The Crown of Mètis
1957 A tree in Albania, she said. Straightforward enough, right? Not if someone else got there first. Tom's journey in acquiring the vessel for his fifth Horcrux just got that much trickier. An exploration of White Magic. Canon-compliant.
Songs for this fic:
"Lullaby" by Dear Juliet/Chase Coy
"Nocturne for Piano and Violin" by Fredrick Chopin
"Ballad of Mona Lisa" by Panic! At The Disco
"Diem Ex Dei" by Globus
"Sunburn" by Muse
Notes: It will be a while until any actually talking between characters happens, lots of descriptions, several pages worth. Ya'll've got some hist'ry to catch up on before we reach the setting. I hope nobody lets that deter him or her from reading a good fic (which I hope this is)! Also, this is not an action-y story; it's a much more subtle battle and quite wordy.
I'm no expert on Greece, much less Athens. If anyone sees something that they know better about, feel free to call me out on my mistakes. I'm anal like that.
"Kurios" is the Greek equivalent of "mister."
This fic was inspired by the great Nerys' absolutely PRICESS profile pic that goes: "A tree. In Albania. Lucky for Voldy, Albania has only one tree." Makes me smile every time I see it.
The Crown of Mètis
He should have asked for better directions.
At the ripe age of thirty, Tom Marvolo Riddle had been living the good life of a traveling scholar for several years. Throughout the 1950's he had burned a path throughout Europe and the lower countries of Asia, going as far as the coasts of India, digging up and soaking in every bit of magical knowledge he could. He learned from Transfiguration and Charms masters, studied under men who lived and breathed arithmancy, eavesdropped on the whispered secrets of the Dark Arts, trained under professors who meddled with dangerous potions to make astonishing breakthroughs, and stole useful, rare, priceless books from libraries and universities and private archives to add to his own personal collection.
Although the creation of his Horcruxes—now numbered at four—had left his appearance malformed, it in no way deterred his natural charisma and charm. The fact that women of all ages no longer flocked after him was more of a relief than a hindrance. He carried two of the Horcruxes on his person: one around his neck and one in his bottomless trunk; the other two were safely tucked away in England.
It had been some years since the creation of his last Horcrux. With the four he already had, there was no reason to hurry and find his next one. However, considering that he was working his way back to Britain – having spent the last several months in Egypt – there was no good reason to pass by Albania, where the object he planned on having host yet another shard of his soul was supposed to reside.
Upon arrival, however, tracking down Ravenclaw's Diadem proved less easy than anticipated. He had wooed its location out of the Hogwarts ghost, the Grey Lady, years ago; but what had been a simple, small village in Helena Ravenclaw's time of life had, over the hundreds of years that had passed since, burst into a thriving town. The directions she had given him for the forest and the hollow tree that the Lost Diadem resided in, were useless; though trees surrounded the town, the forest was a shadow of what it had once been.
Not to be deterred, he scoured the remaining forested area, but, not unexpectedly, turned out empty-handed. The town, fortunately, possessed a small wizarding population, and Tom lingered for several weeks, familiarizing himself with the locals and befriending them. There wasn't much he was able to dig up about the town's history: its main source of income had been and still was animal stock and farming, but there was a legend of a woman who was undoubtedly Helena Ravenclaw who had passed through the village. Over the centuries it had been hyped up into a passionate love story, and the only mention of the diadem was that Helena had been painted as a "princess from a foreign land with a crown of silver." Questions he had about such a crown, yielded no fruit.
Finally, he sketched out the diadem on a sheet of parchment. Much to his pleasure, the responses were immediate; though, not what he expected.
"I know that. That's the Crown of Mètis," Everyone said.
A couple hundred years ago, they said, a young woman goat-herder was out putting her goats to pasture. There had been a large storm some days previous, lighting and thunder had raged, but the earth had responded with thick, lush grasses and the chance to fatten the flock so was not an opportunity to miss. While the goats grazed, the girl looked amongst the fallen, burnt trees for a branch to whittle at to pass the time, when she found a fine, silver, jeweled headband in the blackened, burnt out husk of an old yew. When she returned to her village she bore the circlet. When she wore it upon her head she was bestowed with such wisdom as none of the humble villagers had ever encountered before. After some time, unsatisfied with what knowledge could be found locally, she departed from the village to Athens. She was never seen again, but tales of her deeds spread far. The circlet gained the name "Crown of Mètis" and when the former goat-herder girl took on an apprentice it was passed down to her successor and so continued in a line. As far as the Albanians knew, the crown was still in Athens, still in the hands of a scholarly young woman. No one had connected the tale of the princess to the discovered circlet.
It seemed a train to Greece was in order, then. Tom left quickly, though not without burying his tracks first.
Athens: Greece's capital city, the birthplace of democracy and cradle of Western civilization. One of the oldest cities in the world, its history was buried under the hustle and bustle of modern times, buildings built on top of ruins on top of ruins. Buildings of white marble and red clay tiles and shining grey iron dappled against the skyline, the streets sprinkled with candy-colored automobiles. Lycabettus Hill rose above it all, a glorious, rocky, green crown of pines. Unlike the small town in Albania, the wizarding community was rich and plentiful here, and hidden in plain sight. Muggle tourists came and took pictures of crumbling, historical ruins, ignorant of the sites' true appearances, of the magics being preformed within. The Acropolis wasn't rotting; it was flourishing, and in the aftermath of WWII its population was full of young, new minds intent on shedding the ideals of the old world and bringing about a new era of invention and discovery.
His first stop was the University of Athens. While the National Library would have been a more peaceful place to research, Tom's interest in the history of the "Crown of Mètis" was minimal. Where it was at present was what was important and there was no better way to catch up on the current times than by listening in on the local gossip mill.
Again, Tom integrated himself into the community; his strange, hollowed appearance garnered a few long, curious glances, but far fewer than he had encountered in smaller metropolises. The magical community was full of odd-looking individuals; compared to some others strolling the streets Tom's looks—hollow cheeks, burning irises that bled into the sclera, inhuman paleness, bony frame, sharp features—were tame.
The Albanians had been right about the diadem still being passed down all the way to current times; the Crown of Mètis had a rich history in light magic, its holder always a woman whose status was akin to a priestess or oracle. The present holder of the diadem was a prodigy, apparently. All of the crown's guardians were exceptionally intelligent, something no doubt granted to them by the enchanted headpiece, but this woman was a genius among genii. She was a master of a dozen languages. Powerful. Light. The lightest White witch to grace the land in an age. And bizarrely mysterious, which was unexpected of such a public character.
"No one knows her real name," the students said, "But we call her many things. The Daughter of Athena. The Witch of Vesta. Protector of Mètis. She says she prefers to be called Lady Verdandi; everyone knows she came from the north."
"Vesta?" he asked once, "But isn't the goddess Vesta Roman?"
The man who had mentioned the name shrugged. "If you ever are granted the honor of seeing her, you will understand. She is much more suited to Vesta than Hestia."
Each woman had a different preference of where she resided; in the past some had worked out of their own homes, others took up residence in temples like the Parthenon. Lady Verdandi made the historic Academy of Plato her home.
Academy of Plato. The name disgusted him somewhat; Plato was a significant figure in the western world, both magical and muggle, and his teachings remained immortal even though his life had run its course over two thousand years ago, but history recognized him as a muggle, not a magician, and that a magical academy was named after a non-magical person was off-putting.
The current Academy was not the same building that the original had been. Muggle architecture was not as long lasting as magical, though plenty of ancient buildings were age-sturdy in their own right. The original Academy was a mere rectangle of decaying stones in a grassless clearing. The newer Plato's Academy was some half a century older than Hogwarts and in the first decade of the 16th century had been painted by the Italian artist Raphael. It did not host students, only those charged with its upkeep, as it was less of a school and more of a hub where bright minds gathered.
There was a richness and culture to the place that was so very unique and unlike the small details the other cultures he encountered. Those other cultures were no less magnificent than Greece, each was significant in its own right, the separation between them as different as charms were to transfiguration. But, seeing the fruits of Greek culture with his own eyes instead of in a photograph was new. Photos did the reality as much justice as the black and white did to India's colorful pallet.
White marble arches stretched overhead, their edges and carvings inlaid with gold filigree and honeycombed with brightly colored paintings depicting scenes from both mythology and history. In the walls stood statues of the gods and other magically historical figures, some naked, some bearing clothes so detailed and colored that it seemed that they were draperies of embroidered velvet and silk instead of stone. Both the statues and the paintings on the walls were lively and active, some lounged and vainly took on poses that demanded admiration, while others chattered amiably with the human scholars, sharing their knowledge and partaking in friendly debates. The mosaic floor, possessing tiles of nearly every color, was in a constant state of change, the colored fragments rearranging themselves into stunning landscapes, historical and present-day scenes, quotations, and even bulletin-board reminders and announcements. Through the arched, glass-less windows, he could see the deep greenness of a garden and what was most likely a water fountain. The heavy fragrance of flowers in full-bloom tinged the air, making Tom feel a bit heady; it was surely much more overpowering in the gardens themselves.
The scholars gathered were as interesting a sight as the school itself. Some people wore modern clothes, others the traditional wizard robes, and others still were dressed in the even more traditional togas of ancient times. There was no goofing around to be had, and each head was busy, talking, reading, or gazing thoughtfully into space. There were no benches to be had, people lounged in the window sills, on the stairs, at the feet of the statues, their poses relaxed and lazy, but the atmosphere thick with alertness and the eagerness to learn and teach.
Few gave Tom a second glance, but they parted before him as he walked, like water passing a river rock. Through the door-less archways, he found lecture halls – some empty, some peppered with active listeners – and the paths to the gardens, which he considered walking through, but decided against. There was also an impressive library and a communal bath, where the sexes mixed and waxed philosophic, unapologetic of their nakedness, veiled only by steam and the froth of soap.
He slowly meandered back to the Entrance Hall, where he asked a man where he could find the so-called "Lady Verdandi."
The man, whose appearance made him think of a bearded, somber counterpart of his old potions professor Slughorn, was quietly irked by having his attention drawn away from the conversation he was having with three other individuals, but he spoke English.
"She comes and she goes," he said, his voice buoyed with the arrogance of the intellectual, "Lady Verdandi always visits the market in the morning. You're welcome to borrow a book and wait."
Well, it wasn't as if he would turn down such a generous invitation. Plato's library contained a number of worthwhile tomes and even a few snatch-worthy ones, though there was little to be had on Dark magic. Unsurprising if the tales of the Academy's benefactor being a White witch were true.
He perched himself in the sill of a window, where he could get the best, most complete view of the hall and everyone milling about in it. The scents of the gardens assailed his thin nose, upon which he placed a set of rectangular glasses: Babble Spectacles; imbued with a similar magic that infested the ancient Tower of Babel, through their lenses the Greek text rearranged into legible English.
He had not arrived early in the morning, but his wait spanned over a couple of hours, during which he exhausted the pages of the smaller books he had collected and was working his way through the largest of the stack. Amusingly, the books he had finished with sighed in relief and muttered something in Greek when he was through with them.
It was nearing noon when Lady Verdandi arrived, and with the brief hush that fell over the hall there was no mistaking the woman for anyone else but the Protector of Mètis herself. The masses bowed in acknowledgement and went back to their business, though a number stared in awe, obviously witnessing the woman for the first time, Tom among them.
Her hair was flame. Her flesh porcelain. She carried herself as if she were an omnipresent, old woman; a slow gait, head slightly bowed, her hands folded before her. Her body was swathed in ethereal white, her head covered in a misty, transparent veil, and there, amidst her burning locks in all its glory, was Ravenclaw's Diadem, a splash of silver and indigo frost melting gently into her red, red hair.
He understood the title Witch of Vesta, now; it was purely superficial. She looked like Vestal Virgin, sprung out from a Frederick Leighton painting into a flesh and blood body.
Unwilling to delay any longer Tom closed the book, which uttered what sounded to be a scathing remark, and walked after the woman. The crowds parted before her even more widely and willingly than they had for Tom; she didn't command respect, it followed.
He waited until she reached an area of the academy that was sparser with people before calling out:
She paused at once, turning to fix her eyes on him, a curl swaying under her chin as she spun around. She seemed to be entirely without facial hair, neither eyebrows nor eyelashes, giving her a bizarrely youthful look, especially when combined with her eyes, which were the deep, dark blue of a newborn's, her lips the fleshy red of a child. Two small spots of red paint adorned her cheeks. She brightened at the sight of him, something that he hadn't been on the receiving end of since he was a handsome youth.
"Hello. Yours is a new face. May I help you with something?" Her English was clear, if accented. Her cheeks were plump and round as a prepubescent's, bright pink under the red paint, as if she had been out in the cold recently. Her knuckles were a bit too large, the backs of her hands thickly veined: an old woman's hands. Between her breasts rested a citrine brooch in the shape of a sunburst.
Tom turned up the scholarly charm. It always paid to be flattering. "Actually, I just wanted to meet you. I come from England, you see, and when the locals spoke of their revered White witch, I could not help but be intrigued."
She inclined her head in acknowledgement. "I am that witch." Then, true to Greek form, she asked, "Have you had lunch yet, sir?"
She gestured to her side. "Come. You shall dine with me, then."
She settled him in an empty hall, and toga-clad elves served richly spiced fish and fruit, and wine. To Tom's tongue, it tasted of nothing but ashes.
They talked for a while. Though he was sure she had duties to attend to she indulged him in conversation, and he fed her lies that she didn't bat an eye at. He learned far more than he was fishing for, but getting close enough to steal away Ravenclaw's Diadem would take time and Verdandi was a far cry from being dry or uninteresting. Her mind was full of fascinating information and she willingly surrendered it when asked, though she revealed no more than necessary and never spun off into a related tangent.
There was a distinctly professional tone to her, both in voice and in demeanor. She was used to speaking to audiences, not to equals or betters, and she spoke down to him for several irritating minutes before realizing she could explain things in their full, raw detail without having to hold back. Conversation, for Tom, was much more enjoyable after that. There was something to be said for entertaining information gathering; it was usually so tedious.
When he began steering the conversation toward personal information, he wasn't entirely surprised to hear that she indeed took on students, though she wouldn't need to take on an apprentice until she turned forty, which was no time soon.
"You are a professor, then?" A twinge of jealously snapped at his chest as he recalled the career that had been denied him.
"Of a sort; I teach the White Arts to those that seek to learn them, but only those who actively come to me. As you might imagine, that number is quite small. Very few are bold enough to approach me, as yourself."
He preened a bit at that, though he kept it well hidden. "Perhaps it is simply because I am a foreigner," he said, feigning humbleness, "I have not grown up knowing of you and your predecessors, I merely see a witch who takes after the wizards of old."
She stared at him for so long, silent, that an unnerved tickle began to crawl up his spine. His alertness spiked. This woman, White and childish-looking, was not a naïve, easily trusting person as he had assumed. Her appearance was immensely deceiving. Could she sense his lies, his fabricated story and observations?
Then she smiled and he felt relief warm through him, creating a sensation of weightlessness. He had her fooled for now, but he would have to be subtler from here on out.
"Thank you," she said, nodding just a bit.
He took care not to smile, settling for only a slight upward tilt to his lips. His smile was not so handsome anymore.
"I have shared some of the things I know with others, but have never had the privilege of taking on students. I applied for the Defense Against the Dark Arts position after my graduation from Hogwarts, but was denied because of my young age."
"Shame. The Hogwarts curriculum leaves much to be desired."
"You've been?" he asked, raising his eyebrows, but Verdandi shook her head.
"No, but I've met a few Hogwarts alumni who come here to study and learn. You have never reapplied?"
"I found other interests." Tom said easily. "They are what led me here."
"I hope you find what you are searching for. There is always something to be learned these days, and new things are being discovered every day."
"I have no doubt that I will. Forgive me, but I do not believe I've caught your name just yet."
She turned her head to take a sip of wine, appraising him out of the corners of her eyes. "You may call me Lady Verdandi. And your name, stranger?"
"I go by Voldemort, Lady."
"Vol de mort," she repeated, enunciating, "How unique. Very French. 'Flight from death.'"
"Thank you, Lady. My name is no more unique than your own, however."
She chuckled quietly, humored, a smile buoying her childish features. "Very, then."
Verdandi finished the last sip of her wine, the sun that fell through the window winking through the bruised glass, and finally stood. He followed her motion.
"It has been a long time since I met anyone like you, Kurios Voldemort. I look forward to our next encounter."
"Is that your way of inviting me back?"
Her infantile eyes grew inscrutable. "We will be meeting again," She said mysteriously.
He stared at her retreating back, loosing a long exhale. Verdandi's body language was impossible to read, and it had been a long time since Tom had had to deal with someone hidden behind such intense mystery. Verdandi was an unknown variable, and the unknown was a dangerous thing.
'She caught on to something. Mustn't underestimate her again.'
Just where did a Greek woman get off calling herself after a Norse goddess? Tom wondered back in his hotel room.
Nagini, a large viper he had picked up whist in the Indies, was coiled beneath his immaculately made bed, sleeping off what might have been either a large dog or a small child; he wasn't quite sure, nor did he care. He twirled his wand, as pale and smooth as a shard of bone ivory, in one hand as he stared at the ceiling with narrowed eyes. He was well past the age where he needed a quill and parchment to smooth out his thoughts and plans.
Verdandi: the middle of the three Norns, or Goddesses of Destiny. Also called Verthandi and Veroandi, she wound the "thread of life" after it was spun by the first sister, Urd, before passing it onto Skuld, who cut the thread. Verdandi thrived on the present, never looking toward the past or the future. She and her sisters lived beneath and cared for Yggdrasil of Asgard, the tree that was the center of the universe.
And that was really where the mythology ended, irritatingly.
So why the name "Verdandi?" Was it symbolic or an anagram, like his chosen name was? It was so very out of place amongst the Mediterranean culture. Verdandi did not look Scandinavian, but then her appearance was not entirely natural in the first place. Throughout his travels, Tom had never met a person who looked like that, like she wasn't entirely human or perhaps more than human. He wondered if her appearance was an anomaly she had been born with, or a magic-induced transformation similar to his own.
The more he knew, the easier it would be to work out how to weave around her defenses to steal the diadem. He doubted it would be so easy as to kill her and walk away; the Greeks revered the Crown of Mètis like the English revered the Founders artifacts, it would have other protections than a mere woman.
Know thy enemy.
He wondered if he could use her death for the ritual for the creation of his fifth Horcrux. Although it wasn't strictly necessary— as he had more murders under his belt than Horcruxes, and the creation of his soul containers was not dependent on the time of the killings—a torn soul portion could be placed in a container years after the actual murder had occurred; it was one wound that time did not heal, after all. Sentimentally, he was saving it for a significant death; though, he supposed it would be a shame to rid the world of such a brilliant individual. Then again, that intelligence of hers might have simply been credited to Ravenclaw's Diadem and no natural talent of her own. There was no way to know for sure this early in the game.
The Inn he was staying at did not serve complimentary meals and so, he was forced to go to the morning market if he wanted to eat that day. Not that it really mattered what he ate, it had been a long time since food held any flavor to his palette, his sense of taste deadened. Tom's purpose for venturing there was more than the pursuit of breakfast, however.
The streets were crowded with people, pausing to observe and buy the wares of the displayed stalls and then continuing down the line, a living, breathing artery of human culture, the air spiced. He wandered for some time before he found what he was looking for: a woman in a white robe.
Lady Verdandi stood above a crowd of children like a deity clothed in cloud-cloth, a teething toddler under one arm, a smile on every face. There was something awing about the picture and the level of community and trust displayed there; the adults trusted the witch to keep their precious offspring safe while they shopped for their daily provisions. What creature in the world was more valuable than the human child? Those who molded today's children inspired tomorrow's future. And those children obviously adored Verdandi. An old part of Tom stung with envy.
Tom watched as a man approached her and spoke rapidly, gesturing to the fountain that sprawled across the center of the square, spitting glassy flowers into the air. Verdandi and the children clustered over to it, and they watched in fascination as she worked her mouth and spat in the water, which immediately lost its slight murkiness and flowed clear and fresh.
The man thanked the White witch and filled his buckets. The children clapped and cheered and began playing in the water. Verdandi had to hold a few back from climbing right into the basin; their parents would surely be unhappy to have their children returned soaked and shivering.
As he stared at the water Tom realized that he was unprepared for this kind of magic. The Dark Arts were forbidden, but the amount of knowledge relating to them was almost excessive. The White Arts, however, were much more obscure, the knowledge passed on mostly from teacher to student. Studying light magic required no pass into restricted sections of libraries, but it did not appeal to a human's baser instinct of desire and self-fulfillment like the Dark Arts did. The process of creating Holy Water was traditionally a longer process than what Verdandi had demonstrated, but there was no doubt that the fountain had been cleared of all impurities, simply by an act as vulgar as spitting.
He grasped at Slytherin's Locket, hanging about his neck. Tom Riddle knew almost nothing of the White Arts compared to the other areas of magic, but he did not doubt for one moment that his Horcrux would be reverted back to an ordinary locket if it were to be immersed in that water fountain, the splinter of his soul destroyed.
His earlier plans of confronting her in public were promptly discarded. It was time he did more thorough research and poked around Plato's Academy's library. He would have to delay furthering their relationship.
Reluctantly, he left his Horcruxes in his hotel room. Though he didn't doubt Nagini could defend them well, and he'd warded his trunk with several nasty hexes and jinxes, leaving them in such a vulnerable place made him horribly insecure. When he finally got the diadem, he would have to work out safe hiding places for them.
He did not spend the following week actively avoiding Verdandi whenever he was at the Academy, but nor did he seek her out. He read up on light magic nearly nonstop, to the point where some books simply refused to open for him. Light magic wasn't completely dull, though for the most part what he read he felt was mediocre and useless; spells for fertility, spells for healing, spells to make grass grow faster, it was all so pointless. However, the deeper and more light one delved, the more interesting things got, some were even inspiring, particularly a potion involving flesh, blood, and bone. The Disemboweling Curse, he discovered, which was illegal in Britain, was originally a light incantation for the age-old Babylonian entrails diviners, haruspices. The reverse incantation that would seamlessly put the exposed organs back in the body, which he had never heard of, was listed right next to the curse.
However, the books that delved into the deepest corners of White magic and its possibilities were not plentiful. At first, the thought of receiving a bit of tutelage in the area from Verdandi seemed disgustingly demeaning, but the more he thought on it, the more the idea appealed to Tom's cunning, self-serving nature. How priceless it would be to use her teachings against her, to see the expression on her alien face when she realized how foolish she had been to trust him!
A savage smile parted his lips, baring straight, white teeth; no one was around to see. Victory would be sweet.
However, he found her comment of "I told you we would meet again" completely uncalled for.
Surprisingly, it took no convincing to persuade her to teach him; she hosted a class that was open to any that wanted to attend, all he had to do was show up. On the downside, she only gave lectures once a week. Even worse, while her classes were certainly educational, in so many words her lessons were long-winded preaches about the virtues, the gift of life, and the "power of love" with some spells thrown in only when the few people that attended requested them. Tom was disgusted by Verdandi's lectures, but her so-called 'students" were even more disgusting.
The adults attending had no interest in actually putting any of her teachings to use, no even the ones that made life for the everyday man easier; they seemed more focused on making written records and embellishing their self-important novels and essays than retaining what they were being taught. The only ones that actually put anything into practice were the adolescents, and since more complicated spells had to be taught later in a person's development, it was little wonder that Verdandi's lessons were practically elementary. Her effort went to those that wanted it, and the ones that wanted it were the children.
"Lady Verdandi, I am greatly dissatisfied with your classes," Tom finally told her.
Verdandi wasn't the least bit surprised. "I have been waiting for you to say that," she said, guiding an eraser across the blackboard with her wand.
She held out her other hand to accept the Gossip Stone back, a small, enchanted pebble of hematite that was placed in the ear to translate a spoken language into one the receiver would understand. Tom gladly returned it; though useful, it was uncomfortable having the small stone sit in his ear.
Her words made him frown. Tom did not pride himself on being predictable or easily read. What was worse was that Verdandi did not guess or assume anything, she knew. No one got that many lucky guesses. Somehow, she knew. He just had to find out what she knew and, more importantly, how she knew it. If it was Legilmency, it presently surpassed his own, and he didn't dare try to prod at the defenses of her mind for fear that it was just that. Tom did not take risks without calculating the leap first.
He crossed his arms. "Couldn't you teach me privately? Or at least indulge me in a deeper conversation than what goes on in here." He gestured widely to the now-empty lecture hall.
She did not yet look at him, moving the whitened erasers out the window to remove them of the chalk-dust. "I cannot teach you in that manner, Kurios Voldemort. I'm only allowed to take one apprentice, to mold into being my successor. It is the nature of my magic. But," she turned her head slowly to him, "If you have questions or theories, we can discuss and debate them without having to worry about a contract forming. We can even start now, if you like."
Tom nodded. "I think that will do."
The erasers flew back to their resting place. "So, your questions."
"Why do only your young students learn any White spells? I know there's got to be a better reason than just the adults being uninterested."
"Because they are the only ones who can."
He narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"There are plenty of White spells that ordinary people can use, spells to make plants grow better, to bring luck, to help a minor illness or injury heal faster. But, the Whiter the magic you want to use, the younger you have to start learning. The White Arts are dependent on the purity of one's soul and intentions: innocence, virginity, flesh. In children these sorts of things are still intact and have never been broken, they are necessary for much of the White Arts. My blood has never been spilt, nor have I ever drawn the blood of another. If I ever perform a spell or create a potion that requires blood, it is another who pulls if from the donator's veins. Most adults have lost these things, have shed blood and lost faith, so they can only learn the process, and cannot put the Whitest spells and potions into practice. The only exceptions to these rules might be pregnant women."
"Why expecting mothers?"
She smiled. "There is no magic lighter than the creation of a human life. Also, placentas are prominent ingredients for White potions, as well as a baby's first tears, and milk from nursing mothers; though, the latter two are illegal even to me, and afterbirths can only be acceptably used by willing donation. Those who practice the White Arts are most often women. You would be hard pressed to find a White wizard these days, and White witches aren't as common as they used to be, either, not that their numbers were ever high."
"Illegal?" he echoed, surprised. "But light magic is supposed to be the epitome of everything 'good,' why would some aspects of it be forbidden?"
"Light magic has its taboos as well, Kurios Voldemort. Light magic, especially the White Arts, require a great deal of selflessness, and even more self-sacrifice. Should one look back enough in history, it can be gleaned that a great number of Dark spells and rituals evolved from White ones."
His mind flickered back to the origin of the Disemboweling Curse.
"Virginal sacrifice, longevity, a good deal of music, and so on. In ancient times, virgin sacrifices were preformed for all sorts of things. Just because it is light does not mean that the White Arts are without blood in their history. Performing magic so light oftentimes results in the caster's lifespan being shortened. Everything has its price, after all. It's also very emotional; people have, quite literally, died of happiness." Her voice grew soft. "The White Arts aren't lacking in illegal spells and potions."
"You said that an infant's first tears and mother's milk is forbidden 'even to you.' I suppose you're the exception most of the time, are you?"
"Not completely, but in many cases I am. There are some blessings and elixirs that only I can create, some protections that only I can provide."
His interest peaked. "What kinds of protections? I take it they aren't the kinds of spells that cause boils or bite off fingers."
"Of course not," she sniffed as if she found the thought offensive, "But that's not to stay they aren't powerful. There are spells that can recognize ill intent and prevent a person from crossing a predetermined line; trees that move and grow to prevent an intruder from passing or to make them lost, forgetfulness, compulsion charms, flowers whose scent makes you fall asleep or admire them for hours, charms that will overwhelm a person with the need to procreate, the Fidelius, to name a few."
'The Fidelius Charm!' A powerful secret-keeping spell, only a handful of people in the whole of Europe were capable of casting it. If the charm were placed on Verdandi's rooms or the place the diadem was kept when not worn, then there would be no way for Tom to get it without persuading the secret out of her or flat-out snatching the crown right off her head. The latter could only lead to more trouble than he really wanted to deal with; magical Athens was not a place where he could slip quietly away into the night whilst giving pursuers the slip, no matter how easily one could vanish into a crowd, and luck had never been something Tom could fall back on, as it had never favored him.
"Are White protections incapable of causing pain?"
She looked at him carefully. The only other person that had ever looked at him with such scrutiny had been Dumbledore. He disliked seeing that expression again. He hadn't let anything slip, so why was she looking at him like that?
"There are protection spells that can cause pain," she said slowly, "But it is not the nature of light magic to cause harm."
He crossed his arms, placing one hand at his chin. "Interesting. It seems almost contradictory; people usually associate powerful protections with light magic, but it seems to be the other way around."
"Just because they do not cause extraordinary pain does not make them any less deterring or powerful." She said, her tone lightly cutting.
Inwardly, Tom was very much amused. She was quick to defend her chosen profession, not taking kindly to it being belittled. Recalling how her saliva had so thoroughly cleansed the water of the public fountain, he had to concede that the White Arts were formidable in their own right, and it wasn't in his best interest to irk the woman if he wanted to steal the Crown of Mètis.
He continued to attend her classes; though it was clear he wouldn't be able to use her own magic against her, the sessions weren't entirely useless to his plans and her voice was pleasant to listen to. Their one-on-one talks, however, were extremely useful in getting him closer to her and far more informative. She was as eager an educator and intellect as he was, passionate and hungry for the written word, and the fountain of information that sprung from her mouth never ran dry.
He was careful to avoid debates, and had a feeling that Verdandi did the same, sticking to cold, hard facts and the sharing of that knowledge, never allowing personal opinions and morals to interfere. Verdandi was a White witch, if he let his passion for the Dark Arts be known, he was sure confrontation would follow, and Tom preferred a much subtler path than open warfare. It was much better to poison an opponent from the inside out, rather than to force the way in like digging through the layers of an onion.
If he found it suspicious that Verdandi always dropped whatever she was doing at the moment, to center her universe around him for several minutes, or several hours, he did not speak it aloud. Suspicion did not lessen the pleasure of such a dominant woman responding as if she were at his beck and call.
Until one day, when he was granted the privilege of seeing what she did when she was not with him.
He had stolen her away from the library and delved into a discussion on the magical properties of precious stones and metals. Between them she shared a platter of feta cheese and olives, and he banished the tiny seed of envy in him as he watched the pleasure skittering across her underdeveloped face as she savored each bite. They were comparing the purifying potential of gold versus the more traditional silver when a young boy burst into the room, announcing something that enraptured Verdandi's attention in a way Tom had not yet managed. Their conversation dismissed, she banished the food tray with a wave of her hand and stood, swiftly and gracefully like a long-legged bird rising from its nest.
"My services are required," she said over her shoulder, "If you wish to observe, you are welcome to come and do so."
Tom was irritated, immensely so, at the sudden interruption, which Verdandi had not even bothered to explain. She had never responded so promptly when it was he that called on her, moving instead at a more relaxed pace instead of running out as if the world would end if she didn't move quickly enough. Nevertheless, he followed, intent on seeing what was so much more important than he was.
The dark skinned boy led them to a small private hall, where waited an old woman. The woman fell to her knees before Verdandi, and the boy knelt also, but Tom stayed standing, eyeing the Greeks from just inside the engraved archway, his eyes sharp and analyzing.
They spoke in rapid Greek, and as such the conversation unfortunately flew over Tom's head, though he was able to glean most of it through their body language. They came to some sort of agreement and the old woman stopped begging and began thanking Verdandi profusely. Finally the woman turned and pried away something that had been hiding behind her skirts.
It was very sick toddler covered in hot red blisters, giving it the appearance of someone who had been burned repeatedly through the skin with a lit cigarette. Ecthyma, he recognized. Not a fatal illness, but the child must have been in excruciating pain. Its cheeks were apple-red, crusted with the salt of dried tears.
Verdandi frowned deeply, an expression that made her already bizarre face seem inhuman. She circled the child, asking the old woman several questions and retrieving prompt answers. Finally, she drew her wand and stripped the child of its clothing, leaving it trembling and naked; a boy.
She knelt before it, her expression melting into a matronly, lovely picture, and spoke what could only be words of comfort, stroking the child's hair and face until it calmed and relaxed in her arms.
Verdandi picked up the sick toddler and, to Tom's amazement and disgust, began licking the weeping sores. If the taste of the infected flesh bothered her, there was no expression on her face or hesitation in her motions that revealed so. She licked at a steady pace, every so often pausing to moisten her tongue, and visibly, the sores began to close over and heal, leaving only new, pink skin behind. The child gasped and sighed in visible relief as the pain was cured, the flush of its cheeks lessening to a healthier rosette. Verdandi was unabashed and continued healing dutifully even when her mouth wandered to body parts usually considered more taboo.
'Just what exactly is in her body fluids?' Tom wondered. This was the second time he'd seen her use her saliva to cleanse something. There were powerful potions and healing spells that could cure a person of an illness in the span of a day, but he knew of nothing that healed so swiftly and effectively.
There was absolutely no doubt that it was White magic, but how did it work? You couldn't effectively break down a wall without knowing how to build it first, and in order to achieve his goal he needed to break down Verdandi's walls. Although he had been in Athens for nearly two months, Tom only effectively knew how to theoretically build such a wall, only the bare, skeletal framework that graced the White Arts. The way to flesh it out had thus far evaded him, as it wasn't described in books, only through Verdandi's mouth.
When the last wound had been cleaned and healed, Verdandi set the little boy on his feet. With two flicks of her wand the toddler's old clothes burned away, consumed by blue flames, and a swathe of white cloth spun itself around the child's body, clean and new. She kissed the toddler on the top of his head as the old woman voiced her gratefulness. The child arched against Verdandi's touch like a kitten aching for attention and finally the old woman picked him up and left noisily, babbling and teary-eyed, escorted by the dark-skinned adolescent.
Verdandi conjured a wineglass of water and rinsed her mouth. "Shall we resume our conversation, Kurios Voldemort?" She asked, approaching him and vanishing the glass.
He focused his eyes on her mouth and the miraculous magic that it had just preformed. "I'd be more interested in hearing about what it was you just did, actually. How did you cure the illness like that?"
She shrugged and began walking. Tom followed alongside her.
"It is not complicated, simply powerful. Only the Whitest practitioners can heal a person so fully and quickly. I did not 'cure' it, in so many words. The disease had to go somewhere; I ate it."
"You… ate it." He repeated incredulously.
"I told you, the White Arts do not destroy."
Each day she grew more and more fascinating, like a new species sprouted from something unsightly and mundane. Were she not such a prominent figurehead in her community, he probably would have kidnapped and dissected her. As it was he was seriously considering it, regardless.
"What illnesses can you not cure?"
"There aren't any."
"You can cure everything?"
"All sicknesses of the flesh, yes. The mind is another matter altogether; even I cannot fix that, nor sicknesses of the soul."
The soul—did she tack that on intentionally, or was it coincidence? "Even fatal sicknesses? What about wounds?"
"Yes, and yes, flesh wounds too, but my saliva can only take care of the minor illnesses and flesh wounds. More serious ones require my urine."
Well, he had certainly heard of more disgusting rituals, but considering it was being used for healing that cut the line pretty close. Saliva was one thing, but piss as an all-powerful healing agent?
"It is your… purity, your virginity, that makes it possible for you to use this kind of magic and not a normal individual?"
She fixed her eyes on him. "Yes."
Tom knew there was no chance he could utilize the magic Verdandi had so effortless preformed, but it was still irking to hear it set so solidly in stone. He fell silent shortly, thinking hard.
"What about," he lowered his voice, "The deceased?"
Verdandi stopped, her snowy robe swishing around her ankles in response, reluctant to stop their forward motion. Her eyes were dark and deep, some inner spark burning behind her pupils.
"I will not say that there is no force on this earth can bring back the dead, Kurios Voldemort, because I have heard of and encountered miracles, but nothing so whole as what you are thinking. I met a muggle once who had drowned as a child and his heart stopped for a full nine minutes. He has had a strong connection to the deceased ever since, and knows where they are, always, even if he cannot see them as wizards can. If asphyxiated, it takes six minutes for the human brain to black out, and twelve minutes until the heart stops. It is a tiny window in which people can be brought back from the brink of death, extremely so. Anything outside of that minute frame and Hades would have too firm a hold on the soul, and it would never be able to be returned to the body. You would find yourself with a ghost or an Inferi or similar unnatural creature.
"No, I cannot help the dead. An electric shock to the heart or the Kiss of Life, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation as it is modernly known, is the extent of the options."
Tom and Verdandi locked eyes, and after a moment he nodded. It had been a whimsical, fanciful inquiry, spurred by the need to make sure he had every base covered. Her healing ability was priceless as it was, if she had had the ability to bring back the dead… but that was moot point now.
They continued walking. The hour was growing late and the Academy was only sparsely peppered with people. The sky blushed as the two scholars meandered out to the gardens. The air was thick with perfume, the foliage cast in deep shadows and yellow gold as Helios and his chariot slowly tugged the cooling sun down toward the horizon. Every plant in the garden was useful in some way, magical or mundane. Gnarled olive trees reaching upward like cramped hands, flowering almonds and figs, green-beaded apple trees, laurel crowning the plot's outermost edges. Closer to the ground grew the cherished herb saffron, cornelian cherries, fennel, deadly hemlock, and assorted herbs such as thyme, rosemary, mint and moly, dittany, sopopherous blossoms and valerian.
To Tom's over-sensitized nose, the heavy mixture of scents was almost dizzying, and he consciously made an effort not to breathe too deeply. Verdandi did not appear completely unaffected herself, she looked slightly less alert, and when she sat on the water fountain's edge he hesitantly took seat beside her. Verdandi looked more human in the light of the dusk, the bruised skyline granting her skin a healthy golden hue, the red of her hair warmed to a heated, shining copper. The vividness of her personality had toned down somewhat since she had cured the child of its sickness he noticed, her presence quiet, shadows coagulating under her eyes.
"What did the old woman give you in return for healing the child?" he asked. "Surely you didn't do that out of pure charity."
"Charity is a virtue, Kurios Voldemort," Verdandi said, a mildly teasing lilt to her voice, "But…" she trailed off, sighing lightly, "Yes, it was done without payment."
Tom narrowed his eyes. Her expression was weary and distant, tinged with old longing and a smidge of bitterness.
"You want there to be payment," he stated. "Why wasn't there?"
She was silent for several thoughtful moments, her eyes carefully averted.
"In the older days, before my time, even before the Crown of Mètis came into the hands of the Athenians, something had to be given in order to receive what they sought. The ancients feasted and celebrated under the gods for a reason; if they wanted a good harvest an animal must be offered; if they wanted to eradicate plague a virgin must be surrendered. Money, sentimental objects from the home, blood sacrifice—everything has its price. For something to be gained, something of equal value must be lost. Fair trade. Modernization has… depraved the world of that. Taking advantage of goodwill and charity as a hungry leech. For that child I should have received a healthy goat or a casket of wine, at least. It would have restored some of the energy I spent." She inhaled then exhaled, long and slow. "It is my duty to serve the people when they need me. Did you think I was self-employed? No, I am a ward of the state. What they need from me, I give. It is as simple as that."
There was something appalling in that confession, Tom found. Verdandi was, in a way, his enemy—she guarded what he sought, and to possess it required her defeat—but he was not blind to the fact that her magical and intellectual ability stood on nearly equal ground with his own, Ravenclaw's Diadem notwithstanding. There was nothing more stimulating, more inspiring, than an equal who stood on opposite morals. If things didn't go as he planned, she was a potential rival when the time came for him to begin taking steps to overtake the Wizarding World. An opponent that was worthy of his respect, however reluctantly it may have been given. To learn that she was being depraved of her right to be paid for her services struck him as unjust.
"How do you live like that? Your freedom restricted, submitted to the wills and whimsies of the masses, you seem as much a slave of the state as an oracle."
Verdandi's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Slavery… such a heavy word. I have never thought of it that way, and I must admit that I do not really agree. Slavery suggests unwillingness and force. Helping people makes me happy."
"What about yourself? Your wants?"
"Waste not, want not."
"You don't mean that." He knew she didn't.
Her expression shifted. It was like watching the wind change course; her dark blue, lash-less eyes tore themselves away from the trees to hone in on his face, the skin of her face lifting and tightening around her temples, hairless brow slightly lowered. Her lips parted mere millimeters, enough to pull in breath through the mouth. She looked at him as if she had just been graced with an epiphany, as if she was seeing him for the first time, and had he been a lesser man Tom's breath would have stilled in his throat. Instead, he held her gaze unflinchingly, unmoved.
"What makes you believe that?" her milky voice was soft.
"Because no matter what magic you practice, no matter the powers of that crown on your head, or how strange you look, you are human. Humans desire. It simply isn't possible for such a powerful person to lack any ambition whatsoever. If nothing else, you want payment for your services to the people—those ignorant muggles, those selfish, xenophobic wizards—because you know you deserve it, that you have earned it a hundred times over."
One side of her mouth twitched then curled. She snorted softly, smile widening, then broke into a short bout of bubbly laugher, an asymmetric, genuine grin alighting itself on her lips for the briefest of moments.
"At last, I hear you speak a truth! You truly are a unique man, Voldemort. 'Human…' I think you know that I am as much human as you yourself are."
His stomach went cold. "I don't know what you mean, Lady Verdandi."
"You're a very good liar." Her smile was surprisingly fond. "One of the best I've met, in fact."
"When I have I ever lied to you?"
To his utter shock, she began listing off each fib he had ever told her, each and every one, until he motioned for her to stop.
"Surprised?" she asked, her voice tinged with smugness.
"Completely gobsmacked," he admitted, his head tilted in open curiosity, "And I don't believe I have to tell you how rarely that happens. How on earth…?"
"I am White," she said, as if that explained everything. In its own way, it did; a deep, magical instinct that was almost animalistic, a sixth sense that could identify between ally and enemy. He had sensed her nature the first moment he saw her, knew just by looking that she was a White witch, and she, in turn, had been able to identify his own intent.
Verdandi continued. "So, I would greatly appreciate it if you began being truthful, at least when with me."
He raised an eyebrow. "And if the truth is that I am Dark?"
She stared at him, head tilted, "A perfect opposite," she muttered and finally rolled one shoulder. "You are what you are, and I knew what that was the moment I saw you. As long as you are honest in my presence, you will receive no prejudice from me. Light cannot exist without darkness, nor can darkness exist without light."
Tom couldn't even remember the last time he had been honest; if he wasn't lying outright, then he was weaving half-truths.
"If you knew that I was Dark right away then why did you invite me to eat with you?"
"I had to know if you meant harm to the Academy, speaking with you was the quickest way to surmise your intentions."
"And the reason you have continued conversing with me?"
That oddly lopsided smile returned. "I find you fascinating."
"Huh," he breathed. An appropriate response refused to come forward.
Something big had unlocked, Tom felt. His slow progress in penetrating Verdandi's defenses taking a large surge forward, but not, as she had said earlier, without a sort of cost. The relationship he had been building could grow to a new level, but at the price of his carefully fabricated lies, his once-thought-to-be flawless mask.
"What will you do if I choose not to tell you the truth?" he inquired at last.
Verdandi's eyes were firm. She leaned forward, invading his personal space until he could feel the heat of her breath. "Then you would never step foot in this Academy again."
A smirk tickled the corner of his mouth. He put his weight on one arm, returning the invasion. This woman could not intimidate him. "A fine threat, my Lady. I assume you would purify me."
"Yes, but make no mistake, Voldemort, it is a promise, not a threat."
He chuckled, a hoarse, airy rumble centered deep in his chest. He allowed his chin to fall and pulled back to view her fully. His dark eyes glittered.
"Very well, if it's honesty you want then I'll give it to you. I've no wish to be on the receiving end of your 'holy powers.' But, don't blame me if you don't like what you hear."
She inclined her head, satisfied. Ravenclaw's Diadem shone like a reminder of wintertime, starkly blue-white against the glowing embers of her hair.
And, as she had asked him to be, he was honest. And, as he knew would happen, their relationship grew and unfurled like a spring bloom, vibrant and potent. It was surprisingly tricky to stop the reflexive instinct to lie, and he had to catch himself on more than one occasion, but he felt that the reward far outweighed the paying price.
It was astonishing to see how much she had been holding back from him due to his lies. They began to debate, furiously, passionate in their respective careers, debunking old conclusions and building new ones. Had Verdandi not persisted in keeping their meetings private, there would have surely been a large audience listening in like sportsmen watching a tennis match. Her blackboard got more use in a week than it had probably seen in the entire past year, elegant equations and layered diagrams laced in ivory over the slate until her arms were as white as her robes. Maps of the night sky were projected over the ceiling, studied in broad daylight, and even some muggle discoveries floated up and out of their mouths. The first photograph of DNA a mere five years old; what Darwin's theory of evolution meant for the wizarding race; the recently deceased Albert Einstien; hypothesizes on why muggle electronics failed in the presence of magic and why weaker magic sputtered and died when exposed to electricity.
The destruction of World War II had a much different effect on Verdandi than it had Tom. Though England was deeply involved in the war, the Nazi's had only touched Britain through the Blitz, which Tom had never experienced the terror of as he had always been away at Hogwarts when the bombs fell over London.
A few scant years his senior and a White witch, Verdandi greeted the war with a vastly different outlook than the one Tom had had at age twelve. Greece was on the continent, and had suffered under Nazi-occupation, uprooted and torn asunder, though not without valiant struggle. A teen-aged Verdandi had watched a soldier leap to his death from the Acropolis, wrapped in the country's blue and white flag, watched the Nazi swastika rise in its place only to be torn down again days later by patriots. As a person deeply entwined in magic rooted to life, she had shuddered and fallen ill as the streets of Athens were painted red with her people's blood and festered with starvation and sickness. Eventually she and her mentor fled to Egypt with the rest of Greece's government, where freckles exploded over her pale skin and her magic expanded deeper than any Protector of Mètis before her, absorbing the knowledge of Egypt's long dead mages and immortal kings like a dehydrated sponge. Despite the distance Verdandi still collapsed into epileptic-like fits when the horrors engineered in Germany pulsed under the rocky veins of the Alps, across the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, and into the hearts of her and the woman that wore the crown before her, voiced the screams of the bleeding earth and mended slowly as it did.
Tom did not, could not, sympathize with her, nor did he wish to, but he was enraptured by the bloody, pain-filled stories, as a hungry boy was attracted to a sweet shop. His insides quelled with hunger, his mouth watered, he wanted to witness the gore and destruction with his own eyes, but for now had to settle with imagination.
Of almost equal delight, however, was the opportunity to watch a meteor shower through a Luminary Tower. It was an old, old building, a replica of ancient telescopes, enhanced with fine-tuned spells and goblin-wrought reflectors that, combined, allowed wizards to view far-off planets in clear, alien color, a feat muggles had only thus far achieved in grainy black and white. Conceived of off-white stone it was a tall octagon jutting out from the grassy earth. Stairs spiraled upward, evening out some two stories high, to where the viewing basin rested. Higher still flew a quartet of dagger-like spires, cradling a rune-etched plate of glass, which concentrated and directed the light of the sky into the silver basin.
It was magnificent. While the mundane peoples oohed and ahhed on picnic blankets on their rooftops and pressed telescopes to their eye sockets, Tom and Verdandi witnessed the meteor shower as an entirely different experience. Falling stars that were mere zipping flickers in the sky were focused on and magnified to glorious white-gold stripes. The view of the red Mars and blue Neptune interrupted with mercurial flashes, like silver fish flitting around a black ocean full of fluorescent plankton.
Verdandi made a few notes, but after a while abandoned the magical telescope to watch the shower raw, with her own eyes.
"It's a shame that there aren't more countries outside of Arabia that use these towers," Tom commented, "They are very useful. Ingenious, really."
"The Middle East guards its secrets fiercely, it always has, and the Luminary Tower is Babylonian in origin. But interest in them has been on the rise in past years, especially in the USA and USSR." She said.
He grunted in response, relishing the sight as yet another meteorite fell over the reflector, the pinprick of light enlarged so that it resembled a comet. Falling through the atmosphere it birthed flame quickly and died just as fast, its lifespan a mere heartbeat long.
Tom lifted his eyes away from the viewing basin to observe his companion. Verdandi stood next to the railing, her head tilted heavenward. Against the darkness, her snowy figure stood out like a ghost.
"Do you think meteorite iron has a higher magic malleability than iron that has been mined?" He inquired, slowly approaching her. He clasped his hands behind him.
Her eyes flickered toward him. "It is difficult to be sure. Odd, that no one has done a modern study on that. As something that falls from the sky, superficially, it seems as if meteorites should be more susceptible to magic, but it is otherworldly, not native, and on the other hand that would make it assumedly more difficult to work with."
"Ah. Point well-made, my Lady."
She tilted her head in his direction. "When it was first discovered, people believed the Crown of Mètis to be crafted from sky iron."
"Did they really?" His eyebrows rose.
"The first Protector found it after a great storm, in the maw of a lightning-struck tree. She and many others believed it was the lightning that placed it there, and with the powers it grants, naturally, they believed it to be an object that had been crafted by deities, perhaps lost or perhaps placed before the woman intentionally."
He looked at her carefully, but her gaze was fixated on the sky. "Do you believe that?"
She hummed, the air about her warm and content. "Not in so many words. And it has obviously been since proved not to be an iron crown; it is white gold."
"White gold? I thought it was silver."
"Silver possesses a more grayish tint. White gold is more white."
It was more white than grey, now that he looked at it closely. "Do you always wear the crown? I have never seen you without it."
She laughed lightly, smiling, and he got the sense that she was asked that question often. "Not always, I would never sleep if I did. I am always thinking. Always. If I never took it off, my thoughts would never slow enough to let me sleep. But it is never far from me."
"You're immensely intelligent even without it, aren't you?" he said, lifting his arm.
As his fingers neared the diadem her hand shot up, clamping into his wrist. His flinch came on too fast for him to hold it back, and it was too violent to be passed off as mere surprise. Verdandi possessed an astonishing strength for a woman; he could feel his radius and ulna bones struggling to bend under the pressure of her fingers. More than that, however, her warm touch burned. She felt it too, if the expression on her face was any judge, but did not release her hold on him.
It was the first time they had touched.
"It's forbidden," she said at last, sobered, "For anyone but the Protector to touch the Crown of Mètis."
She saw through even his most flawless act so easily. It was more unnerving than her agelessness. She released him and he dropped his hand to his pocket.
"Your flesh is so cold." She said after a while. "I felt as if I would suffer frostbite. You felt it too."
"I felt as if I had hot coals held against me." He said, unnerved and intrigued. "Your touch burned."
Verdandi gazed at him for a long time, her face set in an expression of almost childish curiosity that was alien on her hairless face. She adjusted her hands and lifted herself onto the guardrail, sitting on it at a slight forward tilt.
"What is it you've done to yourself? Each time I see you I am amazed that you even exist, your presence is a mere whisper. Sometimes I fear that the breeze will blow your soul right out of you and leave you stuck in a vase or a wall. Your face… it is as if someone has tried to rub you away, like water smeared over calligraphy. You look closer to death than alive."
He did not answer straight away, or after several moments, and she waited patiently for a response of one sort or another. He debated on what to tell her, if he should tell her. Well, of course he could tell her, and he really shouldn't tell her, but would he?
She wouldn't tell, wouldn't turn him into the authorities for murder, he knew that somehow, sensed it, a strange sixth sense that tickled his brain and put pressure on his chest. Lord Voldemort trusted no one, not even Lady Verdandi, but he could trust his own instincts.
"I did not always look as I do now." He began.
Verdandi nodded knowingly. "I thought not. I have seen natural deformities before, but yours is not natural."
Deformity. That sounded so disgusting. The word from her mouth plucked at his ego. He pushed through it.
"When I was in school I was a very attractive boy. My female classmates adored me, and no small number of males did also. I was complemented on my appearance and intelligence often. The teachers, too, adored me, and having an aesthetically pleasing face only set me more deeply into their favor. They ate from my hand."
"I… cannot picture you as a handsome man." Verdandi said slowly. "Whoever you were before, he is someone I cannot imagine."
"My looks were a tool to me. I looked like my father, whom I hated."
"And so you hated your own appearance." She concluded.
He nodded. Had it been anyone else, he would have been annoyed at the interruption, at the assumption, but getting irritated wouldn't help him in any way or form. He did not intimidate Verdandi, nor did she him. It was unusual. He felt as if he should want to intimidate her, to push this dominant woman into a position of submission.
"When I was no longer a boy, but not yet a man, I searched for him and, when I found him, I killed him. His murder split my soul, and from it I took that splinter and placed it in an object I valued, making a Horcrux. I have three others."
She was disturbed by his confession, as he had meant for her to be, but she did not shy away. Her eyes were thoughtful. She knew exactly what Horcrux was; he wondered if she knew about the horrific process of creating one.
"Light magic has something similar." She admitted, and he was surprised by the information; he had not known of such a thing. "A White wizard's soul may outgrow his body and require that he put part of it in an object to preserve his own existence. Such an act is equally illegal to your crime, with the punishment of elimination."
As if in response, the jeweled sunburst brooch at her breast sparkled, though there was no light but that of the moon for it to reflect. His eyes drawn to it, he smiled, the expression feral.
"They should hang and quarter you, shouldn't they, Lady Verdandi?"
"Drown, actually," she said softly, "Or bury alive. Spilling my blood is as forbidden as me foregoing my chastity. It outgrew me; if I didn't find an object to funnel it into, it would've killed me, expanding as it was. I'm sure you know how well the traditional methods of execution works on those with soul containers; there are other ways that can guarantee it, though."
"We aren't so different, it would seem."
"Wrong." She said it cuttingly, the soft contours somehow seeming to become fine and sharp, her baby blue eyes sparkling with surfaced fierceness. "The key difference between the White Arts and the Dark Arts is that the Dark Arts center around destruction, while the White Arts can only create."
He smirked challengingly. "And what does that mean?"
She leaned forward, deep into his personal space but he refused to give her the victory of his withdrawal. A few strands of her red hair tickled his face. Her voice was sweet in his ear; it hurt. "You will destroy yourself."
It was so ridiculous that he did not bother trying to restrain the amused snort that escaped him. "Ludicrous, Verdandi, the entire point was to preserve myself."
"You may say that you 'made' a Horcrux, but there is no 'making' about it, tearing the soul is a destructive act, you have not 'created' anything, only broken something that was once whole. The human soul is not meant to be torn asunder in such a way."
"But I will survive all the longer for it."
She was silent; that she did not try to deny.
Pleased, he grinned triumphantly, without restraint.
Verdandi winced. "Your smile is hideous. You look like an animal, or a devil."
He widened his smile and leaned in to her, planting a hand on either side of hers on the railing. He was close enough to feel each inhale and exhale she made, and her breath was smelled of grapes. Her naked eyelids fluttered and for a moment he thought that she would kiss him, but she turned her head and stared out into the blackness of the night, leaving him to stare at the side of her face.
Tom's mind darted back to some years prior when he had been interested in the process of creating wands.
"What is your wand made of?" he asked.
She still didn't look at him "Unicorn hair. Gorse wood."
Unicorns: purity, elusiveness, resilience, beauty, healing, faith, swiftness, virtue, and virginity, gifted in languages. Gorse: light, vibrancy, industry, protection, intelligence, independence, known best for its association with the sun.
"It suits you to a T." he said.
"And yours?" she returned.
"Phoenix feather," he said. Phoenixes: passion, rebirth, healing, everlasting, divinity, fire, wind, and flight.
"And yew." Yew: power, honor, silence, mystery, illusion, victory, worship, strength, sanctity, longevity, leadership, and introspection; as it aged the inner rings vanished, leaving it hollow and impossible to determine the age of.
How different they were, and yet, beneath it ran an undercurrent of similarities, of parallels.
"Leave me," she whispered.
Tom blinked and it took him a moment to respond. Never before had Verdandi dismissed him. She had always allowed him to end their encounters at his leisure or at the insistence of others.
"Go. I don't wish to look at you any longer."
Fury only had a brief chance to spark, his eyes flickering to her flesh. One tiny scratch would be all it took to ruin her magic forever. "You—"
"Anachoro!" She raised her voice to a godly thunder, her magic swelling to snap at him like a swarm of angry hornets until the air around her was unbearable to stand in.
Tom threw himself away from her, the nerves of his skin shrieking as if tongues of fire had licked them, gulping the cool night air into his scalded lungs, and he eyed Verdandi with awe and a flicker of fear. A magical wind tore at her hair like a wrathful deity, stretching her long curls flat and then letting them spring back into tight coils as so many corn snakes enshrined on her head; a human-faced gorgon haloed in moonlight and star shine.
'Her magic burns me. Fire. Fire purifies.' He realized, the old, dismembered piece of knowledge pushing to the forefront of his mind.
"Very well," he said, his voice alone composed while the rest of him was anything but. He went.
"Voldemort," she called, her voice unusually melancholy, "Did you ever manage to find what you were looking for?"
He didn't turn around. "Yes."
The fevered air surrounding her flared, unpleasantly heating his heels. "I see," was all she had to say.
He moved fast, there was no time to waste. Delaying would only give Verdandi more time to recompose herself, and it was better, more advantageous to act while she was still ruled by uglier emotions. When she was still somewhat vulnerable.
Ever prepared, he had everything in his room packed away within minutes, Nagini tucked away safely in his trunk, her coils tangled around his precious Horcruxes. However, he did not remove the luggage from the room, nor did he check out of the Inn. He was prepared to flee the city at a moment's notice, but if it turned out that Verdandi had Ravenclaw's Diadem protected under the Fidelius Charm, he had to be able to fall back on a secondary option. Just as importantly: he had to keep his Horcruxes out of her reach, lest she destroy them.
The Academy of Plato looked drastically different at night. It glowed like the moon, ethereal, but somewhat sickly looking, its shadows deep and inky. The columns, already twice as big around as the span of his arms, seemed even larger, more imperial. The front entrance was door-less as the rest of the Academy, but the magic veil that covered it at night worked equally as well and, to Tom's skilled hands, was disabled just as easily.
The mosaic floor was still, the portraits and statues snoring away in blissful slumber. Tom needed no lumos to light his way, his eyes piercing the darkness effortlessly. It was yet another side effect of his Horcruxes: finer eyesight like a predatory animal, even if the colors weren't as vibrant as they had once been. The torch brackets were dead and cold; it was late enough that no light was lit sans those of the muggle world. The moonlight spilling through the windows trickled across the floor like pools of unicorn blood. He moved swiftly and silently as a shadow, his motions sinuous and predatory. It was at these hours his magic pulsed strongest, the time of day in which he thrived and ruled, when the darkness covering the land was deepest and darkest.
He knew the layout of Plato's Academy well, now. Verdandi did not like to stay still when she spoke, her legs always restless, her hands never still, so he had been through almost the entire building by her side, enough to know exactly where to find her rooms.
It was the only wing that possessed actual doors, barriers of white yew set on brass hinges and handles. Most were plain, humble, but of course, Verdandi's stood out. The framework just a bit more precise, the wood and brass just a bit better cared for, the handle inlaid with loopy knots and tiny papyrus flowers. It was protected fiercely. The surface crackled warningly with electricity when Tom slipped his fingers across it just lightly enough to prevent any alarm from sounding. He pressed his wand up against it next, and was able to identify the oddly lone shielding spell that was present: Contengo Virgo. It thrummed under his touch like a living creature, pulsating as if it possessed a heartbeat. Possessing no counter spell, getting through would require that he replace the magic it was feeding off of with his own. Carefully.
Tom lifted his wand to a perfect horizontal angle, feeling the shield under its tip like a firm, but slightly gelatinous bubble.
"Exsertus exertus magia, infelix nocens, occupo subiungo sancta lux." He chanted lowly, his voice little more than a whisper.
His magic spread through the membrane of the shield, overtaking the pale gold color like poison spreading through a vein, black and spidery and wicked. His wand penetrated the shield, which quivered and finally submitted. When he pushed down on the handle, the door opened without a sound and was shut behind him seconds later.
Verdandi was nowhere to be seen, the sleeping quarters as black as pitch, the bed pristine and unspoiled. The décor was not white, as he had expected it to be, though it was lavish. Royal purples and deep maroons set with gold embroidery covered the bed and walls, thick oriental rugs were layered over the floor; the sparse furniture made of dark cherry wood. It was like the inside of a womb.
"Revelio Maxima," he whispered. The spells in the room glowed, a crisscrossing web of gold strands shot through with kidney red. It was not obvious where the Crown of Metis was supposed to be hidden, but he hadn't expected it to be. Since Verdandi wasn't asleep in the bed, chances were it wasn't even here, but he could at least find its hiding place.
"Incendio." Said a new voice.
The torch brackets burst into flame. Tom smothered the urge to whip around, instead holding his ground and turning slowly to face the witch he knew stood in the doorway. He eyed her darkly.
She stood before him naked and shameless like a true Greek woman, as if there was nothing unusual about confronting an intruder in the buff. Verdandi may have been Norse in name, but in body structure she was absolutely Mediterranean. Without her snow-white robe, he could see that, like her face, her body was bereft of the hair that came with puberty, her armpits and the peach of her genitalia bare like a little girl's. It was obvious she had just been in the bath; her hair, soaked and dark, fell over her shoulders and down her back like rivulets of blood gushing from a sizeable head wound. Her white flesh glistened with water and oil droplets, forming a circle of moisture at her feet. Her face was stripped of the red paint that usually adorned it.
She gazed at him through hazy, half-lidded eyes.
"I knew you would come."
"A trap, then." He said.
"Of a sort. I suspected for a long time, but from the moment you asked if I removed the Crown of Metis when I slept, I knew."
His eyebrows rose in genuine surprise. "The crown. You brought the subject up on purpose. You knew… and still you told me?"
"I know you. I look at you and see… someone parallel to myself, in a way. So very different, but not unalike."
He eyed her wondrously. He knew exactly what she was speaking of, as he encountered a similar feeling whenever he looked at Verdandi or spoke with her.
Tom noticed for the first time that Verdandi was not wearing the Lost Diadem. She looked strange without it, incomplete, somehow the lack of the diadem made her seem more naked than her lack of clothing.
"Stealing is a sin. I will not have a theft occur in my house."
He smirked hideously. "What will you do then? I won't leave without it."
"Swallow your arrogance," she said sharply, "Don't think you could have broken the hymen of my room if I didn't permit you to. I could have barred the way with flame. You were let in, Voldemort. Did you think you were the first person to decide to try and steal the Crown of Mètis? No, Voldemort, far from it. I have dealt with thieves before, none so powerful or Dark as you, but thieves nonetheless. If you had tried to force your way in, you would be ashes now, and unraveling the protection spells so as not to trigger the alarms would have taken more time than you have to work with."
His smirk contorted into a monstrous scowl. Oh, how he loathed and admired her. She was a pain in his side, a blockade in the bridge that he needed to cross to complete his plans, but he respected this woman too much to murder her outright. And he still didn't know the location of the diadem.
"There is your true face," she murmured, her eyelids lowering further.
"Even if you did let me in, you would never be able to force my leave and come off unscathed. One scratch is all it would take for me to taint you for the rest of your life, Lady, and leave you incapable of the magic the people praise you for."
"True, but you are here for a reason."
Tom's burning eyes narrowed, wand clenched tightly in his hand. "Why do you want me here?"
"You are intelligent. You cannot guess?"
"I would rather not waste time on it."
She walked by him, muscles pulling and relaxing visibly under her skin, her movements as divine and graceful as they had been on the day they met. Her wand was resting the nightstand and she picked it up and pressed it to the drawer below. Her wand worked like a key. The nightstand glowed brightly for several seconds before fading back into normality and opening.
She lifted out an engraved box of pure gold, its insides revealed to be purple velvet when the lid lifted. Ravenclaw's Diadem rested inside, sparkling and eager; it wanted to be worn. Verdandi cradled it as if it were a newborn infant, her baby blue eyes large with unrestrained love. Slowly, as she turned, she stroked her fingers across the filigree, adoringly, longingly, and finally held it out to Tom as she released a shivering breath that had nothing to do with the water on her skin.
His mouth opened a fraction and he met her eyes disbelievingly. Wary of a trick or a trap, he took the heavy case into his palms. Frowning deeply, he cast several diagnostic spells over the diadem, searching for imperfections that would give it away as a fake, but no. The circlet he at last held in his hands was the Lost Diadem.
"Why are you giving this to me?" He asked. Some part of him was furious at her for handing the diadem over so casually, it seemed a bloody red gash against her character. She was so strong, so dominant, so powerful, so White, for her to give in to a Dark wizard such as himself without a fight seemed sacrilegious. He wanted her to fight.
Verdandi met his eyes unwaveringly. "Because it is not Mètis' crown."
Then he understood. The Crown of Mètis did not exist, it was, and always had been, the Lost Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw. Verdandi knew exactly what it truly was, though Tom had never breathed a word of it to her. How long had she known? Did an alumnus from Hogwarts recognize it and tell her, or had a predecessor discovered its true origin?
"You relinquish it, even knowing what I will do with it?" He prompted further.
"Even so." Her gaze turned grieving. "Besides, it is not as if I can take an apprentice now."
His eyes widened. "You mean…"
"I taught you too much. Even if you can't directly use White magic, the knowledge I bestowed on you as good as makes you my successor." A bitter smile graced her red lips. "You truly are a devil; you are much too charming not to be."
"As if you could resist!" he exclaimed, gleeful and arrogant, his eyes alight with an inhuman burn. "I am the greatest sorcerer in the world!"
"The Darkest, surely, but I would not be so bold as to say the greatest."
"If I am not now, then I will be in due time, surely."
"We shall see."
Her voice was sad, and he shackled his enthusiasm for a moment to observe her.
"You regret it."
"I suppose this is the point where you swear to fell me with your own wand, is it?"
"No, I'm afraid not. But I will be there to watch you when you fall."
"Not to catch me?" he said, mockingly.
She sighed, long and low, but did not break eye contact. "I wish you would see, that you would regret. I wish you would heal yourself, that things were different. Things would be so different if things were different."
He scoffed. "You're a fool if you believe I would do such a thing."
There was an almost-smile quivering at the corners of her pouty, red lips. "That's why it is only a wish."
Tom shook his head, but his gaze was not scornful. "That is something I will never understand about you. Nothing will change if you remain pacifist."
Verdandi was silent, only her eyes twinkled knowingly.
"You once said the White Arts often shorten a person's lifespan; how can you even be sure you'll still be alive when I 'fall,' as you seem to assume?"
Her smile was ethereal and mysterious. "I can't, but watching wouldn't require me to be."
He snorted. "Such blind faith in gods."
"Such blind faith in yourself." She countered.
"Touché," Tom said, smirking, "I suppose one must have faith in something."
"Mankind would wither and die without his beliefs."
He lifted his wand to her pale face, tracing the tip of it along her cheeks and the line of her delicate jaw and throat.
"It's not as if that would be a great loss. They all deserve to die."
"Even the wizards?" She asked, one brow arching.
"Most of them," his eyes grew distant with old hatred, "They were as awful as the muggles until I showed them I was not one to be trifled with; worse, really. My old schoolmates will regret ever having ridiculed me. I'll have their sons and daughters licking my feet like the maggots they are."
"Even maggots have a purpose in the greater scheme of things." Verdandi said softly.
His eyes snapped into focus and he looked down at her. "I don't know why I don't simply ruin you. It would be so easy; it wouldn't even require your death." Tom said, admiring the way his wand looked like a broken bone protruding from Verdandi's pretty neck.
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Enlighten me."
"You won't destroy me because you want to wage war with me. You want to raise armed forces and press them against me until I am forced to abandon my pacifist ways and clash with you and be your measuring pole. You want to see just how well your Dart Arts hold up against my Arts when used to their full potential, and you'll never find out if you corrupt my existence."
Slowly, a toothy, inhuman grin spread across his face. "You really think you and your silly ideas of love can stand against me?"
"Love is a powerful thing. It has started great wars and brought them to a halt. It has reduced mountains to rubble and bridged eras. Love makes peoples hearts fly and brings the most powerful of men to his knees. It is heaven on earth, people have wasted away looking for it, have died for the lack of it, and have come to life for the discovery of it. Voldemort… there is nothing in this world that I do not love."
"Love," he snorted, holding the Lost Diadem up before her eyes tauntingly. "See where foolish things like love lead?"
"I see, Voldemort," she said, "But I stand by what I said. All of it."
"You are such an idealist."
"And you are a pessimist."
"Realist," he corrected.
"Pessimist," she insisted, "A realist would be able to recognize the good things in the world."
He dug his wand into her neck and watched her eyes flutter closed. His sleeve was wet with her moisture.
"Ah, but wouldn't that be you? You are 'good,' Lady Verdandi. White, holy, virtuous, virgin, everything that is good and lovely in the world wrapped up in a little, human-shaped package. You and your Midas tongue."
"Do you not know what they say about too much of a good thing, Voldemort?"
He exhaled in surprise, eyes darkening with emotion. Slowly, he licked his lower lip, head lowering until he could smell her breath. She still smelt of wine. Under his wand, he felt her heartbeat quicken.
"Yes, I know that saying."
"Then you know what it is for me to be 'good.'"
They kissed. It was soft, a mere pressing of the lips meant to convey some unspoken emotion. Whatever it was he had meant to convey, she didn't learn of it through that contact, nor did he learn whatever it was that she meant to convey. As if someone held an open flame to it, the goodness in her burned his mouth. The darkness in him burned hers.
He lowered his wand, and their eyes met, crown still held between them. Through the windows the heavens growled. He could hear tiny droplets of water begin to fall, slapping onto stone and leaf.
"You should go."
She looked so profoundly sad that he thought it wasn't right that she wasn't crying. Perhaps that was why it was raining: the sky wept in her place.
He trailed a finger down her cheek and watched her close her eyes and shiver. His knuckle stung fiercely.
'That I would be denied this tiny thing…'
"Goodbye, Lady Verdandi."
The game was won. Ravenclaw's Diadem was his. England was waiting.
Okay! Lots of notes! If you have questions or concerns, make sure you read them first, yeah? I had them marked in the paragraphs before, but, well, they just seemed to clutter up the flow, so I took them out.
What brought on this story, well, let's start with Ravenclaw's Diadem:
The diadem stayed in that tree for 1000-900 years and nothing happened to either it or the tree or the surrounding area? Yeah, effing right. This is in Europe, not the middle of the California redwoods or Canada, there's people traffic all over the place, especially thanks to the Romans' roads to everywhere and back again. Very little of it is unexplored. Though the tale didn't carry on down to Harry time (at least not in England, as far as we know), at the time of Helena Ravenclaw's betrayal of her mother, it must've been the scandal of the era. If Rowena's caretakers didn't gossip, then I'm sure the people that witnessed Helena sprinting around the countryside had whipped up some fantastic tale for it. Also take into account how very far away from England Albania is. It's right on top of Greece. The Bloody Baron was chasing Helena all over the continent! People notice that sort of thing, no matter what point in history they were in.
In regards to the "Crown of Mètis": it is not a real object, and refers more to Verdandi than Rowena Ravenclaw. From Wikipedia: "In Greek mythology, Metis (Μῆτις, "wisdom," "skill," or "craft") was of the Titan generation. Mètis was the first great spouse of Zeus, indeed his equal (Hesiod, Theogony 896) and the mother of Athena, Zeus' first daughter, the goddess of the war and wisdom. By the era of Greek philosophy in the fifth century BCE, Mètis had become the goddess of wisdom and deep thought, but her name originally connoted "magical cunning" and was as easily equated with the trickster powers of Prometheus as with the "royal metis" of Zeus. The Stoic commentators allegorized Metis as the embodiment of "prudence", "wisdom" or "wise counsel."
"The word mètis was also the ordinary Greek word for a quality that combined wisdom and cunning, this quality was considered to be highly admirable and was regarded by Athenians as one of the notable characteristics of the Athenian character.
"Mètis was both a threat to Zeus and an indispensable aid."
Another thing that inspired this story: We don't see much in the way of Voldemort's post-Hogwarts years, But I think the concept that he was in Britian most of the time between his graduation and the First Wizarding War just ridiculous. No one actually knows Nagini's origin, but some have observed that Tom found her while he was in Albania. Given her name alone, I find that unlikely. "Nagini" is very South Asian, Hindu in particular, and I think that is tell-tale enough that she comes from India or somewhere close to there, especially given her enormous size, which is only ever seen in tropical snake species. So, at some point, Riddle visited India, but do you know how many countries are between Britain and India? A LOT.
The final bit of inspiration: I'm really interested in the way light magic would work out in the Harry Potter series. We see plenty of Dark Magic, but I think the idea of Stupefy qualifying as a legit light spell just laughable. Evil is powerful, but even the sunlight which nourishes and warms the earth will burn you if you stay in it or stare at it too long. I actually didn't exercise all of my ideas here; I have plenty more; maybe they'll show up in later fics.
Or maybe I'm just a nut, but then that's not exactly new news.
Additional notes: I've kind of wondered where Tom hid his Horcruxes before he became dead-set on killing Harry. There's no way that Hufflepuff's cup was in the Lestrange Vault all the years between its creation and 1998, and he didn't hide Slytherin's Locket in the cave by the sea until 1979, so where were these things beforehand? In this case, I just let him carry them around.
If you've wondered why, during their first meeting, Tom and Verdandi didn't introduce themselves until after they had eaten: In ancient Greece, guests were invited into the home and fed first, then introductions made second. Yes, you could have well been making your future killer comfy, but that was how things were done; to do otherwise was wildly impolite.
As to why I refer to our favorite villain by his given name in this fic: While Tom Riddle undoubtedly is Lord Voldemort, there comes a time, I think, when Lord Voldemort ceases to be Tom Riddle. By the time he reaches 30, I think Tom is very, very close to that point, just on the edge of it, but is still focused on learning every dark scrap of magic he can find and not quite fallen yet (after all, he hasn't yet started a war or filled a cavernous lake full of collected dead people or spent 10 years in isolation; very, very bad for the psyche, that last one), which is why I still be referred to him as "Tom" even though he only ever introduces himself as "Voldemort." His goals are less focused on annihilation and more about manipulation. Tom's soul is in shreds by this point in canon, and in my opinion his chance to recognize his mistakes and learn from them is long gone, but the boy that was Tom Riddle is not annihilated yet and cannot be because schoolmates like Orion and Walburga Black are still alive and still remember.
The scene in the market square is keen on his younger ideas and inclinations. There is definitely a point in his history where Tom valued children, despite whatever qualms he had with them growing up. He did, after all, want to be a teacher, and obviously recognized that teaching the next generation was the way to inspire society to change into the form he believed was ideal. I get the feeling that other authors view Tom as the kind of guy who would look at a child and see a disgusting, sticky urchin; I think he would probably see a seed waiting to be nourished, full of potential, as long as he could encourage it to grow in the direction he wanted.
Admittedly, I've been a bit worried I didn't make Tom evil enough, but, well, his wickedness is far from being the focus of the story.
Finally, some of you might be disappointed in Verdandi for handing the diadem over so easily. But virtues are not without their own shortcomings and Verdandi is not exempt from those faults. The smart thing is not always the right thing. Complete selflessness rarely bears golden fruit. Holy men are more likely to sit and pray than take up guns and picket signs to fight for their morals and beliefs. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. There is nothing more prized and valued in the world than knowledge, something which Verdandi is the sole owner of in leaps and bounds, knowledge that would case to exist if she did not pass it down or record it onto paper.
Babble Spectacles and Gossip Stones are of my own inventions, as are all the White Arts concepts and the spell used to break into Verdandi's room (which really isn't good Latin grammar, but whatever, I can't exactly get this published on paper, so I don't care).
Woo, that was a lot of notes! I fear I may have babbled unnecessarily. Oh well!
All right; read, review, and all that jazz! Much love, my snarklings! Until next time!
Started: 16 March 2011 Finished: 6 April 2011
Word count: about 15,200