– CHAPTER ONE –
Waking up was never an easy task. The drowsiness and slight disorientation associated with the brutal call of consciousness is one every boy has felt and I was no exception. However, today was different. I didn't need my eyesight to notice it, it somehow smelt different. The air was stale and cold. The bed was hard. Slowly, I opened my eyes, or at least I thought I did.
It struck me as rather odd that I got up without reaching for my glasses on the bedside table, a habit so engraved in my routine that I rarely thought of it. After putting on some black robes (I found no house badge on it), the common room was my next destination. If the sudden uplift of my line of sight gave nothing away, the mass of greens and greys which met me did. I recognised the room instantly from our adventures last year.
It was the Slytherin Common room.
Despite my shock, I strolled - no, strutted - purposefully towards the exit. The disbelief did not allow me to register how early it was – dawn was yet to crack. Nor did it allow recognition of the fact I was not in control of this foreign body my mind seemed to be trapped in. The only question which resonated firmly was how?
My feet led me down the familiar dungeon corridors with skill I had never imagined possible of myself: my footfalls hardly made a sound and whenever a teacher came towards me, I seemed to find the perfect hiding place. First it was by transfiguring some armoury around me, then it was a quick side-track into a broom closet and finally a powerful confusion charm straight into the chest of a tall, spindly prefect.
Finally, a portrait of a full moon I had never seen previously caused me to stop. I reached out and tapped the luminous orb three times and waited. Gradually, the painting disappeared and a doorway appeared in its stead. I entered.
How am I not controlling my body? Am I being possessed? Is this a dream? Where am I?
Through the doorway I went and found myself in the heart of a thicket of trees, a place I knew to be the Forbidden Forest. Without breaking so much as a twig on the dense, moist ground, I weaved in and out of the menacing foliage. I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye but ignored it. Where am I going?
"Voldemort, you're late." My mind span. Voldemort? I could not believe it, refused to believe it, even. Trapped inside the body of a younger Voldemort was not a place I wished to find myself.
"I am never late," I replied coldly as the trees thinned to reveal a small, circular clearing the size of the Dursley's back garden. Assembled around a cauldron were four boys who looked like Sixth Years at least. Even in my horror, I could not miss the revere and respect they held towards me. It was familiar, too familiar. I shuddered at the thought of it but it was the same way many of my classmates usually looked at me. Tom's words last year passed through me like a blast of icy wind.
We are not so different…
"The potion's ready," said a weedy-looking boy with cropped hair.
"Excellent. You've done well, Nott. What about a victim? Mulciber?" The thick-necked boy beside Nott started and dragged a woman from behind a tree. She was alive.
"The stunning charm wore off so I just silenced and bound her," he said huskily.
"Where did you get her from?" I said sharply as I moved closer towards the woman.
"A little Muggle town near Hogsmeade. It was easy," he replied with a hint of pride that sickened me. Mulciber released the woman and she collapsed, shaking uncontrollably. An little old woman with greying hair, she had a stern sort of face, one which I expected to see on a school teacher.
"Welcome, Muggle," I said softly. She tried to scream but no sound came from her mouth. I tried with all my might to control Voldemort's body – to possess him, in essence, but all it did was cause my mind to spin further. "You're quite lucky, you know, to be here when I make history. Where I write my name into the history books. I will push magic further than before, open up doors none knew existed and change the definition of impossible. Greatness, in a word. Those patheticKnights –" He spat the word out as if it had offended him "– could never hope to understand… Dolohov, is the potion ready yet?"
"Y-yes," murmured Dolohov, a short, stout boy with pale skin. "The book says a vial is enough but you've got to…"
"…say both incantations within seconds of drinking it, I know." I turned from the woman and took the proffered vial. I stared at its murky grey depths. Returning my gaze was a handsome boy with dark eyes and jet black hair. A boy who lifted the vial to his lips and drained the potion without a second thought.
I ignored the bitter taste and drew my wand. Yew, thirteen and a half inches, phoenix feather. I had no idea what was going on, no idea of what I was to witness, no idea that my innocence would be robbed, no idea that the puzzling dreams I've had since I was a baby were finally going to make sense. I merely watched helplessly as the brother of my wand turned on the poor, old woman. She began screaming again. She may not have known what the piece of wood pointing at her did but she could certainly see the glint in my eyes. The eyes of a killer.
From my pocket I removed a diary I had not noticed until now. It was black and rather battered. I placed it very carefully on the ground between myself and the woman and took three steps back.
I wished I did not have to look at the woman. Her blue eyes were swimming with tears and silently pleading. I wish I could have done something, anything, to help her. "AVADA KEDAVRA!"
A jet of green light left my wand. The same jet of green light which keeps illuminating the house in my dreams. The same jet of green light which killed mum.
The old woman collapsed and lay lifelessly on the ground. I stared down at her in horror; I could not believe what I had done. I had no time to linger on the monstrosity I – no, Riddle – had performed. Closing my eyes, I muttered something in an obscure language – it could have been Latin. The rest of the forest seemed to darken and the diary began to reverberate.
A searing pain suddenly hit me. It was as if the very fabric of my being was being torn to shreds. My bones screamed, my skin screeched and my heart seemed to burn. Why was I doing this to myself? From the corner of my eye, I noticed the diary levitating and a dark, ghostly wisp of smoke, thin and winding like a snake, floating towards it. I noticed the other boys cowering in fear and the contents of the cauldron spilled its contents over the thin soil.
I screamed until my voice was hoarse. The smoke lingered above the diary which itself was trembling more and more violently. My anguish refused to alleviate. I wished I could die then; my life seemed a fair price to pay if it meant the pain would leave. I tried to remind myself that this was not me, that it was not I who was experiencing the pain, but it was of no use. It was far too real.
As I felt myself slipping out of consciousness, the diary and the wisp of smoke bonded with an almighty explosion which sent ripples through the ground and through me. I was shaken like a rag doll, mouth open but no sound escaping.
Then in an instant it was over.
The pain. The vibration. The light. The smoke. All gone. The diary hung in the air for another split second before dropping with a faint thud. I felt the corners of my mouth twitch weakly. I did not care that I had murdered a defenceless Muggle. I did not care that my friends were unconscious, maybe even dead. I did not even care that the warmth had left my skin, never to return.
"I've done it," I said in a faint whisper, "I've made a horcrux."
And as the darkness engulfed me, that was all I cared for.
I woke up drenched with sweat, shivering as if it was the middle of winter, not the night after one of the hottest days on record. To make matters worse, I found myself in the podgy arms of an enraged bull. No, it was Uncle Vernon. But from the deep shade of purple his face had turned to, I was probably better off with the bull.
"Nice to see you too," I breathed as I tried to wriggle out of his vice-like grip. I glanced past his enormous body only to encounter my whale of a cousin, Dudley, pale faced and wide-eyed, rooted to the spot. Petunia was at the door, her lips thinner than I had ever seen them, glaring in the same way she did whenever I did magic. It was then that I knew something was terribly wrong. "Almost, but my birthday was last week." I don't know what made me say it, but the instant satisfaction was overshadowed by the sting of Uncle Vernon's fingers digging deeper into my skinny arms.
"Iwon't, Petunia," hissed Uncle Vernon, dousing my face with spit, "I won't have him here anymore. I won't!" I wished he would let go of me so I could wipe my face. Despite addressing Aunt Petunia, he felt it necessary to keep his gaze fixed on me.
"You know I'd get rid of him if I could," whispered Aunt Petunia. Her small, keen eyes darted down the corridor. "And keep your voice down, Marge is still asleep!"
"A miracle, considering he's destroyed our house!" said Uncle Vernon angrily. Another layer of spit joined the first. I decided not to open my mouth for fear of the salivary repercussions.
"W-What happened to my windows?" asked Dudley, mocking fear. "Was it him? Was it the M word?" Dudley knew perfectly well what was going on; he was putting on this act to make matters worse. I glanced at my window and indeed they had shattered, as if an earthquake had hit them. Glass littered the floor around the windowsill.
"Yes, Dudders, he smashed all the bloody windows in the house!" exclaimed Uncle Vernon, who felt the need to shake me some more.
"What if he kills me, daddy?" simpered Dudley. "I'm scared." He edged towards Aunt Petunia who embraced him, though it was difficult to see her now that Dudley had engulfed her.
"Don't worry, Dinky-Dums, mummy and daddy will never let him do that," she cooed.
"Dudley's right, Petunia. He's a danger to us all! If he thinks I'm signing that stupid slip of paper, he's got another thing coming! He's just like that failure of a father of his!" roared my Uncle.
"What did you say?" I said coolly, tendering a hint of anger. The scene would have been comical if not for the circumstances. It was the middle of the night; most of the occupants of Number Four, Privet Drive were cramped into the smallest bedroom in their pyjamas and to make matters worse there was a ravenous dog in the room opposite that could wake up at any moment along with his mistress.
"You heard me! Your parents were the scum of society and so are you! Heaven knows why I've let you stay this far!" The more he spoke, the angrier I became. "Your owl treating our house like dirt, puddings exploding, Dudley's tail, incidents whenever we leave the house with you and that flying Ford Anglia! You're history! GET OU- AARGH!"
Finally, I snapped. Uncle Vernon suddenly released me as if he had been burnt. Before he could contemplate the cause, he was thrown out of the pane-less window like a rag-doll. He seemed to hover in mid-air for a split second, his furious face suddenly registering fear. Then he fell out of sight, his screams of terror losing volume as he did so.
Aunt Petunia screamed and Dudley stared, enormous jaw hanging. "You'll pay for this, boy!" she screeched as she ran towards the window. "You wait and see!"
"I'm not going to wait and see," I said quietly. "He wants me to leave? Fine, I'll leave!" I was so angry now that I refused to think. I grabbed my wand and my things began to pack themselves so quickly I almost thought they could feel my ire. Why hadn't I done this earlier?
"YOU'RE NOT LEAVING UNTIL YOU FIX THIS!" screamed Aunt Petunia hysterically. My blood ran cold as barking resonated down the corridor. Ripper. And when there was Ripper, there was always…
"What's going here, Petunia?" yelped Marge, who was standing in the doorway in pink pyjamas, podgy hands on her hips. Aunt Petunia tore her gaze from out of the window and eyed Marge fearfully. I knew she would rather die than tell her sister-in-law the truth.
Marge looked from me to the packed suitcase to the wand gripped firmly in my hand. I was tempted to hurt her then. I had the upper hand. A part of me awoke and wished to see her scream and writhe in agony for her mistreatment of me during my childhood. The thought was so enticing, so very tempting.
"What has he done, Petunia? Has he hurt my Dudley? Why aren't there bars on his windows? Don't just stand there like a fish, dear, answer me!"
"He was t-trying to escape," murmured Aunt Petunia. Dudley was about to say something but one look from his mother kept him quiet.
"Is that so, eh?" said Marge, her eyes narrowed. "You know what you do with dogs who don't behave? You beat them." It would only take a few seconds, a few seconds of pain. She'd never bother me again. It's not wrong if she deserved it…
"Shut up!" I roared. I waved my wand wildly and Marge found herself hurtling across the corridor, crashing through a closed door and landing head first into the lavatory. There was a glint of something in Aunt Petunia's eyes. Perhaps relief? Dudley's reaction was far easier to read – he fainted, causing the whole floor to reverberate.
"I want you to know that I hate you," I said to Aunt Petunia coldly. "You're a terrible person." I took the opportunity of Aunt Petunia's speechlessness to storm out of the room with my trunk, which seemed exceedingly light and far smaller than usual.
I only made it down the stairs when I heard another bark. I glanced around and saw Ripper glaring at me, its enormous teeth bared. Why? Why did it hate me? I sprinted out of the door, my heart racing. I knew that there was no way I could outrun it and could not climb a tree this time – I was lugging all my worldly possessions with me. I reached the pavement. Ripper was already on the lawn. I looked frantically up and down the road, desperately searching for a way out. I was expecting more accidental magic. Then a pair of yellow eyes met mine from across the road.
In my hesitation, Ripper caught up. Before I could contemplate who the eyes belonged to, the dog pounced and knocked me to the ground. The trunk slipped out of my hand and skidded down the kerb, my wand went with it.
The dog's paws were on my chest. I could feel its hot, sticky breath a while after the stench. It leered at me with its bloodshot eyes. I thought that this was it. I thought it was over.
Just as Ripper opened its muscular jaw and I closed my eyes in fear, its weight suddenly disappeared off my chest.
I opened my eyes, not daring to believe it. A bear-like black dog with a shaggy coat had pounced on Ripper and had bitten its neck. Not being as dim as its master, Ripper drew away with a whimper and bounded for the house, leaping over Uncle Vernon's unconscious form, spilling blood over it.
I collapsed in relief. Only now did I realise how wet and clammy my hands were or the fact that my knees were shivering as if there were a brisk November wind. I awkwardly hoisted myself from the unflattering position I was caught in and searched for my saviour.
"Get back here and fix what you've done, boy!" hissed Aunt Petunia from the patio. She hastily looked up and down the road, hoping nobody was watching the events unfold. Some things never change.
I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and saw the huge shaggy dog turn at the end of Privet Drive. I glanced at my Aunt, there was never any doubt. I turned away from her.
I tried to lift my trunk as before but found it had returned to its true weight. Forced to make another split-second decision, I extracted my precious invisibility cloak and left the trunk behind, lying in the shadow of the destruction one dream had caused.
Throwing the cloak around me, ignoring the threats from Aunt Petunia, I went in pursuit of the mysterious dog. I did not know why I was doing this, it was instinct mingled with a sizeable helping of curiosity. A rustle told me the dog had dived into the bushes across the road from the small park. It was heading into familiar territory.
The Jungle. The plant life gave it its name. Unkempt and dishevelled, the shrubbery was allowed to grow without a leash and lay in stark contrast to the quiet streets surrounding it. Every person stayed away from it, even the smokers Dudley looked up to. Almost every person. Since finding it in my first year of primary school (hiding from Dudley), I had used it as a retreat when the Dursleys were being unbearable.
The road was silent, the smell of a barbecue from the previous day lingering in the air. My footfalls seemed to carry for miles and a thought struck me like an icy arrow. The Ministry would be after me. I had seriously injured both my Uncle and his sister as well as causing property damage. They probably knew already. I looked up as if expecting an owl to swoop down with an official letter but none came. I quickened my pace. The hairs at the back of my neck stood on end. Blinded by guilt, I thought it was because of the prospect of being expelled from Hogwarts.
I climbed through a small hole in the wired fence and parted the bushes. There was no dog. Instead stood the lean and haggard figure of a man. He must have heard my footsteps because he had his wand drawn and was looking around wildly. I knew I was going to be expelled already and had nothing to lose so I said, "Expelliarmus!" The man was thrown back onto the undergrowth where a pale ray of moonlight illuminated his face. A mass of filthy, matted hair hung about his elbows. If his eyes hadn't been shining out of the deep, dark sockets, he might have been a corpse. The waxy skin was stretched so tightly over the bones of his face, it looked like a skull. I gasped. It was the man the police were frantically searching for. Sirius Black. He was a wizard?
"Very good, Harry," he growled huskily, "I'd have expected no less."
I decided to remove my cloak then but my heart was pounding terribly. How did this man, Sirius Black, know my name? Why had he not killed me already? Was the dog leading me to him? Curiously, Black looked at me with pain and longing. A chill ran down my spine. There was no anger in his eyes, only sorrow.
"H-How do you know my name?" I said, trying to sound as though I was in charge of the situation. I knew as it escaped my lips that it was a stupid question. To my surprise, Black released a dog-like laugh.
"Apart from your fame, you mean?" he said. "I knew your parents. Merlin, you've grown so tall…just like James, so much like James."
My guard wavered. "Y-You knew my father?" I asked quietly.
"Knew him? We were nothing short of brothers!" said Black. His face cracked into a genuine smile, his rotting teeth on show, and he scrambled up to his feet quickly. Too quickly. I tightened my grip on my wand until my knuckles were white and a few warning sparks danced around the end of it.
"You're lying!" I hissed. A flash of something crossed his dark eyes. I couldn't place it.
Here was a man who I knew was a murderer. He had tricked me into following his dog. My mind was swimming with other worries and it was reaching a point of saturation. Besides, I had given Riddle the benefit of the doubt last year and look where that got me.
"I wish I were lying," said Black wistfully.
"Why would a good person like my dad have a murderer as a friend?" I said hotly. "You're sick." He looked as if he had been slapped. What little colour he had in his ghostly face had left it.
"Harry, I'm your godfather. I was your father's best man. I suggested the name Harry to your parents."
"I don't believe you," I said, but my resolution was wavering. "And why should I, you're a convicted criminal."
"If I wanted to kill you," said Black, sensing his advantage, "I would have done it by now."
I lowered my wand.
As I was about to utter my next words, the bushes rustled softly. I would have thought it was a breeze if a shadow had not obstructed the moonlight. An exceptionally unexceptional man, tall black with cropped hair, cold dark eyes and a smattering of stubble covering his chin had caused the noise. He wore a sleeveless black shirt and a pair of faded jeans. My attention, however, was drawn towards his only distinctive feature – a tattoo on his muscled bicep. It was a skull of the darkest grey. Its mouth hung open and two weapons I recognized as spears had been pierced through it, their tips laden with a dark substance. The heads of the weapons peeked out of the two dark eye sockets. There was something strangely fascinating and grotesque about the thing. He bore his cool gaze into me, his eyes flicking up to my scar. He seemed vaguely familiar. I felt like I should know who he was. From the corner of my eye I spotted Sirius, too, staring at the tattoo, though his face had mingled into that of abject horror.
"I am Special Officer Arnold Smith from the Knights and am here to ask you some routine questions," he said. His voice was hard and toneless and his eyes bore into me. "Are you Harry James Potter of Number Four, Privet Drive?"
"T-This can't be," said Sirius distantly. He stared from the tattoo on the man's bicep to his face. "Y-You're dead. I saw you fall. Unless…"
"Y-Yes, I'm Harry," I said. I shuddered slightly, partly because his eyes never left mine and partly because I got the same feeling of being completely transparent as I did whenever Dumbledore looked at me.
"Don't meet his eyes, Harry!" gasped Sirius. "Give me my wand! Don't believe a word he says, he's a liar and a traitor!" The man quickly glanced at Sirius and, aside from a slight narrowing of his eyes; he seemed completely unsurprised by him.
"And is this Sirius Orion Black, recent escapee from Azkaban Prison?"
I was about to answer yes but changed my mind. How on earth did he find us in such an obscure location? Who was he and what were the Knights?
"Who sent you?" demanded Sirius. "The tattered remains of your pathetic gang or Voldemort himself?" I registered that Sirius was one of the few people who used Voldemort's real name.
"The information required has already been confirmed," said the Officer flatly, as if this answered Sirius' question. "Execution of objective two will commence accordingly." He drew a small, black gun with a silencer attached.
My eyes widened. He turned first to Sirius. He had some idea of what it did judging from the look of alarm on his gaunt features. Suddenly, he was no longer there, replaced by the huge dog, who bared his teeth and pounced on the man.
It seemed to happen in a split second and a blur of movement.
There was a single muffled gunshot.
The dog, who was in mid-leap, transformed back into Sirius and fell like a rag-doll onto a heap of dead leaves.
"NO!" I yelled, and collapsed to the floor beside my dead godfather. Heart pounding painfully in my chest, I turned him over to face me.
A silver bullet had impaled itself between his eyes. He was dead.
I stood to my feet holding the wands, fury coursing through me like molten lava.
The Officer was looking at me, his eyes dead of emotion. The gun was gone and a wand replaced it. Before a spell could even formulate on my lips, he said, "Obliviate!"
The spell hit me squarely in the chest. I felt the wind knock out of me and I stumbled to my knees. My eyes refused to open but I saw a delirious white light.
I saw the movement of a boy about my age. It was too blurry to distinguish. My head spun and I heard some words which sounded jumbled, like a broken tape. The boy moved quickly as if he were in a film I was fast-forwarding. He moved faster and faster and the white light grew stronger and stronger, threatening to consume him. There was a soft 'pop'.
It was over as soon as it began and I knew no more.