Sorry if you got the e-mail twice, guys! I forgot to add my note hehe.
This is my round one entry for the "Fanfiction Idol Competition," and I'm super excited. BUT the only way I'm going to do well in this competition is if you look it up, either on Google or in HPFC, and VOTE FOR ME! The judges will post the voting protocols as soon as the deadline is completed (Midnight EST tonight). Please, please, please, please vote for this if you like it. I will make you cookies, and maybe I'll even write you a special story. XD Okay, so yes, bribery aside...
I want to just make the note that the keyword for Tom Riddle in this scene is CUNNING. Keep in mind, Helena never sees through his mask (though I added a few sticky moments), so when she is telling the 1944 story, Tom is as wonderful as can be. He's not a good guy. He's a sneaky creep, hence this opening sequence. Just wanted to be clear.
Kay, love you!
The man turned, lifting an eyebrow.
"Tom Riddle? That is you, I know it," Helena said, floating towards him. He stood in the corridor of the tapestry portraying Barnabas the Barmy, near the Room of Requirement—one of Rowena Ravenclaw's last additions to the school before her death.
"Hello, Helena," said Tom. Helena made a face. He was not at all the handsome young man he had been just a few years before; he was chalk-white, and his eyes were bloodshot and ringed with dark circles.
"What has happened to you?" she asked in great distaste.
Tom's lip curled momentarily. "We don't all have the luxury of maintaining our vanity for all eternity," he said in a low voice. "Some of us choose to really live."
"Vanity?" Helena repeated, astonished. "How can you say that to me?"
"Was there something you wanted, Helena?" Tom demanded sharply. "I'm late for an appointment with the headmaster."
Helena narrowed her eyes. "You are headed in the wrong direction if you want his office, Tom," she said coldly. "You know that. What is your business here?"
Tom's expression became ugly. "That's hardly your concern," he told her.
Helena floated closer to him, her eyes narrowing even further. "You smell of dark magic, Tom," she said.
"I smell?" he demanded. "You're a ghost! What can you know?"
"You have been tampering with magic," Helena pressed on. "You have done something dreadful. That is the only reason for you seeming so close to death, and yet so very obviously alive. Do not try to fool me, Tom. Death is one thing I will always know better than you will."
"Clearly not," Tom said. "Or something so idiotic as a dagger wouldn't have finished you. You could have taken preventive measures, and you—"
"Preventive—Tom, no," Helena said angrily. "You cannot possibly mean—a Horcrux?" she demanded. Tom glared. "We were told of the dangers when I was a student—"
"Will you be quiet?" he demanded furiously. Then he sneered. "Terrified of life, when you were living, and you're still scared of it when you're dead. Pathetic," he spat.
"What you have done is not living," Helena told him fiercely.
"And what would you know about it?" Tom demanded. "You haven't lived for a thousand years. You don't even have a real name anymore. Do you know that the Albanians that found your body didn't mark your grave?"
Helena stared, horrified. "My—my grave?" she whispered.
"Yours and the Baron's," Tom told her. "The villagers that lived there a thousand years ago were so frightened of what they found in the woods that they sowed a patch of ground with salt and put your bodies in it. The local legend is that you were lovers, murdered on your wedding night. To this day, no one touches that piece of land." He gave a humorless laugh. "They think your restless spirits still haunt the town."
Helena could not speak. She squeezed her eyes shut, and knew that if she could have, she probably would have fainted. "You went to the—to—"
"To your woods, Helena, yes," Tom said.
"And you…you found…"
"You turned it…"
Helena gaped at him as anger flooded her. "I—I will relish the day you die, Tom Riddle," she hissed. "You are a monster. Nothing, no force of nature can ever forgive such an abomination as you, and I hope that one day, you learn that—and oh, how I hope to see it for myself."
"You'll be waiting a long time, Helena," Tom said coldly.
"I have forever," she snapped back.
Tom arched an eyebrow. "So do I."
He stalked away, leaving her alone. Silently, still in shock, she returned to her mother's hidden rooms in Ravenclaw tower, where she floated silently before the windows.
In the years immediately following Helena Ravenclaw's death, the whispers about her identity floated through the castle walls and corridors as quietly as she did, uttered behind a hand with a sidelong glance at the ghostly girl—not much older than the students themselves, truly—who floated down the aisles of bookshelves in the dark library.
It wore on Helena, ghost or not, so she took to…well, perhaps haunting was the only word for it…Ravenclaw tower. She remained cloistered in the unused, private rooms below the dormitories, where Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff had each drawn their last breaths on the same night, twenty-five years apart. The hidden rooms had remained untouched ever since, first as a mark of respect, and later because they were forgotten, like so many rooms of the castle Rowena had intricately designed.
Helena had found in herself an intense loathing for her adolescent idiocy, her theft and loss of the infernal diadem. All she could do, for years, as she hid in the tower rooms by day, and stalked the corridors by night, was dwell on the fact that she had chosen to remain behind, her only goal to see her mother and apologize, and that she had even failed at that; her return to Hogwarts was barely too late. And then, to learn that even if she had made it back in time to see Rowena, the shock of seeing Helena the Ghost would probably have killed her instantly, well…
Fate, Helena had quickly learned, was cruel that way.
But, life moved on, at least around Helena, if not within her. She matured and grew, even as a ghost, though she never aged a moment past nineteen years and three days, precisely. When the whispers and rumors that hovered around her presence began to fade, even Helena found that she could appreciate the anonymity and solitude; it was in her nature to avoid people, living or dead. That was the mark of being the daughter of the first true Ravenclaw and the first true Slytherin.
The pure self-hatred and anger Helena carried in her heart for years faded into cool, calm penitence that she could weather alone, without interference. No one knew her name or her story anymore, and she could almost—almost, and that was the cruelest part—rest in peace, undisturbed, alone—
Helena started, looking up from the book that a careless student had left open on a library table, and frowned. Not many students knew this little alcove of bookshelves existed, and those that did were usually respectful of the privacy it afforded.
A tall, handsome, pale boy with dark hair stood before her, smiling gently. He wore two badges; one, a Slytherin House prefect's badge; the other, a Head Boy badge. His robes looked a little too small for him, as though he might have been wearing them for a few years in a row. He appeared to be a bit younger than Helena—well, in a manner of speaking.
Helena said nothing, looking back down to the page she had already read three times, unable to turn it. There was no reason for her to leave; the boy would know from her coolness to leave her alone.
But, no. He sat down opposite her, and Helena could feel his strange, dark eyes on her face. If she had been flesh and blood, she would have flushed red.
"I don't often see you out around the castle," the boy said politely. Helena did not raise her head. "Most of the other ghosts stay out among the students."
Helena raised her head and narrowed her eyes, glaring at the boy in the exact way her mother had always done to unruly students; a thousand years or so ago, it would have worked. This boy did not even flinch.
"I suppose you're not quite like the other ghosts, though, are you?" he asked, smiling at her. "Even the Baron…well, he dresses like you, so…you're probably around the same age, aren't you?" Helena did not answer. "But you're different from him. He's so miserable all the time…he must have done something really awful, if he's earned all those chains to carry around with him. You…you're a good person, I can feel it."
Helena lifted her chin coolly, her glare still suspicious.
"I'm Tom, by the way," said the boy. "Tom Riddle. I wish I knew your name—the Gray Lady seems so cold, and you don't seem that way at all." Helena frowned. Was that what they called her nowadays? She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised; Ravenclaw had been dropped from her name after the last of the founders' children died, and Helena had vanished not long afterward. She was glad her identity was forgotten.
Tom reached forward and turned the page of the book sitting before Helena and smiled. "Well, I just wanted to say hello, and that it's nice to see you," he said, getting up. "You can say hello to me anytime, if you like—but I'll be leaving soon, I'm a seventh-year now. Maybe you and I can talk sometime before I do."
And he walked away, disappearing behind a bookshelf.
In a split-second, Helena had made her decision. She rose quickly, floating through the table and passing through the shelf behind which Tom had just disappeared. He had not gotten far, and, feeling that he should be aware how fortunate he was, Helena rushed through him from behind, turning to stop before him and stare as he shuddered violently. Almost immediately, however, he recovered, and smiled at her.
"Helena," she said calmly.
"Pardon?" Tom asked.
"My name," she told him. "It is Helena."
"Helena," Tom repeated, smiling. "That's a wonderful name. It's nice to know you, Helena."
Helena said nothing, but floated before him, watching his face carefully. He looked so honestly kind—how could she have never noticed this boy?
"You are warm, for a serpent," she commented, and Tom's smile widened as he looked down at his Slytherin prefect's badge, glinting green and silver, just beneath his Head Boy badge.
"We aren't all bad," he said. "Our founder was a brilliant—"
Helena drew herself up, clenching her jaw in anger, and soared directly back through Tom, relishing in his shiver of discomfort and thinking of returning to her tower; there was truly no point in talking to students, what on earth could they possibly know of Salazar Slytherin's—her own father's—true, unfeeling nature?
"Wait," Tom said urgently, checking over his shoulder for the librarian. "I'm sorry, Helena. Have I hurt your feelings? I really am sorry, I didn't mean anything by it. Ravenclaw is a great house, too—"
Helena now floated several feet above Tom, her eyes boring into his dark ones. Then, calmly, she turned and passed through the bookcase, settling herself back at the table she had been occupying and returning her attention to the book. A moment later, Tom appeared, approaching her with an apologetic look on his face.
"Helena," he said gently. She did not look up. "Helena, I'm sorry. I—you can still talk to me anytime, if you want to. Really, not all of us Slytherins are such bad people."
Helena arched an eyebrow, but did not speak. When Tom did not say anything further, however, she looked up. He had walked away again, slowly this time, and was just about to disappear around the bookshelf.
"I was Head Girl, when I attended Hogwarts," said Helena. Tom turned, looking politely curious.
"Were you really?" he asked.
"The very first," Helena nodded. "I and another boy, from Hufflepuff House…we tied for top of our class. My—our heads of house decided to let it become a special, privileged position."
Tom nodded. He had returned from where he stood by the bookshelf, and sat down opposite Helena again. "That's brilliant," he said. "I can't even imagine what Hogwarts was like in those days. Was it very different?"
Helena blinked. "I hardly notice any difference," she said. "It matters little. It is a school of magic, of the highest caliber, and has remained so for the last millennia. That is enough for me."
"Do you really feel that way?" Tom asked, frowning. "I can't imagine deciding to stay anywhere after death if I really didn't notice anything different about it over a thousand years."
"Perhaps you are not the best judge of where I ought to have stayed and why," Helena snapped, and Tom bowed his head.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I meant…I get the feeling that you care a lot for the school, Helena. I do too."
"Why?" Helena asked coldly. "You are here for a mere seven years. You have a life, friends, family—"
"No," Tom interrupted, shaking his head. "I'm an orphan. And I don't much care to spend time with people my own age. Hogwarts is the only place I've ever been completely at home."
"Hogwarts was my only home, as well," Helena said.
"What about your parents?" Tom asked, and she glared. "I'm sorry," Tom said quickly. "I don't mean to pry."
Helena looked over her shoulder, away from Tom. "My father was gone before I could ever remember him, and when he did return, it was of little consequence to me. My mother taught here. We lived in the castle." She looked back to Tom, and was startled by his expression. It was hungry, eager—even envious—but he quickly covered it with his benign smile. Helena frowned slightly.
"Living here all the time," Tom said, nodding. "That would be a dream."
Helena was still watching him with a frown on her face. "You would tire of it quickly if it was all you knew, I promise you that."
Tom smiled again. "I can understand how it feels to want to get away from the…everyday," he said. Very carefully, he put out his hand and held it on Helena's translucent one. Startled, Helena pulled back, floating up and pretending to gaze at the bookshelves, as she faced away from Tom.
She heard him rise, however, and follow her. He leaned on the bookshelf, looking curiously up at her.
"What did your mother teach, Helena?" he asked.
"You ask about my heritage?" Helena said immediately. "You wish to confirm that I am, in fact, the child of a witch? I will have you know, Tom Riddle, that even when I was alive, the alleged purity of blood was never a topic considered worthy of dignified conversation among the people who mattered most. The sordid prejudices associated with it were left for those of common, simple minds."
Had she not already been long dead, and all too aware that she could not have been harmed, Helena might have fled from the poisonous, horrible, ugly look that filled Tom's face—and then, just as unnervingly, it was gone again, lost behind the gentle, kindly mask of his fine-featured face.
"Haven't I proven that I'm not like other Slytherins, Helena?" Tom asked in a low, gentle voice. "I'm not like most students around here, I think. I can see it in your face—you don't talk to us much."
And inexplicably, for a half-second, Helena was filled with a dreadful fear. She could not look away from Tom's magnetic, intense eyes, and for all the world, she could have been eighteen years old again—she could have been alive again.
"The only reason I wanted to talk to you is because…well," Tom shrugged, looking apologetic, "You look lonely. Maybe I was wrong," he said. "I'm sorry if I was. I won't bother you again. It was nice to meet you, Helena," he added, turning to leave.
Helena floated there, her mouth slightly agape. Then, suddenly recovered, she rushed after Tom—though she didn't fly through him, this time. "Tom," she said, lightly grazing his arm. He turned. "I—I do not mind your company. You may remain here, if you wish to."
Tom smiled, and Helena led him back to their table. Tom held out a chair for Helena, and she frowned, confused, and floated through the table to her original seat. Tom shrugged and sat.
"You don't smile very much, Helena," he said.
Helena shook her head. "I do not find much to smile at," she said.
Silence fell for several moments. Then Tom spoke.
"I hope you're not still angry I asked about your mother. I really was only curious," he told her.
Helena looked away. "I understand," she said quietly. "I…I do not like to talk about my mother."
Tom nodded. "You didn't like her," he said.
"I beg your pardon," Helena said indignantly. "It is hardly your affair," she snapped.
"You're right," Tom agreed immediately. "I'm sorry."
"Very—very well," said Helena, disconcerted.
"If you don't mind my asking," Tom said slowly, "Why did you choose to come here, to Hogwarts, when you died? And why Ravenclaw Tower?"
"I—I died here," Helena lied, but Tom seemed to know that this was not the truth. "What?" she asked.
"You're wearing a traveling cloak," Tom said. "Not a nightgown, or a dress. You must—well, I'd guess you died somewhere away from here."
Helena could tell her cheeks had turned opalescent silver. "I—well—I was a Ravenclaw—I mean—yes," she said quickly. "I was a Ravenclaw. I came back to watch over my House, and my school."
Tom tilted his head to one side, his expression curious. Then, he shook himself. "I have to tell you something, Helena," he said. He looked down, as though he were ashamed of himself.
"Yes?" Helena asked warily.
"I—I asked someone about you," he said. "I asked a couple of Ravenclaw girls in my year. They said…well, they don't like you very much."
"I imagine they are some of the foolish creatures who ask such impertinent questions of me," Helena said dismissively. "I am not sorry for my cold response—they had no right to bother me with such inanities."
"Like asking about the diadem, you mean," Tom said.
"I agree, I think they were rude, too," Tom pressed on, as though he had not noticed.
"Y-you do," Helena repeated, and Tom nodded.
"It wouldn't make any sense for you to know where the diadem is," he explained. "You were just a student here, it's not like you know all the secrets Rowena Ravenclaw kept."
"I most certainly do," Helena spat, and Tom started. She floated a little higher, her voice furious. "It is you who does not know anything, Tom Riddle. You and your classmates, forever interfering in matters that concern only myself and my moth—" She gasped involuntarily.
"Your mother?" Tom asked calmly. Then, his expression shifted to one of surprise. "Oh. You mean—?"
Helena looked down, furious with herself. "Yes," she said shortly. "I am…I was the only daughter…of Rowena Ravenclaw." Tom was silent, and Helena looked back at him. "Well?" she asked, rather indignant at his lack of reaction.
"I—I just can't believe it," he said, quickly resuming his surprised expression. "I could tell there was…there was something different about you, Helena, but…I never imagined…"
"Well, there you have it," Helena snapped coldly. "Now go and find your classmates, and tell them who I am, and then come and bother me endlessly about that accursed diadem—"
"Oh, I'd never do that, Helena," Tom promised. "I understand, now."
Helena stared at him…and she realized how honest he was. He was honest, and kind, and true, and he wanted to be her friend. Almost a thousand years she had been dead, and she had spent nearly every single one of them practicing the art of shoving the living away from her, in a fit of mingled envy and hatred for everyone else as much as herself. She had striven for anonymity, for peace. How was it, now, that she could not resist the pure, true kindness of this boy? How could she want him to know her, to know who she was?
And just like that, Helena cracked.
"I stole the diadem," she whispered. Tom's eyes widened. "I stole it, and I ran away. I died…somewhere in a dreadful, dark forest in Albania…"
"The Baron," Tom said slowly, horrified. "You—"
"He is a murderer," Helena spat angrily. "I returned to Hogwarts, but…I could not bring the diadem with me. It remains, to this day…in a hollow tree in those woods."
Tom sank down in a chair, looking amazed, his eyes a little wild. He turned away from Helena. "I can't believe it," he muttered.
"Tom?" Helena asked, frightened. "Tom, please—do not judge me for the wrongs I—"
"No, Helena," Tom said quickly, recovering himself. "I—I'm just so…honored…that you told me…you have my word, I'll never tell a soul," he swore.
Helena lowered her head. "I was a fool. I destroyed my mother," she said softly. "You cannot imagine what that is like. You never knew your mother."
Tom gave an involuntary, nearly imperceptible twitch. "I can understand more than you might think," he told her. They were both silent for several minutes, facing each other as they stood before the bookcase.
Tom smiled at her, and Helena had the oddest sensation that he was seeing through her in more than one way. She frowned. "Tom…you…you understand that I have not ever shared this story with a student. No one but I has ever known where the diadem is hidden. I ask for your confidence…please, do not betray my trust."
"Helena," Tom answered, giving her a gentle smile and shaking his head. "You can trust me."
That night, when the moon had fully risen and the snow had stopped falling, Helena moved at last. She turned slowly on the spot to survey the dark, dusty, sparse chamber. Hatred, anger, and pain, for herself as much as for Tom Riddle, filled her from within.
And envy. There was envy, too. He had a name, he had a life, cursed or not, and he truly did have forever. She had nothing but regrets, memories, and all of eternity to bear them.
For the second time ever, in the thousand years she had been dead, Helena let forth a terrible, bone-chilling scream. It flooded the tower, startling the Ravenclaw students from bed—it echoed across the grounds, frightening birds from their trees—it seeped into the very stones of the walls, shaking the castle to its core.