Author's Note: To those about to embark on this bizarre journey I have a few warnings. First, this is one of those that's a side fic to pretty much everything I've written. The main stories to note are "The Unwinding Golden Thread" where our narrator comes from, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", "Lily and the Art of Being Sisyphus", and "October" as characters from those stories make appearances. Also, as a result this is very NOT CANON
"So then, this is Hell."
Tom couldn't say he had expected anything in particular. Mrs. Cole had been terribly unimaginative back in the orphanage and Tom had lost faith in the Hell of fire and brimstone a long time ago. Soon, he'd lost faith in the idea of any kind of after life at all only a sense of infinite darkness, a kind of impartial void that judged none who entered it one way or another. The Earth, in all its cruelty and glory, was the only thing that would ever matter.
And he had now done the unthinkable, he had left it with his own free will and by his own will, simply to allow another to have a better life in his stead.
Nothing hurt, the injuries were gone, in their place was an unfamiliar lightheadedness as if every cell in his body was suddenly too light. He felt… translucent, fragile, as if he was only just holding himself together and a gust of stray wind could blow him apart.
Luckily, there was no wind here.
No, walking forward, there wasn't anything. No wind, no sun, no ground even to walk on, just an emptiness that went on forever. Or at least, until Tom was pulled back by his horcrux in some other time and place.
"Oh, stop being so dramatic," a voice interrupted him, "You haven't been here nearly long enough to start tossing about terms like Hell."
He whirled, and there, where before there had been nothing, he saw… It was himself. Himself, a few years younger, still in Hogwarts and untried by Grindelwald's invasion. Only, no, the Hogwarts uniform had been abandoned for clothing whose style Tom couldn't recognize, something informal and casual, and his eyes were too… They were too much of something to have been his in Hogwarts.
Tom had considered himself quite worldly as a sixteen-year-old, the world had in short order proven him wrong.
He was lounging in a leather chair, conjured apparently from thin air, leaning back with an ease and informality that a Tom Riddle in Hogwarts would have scoffed at. He was holding himself, Tom thought with some alarm, rather like Harry Evans did. Too comfortable in his skin, making a point of looking informal, but just tense enough beneath all that to spring into action if needed.
"Horcrux?" his other self asked, dark eyebrows raised.
Slowly, in a daze, Tom shook his head.
This appeared to be the wrong answer, his other self frowned, leaned forward to observe him, and finally remarked, "Pity, we could have used another horcrux. The originals are always so bloody dense that it almost hurts."
The other Tom Riddle grunted and then motioned around them, "Welcome to the endless purgatory of Tom Riddle. Where one can find nothing but Tom Riddle, in his many different variations."
He motioned to himself with a flourish and a smirk, "There's me, of course, apparently the only Tom Riddle in all the worlds who managed to come out of that blasted diary half sane."
He then motioned out towards the ether, and as he listed through each name, brief flashes of something tall and dark would appear, a flash of Tom Riddle, "Trotsky, who spent his fifty years in the diary clinging to a fantasy and faith in a woman. Lenin, Trotsky's more reasonable counterpart and closest friend and confidante to the Harry Potter of his own world. And quite a few others where the less I can say about them the better. Then of course, there's you now. I suggest you come up with some kind of name for yourself or else you'll have some Russian Bolshevik's thrust upon you."
"I, for instance," he said with a smile, and with a wave of his hand turning his hair a fair blonde color, "Have stolen the name Thomas Evans from Harry Potter's late mother."
"Well, Tom Riddle certainly won't cut it," the man said, his smile only growing, "We're all Tom Riddle here."
Then he laughed, as if it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard, leaving Tom simply standing there and staring at him wondering just when he'd fallen down the rabbit hole and if Hell wasn't simply a multitude of Tom Riddles.
This time, Tom's answer was faster, almost instinctive, "No."
Time had passed, how much time seemed hard to say, but things had changed. Slowly, Tom adjusted to his strange new world and in doing so the other Toms that Evans (not Evans as in Harry, never that, but dammit Tom had to call him something) had mentioned. Whatever had separated Tom from the rest of them was disappearing, any chance of simply fading out of this world gone.
Lenin, Tom remembered vaguely, this one was called Lenin. Evans had never explained why, exactly, he was called that or why he felt the need to dress the part. This one was older than Tom by a good number of years, appearing to be in his early thirties or late twenties. However, rather than the dark high-quality robes Tom had often pictured an older Voldemort in, this man instead was dressed in a dark muggle jacket and pants with a billowing red scarf wrapped around his neck to catch the eye.
Just as dramatic as Voldemort without a hint of anything pureblood in him.
"Pity," the man said with a dull look on his face as he unwittingly echoed their pale-haired counterpart, "We could have used another horcrux."
Tom, for his own part, simply sighed, "Is that all you have to say?"
"Would you rather we chat about the weather?" the man asked, and then an almost amused smile appeared on his lips, "Or, let me guess, the love of your life, Harry Potter. Was yours a boy or a girl?"
"Oh, don't give me that look, Tom Riddle is always in love with Harry Potter, sometimes when it's not even age bloody appropriate," Lenin scoffed, crossing his arms and looking irate, "Even the Tom Riddles who won't admit it are head over heels."
That was too close, too close to Tom's heart, or rather the heart of his corpse abandoned somewhere on the continent as Harry James Potter was flung forward in time back to where he belonged.
Tom deflected, "And that includes you?"
The man, Lenin, looked as if answering that question was akin to pulling his own teeth out with plyers, "Unfortunately."
He then motioned to the other Tom Riddles milling about, most of them studiously avoiding one another (a sad irony of this place was that it became clear that Tom Riddle loathed Tom Riddle), "The others aren't any better. You have the bloody joke of a Muggle Studies professor who was hung up on his own time traveling alien god of a Harry Potter for decades until he went and settled for Harry's mother."
Tom choked on his spit as another one of the older Tom Riddles, this one in a more traditional if academic looking muggle suit, glanced over at them with an entirely unimpressed expression and a raised middle finger. Lenin matched that finger with his own.
He then pointed to Trotsky, a sixteen-year-old Tom Riddle who had spent fifty trapped in the diary horcrux, and had come out of it looking completely unhinged, "Trotsky, of course, goes without saying and in fact the less we talk about his disturbing obsession with Lily, our version of Harry, the better it is for all of us. Suffice to say that he once tried to turn Lily into his cousin child bride when he was left unattended."
Next was a truly sullen, teenage, Tom Riddle who still wore his Hogwarts uniform and looked as if he just wanted to crawl into a hole and die, "The only Tom among us who is actually the bloody schoolboy he looks spent his last days on Earth trying to decide if he'd still bang a time travelling female Harry Potter even if she was his sister. My money is on the answer being yes, but he'd pretend to feel bad about it."
Next, an older, fondly smiling, Tom Riddle hanging over the school boy's shoulder and looking down at himself as if kids did the darndest things, "His counterpart, the laziest and most saccharine Tom Riddle I've ever met, lived in his Harry's head for sixteen years and had no desire to leave that place or make any move to preserve himself if it even hinted at hurting his Harry Potter's feelings. He disgusts me."
The saccharine Tom in question lifted his head, met their eyes, and gave them an amused smile. Lenin shuddered violently.
Finally he pointed to the blonde, the first Tom that Tom had met in this place, "Give Evans enough time for his own Harry to go through puberty and he'll come around with the rest of us. As we always, apparently, do."
Then, Lenin looked back down at Tom, a shark like grin growing on his face, "So, tell me, what happened with yours? Boy, girl, time traveler, messiah? Let's have it, Tom."
He could not answer, he could simply walk away, but it seemed they were trapped with one another forever. One way or another, someone was going to hear about this, and Tom might as well spit it out sooner.
"He was a time traveler from 1996, it was 1942 when we met," he said, "I sent him back to his future."
"At the cost of yourself," Lenin said quietly, undoubtedly somehow managing to put the dots together.
For a moment, they were both quiet, staring out at their peers and just watching them, then Lenin said, "You know, there's a reason I think there are few originals here. You and the good professor so far. The originals, each time they make a horcrux, they unwittingly lose something of themselves. Perhaps good, perhaps bad, but often enough and what remains is a shell of the man they once were. They've forgotten how to be anything but Lord Voldemort."
He sighed, looked back down at Tom, and said, "Sacrificing oneself isn't like Tom Riddle at all, only Lily would do something so nobly thoughtless."
He smiled, "I'll have to tell her, when she finally breaks me out of this place."
"Tom Riddles may be more or less the same," Lenin said as he began to walk away, shoving his hands into his pockets, still smiling even as he left Tom Riddle behind, "If you get down to the heart of him. We're all entirely too proud of our wit, all burned by our own ambition, but not all Harry Potters are the same. Lily, she isn't like the rest of yours, she will come."
Evans, the man didn't need to say, would not.
Tom gritted his teeth, felt like screaming, but managed to force his lips into a smile as he responded, "No, sorry to disappoint, but I'm a real boy."
"Oh, thank god," the Tom Riddle sighed in relief as he sat down next to Tom, "They're all bloody horcruxes out there."
Ah, the professor, then. He was… different than the others. Local gossip had it that he'd never made a horcrux, had obtained his immortality through stranger and ineffable means, and that he'd wasted his eternal youth and limitless power on teaching Muggle Studies of all things and marrying Lily Evans.
Thus far, Tom had yet to meet a Tom Riddle that had spoken highly of him, they all seemed to view him as a chronic embarrassment. The proof that Tom Riddle, in some universe, could debase every ideal they'd ever held.
"You know, I never heard of a horcrux until I came to this delightful place," the man continued with a self-deprecating smile, "Apparently, my throwing Slughorn's invitations back in his face had more consequences than I ever could have imagined. That, or I just wasn't looking hard enough in the restricted section. You see I was… distracted, for most of my Hogwarts career."
By Harry Potter, Tom imagined. Yes, a time travelling Harry Potter, just like Tom's, just like that other Tom Riddle who had still been in 1942 with no war in England. Just like all their lives, with nothing but Harry James or Harry Lily Potter at its center.
Tom said the only thing he could, "I don't care."
"I don't care what Harry Potter did to you," Tom said, his voice a cold emotionless void as he turned his eyes to this older, joke, of a Tom Marvolo Riddle, "I don't care what he did for you. I don't care about other worlds and other Toms. Leave me."
The man said nothing but neither did he leave, instead, he just looked down at himself with an expression that must be pity, "The rage, the bitterness, all the sorrows and regrets, they will pass. Someday, as time trickles by, it will all pass."
Tom scoffed, and aimed to cut, as he asked, "So, do you also believe your Harry will miraculously come back for you?"
The man's next words were a surprise, or rather, the way he said them. There was no hesitation, no anger or grief, just calm resignation, "No."
The word didn't echo, there were no walls in this place, no structure for it to bounce off. Still, somehow, the word seemed to echo just the same so that no other sound was audible in the face of its power.
"You've been talking to Lenin about Lily, his Ellie Potter," Tom said, "From what I've heard, from how he and the other speak of her, she'll come. She will sacrifice anything and everything to come for him. No matter what it takes and what it might do to her, to the world, to any and every world that ever existed. Azrael, the Harry I knew, would never do that."
The professor didn't look at him, stared past him and into his past, "He was always constrained by a sense of honor and duty; they were his unbreakable chains. More, while I think he had feelings for me, they were far from unconditional. They hinged on my exceeding his low expectations, and even then, there would always be a hint of doubt that poisoned anything between us. He knew his own vision of Tom Riddle too well for anything else."
"He might come, if it was convenient, if it hurt nothing in the process," he then turned to look at Tom, his eyes pale pits without a hint of light, "However, given how we all simply appeared here, how none of us have ever found a door or window, I don't think it's that simple. Azrael will leave me here for eternity because he can't be bothered."
The words tumbled out of Tom's mouth, an unthinking confession that he couldn't stop even if he wanted to, "Evans will accept my death as if it was nothing, like it was something he was owed, because he could barely bring himself to acknowledge that there was something in me worth preserving."
Evans would return to 1996, had returned to 1996, and would be greeted by his future friends in his future life. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, who he'd always spoken about so damned fondly as if the pair were saints. He'd acknowledge what Tom had done, maybe even make a small shrine for him, but he would take it as only that. He would never come back for him, at best Tom would be an idol, something that simply couldn't be understood because he had dared to not be Voldemort.
He would be trapped here forever because Harry Evans didn't understand him and, even if he did, he didn't have the power to begin to find him.
"We Tom Marvolo Riddles are more or less the same," the man said, speaking over Tom's thoughts, "Diaries, lockets, cups, and men we change only slightly as external circumstances allow. Harry Potters though, oh, they range in such a heartbreaking manner. All are or at least wish to be heroes, noble in one sense or another, but many are more thoughtless, arrogate, and cruel than they know. Of all the Tom Riddles I have talked to in this place, of all the Harry Potters whose lives intersected with their own, Lily I think is the only one who can and will come."
Yes, Tom believed that but… But he wasn't upset. He had known this already, accepted it. For all the diary, his diary, had said he had accepted that he was facing the end that day. He had accepted his own death if it meant that Harry Potter would live. And he had been…
He hadn't been afraid, angry, bitter, remorseful, or anything he would have expected. Instead, for the first time in his life, it had been as if he'd understood something, he'd always been searching for without realizing it.
Whatever he had found in that moment, the sunset had never seemed more beautiful.
Tom didn't need Harry to come for him. No, he needed him not to, because Tom had already bought Harry Potter's future and freedom for him.
So instead, Tom was able to look at this other, older, could have been, and asked, "Do you miss him?"
The man seemed to understand, glimpse at least what Tom had realized, and he smiled, "No, not like the others. It's my daughter that I miss, my daughter and my wife."
"Excuse me, pardon me, and oh my god you're all Tom Riddle."
Tom blinked, then blinked again, and then decided there was nothing for it but to gape.
Eternity of Tom Riddle and nothing but Tom Riddle, time too countless to count spent wandering about a great expanse of nothing and trying to find a way out, and then just like that someone that wasn't Tom Riddle at all appeared.
For a strange, surreal, moment Tom wondered if it was a female Tom, he'd yet to see a female Tom lingering around in this place but she looked too different. Rather, she looked too familiar to someone else. Red hair curling out in every conceivable direction, bright green eyes set in a pale aristocratic face, and a lightning bolt carved in her forehead.
"God, it's like some kind of Tom Riddle zoo," the girl, Harry, said with a shudder, "Or a Tom Riddle harem… You know, I really don't want to know about that last one, I'll just go ahead and say it's a zoo."
She grinned up at him, clapping her hands together, "So, Tom, it is Tom, right?"
He nodded, feeling more dazed than even when he'd wandered into this place.
"Great, I'm looking for a very specific Tom Marovlo Riddle. Older than you, melodramatic as hell, typically seen in black and red, and is calling himself Lenin if he knows what's good for him. You've seen him around?"
Tom pointed to her in shock, declaring what was now pointedly obvious, "You're Lily."
"… Sure," the girl said, looking a little alarmed, "So you've seen him then."
Tom wordlessly pointed towards the man, whose face had lit up at the sight of the girl, and oh lord they were now running towards each other across the vast expanse of nothingness with their arms spread wide. Tom could almost hear the inspirational music swelling in the background as Lenin caught her in his arms.
"I told you she'd come," Tom, the professor, said as he wandered up to Tom's shoulder, "It's nice that we can have faith in at least one of them, I suppose."
Neither appeared to notice the crowd of Tom Riddles gathering around, Trotsky desperately trying to break into their reunion and only just being held back by blonde Evans, they were perfectly engrossed in their won bizarre world.
"Who knows," the Muggle Studies professor said, "I think she may very well take the rest of us along for the ride."
"You can't be serious."
But the man smiled, perfectly serious, and placed a hand on Tom's shoulder in a sense of comradery, "Well, the world could always use at least one Tom Riddle."
Author's Note: Tom Riddle is another planet's Hell I'll have you know. A story featuring a multitude of Tom Riddles with a focus in part on Tom Riddle from "The Unwinding Golden Thread" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", so much thanks to them.
Thanks to readers, reviews are most appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter