Summary: Evil is not always overwhelming and insane; sometimes it's calm, logical, and all the more seductive for its subtleties. Tom Riddle knew this, but an unfortunate accident while creating his diary prevented him from ever putting it into practice. Now, fifty years later, he may have been given a second chance to do all the wrong things right.

Genre: Fantasy/Supernatural

Rating: T

Chapter One: The Boy Who Died

Harry Potter had, undoubtedly, grown accustomed to strange things happening in his life; eleven years of living with his unbalanced relatives and two years of attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the famous Boy-Who-Lived had seen to that. He had faced down the Dursleys (who were really less than sane, in his opinion), cursed Quidditch equipment, misguided house elves, lunatic professors, Snape (who stood in a category all his own), roving bands of Slytherins, an extremely bitter (and still, apparently, dangerous) Dark Lord, and the Weasley twins' unflagging humor. Nevertheless, the sight of Tom Riddle standing ever-so-calmly over Ginny Weasley's prone body, amicably explaining how he was not only the Heir of Slytherin, but Lord Voldemort himself, had been bordering on the ludicrous. Even now, just over three weeks later, it haunted him.

He had, in some strange way, trusted the older boy. It had been easy to believe that Riddle had made a mistake, fifty years ago, when accusing Hagrid of opening the Chamber of Secrets. After all, Hagrid was rather fierce-looking to those who did not properly know him, he had been raising a suspicious animal at the time, and there was something so ironically trustworthy about Riddle that Harry hadn't wanted to believe the older wizard had framed someone. Riddle had just gotten his facts confused, jumped to some unfortunate conclusions, and yet… even before he had faced Riddle, there had been a nagging at the back of his mind. Tom Riddle was, after all, supposed to have been a brilliant student, otherwise he wouldn't have been made a Prefect, so how had he managed to come to such a horribly wrong conclusion? No one was less suited to be the Heir of Slytherin than Hagrid! In the end, Harry had chalked it up to panic; even the best minds faltered when they were desperate. He wished, now that the harrowing event was over with, that he had known about Mr. Weasley's rule—never trust anything that can think for itself when you can't see where it keeps its brain—but he was still so new to the wizarding world that it hadn't crossed Harry's mind to be mistrustful of Riddle's diary.

And it should have, really. It was just too convenient that Hogwarts had been under attack from the Heir of Slytherin, and the magical diary that Harry had found had just happened to contain the memory of a boy who had been at the school the last time the Chamber had been opened. Harry found, with no small amount of self-disgust, that his naivety was bordering on the oblivious, and that was the sort of thing—with Voldemort constantly lurking in the shadows—that could get him killed. It nearly had, as a matter of fact; if it hadn't been for Fawkes, he would have died. (Although, at the back of his mind, Harry found it rather unfair that Parselmouths could still be susceptible to snake venom. What good was it to be so connected to serpents if he was still innately vulnerable to them?)

Harry also knew that if he was being haunted so thoroughly by all these thoughts, then Ginny had to be downright tortured, and no amount of Dumbledore's cheery hot chocolate would change that fact. Poor Ginny had poured out her heart and soul to someone she had—mistakenly—thought cared, someone who had been sympathetic, someone who had fast become an important friend for her. He couldn't even begin to imagine how frightened and alone she must have felt when she started to realize that there were blank stretches in her memory, always corresponding to some trouble that had been caused at school, or when her diary had begun to take on shades of the sinister. Harry could understand why she hadn't told them about her suspicions or worries, but he would never understand why, after going to all the trouble of getting rid of the diary, she had begun writing to Riddle again after she'd reclaimed it. She must have known that it wasn't normal, or she wouldn't have tried to throw it away in the first place. But perhaps, by then, Riddle had already had enough control over her that Ginny hadn't really had a choice in the matter.

Something more was bothering Harry though, something strange; something that had stood out even in the midst of so many bizarre twists of fate. Down in the Chamber of Secrets, even while worrying about Ginny, facing down Riddle, and dodging a deadly basilisk, he had felt as though he were being watched. As though unseen eyes had been hungrily tracking his every move. But there hadn't been anyone else in the Chamber, had there.

Had there?

Fawkes had appeared rather suddenly, and Harry desperately wanted to believe that was what he had sensed, but those invisible eyes had continued to burn into him long after the phoenix had arrived. And honestly, who knew what else could have been lurking within the personal haven of Salazar Slytherin, along with that basilisk? The very thought gave Harry the shivers. But, of course, that panic had been put clear out of his mind when the giant snake's venom had begun coursing through his veins. Unfortunately, it hadn't stayed out of his mind; the eerie feeling of being watched by something he couldn't see had magnified ten-fold after he had destroyed Riddle's diary. Even while standing in Professor McGonagall's office, talking to Dumbledore, that strange prickle at the back of his neck had persisted. But he had brushed it off as nerves over Ginny, Ron, or himself possibly being expelled.

It wasn't until many hours later—as he laid in bed after the impromptu, early-morning, celebratory feast—that he had wondered if something new hadn't been released from the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry opened his eyes to darkness, a black void stretching out before him with no beginning and no end. There was no ground beneath his feet and no sky above his head. Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that something solid was underfoot.

"Hello?" he called into the void, his voice echoing as though he were in a cave.

And then, with startling suddenness, he was no longer alone. A diary had appeared—thin, covered in cracked black leather, and bearing the words TM Riddle in gold lettering—floating serenely above what Harry had to believe was a floor. The diary was familiar, sinister, but it was the only thing around; cautiously, he approached it. He hadn't made it more than a few careful steps before the small book flew open, its pages oozing inks of all colors.

"Do you know about the Chamber of Secrets?" Harry heard his own voice echo out of the surrounding darkness. Ink from the diary began to drip onto the invisible floor, giving it substance. For a moment there was nothing, then there was ink-slicked stone spreading underfoot in all directions.

The diary gave a shudder, a horrible sickening jolt that made it spray ink like a fountain, then a voice filled the air in reply. It was a voice Harry had heard often enough in the back of his head or in his dreams. The voice was low and smooth, with a lilting cadence, full of confidence and trickery. It was Tom Riddle. "Of course I know about the Chamber of Secrets. In my day, they told us it was a legend, that it did not exist. But this was a lie. In my fifth year, the Chamber was opened and the monster attacked several students, finally killing one. I caught the person who'd opened the Chamber and he was expelled. But Headmaster Dippett, ashamed that such a thing had happened at Hogwarts, forbade me to tell the truth. A story was given out that the girl had died in a freak accident. They gave me a nice, shiny, engraved trophy for my trouble and warned me to keep my mouth shut. But I knew it could happen again. The monster lived on, and the one who had the power to release it was not imprisoned."

Despite himself, Harry listened with rapt attention as Riddle's voice replayed what had been written in the diary. It was amazing, in hindsight, how carefully Riddle had constructed his answer to gain Harry's trust, amazing how much of it had been true while managing not to incriminate Riddle himself. "The one with the power was not imprisoned," Harry snorted to himself. "Quite clever. You weren't talking about Hagrid, were you? You meant yourself. And the trophy," he snorted again, "that must have been a laugh, receiving an award for your dirty work, always having a reminder that you'd managed to murder someone right under all the professors' noses. You must have loved that trophy dearly."

A whispered, "Perhaps," reached his ears, but it was gone so quickly that Harry had to wonder if he'd heard it at all.

The pooling ink had begun to creep as Riddle talked, forming pillars and distant walls. With a jolt, Harry realized that he was now standing in an ink-drenched version of the Chamber of Secrets. A blurry image of Ginny, pale and still, had appeared at the far end of the Chamber, and Harry had just started toward her when a burst of light alerted him that the diary was doing something else. The thin book was glowing, casting strange shadows upon an already strange room. Then, as though it couldn't stand the intrusion of light, the ink stopped dripping to the floor and began to cover the book, wrapping around it like a cocoon. A few minutes passed in silence, then the ink began to bubble, as though boiling. An arm appeared from the colorful mess, then another, two legs, a head, and a torso, until a boy stood where the diary had once been, wild-eyed and covered in ink.

"I've waited a long time for this, Harry Potter," an insane smile twisted his ink-stained lips. "For the chance to see you. To speak to you."

Harry backed up several paces, somehow more unnerved by this version of Riddle than the one Ginny had originally released. "You're dreaming," he said to himself, suddenly desperate to wake up.

"You found my diary," Riddle whispered, his hand stretching out to Harry, "and I couldn't have been more delighted." His manic grin widened, "Of all the people who could have picked it up, it was you, the very person I was most anxious to meet…"

"You're not real," Harry shouted at the older boy, backing up even further when Riddle began to walk toward him.

"Ginny told me all about you," Riddle said, a hungry look entering his eyes.

"I've already defeated you," Harry continued. "I'm dreaming!"

A gaping hole appeared in Riddle's chest, oozing ink instead of blood, but the boy continued to lumber forward. "For many months now, my new target has been—you."

Harry tripped on an uneven stone, falling backward. He shut his eyes as he fell, but quickly opened them again. "I defeated you," he repeated.

Riddle loomed over him, ink dripping down his front and sliding grotesquely from the corner of his lips. "Do you feel safe now?" Riddle asked as he slowly collapsed into a puddle around the prone boy.

Harry was relieved beyond words, but it was short lived. As soon as Riddle disappeared, the Chamber began to move, ink bubbling and writhing until it had taken on the shape of Professor McGonagall's office. A blurry vision of Dumbledore sat behind her desk, staring serenely down at Harry, who realized that he had somehow come to be seated in an inky chair.

Dumbledore raised Tom Riddle's venom-burnt diary. "Brilliant," he said softly. "Of course, he was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen. Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle; hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once Head Boy here."

"But they could have," a voice whispered out of the darkness, jolting Harry, "if they'd wanted too, if they hadn't been so blind."

Dumbledore turned to Harry, obviously not having heard the voice. "So you met Tom Riddle," he said thoughtfully. "I imagine he was most interested in you…"

"Yes," the voice mocked, talking over the aging professor, "I imagine he was."

"It is our choices," Dumbledore continued, his eyes unfocused and his conversation disjointed, "that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Someone grabbed Harry from behind, arms banding across his shoulders while a hand wrapped over his throat. "Let's take a look at your choices, shall we?" the mocking voice asked. "At the tender age of twelve, you have already murdered someone, though in all fairness, it was out of self-defense and you probably didn't consider a preserved memory to truly be a person. Still, you destroyed the diary without any thought to the consequences. What if the price you paid for your freedom from the Chamber of Secrets turns out to be too heavy? What if you've released something even worse?" The hand at his throat tightened. "Do you feel brave, Harry Potter?" the sinister voice whispered in his ear.

"WAKE UP, BOY!" Vernon Dursley shouted through his nephew's bedroom door. "You'll disturb the neighbors if you carry on screaming like that!"

Harry jumped from his bed, as though catapulted from the nightmare about Riddle. His relief at finally being freed from his horrible dream was short lived, as seemed to be the pattern in his life, when his uncle entered the small room.

Vernon Dursley was a large man with no neck and clearly too much mustache. His resemblance to a walrus was uncanny and unfortunate. Harry was sure there were many kindhearted walruses in the world that would take exception to the fact that Uncle Vernon was masquerading in their shape while being so intentionally horrid. His beefy purple face drew up uncomfortably close to Harry. "Isn't it enough," the older man snarled, "that your aunt and I have taken you in for so many years? Have continued to accept you into our home even after your apparent freakishness made itself known? And how do you pay us back? By lazing about all day!" He raised a think arm to cuff Harry about the head. "The least you can do is go downstairs and make breakfast so that your poor, overworked aunt can rest."

Harry dodged his uncle with the ease of great practice. "Yes, Uncle Vernon," he murmured tiredly while quickly ducking around the gigantic man.

In some ways he really supposed he ought to be grateful. After all the trouble Dobby had caused him last summer, and how the Dursleys had responded to it—namely by confining him to his room and putting bars on his window—he hadn't been sure that they would allow him back in the house at all. Not that it was any great treat, he would have much preferred staying with the Weasleys anyhow, but he supposed that—despite their psychotic behavior—the Dursleys were being as generous as they could be to someone like him. They certainly wouldn't be winning any awards for their hospitality, but nor were they quite as likely to be given a strong talking to by child services.

"Even Mrs. Cole treated me better than those muggles treat you, and she thought I was insane," a voice whispered in Harry's ear, but in the same instant his cousin, Dudley, came thundering into the kitchen, forcefully putting the disturbance out of Harry's mind. It was probably just his strange dream lingering about him still, anyhow.

It wasn't until he was about to dig in to his own meager breakfast of buttered toast, that the voice came back. "You can't ignore me, Harry," it whispered in one ear, then switched to the other and added, "I'll not have it."

Harry was just beginning to wonder if he was going the tiniest bit insane, or if a snake was following him around that he hadn't yet noticed, when the platter of fried sausages in front of Dudley shattered violently, imbedding bits of porcelain into the table and ceiling. All eyes turned to Harry accusingly.

"It wasn't me," he exclaimed, as dumbfounded as the Dursleys, when he noticed something from the corner of his eye.

Leaning against the kitchen counter, semi-transparent and dressed in smart black robes, was none other than Tom Riddle.

A/N: I'm a horrible person, starting something new when I should be finishing some of my other works, but this idea accosted me while I was in the depths of writers' block and it wouldn't leave me alone. I've already done more preliminary work on this story than I've ever done on stories in the past, so this isn't just a random lark.

With that in mind, here are my other reasons for doing this: I wanted to try my hand at something that wasn't overshadowed by romance; I've never written anything that didn't have some element of a love story in it, so this is a rather interesting experiment for me. Also, I really like Tom Riddle as a character; I mean, the study of his psychology alone is fascinating, and I've always felt that, since he was the villain, we never really learned enough about him. That being said, I have these small warnings to give:

1) I'm rather obsessive about dates and timelines, since it's one of the easiest things to mess up in a story (and, indeed, I have done so before). I'm putting an extraordinary amount of effort into getting all the dates right here, but, unfortunately, there's a little bit of disagreement among the Harry Potter community about when certain things happened. Right now, I'm using a source that calculated everything they could, based on what information was given in the books and by Rowling herself; I'm inclined to think they probably have the right of things, because they go out of their way to explain how they got their facts, so if you disagree with a date, I'm going to need a very sound reason as to why. That doesn't mean I don't welcome you to challenge me, by all means do! I'm a history geek so I find this kind of thing fun.

2) This is my first Harry Potter fic in a long, long time, and I will try my very best, but mistakes are inevitable for anyone who isn't Rowling.

3) This is an AU story starting at the end of The Chamber of Secrets, as you might have guessed, so I'm going to have to ask everyone to disregard all of the books after that. I might keep some of the events of book three, but it's questionable, so don't get your hopes up. Also, I claim artistic license. That doesn't mean I'll use it as an excuse to make everyone completely out of character, but I will develop them in my own way; for some characters you may enjoy it, for some you may not. But I promise, above all, that I will remain consistent in how I write them.

4) Like I said earlier, this story is an experiment for me while I'm waiting for my writers' block to bugger off so that I can continue my Labyrinth stories. I take all of my work very seriously, and I will with this one as well, but because it's just something to fill the hours I can't promise that updates will be regular at all.

5) This story is not slash. Like I said above, there will be no romantic element this time around. That's not to say that there won't be seduction (of the non-romantic variety), for the Dark is nothing, if not seductive. Nevertheless, there are no focus pairings in this story.

6) The views expressed in this story are not, necessarily, my own. It's a sensitive matter when you write a character like Tom Riddle. On the other hand, I won't always agree with what Harry says, either. So please, if something offends you, be aware that it's not me, the author, spreading personal propaganda, I'm just trying to be true to the characters.

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Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, or any associated characters, locations, or concepts; rights belong to JK Rowling. Portions of the text were taken directly out of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. After this chapter, it's not likely that I will quote from the original books so heavily, or, possibly, at all.