Tom Riddle leant against Slytherin's statue in the Chamber of Secrets, arms folded, watching dispassionately as Ginny Weasley sobbed before him.
She was startlingly pale, and had done nothing but cry since she got here, silent tears rolling down her eyes as her life drained away.
He gave a pleased hum at the sense of power and energy that was beginning to return to him, at the faint sensations of smooth stone against his back, of chill.
They had never before felt so delightful.
His nerves felt like they were on fire, oversensitive, for he could touch and feel and see by his own volition for the first time in too long.
"Please …" Ginny's murmur broke the silence, her first – strained – words in quite some time. "Tom, please … let me go."
"Let you go?" He frowned. "I already said I can't do that, Gin. Come now; we're friends, aren't we? Friends help each other, and didn't you wish that you could somehow help me?"
"I – I didn't –" She dissolved into tears again. "I don't want to die!"
"No one does, love," he replied sagely. "But that doesn't mean you won't."
There was silence again, and he watched her curiously, his little Ginny.
She was an annoying child, whiny and needy, simply desperate for recognition and acceptance. In all honesty, he'd done her a kindness, giving her that.
Not that it mattered.
Ultimately, she was nothing to him, just the bait to catch a bigger fish.
Miss Weasley had told him so much about the great Harry Potter that he found his fascination quite piqued. The Boy Who Lived, survivor of the Killing Curse, a legend.
He was so eager to see what type of child it took to accomplish such a thing. After all, he could hardly miss the similarities between them – both halfbloods, orphans, raised by muggles, unaware of their rightful status, parselmouths. If Ginevra was to be believed, they even looked something alike.
It was … interesting.
He couldn't wait to meet the boy himself, to see if this was true.
"I'm scared, Tom." Ginny's voice was even weaker now, as if it was taking all her effort to keep talking, begging for consolations.
Her eyes, turned so deliciously fearful, had closed.
He could hear the terror in her tone, and relished it. She really was very young.
He ignored her though, beginning to lose patience. He'd had to listen to her pathetic troubles all year – he didn't see why he should be thus obligated to do so now.
He turned away, looking around the Chamber, wondering when boy wonder would appear.
The silence stretched, and all the time his strength grew. He was almost solid now, just a bit blurry around the edges.
"Harry will stop you," she mumbled. He turned sharply at that, only to see that she'd finally succumbed to unconsciousness.
Now there was nothing to do but wait.
Harry was standing at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber. Towering stone pillars entwined with carved serpents rose to support a ceiling lost in darkness, casting long, black shadows through the odd, greenish gloom that filled the place.
He stood listening to the chill silence, his heart pounding in his chest like a trapped bludger.
Could the basilisk be lurking in a shadowy corner? Behind a pillar? And where was Ginny?
He pulled out his wand and carefully moved forward between the serpentine columns, his footsteps echoing. It was far too quiet. Eerie.
He kept his eyes narrowed, ready to clamp them shut at the smallest sign of movement. He could have sworn that the hollow eye sockets of the stone snakes seemed to be following him. More than once, with a jolt of the stomach, he thought he saw one stir, fearing it the basilisk.
Then, as he drew level with the last pair of pillars, a statue high as the Chamber itself loomed into view, standing against the back wall.
Harry had to crane his neck to look up into the giant face above. It was ancient and monkeyish, with a long, thin beard that fell almost to the bottom of the wizard's sweeping stone robes, where two enormous grey feet stood on the smooth Chamber floor.
Somehow, he'd expected the man to look more snake-like.
Between the feet lay a girl with hair of flame.
"Ginny!" he muttered, sprinting over to her and dropping to his knees. "Ginny – don't be dead – please don't be dead –"
He flung his wand aside, unable to care for it now. If she was dead … she couldn't possibly be dead. He grabbed her shoulders, turning her over. Her face was white as marble, and as cold, yet her eyes were closed, so she wasn't Petrified. But then she must be –
"Ginny, please wake up," he pleaded, shaking her.
Ginny's head lolled hopelessly from side to side. His blood curdled.
"She won't wake," said a soft voice.
Harry stiffened, and spun around on his knees.
A tall, black-haired boy was leaning against the nearest pillar, watching. He was strangely blurred around the edges, as though Harry were looking at him through a misted window.
But there was no mistaking him.
"Tom – Tom Riddle?"
Riddle nodded, not taking his eyes off Harry's face.
"What d'you mean, she won't wake?" Harry demanded desperately. "She's not – she's not …?"
"She's still alive," Riddle replied. "But only just."
Thank god. Ginny was…
An uncertain feeling swelled in his chest as he stared at the other boy. Tom Riddle had been at Hogwarts fifty years ago, yet here he stood: a weird, misty light shining about him, not a day older than sixteen.
How was that even possible?
"Are you a ghost?" Surely Riddle was too … solid, for that?
"A memory," Tom replied quietly. "Preserved in a diary for fifty years."
He pointed toward the floor near the statue's giant toes. Indeed, the diary lay there innocently.
Harry swallowed, his confusion rising at the same rate as a horrible realisation. For a second, he wondered how the book had got there, but then he dismissed the question for the sake of more pressing matters.
"You've got to help me, Tom," he said, raising Ginny's head again, struggling with the weight, red hair flowing across his fingers like blood. "We've got to get her out of here. There's a basilisk – I don't know where it is, but it could be along any moment – Please, help me!"
Riddle didn't move. Harry, sweating, managed to hoist Ginny half off the floor, and bent to pick up his wand again.
It was gone.
"Did you see –?"
He looked up. Riddle was still watching him – twirling Harry's wand between his long fingers. The awful realisation was tickling at his mind now, but he didn't want to believe it, so he stretched out a hand to be given it back.
"Thanks," he said.
A smile curled the corners of Riddle's mouth. Harry shivered under the intenseness of the other's scrutiny.
"Listen," he tried again, urgently, his knees sagging with Ginny's dead weight. "We've got to go! If the basilisk comes –"
"It won't come until it is called," said Riddle calmly.
He swallowed bile, lowering Ginny gently to the floor, unable to hold her any longer.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "Look, give me my wand, I might need it –"
That smile broadened, dangerous.
"You won't be needing it."
"What do you mean I won't be needing –"
"I've waited a long time for this, Harry Potter. For a chance to see you, speak to you."
"I don't think you get it," Harry replied through gritted teeth. "We're in the Chamber of Secrets! We can talk later!" Let him buy that, please let him buy that!
A variety of expressions crossed the prefect's features, before settling on a smirk.
"Of course." Tom dipped his head in acknowledgment. "You're right, this isn't the most suitable place for such a conversation. Forgive me."
Harry started, not having expected it to work.
"No, it's not," he said again, trying to inject firmness into his voice. "So – so you'll help me with Ginny, then?" he asked, not daring to hope.
"I'm afraid not, Harry," Riddle replied, stepping towards him, an altogether hungry expression on his face. It reminded him rather terribly of some predator that had just found its next meal. Harry stiffened, feeling the older boy circle them both.
"You see, as poor Ginny grows weaker, I grow stronger." As if to reiterate this point, fingers brushed through his hair, tugging lightly on the locks.
He thought furiously.
"You're the reason she's like this …?" He could feel his horror swelling.
"Clever boy," the other praised, and despite himself, Harry felt the most awful prickle of pride.
No one had ever really praised him for anything before that, not really. The Dursleys never would, and Hermione was the clever one.
What was he even thinking? Something was seriously wrong here!
"You're the Heir of Slytherin," he realised, everything beginning to come together in his head, far too late. He'd framed Hagrid, and … Ginny, what was he doing to Ginny?
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," Tom replied smoothly. The faintest of touches closed around his fingers – icy, not quite tangible, but there all the same.
Stronger. Riddle was getting stronger.
How did he stop him? Without killing Ginny? His eyes flicked around desperately, trying to connect the dots. A memory, preserved in a diary for fifty years…
"The diary –" He lunged for it, only for his legs to suddenly collapse beneath him, at the spell darting from his own wand. He cried out in pain, feeling his kneecaps shatter.
He lay on his back next to Ginny, struggling to lever his body up. Riddle was flickering from the magic he'd cast – vanishing for a second, like a bad connection, before seeming to settle once more, circling.
"Ah, ah. Don't do that, Harry," Riddle chided, laughing. A horrible, high, cold laugh. Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
Never before had he felt so scared, so vulnerable, so helpless.
Riddle eyed the wand with a thoughtful expression on his face.
"You haven't succeeded," Harry spat. "No one's died this time, and all the petrified people –"
"Oh, you silly child." Riddle sighed, gaze darting back to his face. "Haven't I told you? Killing mudbloods doesn't matter to me anymore. For many months now, my new target has been – you."
Harry nearly froze from shock. This was just typical, wasn't it?
"And what do you want from me?" he managed, before steeling himself. "If you're going to kill me, go ahead, but let Ginny go – you, you can have me instead!" he offered.
Riddle surveyed him, a gleam in his eyes.
"Really?" he questioned. Harry swallowed.
"Regular little hero, aren't you," Riddle stated, head tilting to one side, smiling.
His jaw clenched. "Do we have a deal? Just … you can do whatever you want with me, if it's me that you want, just – just let Ginny go!"
"That does sound reasonable," Tom said lightly. Harry stared at him, his insides twisting, hardly daring to breathe. "But, alas, no. I already have you, so the point is moot."
The wand was pointed at him now, and Harry refused to flinch, meeting that piercing gaze as evenly as he could. He didn't want to die like this, on the floor, without a wand to fight with.
"Kill me, then," he dared. Riddle's eyes glittered like diamonds, just as icy and hard.
"I could," the other murmured. "But then we wouldn't be able to talk later, would we? And you did say we could. "
Harry's eyes widened with absolute horror.
And the world turned black.
A/N: So, it's AU, obviously. But, to be honest, if Tom was supposed to be so brilliant, surely he would just stun Harry until he had his body back, if he had a wand – which he did – and then play his games after? That's my theory anyway, and where this story is going from.
I hope you enjoy it. Tell me what you think?