Disclaimer: Does Harry Potter belong to an unpublished thirteen year old girl? No? Then I'm not the author...
Thank you for all your generous reviews and brilliant suggestions! Special thanks to Stregian and fangirl-friend2, whose ideas I have used and plan on using!
Professor Minerva McGonagall stalked along the corridors, scrolls tucked firmly in her arms, muttering to herself about the stupidity of teenagers.
She had not had a good day, and she shuddered to imagine the picture she must make: spectacles perched askew on her nose, hair falling at liberty from her loose bun, long robes dangling from her build in the horrendous pink colours she had seen only on the Ministry worker Dolores Umbridge before.
Compared to her usual self, she was in disarray.
One of the older Gryffindor students from her last class had thought it clever to pull a prank and amuse his housemates by targeting the blackboard and transfiguring the colour to a bright magenta. His aim was poor, and needless to say, McGonagall now bore the consequences of the spell on her own robes.
She had assigned the child a detention with Filch.
Her lips thinned…
She was not in the best mood.
She was thankful she had a free period without classes and that the corridors were currently deserted because the students were at their lessons. Thinking was much easier when there were no loud laughs, shrieks and clatters.
Dumbledore had sent her an invitation to drink tea in his office after dinner. And McGonagall was going to decline, having armed herself with a suitable excuse. She would tell the headmaster that she was too busy marking the homework essays to take time off.
It was not a lie at all; she did have numerous essays to mark. Although the full truth was that she could easily spare an hour or two before settling to work and still finish the marking before her usual bedtime.
She simply needed an excuse.
McGonagall assured herself that she was not attempting to avoid the old man, but that she felt too tired to deal with anything difficult this evening.
She remembered with a pang of regret how in the past she used to gladly sit and talk with the ancient headmaster over a cup of her favourite steaming jasmine tea…
Except that was before Dumbledore became like… this…
For a long time, McGonagall had thought that her old companion was merely blind to the flaws of Grindelwald, but now she was convinced that Dumbledore had changed, truly changed, from his past benevolent self to – she hardly dared to believe it – a rather ruthless man who prioritised defeating You Know Who above protecting the students who resided in Hogwarts.
The sheer idea shook her to her very core.
Dumbledore used to be as much of a mentor as he was a friend and colleague to her. He had taken it upon himself to show her the ropes when she was a young professor in need of a job. Minerva still owed him.
He used to be so good, so kind, and nothing mattered to him more than ending the reign of darkness and preserving as much human lives as he could.
Albus was, quite literally, a glowing beacon of hope. He had possessed a large amount of humour, even in the most troublesome times. He was so brilliant in mind, so human despite his great talents, with a deep capacity for love, who believed the good in everyone and insisted on second chances.
McGonagall had always admired that about him.
Yet, somewhere along the way, perhaps after he had been subjected to Nurmengard, it all changed.
That wise, wrinkled face had given way to something darker. The features were the same, but something buried deep within was not.
It chilled her heart.
A sigh slipped past her pursed lips and she continued on her way.
As she passed the great hall, McGonagall paused on instinct at the sight of the headmaster deep in conversation with...
It was difficult to determine whether the figure was male or female when it had its back to her, was fully cloaked in black from head to toe, and had a hood draped over its face. Somehow, she was struck by the impression that the figure did not want to be identified by anyone other than Dumbledore.
McGonagall had to admit she was curious about the situation.
The figure, surely, was not a professor, and McGonagall was only too aware of the wards that surrounded Hogwarts. They repelled all enemies. They would never allow just any stranger inside the castle.
"I can provide you with a sanctuary and education for your daughters; I can guarantee your safety within the impenetrable walls of Hogwarts," Dumbledore was saying gently to the figure in front of him.
"That would be much appreciated," the figure responded stiffly.
McGonagall was taken aback by the feminine voice.
It was a woman, she was sure now.
And a desperate one at that, if the overwrought tone was anything to be judged.
Suddenly, McGonagall felt like an insensitive fool intruding upon the privacy of a frantic mother who was seeking shelter for her children.
She had always reprimanded and disapproved of those students who poked their noses in other people's private matters for the sake of their own inquisitiveness. She was hit by a bout of guilt and sympathy for the mother.
Minerva was about to turn away when what Dumbledore said next snagged her attention once again.
"However…" Dumbledore raised a hand, "… I have one question." His chest rumbled peacefully, and though McGonagall could not see, she could imagine the infuriating twinkle of the blue eyes that accompanied his comment. "In return for my protection, what will you do for me?"
McGonagall stifled an enraged gasp.
The old Dumbledore would never have set a price for his protection.
The figure raised her head, and after a moment's contemplation, she said softly, "Whatever you want, old man."
She pitied the woman, and her nostrils flared furiously.
"Even to oppose the Dark Lord in every respect and face his wrath by taking away his prized…?" Dumbledore lowered his voice, and McGonagall found that she could not catch the next words no matter how hard she strained to hear.
Their muffled discussion lasted until Dumbledore had finished speaking and the hooded female made a choked noise, a mixture between shock and fear.
"You must be mad, Dumbledore, to ask such a favour from me! You expect too much. Actions have consequences, and the Dark Lord will hold me to them!"
"Not at all, Evelyn, I am quite sane even in my old age," Dumbledore said not unpleasantly. "Though, I must admit, my expectations are rather high."
The woman gave an angry hiss. "You take me for a fool, Dumbledore! Do you think I have no preservation instinct?"
Said man chuckled lightly. "On the contrary, I think you are extraordinarily intelligent, which is why I will entrust the job to you. I do believe you will display yourself rather convincingly, at least convincingly enough to deceive him… He is just a child, after all."
"I have not yet agreed to the job, old man."
"As you stated before, all actions have consequences," the headmaster murmured. "I wonder what would happen if Lord Voldemort is to receive an anonymous tip off that you have committed treason and has met in secret with his most hated enemy…"
Tensed silence rang like a bell through the air.
"… then you will have to face the consequences anyway, I believe," Dumbledore remarked thoughtfully. "And – correct me if I am wrong – your master is not known for being merciful to his servants."
McGonagall almost forgot to breathe in her concentration and careful observance of the strange events transpiring before her very eyes.
Dumbledore was blatantly blackmailing a mother, who, if the conversation was anything to go by, was also a Death Eater. McGonagall did not fully understand what was going on, but she knew it would be for the best if Albus was not aware she had overheard them for the time being.
"What then, Evelyn, what of your two daughters? How will they fend for themselves? One is not even capable of functioning independently and the other is underage. How will your family survive this war without you?"
Dumbledore let out a seemingly compassionate sigh and leaned back, waiting for time to do its work and for the message to hit home.
Finally the woman regained her composure.
When she next spoke again, her voice was cold. "I should never have underestimated you, Dumbledore. It is a small wonder why the Dark Lord has tried but failed so many, many times to kill you. You are too… good –"
The wizened man let out a small, amused chortle.
"– far too good at what you do."
"I cannot help but agree," Dumbledore smiled, voice amiable and open once more. "So what do you say, Evelyn? Are you up for this task? I believe I have a few things in my office which may aid you and help you overcome the difficult parts."
The woman, Evelyn, must have given some indication of her agreement, because Dumbledore suddenly announced brightly, "Good, good, excellent, I knew we could eventually come to an understanding. Care for a lemon drop while we take this conversation to my office?"
Footsteps grew louder.
And McGonagall wisely chose that precise second to dart into an empty classroom. She had no idea why she was hiding from the man she worked for, but a small part of her, an intuition, told her to keep the information she'd learnt secret.
Only after the footfalls of Dumbledore and Evelyn faded into nothingness did McGonagall finally emerge, scrolls still firmly tucked in her arms.
Forks of lightning flashed outside the glass windows, fleetingly throwing the silhouette of the dark figure in the darker room into sharp relief. It was raining outside, raining hard. The sheeting water pelted against the window panes.
As Harry sat behind his drawing table, brooding silently.
He was troubled, to say the least.
A full day had passed since the Dark Lord had thought fit to teach Tom humility and subject him to the emotions, the memories. And Harry had seen neither hair nor hide of the maddening Slytherin Heir at breakfast, lunch or dinner; worry was beginning to gnaw at him.
Harry suspected that Tom had shut himself within his bedroom, but it was out of the question for Harry to just burst in and invade his privacy. Knowing Riddle, the git would probably fling curses at him until he disappeared.
Perhaps the man simply needed time alone.
Voldemort was making the most of the spare time that Harry had on his hands, and had invited Harry to keep him company for the better of the day.
Dining with the devil for all of the three meals was not only awkward but excessively exhausting. For one, the Dark Lord seemed to be hell-bent on watching Harry eat, and making him feel self conscious to the extent that he actually dropped his fork out of sheer mortification.
Through the whole process of lunch, Voldemort's knife and spoons and forks had remained firmly on the table, and he had observed Harry like one might have observed a film. Not only that, but the man fired completely random questions at Harry that left him not knowing what to expect next.
One of the conversations, from Harry's memory, went something like this:
"Tell me, Harry… what do you think of our mind link?"
"I must strongly disagree… Do you not see the advantages of the entire matter? If you, somehow, managed to control the connection, we would be able to converse with each other without physically speaking."
"You seem to have given this a lot of thought, my Lord…"
"Then why are you asking me for my opinion?"
"Hmm… How are you enjoying the soup? It has been made especially for you…"
"Thank you, my Lord –"
"Potter, do not talk with your mouth full!"
It had certainly caught Harry off guard, and for some odd reason, it gave him an uncomfortable feeling that the Dark Lord was attempting to achieve something through the weird behaviour. He just could not put his finger on it.
Or, it might only be him growing overtly paranoid.
Speaking of paranoia, Harry stiffened and leapt from his seat with a wand clenched in his hand when the tell-tale sound of his bedroom door creaking open reached his ears. A trespasser. He spun around.
Who on earth would be entering his bedroom in the dead of the night, without knocking, when every other occupant of the manor was asleep? It could only be someone with a severe lack of manners and an unhealthy dose of self importance…
Tom Marvolo Riddle.
Harry stared, but shoved his wand back up his sleeve without hesitation when the Slytherin Heir stepped from the corridor and inside the room with an expression of…
Well, normally it would be annoyance or amusement or something similar – but this time, the look was strange, and it was an emotion that Harry could not pinpoint easily.
Ignoring the daylight hours and choosing an untimely hour when Harry might have been snoring in his bed to visit seemed too much like the annoying Tom Harry was used to.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your mighty presence?" Harry enquired, teasing mockery evident in his voice. "And why have you chosen this minute to come and keep me company? Surely you know I am not scared of thunder?"
When Riddle did not reply, Harry continued lightly, "Or is it because you are scared of thunder?"
"I assure you, you pathetic fool… that I am not scared of thunder," Riddle hissed. "Keep your mouth shut if you do not have anything of an intelligent nature to share."
Harry was mildly taken aback by the venom in his tone… and also slightly hurt. He had believed Tom might have had reconciliation on his mind… but perhaps he was wrong.
"Then why are you here?" he snapped, more rigidly.
Tom paused for a fraction of a second, his tranquillity seeming to fall, and his expression had the betraying signs of someone who was unsure of themselves. That, however, only lasted for a brief amount of time.
Riddle glanced around the room, and his eyes came to a stop on the bed neatly made without any indication that it had been recently disturbed. "Can't sleep, Potter?" he said.
"None of your damn business."
"Whoever stated I was not rude is an idiot," Harry retorted. "Besides, you do not need a license to be rude…"
He trailed off when he saw Tom Riddle staring at him, eyes narrowed and calculating in a typical Slytherin fashion, and decided he did not like the look.
It set off alarm bells inside his head, but this was no stranger; it was Riddle, and Harry thought that no matter how unbalanced the emotions might have made Tom, Tom was still Tom. Not even Voldemort could change that.
"Why are you gaping at me, Tom?" Harry teased. "Have you seen something that you like on my face? A bread crumb, perhaps? I've just finished dinner. You can eat it if you want, but that's only if you can get it off my face."
Tom pulled a disgusted face, but otherwise made no sound.
Tonight, the man appeared determined not to join Harry in their usual bantering and verbal sparring and battle of wits. Tonight, he looked dull and distracted. The emotions Voldemort put him through probably had a larger impact than Harry first assumed.
"I'm about to go to bed, so if you don't get on with what you want to say, I'll have to hope that you'll excuse yourself while I wash up in the bathroom and prepare for bed," Harry said.
He hoped it was enough to get the young Dark Lord talking.
And it was.
"Would you like to join me for a walk?"
"Up and down the stairs in the manor?" Harry asked.
"Outside. In the garden."
Unbelievable. Tom had gone mad.
Harry was struck by an urge to feel Tom's forehead to find out if he was suffering from a fever or whether he was delirious.
"It is raining outside," Harry said slowly. "And not just a little. We are both going to get soaked. Besides, I personally do not see the fun in walking alongside all the lightning and thunder and the wet flowers."
"You are a wizard, aren't you, Potter? Never heard of a warming charm or a spell that repels rain before? We will never get wet."
Harry folded his arms across his chest. "This is madness. Why would you want to walk in the rain?"
"Because I just do."
He scoffed. It was just the type of answer he would have expected from Tom when the man was in a sullen mood.
"Look, Tom, you are not a poet and nor are you one of those strange musicians who find inspiration amongst the greenery and compose songs in the bad weather to romantic lovers. Come to think of it, you don't even like water!"
Riddle sighed and slid a finger through his hair.
"I'm starting to think that what Voldemort did to you is meddling with the way your brain functions!"
As soon as Harry said those words, he wished he could take them back. There was no point reminding Tom of his own humiliation. Being a proud creature, there was a lot of room for Tom to take offense from the remark.
To his surprise, Tom did not even blink.
"If you're not going, then I'll just have to go by myself…" For the first time that evening, Tom tossed him a mocking smile. "Though, admittedly, I'd prefer company over loneliness."
Perhaps it was an irresistible impulse to redeem himself for the comment that slipped past without his permission or maybe he was pleased that Tom had finally confessed he appreciated Harry's presence; either way, Harry grudgingly agreed despite his own reluctance to venture out into the storm in the middle of the night.
Later, he would curse himself for it, but for the time being, he gave in to Tom's will.
The look of utter triumph and relief that crossed Tom's face made it impossible for Harry himself not to smirk. It already appeared to be worth it; Harry liked making people around him happier as opposed to being stuck in depression.
"You are behaving abnormally peculiar tonight, you know that, Tom? Like, I mean you are being really uncharacteristic."
Harry grinned at the stiffening shoulders in front of him.
"Still, I think uncharacteristic is good. We all need a change of personality sometimes. For me, I wish I can develop a Daphne-ish attitude temporarily, just to annoy you."
Tom's shoulders stiffened even more.
"Whatever. Let's go, shall we?"
Tom seemed to forget entirely about the warming charm and the water repelling charm that he had promised Harry once they were outside. As they both headed towards the gardens, Tom gained an unnatural speed and began to stride in the direction of the trees while Harry hurried his pace to catch up.
"Slow down, Tom," Harry panted. "We are taking a midnight stroll, not a midnight run."
It was freezing, and the cold was seeping beneath his skin. His robes were soaked and saturated with water. Harry glanced up miserably at the wet strands dripping water into his eyes. He hoped Tom would decide to turn back soon, and he could return to his room for a hot shower.
Thunder rumbled menacingly in the distance, but Riddle was oblivious to it. In fact, Riddle seemed oblivious to everything, including Harry's request for them to slow down because he only intensified his speed.
In Tom's haste, they had already crossed more than half of the garden, and Harry could feel the mud on his toes in his waterlogged shoes.
He felt irritated at the fact Tom was determinedly ignoring him.
Finally, he stopped entirely, and called out, "If you do not slow down, I will be heading back to the manor. The Dark Lord wishes to dine with me early in the morning, and I do not want to catch a cold."
To his relief, Tom twisted around and started walking towards him.
Harry's relief was short-lived.
Once Tom reached him, he pulled Harry unceremoniously by the collar towards the edge of the garden. Harry almost choked. The strength of the Slytherin Heir was admirable and he practically heaved Harry on.
"Stop it," Harry gasped. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Tom only dragged him on, uncaring when Harry lost his footing. He merely tossed another scornful look and continued on his way.
Harry yelled in pain and disbelief when he was hauled through the mud, leaving a track of brown liquid swirling after him.
"Are you mad?" he cried. "Unhand me!"
Surprise, surprise… Tom disregarded him.
As they neared the very boundaries of the garden, neared the iron gates, Harry blinked away the mud and leaves which coated his eyes and squinted into the darkness. He saw the silhouettes of two different figures behind the gates.
He glanced up again at Tom, and then back at the figures.
His heart sank.
The real Tom Riddle had to be quietly asleep in his room, unaware of what was taking place and unaware of his double whom was currently flinging a writhing Harry onto his shoulders and trudging towards the figures.
A hand was placed roughly over Harry's mouth and he felt his wand slip past his outstretched fingers.
The last thing he saw was the face of one of the figures behind the iron gates. It was an old face, a face which was brightened by a wrinkly smile. He saw Dumbledore's face, and he wanted to cry out at his own stupidity.
And then he was hit over the head by something hard.
Darkness wafted towards him.
Hi, this is something I have decided to add after updating this chapter, which is rather unfortunate and unfair for those who have already read it. Recently, I have been feeling quite drained, and my brain has let me down in regard to plot ideas and plot structure. I knew this and I also felt like I had lost my footing in the story. Some reviews, very enlightening reviews written by people whose opinions I admire, have shown me what I have been feeling all along.
I no longer know how to move the story forward. This is all my fault for not coming up with the whole plot beforehand and now Harry has become an empty character and Tom has grown into a merciless monster beyond my control.
I've toyed with the thought of ending this story as soon as possible because I have written myself into a corner, but I do not think I will do a good job at it and I do not want a bad ending which disappoints my readers, although I think I am about to disappoint you anyway. I'm really, really sorry. Long story short, I do not know how to end this.
I feel that I should take a break as to avoid writing myself into more corners, and I don't know when I can come back to this story. If ever. I really want to thank all my reviewers who have stuck with me for so long... and I feel like I owe you somehow. I'll probably focus on my other stories for a while.
I'll set up a poll, and you can tell me which story you want me to write, because after deserting Dawn Crux, the least I can do is to listen to your opinions. Or, you can just tell me in a review.
Once again, I'm really sorry about this. Bye for now.