The Man in the Locket
The boy was weighed down with rusted chains, sitting on a blood-encrusted floor, wrists and feet bolted to the ground by bands of metal. His head was bowed, a mess of black strands and matted dirt, and what skin Harry could see was smudged with filth. He was thin, and tall, so perhaps he wasn't a boy, maybe he was a man, Harry couldn't tell. He was dressed in rags, brown and grey cloth that was torn and dirty. He was a tragic figure, only lit by the flicker of a small kerosene lantern mounted to the wall.
The man's head lifted and wine-red eyes stared at him.
"Help me," he said, and his voice was low and quiet. "Open the locket. Help me."
Harry jerked awake, panting. He flailed for a moment, before reality came rushing back in and he realized it was just a dream.
There was a thin layer of sweat beading on his upper lip and he could feel small drops sliding down his neck and into the curve of his collarbones.
The room was dark, it being night still, and Harry sighed, dragging a hand through sleep-mussed hair. Ever since his little episode the previous day, Nico had been adamant about separating him and the locket—but now, the thing was whispering to him in his sleep, even as it lay innocently out of sight in the kitchen, covered with wrappings and stuffed firmly in a silverware drawer.
Harry had been sleeping in a rather warm guest bedroom on the other side of the house, but apparently Horcruxes were deceptive things that could crawl into a person's head and never come out.
Harry stood, peeling off his clingy pajamas and pulling on an oversized t-shirt and some light sweatpants, a strange chill rushing over him as he stumbled out of bed and towards the large vanity in the corner of the bedroom. He reached out, blind in the dark and fumbled for the walls, walking drunkenly over to the desk and palming over the wood, rolling his hand over his wand.
He stilled when he felt cold metal.
"What? Lumos," and a bright light flickered at the end of his wand, pooling light onto a gleaming necklace.
His face went white and he stumbled backwards, staring.
There it was, gold and glittering, flashy and awful—
He heard the distinct click and turn of a heavy lock and he swung around, turning to face the wooden door, which seemed to stare at him innocently. He moved away from the vanity, quickly and he clutched at the doorknob, twisting and pulling and banging on the wood of the door. It wouldn't open.
"Alohomora!" he yelled and tapped his wand against the keyhole. Nothing happened—he only felt a faint buzz in the air around him and a strange wind-like sensation, like something was physically sucking the spell away. His heart rate skyrocketed and he knew whatever was happening only spelled trouble for him.
"My, my, my," said a silken voice and Harry whipped around. "In need of a little help there, friend?"
Bombarda! The spell was more thought than yelled and he didn't even need to flick his wand in his moment of panic.
The vanity splintered, a vicious crack going straight down the middle of it, breaking the entire thing in two.
A strange silence settled over the two of them for a moment.
"Hmm," hummed the same person, tone considerate. "You are powerful. And here I was thinking you were naught but the pretty-face of this little rebellion."
But Harry didn't care about those petty ideas and he stalked towards where he thought the voice was coming from, shining light onto empty carpet and air. "Who are you?" Harry asked, forcefully. "Where are you?"
"Now, now," continued the other boy—for the voice was a male, considering its depth. "No need to be so hostile. I'm simply visiting, after all, and that's no way to treat a guest. Though, perhaps I'm not as welcome as I'd like to think."
Harry felt an angry flush come up to his cheeks and the kerosene lamps in the room flickered for a minute with his temper. He saw a flash of dark curls and pale, red-rimmed eyes, before the light dimmed down again.
Cold fingers, sneaky and deft, prodded at his collarbone and Harry hissed and leapt back, stumbling in the dark.
"Temper, Harry Potter," admonished Tom Riddle—for it was Tom Riddle, just as dark and as handsome as his journal Horcrux had been, if not a bit older. "You wouldn't want your magic to get the best of you, now would you?"
"Stop playing games," Harry said.
"Oh," Riddle chuckled. "But you're oh-so-fun to play with, Harry."
Harry growled, and tried to move away, but hands, strong as a vice, grabbed his wrists and reeled him in. He felt Riddle shake with amusement and fury burnt through his blood.
"Let me go!" he shouted. "Let me go—!"
Ice crept up his spine suddenly, as his scar flared up and buzzed hotly and his jaw clicked shut.
"How about," mused the Horcrux coolly, "no." It wasn't a question.
The desk lamp suddenly flashed on and Riddle was a tangible wall, caging Harry in, looming closer and eyes flickering from sky to wine and back again.
"Now," he whispered, breath wet and cold on Harry's cheek. "What is it, exactly, that makes you so special; special enough to draw the Dark Lord's attention, hmm?"
Icy fingers grabbed his chin and—
Harry, in his flailing panic, threw out a burst of magic, of wild, angry power and Riddle was thrown back, arms flung out, into the opposite wall, colliding with cement in the most painful of ways.
Harry expected to see blood, or a painful bruise blooming across the thing's cheek, but the man only twitched for a moment and stood gracefully; skin just as flawless as before.
"Oh, my mistake," mocked the man, his voice amused and strangely more sinister than it had been before. "You're a clever little boy, aren't you?"
Harry scrambled away as Riddle cracked his neck loudly and stalked forward, eyes glinting with an emotion that Harry did not like the look of.
He turned his head away from the Horcrux, eyeing the door.
Nico yelled again. "Harry! What's going on—?"
"Uh, uh, uh," chided Riddle and he was right there, in Harry's face again. "How rude of you, ignoring your guest. After all, you are supposed to be providing the entertainment, aren't you, Harry?"
"GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" Harry screamed and pushed at Riddle, who was like an immovable block of stone. "Get away!"
Nico was banging at the door eagerly now, voice pitched with worry. "What's in there, Harry?"
"I'm not special!" he yelled passionately. "I'm just a kid!"
"I don't think I believe you," muttered Riddle. "I think you're something interesting; something weird and strange and freakish—why else would he choose to torment you for all these years? Why else would I decide to torment you for all your life?"
The door flung open, banging against the wall, and Nico burst in, eyes wild and strange, his sword, the blade black as ever, swinging through the air.
"Harry," he said, eyeing the unknown man suspiciously. "Who's he?"
Riddle hissed, angrily, and turned back to the other wizard. "Don't worry," he said, grimly. "We'll be seeing each other quite soon, brother-mine," and he disappeared in a cold wind that sent shivers crawling over Harry's skin.
The chocolate was hot and steaming in the mug and Harry's stomach roiled at the thought of drinking it.
Hermione was sitting next to him, face drawn and pale, her head cradled in her hands, elbows resting on the kitchen's table. Nico and Ron were arguing near the door, arms gesticulating and expressions red with anger. They were all still clothed in their pajamas and the sky outside was still black with night.
Tension was curling throughout the room and Harry felt like vomiting.
"…no point in going out anymore, the Death Eaters know we're here," Nico was saying, almost spitting with fury. "I've seen them creeping around outside, on the street—don't tell me you didn't notice them…"
"Even more reason for us to leave," Ron insisted, forcefully. "If Riddle's here, right now, with us," and Ron waved around them wildly, indicating the entire house, "then we have to go! If You-Know-Who finds out where we are—"
Nico interrupted before he could get out another word. "You don't understand!" And he held up the locket, clutched tightly in a white knuckle, shaking it in the other boy's face. "This is You-Know-Who! Wherever we go, we'll just take him with us, won't we? 'Cause, we need to find a way to kill it, remember!"
And he pushed away from Ron, stalking towards one of the kitchen cupboards. He ripped open the door of the cabinet and took out an old, empty jam jar, clouded with dust and grime. Uncaring of the dirt, he wrenched open the lid and threw in the locket, a clang ringing throughout the room from metal hitting heavy glass. It sounded weirdly finite.
He screwed the top back on tightly and slammed the thing onto the table, making Hermione jump.
"We can't leave," Nico seethed. "But we can make it so he can't, either."
Hermione met his steady gaze and took out her wand from within her long sleeves, hands shaking.
"I know you looked up different kinds of spells," Nico said, voice oddly detached and cold. "Use the one you showed me."
The girl looked from him to the locket and back again before she raised her wand and murmured something indecipherable under her breath, tapping her wand on the glass.
Chains of light, glinting fiery scarlet and rippling turquoise, wrapped around the jar, pulsing a thick rhythm in the room. It was a hot wave of magic and Harry shivered as it washed over him. It wasn't like anything he'd ever felt before.
A strange, painful buzzing started up in his scar again.
"He won't be going anywhere, now," Nico said icily, and he turned on his heel to leave.
"What was that?" Harry asked tightly.
Hermione looked with a clenched jaw at the jar, which was trembling slightly on the table.
"It—there were other books with the notes Dumbledore left behind," she finally said when the silence had stretched so long, so tightly Harry was afraid it would snap. "Books that shouldn't have even been present in the school, to be honest." Her voice faltered. "When I brought them to Nico, he just… He said to bring them with us."
Ron had moved into the kitchen by now, arms crossed and staring at her. "What?"
Hermione shrugged defensively and clasped her hands around her hot chocolate, swallowing nervously. "He said… he said we might need them," and her voice held a sting that Harry had heard before—when she was frustrated, but knew what she was doing was right. "And, when I looked one of them over… that spell was in there."
"You brought books on the Dark Arts with us because Nico said we might need them," Ron intoned blankly and there was a twisting of his features that spoke volumes of the things he thought about that.
"Well, he was right, wasn't he?" Hermione said stiltedly, running a hand through her wild hair. "If I didn't—If I hadn't known that spell, who knows what Riddle would've done?"
"Hermione," Ron hissed. "The Dark Arts? The Dark Arts?"
"Yes, Ronald," she spat, rising from the table. Her eyes were sparking angrily and she rounded on him. "The Dark Arts—I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong. You always have been."
A sharp stab of pain shot through Harry's head and he clamped a hand over his mouth to catch a loud grunt from escaping his mouth.
"—there's a limit, Hermione! When it comes to Black Magic, there are things we can't do! A line we can't cross!"
"A line!" she yelled, going pink high in her cheeks with anger. "What line? What line, Ron? We're in a war, dear Merlin!" Her fingers came up, clutching at handfuls of bushy hair, frizzy from sleep and stress.
Another shard of pain, fizzling across the expanse of his forehead blocked out the rest of her words. He let out a puff of air and put his head in his hands, trembling.
Something pricked at the back of his mind and then—
Sizzling chains, wrapping around his arms and shoulders, tying down his legs and feet, dragging him acros r…
He dragged himself above a rushing current of sensation that wasn't his, gasping and shaking.
"—KNOW, HERMIONE, I KNOW!" Ron was screaming at her from across the room, fists turning white from being clenched so hard and ears and face flushed a bright red. "You don't think I don't care people are dying out there—?!"
The sounds blurred and slowed around him, curving and swirling in his ears and he plugged his fingers in them, dropping his head
This time, he wasn't being dragged across the ground, he was holding a wand—a cruel looking thing that Harry didn't recognize, carved delicately and cold to touch. His hands, spidery, pale and long, were wrapped around it, little sparks shooting from his wand.
"Your compliance is heavily appreciated," he laughed, voice high and cold.
His words were directed at a blue-eyed old man sitting across from him at a dining table. He was wrapped in dark robes, his wizened beard tucked into his belt, his wrists dangling off the arms of a wooden chair. His skin was wrinkled from age, wizened little glasses perched on the bridge of his crooked nose, but his eyes were wiser still.
Albus Dumbledore's spectacles glinted angrily, and he said "Compliance or not, you'll never win, Tom."
A flare of hothothot anger and resentment and slow-burninghatred shot through his veins when Dumbledore said that name because how dare he? How dare he shove something so far away back into the spotlight when he'd work so hard to forget that? He'd worked so hard to build something of himself.
And now this man wanted to tear him down.
He was still talking. "You know it just as well as I, Tom. Even if you succeed in bringing Britain to her knees, she has more allies than you could ever hope to fight."
A wriggling cold insect of madness was crawling across his head—No, never going to stop, Headmaster, he was thinking, it's never going to end. It'll never truly end, not until I see the world burn. Not until every single unworthy Mudblood is six feet below the ground, cold and dead—not until this wretched country finally shows the respect I deserve, the respect that should've been mine the day I stepped into that wretched castle.
But he didn't say those things, because it wasn't befitting a King to lower himself to talk to equally to a mere peasant. And he was a King—a God, amongst cavemen.
He only smiled faintly at the old man. "If you think something so cryptic is going to deter me from my task, than this shall be easier than I predicted," he intoned slyly instead of those slimy thoughts swirling in his head.
Dumbledore shook his head grimly. "You will fall, Voldemort, as Grindlewald fell before you."
"I doubt it," and confidence, thick and rich, surged through him, straightening his shoulders and curling his lip in an expression of anticipation. "I will enjoy ripping into the corpse of your beloved castle, Albus, and watching your expression once I tell you the details of your Chosen One's death."
Something black and unsettling fell over the man's face and a little curl of sensation that Voldemort refused to acknowledge as uncertainty tickled quietly at the edge of his mind. "You will never touch him," and there was such steel in the man's voice that it gave him pause, if only for a moment. "And you couldn't even hope to catch sight of Hogwarts—her distaste for you is too great for you to even ruin a brick of her magnificence."
Voldemort laughed; Albus could be quite amusing at times. "Perhaps I could be more merciful to your precious students if told me where the rest of the Hallows,"—he shook the wand for emphasis—"were? After all, I know you love a decent, fair bargain, don't you, Headmaster?"
"Tom," Dumbledore said calmly "We know that even if I gave them to you, that even if you promised to stay away from the castle, you'd just go ahead and slaughter the entirety of Hogwarts anyway. You have no regard for human life and I doubt the temptation of those 'dirty-blooded' children would pass from your mind." He smiled, bitterly. "I would truly be a fool to take you up on anything you had to offer. The Hallows are not meant for you, nor for any man."
"And here I was thinking you'd do anything to preserve your lovely little children's lives," Voldemort said coolly. "My mistake."
"It wouldn't be protection," Dumbledore said. "It would be damnation."
"You don't know that for sure," Voldemort retorted, grinning.
"You never could refuse a challenge," was the dry reply.
"No, I suppose not," he admitted, looking around with a low breath. "I'll just have to live with the satisfaction of Harry Potter's death, now won't I?"
Dumbledore leveled a serious gaze at the Dark Lord. "I fear you are more correct than you could ever understand," and there was such a layer of grief to his quiet voice that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named fell quiet and bemused.
"And Harry," Dumbledore called and Voldemort looked up, frowning in bewilderment, before he realized, wildly, that the Boy-Who-Lived was listening. "Things are not always as Dark as they first appear—rather, the opposite in fact."
Voldemort drew in a breath, rage crackling around the man's skull before
He was left bereft, pain and heat throwing him back from the table, his legs lashing out as his chair was ripped from underneath him and he was sliding off the table and into isolation. His knees and elbows connected harshly with the floor and he gasped for breath, feeling at the back of his mind
And the confusing thoughts of
He shoved Voldemort away harshly and unintentionally sent a signal of
And his thoughts
And then, it was like a door slamming in his mind and even when he reached out tentatively, he only felt a cool wall of isolation and separation between them. It seemed strangely definite. He retreated, shaking.
Voldemort's mind was a place of rage and confusion and insanity—there was no reason, no soundness, only a bitter ambition that swallowed up everything in sight, even that doubled edged intelligence that Tom had so prided himself on. It took a toll on his already stressed mind to be exposed to that so soon and so quickly.
He started, dragged out of his thoughts and looked up. Hermione was kneeling next to him and so was Ron, eyes wide with concern. The lights were flickering rapidly over their heads and Harry could feel his magic faintly buzzing in his ears, dripping off him in his panic. He fought to control it, to bring it back and subdue it, but he couldn't reach it, couldn't stop shaking.
"Harry," Hermione said, looping his arm over her shoulder to pull him up, Ron taking the other side as they managed to hoist him to his feet, his legs trembling underneath him. They manhandled him into a seat, cold washing him over and over again, gasping. Somewhere, a bulb popped and shattered and a light switched off.
"Are you okay?" Hermione blurted, kneeling next to him.
His skin felt unpleasantly clammy and when a hand pressed itself against his forehead, Ron proclaimed "He's burning hot!"
The trembling was subsiding and his eyes were tearing up, his mouth bleeding because he'd bitten into it so hard. "I'm…" he wanted to say 'fine' but he couldn't get the breath in his lungs to accurately saying anything other than 'wheeeezeee.'
"Take a minute," and Nico was standing in the doorway, sword hanging at his belt, a thundercloud on his brow. "Breathe in slowly. Hold it in. Then let it out."
Harry sucked in more air, blinking rapidly, but did what he was told. It worked after a few more breathes, and the dizziness burning underneath his forehead disappeared. The lamps stopped shutting on and off and his magic settled back into his bones like bile in his stomach—unpleasant, but better than the alternative.
Harry hummed an agreement.
"Good." Nico sighed, and stepped back into the room fully. "Look, I didn't mean to start an argument, alright? Something needed to get done, though, otherwise that thing," here, he shot a look at the chained up jar sitting on the table, "would've gotten out or worse—he could have latched onto Harry."
Ron breathed quietly.
"Taken over him or something… whatever, it doesn't matter. Did you see anything?" He leaned his hip uncomfortably against the table, looking more tired than Harry'd ever seen him.
"Dumbledore's alive," Harry muttered. "He's alive… But Voldemort's got his wand." He leaned back in his chair and pulled his knees up, resting a heavy chin on the caps.
There was a moment of quiet, pulling tight in the air. And then, "Are you sure?" Ron whispered.
Harry hummed an affirmative. "Yes—I was in his head, remember?" His voice wasn't as disturbed as he expected it to be, and he rolled his shoulders, eyes fluttering in thought as he did so.
"What were they doing?" Hermione probed, eyes alight with a mixture of curiosity and concern.
Harry shrugged. "They were just… talking," he said. "About me and the war and Britain." And what a strange conversation, too! Voldemort and Dumbledore, light and dark, speaking together, having an honest to Merlin conversation.
Nico was tearing into his bottom lip with his teeth, hair hanging in front of his eyes. "Nothing specific? Didn't mention where they were, what his plan was?"
The-Boy-Who-Lived crossed his arms and thought, hard. "Said something about…" What was that term again? Voldemort had acted like it was important. To him and to Dumbledore. "H—hallows. Whatever that means."
Nico went white for a moment and swore gently.
"I think it's time we have a talk," he told them, stiffly.
I am sorry. So sorry, really I am. I don't have any excuses and I'm not gonna give any, because that's not right and it's not fair to you guys. I've been stuck in a rut lately when it comes to writing. Too many ideas and not enough time and anyways, I'm sorry. This chapter, I hope, will make up for my carelessness.