Author's Notes: It's difficult to face, but eventually the end had to come, and now it is here. I would like to dedicate this final chapter to everyone who has ever reviewed and supported me along the way. It's meant the world to me. I hope you enjoy the conclusion of Riddles in the Dark—Tom and I, and that your questions, whatever they may be, are answered.
Riddles in the Dark
Just as I had hoped, any illness which still remained within me was gone by the following evening. When I rose—for though I did not realize it, I had slept as late—I felt freshened and awake, alive as I had felt only on occasion. And as such, I was prepared to enter the Department of Mysteries, my hands steady and my grasp upon things firm. Yet I was to be sorely disappointed, for it was a Saturday and night had already fallen, thus my presence was not expected—or wanted, even—near the Department until the Monday morning that would soon be upon us. Soon, but still not soon enough, for I, having rested for such a great length of time, was undeniably restless.
As I swept about the room, I tugged at the corners of the blankets that had come to rest in disarray atop my bed, straightening them as best as I cared to do. There was no need for perfection when I was merely going to return to it that night. Whilst I did this, my mind wandered to Tom, as it often happened to do. The flat was once more quiet, signaling to me that I was alone. And so I wondered, not for the first time, where he was. Had he located the woman and her treasures that had once belonged to the Hogwarts founders? Or had Mr. Burke sent him away on another mysterious errand? Perhaps the two were still entwined.
I passed through the hall and into the kitchen; with a sweep of my wand, I removed the shards of the broken glass which still lay scattered upon the floor before I stepped foot inside. Out of habit, I cast a glance around the room: the habit of searching for Tom when he was not there. I did not expect to find him, of course, yet neither did I expect to find what I discovered upon the countertop very near to me.
It was a box, and it was neither small nor large in size, forged of silver that was slightly tarnished, though somehow, this imperfection did not seem to be from age. Only a silent moment passed before I realized that it had been made to match something which I already owned. I felt for the delicate chain around my neck so that I could compare the appearance of the locket to that of the box. Yet to my horror, it was no longer there.
However, I should not have worried. I lifted the lid, for I knew that was what Tom wished me to do, and gazed inside. The swoop of panic in my stomach did not entirely subside when I found the locket, nestled within, its chain wrapped around the ring of a silver skeleton key. It too seemed to match the locket, as though everything had been made in once moment and not three. But this could not be so, I noted, for if I examined them closely, all encircled within each other, I could perceive slight nuances amongst them. Perhaps these were all that lingered of the shadows of what the objects had once been.
I reached to pluck the locket from the confines of the box in order to wear it as I always had. The second it had been lifted into my hand, a low tune began to play somewhere deep inside of it, as though leaking from its core. I felt that I could not move far, and so I merely closed my eyes and raised my chin to an imaginary sky. The song was melancholy but beautiful, perhaps not even a true song, yet still one I knew. There were no words to it, but if there had been, I felt that I would have them memorized. For this song was my heart, the story of Tom and I, in some inexplicable way.
Yet suddenly, I heard a soft click and the music died into silence. I was able to move as though I was being released from a spell, slowly, for like water, the tune could only be drained from my mind. Still, I was able to continue on from what I had last been doing: disentangling the locket's chain from the key. And this did not prove a simple task; the more I worked to free the metals from one another, the more it appeared to become knotted—even though I was barely turning the chain.
Until a moment which occurred several minutes after I had begun to do this, my fingers had not come in contact with the key. The chain was incessantly twisting upon itself as though of its own accord. I did not realize this, the fact that the key was not against my flesh, and neither did I care to think of such a trifling matter. It was only when I grasped the length of metal and felt a shiver course through the entirety of my being that I realized this key was not what I had thought it to be.
I marveled at this, feeling somewhat foolish. I still had not learned to be wary of the fact that anything could occur, most especially now that I was married to Tom. For this key was anything but a normal key, at least for the time-being.
It was a Portkey, I mused as I felt a sharp tug at some point around my stomach. As it lifted me into the air, and then into something that was not quite the sky, I shut my eyes once more for fear that my head would resume its usual spinning.
Warmth flooded along my cheeks at first, though soon it was replaced by a biting sense of cold. And it was not merely a sense for long, for nigh instantly did it become a true chill. I squeezed my eyes closed as tightly as I could and brought up my hands to cover them as well; I could not distinguish whether I was merely in a wintry place or somewhere very high. Swallowing, I hoped dearly that it was not the latter case, for if it was, I was at a height I had never reached before, not even while riding Tom's Tinderblast.
Then, just as suddenly as all of this occurred, my travel ceased, and I hung suspended in the cold. My feet I could feel dangling beneath me, yet I was strangely serene. A voice seemed to fill my head, compelling me to uncover my eyes and gaze at whatever was before or below me. And so I did, calmly following the voice's commands, first dropping one hand to my side and then the other. My lashes ceased to act as veils and I saw the world around me as it was.
And it was as I feared, for above me was only an expanse of navy-black, as there was to my left and right and every direction that was not downward. For kilometers below me, it seemed, was a vast stretch of darkened landscape covered in hills, a small town—though I could not truly judge its size—alight and nestled in the very center cavity. Only one house, minute to me but larger than the others, sat perched atop a hill close to the town. Despite my location, I was not afraid, for the voice still calmed me.
When I had regarded this for several moments, I was suddenly seized around the middle by an invisible hand and hurled toward the town. I could not find a voice within me to scream, though I knew well that the Portkey's normal course of action was being taken.
I landed at the base of the front walk which led to the lone house upon the hill I had seen from above only seconds before. Behind me, down the parched, grassy slope, lay the town, though just in front of it was a graveyard. It was then that I realized I was someplace familiar. Tom had once taken me to this graveyard, and the manor house I had glimpsed through my window in the Department of Mysteries from time to time. It was in this place encompassing me that Tom's parents had once lived, though not together, or at least that was what I assumed, for still I had not been told much of their lives. It would not be expected by others that Tom should be conscious of such things, and yet I knew that he had to be. At the time, I believed that Tom alone knew everything in the world.
I glanced at the key still inside my palm then made my way to the door. There were no hints of wizarding design, only of muggle opulence. And when inside, this theme was echoed all around me within the architecture, but not the entirety of the furnishings, for a painting shifted in its frame when I passed by. The interior of the manor was dark but not shadowed; only dark in that it hinted of wealth with what it contained. I could not put this sense into comprehendible words just then. I distinguished only that it was filled with a darkness that was not macabre and did not leave me afraid.
In quietude, I slowly wandered through the many rooms and corridors, inspecting everything that now, I realized, was mine. How had Tom come to own this dwelling when it had not been left to him by his muggle father? Or perhaps, I speculated, he had inherited it simply because he wanted to do so; this seemed to be the most fitting explanation, for if there was anything that Tom desired, he could always obtain it in the end. Even me…
This thought seemed to strike a fire within my being, and it was unexplainable, for I had never entirely approved of his methods and morals. Yet what if he had done as much to secure my hand as he had his father's house? Had he wished to have me so badly that he had manipulated all obstacles away from us to pull me into oblivion? And was I touched by this? By the flames licking at my heart, stirring emotion and burning disapproval, I knew that I was.
I walked with this feeling for moments, minutes, hours—all lengths of time felt to me the same. I reached out to touch the textured paper upon the walls and I trailed my fingers along the lines of the picture frames, enraptured by the way they looked and felt.
Eventually—or soon, I still could not tell which—I reached the living room. This room was warm but not stifling, such a heat strangely comfortable for summer. A fire, not nearly large enough to match the one I could still feel, danced mutely within the fireplace against one wall, breaking its vow of silence only when the wood below it chose to rebel. And there, sitting calmly in an armchair, was Tom. His dark hair looked a soft brown in the light as he read from a book resting in his pale hands. I watched him from the doorway, suddenly reminded of how handsome he was, how attractive… to me… how fiercely these flames burned for him. I had always loved him greatly, and I could count upon one hand the number of times I had questioned his love for me. Yet at that moment, sometime within the past hour, even, it seemed as though I had just awakened from a deep sleep without dreaming. And I had opened my eyes to a place where dreams—my dreams—were real.
He looked up then, very nearly smiling when he saw me, and closed his book, not bothering to mark the page he had just read.
"Danielle," he greeted, coming to his feet. "I welcome you to your new home."
My movements were quick. I strode to him, briskly, and it was like crossing the sea in a matter of seconds. I did not allow him to release an exclamation of surprise, for I captured it with my lips as I kissed him. Needing, wanting. Forceful as I had been the day I had confessed my heart to him and did, in turn, agree to become his bride. I could feel his hands in my hair as we both began to lose ourselves. We stumbled somewhere, anywhere, and behind us, the door closed from its own instinct.
"The next morning, he was gone," I whisper. I cannot bear to say this any louder than I just have. When I glance up at Albus, I am startled to find that he is blurred; I do not know when I began to weep. I am lost in my memories as I so often have been before, but this time it is different. The memory causes my heart to feel so heavy, so full as I remember Tom's touch against mine. The way, like footprints in the sand, his kisses left imprints upon my skin, seeping deeper so that even know, the tide of the world cannot wash them away.
"In his place," I struggle to continue, "was an article clipped from the Daily Prophet, announcing that a woman, Hepzibah Smith, had been found dead. Gone was her killer, it said, as well as Slytherin's locket and Hufflepuff's cup."
I remember waking with a small smile still upon my lips, hoping to find Tom still beside me and not knowing that I would never do so again. There was no true note, merely the hastily torn article, resting upon his pillow, the bed neatly made on the corresponding side. I have been empty thereafter.
For once, Albus has no wise words to bestow upon me. The only sounds are that of my quiet sniffs as I do not attempt to wipe my tears away. Yet these are nothing, but murmurs to the piercing wails that echoed throughout the Riddle house when I realized that Tom was truly gone, or the cried I emitted when I was forced to give the final remnants of my heart away.
When at last Albus speaks, his voice is calm, though there is emotion tainting the blue of his eyes. It is not pity, but my own eyes are too oblivious to the present to know precisely what lies there.
"Your son is still safe, I trust?"
Images of my son flood into my mind. He was the last piece, the missing piece, of the puzzle I had always longed to put together. Yet the other piece was lost before this one was found, and soon it, too, had gone away from me. I have not seen my son in night as many years as he has lived, though in those years which he was there to hold, he had already grown into the mirror-image of his father.
"Tom has yet to find him," I reply. And so have I.
It was Albus who found a family suitable enough for him to meld into, but it was I who allowed them to hide him away. I feared for his safety, and for what would come to pass if Tom knew that I had borne his child. This is something that I will always regret; it is the single action amongst many others that I would change if presented the chance. For neither he nor I were ever in any danger, even if I have realized this far too belatedly. Amadeus Salazar Riddle, now Ketteridge, is no longer mine. He did not receive my love as he should have, only my owl, Rowan.
Now that there is nothing more for me to tell, the hollowness inside of me returns, stronger than ever before. I have experienced the climax of my life twice, and twice has it been lost to me in the end. I want for nothing more than to return home; my surroundings suddenly feel foreign.
Albus, ever omniscient, senses this. "I must thank you again before you leave, as I can see you are restless to do so."
I stand, slowly, my tears gone. Albus helps me to my feet and I wonder how it is that he can be so strong when he is nearly thrice my age. I nod at him, beyond words.
"Good luck, Danielle," he tells me, using my first name for the first time since my wedding. With another nod, I retreat to the Ministry's Atrium, from which I Apparate.
It is dark this eve and the air is cool when I feel myself materialize upon the ground. I do not know the hour and can scarcely remember the season. I only know that it is past dusk. I will walk the remainder of the way home, I decide. I want to experience the earth, perhaps for the very last time.
The cemetery gate is closed when I approach it, yet I do no not mind, for I do not truly desire to walk amongst the graves. From whence I stand, I can almost catch a glimpse of the headstones of Tom's parents, those of his family… I feel myself straining to see them, brushing wisps of white and grey hair from my face. I wonder if I will ever meet them, the elder Tom and Merope…
I can feel the grass and soil beneath my feet as he calls my name, softly at first, as though I have imagined it. It is not the voice that I recognize, really, yet neither is the tone completely familiar. Still, I know that it is him. I am past surprises.
"Hello, Tom," I say as I turn, my own voice surprisingly strong.
He has changed so much since the last time I have seen him outside of memories and faded photographs. So much so that if the circumstances surrounding him had been different, I would not have recognized him at all. Even so, it is not in his appearance that I find familiarity; instead, it is deeper. He still stands in the same regal way that he once did, clothed in robes so black that it is difficult to distinguish them from the omnipresent shadows. His face is white, as literally as it can be, and his eyes and nose, once attractive to me, are slits in this pale canvas, red staining his gaze.
We stand neither close together nor far apart, unmoving but for the wind that dances with our garb.
"You have told Dumbledore," he says without questioning or accusing me of this.
"Yes." My imagination begins to control my mind, and we seem to melt away into our former selves. I am Danielle and he is Tom Riddle, not Voldemort, not the people we have become.
"You once promised me that he would not pry if he knew our secret." He nearly chuckles, but the sound is different from what I am—or was—accustomed to.
We are both hollow now, I think, then say aloud, "He did not pry. And only time could tell if my promise would be kept. It was time, Tom, for me to tell someone of the life I—we—once had."
Tom does not respond to this, merely looks thoughtful for a moment. Then, "I have seen Amadeus," he tells me, and my body shudders as I gasp.
"How long have you known of him?" I demand.
"A sufficient amount of time to know that he is truly my son." He laughs, mirthless, at the look of horror now etched across my face. "He is the flesh and blood of us both," he amends. "I will not harm him, if that is what you fear."
We are closer now, though only just, ensnared in this moment like moths trapped inside a jar. Vulnerability surrounds us both: the heartless shell and the heartless killer. His eyes not leaving mine, he gently grasps my hand and brings it to his lips: a snake's kiss upon a stone for his final, parting gift. And then he lets it fall, as if everything that has happened between us will tumble away with it.
I glance over my shoulder at him only once before I set my gaze upon the manor above me, steady and determined. This is how it ends for Tom and I as we travel our separate paths: Riddles in the dark forevermore.