Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and am not making any money from this story.
Summary: Tom Riddle has questions about his future.
It was a relief to step from the scalding white sand into the shadow of the cliff, dense with salty vines and bright nasturtiums. The waves murmured and hissed lazily against the black, volcanic rocks and, as a young wizard looked up at the steep, stone steps that led to his destination, water licked at his feet and the hem of his robes. He closed his eyes, lifting his nose to the smell of the sea.
Those who had known Riddle at Hogwarts would have been greatly surprised to see their notoriously particular Head Boy with his black robes streaked with salt and bleached grey by the sun. His socks and smart, leather shoes he had shrunk and shoved into a pocket. As he began to climb the narrow steps, he lowered his hood, revealing unkempt, jet-black hair – still damp from the sea. Tossed by the breeze, it framed a gaunt face as pale as his hair was dark; handsome features grown as wild as everything else about him. Luminous grey eyes, their whites washed with red, stared out at the world with an eerie, feral certainty as he ascended the carved stairs, never once pausing to catch his breath.
He admired the flaming, tangle of nasturtiums that rose with him up the cliff path. Tom Riddle had seen them often in Brazil, where he had been told that the flowers had reminded European botanists of Roman trophy-poles decked out in spoils; their green leaves as round as Sabine shields and vermillion petals as lurid as bloodied helmets collected from the field of war.
At the top of the steps, a tunnel yawned wide and he smiled, reminded of his own secret place on the other side of the world. The darkness of the black rocks had been hollowed out to form a vast cavern which opened in many directions and voices could be heard from the chambers beyond, singing words the young wizard could not discern. Or perhaps there were no lyrics at all and it was only sound, as pure as the sea and the stone.
The old witch smelt of incense and seaweed. Her white hair was plaited with shells down her back and her robes were little but rags. Warm light flickered across her dark, tattooed face – revealing eyes milky with age - as she poked the fire with a pale piece of driftwood, causing the salamanders to crackle, snapping at the stick that disturbed their flames.
"Oh now, that's interesting…" she called out to him in a creaky, sing-song voice, while he blinked at the heat and the strength of the incense. "Ah-ah, when you're old like me, you'll appreciate a good fire, and sooner rather than later, I think!" The witch laughed, poking it again, making the salamanders dance.
"I have been told that you have the gift of prophecy…" Tom began.
She put the stick down and sighed. "Oh yes… and then again, no. But you're a clever wizard, aren't you? Why do you need to know the words of a poor, old witch like me, hmmm?"
"I need to know-"
"Aren't you a little young to be thinking about immortality?" Tom's hand went to his left pocket, and his head swung round like a threatened snake. The old hag had not entered his mind, he would have felt it. "Never mind… my, what a monster you are – those red eyes – a proper terror; as afraid of death as an old man. Well, I can't give you a prophecy, my Lord, not when you already… Oh now, that is… how sad…"
"Excuse me, but what do you find sad?" Affronted and disturbed by the crone's ramblings, Tom was unsure of what to do.
"You should go now, Lord Voldemort, while you still can," she pleaded, pointing at a dark maw of a tunnel. "Follow the path down and you'll have the all answers you seek. Here, I will give you a guide…" And she thumped the stick of driftwood against the stone floor. A huge snake slithered out of the tunnel, moving gently toward them in seven great curves and seven great coils, opalescent in the firelight. Tom's eyes widened in wonder at the omen. "Go," her voice was suddenly hoarse with such command that Tom followed the snake back into the darkness of the cave, almost without thinking, entranced by its beauty.
It was not a quiet dark, but the dark of a jungle, filled with death. The sounds were inhuman, restless and hungering. Yet Tom did not fear as he followed the glitter of the serpent's scales. Black trees surrounded them, their leaves brushing against his trailing robes, catching his mind like memories: a screeching creature with bloodied ribbons to bind its viperous hair reaching out her claws as if to embrace him – a many-headed snake clothed in Fiendfyre, its hundred voices whispering benedictions – whey-faced spirits muttering, pointing, gathering about him – Tom drew his wand.
"What is this place?" he asked his guide, who glided on ahead, impervious.
"Some see beauty, some horror, some prey, some death. It is not the place that sees."
Up ahead, moonlight began to filter through the dense foliage and an old man stood there, ancient and monkey-like, with a long, white beard that fell almost to the hem of his richly-embroidered green robes. The serpent circled him eagerly, flicking out its silver tongue. Tom, recognising the wizard immediately, stopped in awe. "Ancestor…" he whispered reverently.
When Salazar Slytherin saw him, he stretched his arms wide, tears in his beady eyes. "Thou hast come at last!" he cried. "Mine own clever one, blood of my blood, thou must surely join – oh…"
"Yes?" Tom asked immediately, his cold features transformed with eagerness.
"Thou art not dead," Slytherin replied sadly, his arms falling to his sides. "Thou art forever caught with Herpo – the first of our line – I shall not see thee again." But he took Tom's hand and led him to a stream, where forms shimmered in the mist that rose off the water.
There, Tom Riddle saw fate unravelling before him and he let go of the hand without noticing, wading greedily – hypnotised – into the visions: worshipful witches and witches, begging for the honour of becoming his servants; a great snake as large and beautiful as his guide, curling around his chair; fear like an endless fog, thick with shadows; the stench of death rising from Hogwarts Castle, it –
A boy stood there with verdant eyes that held unimaginable promise.
"Who are you?" Tom asked, oddly frightened by the child's surety, its proprietorial eyes that seemed to see too much.
Hello, Tom Riddle, my name will be Harry Potter. The bright spirit put its cloudy fingers to his cheek, its arms curling like white smoke around his neck, in the embrace his silent ancestor – still looking on - never quite gave him. Please, Tom, try for some remorse.
"I do not understand," Tom murmured into the ghost's wispy shoulder, closing his eyes. It felt so warm, so right.
I know you don't, it whispered, but it's easy, really it is. I'll show you…
It grasped him tight and Tom gasped and struggled in its arms as it wrenched at his heart, at the pain of his earliest memories – turning his soul upside down, as though desperately searching for something. It pressed against his chest and he cried out in pain, begging for it to cease. Oh, Tom… it sighed as he fell to the ground, shocked and trembling.
The powerful spirit stopped, crying, settling above him, feather-light. I'm sorry, Tom, I'm so sorry…
He opened his eyes.
The ancient crone was leaning over him, humming to herself. "Well," she huffed eventually, "I suppose some people just won't be helped!"
He shrieked, and green light struck the cavern like a bolt of lightning.