herself, but for Tobias and for her son Severus. She turned to begin walking back toward her home.

But as she walked, she noticed that the feeling returned. Eyes – a man's eyes – and the crackle of magic to come with it. Apparently, whoever it was hadn't decided Eileen was too boring to bother with after all. Knowing better than to invite open confrontation, Eileen let her hand stray to the artfully sewn pocket in her dress where she concealed her wand with seeming nonchalance. As she gripped the edge of it, she made sure to quicken her pace and try to give the impression of carefree joviality. If the man (and she was sure it was a man) watching her was to attack, his being surprised at her being ready might make the difference. And she was sure he would try to attack. The gaze she felt on her was both hungry and curious at once – like something was trying to figure out if she was worth eating. But worse than that, it felt horribly familiar. As if—no.

Eileen shook her head as she thought this. She was imagining things. One dark wizard's eyes probably felt the same as another. If she let herself get bogged down in thinking –- in suspecting – she might panic, and it was essential that she keep a cool head. She started tunelessly whistling, hoping it would give even more evidence of her blithe unconcern, when something happened to freeze her in her tracks and make the tune (or lack of one) die on her lips.

A tall, skeletally thin figure, shrouded head to toe in a black cloak, stepped casually out of an alley just feet from where Eileen had been walking. This was surely the attack Eileen was waiting for. With deadly, practiced ease, she seized her wand from her pocket, readying a spell as she began to sweep the wand forward in a deadly arc. But the man in front of her was so quick it was almost blinding, and ti was all Eileen could do not to scream when she heard the whisper of an incantation.

"Expelliarmus."

Eileen's wand twitched out of her hand instantly, and flew toward the man so fast her eye barely managed to catch the motion. But it wasn't the loss of her wand that made Eileen want to scream. It was the voice that had disarmed her. That high, cold, and horribly, impossibly familiar voice.

The man – the thing – was striding toward her now, with a step that radiated cruel and effortless command. A claw with long spidery fingers reached up and pulled the hood down to reveal the man's features. Then, Eileen really did scream, because the face that looked back at her was the face of the very man she had driven herself into the arms of a Muggle, and into self-imposed exile from the Wizarding World, in order to avoid. His features looked somehow blurred and warped, and clumps of his luxurious dark hair had fallen out, to say nothing of the livid, scarlet, snakelike slits that his eyes had become, but underneath the deformities, Eileen could still recognize the remnants of that handsome – that terrible – face anywhere.

"It's been a long time, Eileen," said Tom Riddle conversationally in that high, cold, cruel voice.

His voice had always been high, Eileen reflected, though not quite like this. Even at Hogwarts, she had wondered that a boy who spoke with such a noticeable treble could somehow still sound so effortlessly powerful. But if Tom Riddle's tenor had seemed incongruous with his malign grandeur to her at Hogwarts, it was nothing to how wrong the high, snakelike hiss his voice had become sounded to her now. It was all Eileen could do to keep from shaking.

"Tom. So it is you. What do you want?" she said, trying to mask the panic in her voice with bravado.

"Not in the mood to catch up after all these years, I take it," Riddle breathed. "Pity. Well, this much at least, you should know, Eileen. I am not called 'Tom' anymore. These days, people know me by my rightful name – Lord V—"

"I'm not calling you by that stupid made-up title!" Eileen hissed before she could stop herself. "It's a bad joke. I have nothing to say to you."

"Perhaps not, but I do have something to say to you. Come now, Eileen. I thought we might finally have a heart to heart. Clear the air."

"Don't flatter yourself, Tom," Eileen snapped. "You don't have a heart."

Riddle's expression curdled. "I still can't get anything past you, I see. Well, you're quite right. I don't. But tell me, Eileen, just between us, whose fault is that?"

In spite of herself, Eileen flinched. Her momentary bravery was leaking away as the sight of his fury, magnified now by what was clearly years of immersing himself in even darker magic than he'd attempted at Hogwarts. Even when she'd been most afraid of him, then, she'd never have imagined he could look or sound like this. If she hadn't already spent years hating him, the fear might have overpowered her.

"As I recall, Tom, you're the one who ended things," she said, trying to make it sound scornful, but only being able manage a half-choked whisper.

For a moment, Riddle looked stunned. Then, he started to laugh: higher, colder, and crueler than any human voice should have been able to sound.

"Forgive me, Eileen, I forgot how convincing memory charms can be."

"Memory charms?" Eileen was momentarily lost. "What memory charms?"

Riddle didn't answer. Instead, began to walk to the side, lazily, as if he were a lion circling his prey.

"You know, Eileen, I must congratulate you," he whispered. "You were very clever to hide someplace like this. I never would have thought to look here without very reliable outside help. How said that your cleverness has also been your undoing. Oh, I have no doubt that you remember me ending things, as you put it. But deep down, if you knew you had to hide from me, then some part of you must still know what you did."

"Even for you, this is an impressive ability to talk nonsense."

Riddle laughed again. "Still the same beguiling sense of humor, as well."

"You want to see something really funny, give me my wand back."

"Oh, not to worry, I will," said Riddle coolly. "My lack of a heart notwithstanding, this wouldn't be any fun if I simply overpowered you before you knew what was happening. Why, even now, your pride is still keeping you standing. Now that I've found you, I must take everything away that allows you to still stand before me – that gives you the gall to still look me in the eye."

"Well, get on with it, then, Riddle."

"Very well." Riddle's spidery hand flew outward and Eileen's wand clattered inches from her feet. "Shall we bow, or skip the formalities?"

Hardly believing her good luck, Eileen scooped her wand up and raised it in front of her, feeling her courage spike in the face of the monster before her. "You know I'm never going to bow to you."

"Without the formalities it is."

But before Riddle had even finished speaking, Eileen had acted.

"Lacero!" she cried, aiming a deadly cutting curse straight for Riddle's head. She knew better than to try to wound him. If she wanted any chance of getting out of this unscathed, killing blows were her only option.

But as the spell reached within an inch of him, Riddle turned lazily in place and vanished. Eileen stared around the street for just a moment, trying to see where he'd gone, before her strategic instincts kicked in and she realized that the last thing she should do is wait for his next move. So he wanted to apparate to dodge spells, eh? Two could play at that game. With a pop, she turned in place and appeared on a nearby roof.

Just as she expected, Riddle appeared just moments later in the street, sending a crimson jet where Eileen had been a fraction of a second before. Savagely, Eileen raised her wand and struck, though not at Riddle, but at a gas canister lying feet from him.

"Incendio!"

The gas canister exploded, and for a moment, Riddle was lost in the smoke. Eileen dared to hope that she might have won for just long enough for it to clear. That was when she saw Riddle hovering above the ground – unsupported by anything – well out of range of the explostion's blast radius. The thought made Eileen's heart freeze. Flight was supposed to be impossible. How—

"Confringo!"

Eileen barely had time to apparate away as the building under her collapsed from the blast. In fact, she almost splinched herself doing it, but just managed to keep concentration enough to appear behind Riddle intact. She raised her wand and this time, opted for a nonverbal spell. An impossibly sharp blade sprouted from her wand and arced toward Riddle, who turned over in midair and vanished long before it could make contact. Eileen cursed and tried to turn in place, btu found that she couldn't. She looked down to see vines sprouting from the street and holding her feet in place. She had just a moment to wonder how Riddle could have possibly hit her with the spell in such a short time, when—

"We are not playing hide-and-seek, Eileen. Or are you tired or our duel? Would you prefer to lay down and beg mercy now?"

Eileen screamed, and without thinking, shouted the most desperate words she could as she aimed her wand in the direction of Riddle's voice.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Eileen could not have said why she did it. She knew that the killing curse was supposed to require far more magical power, and far more practice, than she had. But she was so desperate to eliminate her pursuer that it was the only thing she could think of. She expected her wand to fizzle before the curse could work, but instead she could only watch in horror as a blast of green light illuminated the street, and the sound of rushing wings filled the air. For a long moment when the curse's effects had vanished, there was a terrible, aching silence. And then…

"Silencio!"

Eileen's mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

Eileen felt her body seize up and fall over backwards as she heard her wand clatter helplessly against the flagstones. A moment later, Riddle appeared out of the air and stood over her, his eyes full of terrible, furious exultation.

"So you want to play with unforgivable curses, do you, Eileen?" Riddle hissed. "As you wish. Crucio."

Eileen could not scream. Could not move. Could not even blink. All she could do was lay there, immobile, as waves of white-hot agony sizzled through her body, and Riddle kept staring down into her eyes with his vicious scarlet gaze. He kept up the curse for minutes upon minutes, laughing madly as he forced Eileen's prone form through endless paroxysms of anguish. Eileen couldn't think, and nor did she want to. just wanted it to end. To black out. To die. Yet somehow, even under the vicious ministrations of Riddle's wand, a totally foreign thought entered her mind.

This has happened before.

And somehow, no sooner had she thought it, than the pain was gone, or at least, no longer being spewed into her. Her body still felt as if it had been put through a furnace, but at least the curse was no longer active. And yet somehow, Riddle was looking even more triumphant than he had when he'd started.

"Right again, Eileen," he said. "This has happened before. I see the Cruciatus curse did its job well. So bloody useful to break through memory charms. Apparently, even mine."

With a shock of utter terror, Eileen realized that Riddle had been looking into her eyes not simply to feed on her agony, but for the sake of legilimency. He hadn't just been torturing her for fun. He had been using the spell surgically to make her mind remember something. But remember what?

"An excellent question. Let's see if you're ready to find out, shall we? Legilimens!"

Fifteen-year-old Eileen Prince sat miserably in the abandoned Potions classroom. Professor Slughorn had taken pity on her and allowed her to use it as a refuge from the taunts and bullying that the other Slytherins seemed to love to inflict on her. They justified it with reference to her looks, or to her obsession with the "childish" sport of Gobstones, but Eileen privately suspected that the people who tortured her simply did it because they knew it was easy to make her burst into tears. Bullying wasn't any fun if the target didn't respond. And Eileen Prince was nothing if not responsive. Both the bullies and Professor Slughorn had found that out after the first 50 times she ended up, crying, in her head of house's office, and whimpering that it just wasn't fair that nobody liked her. Slughorn didn't seem to know what to say, but as it turned out, he'd done something better. He'd kindly offered to give Eileen a spare key to the Potions classroom so that she could hide there if she ever needed a place to study or practice Gobstones unmolested. He'd even played a few games with her and when she soundly beat him, a moment of rare respect had flashed into the head of Slytherin house's eyes.

"You know, Miss Prince, you do really have a gift with those stones," Slughorn had said kindly. "Look here. One of my old favorites, Hieronymous Cantwell, runs the English National Gobstones Team. I really think he might like to meet you, if you'd be amenable to the idea."

Eileen had been too stunned to say anything, but the look of elation on her face must have been enough.

"I'll write to Hieronymous directly," Slughorn said. "In the meantime, if you should ever need a place to practice, the classroom is all yours. The stores are quite secure enough, I think, to avoid being broken into by a fifth year student."

He'd winked at her, and ever since, Eileen had spent most of her free time in the Potions classroom. Which was where she was now, playing Gobstones against herself and trying to prepare for the Slytherin Gobstones Team's upcoming match against Ravenclaw. If it hadn't been for her keen ability to scent danger, she might have too engrossed in the game to notice when a soft tenor voice whispered "Alohomora" from behind her and the door to the Potions classroom had clicked open. However, knowing that it might be a bully looking for a victim, Eileen had sprung up the instant she heard the voice, pulling out her wand and pointing it at the door with one trembling hand.

The door opened, and Eileen saw that it wasn't a bully. It was worse than a bully. It was Tom Riddle – the person who even the bullies themselves would hide in this classroom to avoid, if they could. The most feared and gifted student in Slytherin, or at Hogwarts itself, for that matter, and someone who could not possibly be coming into Eileen's sanctuary with anything but evil intentions. Or at least, so Eileen thought. She only knew Riddle by reputation, and that was enough.

However, when she looked into his cold, dark eyes, she was surprised to find that there was no malice in them. Rather, a strange sort of…interest? Was that it?

Riddle stepped lightly into the Potions classroom and shut the door behind him.

"Hello," he said in his oddly high and yet somehow authoritative voice. "Eileen Prince, isn't it?"

Eileen had no idea what to say, and she was too frightened to respond, so instead she just nodded. Riddle raised his eyebrows as he looked at her, looking as if he thought she might be simple.

"I thought so. I've been looking for you."

Why? Eileen almost blurted out. But instead, she only said, "Oh."

Riddle gave her a cold smile. "Yes. Do you know who I am, Eileen?"

Eileen nodded again. "You're Tom Riddle," she said, her voice coming out little more than a whisper.

Riddle's face twitched with irritation, and Eileen had to fight down a spike of panic. What had she done to offend him? A moment later, however, it was gone.

"I suppose Tom Riddle will do for now," he said coldly. Then, his eyes trailed down from Eileen's face to the floor and lighted on her Gobstones. His eyes narrowed.

"What are those?"

Eileen had to fight not to goggle at him. The idea of Tom Riddle deigning to so much as acknowledge her was odd enough. The idea that he'd come looking for her was nigh incomprehensible. And the fact that he'd come looking for her, only to ask her about Gobstones, made her seriously contemplate whether she was losing her mind. She couldn't keep the incredulity out of her next question.

"You…don't know?"

"Obviously not." Riddle's voice was thick with sarcasm. Eileen drew a deep breath and tried to start again.

"Um. They're Gobstones."

"Gob-what?"

"Gobstones. You know, the game?"

Riddle still looked lost. Eileen felt her eyes widen in spite of herself.

"Have…have you never played Gobstones?"

"No," said Riddle. "I have not. I don't usually have time for games."

"But…how…" Eileen was spluttering in spite of herself. "I mean, I thought every wizard child…"

"I wasn't raised among wizards," Riddle said shortly, in a tone that said very clearly that he would not tolerate any further discussion on this subject. "There are some things that I missed growing up. What sort of game is it?"

"Um…" Eileen still couldn't believe this conversation was happening. "I suppose it's…well…it's a strategy game? Sort of like chess, but…no, actually, not at all like chess."

"I'm given to understand you're very good at it," Riddle said. Eileen blushed.

"I mean, I…well, I am the captain of the Slytherin Gobstones Club, and Professor Slughorn said I might be good enough to play for England."

"So yes, you are very good at it. Which must mean you have a strategic mind."

Riddle considered Eileen, who still had no idea where this could possibly be going. Then, to her surprise, he smiled at her hungrily, though somehow not unpleasantly.

"I have something of a head for strategy myself, you know."

Eileen had no idea what to say to that, so she kept silent.

"You will teach me how to play?"

It was framed as a question, but Eileen knew from the word in his voice that it was a command. But somehow, she didn't care. The sheer absurdity of it – of Tom Riddle, the Tom Riddle, coming to find her and demanding that she teach him how to play Gobstones, which everyone else mocked as a child's game, was simply too ridiculous to take seriously. And yet, why not? If Riddle hadn't grown up with it, it made sense that he might not regard the game with the same contempt as pureblood children. So even though the mere thought of being in the same room as Tom Riddle had terrified Eileen not moments before, for the first time since Riddle had interrupted her, she found herself smiling.

"Of course I'll teach you!" she said excitedly. "I don't have anyone else to play with. The other members of the Slytherin team are too scared I'll beat them, and everyone else makes fun of me for—"

"Who?" Riddle's voice was sharp and it cut through Eileen's voice like a razor. She almost flinched.

"Um…" she said. "Who what?"

"Who makes fun of you?"

"Well, Parkinson, for one, and Mulciber, and Davis."

Riddle made a scathing noise in his throat. "When you have finished teaching me to play this game, you will tell me what she has done, and what Parkinson and Mulciber have done," he said softly. "An example will be made. I will not have associates of mine mocked. Especially talented ones."

Eileen couldn't quite believe her ears that Tom Riddle was referring to her as an associate, let alone calling her talented, but she decided not to press the issue. Instead, she just nodded meekly.

"Alright."

Riddle nodded curtly back at her, then jerked his head at the Gobstones. "Shall we begin?"

Teaching Tom Riddle to play Gobstones must have been the most surreal moment of Eileen Prince's life. To Riddle's credit, he more than equaled his reputation for brilliance, given how fast he learned the rules, to say nothing of how fast he became a more than respectable player. However, even if he was much cleverer than anyone else Eileen had played against, she found that she could still beat him soundly if she tried. At first, she deliberately went easy on him, for fear that beating Tom Riddle too soundly might make him decide to bully her, after all. But he never did. So Eileen started to play more boldly, which for some reason seemed to make Tom more satisfied, even when she beat him. When they reached their twelfth game and she finally used her full prowess at the game and her observations of how he played to utterly steamroller him, he looked at her through his faceful of foul-smelling gobstones liquid as if she were something he couldn't fully believe he was seeing. Eileen felt herself blushing under the intensity of those dark eyes.

"What?" she asked after a long moment. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Because Slughorn did not lie about your talent at this game. I must admit I have no idea how you beat me that time. It is very rare that I do not understand how something was done."

Eileen smiled shyly. "Would you like me to show you?"

"Yes."

It was a command again, but Eileen definitely didn't care. She pointed to a jet black gobstone at the back of Tom's scattered formation.

"You built a really effective wall with the rest of your stones, but you left that one undefended. All I had to do was get lucky flicking this—" she pointed to a red gobstone that she'd used to shatter Tom's formation with a practiced ricochet move, "—at it, and I knew the force would make it betray your formation and make it come apart."

Tom looked down at the two gobstones with a pensive expression. "Yes," he said slowly. "I see. A single, slight structural weakness, and you exploited it. And I lost because of it. You do have a strategic mind."

Riddle stared at the gobstones for a few more moments, deep in thought, and then stood up.

"You will be free to keep playing tomorrow night?" Again, technically a question, but really an order. But of course, Eileen was free. What else, besides homework, would she have to do? And anyway, the idea of passing up the opportunity to make a friend of Tom Riddle was suicidally foolish. Eileen nodded.

"Yes, I'll be free."

"Good. Meet me at eight o'clock in the Slytherin common room."

Eileen froze. "But…the people who make fun of me…"

"Will stop before eight o'clock tomorrow," Riddle said, and there was enough ice in his voice to almost make Eileen sorry for Parkinson, Mulciber, and Davis. "I want all of Slytherin to see us playing together. That way, they will know to leave you alone."

The legilimency spell broke for a moment, and Eileen found herself paralyzed on the ground again, staring up into Riddle's face. The dark magic inside him had obviously rendered him far too inhuman for any outward displays of emotion, but she could still sense a strange sort of indignation in his eyes, and in his voice.

"I protected you, Eileen," he whispered. "I took you into my inner circle, and I made sure all of Slytherin saw me do it. Were it not for your being just barely purely blooded, you would have been dirt on the shoes of our house if not for me. I want you to remember that, Eileen, in preparation for I will make you see. Legilimens!"

It was weeks after Eileen had first taught Tom Riddle gobstones. No one in Slytherin thought of teasing or bullying her, now. In fact, most of them seemed to be either afraid of her, envious of her, or in awe of her. Riddle spent hours each night playing Gobstones with her, apparently determined to get to the point where he could beat her consistently. He still couldn't. Which only seemed to make him more fascinated with Eileen. And by extension, the rest of Slytherin house began to wonder about her, too. And because they wondered, they began to spread rumors – rumors that got back to Eileen when Walburga Black cornered her the day before their next Hogsmeade weekend and demanded to know if she fancied Tom Riddle, or if he fancied her. Eileen had to try hard not to laugh at this. Privately, of course, she fancied Tom – every girl in Slytherin did – but when he could have anyone he wanted, why on earth would he choose the house's shy, plain, erstwhile social pariah? Somehow she didn't think Gobstones counted as foreplay.

Which was why she was utterly shocked when the Hogsmeade weekend came, and Tom Riddle had cornered her just outside the Slytherin common room one day and asked her one of his questions-that-were-really-commands.

"You are going to Hogsmeade this weekend?"

Eileen had blinked, too surprised to not answer honestly, "I…don't know," she said. "I usually stay here and read. Catch up on schoolwork."

"As do I, but I am making an exception this weekend. There is a ritual to observe."

"Ritual?" Eileen was lost.

"Yes. The ritual where a boy takes a girl to Hogsmeade as a token of…" Tom seemed to struggle for the word. "…attachment."

Eileen's heart sank. With all the girls who wanted Tom, it was surely only a matter of time until he decided to try his luck with one. But she didn't see why he'd asked if she'd be in Hogsmeade, nor why he'd cornered her alone, to tell her that. Tom Riddle wasn't the type for small talk.

"So who are you taking?" she asked, deciding she'd rather spare herself the pain of imagining al lthe possibilities.

"You, if you can tear yourself away from your schoolwork."

Eileen felt simultaneously so light and so unsteady on her feet that a feather could have knocked her over. She stared up at Riddle, open-mouthed.

"You mean…you mean, you're…you're asking me…"

"To come to Hogsmeade with me. Yes. I thought I made that quite clear."

Eileen had gone mad. There was no other explanation for it. She had lost her mind completely and started hallucinating, because there was no way Tom Riddle – Tom Riddle! – was asking her on a date.

"You mean as friends, right?" she asked cautiously. "You just want to spend time together in Hogsmeade as…friends."

"I don't have friends," Riddle said coldly. "Nor do I need them. I believe this would be what people call a date. Are you free or not?"

Eileen couldn't even begin to process what she was hearing. Tom Riddle had just asked her on a date. He'd said it himself. Either hse had gone mad, or the world had.

"I'm free, yes," she said, "and…um…"

She blushed scarlet. "Yes, Tom, I'd like to go with you."

To her surprise, Riddle smiled. The expression was full of possessive, cold satisfaction, with almost no real warmth, but to Eileen, that didn't matter. Tom Riddle had asked her on a date, and when she said yes, it had made him smile. She was so far beyond elation she almost forgot to listen to what he said next.

"Good, I understand the traditional place to go is Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop. You have no objection to that?"

Eileen shook her head, still dumbfounded at what was happening. "No. I…I do have one question, though."

Riddle's gaze took on its familiar imperiousness. "What is it?"

Eileen gazed up at him with wide eyes. "Why me? You could have anyone in Slytherin – in the school, probably. I'm not even that good looking or popular. Why me?"

Riddle rolled his eyes. "Obviously, because something is true about you that is not true of the army of those other girls."

Eileen was still lost. "Oh. Um, what's that?"

Riddle smiled that same possessive, cold smile again. "You do not bore me. Now, shall we say Friday at seven at Madam Puddifoot's?"

Guided by the spell, Eileen's mind flashed forward to the date.

If this was a date, Eileen somehow suspected it was abnormal. But then, it was a date with Tom Riddle. Normality didn't enter into the picture. She'd been half afraid she was late when she arrived at Madam Puddifoot's a full five minutes early, and saw Tom already seated at a table in the corner, looking about as uncomfortable and out of place as was possible in the twee little shop. He was wearing a set of loose-fitting black dress robes that seemed more like a cloud enveloping his body than clothing, though Eileen caught a flash of bare skin at the open neckline, which made her pulse unaccountably start racing. When Tom saw her, he stood up and beckoned her so imperiously it looked more like he was summoning a house elf than greeting a date. But Eileen didn't mind. She still hadn't gotten over the fact that somehow, impossibly, she was on a date with him.

Not, of course, that Tom treated it like a normal date after that, either. In actuality, he spent most of it quizzing her about her Gobstones strategies. If she hadn't known better, she'd have thought he was angling to replace her as Slytherin Gobstones Team Captain. But no. Tom Riddle would never have concerned himself with something so mundane. She knew him a bit better by now, and she could tell what really underlay his questions: he was trying to see how her mind worked, trying to memorize her through the medium of the only thing they'd shared. It would've almost been sweet, if there'd been more feeling to it.

Then, unexpectedly, Tom asked her a question that did feel right for a date. "So tell me, Eileen, why is one of Hogwarts' brightest witches so consumed with a game that most of her house feels is for children?"

Eileen wasn't sure whether to blush or be insulted. "I'm not sure I'm one of Hogwarts' brightest witches," she said simply.

"I am the brightest student Hogwarts has ever known." There was no arrogance in the statement. He sounded like he was reciting a fact in History of Magic. "Yet I still cannot beat you consistently. Therefore, you have power that I do not know. Which makes you one of the brightest witches at Hogwarts."

Once you accepted the logic of the pocket universe that Tom Riddle carried with him (and which revolved solely around him), the logic of it was unimpeachable. Eileen found herself grinning.

"Thanks."

"It's a fact, not a compliment. And you haven't answered my question. Why Gobstones?"

Eileen shrugged. "People are difficult," she said simply. "You never know what they might do. Or at least, I don't, because until you, I've never been able to make anyone like me. But with the stones, I know what will make them move, and what will make them stay, and how to defend against other people making them move. The stones feel safer than people, so I made myself love them instead. I know that must sound pathetic."

But Tom Riddle was not looking at her as if what she'd said was pathetic. Instead, he was looking at her with an expression that must've been the closest he could get to wonder.

"So you love objects, because people are unreliable," he said softly.

Eileen nodded, not sure how to take this. "I…suppose?"

"I knew it. You're like me."

Eileen knew that within Tom Riddle's hermetically sealed universe, this was the highest compliment he could offer. She blushed hearing him say it, but for the first time, she didn't feel like she had to look away. She just smiled at him.

"I guess I am, a little. So can I ask you a question, Tom?"

"Obviously." Riddle's voice had recovered its sardonic edge, but there was something approximating affection in it.

"Why did you come looking for me in Slughorn's classroom?"

Riddle raised his eyebrows, looking a little disappointed. "You haven't figured that out already?"

"No."

"Pity. But then, I suppose you did just say you find people too complicated. You give them far too much credit, by the way. Most people are as easy to move at your will as Gobstones are."

"Even you?"

Riddle stiffened. "No. Not me. But since we're so alike, I would have thought familiarity would've made you guess why I sought you out."

"Until you came looking for me, I only knew to be afraid of you. Until you asked me here, I was still afraid of you. How was I supposed to guess we had anything in common?"

Riddle looked pleased at the admission of her fear. "Ah. So your wisdom and ignorance interfered with your insight. Regrettable, but understandable. Well, why not? I will tell you. The reason I came looking for you, Eileen, is that I didn't know how to play Gobstones."

Eileen would have laughed if not for the way he said it. There was a subtle ache in his voice, as if he were telling her he'd been missing a limb. She hoped her next question was delicate enough.

"And…why would learning Gobstones be so important to you?"

"Because, as you observed when we first met, every wizard child learns how to play." The pain was even more noticeable when he said this. "Every wizard child. Every pureblood child. Even a pureblood from a minor family like yours. But not me. How was I supposed to be seen as a real wizard, when I lacked an experience most of them had in childhood?"

"But you're a better wizard than anyone in Slytherin!"

Riddle smiled bitterly. "By skill alone, yes. But by blood? That is more complicated. Some would say that by blood, even you are my superior."

"Well, I wouldn't say that," Eileen said automatically. The remark seemed to please him.

"I know. Otherwise you would not be here. But to finish answering your question, I did not want to merely learn to play Gobstones. If I wanted those who had been raised with magic to fully accept me, and follow me, then staying a beginner at something as basic as that would be almost as bad as never knowing the game at all. I needed to not merely learn the game, but look like I'd been playing it my whole life. Which meant I needed to learn from the best Gobstones player I had access to. So I asked around and found that you were captain of Slytherin's team, because no one could beat you. I knew then that I had to meet you, even if your name did draw sneers from many of my friends."

Eileen had trouble not laughing bitterly at Tom's explanation. To her, the idea that purebloods would reject someone who wasn't good enough at Gobstones was utterly ludicrous. They all mocked her for being too good at it. Yet for Tom, it seemed that the fact of having missed out on a formative childhood experience for most wizarding children was so disconcerting that he'd ignored this. It was the first time she realized that under Tom Riddle's icy, perfect exterior, there was real, gnawing insecurity: that somehow, despite being the self-proclaimed most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever had, Tom still felt that he had to prove to himself and others that he really was a wizard. But if that insecurity gnawed at him so much, then another question obviously presented itself.

"But if you were so worried about how the rest of Slytherin would see you…" Eileen said slowly, "…then I really don't understand why you let them see us playing together, let alone why you asked me…well, here. I'm not exactly the most popular girl in our house."

Riddle smiled ruefully. "Candidly, when we first met, I expected that to be our one and only meeting. I assumed that once I'd learned the game, I would pound even the best player in Slytherin into submission in short order. But you surprised me. You pounded me into submission, over and over again. I couldn't understand it, and I hate when I don't understand something. So I stayed close to you, trying to learn how you did it, thinking your secret would reveal itself with time. And I let the rest of our house see me do it, because as far as I was concerned, unless I coopted you, you were a potential threat. If Slytherin saw you as under my protection, that would make you my ally, which would buy me time to neutralize your ability to defeat me. But I didn't, and I still haven't. Which is why I decided to ask you here. Because I think you may be more than a threat. I think you may be an equal."

To Eileen, this was yet one more unbelievable thing Tom had said. Her, a threat? Shy, bookish, awkward Eileen Prince, an equal to Tom Riddle, the most admired and feared student in the school? No one at Hogwarts would've ever seen her that way, and yet somehow…somehow, Tom Riddle did.

But Tom was still speaking. "I wondered, you see. When I found you in that classroom, it reminded me of how I used to hide in my room before I came here. The other children I…grew up with, they…well, they didn't like me anymore than Slytherin likes you. They learned very quickly not to bully me, of course, because of what I did to the ones who tried. But they hated me. They avoided me. Just as the other Slytherins avoided you. People avoid what they fear, Eileen, so the question naturally occurred to me: what was there about you to be afraid of? I didn't understand until I played Gobstones against you."

"But they weren't avoiding me; I was avoiding them!" Eileen protested. "Slughorn let me go in that classroom out of pity. Because I kept being bullied, and crying to him in his office."

"Only because you didn't understand the power you possess, just as I didn't fully until Albus Dumbledore found me," Riddle said, waving off the comment. "You thought you were only good at a children's game, not realizing it enabled you to match wits with the most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever had, and come out on top. You didn't know you were like me: that we were both lonely children who learned to love things because people were too disappointing. You didn't know. But I do. Your time of being afraid is over, Eileen. I see your power. I want it. I want you on my side…and at my side."

And then, with a move as blinding and fierce as he'd been the few times she'd seen him duel, Tom Riddle seized Eileen by the hair and kissed her. Hard. It wasn't a loving gesture. Not at all. It was hungry, and cold, and yet there was something soft in it, though not by any means tender: a terrible, aching loneliness that made Eileen reach out and return the kiss, trying to pour her warmth into the cold, lonely void that was Tom Riddle. Without knowing how, she found herself climbing into his lap, and running her hands through his hair – unbelievably soft, and yet sleek and firm. His arms wrapped around her, and his hands trapped her against him with all the need and possessiveness of a child clutching a stuffed animal. When the kiss finally broke and Eileen opened her eyes, she saw Tom breathing raggedly as he looked up at her with that same strange expression of semi-wonder. For the first time in her life, Eileen felt beautiful – not beautiful to the world, but beautiful to him, even if it was for no reason she could understand.

Tom reached up and brushed her hair back from her face, and as he saw her blush, his face split into a triumphant smirk.

"That's settled, then," he said. "I said I wanted you, and here you are. You know what this means, don't you, Eileen?"

"You're asking me to be your girlfriend?" Eileen said impishly. But the humor in her voice died when she saw the look in Tom's eyes.

"I am not asking anything. This means you are my girlfriend. This means…I own you."

In spite of herself, Eileen felt a slight chill of fear run through her at the words. If it hadn't been for how Tom said it, she would've honestly found it creepy rather than romantic. But she somehow sensed, looking at him, that the words "I own you" were the only way he knew how to say "I love you": that ownership was the closest thing to love that this lonely boy who only loved objects could understand. Maybe he wanted her to say she owned him, too? No. This was still Tom Riddle. That would only make his pride flare. If she wanted to express the same sentiment, she'd need to think of something else. Then, it hit her. She leaned in and kissed him on the neck before whispering what she thought was "I love you, too" translated into his language.

"Yes, you own me, Tom."

All at once, Tom's hands were in her hair, and he pulled her back to look into his eyes, which were dark with something ugly and unfamiliar. Something that made them almost look red in the candlelight.

"If that's true," he said in a voice that sounded somehow colder and higher than before, "then I think from now on, you'd better stop calling me 'Tom.' Address me as 'my Lord.'"

Once more, that slight chill of fear ran through Eileen, but he was so beautiful, and she felt so beautiful, that she once more ignored it. She nodded meekly.

"Yes, my Lord," she said in a small voice. "You own me."

The feeling of the street under her, and of her body locked in place, returned as Riddle broke the Legilimens again. In spite of the inhumanity in those red, snakelike eyes, Eileen could feel the rage and betrayal in them.

"I am relieved to see you did not forget that, Eileen," he said coldly. "It will make what I have to say later so much easier to understand. But I see you still do not know why we are here. I think we had better refresh your memory a little more. Legilimens!"

As the months passed after their first date, Eileen found that being Tom Riddle's girlfriend was nothing like she expected. Tom jealously guarded his privacy and point blank refused to make the relationship public. Eileen would've been hurt by this, had it not been for her knowing Tom well enough to know that this wasn't because he was ashamed of her, but because he did not want anyone to believe he had any weaknesses. A girlfriend, in his mind, was just that: a point of leverage that could be used against him. And there was no way Tom – or Lord Voldemort, as he had begun calling himself – would tolerate anyone thinking that such a thing existed.

It still bothered Eileen a little, of course. How could it not? For one thing, it made her very insecure about how many other girlfriends Tom had had, and kept under gag order. What had he done with them? Would he expect her to do the same? Would he be disappointed if she wasn't as experienced? Would he get tired of her? Yet after seeing how slowly, and awkwardly, Tom proceeded with their relationship, Eileen began to relax about this, at least. This was new to him, too. And, in fact, the longer they stayed together, the more she realized that the word "girlfriend" wasn't even accurate for what she was to him. If it were possible to call a person a "favorite toy," that would've been what Eileen was. But saying she was Tom Riddle's favorite toy felt even more awkward than saying she was his girlfriend, so Eileen settled for not saying either.

Not, of course, that she was Tom's only toy. The fact that he wanted her with him so often meant that Eileen began to realize just how much power Tom really had in Slytherin. It wasn't just that the students who had once bullied her were afraid of him, it was that they were literally his vassals. The day after her date with Tom, Mulciber, Parkinson, and Davis had fallen on their knees before her and kissed her feet, begging for forgiveness with tears in their eyes, and pleading that they never meant to hurt a favorite of "their Lord." It was hard to ignore the way their hands shook, or the scars she glimpsed through the gaps in their robes. What on earth had Tom – had Lord Voldemort - done to them? Eileen tried to be happy that Tom had been so keen to protect her, but the sight of her bullies reduced to quivering jelly also made her frightened of what would happen to her if something ever went wrong between her and her new…boyfriend? Master? Owner? She was never sure how to think of him.

Owner was probably the most accurate, since Tom seemed to use the phrase "I own you" whenever he was particularly happy with her. When they started the fumbling process of making love, which was unbelievably clumsy at first, seeing as Eileen had been a virgin before him, it seemed that all Tom knew how to say when he came was "I own you." To Eileen, this just reinforced what she'd suspected on their first date: that it was the only way he could process the feeling of love. And so, every time, without fail, she repeated back to him: "Yes, my Lord, you own me."

Moreover, as Tom grew more comfortable in bed with her, the phrase "making love" ceased to make sense as well. Because Tom Riddle didn't know how to make love; he only knew how to fuck. And he was good – rough, demanding, and cold, but good. He knew how to mix pain and pleasure in the act with such eerie precision that more than once, Eileen wasn't sure if it was the pain of him spanking her, or the pleasure of his perfectly aimed thrusts that made her cry out in orgasm. He would use his wand sometimes, too, making inventive use of various curses to maximize the simultaneous feeling of ecstasy and agony. Sometimes, Eileen even thought she saw his lips start to form the words of the Cruciatus curse when she orgasmed, as if he were silently wishing he could combine her ultimate pleasure with his ultimate torture. He never did, but the thought of his wanting to made her fear him even more, which somehow only made her love him – and therefore let him own her – more.

Not, of course, that she only ever saw Tom at his most dominant and cold. This was his most common mode, but sometimes, the same aching loneliness and desperate need she had felt when he first kissed her would claw its way to the surface, as well. This was particularly true before holidays, or before the one summer they spent apart after Hogwarts let out. The night before the term ended, Tom didn't fuck her, but only held onto her, tightly, feeling once more like a child clinging to a stuffed animal. And when he spoke, his words had a quiver that was wholly unlike how he usually spoke.

"I own you. Remember that. I own you. I own you. I own you. Even when we're apart. You can't walk away from me."

Eileen almost thought she could hear tears in his voice. It was a side of Tom she had never seen, but only suspected. And so, she held him back, and whispered comfortingly in his ear that yes, he owned her, and she wouldn't walk away just because they were apart. Not now. Not ever.

When Tom came back after that summer, he wasn't the same. At first, Eileen thought something bad must have happened to him, because he shook sometimes, and would angrily correct her when she would call him "my Lord."

"Don't call me that," he snapped. "I'm just Tom to you. I've paid a lot to just be Tom to you."

Eileen had no idea what he meant by this, and knew better than to ask. But she did notice that sometimes, when they had sex, Tom tried to do something besides fuck. Sometimes, he just clung to her as he thrust in, moaning with pleasure and looking into her eyes with what was clearly supposed to be tenderness but just came off as wounded desperation. She realized then that Tom Riddle truly didn't know how to make love, because he didn't know how to love. He only knew how to need.

Eventually, however, the needy boy who'd returned to Hogwarts started to fade and Tom's air of cool, dominant nobility started to return, even around her. He started to fuck her again, somehow with even more ferocity than before. When he wasn't doing that, he began to grow distant, spending ever more time in the library, or traipsing around the castle in search of something he would not explain, even to Eileen. After a few weeks of this, she began to wonder if he'd grown tired of her, and simply didn't know how to say it.

But he hadn't. Because the next night, Eileen found a note waiting for her in her dorm.

"The Potions classroom. Tonight.

-V"

At first, Eileen thought this was a summons to a breakup, but when she arrived in the disused classroom, she found Tom waiting for her, an expression of sheer elation on his face. He didn't speak, but only pulled her into him and kissed her with all the pent-up sexual frustration of weeks of solitude. Eileen decided that he must have found what he'd been looking for, and returned the kiss with palpable relief. She was still his. He still wanted her. He'd called her, and no one else, here to celebrate because he wanted her. She didn't even mind when he left her unable to walk for almost an hour when they'd finished. Especially since he stayed with her, running his hands through her hair with a thoughtful, pleased expression on his face.

"I want to do something for you, Eileen," he said softly. "It will help all wizards, but I want to do it for you. I won't tell you when I do it, or how. But when I have succeeded, I hope you will be proud that I'm the one who owns you."

Eileen had reached up to cup his face with one hand and closed her eyes happily.

"I am always proud of that," she said with a faint smile.

It was the last happy moment of the year for her. Because a week later, the attacks started. Someone or something had started roaming the halls of Hogwarts and attacking students, and attacking them with terribly dark magic that left them frozen – petrified – in place. This would've been frightening enough, except that whoever or whatever it was seemed to only target muggle-borns. For Eileen, this should've been less frightening: she was a pureblood, after all, so she was theoretically safe. But all she could think of was…

"Tom, you must be more careful!" she said urgently to him one day as they lay reclined on the grass outside.

Tom looked down at her indulgently. "And why would I need to do that?"

Eileen started to blush, but she blinked it back. This was too important. "Tom, the attacks. They're targeting muggle-borns. And…well, you said you weren't raised by wizards. I'm worried that…that whatever it is…"

To her surprise, Tom started laughing in that high, cold way that made her hair stand on end.

"You think it's going to come after me?!" he asked, incredulously. "You think I'm muggle-born?"

"I don't know! You said—"

"Trust me, pet," Tom said, reaching out and lightly touching Eileen's nose with one long finger, "my blood would not interest this attacker. I am as safe as you."

"But—"

"No 'buts.' I told you I will be safe. Are you questioning Lord Voldemort?"

Eileen let her eyes fall and she shook her head. Tom kissed her lightly on the forehead.

"Good. Now, let's not say any more about it. Don't worry about me, or about yourself. I will make sure you and I are the safest students in this school. Whatever happens."

Eileen didn't understand how he could be so confident. She'd checked every book on genealogy she could find in the Hogwarts library. There wasn't any wizard family named "Riddle." Tom had to be, at best, a half-blood. And she knew Tom had read all the same books, so he must have known that as well. What could possibly make him so confident that whoever it was wouldn't target half-bloods once they'd finished with all the Muggle-borns?

Then, new rumors started that made her even more worried. People started whispering, most in accents of terror, that this had to do with the legend of the Chamber of Secrets. That Slytherin's heir had returned to Hogwarts and discovered how to enter the chamber and…unleash the horror within. To Eileen, this was ridiculous. There was only one wizard family that could claim descent from Salazar Slytherin – the Gaunts – and according to every family record she could find, the last Gaunt to pass through Hogwarts had been decades ago. Granted, it could have been a half-blood bastard, but based on what she'd read about the Gaunts, the idea of any of them bedding down with a muggle-born, or a muggle, was absolutely impossible. She tried to brush it off, even as the students in the other houses started using it as an excuse to scapegoat Slytherins, but this became harder as she spent more time around Tom's associates and found that they believed it, too. They just saw it as a badge of honor.

"The Chamber of Secrets has been opened," Abraxas Malfoy crowed one evening in the common room as they all sat together around their lord. "Enemies of the heir, beware!"

And to Eileen's bewilderment, she thought she saw Tom's eyes light up a little at the statement.

Then, finally, the worst happened. A student was found dead. Not just petrified, but really dead. For a few, agonizing days, there was talk that the school would be closed, and Eileen found herself worrying even more for Tom than for her. Hogwarts was all he had. He had even talked of wanting to teach there when he graduated. What would he do if the school closed? Could he stand to be apart from it? Or from her?

The answer to this turned out to be "no." Because almost as soon as the talk began, something truly incredible happened: the culprit was caught. And to Eileen's surprise and relief, it was not a Slytherin. Rather, it was some idiotic Gryffindor third year who had opened the chamber not out of malice, but because he wanted to make friends with the monster inside it. Some even said the great oaf was half-giant, which would explain why he'd ever bother to befriend such an obviously dark creature. He was expelled, of course, and the school finally breathed easy. But from Eileen's perspective, that wasn't the best part. No, the best part was who had stopped it – none other than her boyfriend, the enigmatic and feared Tom Riddle, who had cornered the boy with his pet monster and dueled him into submission. Eileen could barely breathe with how happy, or how proud, she was. Her boyfriend, who she had begun to worry had all the makings of a dark wizard, had turned out to be a hero. A real hero, like something out of a storybook. And she was his. She realized then that she didn't just fear and want Tom. She really did love him. If he'd asked her to marry him, she'd have said yes. He was not only the most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever had, he was one of the most good, as well. She knew then that she wanted to be owned by him forever.

But he hadn't wanted her. Just a week after the culprit had been caught, Tom had cornered her under a tree on the Hogwarts grounds and told her coldly that she was no longer any use to him. She'd cried, and pleaded, and begged him to tell her what she'd done wrong, and told him he owned her, but it hadn't been any good. He'd left, as suddenly and inexplicably as he'd come. And Eileen's heart had been—

"No. Crucio."

The Legilimency spell gave way to agony and Eileen felt tears run from her frozen eyes as the curse washed over her. This time, it was mercifully brief. Riddle jerked his wand back after only a few seconds and gave her a furious look.

"Try again, Eileen. Remember better. Legilimens!"

Eileen was standing outside Hogwarts, walking toward the tree, where Tom stood waiting for her. An impossibly cold expression was on his face, and she wondered how he could look at her like that, or what she'd done wrong. She walked hesitantly toward him, and stepped in a patch of mist as she—

Wait. Mist? Eileen looked down and saw that the grass underneath her was gone. Only a strange white mist lay under her feet. When he looked up at Tom again, she almost screamed in the memory. His head was gone, and only more swirling mist remained where it was. From within the mist, a voice spoke, echoing as if from far away.

"I no longer have any use for you, Eileen. You are free. I don't own you anymore."

"Almost there. You see, Eileen? I told you memory charms could be convincing."

As Eileen felt herself return from the memory, she realized that it wasn't really anything of the kind. Tom hadn't left her. Her memory had been modified to make her think he had. But why-?

"What a good question. Let's see if we can get you the rest of the way to finding out. Perhaps another little dose of pain?"

No, Eileen tried to shout, but her mouth was still locked by the full body bind. No, please!

"Crucio!"

She almost blacked out from the hateful pain spewing into her. It was a miracle her head didn't split open. And this time, Riddle didn't hesitate or speak when he drew her out of it. Instead, he simply threw her back into her memories. And this time, finally, she remembered.

She walked toward Tom, standing under the tree outside Hogwarts. He turned to see her coming, and an expression not of cold contempt, but of ecstatic pleasure passed over his face.

"Eileen," he said, reaching out and running one hand through her hair as she reached him. "My dear Eileen. The time has come for me to show you something. To tell you something."

Eileen stepped close to him and placed her head against his chest. "Yes, Tom," she whispered. "Yes, anything you want to tell me, I'm here. You own me, and I…I love you, Tom. Tell me."

She could hear the smile in Tom's voice as he clasped her to him. "Follow me."

He released her and began to walk back toward Hogwarts. Dutifully, she followed in his wake as they mounted the castle steps and then made their way through the winding halls of the school. She didn't recognize anything particularly special about where Tom was going, and found herself feeling confused about what he could have to show her. When he unexpectedly took a left into a girls' toilet, Eileen began to ponder the possibility that all the excitement had induced temporary insanity in her boyfriend.

She had cause to think this again when Tom stopped in front of one of the taps and, suddenly, began making a strange spluttering, spitting noise that made her think for a moment, in terror, that he must be having a seizure. However, whatever terror that prospect caused her was swiftly eclipsed when the tap began to open up into a gigantic pipe that slid down into darkness. Tom didn't seem remotely intimidated, but instead simply seated himself at the edge of the tap as if he were going to slide down it. Eileen hoped her next words sounded gentle.

"Tom…what are you doing?"

Tom turned around and looked at her with wry satisfaction.

"I know how it looks, Eileen, but you'll have to trust me. What I have to show you is down there."

He stood up, and motioned toward the pipe. "Ladies first. Slide down it. Don't worry, it's safe. I've made sure."

Made sure? Did that mean he'd been down there before? Was that how he caught the student responsible for the attacks, by using the pipes? It was clever enough for him, but Eileen didn't particularly feel like sliding into a sewer. It seemed extremely unhygienic, for one.

"What if someone flushes?" she asked in a small voice.

Tom had apparently not expected this question, because he stared at her in shock for a few seconds before bursting out laughing.

"You think this goes to a sewer?"

"It's a bathroom tap!"

"When you put it that way, I suppose I see the confusion." Tom grinned at her, and there was that unsettling flash of red in his eyes. "This does not lead to a sewer, Eileen. The other pipes don't connect to it. You can rely on that."

Eileen still didn't like the idea of sliding down into the darkness with no clear way back up.

"Won't we get stuck?"

"No," Tom said calmly. "A simple clinging charm should make your feet able to stick to the pipe on the way back up. It's easy to get out."

Eileen nodded. She knew a clinging charm. There wasn't any way they'd get stuck. And Tom swore to her that it didn't lead to a sewer. In fact, it occurred to her suddenly that Tom had first met her hiding in Slughorn's potions classroom. Maybe he had a hiding place like that of his own, and wanted to show her? It seemed the most logical explanation. She gave him a timid smile and seated herself on the pipe, which looked surprisingly clean despite leading to a tap. Then, with a slight push, she slid down.

The darkness closed in around her for a long minute before she found herself being dumped out someplace cold, dark, and enclosed. She made sure to get out of the way of the pipe, reasoning that Tom would be coming after her. She wasn't a moment too soon. A moment later, she heard the sound of flesh colliding with stone, and then his voice rasped out "Lumos." Only then did she see what her surroundings were like.

The walls of the room were not simple rock. Rather, they were sculpted to look like giant snakes. All at once, a horrible feeling started to settle in Eileen's stomach. The symbol of Slytherin house was a snake. If the Chamber of Secrets was real, then…no. No. That couldn't be. Maybe this was where Tom had caught the culprit, and he was showing her? Letting her see the Chamber of Secrets in all its glory so someone would know where it was? Tom was walking briskly past her, looking more alive and relaxed than he ever had, and she could only follow, praying that what she feared was wrong.

They reached a giant door also lined with stone snakes, and Tom began spitting and hissing again. The door slid open, and Eileen suddenly had a flash of something she'd learned in Care of Magical Creatures during the unit on Ashwinders: snakes had a language of their own, called Parseltongue. And some wizards were born with the ability to speak it. Salazar Slytherin himself had been one.

Tom stepped through the door and beckoned Eileen after him. Now feeling all the warmth and love that she'd felt for him start to congeal into mistrust, Eileen only barely forced herself to follow, and when the door shut behind her, and she truly saw the room in front of her, she gasped.

Giant stone snakes sprouted from every wall, except the one at the back, where a giant sculpture of a monkeyish looking wizard towered over them. Tom approached this, and somehow, Eileen still followed, even as part of her began to dread what all this meant. When Tom reached the base of the sculpture, he turned to look at Eileen with a manic, dangerous smile on his face, and pointed at her face.

"Close your eyes, Eileen."

"But—"

"Now. I don't want you dying on me."

Eileen shut her eyes, suddenly terrified by what was to come. She heard Tom turn around, and then she heard yet more hissing and spitting from him. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, there was the sound of stone shifting. Then it wasn't just stone. Something else was shifting, too. Something soft, and slimy, and so terribly, monstrously big was sliding toward her. She heard a low, terrible hissing noise, that could not possibly have come from Tom, and then more of the same sounds from him. She wanted to turn and run, but somehow knew that if she tried, she would be in more danger than she could imagine.

Then she knew she couldn't run. Because all around her, a wall of scaly flesh had suddenly formed, and something long, and wet, and slimy was probing her. She realized with horror that it was a gigantic tongue and began to shiver in abject terror. Then, Tom spoke to her in English, his voice sounding impossibly calm, even happy.

"She likes you."

She?! Eileen had no idea what to say. Every part of her body was screaming in terror. All that could come out of her mouth was a single, desperate squeak of a word.

"What…what…"

"Of course, you can't see her. Looking in her eyes would kill you. Even looking at her in a mirror would petrify you. But you can feel her, I assume. Well, Eileen, I think it's time you met my only real family. This is Patricia. She's a basilisk, named for St Patrick, the enemy of her first master's family. I suppose he thought it would be funny to name the thing meant to kill people like St. Patrick after him."

St. Patrick? But that would make this thing ancient. Older than the school. And that meant…

"Who…who was her first master?" Eileen asked, her eyes still tightly shut.

"Salazar Slytherin," Tom said, and she could hear a horrible note of pride in his voice. "My ancestor."

NO! Everything in Eileen, from her heart, to her brain, to her very soul, screamed the word. In spite of herself, she started to cry, feeling the tears leak out from her closed eyes. When Tom spoke, his voice somehow managed to sound concerned.

"Eileen? What's wrong?"

"No!" Eileen whimpered. "It's not t-t-true! It c-c-can't be! You're half-blood, at best. And the last heir of Salazar Slytherin came through Hogwarts decades ago. It c-c-c-can't be y-y-y-you, it just c-c-c-can't! OH MERLIN, GET THIS THING AWAY FROM ME!"

There was a pregnant pause, and she could feel Tom's displeasure radiating off him. He hissed and spat a few more times, and she felt the basilisk's coils withdraw as it slunk back wherever it had come from. When the sound of it moving had ceased, she heard Tom's voice again.

"Open your eyes."

Eileen did, feeling tears flooding from them and obscuring her vision. Tom was barely more than a blob, she cried so hard as she looked at him. When he spoke, his voice was soft and full of pain.

"My mother's name was Merope Gaunt. I found out about her last summer. She was the daughter of Marvolo Gaunt, my grandfather. But it seems Merope had different ideas about blood purity than my grandfather, because she fell in love with a rich muggle who lived in town. A fool who cursed me with his name. Tom Riddle. Her family thought she was a squib, but Merope somehow proved them wrong and made a love potion to snare him. When she stopped giving it to him, he left her, pregnant, and alone. She died giving birth to me."

The sound of Tom's voice was so pitiful, so agonized that if he hadn't just introduced her to Slytherin's monster, right in the middle of the Chamber of Secrets, Eileen would have run to him and hugged him right there. But she couldn't now that she knew…knew…

"You killed that girl," she said in a flat voice. "And you petrified all the others. You and that…thing. That's why you knew it wouldn't attack you. Because you were the one doing the attacking."

She had managed to pull herself together now that she could make out Tom's face. He looked more shocked than angry, as if he couldn't understand her reaction enough to be angry.

"I did," he said simply.

Eileen sobbed. "Why?!"

Tom's eyes narrowed. "You don't know?"

"No, I don't know!" Eileen wailed. "I don't know, and I don't understand! I loved you! I knew you were dangerous, but I'd never thought you were a murderer! Did they attack you? Was it a mistake? Please Tom, tell me it was all a mistake!"

"The only mistake," Tom said, his voice cold with rage, "was letting those things into Hogwarts into the first place. And as to why I did it…I did it for you, Eileen."

Eileen collapsed on the floor and began sobbing so loudly that if they weren't so far underground, she was sure the entire school would have heard them.

"No! No, you didn't do this for me! You couldn't! I never wanted this! I don't want this, Tom!"

"How can you not understand?" There was more than rage in his voice now. There was hurt, too. "Eileen, how did we first meet? When you were cowering in a classroom. Because people too stupid, too weak, too worthless to lick your boots were persecuting you. Just as I had to hide in my room when I was raised among the beings that shat out the worthless filth that I and my pet disposed of. Just as wizards everywhere cower behind walls, and in secret places, for fear of frightening beings who should be on their knees before us, worshipping us as Gods! Gods, Eileen, and there are none more Godlike than you and I. You are my equal. You're like me. I own you. How can you not understand?!"

Eileen looked up at him, then, and for the first time, she really saw him. She had loved this man, this…thing in front of her. She had thought he was a hero. But now she knew better. Even if she loved him, Tom Riddle could not love her back. He could not love at all. He could only own, only need, only destroy. There was nothing underneath that cold, beautiful mask for Eileen to love, and as for the thought of him owning her…without thinking, she pulled out her wand and brandished at him weakly, backing away.

"Stay away!" she cried, sounding more pitiful than threatening. "Stay away from me. Murderer! Monster!"

The shock in Tom's face gave way for just a moment to true hurt. For just a moment. Then, his eyes flashed red, and nothing but pure rage crossed his features.

"Put down your wand, Eileen. This is an order from your lord."

"You're not my lord anymore!" Eileen shouted. "You don't own me anymore. You don't get to have me anymore. I never want to see you again. I hope you rot in Azkaban. You fucking monster!"

"Don't make me hurt you." His voice was as high and cold as she'd ever heard it. "I am better with a wand than you, Eileen. Don't make me prove it."

It was true, which made it the point of no return. Eileen knew that she had only one option if she wanted to get away from the killer before her. She would have to use the element of surprise. With as much care as she'd ever done anything, she slowly angled her wand downward. For a moment, Tom relaxed, and Eileen pounced. She brought the wand up and screamed out her one chance.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

But even surprised, Tom Riddle was too quick for her. He batted the spell away as if he were swatting a fly, and suddenly, Eileen found herself running. Running, and screaming, and praying that someone above would hear her.

"HELP!" she screamed. "HELP! HE'S GOT ME! THE HEIR OF SLYTHERIN'S GOT ME! YOU DIDN'T CATCH HIM! HE'S DOWN HERE! HEEEEEEEEL—"

"Silencio," said the high, cold voice behind her. Eileen clutched at her throat and realized it was moving but not making a sound.

"Petrificus Totalus."

The spell came too fast for Eileen to react, and the next thing she knew, she had keeled over backwards, unable to move. Tom Riddle stepped around her, the red in his eyes now impossible to miss, and pointed his wand down at her with an expression of such terrible, wounded fury that for a moment, she almost thought she saw the boy she'd believed he was inside it. But that boy was hurting, and hurting because of her. And now he would punish her for it.

"Thank you for your final lesson, Eileen," Lord Voldemort said calmly. "It will be most useful to my strategies in future to know that even an equal cannot be trusted. Cannot be…owned. But if you think I will allow you to steal what's mine that easily, you are gravely mistaken. I did all this for you – for you - and you threw it back in my face. Now, you'll get a taste of how that feels."

He leaned into her and pressed his red eyes into hers until they were all she could see.

"Crucio."

He had kept her under the curse for so long, her entire world seemed to become nothing but agony. Then, while she was still under the effects of the Full Body Bind curse, he had taken her one final time, more savagely, and more brutally than he had ever done before, in the full knowledge that it was unwanted. In spite of everything, Eileen's body betrayed her one final time under his touch, and this time, when he felt her clench, he did put her under the Cruciatus curse, as a final reminder that he still owned her, and could dispose of her as he wished. When he'd spent himself, he stood up, and pointed his wand at her still frozen body, the hurt and rage now replaced only by cold contempt in his scarlet eyes.

"Stupefy."

When Eileen awoke, she remembered none of it. All she remembered was that Tom Riddle had broken up with her.

The Legilimens spell broke one final time, and Eileen stared up at Riddle, the full weight of the memory crashing through her like a lightning bolt. He was right. He hadn't left her. She had left him, when she realized what he was. To protect his secret, and perhaps out of some lingering affection for her, he had made her remember something much easier – something that would let her hate him, but not break her the way the truth could. And now that he had found her, fully transformed into the monster he had always had the potential to become, he had forced her to remember it in full, because he no longer had anything to fear from her. And he had proved it.

Lord Voldemort was gazing at her with undisguised hatred. "Some part of you must have remembered that," he said softly, "if you went to all this trouble to hide from me. I am relieved you remember it. Had I not feared for myself, I would have never let you forget."

He stood back and reflected over her still helpless body. Then, he waved his wand with contemptuous ease. "Finite."

Eileen gasped and rolled over onto her side, crying as the pain both psychological and physical assaulted her now free body. She stared up at Voldemort, matching his look with hatred of her own.

"Monster," she spat. "Monster. Murderer. Rapist."

Voldemort laughed. "Rape is a word for theft. I owned you, Eileen. I cannot steal what I own."

Eileen spat at his feet. He didn't react, except to keep talking.

"You know, I was going to give you something that day, Eileen. Something far more precious than a bad memory."

"I wouldn't want anything of yours," Eileen snarled.

"Obviously." Voldemort's voice was cold. "However, before I realized you were just as foolish and soft and weak as the rest of Hogwarts, I did still plan to give you something."

He reached into his cloak and pulled out a beaten old book. "This was my diary at Hogwarts. I say it was, because now it is something much more precious. When I killed that worthless Mudblood in the girls' bathroom – purely by accident, by the way – I put a piece of my soul in this diary. I had planned to give that piece of my soul to you. So that after being owned by me for so long, you could finally own part of me, yourself."

There was no humanity in his voice as he said it, but Eileen could tell that if Tom Riddle had still been capable of emotion, the words would've rung with hurt. It almost fleetingly made her feel guilty.

"However," Voldemort continued, "since you raise the subject of theft, that brings us nicely to why I am here. Because I owned you, Eileen. You said so yourself, on multiple occasions. And yet you tried to run from me. That makes you the thief. What do you think Lord Voldemort does to thieves?"

Eileen laughed bitterly. "If you expect me to beg for my life—"

"I already owned your life, from the moment you accepted my advances," Voldemort said smoothly. "Taking what I already have would be no justice at all. No, Eileen, you stole from me, and I am a great believer in returning evil with evil. You stole from me, and now I am stealing from you."

Eileen felt fear start to creep back into her consciousness. "What do you mean?"

Voldemort laughed. "You know, you still haven't asked how I found you," he said conversationally. "You never were very good at asking when you didn't understand something. But why not? I will tell you anyway. I made the acquaintance of your son, Severus, last night at Malfoy Manor. A gifted boy, with a keen strategic mind, just like his mother. A boy who does not bore me. Just as you did not bore me."

Hearing this, it elt as if an icy razor were slicing every one of Eileen's nerves. "You can't take Severus!" she cried.

"And how do you propose to stop me?"

"I don't have to!" Eileen said, and she laughed madly as she thought it. "Because I out-thought you again, Tom! I know what you look for in followers. Better than anyone. You only recruit purebloods. Well, I made sure my son was a half-blood, just in case you tried something like this. So whether he bores you or not, he's still not pure. What will your followers say to that?!"

The red in Voldemort's eyes seemed to lessen for a moment, and Eileen thought she saw a flash of brown when he spoke next.

"They will say nothing, if they know what's good for them. Yes, I normally only accept purebloods. But having met Severus, I am persuaded I should make an exception. After all…" It was unmistakable. There was still something brown in those livid scarlet eyes. "Severus should have been my son. I will not punish him for your mistakes. Knowing I am punishing you by taking back what should be mine – and what you prize as much as I prized you - is enough."

As Eileen looked up into the familiar face, a strange and alien thought came over her. Tom Riddle could not love. Only destroy. Only own. Only…need. Somehow, despite everything, that was what she read in the inhuman eyes staring down at her: need. Somehow, despite decades apart, something had still lurked in him – something human, and wounded, that had gone on needing her, even after he'd decided to hate her and hurt her more terribly than any woman should be hurt. And even now, even when he was telling her he was going to take the son she loved and mold that boy into a twisted version of himself, that need was still there. It was as if she were sitting across from him in the Slytherin common room, playing Gobstones again, and he had just shown her the crack in his formation. The crack was love, and need, and the fact that this man had felt abandoned so many times, that he was now too afraid to even try to understand it. For a long moment, Eileen Prince stared into the eyes of Lord Voldemort and silently, in spite of herself, mourned for Tom Riddle, because she somehow knew that it was only his continued presence in this man that kept her alive. If only she hadn't realized what he was becoming until it was too late…

"I'm sorry, Tom," she said, meaning it. "I failed you."

Voldemort stepped back, repulsed by the use of his old name. "Yes, Eileen," he said through red eyes. "You did. But I will not fail Severus, even if you have. You may count on that."

He raised his wand. "Stupefy."

When Eileen woke up, and found herself lying on the pavement, at first she had to fight to remember what had happened. It was hazy and hard to recollect, mostly (she reasoned) because she must have hit her head. Then, slowly, she remembered. She had been attacked by the Muggles she'd seen walking back from the pub. They'd started harassing her, and when she'd tried to tell them off, they'd knocked her to the ground and knocked her out, and then run to avoid the problems. Eileen knew she ought to summon the constable, but somehow, the idea felt pointless. A drunk woman wouldn't be a credible witness to anything, and the street, to all appearances was deserted. Really, she had no one to blame but herself, and from what she could tell, none of them had done anything worse than manhandle her. She vaguely felt a rush of panic over something, but her memories gave her no reason for it. It was probably just leftover adrenaline from what had happened. In fact, maybe she ought to take this as a sign that she shouldn't be out drinking at the pub with Muggles anyway, let alone this late.

After all, Spinner's End was darkest and ugliest at night.