To Define Treachery
Chapter I / Murderers in Half-Darkness
by en extase
The shimmering letters rearranged themselves into the name Harry hated above all others.
I AM LORD VOLDEMORT.
"You see?" Riddle whispered." It was a name I was already using at Hogwarts, known only to my most intimate friends, of course. You think I was going to use my filthy Muggle father's name forever? I, in whose veins flows the blood of Salazar Slytherin himself, through my mother's side? I, keep the name of a foul, common Muggle, who abandoned me even before I was born, just because he found out his wife was a witch?"
Perhaps it was not so surprising, Harry reasoned. The Dark Lord's legend was so steeped in bloodshed and fear that one lost sight of how he had once been a student in these same halls. Just like everyone else. Before the wizarding world feared to utter his name, he had been young and craving power - but had not found it yet.
And now he knew.
Tom Marvolo Riddle.
"No, Harry. I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!"
There was a short lull as Harry mustered his courage.
"You're not," Harry said quietly, raising his chin.
"Not what?" snapped Riddle.
"Not the greatest sorcerer in the world," Harry repeated, this time with greater conviction. "Sorry disappoint you, but the greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore. Everyone says so. Even when you were strong, you didn't dare try and take over at Hogwarts. Dumbledore saw through you when you were at school and he still frightens you now, wherever you're hiding these days."
The smile had gone from Riddle's face, to be replaced by a very ugly look.
"Dumbledore's been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me!" he hissed.
Harry held his tongue.
"No. You don't know what you're saying," Tom said with conviction. "You think too much in the present – you don't realize how merciful I've been."
The words sounded ridiculous to Harry.
"That's your idea of mercy?" he accused, gesturing at Ginny's unmoving form.
"You need to be reminded," Tom continued, his tone lighter now.
Harry came to the realization that Tom's happiness was more terrifying than his anger.
"Don't touch her."
"I've eluded him at every turn, striking at the students of his hallowed institution with impunity."
Tom's ire vanished, replaced by a terrifying certainty.
"It is by my mercy, and mine alone, that your mudblood friend is still alive."
If that basilisk had lingered a little longer before retreating…
Harry's stomach lurched fearfully at the implications.
The basilisk could easily have slaughtered each of its victims before withdrawing. A slight prick of its venomous teeth might suffice, or it could have simply swallowed them whole. He shut his eyes at the mental image of children helplessly sliding down the beast's gullet.
"How do you think your revered headmaster felt, knowing each petrification could have been a death at my whim?"
Riddle's gleeful voice was rising.
"I had killed one of his students before, after all. It must have eaten at him, searching the castle for hours yet finding nothing, despite being its headmaster for generations. Hogwarts," he declared, "never belonged to him."
The parting words Dumbledore had spoken to Minister Fudge returned to him.
"You will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."
They had seemed cryptic when he first heard it. Full of hidden reassurance, as if Dumbledore could offer a way out even when all the doors were sealed.
Now he saw that they were utterly empty of meaning.
Voldemort had never forced a confrontation with Dumbledore – but he hadn't needed to. Not when he could drive Dumbledore from his seat of power without even once coming face to face.
"So you see, I'm not the senseless, remorseless killer you believe you me to be. I end lives for a purpose. The only death this year will be dear Ginevra's."
"What do you mean?" Harry said, alarmed.
"She's given much – but not quite enough. Her life diminishes, so that I may become tangible. There's not much left to take now."
"She dies, and you get your body back," Harry said slowly, a terrible understanding dawning on him.
This was the dirty secret. The hero could not save the day.
"I don't mean to imply she will be the only death this evening. Leaving you alive, however harmless you are," Riddle said apologetically, "would invite no end of trouble. But perhaps I speak too hastily... Perhaps Dumbledore has a miracle hidden up his sleeve?"
Stricken by fear, Harry watched Riddle stride away from him and stop between the high pillars and look up into the stone face of Slytherin, high above him in the half-darkness. Riddle opened his mouth wide and hissed, but Harry understood what he was saying…
A mass of shadows concealed the basilisk as it coiled around the serpentine columns, slowly encircling him. Serrated teeth glinted dimly in the reflection of the eternal torchlight.
An icy sensation began spreading throughout Harry's body, stealing every last vestige of warmth.
He fought desperately to master the fear numbing his limbs.
You survived him once when you were still in the cradle, he thought fiercely.
He shut his eyes and slowly backward, gambling his life in a reckless throw of the dice.
Harry stumbled backward. His footsteps splashed through the shallow puddles of stagnant water.
His back met the contoured surface of a pillar. It steadied him, and he exhaled.
"That's it? You're going to kill me without knowing the secret behind your first defeat?" he called loudly.
A momentary pause followed.
The silence birthed misery. It festered within him, making his muscles quiver in the throes of wrenching hyper-tension. Unlike in his encounter in front of the Mirror of Erised with Voldemort's spirit, his life wasn't the only one at risk and he'd never coped with the ridiculous magnitude of that responsibility before. He despised this feeling more than anything, knowing that his fate was at the mercy of Tom's whim.
"What?" Riddle finally asked, tone deathly quiet.
Harry leveraged every word carefully. He needed clarity of mind now more than ever.
Precision, suggestion, temptation - these three were all necessary.
"The Killing Curse has never failed in its history, not once since its invention. Not until you cast it against me. I'm sure you wondered why."
Riddle stayed expressionless, until the beginnings of a dark smile formed on his mouth.
"I certainly did. My only question is, how would you know?"
"Dumbledore told me," Harry shot back.
"Speak. Leave nothing out."
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. He slowly closed it, and waited for something to leap off his tongue. He blinked several times in succession, eyelashes fluttering rapidly. He wiped away the beads of sweat on his forehead. He was drawing a blank. He felt like he was in Snape's classroom, stumped by what a bezoar was. Why couldn't he come up with something?
Riddle began chuckling.
"You don't know."
He visibly relaxed, and his chuckles faded quietly into silence.
'I never would have dreamed… I take my words back," he decided. "You have potential. You... you cling to survival. Fear, doubt, self-preservation at all cost- these are your imperatives when it comes down to it. But you have the cunning to master yourself... For a short while, at any rate."
He gestured to the basilisk awaiting his orders.
"No doubt you would have grown into a fine foe."
Tom stepped away, and regarded him with cold, clinical eyes.
"What?" Harry croaked, not trusting him to say anything more as the basilisk slithered towards him.
"Rise up to the occasion, little hero," Riddle said simply, climbing atop the statue's pedestal and plopping himself down. He cocked his head to the side and let it rest on his hand as he swung his legs over the edge, watching the proceedings with open curiosity.
Ripples traveled through the puddles of sewage water as the basilisk closed the distance. Its mouth unhinged and stretched until it could probably swallow him and an entire class of students. Its neck rose, and its shadow eclipsed Harry, dwarfing him like an insect.
It moved with impossible speed, far exceeding what Harry expected from a creature of its massive bulk. But Harry reacted on instinct, breaking into a diagonal run and throwing himself out of the way of its first lunge and arriving behind its head with perfect timing. Its hissed in surprise, and its breath fouled the air with a rotting stench. In its lifetime, and since awakening from its slumber, few prey had retained the presence of mind to flee or fight back.
He could already sense it moving, its immense body sliding forward. He gritted his teeth and took a running leap, trying to hurl himself straight over it. He landed on just high enough on its bulk that he could fling himself over, and tumbled to the ground. The shock of the hard landing forced the breath from his lungs, winding him.
By the time he regained his bearings and made to move, it was over. He was pinned to the ground in mid-stride. The basilisk began dragging his form back and forth. His robes whipped around him wildly and he gasped for breath as his face was pressed into the slimy floor.
"That will do," Riddle's voice rang out.
The monster rose, but there was a sharp snapping sound as the fang it had skewered Harry with was broken off. It hissed horribly as it reeled back, and its forked tongue caressed the cracked molar.
At first, there was the shock of the blunt trauma of a fang piercing through his back and puncturing through his front.
Then, molten pain erupted in him.
It was from the flesh parted by the fang and radiated outward with frightening speed, overloading his senses. He lay there, spasming helplessly and unable to make a sound. Insensate with pain, he was reduced to weeping silently.
He lost track of how long he laid there, brought to the brink of oblivion by the venom agent. He stirred, and subconsciously reached out with a hand to claw his way forward, alternating arms sluggishly.
Riddle watched quietly as Harry dragged himself to the prone form of the girl who he'd risked so much and come so far to save, only to fall so tragically short.
"You sick monster!" Harry screamed hoarsely, his voice muffled by the floor. His vision blurred, paroxysms of pain wracking his frail body. His legs were locked up and tremors shook his arms.
Hatred welled up in him uncontrollably for this cruel teenage boy who was putting him through this torture. He seized upon it. His strength was rapidly fading and hate was the only emotion he had left potent enough to fuel his last efforts. He knew his purpose, and all uncertainty dissipated. Tom had been just arrogant enough to gloat a little too long on how Ginny was still important to his plans.
He reached behind him and wrenched the fang from his back, feeling every devastating tear of internal organs and muscle and sinew. His vision flashed a searing white like a megawatt camera going off in front of his face as unimaginable havoc assailed his neural pathways, nervous system, everything. He reared back and steadied his hand as he found his grip and held it poised. With a strangled cry, he brought it down onto Ginny's unmoving chest, but not with enough force to pierce the sternum. It jarred his hand enough so that he dropped it and it rolled away from him.
You did nothing to deserve this.
Fighting to keep his concentration, he heaved himself forward into a clumsy lunge and managed to snatch the fang.
You're so young and the world's been unfair to us both...
He existed in that state of liminality between an out-of-body experience and full consciousness. But he was in full control of the killing he was committing.
... but I have to do this.
He aligned the fang in his little fist and stabbed her again, puncturing the bone of her breastplate.
I can't let him come back.
He braced himself.
A grunt escaped his lips as he brought it down one last time, carving through the delicate flesh. He let the fang clatter from his nerveless fingers and began to back away. His legs buckled though and he slipped onto Ginny's dying body. She was absolutely still, inert despite the mortal wound he'd delivered. Blood seeped through the hole he'd torn through her chest. He sputtered as it drenched him, horrified. He tried to right himself, and caught a glimpse of the motionless figure of his watcher through the reddened haze.
Riddle stared at him him unblinkingly under hooded eyes, his thoughts indiscernible. The only movement that betrayed him was the unconscious step backward he took at the sight of Harry's bloodshot green eyes and the desperate expression that made him seem so lost but filled with absolute resolve at the same time. Tear tracks painted his flushed cheeks, but he was no longer crying or fearful. He embodied wrath in a way no twelve year-old ever should.
He was panting.
Every word was slurred as his lungs were liquefied, falling apart like shrapnel.
He dragged himself to his knees. Dully, he registered the soft footfalls of Riddle dropping down from his perch and landing on the ground.
"I don't care that Dumbledore isn't all-powerful, because..."
And somehow, truth came to him in his fever-ridden delirium. One unalterable truth that would never, ever change.
He swayed from side to side and nearly fell, but he thrust out his arm and used it to support his weight, ignoring the protestations of his burning muscles. Footsteps were ringing in his head, and he summoned everything he had to keep that countenance of defiance as Riddle approached him at his unrushed, measured pace.
"I am enough to destroy you!" he laughed.
A fiery wave of pain that ignited every nerve fibre, cutting him short. The coppery taste of blood flooded his mouth as his teeth nearly severed the tip of his tongue. He clutched at his torn stomach and slumped down to the cold floor, dragged down by the exhaustion. He felt unbearably small and feeble. His thoughts became brittle and the heaviest darkness he had ever known enveloped him, dimming the image of Riddle's hesitant face looming over him.
A/N: This story has been completely rewritten from its original incarnation. It stood at 6 chapters and 24,000 words prior to 2011.