These Memories are Your Curse
Tom smiled as he stared at the bodies lying before him.
They were so very small but looked so peaceful lying there. The final trickle of life left them, wiping away the last vestiges of his incorporeal form. As he became wholly flesh once more, so too did the world around him grow tangible. His heartbeat for the first time in the decades since he sealed his fractured soul in the diary felt like thunder in his chest. The blood in his veins was like fire.
He smiled wider at the pain of hunger gnawed at his stomach and exhaustion begging him to go to bed.
The loss of the basilisk was a setback, true. But he was alive and whole. He had a wand shockingly well suited to him, and once he sealed the chamber he had plenty of time to recover, not least of all because of the metric tons of snake meat available to him. It was an unappealing prospect, eating his dead friend for sustenance, but it would be necessary.
He laughed, that mirthless, thrilled laughter that turned even the most hard-headed Slytherin upperclassman subservient.
"Lily, take Harry and go!" An unfamiliar voice yelled unbearably loud in his ear.
Tom yelped and fell to his knees at the ear-splitting voice echoing off the chamber walls. No, not the chamber. The chamber was gone and he was somewhere else.
"It's him! I'll hold him off!" The voice returned, as loud as a hurricane.
Tom was moving, as if being carried. He saw curtains of red beyond which was a small foyer. He was ascending up a flight of stairs, wooden rails on one side and framed photos on the other whizzed past his vision in a blur. The last thing he was the back of a man with familiar, messy black hair and the front doo he was facing blowing in as if by an explosive device.
The sound of a high-pitched cackles made his newly warm blood freeze.
"Get out!" Tom demanded as he clutched his head. "Get out of my head!"
He ripped himself from the vision, the illusion that put all manner of mind or sensory manipulation magic he'd ever encountered to shame. He was back inside of the Chamber of Secrets, kneeling above the two dead children.
Somone, no, something was standing over him. A pale, emaciated corpse covered in what looked like amniotic fluid. It was specifically standing over Harry and Tom could feel it staring down at him. He tried to look up from its feet to its face but the vision returned before he saw anymore of the creatures.
"Not Harry! Please...have mercy...have mercy...Not Harry! Not Harry! Please-I'll do anything!" A woman's voice pleaded.
Tom saw her through the wooden bars of a crib. His little, pudgy hands gripped the bars as hard as his one-year-old body could manage.
"Stand aside, you silly girl... stand aside, now..." Tom heard the high pitched voice that laughed before ordered the woman.
She stood strong, arms outstretched protectively over him, and for the life of him Tom couldn't understand why anybody would pout their life on the line for a monster like him, let alone this beautiful woman.
"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead -" His mother pleaded for his life.
The shrill voice, coming from a black shape beyond his mother and the doorway she was blocking. Without warning the nursery filled with the bright green light of the killing curse and the woman screamed. Screamed so loud the entire cottage shook with the force.
He knew she shouldn't have been able to do that, to make a single sound once the killing curse hit her was impossible. It was instant, painless death, but that scream held in it so much agony and lasted well after the curse faded before she fell dead on the ground.
Tom tried to call out to her, to plead for her to still be alive, to curse the name of the creature now stepping over her lifeless body towards him as it advanced upon baby Tom Riddle.
He was crying, he felt the tears running down his cheeks and heard his baby voice wailing, and he could barely see the red-eyed face of the monster standing over his crib. The eyes were all he could see clearly beneath the hood, and they held an impossible hatred for anybody to have towards a baby. The monster left his wand out to little
Tom and he went cross-eyed in order to stare directly at the tip of the familiar length of yew and phoenix feather.
When the tip glowed green Tom suddenly knew exactly how painful Lily's death had been as he felt that same pain in his forehead and screamed as loud as she had. At first from the remembered pain of the killing curse striking him in the forehead, and then the flood of memories and emotions that filled his mind.
"No." He cried out as the foreign memories flooded his mind. Memories that were both his and yet not his.
Everything Harry had experienced in life, and in death, came to him. He remembered how he had punished Dudley at the reptile exhibit, just as he'd punished Billy Stubbs for feeding Helvetica to his rabbit. He remembered the cruel words and apathy of his aunt and uncle, almost as cold as the apathy of those public 'servants' who took jobs at the orphanage for the sick pleasure of being in control of people weaker than them. A stepping stone to their precious future careers in politics or social care.
Tom remembered the violence inflicted on him by his older cousin and by the even older foster siblings. How he had run and hid from the many bullies, how he'd discovered magic accidentally. But then the two sets of memories stopped echoing.
He remembered two different lives. One in which he feared his magic and tried to rationalize it, another in which he embraced it. Played with it. Experimented with and mastered it. He remembered going to Diagon Alley for the first time. Twice. The first time he went alone, harboring suspicion and unease. The second first time with a giant beside him giving words of kindness and tragedy.
Then memories he couldn't even pretend were his own came to the fore.
Tom realized they were not Harry's memories. They belonged to something else, something inside of Harry. Something trapped in a malignant, tar-like darkness and a suffocating silence. It's only window to the world a lightning-shaped crack in its prison through which it peered and saw the outside world.
He saw the shattered home and his slain mother laid on the floor. He saw the half-giant who tried so desperately to be Tom's friend when they attended Hogwarts only to be betrayed in the end, lift him up from the rubble and wrap him in a blanket. He watched as he fell asleep looking up at an ocean of stars with the roar of a motorcycle as his lullaby.
Twelve years. Twelve years of life experienced in a fraction of a second. That is what he remembered, and it was too much for him. Too much for his new brain to process. Hopes, dreams, memories and emotions.
"I'm so sorry." Tom Riddle choked on the words as he picked the limp children up and cradled their heads in his chest.
He remembered everything. The good. The bad. Most importantly, he remembered that twisted, monstrous face protruding from the back of another man's head. The thing he was destined to become. The thing he had become. The thing that had brought upon Harry - and countless other children - the same cold and loveless childhood he had suffered through.
He tried to vomit, but all his empty stomach could yield was the bile now staining his front.
Why? Why had Ginny Weasley painted Lord Voldemort as a great and powerful sorcerer when writing to him? So mighty that people dare not speak his name for fear of his wrath? That's not what he saw, not what these memories showed. What he saw was a disgusting, loathsome creature of cowardice and a parasite to boot. That Voldemort was a wretch, worthy of nothing but contempt and perhaps pity. Weak and disgusting.
That's not what he envisioned. That's not what he set out to become. That was not a man of greatness uniting the disparate magical communities into a new order he was meant to become.
He choked on the scream as it came out. Strange things like sadness and horror and fury are what he yelled to the heavens. His scream hit cold uncaring rock and echoed endlessly back to him. Weak, ineffectual and as pointless as his attempts to rouse the two children back from the dead by shaking them.
These emotions were not his own. Unlike the disgust and shame at what he saw, these emotions were filling him from the outside but just like the memories he couldn't parse the two apart. In that moment of despair, disgust, horror and rage a smidgeon of another feeling, one entirely new to Tom Marvolo Riddle, peaked through the mass of emotions tearing at his insides. A smidgeon of remorse in a typhoon of anger and misery blossomed.
A smidgeon is all that was needed. In that moment two broken pieces of a soul became one and Tom Riddle knew nothing else but pain.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore led his contemporaries through the rubble.
Minerva, Severus, Pomona and Filius followed him with drawn wands. Poppy took up the rear carrying a rucksack nearly as large as she was. It was filled with bandages, healing salves and potions of esoteric medical application.
He kept his charms professor and potions master close, making sure that he was flanked by the only two people in a thousand miles with more skill in their respective professions than he had. Save for Pomfrey. Professors Sprout and McGonagall flanked the school healer and had orders to close off the entrance with herbological and transfiguration magic should the first three fall. He would have had Minerva at his side in place of Filius were it not for the fact that his own skills at transfiguration were far superior to hers and the strategic advantages of having a charms master and someone knowledgeable of the dark arts taking point with him over a fellow master of transfiguring.
At least that's what he told the younger woman, knowing that the truth of his chivalrous designs would only infuriate her and his other fair companions.
They reached something like a vault door. It stood ajar and they carefully surrounded the sides, Flitwick ducking low to keep out of sight as he dashed to the other end and Severus taking the right. With his two pointmen pressed against the sides of the vault door, Albus walked through the gaping portal and into a massive, truly awe-inspiring chamber.
He squashed the childlike giddiness and desire to explore before it could rise up. The serpent statues, the elephantine pipe ways, the smooth artisan floor and ceiling; they all begged him to investigate, but he refused those feelings in lieu of the urgent matter at hand. They descended a steel ladder one at a time, the others keeping their wands at the ready to defend or catch their climbing partners at a moment's notice.
"Minerva, Pamona, Poppy. Please remain behind near the vault door and make certain it remains open and to prevent anything from sneaking up on them." Albus ordered them. "And should we fall, seal it behind us so the basilisk may not get loose."
Their escape route thus secured, the three men continued forward.
The three combat-hardened wizards skulked between the snake statues with no shortage of apprehension. Any one of them could be the real thing hidden by the dim light, and Albus was positive he wasn't the only one who didn't like their chances against the beast mister Weasley warned them about. Even with the help of the other professors they were woefully unprepared to take down such a creature.
Flip. Thunk. Flip. Thunk.
Albus raised a hand to stop his companions. He recognized the first sound as pages in a book turning. The second was more difficult to place.
He motioned for the other two to take cover behind the statues on either side of him and they obeyed. Severus waded into the rancid, waist-high water without a sound. The poor part-goblin found himself completely submerged in the liquid but paddled along anyways. In a less tense situation Albus would have chuckled at his old dueling opponent's misfortune. Instead, he showed a modicum of professionalism and merely grinned like a Cheshire cat as the trio advanced.
That smile vanished at the horrific scene before him. It wasn't every day a wizard, headmaster or no, laid eyes on a millennia-old basilisk. The sight of the felled beast brought a great deal of relief and hope for the safety of his students, but that relief and hope soon vanished; replaced with sadness and despair at the smaller figures beside it. He recognized two as Harry Potter and Ginevra Weasley. The third was larger and a few meters further away. He had his back to them.
Flip. Thunk. Flip. Thunk.
The young man was kneeling over something. A book by the sound of it. A book whose pages he turned before bringing something large and white down on it in a stabbing motion. A phoenix, his phoenix, stood next to the man with its head on his shoulder, letting loose the occasional trill like a mother cooing her child.
Albus kept his wand trained on the young man, who he recognized must have been an upperclassman, sixth or seventh year. He couldn't tell who from this position or distance.
He crept closer.
Flip. Thunk. Flip. Thunk .
He crept closer still, and when he reached the two children he motioned for Severus and Filius to remain hidden.
Flip. Thunk. Flip. Thunk.
Albus reached down with his free hand, not daring to peel his eyes away from the mystery man in front of him.
He checked Ginny Weasley for any sign of life, but could feel no breath from her mouth, pulse from her neck nor heat on her skin. Hoping against hope he pushed his magic into her body to see if her own internal magic would reject it, like a magnet repelling another of the same kind. It wasn't the easiest way of checking to see if somebody was alive, and only truly powerful wizards could attempt such a trick, and only then to check if there was any chance of resuscitation or revival.
His magic passed through her dead body like any other lifeless matter. He did the same for Harry, skipping the regular breath, pulse and body heat checks. Again. Nothing.
Albus motioned again for the others to hold their positions before indicating that the two students were dead. He motioned for them to stay again when he heard the splash of Severus taking a step forward.
He felt the potions master tap on his occlumency shields with his own legilimency as he often did when asking permission to speak privately via the mind arts. Even with his shields up he could sense the fury and desperation of the man and desire to confirm with his own senses what his headmaster claimed. Albus ignored it and approached the kneeling teenager.
The only thing preventing him from killing the figure then and there was not his desire to know what happened, who this boy could be - theories on illigitimate lovechildren of Voldemort had been going around as of late - but the sight of Fawks crying on his shoulder. The poor bird never could understand that it's tears weren't capable of healing those kinds of injuries.
Albus had never known him to shed a tear for the undeserving.
Albus tensed as the young man raised his arm to stab the leather-bound book again but stopped mid-swing. He was close enough now to recognize the thing in his hands as an ivory tooth. A fang previously belonging to the basilisk, no doubt.
Before he could wonder what a perfectly unused journal had done to deserve such harsh treatment the man, the boy, turned to look at him.
"Tom?" Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore gasped as he, for the first time in a century, dropped his wand.
He picked it up again just as the puffy-eyed, red-faced and bile-covered boy dropped his own weapon with a clatter.
"Professor?" He choked out with trembling lips.
It came out as more of a gurgle than a word as it left his throat. All theories of time anomalies, wormholes flinging students into far off futures and multiverse jumping left his mind at the sight of the Slytherin in such a vulnerable state.
Tom motioned to the two dead students as his mouth fought desperately to form words, but no sound came out of him.
"What are you doing here, Tom?" Albus asked in a manner as if finding an underage incarnation of the greatest dark lord in history in a legendary chamber beneath Hogwarts stabbing a nearly featureless book with a venomous fang pilfered from a recently slayed basilisk beside two dead children was a daily occurrence.
"I... I was..." He said motioning from Harry to the book. "I was trying to take it all back."
Albus understood. Someway, somehow, he understood. He had heard many men stronger, older and wiser than Tom say those exact same words. he was one of them. And this sixteen-year-old boy, a child in his own right, wished for something he himself wished for every time he visited the man he once loved in that dreadful prison. A mulligan to undo all of the horrible things that happened in the interim he missed, or the consequences of his actions and inactions.
Albus jumped at the sound. He hadn't even noticed Tom retrieve the fang until he plunged it into yet another page of the seemingly unused journal.
"But I can't!" He gurgled out in his attempt at yelling, but with what came out barely above a whisper.
He left the fang buried in the pages.
"God help me! I can't take any of it back, no matter how badly I want to!" Tom wept.
Albus, keeping his wand trained on the anomaly before him, dared to share the slightest humanity by reaching out with his spare hand and placing it comfortably on his new prisoner's shoulder. Tom reacted instantly, flinging himself at Dumbledore in a very unexpected and very unwelcome hug. Albus could merely kneel stock still as Tom wailed into his chest as he clawed meekly against his robes and back.
"Why?!" He pleaded. "Why can't I take it back?!"
Sirius Black tossed the flimsy pillow across his cell, giving up on any chance of tuning out the raucous echoing throughout the prison. It landed with an unheard thud against the stone wall as the prison shook again.
When typhoons passed over the island of Azkaban half of the cells in the prison find themselves submerged beneath the rising tide. His was one of those cells. The only reason he wasn't drowning at the moment was due to the water repelling enchantments on the bars of his window. It gave the impression of being trapped in an air bubble beneath the sea. Yet one more trick of psychological torture for the prisoners.
Naturally, the magic didn't keep all of the water out as the interior of his cell was completely soaked, its occupant very much included.
When another flash of lightning illuminated his cell, he retrieved the soggy sack of feathers and wrung it out. He couldn't even hear the water falling to the stone floor over the howling of the wind, roaring of thunder and yelling of other prisoners. He shifted back into padfoot and carried it back to the bed with his jaws.
No matter how long one remained trapped in Azkaban the terror of these storms never left them. The wind howling through the prison's halls sounded so very much like the hollow breathing of the prison guards. Dementors are terrible enough company when the sun shone but are so much worse when the prison submerged.
Did you know dementors can swim? Because before his arrest Sirius was blissfully unaware of that fact. He made the mistake of looking through the bars during one of these storms once. And that was one time too many. The sight of the ghostly, cloaked figures submerged and illuminated by brief flashes was like a glimpse into hell itself. They were like the spirits of drowning victims turned inferi and encircling their helpless prey.
They occasionally cast a shadow into prisoner cells with the flashes of nature's wrath, adding to the nightmare.
The dementors were especially riled up as of late. Their slow feeding on the prisoners had erupted into a veritable feast three hours ago. That's when the screaming began.
From every level, in every hallway, prisoners hooted and hollered in joy and excitement. And no small amount of madness. The guards haven't figured out why, and they probably didn't care. All They knew is that their herd of cattle were suddenly producing happy memories faster than they could consume them. The usual luxuries of cigarettes and narcotics given to prisoners to increase yields were long forgotten in piles between cells.
The other prisoners had continued to yell and bang on the cages ever since and for the life of him Sirius couldn't figure out why. Like the dementors though, he didn't care. He just wanted to sleep. Sleep and escape the suffering of those memories. But as a dog his hearing was more sensitive, and the noise was deafening. As a man the nightmares were too much to bear.
"No! No! No! No!" The man in the cell adjacent to his screamed again.
"He can't be back. He can't! I destroyed it!"
Sirius' patience finally ran out. The man had ranted and raved and screamed nonstop since the rest of the screaming began. Unlike theirs, his shrieks held no joy. Only rage and despair. The usual for prisoners of Azkaban. He thrashed around his cell and in the flashes of lighting Sirius could see he was covered in blood from where his shackles cut into his wrist and ankles as he desperately tried to break out. His wounds would no doubt look worse once daylight finally pierced their windows.
He was kind of pathetic. But that's what Sirius had come to expect from the man. Pathetic things.
"Aaaaaah!" The man screeched sending Sirius' ears ringing.
He transformed back into the form of man, taking great care in placing his paws into the shackles before doing so to make sure they clasped his wrist when he finished, and approached the bars of his own cell.
"What is it?" Sirius yelled across the hallway. "Who's back? What is it that you destroyed?"
It was a long shot, trying to get a coherent answer out of a man driven insane by this hellish place. The only reason Sirius wasn't equally bad off was the rage brought about by the knowledge of his innocence keeping him warm at night. To say nothing of his contentedness with being there. He deserved this. As did the man across the hallway.
To Sirius' surprise the man became lucid before his very eyes and came running to his cell bars to look at him. Another flash of lightning lit the prison and they stared at each-others equally decrepit forms. That's when Sirius saw it. That's when the pieces fell into place. The dark mark, red and inflamed, shone on his neighbors' glistening wrist. Sirius prayed that he was mistaken. Hoped it was a trick of the light. But he knew it to be true.
"His horcrux!" Regulus Arcturus Black told his brother. "I destroyed his fucking horcrux!"
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