Chapter One: In The Night
She closed the final and last Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, with a snap and tossed it onto her bed, a disgusted look on her face. Not only was she frustrated with how the story had been concluded, but she also had read the entire novel in one manic night. Consequently, the lack of sleep only made her frustration turn to anger as she pondered over just how she would have liked the Harry Potter saga to end.
For one thing, Tonks and Remus Lupin would not have died. That was just totally unnecessary. And Hermione Granger ending up with Ron? Bleh. Talk about happily ever after, if happily ever after is endless bickering. But even more than those complaints, she wished Rowling would have let Lord Voldemort see his disastrous mistakes, repent for them, and triumph over his own inner demons. In fact, the entire tale of Tom Riddle was horribly tragic, and she was bothered by it. While everyone else reading the books was happily celebrating their favorite character's happy ending, Tom Riddle had been defeated.
Worse than that, he had been defeated because he never known how to love. He was doomed to a life without life, and then a drawn out death. How depressing is that? She was upset by his entire story. She wished someone could have done something. Surely it would have been possible to somehow save Tom Riddle? Why did he have to be one hundred percent doomed from the beginning? She couldn't believe that a human being could have no shred of good or decency. Wouldn't a more realistic villain have something more to him? But in the books she adored, the villain was evil, through and through. No shades of gray, no multidimensional personality. He was the bad guy because he was bad. That's it folks, stop trying to see more in him. Was it too much to ask of J.K. Rowling to write in some redemption and a happy ending for the villain?
Yes, she supposed it was. Then again, she had always had a bit of a soft spot for Voldy. Something about the complete lack of moral decency and psychotic tendencies was just…hot. Though the slit nose and red eyes weren't too attractive. Yep, she admitted there was something mentally wrong with her that she was attracted to a complete sociopath. But he was a cute sociopath, at least before he went all slimy and snakish. Ignoring the fact that she probably could benefit from therapy and an intense look at her own motives for being attracted to a fictional dangerous murderer… she wanted to believe in more than just Voldemort. He was once Tom Riddle, a human being. A man.
Sighing, and unbelievably tired, she collapsed back onto her bed. There had to be other girls out there like her, right? Other girls who just wished they could somehow… jump into the story and save a young Tom Riddle from his own self destruction, using only wits and feminine charm? Then again, she had not much feminine charm. Not too much in the wits department, either. But still, how hard could it be to convince a boy not to give in to his own psychotic tendencies?
The answer (she would soon find) was it could be very hard.
"OW!" she swore loudly as her butt connected, hard, with the floor. She had finally managed to fall asleep around five in the morning, the Harry Potter book sitting sad and dejected on her desk top. Though she still wasn't content with how it all ended, she had given in to fatigue. Only to be woken up by…what? Falling out of bed?
She sat up and stared around in the darkness, blinking. Her eyes were sore and dry from straining them over the pages of the novel. Something felt strange, though. Her room wasn't normally this dark. It was as if she had been cast down into a deep cave under the earth. She realized the glowing numbers of her alarm clock were missing. Huh? Not only had she fallen out of bed, but now the power was out too?
She had half caught herself, her hands braced against the floor. She realized underneath them was a cool, hard surface. Not the soft pile of her bedroom carpeting. Her eyebrows furrowed, mind still clouded by sleep as she struggled to interpret what her senses were telling her.
She reached out blindly, trying to find the side of her bed to get back into it. Her hand connected with nothing but cool air.
She stood up, walking uncertainly forward in the pitch blackness. She stuck her arms out awkwardly, hoping they'd hit some of her furniture. After several steps, her limbs still hadn't connected with anything.
What's going on? She thought wildly to herself. Her room was certainly not that big. If only there was some light so I could at least see…the thought was only spoken in her mind, but it was as if she had requested it out loud. Almost as soon as she thought it, a small light flickered to life in the distance… Distance? She was most definitely not in her bedroom. Or any other room. She walked towards the light, wondering vaguely if this was a dream.
It probably was. It made sense; this was the weird sort of stuff that always happened in dreams, right?
The light only grew as she neared it, until a large area was illuminated. The floor was some sort of polished white stone, and glancing up, she could see the high, glass ceiling. The panes arched elegantly overhead. The light turned out to be a lamp, now burning brightly next to a row of stiff looking chairs. She was, apparently, alone in this strange place.
It was a hall of some sorts-Ah! Now it made sense. She was, indeed, dreaming. Her mind reeled back to some of the pages she had hurriedly read in the novel. When Harry had "died", he had gone to King's Cross Station. So now, she was simply dreaming of it. She glanced around and saw the stone pillars, far away in the vast expanse of empty.
She smiled, happy with herself for figuring it out, only to frown a moment later. She really didn't want to be dreaming of this. Isn't this where Voldemort went, after he was killed…?
And, as if on demand, a small whimpering sound met her ears. Groaning, she wondered if she could wake herself up from this soon to be nightmare. She closed her eyes, counted to three, and snapped them open again. Nope. She was still in King's Cross. And there was that struggling, shuddering noise, the noise of a tortured animal. She knew what it was, but didn't want to see it.
It was one thing to read something in a book and imagine it. Or to see it in a movie and tell yourself it isn't real. It was another thing completely to see and hear it in the flesh.
But it was so pitiful, pathetic sounding… As if it was in eternal agony and no one cared to comfort it, and stop the pain. It cried, rustling as it writhed around, far too cold and broken. She sighed, turning around to the noise.
Another set of chairs was visible just a dozen steps away, underneath which lay, shoved like an unwanted child, the…was it…human? It shuddered, gasping for breath, when her eyes landed on it, and she shuddered too. It was utterly disgusting. And far too real looking. Its body was twisted and distorted looking, skin pale and raw.
Okay, I really want to wake up now. She thought. Honestly, it's just a book; I don't want it to be real for me. Please, let me wake up.
But she didn't wake up, and now she was close to crying. She remembered musing over how she would like to be in Harry Potter's world and save Voldemort, but she took it back now. She took it all back and just wanted to wake up in her own bed, far away from that ruined thing that cried and jerked.
Damn her overactive imagination. She took a deep breath, and willed herself to walk closer to the…she supposed it was indeed a child.
Kneeling down in front of it, she noticed it stop flailing about and become still. She felt chills shoot up her spine, and she shivered, reaching out her hand. She touched the child's cold, clammy skin, and it stopped whimpering. A single tear fell from her eye, because it felt so real, and its tortured eyes stared up at her. They were a haunting shade of dark blue that seemed to pass right through her.
She gasped and whirled around, surprised by whoever had softly spoken. The man in long, draping robes was easily identifiable by his white hair and signature spectacles. Albus Dumbledore stood before her, a small, appreciative smile on his face. The child whimpered as it tried to drag itself backward, further under the chairs.
Alright, makes sense he's here. He was in King's Cross Station in the book too. She thought, still desperately clinging to the hope it was all a bad dream.
"What's unbelievable?" she asked him. Her voice emerged small, suffocated by the space of the enormous hall.
"Your presence here," He answered calmly. "I had believed no one existed capable of…" He trailed off, apparently thinking.
"Helping him?" she interrupted. Dumbledore looked surprised she knew what he was thinking. Then, a small smile appeared on his wrinkled face.
"You know of him, then?" he asked her, a single eyebrow rising just a millimeter higher.
"Yes. Shouldn't I?"
"I do not know. Should you?" Dumbledore retorted, the same pleased smile on his face.
"Well, I'm not exactly from your world… Actually, I'm just dreaming of your world. This isn't real," she told him, a bit angry with him for playing dumb.
"Isn't it? Doesn't it feel real? Doesn't he feel real?" Dumbledore questioned, tilting his head slightly.
"That's not the point… I mean… in the book, you said no one could help him," she accused.
Dumbledore seemed to not notice her reference to a book. "I didn't think anyone could. However, your presence here seems to have proven me wrong. Obviously, you have both the capability and the willpower to help. Or perhaps just a knack for accidental right doing. In any case, you would not have been brought to this place otherwise," he explained calmly.
She made a face, looking around the abandoned train station. "I thought only dead people were supposed to come here," she told him.
"No, not exactly. This is a place free of such restrictions. Life, death, and all of the realities merge into one here," he mused, more to himself than her. Behind them, a small whimpering started up again and she turned around, returning to her place by the hurt child.
She reached out a hand again, touching his hand lightly, and again he was soothed. "Right, Dumbledore," she called over her shoulder. "What does all this mean? Do I get to wake up soon?"
He chuckled lightly. "It depends. Will you accept the challenge?"
She looked back at the loony old man. He was watching her, a fond expression on his face, as she comforted the child. "Challenge?"
"Will you help him? Help him avoid an eternity spent, dying and unwanted, caught in this place?" Dumbledore asked. She narrowed her eyes, thinking again that this was far too real.
"How can I do that?" she asked quietly, alarmed by the question. Dumbledore only smiled back, silent.
"He's just a character in a book for me. I'm not a witch, I can't do magic! There isn't a Hogwarts where I come from!" she said, her voice rising frantically.
Dumbledore just closed his eyes, thinking, before speaking. "It does not matter. You can leave this place, and go anywhere. Whether it be his world, or yours. Do you accept the challenge?"
She was about to say no, just let me wake up back home, when she glanced down once more at the child. He was watching her, breathing heavily as if it was too much labor. Something strange stirred in his deep blue eyes, like recognition, safety. It was alarming, and perhaps entirely a figment of her imagination, but somehow it made the single word leave her mouth before she even thought about it.
"Yes," she whispered.
"Then good luck. If you fail, you return back to your world. To succeed, he must want to be saved. You cannot help those who do not want to be helped," Dumbledore told her sadly. A whistle blasted from close by, making her jump nearly out of her skin.
"I do believe, then, it is time to part ways. Goodbye for now," Dumbledore said happily, as a train chugged loudly up alongside them. It was a deep red, gleaming beautifully beneath puffs of smoke.
"I-I don't underst-" she began to say, confused.
"Board the train, my dear," He explained, bowing. She uncertainly walked over to it, leaving behind the child, which instantly began crying in her absence. She could see her reflection in the polished metal of the train, and she reached out to it, wondering if it would be cool to the touch.
Surprisingly, it was nothing to the touch. Her hand passed right through, as if the train was just a mirage, a smoke-and-mirrors trick. She lost her balance, falling forward through the side of it.
It was her second, and more painful, fall of the evening. But she didn't have much time to assess what had just occurred as her senses were all immediately bombarded with information. The inside of the train was bright and alive, filled with the sounds and sights of students bustling through the corridor outside. She was in an empty compartment, wearing her pajama pants and t-shirt. She grimaced in embarrassment, looking around to see just how realistic her surroundings were. The upholstered seats looked real enough to the touch. The metal racks overhead seemed legitimate. Everything was missing the cloudy lack of definition that dreams usually possessed.
This really doesn't feel like a dream. I don't think it is, she thought. But it must be… how else can this be happening? … I'm not gonna lie, I'm getting a little freaked out…
The compartment door slid open then, interrupting her thoughts, to reveal… a short, spectacled girl with medium brown hair pulled into pigtails. The other girl shoved a heavy, wheeled trunk into the compartment, almost ramming it into her head as she sat on the ground in shock. The girl looked down at her in befuddlement. She eyed the trunk accusingly, as it settled about two inches from her. The placard on the front read "Myrtle Goffe."
She was confused for only a moment before her mind kicked into gear. Only one Harry Potter character had the name Myrtle. Moaning Myrtle. She wondered if the girl was Moaning Myrtle, though obviously still alive and not at all dead. The round glasses and round face certainly seemed to match the description. However, if this was an alive Moaning Myrtle, that would mean…she didn't finish her thought.
"What are you doing down there?" Myrtle inquired in a nasally voice, tilting her head.
She climbed to her feet under Myrtle's curious gaze, glaring ruefully. "Just taking a nap," she replied sourly, rubbing her sore elbows.
"Oh," Myrtle sighed, pushing her glasses up. Myrtle stared a moment longer before giggling sheepishly. "Nice clothes," she mocked shrilly.
It was then that she realized Myrtle was dressed in a to-the-knee button up dress with a high collar. She glanced down at her t-shirt and boys baggy plaid pants again. Her mind persisted in reminding her that Tom Riddle had gone to Hogwarts somewhere in the late 30's and early 40's. She returned her gaze to Myrtle, who was now squinting in concern at the other girl's lack of response. The clothes…hell, even the shoes seemed old fashioned. Her dream had taken her into the past. Even calling it a dream, though, was a foolish hope at this point.
"Thanks," she muttered. "Nice glasses." Her tone came out emotionless, due in no small part to the shock starting to mount inside her brain. Instantly, Myrtle's face fell at what she seemed to think was an insult.
"Ooh, I didn't mean to make you mad! They're just a bit strange, that's all," Myrtle whined sadly.
It seemed harder than usual to take in a full breath, she realized dimly. "Sorry, I know my clothes are a little weird," she sighed, dragging herself up onto one of the comfortable seats. Myrtle made a noise of agreement, then tugged her trunk over to the luggage rack and attempted to hoist it up.
She rubbed her eyes tiredly, wondering if she would have to keep humoring all of her weird dream companions. Because this had to be a dream. Had to be. No way was this real.
But then Myrtle dropped the trunk, which landed on her foot (causing a great deal of pain) and she changed her mind. Okay, maybe this was real. You couldn't feel pain like this in a dream!
What the HELL am I going to do!? I'm in Harry Potter land! In the past! And Moaning Myrtle is attempting to murder me with her trunk! She thought, starting to panic, hopping up and down on her good foot while attempting not to yell in pain. Though, Myrtle had given up on getting her trunk in the luggage rack and was apologizing profusely now.
"Oh, I'm horribly sorry! I can probably fix it though! See, I've been working on this pain alleviating spell, I'm getting okay at it!" Myrtle said tearfully.
"No," was all she groaned in response, holding her aching foot and glaring at Myrtle. Her throat felt a little strange…She seemed to be forcing each breath in.
"Honestly, I can help!"
"No!" she screamed at the other girl. Her throat was really feeling odd, like she was choking on something. And was it just her or were the walls closing in?
Yep, they're definitely closing in. Now all I need is a bright white light and then this whole ordeal will be done with, she thought. She was now at the point of gasping for breath, and she plopped back down onto the crimson colored seat, gripping the edges of it.
"Oh, Merlin! You're hyperventilating! Wait, I think I know another spell… maybe…" Myrtle said thoughtfully beneath her brown bangs, apologetic eyes magnified behind the thick glasses.
Shaking her head furiously, she attempted to get away from Myrtle, wishing she had a paper bag on hand.
"No, no I forgot it… Uh oh! Breathe! Just breathe! Hold on, I'll go get someone!" Myrtle finally offered worriedly.
With that, the brown haired girl left her alone with her panic attack. Her thoughts kept cycling over again, going something like this: I'm in Harry Potter land, I'm in Harry Potter land, I can't breathe, this is crazy, damn Dumbledore, I'm in Harry Potter land, this is crazy, I STILL CAN'T BREATHE!
She crawled into the corner of the compartment, breathing heavily, and still not getting any better. She saw Myrtle's head reemerge in the doorway as it slid open, and if she had enough air left, she would have groaned.
"Come on, she needs help! I think she's dying!" Myrtle whined frantically, pulling on someone's arm insistently. "See! See, she's turning all funny colored and wheezing!" Myrtle declared, pointing triumphantly.
Whoever she had brought to the compartment entered, turning to call over his shoulder. "Bring Degroughe back here!" he yelled, before turning around to face her, wand in hand.
Oh shit, she thought. Her eyes widened at the sight of him, recognition stirring even though she shouldn't know him, and she faintly remembered squeaking before her sight went black.
"D-did it work, Tom?" a male voice asked nervously.
She was vaguely aware that there were people around her. She was also aware that she was lying flat, and there was air in her lungs again. Beautiful, magnificent air in her lungs. She was breathing quickly, greedily, but she still didn't open her eyes.
What had happened? She really should open her eyes and find out what was going on. But she didn't, afraid of what she'd see. Maybe if I just lay here and wait a bit longer, I'll somehow be back home…she thought hopefully.
"Yes," A second male voice answered from directly above her. It was medium toned, and calm. It was the voice from before, the voice that had called for someone named Degroughe… Tom?
Ooooh noooo, she thought, aware of a cool hand on the back of her neck. Had she just passed out in front of Tom Riddle? She didn't know enough to assume that, of course…But everything about him, and the way her heart was pounding fearfully in her chest, confirmed his identity. He had been tall, with neatly parted black hair, and black robes over a white button up shirt. That wasn't what gave him away, however. She had recognized those dark blue eyes instantly, just before conking out. They were the same ones the damaged child at King's Cross had stared at her with.
But… what had he done that 'worked'? Oh lord...Dark lord. Her bitter humor didn't amuse herself.
"Where'd you learn that spell at, Riddle?" another voice asked from farther away.
"Doesn't matter," Tom Riddle, identity now confirmed, replied dismissively. His hand moved from the back of her neck to the side, where her pulse beat frantically.
She gulped down another mouthful of air, terrified to open her eyes and see the young Voldemort. Really, this was a lot harder than she had ever imagined.
However, she'd have to do it eventually. She couldn't just lie there on the floor forever, pretending to be comatose.
With that mindset, she opened her eyes. Riddle's own met hers instantly, coolly surveying her face. She felt her eyelids widen a bit in shock at his face. Up close, she was taken aback by him. He looked royal, almost, with his handsome cheekbones and jawline. His hand moved from her neck, leaving a cool spot, as he leaned back.
She was lying on the floor, and…oh jeez. The compartment was filled with people, all gathered around the girl who had fainted and Tom Riddle, kneeling beside her. They were all dressed like Myrtle. The girls in belted dresses, practical shoes. The guys in slacks and button up shirts. Half of them wore robes over their clothes already.
"Is she okay? I can't see, will you move!? Is she okay!?" Myrtle's whiny, impatient voice called somewhere out in the hallway.
"She'll be fine…" Riddle said slowly, tearing his fixated eyes away from hers. She was glad he had looked away; she couldn't take much more of his intense stare. "Where's Degroughe? I called for him five minutes ago," he demanded of those around him.
"I-I don't know, I'll go look for him." One of the boys, the short one with medium brown hair that was in need of a cut, disappeared from the compartment.
Riddle's eyes returned to her, and narrowed just a bit. "What's your name? What year are you in?" he demanded.
"Year?" she asked, blinking. She decided it was better to just play dumb for now. Play very, very, very dumb until she met someone who could help…" I… what happened?" she asked innocently, blinking up at him.
"Apparently," he answered slowly, "you were having trouble breathing and passed out. Can I ask why?"
"I…I don't know," she answered, and it was obvious he knew she was lying. He cocked an eyebrow at her.
"I see. You don't know your age or why you've become ill. I assume your name is a mystery as well?" He said with disdain, evidently not liking her avoiding his questions.
"Er…" she gulped again, distracted a bit by the way his black hair fell into his eyes, the eyes that literally drilled into hers...Damn his evil good looks… Seconds ticked by…She felt like she might pass out again; Riddle's presence sucked the air out of her lungs.
"I don't recognize her," a boy offered from behind Riddle.
"Me neither," a skinny girl piped up near the door. The younger girl beside her added, "Do you see what she is wearing?" in a loud whisper. A few other children snickered.
"Where'd that girl go? The one who came and got me?" Riddle asked suddenly, searching the crowd around him.
There was a jostling as everyone hurriedly moved aside, pushing Myrtle forward. She stumbled into the small room, blushing noticeably in front of Riddle.
"Y-Yes Tom?" Myrtle asked, smiling shyly.
"Who is she?" He asked quickly, nodding down at where she lay on the floor, shivering despite herself.
"I don't really know," Myrtle confessed. "She was in here when I came in, I didn't get a chance to talk to her, really."
Riddle looked suspiciously back down at her. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted when the train lurched to a stop. His arm shot out to steady himself against the seats, but several of the other students fell over. At the same time, the boy who had left earlier to look for "Degroughe" returned, stumbling into the room. He shoved his hair out of his eyes, grinning.
"He was in the trolley compartment with Bettina, snogging!" he announced, laughing. "He'll be here in a minute."
"It's no matter now, Lestrange, we've arrived," Riddle snapped impatiently, standing up. She sat up finally as well, rubbing her forehead. Well, he seems to have everyone well trained. They all do as they're told, like little puppy dogs, she thought sarcastically. Though, looking around, there was something odd about how the other students looked at Tom Riddle. As though they were staring at some fearful deity, both scared and awed at his presence.
"Go on to the castle, there's nothing more to see," he told the crowd, most of whom seemed disappointed that more hadn't happened. They all shuffled out, some grumbling about how they hadn't yet changed into their school robes. Only a couple of boys remained behind, Lestrange and another one. Riddle's lackeys, perhaps.
Riddle glanced down at her once more before offering his hand to pull her up. Her mouth dropped open in surprise. Why, Voldemort has manners…?
"Come on," he told her impatiently. She took his hand, and he pulled her to her feet. "The Head Boy, Gary Degroughe, is going to take yo-" he began, business-like, but was interrupted.
"What the bloody hell is going on?" An abnormally tall, older boy emerged in the room, his sandy hair sticking up at odd angles. "Lestrange stormed in on Bettina and me to announce there was some 'emergency' down the train! What's going on, Riddle?" The boy eyed Riddle's hand, which was still holding hers from when he had helped her to her feet. "This hardly looks like an emergency," the boy said slyly.
Riddle's eyes flashed and he dropped her hand like it was on fire, but a second later his face was composed into one of polite disinterest. "This girl," he gestured to her, "was suffering some sort of attack. She lost consciousness." He thought for a moment before adding venomously, "It's a good thing our Head Boy was so easy to find."
The sandy haired Head Boy spluttered for a moment. "Well, I…I-It's no matter. You look like you took care of things just fine, Riddle."
"He sure did! He used this bloody brilliant spell to…er… well I don't know what it did exactly but it fixed her!" Lestrange blurted out excitedly. "Bloody brilliant."
Riddle's eyes narrowed yet again, before he rolled them with disgust at Lestrange's flattery. "Things are not 'just fine'. She claims to have no memory of who she is."
Degroughe's look of shock was actually pretty amusing to her, as she curiously watched the conversation going on. It was about time someone else deal with the absurdity of her situation. Why should she be the only one shocked and confused? "No memory…? What? Doesn't anyone know her?" he asked faintly.
That was a no.
"Well, what…I'm not sure…" the Head Boy began uncertainly.
"Perhaps," Riddle suggested carefully, "You should take her to the castle. Tell Madam Mirram and the Professors about her… problem. They'll want to get to the bottom of it."
"I…yes, yes I'll do that," Degroughe agreed. "Very well, come with me then, um… girl." He took her roughly by the arm and led her from the compartment. She stumbled along behind him, having trouble keeping up with his long, quick strides. The passage down the train was narrow, and it looked like most of the students had emptied already. Jayna was stuck trying to catch up with the recent events. What had just happened?
She was damn near sure that the future Lord Voldemort had just helped her recover from a panic attack, then interrogated her without the use of any torture curses. Though that made sense because… well, using the Cruciatus on her in front of his adoring fans might be a bit of an indicator that he wasn't all sweet, smart and gentlemanly…
Though he had helped her up… Evidently, good manners were important to a future psychotic serial killer… She frowned when she realized her first impression on said psychotic serial killer hadn't been very…well, impressive…Why did Myrtle have to grab him, of all people, to drag into the compartment to witness her passing out!?
However, she was tugged from her thoughts as Gary Degroughe pulled her down from the train, and she landed clumsily on her feet. It was already pitch black outside, though lit by the odd lantern here and there. Students were swarming everywhere, headed towards the castle. She was underneath a vast dome of black, littered with stars, her arm still being practically torn off by a hurried Degroughe.
"OY!" she finally yelled at him. Irritated at his rough manner, she yanked her arm back. "I'm not Raggedy Ann, you oaf!"
He turned around, mouth open in surprise. "Who's Raggedy Ann?"
"Never mind. Are we taking those-" she gestured at the 'horseless' carriages a few yards ahead of them "-to the school?"
"Yes," he said uncertainly, perhaps wondering how she knew that if she couldn't remember anything.
"Right. I can help myself to them, thank you very much," she snapped, rubbing her sore arm, sure a bruise in the shape of his hand would soon show up. She climbed up into one of the carriages, followed by Degroughe and a blonde witch. It was a small, cramped contraption, but it started up immediately once they all sat down.
"Er, so, you've absolutely no idea who you are?" Degroughe asked her awkwardly.
"Mm, I wouldn't say that," she shrugged. The blonde witch was watching her and the Head Boy curiously.
"But, Riddle said… he said you don't have any memory," Degroughe pointed out.
"He assumed I don't have any memory," she corrected him. "Why do you assume he's correct?"
"So you do have a memory?" Degroughe asked, confused.
She sighed, wondering how on earth he'd been picked for head boy. "Of course I have a memory. Everyone has a memory, I've never heard of anyone memory-impaired… " she mused thoughtfully, unwilling to tell him anything and hoping to avoid answering his questions. "Though I suppose you can erase someone's memory. But that doesn't get rid of it; the ability to remember is still there… I suppose you could destroy someone's memory… Wouldn't that be awful? They'd go around forgetting everything that just happened the moment before… Imagine trying to introduce yourself…" she trailed off, forcing a thoughtful look on her face.
Degroughe just stared at her, clearly confused.
They must have arrived at the castle then, as the carriage stopped, and the blonde witch exited the carriage first, obviously rushed to get away from the loony girl babbling about memory-less-ness.
Degroughe jumped down, and turned around to wait for her. She emerged, staring up in wonder at Hogwarts.
Really, J.K. Rowling wasn't joking. It was amazing. It towered above them, large and regal, its windows glowing warmly in the night. There were so many towers, turrets, and stained glass windows that seemed like jewels. It was imposing, and it was magical. Something about the castle almost seemed alive, like the whole thing was a giant being capable of its own thoughts, whims, and actions. Beside it laid the lake, dark like liquid ink with a fog hovering over it. A second castle laid in the reflections of the water, mirroring the real one.
Degroughe seemed afraid to interrupt her staring at Hogwarts, however. Perhaps her snapping at him before and then rambling on had scared him off. He cleared his throat loudly, and she ignored him, wondering how she could have lived in her own world, unknowing a place like this actually did exist. It was…just magnificent.
Degroughe cleared his throat yet again, louder, as more students emptied from the carriages around them. They bustled past her, up into the imposing structure. She was aware that Riddle and his crew of fan boys had exited a carriage nearby, and Tom Riddle's eyes landed on her, practically burning their presence onto her skin.
"Um, can you please come with me?" Degroughe finally asked. She nodded without looking away from the castle, following his lead up into Hogwarts.
They entered the entrance hall, which was just as beautiful as promised. Torches lined the hall, their fire reflecting off of the stone floor and suits of armor, and tapestries adorned otherwise blank stretches of ancient wall.
At the end of the hall were two large doors, swung open to admit the students to the Great Hall. She stopped yet again to admire it all, her mouth hanging open. Students bumped into her as they rushed past, all chattering energetically.
"It's beautiful," she breathed. Gary Degroughe merely shrugged in response. "No, really, you have no idea how lucky you are to go here," she told him truthfully.
"Right," he agreed, not really meaning it. "I really should take you to the professors now, and the headmaster. I don't care to figure out what your problem is, I'll leave it up to them… I mean, unless you want to tell me?"
She shook her head, because just then, Albus Dumbledore had emerged into the entrance hall. The sight of him brought back memories of her time spent in the strange, warped version of King's Cross.
She suspected that this, much younger, Dumbledore would know nothing of what happened. All the same, she was inclined to take out her anger on him. It was, after all, his older and possibly dead self that had sent her, unprepared, into another universe.
"Dumbledore!" she snarled, starting forward.
The auburn-haired wizard turned around from the group of first years that had been following him, his expression politely surprised.
"Yes, Miss…?" he seemed to realize he did not know her name.
"Professor Dumbledore, no one knows who this girl is! She refused to tell anyone her name on the train," Degroughe started in, interrupting her before she could say anything. "I'm not even sure she's a student here. We all thought she had some kind of amnesia, but I mean… Obviously not if she knows you and the school… Riddle said she was ill though. She passed out or something."
She glared at Degroughe, opening her mouth to make a sarcastic retort to him. She really hadn't taken a liking to him.
However, Dumbledore's eyes had narrowed at the mention of Riddle's name, and she saw something close to suspicion in his eyes.
"Tom Riddle was with her when she…became ill?" Dumbledore inquired carefully, quietly.
"Well, I'm not sure if he was around her… He called for me after it happened; I got there after she had woken up… Sir, she wouldn't tell me anything, I tried to ask her if she really couldn't remember," Degroughe explained worriedly, speaking far too fast to be understood.
"You know I'm standing right here, don't you? I can hear everything your saying," she finally snapped at the Head Boy, frustrated.
Dumbledore smiled calmly at her, though that strange suspicion lingered in his eyes. What…Does he think Riddle hurt me or something? she thought to herself before realizing that was, indeed, what Dumbledore thought.
"You are not a student here," the Professor said kindly. "Correct?"
She frowned, nodding reluctantly.
"Ah. Then something odd is afoot." Dumbledore tilted his head slightly. "We need to talk."
She nodded again. Dumbledore wasn't called brilliant for nothing. He was definitely picking up on…well, something.
"Very well. Gary, please take our guest to my office and wait with her there. I'll be with you shortly once the sorting ends," Dumbledore told the Head Boy.
Degroughe nodded reluctantly. They left Dumbledore to lead the first years, and a dingy old hat and stool, into the Great Hall.
Degroughe rushed her through the halls so quickly that she hardly had time to appreciate the castle's beautiful interior. She struggled to catch glimpses of moving paintings as she passed by, attempted to peer down corridors before Degroughe hurried her along. Before five minutes had passed, she found herself shoved into the Professor's small study on the third floor.
It was slightly disappointing, because she had been expecting some great office like what was described in the book. She had to remind herself that Dumbledore was only just a teacher now, not the Headmaster.
She and Degroughe sat in dead silence for a few moments, the Head Boy quietly scuffing his foot against the carpet.
Then, a question came to her. "How old is Tom Riddle?" she asked curiously.
Degroughe looked over at her, raising his brows. "Why do you want to know that?" he began angrily. "You just got onto the Hogwarts Express to come here, a school you don't even belong at! And you're about to be in a ton of trouble-"
"What makes you think I'll be in trouble?" she asked, interested.
"I…Well, you don't go here! I mean, you're obviously a witch, if you know about this place, but still! What's going on?" he demanded, glaring at her. "How do you know Dumbledore? Did you come here just to see him or something?"
She stared at him for a minute, before calmly observing, "Your nostrils flare when you're angry."
His head drooped in defeat. "You're not going to tell me anything, are you?"
She shook her head. "Nope."
"So that whole 'I may or may not remember who I am' thing is a lie? You just don't want anyone to know what the story is?" he accused, finally catching on.
She smiled mysteriously. "Now I can actually believe you're head boy," she stated, glad he wasn't completely stupid.
He frowned, however, confused again. "What?"
"Never mind," she sighed. "How old is he?"
Degroughe's eyes narrowed, a sly smirk spreading on his face. "Why? You interested?"
"Of course not!" she denied automatically, a bit too quickly. An embarrassed flush spread over her face. She was just trying to pin down a specific year. Perhaps she could even figure out exactly where Riddle was in his transition to dark lord status.
Degroughe chuckled to himself. "Came all the way to Hogwarts to find yourself a boy to fancy, eh?"
"No! You're such an idiot," she groaned, slumping down in her seat.
"Then why did you come to Hogwarts?" he asked quickly.
"Still not telling you," she taunted.
"Fine," he snapped, turning away from her.
"Fine, idiot," she snapped right back. The room was silent for about a whole minute. She was beginning to enjoy the peaceful silence, had even closed her tired eyes to rest, when he spoke again.
"Is that why you fainted?"
She groaned, refusing to open her eyes again. "What?"
"You saw him, and were just so overcome by his 'fanciful' presence, that you just right out and fainted?" Degroughe laughed hysterically. "Just swooned over him, right?"
She gave him a minute to quit laughing, but when he showed no signs of stopping, she reached out blindly to smack him.
"You deserved it," she pointed out. "If you're going to tease me about him you might as well answer my question."
"He's in fifth year. But you might as well give up on whatever fantasies you have," Degroughe warned her.
"Why? Already claimed him, have you?" she asked, smirking. She found that taunting the Head Boy almost made this whole terrible experience bearable.
Gary snorted. "Please, I have plenty of females interested in me-"
"-I'm just warning you, that's all. Don't count on winning Riddle over. He won't be interested," Degroughe concluded.
"Why?" she asked, curious enough to finally sit up and open her eyes, looking over at the older boy.
He shrugged. "I don't think I've ever seen Tom Riddle with a girl. Books, sure. Those Slytherin cronies of his, yeah. But never a girl."
"Cronies? You mean that Lestrange guy?"
"Yeah. Lestrange, Avery, Rookwood… Malfoy occasionally. They follow him around like he's their idol or something. Just seem to annoy him, though," Degroughe shrugged again.
"Well, he sounds like a lovely and friendly chap," she drawled sarcastically.
"Oh yeah, lovely," agreed Degroughe. "If you're going to be staying here, don't hang around him."
She looked at him, questioning.
"I mean it. I'm not trying to be all nice and warn you, 'cause trust me, I don't like you, but… He's trouble," Degroughe stated.
"Gee thanks, I love you too," she said, a fake grin on her face. "Now how about a group hug?"
"Good." She closed her eyes again, letting a standoffish silence refill the small office. However, after only another moment Gary spoke up.
"Are those men's clothes?" he asked curiously. She gulped, feeling her cheeks get red. Still, she didn't answer. "Did you steal them?" he asked, sounding even more amused.
"No, I didn't steal them!" she said, defensive. "Can you please…not talk to me?" she asked, tired. Her eyes still burned with fatigue from reading the last book of the series. How long ago that already seemed, camped out with a book on her bed just hours before.
The office door opened then, and Dumbledore entered at last. He glanced between the two of them, obviously aware some conversation had just concluded, before walking around his desk and sitting down.
He took something out of his desk drawer, sitting it before them. "Lemon drop?"
They both shook their heads. No, I don't want a lemon drop, Dumblydore!
"They are a favorite of mine, I must confess," he said, eyes twinkling, as he took one. They all sat a moment longer, waiting for Dumbledore to say something. He finally seemed to realize he was expected to talk, and cleared his throat.
"Very well, Gary, thank you for escorting Miss…that's right, we don't know your name. Well, thank you nonetheless, Gary. You may return to the Great Hall, I believe dinner has just started," Dumbledore told the Head Boy politely. Degroughe looked thoroughly aggravated that he wasn't going to get to stay and listen in. He nodded, grumbling under his breath, and left.
Dumbledore watched him go, and once the office door had clicked shut, turned to her. "Very well. What brings you to Hogwarts?"