Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Locus :: 04

04

As it turned out Tom was correct; Dippet was a dithery sort of person and very easily confunded into doing as they wished. The next thing Joshua knew it had been acknowledged that an invitation had been prepared, but had somehow gotten lost (and the less said about that the better), so Dippet was pleased to extend another, plus arrange for him to have access to the Hogwarts assistance fund for his supplies. He also did not quibble over Joshua’s class choices, nor even ask him to test in any of them. A quick sorting got that aspect of things out of the way, as well; he was in Slytherin, of course.

Joshua spent the night in Tom’s dormitory, sharing the bed, and he found he did not mind. The other boys had been cowed into not asking questions. The train ride was much the same except that they warded the compartment to keep everyone out.

“I filched some veritaserum from Slughorn’s stocks,” Tom informed him.

Joshua nodded. “All right. You want to do this now, or wait?”

“No time like the present.” Tom was destined to be frustrated, however, as Joshua would only give answers which were singularly unhelpful, such as the dreaded “elsewhere” from before. Eventually he gave up in disgust.

“Sorry,” Joshua said quietly. “I want to tell you.”

“I know.” Tom looked out the window for several minutes before turning back to say, “Were you at least happy?”

He snorted lightly. “No, not really. Something wonderful happened a bit over two years ago, but even as welcome as that was, it couldn’t make up for having to leave in the first place. It’s like the atmosphere is a slow-acting poison, and people are fickle bastards who spend so much time convincing themselves that lies are truth, especially when the truth is so inconvenient.”

“Good to know,” Tom said dryly.

“I was in a fight,” he said suddenly, feeling surprised that he could say it at all. “I was in a fight in a graveyard right before I ended up back here. I thought I might die. Something really strange happened, and then I was with you.”

A brow was slowly arched.

He started to say more and immediately choked up, then shook his head. “Sorry.”

Tom waved a hand carelessly. “We’ll try Legilimency later, but I lean toward thinking that it’s going to be impossible. Still, I know you.” The corner of his mouth curled up.

Mrs Cole was easy enough to handle, and Joshua was welcomed back almost as though he had never left. She was also happy to hear that he would be receiving the same education as Tom. That being the case, the two boys retired out back to the ragged excuse for a garden where they were met by the snake.

You return.”

Tom nodded and took a seat, absently tossing up some rudimentary wandless wards. “Do you know what’s going on presently?”

Joshua tilted his head, considering the real meaning. After taking a seat of his own he shook his head. “Not really.”

Tom frowned slightly and sighed. “We’re in the middle of World War II,” he said softly. “The Germans do bombing raids on London. Don’t you think it’s interesting? Muggles send their children off to the countryside, to live with relatives or friends, to get them away from the terror. But us? We, orphans, magical children, are left here in the thick of things. Our own people don’t even care to see to our safety.”

Thinking about it, Joshua could sort of understand why Voldemort might have gone mental, at least in part. Yet, he wondered how it was that he had gained the support of so many pure-bloods, when it had to be, at least in part, their inaction which had left Tom alone and unprotected in muggle London during war. From what he had seen during his years in the magical world, it was mostly run by pure-bloods, or influenced by them, even if half-bloods and muggle-borns had some roles. Did the muggle-born contingent press for their safety? Or did they even realize? The half-bloods?

Voldemort was more of a puzzle than he had imagined, and he felt ashamed that he had allowed himself to see the man in such stark terms prior to having found the diary. It was unlike him. Perhaps those Gryffindors were having a detrimental effect on him after all. He knew very well that his treatment at the hands of the Dursleys had an effect on him, helped to shape him, just as his time at the orphanage had. And the one person who had the most influence in his life was Tom. Even not knowing who the person behind Voldemort was, he had read enough history that he should have realized it just could not be that simple.

And so here was another reason for the pile, another piece of the puzzle. He wondered, staring at his friend, ‘For how long this time? How long before I get snatched away?’ To the snake he said, “I am pleased to see you again.”

You were missing for many summers. It is well you are back.”

“So, tell me about the people you know at Hogwarts.”

Tom informed him (rather smugly) that he had learned he was a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin—had learned this during his first year—and that Slytherin had left a secret chamber in the castle. “I’m still researching that,” he said, “and I think I’m close.”

Somehow, Joshua knew he would never be able to explain that one, and would have to ‘find out’ alongside Tom.

It turned out there were six boys at Hogwarts who were under Tom’s wing, so to speak. It seemed he was rather intimidating to others; Joshua smirked at that. The other boys seemed content to take direction from him, and looked up to him due to his heritage. The others, while they might not be aware of the specifics of his bloodline, recognized him as a power of some kind and acted accordingly.

Sort of like how the Dursleys recognized that he could really screw up their lives if they got out of line, even though he had never done anything flashy.

“Is all this leading up to something?” he asked, knowing full well it must be.

Tom looked sly for a moment, a faint smile flitting across his lips. “I suppose you could say that. But none of them are like you.”

Joshua felt quite honored by that, and said so. After all, he had been missing for four years from Tom’s life. To be accepted back so quickly was wondrous. “I’ll help, of course. I’ve continued to keep working wandless. I’ve been reading as much as I can get my hands on, including the advanced stuff, things normally restricted from people our age. Exploring, manipulating people when needful, and other things. I always kept in mind that I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me.” He laughed strangely for a moment. “That almost makes it sound like I idolize you, and I guess I do in a way, but not. . . . Let’s just say you’re still the only person I trust.”

Over the course of the summer Tom filled him in on who was a part of his group. The only surname he really recognized was Nott, and that was because of Theodore Nott in Slytherin of his original time. Avery, Dolohov, Lestrange, Mulciber, and Rosier were not ones which really rang bells.

“One of the things I greatly despise about the present situation,” Tom told him, “is that we as magical people are not, in fact, separated from the muggles. Yes, we have places which are ours only, but those are few and far between. The school, Hogsmeade, and Diagon Alley. That’s it, really. Everything else is mixed. Ancient pure-blood lines might live on grand estates, but everyone else generally has to mix with muggles.

“Where is the sense in that? Why are you and I subject to a muggle war? And on top of that there’s Grindelwald out there with his mantra ‘For the Greater Good’. Greater good for who? Us? Or him? One man decides that this is the way things should be, and we should all just bow down and accept like sheep? He wants us to establish superiority over the muggles.

“Has he even paid attention to what they’re capable of? They’re dropping bombs on us, Joshua, killing hundreds, thousands. That dictator over in Germany is killing millions. And Grindelwald thinks it’s a good idea for us to somehow establish superiority against that kind of killing power?” Tom shook his head.

“You think we should separate for real?” he asked softly. “How?”

“I don’t know yet. I just know that Grindelwald must be insane. No rational person would do the things he does.”

“He might even be helping them, if it means that many more muggles die,” he commented. “What do you think about muggles?”

Tom sneered lightly before saying, “I consider them inferior. However, lack of magic aside, they are much like us. Some are good and some are bad. They’re people. I may not like a lot of the children here, but that is partly because they are children, and children are cruel. But even the adults might not be likable if they knew about us, if they feared us. I don’t like a lot of the students at school, either, but mainly because they see a house designation and immediately assume everyone within is exactly the same, even as they believe that the ones in their own house are all individuals. As honored as I am to be a descendant of Slytherin, I do at times believe the founders made unwise choices, like the house system.”

“What do you know of Slytherin himself?”

“Not as much as I would like,” Tom admitted. “I can’t find any clear reason why he allegedly left, and rumor paints a picture of a man of the Dark Arts, who despised muggle-borns for security reasons and their supposed impure blood. People never seem to understand that magic is magic. There is no black and white, there is no dark and light, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

Joshua pursed his lips. “Like how a spell you learn early on can be used to kill someone, yet it’s considered light?”

“Mm. Yes. Intent, usage, they matter.” Tom’s gaze fixed on his. “I’ve tried these so-called Dark Arts. They don’t feel any different from Light Arts.” He shook his head slowly. “They usually require more power, though, more finesse. Often, more emotion. I certainly don’t feel some strange urge to keep doing them, as though I can’t help myself. It is true that most of them cannot be used easily in a Light manner.”

Joshua shrugged. “You’ll have to show me at some point? How do you feel about muggle-born security?”

Tom arched a brow and turned the question back on him.

“I don’t actually know how the average muggle-born is handled. I mean, are their families placed under an oath or anything to prevent them from leaking the secret? Do the muggle-borns even get any kind of help adjusting to the magical world? I mean, I can see where they might be a risk, especially if they get through their schooling, and then decide not to stay. Though”—he frowned—“why they wouldn’t, I’m not sure I understand. Why go through seven years and then give it all up? Do they do what I do? I’ve been keeping up with muggle subjects as best I can, not because I plan to forsake the magical world, but because I think it’s prudent to know what they’re capable of.

“I mean, I’ve noticed. It’s like the magical world is stagnant. Nothing seems to encourage creativity, advances, or innovation. Half the stuff I’ve been taught doesn’t seem to have any relation to real-world use. It’s rather like how the average muggle would need basic mathematics, but higher than that? They’ll never use it, and they’ll just forget it. They’re not all scientists or engineers. How many people are going to remember or find a use for changing a matchstick into a needle? It’s one thing if it’s part of some grand plan to get students into the idea, but otherwise. . . .

“I think they’re a risk if there are no oaths involved. I think they’re a risk if they come in, take one look around, and decide that so many things need to change, because it doesn’t suit their notions. Some things probably do need to change, but not everything. I don’t see why there are celebrations of Christian holidays. I certainly don’t remember being one.

“On the other hand, if we really were separate, how would that work? Muggle-borns get born. What happens to them then, if we’re somehow separate? I also wonder how other countries deal with them. Actually, I feel kind of funny talking about it, because you and I were raised as muggles, essentially.”

“But we’re not muggles.”

“No. But do we know what our parents were?”

Tom declined to respond to that.

In August they made their way to Diagon Alley, to Gringotts, to access the Hogwarts assistance fund, then purchased their supplies for the year, not to mention a few small treats. “I wonder if people who have had to use the fund contribute to it later?” Joshua mused while sitting outside Fortescue’s.

“Perhaps, but don’t speak of it out here in the open,” Tom said quietly.

Joshua quirked a brow, but nodded. It might be that no one aside from the staff was aware that Tom needed the use of it—was he ashamed? He leaned in closer and said softly, “If you’re a descendant of Slytherin, have you ever inquired at the bank about it?”

“There was nothing,” Tom said sneeringly. “So if there is anything, it’s not there. And frankly, I’m not sure I trust Gringotts anyway. Or at least, those running it. Goblins are exceptionally vicious, and I do not refer to all the times when they’ve rebelled against the strictures of wizards.”

He wrinkled his nose. “They do, I admit, tend to look at us like we’re bugs or something. I wonder if there are any accurate books about them.”

“I’ll show you what I have,” Tom promised. “I do have reasons for my beliefs, and it’s not based so much on what that hack of a history professor tells us.”

“Then what? What if we go out and make money?”

“We investigate the least damaging vault set ups, and use them for a portion of our earnings. The rest goes elsewhere. Either out of the country, or someplace we devise ourselves. We are not unintelligent. We are not untalented. We will find a way.”

Joshua believed him. If there was one thing he had learned that had been said about Tom Riddle, it was that he was exceptionally brilliant.

Tom suddenly looked beyond his shoulder, a cold smile sliding into place. A few seconds later a shadow fell across the table. “Ah. Joshua, allow me to introduce Rhisiart Lestrange. Lestrange, this is Joshua Durand.”

As Joshua turned in his seat he heard a murmured, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

He nodded. “Likewise.” He thought about offering for him to stay, but thought that it was best to leave that to Tom.

“Joshua will be joining us at Hogwarts. I’m certain you will make every effort to accommodate him, and pass that along to the others.”

Rhisiart nodded immediately. “Of course.” The look on his face said he understood a lot more than was said.

Joshua lifted his chin slightly and aimed a faint smirk at the other boy. The Lestranges were an older pure-blood family; might as well attempt to be on the right foot from the start.

Lestrange smiled thinly and nodded again. “I shall see you both at school, then. Good day.” Then he left, walking away to be quickly lost in the crowd.

“Nicely done,” Tom complimented.

He smiled and ate the last of his ice cream.

By the time the train ride rolled around he had had another, more in-depth briefing about Tom’s ‘friends’. They all had overlooked Tom’s blatantly not pure-blood last name in favor of his obvious power and his Slytherin connection. It stood to reason they would overlook his own, simply based on his closeness to Tom. But that did not mean he could be lazy about things. He must prove to Tom he was worth the effort and belief. “Do they know you’re a snake speaker?”

“Yes. And if they know you are one, they will believe you are also descended from Slytherin, thus deserving the same respect.”

“Are they the only ones?”

“To my knowledge. I expect I would have heard rumors by now otherwise,” Tom replied.

Joshua considered, keeping in mind his thoughts that the portraits of Hogwarts played spy in his time. “And what about the staff? I sincerely doubt if they knew they would gossip where students could hear.”

“Perhaps,” Tom said shortly.

Joshua shook his head briskly and decided to change the subject. “Have you done any work on an animagus transformation? I’ve considered it, but I feared to try much by myself.”

“Don’t worry. You have me.”

They were interrupted when Lestrange stopped by to greet them, followed by Schuyler Nott, Terrell Mulciber, Antonin Dolohov, Ward Rosier, and Patrick Avery. Each of them showed deference to Joshua, so it was clear that Lestrange had passed along Tom’s instructions.

The opening feast was strange due only to the fact that he was seated clear across the Great Hall from his usual location, but he felt comfortable there. Not only did he have Tom, but he was with more like-minded people.

Fifth year went smoothly. Joshua was no longer afraid to practice in his own house. And besides, his fellow Slytherins seeing him at work only reinforced in their minds his power, never mind what happened when his dorm mates ‘accidentally’ overheard him and Tom conversing in Parseltongue one evening. Between OWL preparation, animagus transformations, exploration with Tom regarding the secret chamber of Slytherin, and various other magical feats which they would never normally learn until years later, he was kept quite busy.

It was in May that Tom finally unlocked the way to the chamber. Surprisingly, it was via a girls’ bathroom, which did not make much sense given that back in the time of the founders they would not have had modern indoor facilities; they had seen evidence of the original privies in their wanderings. He did not even want to think about how much trouble it must have been during the original construction of the castle to work them in. And then later, what magic must have been employed for updates?

He then decided that a descendant must have made an alternate entrance. The question became: would whoever it was have disabled the original entrance? Even so, who in their right mind would have used a bathroom as an entrance?

He snapped out of his musings when a hissed command to “open” caused one of the sinks to shift out of sight and reveal a pipe large enough for a large man to slide through.

Joshua snorted quietly. “Right, and to get back? Or to close it behind us?”

Tom aimed a smirk at him. “Not to worry. For one thing, opening the entrance automatically locks down this room, so no one is getting in without a great deal of effort. For another, on the way out, there is a command to bring us back up. Though, I would prefer to find a better entrance than this. I do have serious issues with the idea of Salazar Slytherin entering his private domain in quite this manner, after all, as this is terribly undignified.” Tom verified that the door leading out was indeed sealed, then slid into the pipe.

He waited until he could hear Tom’s voice echoing up strangely before he jumped in, not wishing to crash-land on his friend, and eventually ended up on the damp floor of a dark stone tunnel large enough to stand in, littered with small animal bones which crunched unpleasantly as he moved to get to his feet.

“Shall we?” Tom invited, moving his illuminated wand to the side, revealing the only way to go.

Joshua produced his own wand and cast Lumos, then nodded, and followed as the tunnel stretched out endlessly. Around a bend was yet more tunnel, bathed in inky black. “I think torches are in order for next time, or something along those lines.”

The tunnel turned and turned again, and then at last, as they walked around yet another bend, he saw a solid wall ahead on which two entwined serpents were carved, their eyes set with great, glinting emeralds.

Open,” said Tom, in a low, faint hiss.

The serpents parted as the wall cracked open, the halves sliding smoothly out of sight, and they stepped through into a very long, dimly-lit chamber. Towering stone pillars entwined with more carved serpents rose to support a ceiling lost in darkness, casting long black shadows through the odd, greenish gloom that filled the place.

He exchanged a glance with Tom, then moved forward, and as they drew up level with the last pair of pillars, a statue high as the Chamber itself loomed into view, standing against the back wall. He looked up into the giant face above; it was ancient and monkeyish, with a long, thin beard that fell almost to the bottom of the wizard’s sweeping stone robes, where two enormous grey feet stood on the smooth Chamber floor.

“Amazing,” Tom breathed. “But there has to be more to this than a self-aggrandizing statue.”

Joshua checked the time and said, “It took us twenty minutes to get this far.”

Tom glanced around and nodded. “We’ll take a half hour to investigate, then head back. It probably won’t hurt if we keep trying to open things, on the off chance there are any hidden doors. I’ll go left, you go right, and we meet back here.”

“All right.” He was alerted about twenty minutes later by a shout, and quickly went to rejoin Tom.

“There’s a door here, behind the statue. Looks like a . . . study?” Tom began casting spells to see if there were any wards present, then stepped inside.

Joshua followed, looking around curiously. One of the walls contained glass-fronted cases, with what looked like manuscripts inside, and perhaps scrolls.

Tom growled in frustration. “We don’t have time to check this now. We’ll have to return tomorrow.” Back at the end of the tunnel he said, “While standing right at the pipe, say ‘exit’ in Parseltongue. It’ll bring you back up. I’ll give you a minute and then follow.”

They made it back to the dorm with no trouble, having disillusioned themselves to avoid the caretaker or anyone else taking a late night stroll. Tom was frustrated yet happy at the same time. Subsequent trips revealed an external entrance to the Chamber, and gave them time to check the wealth of reading material left behind, one in particular causing Tom to become extraordinarily pleased. “I can be immortal,” he said, excitement colouring his voice.

Joshua thought long and hard about saying something, anything, but in the end remained silent. He knew it was to happen, so there was no point in trying to interfere. He only wondered if he should, at some point, make one of his own. Could he murder in cold blood in order to assure that he could be revived after death? To be able to stay with Tom? Or had he already given some of his soul to Tom the night his blood helped to revive Voldemort?

He was going over his Arithmancy notes in preparation for the OWLs coming up when Tom burst into the dorm room, his face flushed and his eyes a bit wild.

“There’s been a death.”

Joshua arched a brow and slowly set his parchments down. “You have created a soul receptacle?

Tom paused, visibly bringing his emotions in line. “No,” he hissed back. “I—

Just in case,” he said, cutting Tom off, “do not tell me the details yet? Those can wait.

Tom hummed in agreement. “Wise. But we should avoid that bathroom from now on. We’ll have to use the outside entrance, no matter the inconvenience, and continue to look for others within the castle itself.

Joshua nodded. He could only assume the basilisk was involved, even if he had yet to see it; he knew it was down there. “Will you help me study? OWLs are almost upon us.”

It wasn’t until almost a week later that anyone found Myrtle Watkin’s body. The Ravenclaws seemed almost not to notice she was missing, they all disliked her so, and even when they did report it, searches began on the fifth floor and spread up and down from there. Myrtle’s ghost had appeared by then, stalking Olive Hornby to make her pay for teasing her about her glasses.

The first week of OWLs (and NEWTs) was quite subdued as a result, and also because of the rumors flying rampant that the Ministry of Magic was talking about closing the school. Nobody seemed to have any idea of exactly how Myrtle had died, but the staff was calling it a freak accident. Joshua had shaken his head at that; a freak accident was hardly cause to shut things down. Those who had spoken to her ghost related that all she saw at the time was a male figure and a set of huge yellow eyes. But then she was dead.

Joshua kept his head down and continued to study and take exams. The whole castle was in an uproar the Monday morning starting the second week of exams. The culprit had been exposed the evening before by none other than Tom Riddle: Rubeus Hagrid, third year Gryffindor. By the time the week was over, and all exams were done, Hagrid had been expelled, Tom had been given an award for special services to the school, and forbidden to speak of the incident. The school would remain open.

They went home the next day.

“I wonder when we’ll get our results,” Joshua mused. “With our letters, or before?”

“I believe OWL students get them early, so they can plan which classes to continue with. That gives us time to inform the school so we can receive the proper book lists. I’m confident we—”

The door opened and Walburga Black entered without invitation, rather shocking Joshua. A sidelong glance at Tom showed he was angry. “Riddle,” she said, then looked at Joshua and practically purred, “Durand.”

Tom lifted his chin and adopted an icy glare. “Did you want something, Black?”

“I thought I might invite you two to visit this holiday. Get to know each other better. It’s going to be my last year next, after all, and we never seem to find the time to talk.” She eyed Joshua rather proprietarily.

“We’ll have to see if we can fit it into our schedule,” Tom said coldly. “Now if you’ll excuse us, you have interrupted our conversation.”

Walburga frowned, but nodded and backed out, closing the door behind her.

Joshua immediately threw up wards and turned to his friend. “What the devil was that about? Did you see the way she was looking at me?”

Tom sneered. “She’s toying with you. In all likelihood her parents have already arranged a pure-blood match. There is no way they would ever look at you due to the uncertainty of your blood. She just wants a bit of fun, to use you. I won’t have it. Nobody uses you that way. Nobody.”

“Why me? Why not you?”

Tom aimed a smirk at him. “Perhaps she prefers blonds?”

Joshua shuddered. “She’ll start having unfortunate accidents if this happens again, Tom. I’ll not be someone’s plaything.”

“And I’ll help,” Tom promised. “Has anything else bothered you with inappropriate offers?”

“No. Then again, I don’t spend much time with other people, do I.”

“You should probably be more social, though I admit, that opens the possibility of more people like Black coming forward. If you plan to stand at my side, you should be more involved.”

Joshua gazed at him thoughtfully, still wondering for just how long he would even be with Tom this time, but acknowledged the point as valid. Then he smirked. “Somehow I don’t think I can get a pretty new name out of my own the way you did yours.”

Tom chuckled lowly. “No, probably not. We’ll think of something appropriate.”

The trolley lady had come and gone when Tom said out of the blue, “I plan to track down my living family this summer. I did research before you came back, you see. My mother’s name was Merope Gaunt, according to the birth record the orphanage made. She gave birth to me there, and lived long enough to name me.”

“What about your father?”

“I don’t know. I just know that I’m named for him. My middle name is that of my maternal grandfather’s. I’m hoping to find out what happened, why she ended up at the orphanage, why I wasn’t with my father. I have learned that the Gaunts are a pure-blood family, but I could find no record that my mother attended Hogwarts.”

“That’s strange,” he said softly. “But, maybe if there was nothing at Gringotts, they were too poor, and possibly too proud, for her to go?”

“Perhaps. I’d like to see if there’s anything on record about them at the ministry, but I’d rather not be seen as myself to do so.” Tom looked at him speculatively.

“Is there some other reason the two of us could visit there? I know what I do isn’t a spell, so I can be anyone I wish to be. Well, preferably after we’re already inside.”

“There are tours,” Tom said slowly. “Usually for students, to help them get a better idea of a job they might wish to strive for. It’s not a perfect idea. On level two is the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but also some archives accessible to the public. The other option might be to check to see if any of them were mentioned in the Daily Prophet.”

They were able to find, with a little digging and judicious use of misdirection, the information that the Gaunt family lived in Little Hangleton. They spent a day checking the town out, locating the Gaunt home—though in truth, it was more of a shack—and returned to the orphanage to plan. On their return, not long before their OWL results came, Joshua remained outside the Gaunt home as a lookout, though neither of them really expected anyone to interrupt them.

He could hear raised voices inside.

“You! You!” was bellowed, but not by Tom, and then it went quiet and Joshua was hard pressed not to step inside to see what was going on. A short time later he could hear, “Dishonored us, she did, that little slut! And who’re you, coming here and asking questions about all that? It’s over innit. . . . It’s over.”

About fifteen minutes later Tom came out, his expression stiff and cold. “Wait here,” he said quietly, then jerked his head at the shack. “He’s under a very powerful stunner at the moment, so he shouldn’t give you any trouble. There’s a little something I need to take care of. Once I’m done I’ll return here, finish up, and then we can go.”

“All right,” he said quickly, and watched as Tom slipped off into the darkness. It was an hour before his friend returned, but he seemed perfectly well, though his eyes were a bit wild.

“A few small tasks, and we’re done.” Tom slipped back into the Gaunt home, returning in less than ten minutes, and the only thing different Joshua noticed was a golden glint on one of Tom’s fingers. “Let’s return home, shall we?”