Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: Once again, sorry for the delay. I have not read anything HP-related for a long time and it is hard to get back into the story. Anyway, here's where AC becomes DC... I mean, here's the 'King's Cross' chapter of this story and it's quite... different. I hope it's not too confusing.
Chapter 25: Alternating Self
He is floating in the dark. There is no light whatsoever, no indication of where he is or how he got here. He is vaguely aware that he should be afraid, but he feels oddly calm, as if someone is using Occlumency on him and blocking off all his troubling thoughts. He reaches for his wand and, for reasons he cannot remember, is surprised to find it in his pocket.
He casts the spell non-verbally, reluctant to break the tranquillising silence. The tip of his wand glows, revealing what appears to be a mirror before him, though its surface is dull and all he can see is the blurred outline of his face. Below the mirror is a sink with a serpent engraved on the tap. He knows at once what he has to do - though he has no idea why - and yet he finds himself hesitating. Looking up at the blurry face in the mirror again, he wonders if he really wants to see. But then, he is never one to turn away from knowledge, and the part of him that has acknowledged the need to escape already knows there is no other choice.
As soon as the word leaves his mouth, he feels himself falling. The light of his wand grows brighter and brighter until all he can see is a blinding whiteness. He shields his eyes and tries his best to steady himself, then his feet touches solid ground.
He has landed, it appears, in the middle of utter chaos. People are fleeing. The shops on the sides of the road are in flame. The lampposts are skewed, bending at odd angles with a rope hanging down each of them. Tied to the other end of the rope is a rabbit, dangling in mid-air under the extinguished light. There must be over a dozen of them, some are already dead, some are still struggling for breath. But the most peculiar is the sky. It is cloudy and grey with a jagged black crack running its length, as if someone has ripped it into two. Several thin threads remain, holding the broken halves of the sky together like poorly placed stitches in a wound that would not close.
The ground tremors with every several steps he takes, not enough to knock him off balance, but a clear indication that something is very wrong. With no other option, he continues forward, sidestepping the rubble and overturned cars and staying clear of the fire. A woman drops on her knees as he passes by. A man grabs the hand of a child and runs away. Another woman screams and ducks back into a burning house. They are running from him, he realises, but he has no intention to cause harm.
Or does he?
Part of him has registered the fact that this is a dream, and dreams are often based on memories. He is starting to remember more now, whereas everything was hazy before. He recognises the sink he just saw as the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, though this place is clearly not it. He can also tell that the dead rabbit hanging from the lamppost is the one from the orphanage, the one he killed. He remembers his childhood, his discovery of magic, his time at Hogwarts, up to the point when he opened the Chamber. What happened afterwards?
A startled cry from behind makes him turn. It is a small girl, no more than ten and in muggle clothes, edging away from him. There is a smudge of soot on her cheek; no doubt she has been running from the fire. She looks up as he walks closer, her eyes widening. Before he realises what is happening, he has lifted his wand.
The words roll off his tongue easily, almost without thought, and yet the green light makes him recoil. The girl hits the ground soundlessly, her eyes unseeing. Then he hears several pop sounds and a group of cloaked figures with white masks Apparate before him. They kneel and bow their heads.
"My lord," a few of them murmur.
The satisfaction that comes with the address clashes with confusion. Unsure of what to do, he takes a step forward. Half of them cower. The one closest to him looks up, waiting for his order.
Yes, he is their leader, isn't he?
The ground shakes again. Someone screams. The sound of an explosion comes from a distance. He looks around at the burning town again. There are bodies everywhere. Men. Women. Children. Pillars of black smoke are still rising. The houses are beyond repair. All these were done by the group gathered before him, by his order.
"That's not you."
Lucius Malfoy emerges from a side street. More people follow. Wizards. Witches. All of them are Slytherins. His students.
"Why are you here?" he hears himself asking.
"To stop you from acting like an idiot, of course," says Lucius. "Honestly, as if getting yourself bitten by a snake is not enough, you have to go and let that monster's memory wreck havoc in your mind."
"Naturally, we come to the rescue." Avery grins, clearly excited. "And don't bother telling us to leave, professor. You taught us better than that."
"Be ambitious, but not without rules, right, Tom?" Rodolphus glances at the body of the child, then back at him. "Looks like you've forgotten one of yours."
"And you're not getting rid of us until you remember it," finishes Mulciber.
That is right. He has promised not to kill, hasn't he? But the one who made that promise does not have servants. The one who made that promise is weak and is so afraid of himself that he hides inside a school for decades, willingly submitting himself to someone who will never understand the extent of his sacrifice.
"You call these 'sacrifice'?" Avery scoffs, motioning to the Death Eaters. "I'd say good riddance."
The insult brings the Death Eaters to their feet. It is hard to tell who shoots the first spell, but soon the two groups are exchanging curses. They appear to favour different styles. The Death Eaters' attacks are more aggressive and deadly, aiming to maim or kill. The unmasked versions of themselves opt to fight with their brains, piercing their opponents defences with well-placed curses. Neither side manages to gain the upper hand, but it is to be expected, isn't it? This is his dream, after all. The outcome of this battle is his to decide.
Two possibilities. Two realities. Which one is his?
This situation is supposed to be impossible. No one calls him 'professor' in the world where he became a dark lord. And in the world where he has stayed at Hogwarts to teach, he does not have any followers. But here he is, once again standing at the crossroad.
"Crossroad? Come on, professor, don't tell me you're actually considering snake-face's path."
"Get a grip, Tom. You are the one in control, not that monster."
To destroy or to protect. To rise above the others or to hide among the mundane and restrain himself at every step. To conquer death and become a monster or to accept it and save his soul.
But he has found another solution, hasn't he? There are two identical souls in this world, and as long as he stays here, he will not die. He doesn't have to be afraid of what is waiting for him after death. He doesn't have to hide his true nature. He doesn't have to keep on pretending.
"I think we all agree that raw power means nothing when you're barely human yourself."
"What's the appeal of all these destructions anyway? Building things are much more satisfying than destroying them, don't you think?"
"And we could really use a little help here, professor, if you don't mind?"
"Oh please, Crabbe, we can handle this."
"Well, Tom?" Lucius' impatient voice cuts over the incessant chatter.
The earth gives another heave. Tom's mind is screaming for him to choose, to settle on a version of himself before this dream-like world crumbles under the strain of the conflicting memories. With his students bantering around him, the choice is surprisingly easy to make and he wonders what has taken him so long.
"Admit it, professor, you need us."
His glare is useless, as always. "Go on then, take care of them."
He stands back as his students fight. It is taking a while, but the winning side is clear now. Then again, this is just a dream.
"Ah, but that doesn't make it any less real, does it?"
Tom glances sideway at Albus, who has appeared out of nowhere. "I take it this is what you were counting on when you put me in charge of Slytherin?"
The old wizard merely smiles.
"What exactly is this place anyway? What is happening?"
Albus lets out a sigh, his smile dropping. "Nagini was a Horcrux. When she bit you, you came into direct contact with the piece of soul she carried. This is the result of the merge."
"Merge," Tom repeats, not liking the sound of it at all. "I... absorbed a piece of Voldemort's soul, then?"
Albus nods. "Your soul yearns to be complete and calls out to your counterpart's Horcruxes. That's why you were able to tell when one of them was destroyed and why your scar opened when you were near one - your soul was trying to absorb the other pieces."
A sudden realisation dawns on Tom. "That's the reason I was able to sense the connections between our world and the others."
"And the reason you decided to start this project on alternate worlds in the first place." Albus smiles. "It's funny how everything comes full circle, isn't it?"
Tom is not in the mood to find anything funny, not when a piece of his counterpart's soul is inside him and he has just gained an additional set of memories.
"I don't suppose I can just reject it, can I?"
"Not unless you want to make a Horcrux, no."
"As if I can make one even if I want to," he murmurs.
At least he isn't in any danger of losing control over Voldemort's memory anymore, he thinks as he watches his students stun the last of the Death Eaters and levitate them away. Already he can feel the foreign memories settling in a distant corner of his mind.
"What now?" he asks.
"You have regained control and this place is no longer in danger of collapsing." Albus looks up at the sky, where the large crack is still present. "But as with all magic of this nature, merely wanting to be whole isn't enough."
"I have to mean it."
Albus nods, looking him in the eyes. "Remorse, Tom."
"Of course." Tom sighs. "And should I... fail? What then?" He would rather not be stuck in this place forever.
"I'm afraid I only know as much as you do, my boy. But as always, I have faith in you."
With that, Albus vanishes, along with the burning town and the body of the child. All that is left is the road Tom is on, illuminated by the faint glow of his wand. He starts forward, only to stop again when a tall stone wall rises from the ground, blocking his way. As he watches, a barred door appears. He recognises it at once; it is the door of his cell in Azkaban, the one he has spent seven years staring at. Behind the metal bars is a staircase, leading downwards to the darkness below. He takes a moment to steady himself, then pulls the door open and starts descending.