With a name like Little Hangleton, it wasn't surprising that there would be a shadow over the town.
After all, it is the hallmark of all gothic stories: the looming manor upon a hill, surrounded by a graveyard. Yet, it remained that no one went near the Riddle House. And those who did stray into its wild and overgrown garden, never returned past the gates again.
At least, not whole.
Sometimes a finger returned, sometimes an eye, and sometimes all limbs walked home intact with nothing left inside.
Never a heart left. They said that the monster took it to replace the empty space in his chest. Others said he ate them.
Everybody knew the stories. And everybody knew about the offerings.
Each year, there was an offering. Something to appease the monster lurking behind the walls.
All gods must have the proper sacrifices, after all – and so must the devil.
They never said his name. To do so was to invite him to visit you in the night, with creeping tendrils and gleaming scarlet eyes.
The Dark Lord.
Some said he was once a man, cursed, and some that he sold his soul to demons and became one in turn. Others said that such evil as he could never have been human. That he was instead a nightmare, left lingering upon the earth a very long time ago.
Harry stuck his trembling hands in his pockets and swallowed. His breath trailed thin ribbons in the air like dragon's smoke. It was always cold upon the hill. No warmth, and never any sunshine. The sky was always black, as if someone had cast cardboard over the sun to leave only perpetual night.
Colder and colder, the closer one got. Darker, like thick smoke and shadow caressed you.
And every year an offering, despite this. Even if they had to be thrown crying and screaming through the gates.
This year, it was supposed to be Ginny. The eighteen-year-old was a year younger than himself.
A year younger, with a family already crippled by losses.
Harry couldn't stand it.
He, however, had no one. No one who would particularly care if he stayed or died.
He didn't know what, exactly, waited for him in the Riddle House – but he was not a sacrifice.
He was a volunteer.
It seemed even darker the second he stepped into the garden. His eyes widened in shock as vines and the roots of trees appeared to twist and move around him. He felt them brush curiously against the sides of his clothes, the back of his neck.
The grounds stretched untamed as far as he could see, all the way down the other side of the hill to the fence. Yet the instant one stepped past the gates again, the grass was clean-cut and normal. And the grounds certainly didn't move, he knew. He'd been around there before.
But the garden didn't try and stop him from approaching the house. He just felt very … watched. As if every inch of the garden and the manor was staring at him, trying to see straight into his soul. Assessing him.
He exhaled a shaky breath. The door opened for him before he could even touch it, just like the gate. He stayed frozen for a second, his meagre – optimistic – bag of belongings clutched tightly in his hands.
Sometimes the offerings didn't come back for weeks. Maybe he'd have some use for his clothes? He'd find a use for them.
He could feel his heartbeat hammering in his chest.
He stepped inside. He'd been expecting a complete mess, but the house was immaculately tidy. Though it was dark, from what he could see the house had an old, casual sort of grandeur to it that took Harry's breath away.
He swallowed once more, but the lump stayed stuck in his throat.
Something about the house left an uneasy prickling in his spine, nonetheless.
"Hello?" he called out. "Hello, is anyone there?"
It was morning, but in here it didn't feel like it was. Only the palest shafts of sunlight managed to find their way to the floor.
There was no response, and seemingly nobody there to greet him.
Had the beast died in the last year? Harry didn't think so. He could still sense someone – or something – watching him intently.
Harry spun around, eyes wide, as the door slammed shut behind him. He squared his shoulders, before turning again. Squeezed his eyes shut, exhaled. He could do this.
The Beast was just a man. He had to be, surely?
He stepped further into the house, his bag clutched in front of him like a shield. His eyes darted over every corner, every flicker. And there were a lot of flickers, almost as if the very house was moving around him.
"You're the offering."
The house went completely still.
Harry whipped around at the cold breath against his neck. Or he would have, if a hand hadn't clamped tightly on his hip, and another on the back of his neck, keeping him staring rigidly ahead. The fingers were freezing against his skin.
"Don't turn around." The words were hissed against his ear, lips grazing the shell.
"Harry. My name is Harry," he managed. "Not 'the offering'."
"Harry." His name was rolled on the monster's tongue, a low croon.
He'd never wanted to turn around more. He wanted to see what he was dealing with, if the beast really had eyes like blood and hellfire – if he was substance and flesh that could be fought, or something far more insidious. His eyes darted down to glimpse pale, spidery fingers hiding deceptive strength.
He swallowed. His shoulders stiffened as he felt the monster press close, inhaling deeply against his neck. His skin had gone numb where the other's hands restrained him.
"Are you … Voldemort?" His voice stayed more or less even, mercifully. He couldn't help but think that even the slightest weakness would get him torn to pieces. It was too late to fear summoning the creature now.
"You dare speak my name?" The voice was cold.
At least that answered his question.
"Sorry. What would you like me to call you?" As much he half-wanted to say something sarcastic, he figured that politeness would only help him here.
There was a small stretch of silence, before the hand on his hip moved up, to dig nails in over his pounding chest. Harry's breath stuttered.
"You have a strong heart, Harry Potter. Delectable."
Harry jerked a little with unease, though he still couldn't turn his head. The nails kept pressing in, and a small sound of pain escaped him.
"If you're going to kill me, you may as well let me look at you before you do," Harry snapped. "Face my executioner."
The monster laughed at that, grip loosening. It wasn't a nice laugh. It wasn't warm or mirthful, it was as frozen as the man's touch and equally unforgiving.
"There are four rules," Voldemort stated instead. "One, don't try and escape. Two, dinner is every day at six, sharp. I expect you to look your best, or suffer the consequences." The hand on the back of his neck gave a small squeeze. "Three, don't ever enter my quarters on the left side of the house. And … most importantly of all –" the Dark Lord's mouth was by his other ear now – "don't leave your room between sunset and sunrise. No matter what you hear, or for any other reason. Is that understood?"
"We'll talk again if you last the night in my home."
Then he was gone.
A/N: You know me, helpless to resist a plot bunny once it latches on. Don't worry, this won't be too long. 13 chapters max, and probably less than that. Hope you enjoy it anyway and that your interest is piqued :) Feedback, as always, is much appreciated.
Beta'd by the wonderful Lydia Theda. Thank her for the quality increase! And check out her prequel, Petals Fallen. Linked on her page, or mine. :)