To Define Treachery
Chapter III / A Time for Old Friends
by en extase
The death of me? You believe yourself capable of such a deed? the diary questioned.
I already proved it, in case you've forgotten, he wrote.
Ah, you refer to the All Hallow's Eve when I was banished from the corporeal realm... But that was not death, young Harry.
And no one shall come as close as you did ever again... I will live forever.
People are always in such a rush, Albus Dumbledore thought, deep in his midday ruminations.
Men stayed in the world so fleetingly, their passage through womb to tomb gone in the blink of an eye. Albus preferred to take his time.
He watched the statues of great wizards and witches that populated the arboretum. Rows and rows of them - all famed statesmen, leaders who had subdued dark creatures preying on humanity, theoreticians and pioneers of magical arts that they taught their pupils, who would in turn teach their own students until their knowledge spread to all corners of the word.
They were each a testament to the truth that all paid their dues to Father Time before they were confronted with Death, and gone meekly into the after.
He knew a handful of these bygone figures intimately, had known what their faces looked like when smiling or grimacing, remembered the little idiosyncrasies and foibles they revealed when they were distracted, and dearly missed the fire in their eyes when they would discourse over their academic findings. It seemed that there were fewer and fewer kindred spirits in the world as the days went by.
Many more had lived in far earlier epochs of wizardkind, far before his time, like Andros the Invincible who alone could conjure a Patronus the size of a giant, or the diviner Mopsus, whose every prophecy was lucid and came true, or Falco Aesalon, who unlocked the secret of the Animagus when he took the form of a falcon. He would meet the statues' imperious gazes, peer into those unseeing onyx eyes and wonder what they had been like in life.
Breathing in deep, he luxuriated in the enervating scent of hawthorn. He found this sanctuary the most perfect place in all the world for deep noon-day thought and dwellings of an aging and brilliant mind. He absentmindedly swished his hand through the gentle currents of the fountain he was sitting beside. Water sylphs wrestled and playfully darted through his fingertips, their shimmering forms lending the cool waters an otherworldly glow.
But it was time to leave his sanctuary.
The aura of serenity was lost, swept away by winds of another tragedy - the death of Ginevra Weasley coinciding with the disappearance of Harry Potter. He glanced around at the groves of elder, and their drooping boughs seemed defeated. The encroaching groundmist seeping through their roots seemed a shade sinister, hiding creeping things he could not abide.
A brilliant flash of fire signalled Fawkes' arrival, the phoenix settling down on the shoulder of Dorcas Wellbeloved's statue. Fawkes cocked its head sideways, looking at him inquisitively.
Albus greeted his friend's arrival with an almost unnoticeable gesture that sent a jet of water at the bird. Fawkes squawked and instantly shot away from his perch, flying over to the statue of Grendelin the Woeful, further away from his horrible master.
"Just keeping you on your toes," he informed the indignant phoenix with the utmost seriousness. He betrayed not a hint that it was a gesture of good humor as he pushed himself to his feet.
"Well," he said, rising and extending his arm for Fawkes to take hold, "let us be off."
Fawkes waited for a moment, then huffed and reluctantly flew over to him and settled on his arm. He nipped his ear halfheartedly to convey his annoyance.
Albus bade farwell to history's giants and allowed himself to be whisked away.
To Hogwarts I return.
The knife stayed with him.
He had kept it, and slowly managed to straighten the blade out. The humble butter-knife seemed woefully inadequate to the task of threatening someone who would become the most feared Dark wizard of his time, and he found himself wishing for a better alternative.
Riddle slept somewhere else, so he couldn't try stabbing him to death when he wasn't awake. He contemplated trying to lunge and get him through something soft and vulnerable, like the eyes, but the thought horrified him and he was afraid of messing up. Surely Tom wouldn't allow a second opportunity if he missed.
There was a clock in the landing connecting this storey to the one below it, in the middle of the stairway. He hadn't taken notice of it before. It was a dignified-looking longcase clock. He pictured the pendulum inside, swinging back and forth endlessly. It was purposeless in the worst way, for time had no meaning for him, under these circumstances.
He was feeling weaker than in past days. He had lost his energy from writing in the diary and losing pieces of himself to its sorcerous properties. The pall of Ginny stood tall in his mind, and he felt sickened to know that he was edging closer to her fate. Tom had taken so much from Ginny that he needed little from Harry, but it made him feel violated, subjected to something deeply, fundamentally wrong. It was a nauseating fear that ate away at him like a cancer, haunting his dreams. What did it feel like to wake up as another person?
He idly carved designs into the wall with the knife, scraping off peels of paint. The memory of drawing crude pictures in the dirt with sticks at Summerlake park in Surrey had lost none of its clarity. There had been a good stretch of time when he was six or seven, when Dudley was too young to really bully him too ferociously, that he'd been bold enough to play at the park. He had even played with some of the other children his age, and the parents hadn't been poisoned against him by the Dursleys. Then Dudley had grown, and that time passed, and the other children would whisper bad things about him instead of playing with him.
"Found a way to entertain yourself?" Riddle asked. He was leaning against the section of the wall separating the two halves of the flight of stairs. The stairs from the floor Harry was trapped on ran down in one direction, while the stairs from the lower floor ran up toward the landing in the other direction. He craned his neck around the corner to where Harry was standing, and peered at the illustrations of eight-legged creatures marring the wall.
"I never liked those things either," he remarked.
The acromantulae were still a vivid, nightmarish image in Harry's mind.
"I've always wanted to deface walls, for some reason," Harry said, saying the words without thinking.
"A good way to entertain oneself, I suppose."
Harry looked down, suddenly wearied of the exchange. "It gives me something to do."
Riddle made an mmhmm noise of agreement. "Now that I've found you, I think it's high time we had a little heart-to-heart."
"A chat, Harry," Riddle said encouragingly. "Surely you must have some questions you'd like to ask me."
Harry made no motion to move over, so Tom plopped himself down on second-to-last step of the stairwell's upper flight. They sat in silence, watching the clock on the wall. A dim half-light shined from the corridor and framed Tom's figure, casting his shadow hazily on the wall. Harry considered standing up and walking down the rest of the stairs. He'd wind up at the opposite end of the hallway and march straight to his room and sulk there for the rest of the day.
Precisely a minute had passed before Harry finally caved in to his curiosity.
"Okay, fine. What're your plans?" he questioned. "Why did you take me away from Hogwarts?"
"Well, Harry, I don't have the foggiest idea," Riddle said cheerfully. "But that's a good question. My turn."
That set him off. He gave a strangled, despairing yell and smashed his fist against the wall separating them viciously enough to numb his entire hand. He seized the banister and pulled himself up, fully intending to storm down the rest of the stairs and ignore the bastard.
"Wait," Riddle stated. He made no effort to move from his seat.
Harry's foot lingered in midair as he struggled to get himself under control.
"Why would you invite me to ask a question, and then not even answer it? Go to hell," he snapped. "It's not enough, what you've done to me, isn't it? You have to make every little thing torturous!"
"I was telling you the truth," Riddle's voice came evenly. "Although I admit was toying with you. If you stay, I will give you the serious answer you deserve."
It was as much civility as he'd ever had the grace to show him.
Against his better judgment, Harry stayed.
"Okay. Whatever," he said, a caustic and bitter sarcasm slipping into his tone. "What does it matter, I'm just wasting my time here one way or the other, right?"
"Let me ask you something. What would you be doing, if I hadn't dragged you out of Hogwarts, away from your life?"
Harry briefly considered this.
"I'd be at home," he said, pointing out the obvious.
"What would you be doing there?"
"Just... things," Harry said, wavering slightly.
Undeterred by the boy's lack of reaction, Riddle continued.
"Would you be doing anything to better yourself?"
He would be doing chores, through no fault of his own.
He would be wandering around the neighborhood, or taking a stroll at the park if the weather was nice.
He would be exchanging letters with Hermione and Ron.
He would eagerly look forward to the end of summer and daydream about the adventures he would have next year.
But he wouldn't lie to himself by saying he'd be studying magic for its own sake.
"I start to think about it a little more," Riddle said, his tone contemplative and tinged with a shade of melancholy, "and it seems to me that our similarities are superficial. Initially, I thought; 'Our faces are not dissimilar. We wield brother wands. We lived without knowledge of magic for eleven years.' The Weasley girl told me about the Muggles that treat you so poorly, and who you live with in the summer. I see the fingerprints of fate about us, faint like a layer of dust, giving us no insight into why they're there. That's a thing of mine," he admitted, "I see these connections and I see meaning in them. They're irresistible to me, so I make blind decisions such as sparing you. But reason does catch up to me sooner or later."
His shadow shifted on the wall and Harry stiffened warily, the heel of his foot moving instinctively to the stair-step below.
"When I was your age, I read voraciously, plied my teachers for scraps of spellwork that lay ahead in the curriculum, beseeched the permission of the librarians to bring texts home over the summers. To me, magic was still miraculous, still perfect in my mind."
"I've seen it in many of my peers," Riddle went on, "It was as if magic had lost its novelty for these immature little fools, like the gloss or paint chipped from a toy." He shook his head, and his lip curled into a sneer. "They treat it as schoolwork, as muggles do, the means to get marks. An Acceptable, Poor, Troll, Excellent, Outstanding. And all I thought of them was - pathetic."
Harry fumed, stunned at his own speechlessness and feeling an overwhelming surge of hatred. Every time he thought he was spent emotionally, another wave would crash and resuscitate that seething loathing. The monster had made a murderer out of him and refused to stop there. He had wormed his way into his mind, finding his flaws, and made him feel guilt.
All the feelings of the happiest day of his life came rushing back. The sheer power of those memories made him shiver and his lip disbelief, yet a timid hope that the Hogwarts letter wasn't a hoax. The sleepless night at seaside, the silent, lonely countdown to his eleventh birthday and his life changing forever. The sheer joy of making his first friend.
Of learning that magic existed.
He stood there, face flushed.
"Ask me your first question again."
Harry closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. He wanted nothing more than to erase every trace of the boy on the other side of the wall from the face of the earth.
"What are you doing here, in this place?" he asked hoarsely, "Why are you keeping me prisoner?"
"I was telling you the truth. I truly don't know. My instinct told me to take you, and I listened to it for it has so rarely led me astray. As for what I'm doing here, I'm waiting for someone."
"You're waiting," Harry repeated, the skepticism clear in his voice.
"And he knows it," Riddle added, "He's definitely known I've been here for the past three days, if not longer."
"Maybe he isn't coming."
"He'll come here eventually. First of all, this is his summer home. And secondly, his curiosity gets the better of him, every single time," Tom said with a mischievous grin.
He hauled himself up.
"Well, good talking to you, as always."
Riddle clapped him on the shoulder as he passed, descending down the stairs and disappearing from sight. The gentle footfalls diminished, leaving Harry alone with the spiders carved into the wall.
His mood reflective, Harry followed Riddle down the stairs, and wound up standing at the far end of the same hall as always. The older boy was nowhere in sight, in some part of the house he couldn't reach.
He made his way to his room, mind quite blank. He passed the study, and stopped. Tom had never bothered to reseal it. He wasn't sure what compelled him to enter it again, but he didn't care and walked in.
The armoire desk and the contents scattered about its surface were unchanged; everything remained in the same place they'd been the last time he'd been in the room. There was a bookshelf in the cabinet space above the desk surface that he hadn't noticed before. It was one of the details that escape an observer under duress.
The bookshelf was stocked with texts, some of them quite thick. He leaned in close to get a good look and began to examine them. Most of them were pure drudgery by his standard - the history of Wimbledon, autobiographies of people he didn't know, a few novels with dull-sounding names - but one of them struck his fancy. It had been well-read by its owner, as evidenced by the tarnished edges of its pages, and its title read Devious Charmwork and Their Devilish Applications, Volume II.
Harry stared at it hard, then reached up and removed it from the shelf. He'd assumed that whoever lived here was a Muggle, but this suggested otherwise. He opened it and skimmed through it lightly, taking in the incantations and living illustrations and the explanations.
He couldn't stop a smile from gracing his face, dark though his mood was.
Riddle's words hurt to the extent Harry was surprised they hadn't drawn blood. But they had made him remember the majesty of magic, the thrill of his first Wingardium Leviosa.
He wouldn't forget, he swore to himself. His moment would come, and nothing would be worthier of magic than ending Riddle's life with it.
The curtain of phoenix fire parted itself, and Dumbledore found himself gazing at the towering gates of Hogwarts. They swung open of their own accord, the castle recognizing his presence and welcoming him back home loyally.
He arrived without fanfare, but so well-loved was he that it didn't take long for the student populace to catch onto his return as he made his way through the front courtyard. Students between classes called out to him, and he returned their smiles. Students waved from the overlooks and balconies and the higher landings, and one of them welcomed him with a beautiful conjuration of doves. An entire flock of them made of light of purest silver, a wonderful piece of sixth-year charmwork. He clapped in appreciation as the magical birds joined a flock of flesh-and-blood birds, accompanying them towards the treetops of the Forbidden Forest.
He did not want to attract too much attention however, and after greeting a group of Ravenclaws let Fawkes bring him to the hallway outside of his office in another flash of fire.
The gargoyle had just finished sliding back into place, and Dumbledore found himself facing a tall wizard dressed in extravagant green dress robes. He was Euan Bennett, and Dumbledore found that he simply did not have the time to deal with him.
"Albus?" he asked incredulously. "The board has not yet approved your return."
Dumbledore gave him a steady, intent look over his half-moon spectacles. Euan shifted in discomfort, unable to hold his gaze.
"I am well aware of this fact," Dumbledore said at last, simply and without further explanation. "Anything else?"
He stepped aside to let Euan past, smiling as he heard the choice words muttered the governor's breath.
He stated the password to the gargoyle and ascended the stairwell to the Headmaster's Tower. The office was filled with the delightful whirring sounds of his collection of instruments, and the astronomy models spun as they always did. Professor McGonagall was waiting for him.
"Minerva," he greeted warmly as they hugged each other, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
She stepped back from him formally, and couldn't hide a small but, alas, restrained and subdued smile. Her face was always one meant to be happy rather than severe, Dumbledore thought privately. Given the circumstances, he could understand her seriousness.
"Welcome back, Albus. I trust that Euan didn't give you any trouble?"
"None at all, my dear."
"Good. The Ministry representatives are to arrive within the hour to begin their investigations in the Chamber. Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger will be along to see you shortly, as you instructed."
"Thank you. They have every right to know what has transpired."
But no one knew what had happened in the Chamber of Secrets yet. He could only tell them that Ginny was dead and Harry's fate was unknown. He felt a heavy weight settle on his heart, and a flicker of something akin to apprehension. It was far from the first time he had been the bearer of tragic news.
It was a responsibility he had accepted time and time again, but never before for victims so young.
As it turned out, studying magic was difficult without being able to put his newfound knowledge into practice. It tempered his renewed determination in a hurry, but he didn't let the lack of a wand deflate him. He practiced the motions diligently. He worked on the suppleness of his wrist, something that he would have paid less attention to with a wand. He visualized their effects in his mind, imagined how he'd employ them to accomplish astonishing things. He memorized the incantations, and tried his best not to be bothered by the possibility that he might never get the chance to cast the spells.
But nothing could be more frustrating than not having his wand.
Harry felt this frustration acutely when he heard the unprecedented sound of knocking on the door.
The front door.
It was a muffled sound, as if coming from underwater.
He stood still, hardly daring to breathe.
Then, an equally muffled click and creaking of hinges.
Someone from below cleared his throat and muttered an incantation.
A counter-spell that neutralized the effects of spells acting on environments, Harry recalled instantly from the very first chapter of Devious Charmwork. He made the mental leaps and in the corner of his eye, he saw the misting and obfuscation of the window-panes disappear, for the first time exposing the view of evergreen treetops in the distance, swaying in the evening wind.
The sound of footsteps were clearer now, and Harry knew he had no time at all to waste due to indecision if he wanted to regain his freedom. He was all too aware of his vulnerable state. He was without his wand, so he couldn't defend himself. He had no idea if Tom was here or not, but he had to take his chances.
Gathering his courage, he rushed to the staircase, moving his feet as quietly as he could. He stole past the landing and last set of stairs to arrive at the lower floor. He blinked, staring at unfamiliar surroundings. The stairs, instead of routing him back to the damnable hallway that had trapped him, deposited him onto a landing that split to the left and right. The one to the left led to what he was fairly certain was an entry hall, but backed away at the split-second glimpse of a silhouette striding from the open doorway. Anxiety began, but he tried to keep his head clear. He didn't know enough about the person Riddle was waiting for, whether he was an enemy or friend. The wily Slytherin hadn't let a single hint slip as to their relationship. Harry had nothing he could use.
Escape was tantalizingly close, but he checked himself and moved in the other direction, through a laundry room and into a kitchenette. He searched frantically for a back door, but he spotted it too late, and making a move for it would put him into the line of sight of the armed-with-a-wand arrival. Over the counter, he could see a modest-sized living room with unlit lamps and sofas and a television set.
Tom was lounging on one of those couches, cross-legged with a notebook in his lap. He noticed Harry. He regarded him with a disapproving gaze and Harry stood there, heart sinking, and they were both motionless.
Soon, the stranger came into view, and Harry saw that he was an older gentleman, perhaps an inch taller than Riddle. Light moisture clung to his gray coat and perfectly-trimmed moustache. He reminded Harry of a portrait he'd seen of Mark Twain on the back of a Huckleberry Finn novel. A tad younger and less white-haired, but otherwise the resemblance held.
The gentleman looked between Harry and Riddle askance, and they all stared at each other, speechless and unsure of what to do. Harry thought of a dozen things he could say and none of them seemed appropriate, so ultimately said nothing.
He didn't know what to expect. Whether Tom would start a dialogue or decide to let curses fly. He hoped the other person was skilled at dueling if Tom opted for the latter option.
"Well," the gentleman began, "No precautions, hardly any defenses of any sort? I admit that I am disappointed in you, Tom."
"Why would I bother with such things?" Riddle said charmingly, easing into the conversation without missing a beat, "I trust you, after all."
"That's the impression you want to convey, certainly."
"I won't deny it," Riddle allowed, "That and the fact that you would foresee any tricks I tried to pull."
"My gift doesn't work quite that conveniently. You know this."
Realization dawned on Harry.
The man was a seer.
"Ah, see the boy's expression?" the man said to Riddle, sounding pleased. " He catches on quick, he does. Though your word choice of 'foresee' is something I would term a 'dead giveaway'."
Riddle gave a small shrug, an easy smile playing on his lips.
"I hesitate to call him bright, but he's shown the occasional sign of potential."
The gentleman gave a strikingly fake smile and strode into the living room, seating himself in an armchair facing Riddle.
"I'll do you a favor and broach the reason we're here," he said, his demeanor suddenly all business. "I don't see everything - far from it - so it boggles my mind that I'm talking to you again, looking like your younger self. And with none other than Harry Potter, plucked away from the vaunted safety of Hogwarts."
Riddle gestured for him to continue, listening intently.
"I am going to guess, from the stir about the Chamber of Secrets and Harry's presence, that it was you that unleashed Slytherin's monster and caused all of that chaos for the mudbloods of the school."
"That would be correct, yes."
"So I assume that you still swear by your old beliefs."
Riddle regarded him, a hint of coolness now in his expression and the warmth fading from his tone.
"Am I to assume that you do not?"
"I'm through with that philosophy, Tom," he said, shaking his head. "To be honest, I never wanted anything to do with it, even when we were peers. That's why I never took your mark."
Riddle looked down at his feet silently. Harry felt nervous, wondering whether a life was going to end.
Riddle rose deliberately, but the gentle man held his gaze steadily, showing no signs of being intimidated.
"You know that I came to you first," he ground out. "Not Malfoy. Not Rosier. Not Rothley. Of all of them, I came to you."
"And I am disappointing you, to my regret. Such is life."
"Life?" Riddle said disbelievingly. "I see the tax return forms on the desk in your study. I see the health care, passports, membership documents to a golfing club in Wellington. Correspondence to some family in Essex, congratulating them on their purchase of an exotic sports car. I would've assumed the inhabitant of this house to be a Muggle were it not for our history together. When did life take such a turn?"
The sides of his mouth were drawn into a thin line.
"How long has it been since you've left the wizarding world?"
Riddle's expression was morphed by a trace of sadness and an old pain, and the sight of his face seemed unforgettable to Harry.
"Many years ago," the gentleman said solemnly, "Even before you began your foolhardy revolution. And don't hate me for saying it, but you could do something similar. Disappear into the Muggle world. Or don a new identity in the wizarding one, and forget the old delusions."
"Seer's blood runs through your veins, but you are a coward," Riddle hissed.
"I don't care what you call me," he said, upturning his nose.
He should have gotten a Killing Curse to the face right then, but instead, something in that flippant, uncaring answer deflated Riddle and sapped his desire to prolong the conversation. A silent understand passed between them, and when Tom spoke again, a strange sadness overtook his voice.
"Well then," he said simply, "I can recognize a lost cause when I'm faced with one. I apologize for intruding on your hospitality. I'll take the boy and move on."
The gentleman held up a hand imperiously, staying Riddle.
"While it saddens me that my half-hearted effort to dissuade you from your ideology failed, for surely it will lead to much suffering, I am glad that I decided to pay you the courtesy of a visit in person and tell you my decision not to support you face-to-face. It is good seeing you again, Tom," he said sincerely.
He climbed to his feet, nodded to Harry, then turned his back on them on his way out. He paused when he reached the edge of the entryway.
"Albus Dumbledore learns of your existence midway through summer, despite all your efforts to keep your secrets," he said apologetically, "In the meantime, I should like to have my perfectly Muggle summer home back."
He strode away from them, and the sound of his boots on the floor ceased as the door closed shut.
Harry blinked, bewildered. Tom merely stood there, eyes fixed on the empty space where the seer had sat not long before.
"Is that it?" he finally asked, mystified. "You're not going to go after him?"
"He knows I'm not part of his future," Riddle answered, his lips pursed in a way that made him seem dangerous and... mournful at the same time. "He's already seen it."