Author's Note: This is a little one-shot that explores what might have happened in that cave with young Tom Riddle and his unlucky fellow orphans Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop. I tried to make it somewhat realistic for the time period and remembering the fact that Riddle was still a child and unaware of his own magic. So what kind of psychological trauma might those orphan kids have experienced? It was nagging at my mind and so I wrote this down.
This is set at some point during Voldemort's first rise to power, when he does a routine check on his Horcruxes and remembers the events of that day that led him to discover the seacoast cave.
Rated PG-13 for general ickiness and one instance of a swear word.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything in the Harry Potter universe; JK Rowling does.
It had lain in wait for many years. His cave, the scene of one of his earlier triumphs, a place with a pleasant memory and the scent of control. The joy of checking up on the pieces of himself made these little excursions not a chore, but a treat. And he had precious little time to himself anymore. His plans were coalescing into brilliancy; the number of his followers grew by the day; always there were orders to give, terrors to invoke, loyalties to win.
As he made his way down the steep handholds of the cliff trail, Voldemort allowed a pause in his progress. He looked up to see glittering stars in a moonless night, winking at him as though they were distant gods, approving him and in on a conspiracy of power. He smiled back at them. A stiff breeze howled against these limestone cliffs of Eastbourne, famous white cliffs and a wind that made a natural deterrent for other explorers to come into his place of soul hiding.
He had come here as a boy, on a summer day-trip with the other orphans, when he was ten years old. He remembered it with the clarity of yesterday.
'Stick together, now! All of you!' Mrs. Cole ordered. 'I can't be running off after lost children. Amy, don't chew on your hair, dear.' She cleared her throat to make her voice louder. 'Remember, you are all very fortunate to have such a fine summer's day to enjoy the country. Martha's packed your lunches…' Mrs. Cole trailed off.
Ten-year-old Tom Riddle did not pay attention to her. His eyes were on the grassy fields, bright green with life, and he thought about the soil beneath the grass, crawling with worms and bugs and dark things. He wondered if he might see a snake today; he hoped so. Ever since Will Markham had stomped on the tiny green garden snake he kept as a pet, causing it to flee, Tom had wished for a new companion.
The orphans disembarked from the train in an orderly queue, their lessons in obedience providing their minders with a quiet, manageable group of children. Tom hated being in a queue. He felt small, inconsequential, just one more runt in a crowd. Nothing special about him at all, to the eyes of the adults who watched them. Tom rebelled against the thought. He knew he was different. He was special. The other children did not understand; they feared him and said he was a little mad. Tom did not care. Better to be thought crazy than to be thought an average loathsome orphan.
The train platform was set in the middle of countryside nowhere, with only a loose-gravelled road leading away to a hamlet grouping of four or five cottages and a pub. It was the perfect locale for bunch of city orphans on a day trip. They could not possibly cause trouble in a place where there was nothing to see.
Most of the children clustered together, wandering in a herd out to a field with short, grassy stubble. They sat and made daisy chains out of the weedy flowers, they tossed a ball back and forth, they played tag, they sang songs. Tom did not bother to try to join them. Whenever he appeared in the group, a hush descended as though they had all been talking about him. The other children looked at him with wary eyes, hateful eyes. He was different, and therefore to be despised. Even the older ones, like that loud Billy Stubbs, had learnt to stay away from Tom Riddle. Do not cross Tom Riddle. Tom Riddle will make sure you suffer in return.
He wandered away from the crowd of orphans, feeling Mrs. Cole's eyes on the back of his head. She could sod off. He shuffled his feet through the thickening grass, trying to uproot the weaker blades. The ocean beckoned him, a mere hundred yards or so from the hillock upon which the orphanage party was camped. A rusty sign tilted out of the dirt, warning 'Cliffs Ahead!' in faded blue paint. Tom reached the edge, his breath stolen by the height, the violence of white waves crashing against rock. Morbidly he wondered what it would be like to jump, to feel the slap of water against his face and to sink down forever. He shuddered and took a slight step back from the cliff's edge. He was terrified of death; he never wanted to die. Death was weakness; to die was to be forgotten by the world. That will never happen to me, Tom thought in the invincible confidence of a ten-year-old. Never.
He made himself inch closer to the cliff once again. One inch, two inches, three…then he stood, toes over the edge, stalwart against the wind that raced down the cliff and threatened to take him with it. The sea was choppy today, blue-grey water topped with foamy white. Tom's gaze ran to his left, and he almost smiled. That rock looked like an old man, didn't it? There was his nose, long and pointed, and the straight slash of a brow. His mouth turned down, like a steely assessment of the weather conditions. Tom imagined him to be a pirate king, like in the stories, who had crossed some old hag who had turned him to stone. He looked further along the rocks…and paused. It was a trail, leading down in a hidden cleft. Tom was certain of it.
He stepped back from the edge. Mrs. Cole was undoubtedly sorry that the cliff had not collapsed under Tom's weight, getting rid of the orphanage 'problem child' once and for all. Walking fast along the cliff line, Tom approached the pirate king rock. He crested a small roll of a hill and stopped short. 'Fuck,' he said, enjoying the taste of the profanity. He had learned it from some Cockney workers that came to shore up the stairwell in the orphanage.
He swore because he was not alone at the trailhead. Two of his fellow orphans sat on the ground, building some inane thing of rocks and sticks. Amy Benson and…what was the other's name? Daniel? Dennis. Dennis Bishop. That was it. Tom shrugged. He would just have to deal with the company, and hope he would not get blamed if the two younger children slipped and fell and smashed their skulls open on the rocks.
Without a word, he walked past them and poked around the top of the cliff. He saw what looked like a hand-hold, and he grasped it, lowering himself down with ginger care.
'Hey! Hey, Tom? Wotcher doin?' Dennis called.
'None of your beeswax,' Tom said.
'Can I come?' Amy hopped up from her spot on the ground, brushing herself off. 'Can I?'
Tom repressed the urge to tell her to jump off the cliff. Amy Benson was far too perky and happy for an orphan. She got on Tom's nerves. 'Come if you want, I don't care. Just don't fall off.' He hoped that the lack of interest in his tone would deter the other two from following. To his bad luck, it did not.
Dennis came first, putting his small hand in the same grip that Tom had found. Tom was halfway down the cliff, totally confident now of the existence of a trail, and he went faster and faster down the slippery stone face. He did not tell the other two to be careful.
At the bottom, Tom grinned, unseen by Amy and Dennis. It was a cave! A sea cave! A definite path led along its edge, slick and dark with the surf, into the black yawn of the cave's mouth. It was an ancient place, Tom could feel it. He imagined others coming here, in hiding or in search. He saw cloaked figures with torches leading the way into a dark place, where they called upon dark powers. In his mind's eye, Tom had discovered an occult place of indescribable importance, or perhaps a cache of treasure that would make him rich, so that he might run away from the orphanage forever.
He frowned as he heard the other two children reach the flat rock behind him. If there was treasure, there was no way he would be sharing it with anyone else.
'It's just an old cave,' Dennis cried. 'We climbed all the way down here for this?'
Tom felt like smacking him. Dennis had given voice to what Tom's reason told him was probably true: it was an ordinary hollow in the cliff. Nothing special, nothing exciting. He hated Dennis for being here, for interrupting his moment of discovery. If he were alone, he might make the cave into whatever he wanted. Tom desperately wished to prove Dennis wrong. Well, he thought. I know how to make things happen. I'll make sure Dennis Bishop and Amy Benson never forget this place.
He whirled to face Amy and Dennis. 'Yah, just an old cave,' he said. 'Come on. Let's see what's inside.'
Amy hesitated, a flush working across her freckled face. 'I don't want to,' she said. 'It's dark.'
'So? You heard Dennis. It's just an old cave.'
Dennis looked like he wanted to retract his brave words. He too hesitated, grabbing onto Amy's arm. 'Nah,' he said with a falsely casual air, 'nah, it's too boring. Let's go back.'
'Let's not,' Tom said at his most charming. 'I'm the older one, and I say we go in.' He grabbed Dennis by the shoulder and squeezed, not too hard, but enough to impart that Dennis had no choice, and that Tom was strong enough to protect them or force them.
With reluctance, the other two followed Tom into the cave. It was dark, but not pitch-black, as faint rays of sunlight hit the water and filtered in. The space was small and unremarkable, but Tom could not shake the feeling of power contained here. It was as if there was more to the cave, a hidden part that only the worthy could find. 'Good thing you're both strong climbers,' Tom said to Dennis and Amy. 'Wouldn't want to fall on those rocks. It would kill you straight off. Your bones would break and your blood would flow into the ocean.' He said it with clinical calm, enjoying the fear and disgust on the children's faces.
'Why are you saying that?' Amy whispered. 'That didn't happen, did it.'
'No,' Tom said. 'But it might on the way back up. We better stay down here for awhile to recover our strength.' He did not let his inner smile find its way to his face. He knew that the tide would turn in only a few minutes, rising into the cave. Dennis and Amy would think themselves stranded, about to drown. 'Do either of you know how to swim?'
'No,' Dennis answered. 'Why?'
'No reason,' Tom said, flexing his hands. They were still raw and bruised from that time last week, when Miss Mannion, the dried-up, unsympathetic old spinster of a cleaning lady, made Tom scrub the floors. The resentment still burned in his breast. He felt that somewhere, somehow, he was not meant for menial labour. He looked down at his marred white skin and on impulse, he picked up a jagged rock from the floor of the cave.
'Let's do a blood bond,' Tom said. 'By shedding our blood, we pledge loyalty, in life and in death.' He said it knowing that in a few minutes, Amy and Dennis would think a drowning death was coming to them as the tide rolled in. He loved planting the premonition in their minds.
'What do we do for a blood bond?' Amy asked, still not scared enough.
'We cut our hands, like so,' Tom said, digging the sharp point of rock into his palm. A gash appeared, oozing thick red blood. He barely felt the pain. He handed the rock to Amy, unable to keep the eagerness out of his face; he wanted to see the rock slice through her skin.
'I don't want to,' she said for the second time. 'It'll hurt!'
'Just do it,' Tom said, willing her to press the point of stone harder into her hand. His mind concentrated on it, and Amy grimaced, and then she whimpered as the rock insinuated itself across her hand, a ragged and bleeding cut.
'You're weird,' accused Dennis. 'There's something funny about you, Tom Riddle. I've had enough. I want to go back.'
'No,' Tom hissed. He grabbed the stone from Amy and handing it to Dennis. 'It's your turn.'
'I don't –' Dennis began. His face screwed up and he looked away from Tom.
'Your turn, Dennis,' Tom repeated. Cut, cut, cut, his mind chanted.
Dennis brought the rock across his hand, and it cut.
Tom saw the tears in the boy's eyes, and it made him happy. 'There, now,' he said. 'This place is special, because it contains blood.'
'I wanna go,' Amy cried.
'Hmm,' said Tom. 'In a few minutes. Give the blood time to clot. You don't want your hand to be weak, do you? You don't want to slip and fall off the cliff, do you?'
Amy shook her head, flinging tears.
Tom looked around the cave once more. He would have to time their exit just so; otherwise the tide really would trap them. He ran his bloodied hand along the rough stone wall. If only he could name the thing he sensed… Then his eyes widened, shards of ecstatic surprise piercing into his vision. The wall of the cave glowed. He pressed the wound on his palm harder up against the rock. It outlined something, and Tom stepped away. A door.
'Ahhh…' Tom exhaled softly. He had been right! There was something here! Triumph flooded him, and he waited and watched as the glowing archway dematerialised to reveal a great beyond. 'Yesss,' he murmured. 'Look,' he said, turning to Dennis and Amy, who each held their wounded hands. They looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes. 'We're going to go inside now.'
'I'm scared,' Dennis said with a quaver.
'Me, too,' Amy added. 'Please, Tom, can't we go back now? I don't wanna go in there.' She glanced at the door, terror etched on her little face.
Tom felt wrenching contempt for the two of them. Pitiful creatures; they could not recognize greatness if it slapped them in the face. 'Fine,' he said. 'Stay here. Let the waves come up and sweep you out to sea.' He wished they would. 'I'll see you in hell,' he said, quoting a line from a wireless programme he listened to. He stepped through the door.
Dennis and Amy followed him, after all. Apparently his company was better than being alone with their bleeding hands, and their soft footsteps followed him into the real cave. Tom could scarcely contain his excitement when he saw what lay beyond the magical doorway. It was a great dome of a space, filled with a flat, glassy lake of water that pulsed greenish-white. Perhaps it was something he had heard about called 'prosperescence.' A long flat walkway hugged the round sides of the lake, and when Tom stepped along it, ripples in the water followed his progress, as though sensing his aura. The air smelled thick and damp, like dirty steam rising off a pile of laundry.
The two other children huddled together near the entrance, watching Tom with horror in their eyes. How typical that they could not handle such a fascinating place. He stopped, gazing across the water. 'What lies beneath you?' he whispered to the lake. 'What is your secret?'
The light throbbed brighter, and the surface of the water grew agitated. It was like a malevolent monster, that water: it seethed and writhed and wanted to gobble them up. Tom smiled. Whatever this was, he was not afraid of it; it felt like home.
He decided to try an experiment. He closed his eyes and visualized a great serpent, like his lost friend the green garden snake (he'd named it Gangrene). He saw the water shaping into a long, sinuous form of a snake with fangs and when he opened his eyes to behold the reality, he was flooded with delight.
The water splashed and formed into a shape of one snake, two, ten, a hundred. They hissed and thrashed. Tom made them turn in unison to slither in watery formation toward the terrified youngsters at the other end of the cave. The children screamed and cried, music to Tom's ears, the sweet notes of terror and a reminder of his total power over them. For a second he wondered if he'd wandered into his own imagination, bringing Amy and Dennis with him, for such a place as this could not be real. Yet it was, and the water (was it water?) did his bidding, and he thought he saw the faces of ghouls deep beneath the surface.
In the end, it was Amy's loud sobs of fright and Dennis's threats to tell Mrs. Cole about this place that motivated Tom to retreat. The tide was rising when they emerged, and Dennis and Amy shivered in fear and cold as the surf sprayed over them. It was a miracle they did not fall. Tom brought up the rear, too happy about his fabulous discovery to worry about the pounding ocean, snarling and reaching for him. They had been gone only an hour, judging by the sun, and when they reached the top of the trail, Tom knelt next to his two younger fellows. 'If either of you ever say a word about this,' he paused for effect, 'I'll make sure you bleed from somewhere worse than your hands. I'll make you hurt so bad you'll wish you were dead. Clear?'
The two nodded, pale and shocked. Amy wiped her runny nose with her hand. Tom looked at it; the cut still seeped blood. Tom thought up a ready excuse for Mrs. Cole. 'We were playing near the rocks,' he would say. 'Some of them were quite sharp. We turned back when it got too rough…I'm sorry. We didn't mean to get cut. Can we see the nurse, Mrs. Cole?'
Voldemort smiled to himself as he performed a cutting charm across his white hand. The door materialized, as he knew it would. When he came back here to hide his Horcrux, he'd found the cave intact and unchanged from when he was young. He'd made his own modifications, of course, but the ancient magic of the place worked for him.
Once at Hogwarts, he had made every effort to discover the origin of the cave that felt like home. There was no mention of it in the literature of ancient places, of dark magic, of the thick, dusty tomes of magical history, rotten on their shelves unread. It did not bother him as much as mysteries usually did. If there was no record of the cave in books, there was likely no record of it in anyone's memory, either. He would find a use for it.
The green liquid surface hummed in reunion as Voldemort stepped into the cave. It had never been water, he'd later learned: it was Draught of Living Death. All was quiet, calm, and well. He was safe inside his body and safe inside the locket that lived in the middle of the lake.
The enchantments were deactivated for a moment. He clutched the gold chain with its locket close to his chest and whistled a little song with his breath. Then he replaced his gold Slytherin's treasure and felt just fine.