Into the House That Gaunt Built
– CHAPTER TWELVE –
Into the House that Gaunt Built
I was standing in a country lane bordered by high, tangled hedgerows, beneath a summer sky as bright and blue as forget-me-not. There was a wooden signpost sticking out of brambles on the left-hand side of the road. Inscribed on it was an arrow pointing towards my direction of travel which read: 'Little Hangleton, 1 mile'. I walked briskly in the direction of the arrow.
While making my way towards Riddle Manor, I thought back to my manner of leaving Tracey. My heart panged when I remembered the hatred and pain in her face. I sighed. I knew full well then, as I did now, that to lay my wand on Mr. Davis was to kiss goodbye anything with Tracey. The full extent of what I had done had not yet sunk in. I almost felt as though I would go back to Hogwarts on September the First and find her on the platform, waiting to embrace me.
Was that the price of destroying the Horcruxes? The temptation to march back into the Manor and place a well-cast Memory Charm on her was overwhelming. Anything to go back to what we had. My only hope was that she would calm down and realise my hands were tied.
I walked a short was. There was nothing to see but the hedgerows and the wide blue sky overhead, then the lane curved to the left and fell away, sloping steeply down a hillside, so that the sudden view of the whole valley laid out in front of me. I could see a little village, undoubtedly Little Hangleton, nestled between two steep hills, its church and graveyard clearly visible. Across the valley, I expected to see a handsome manor house surrounded by a wide expanse of velvety green lawn. Instead, there was a forgotten field, wild grass clashing against the well-mowed lawns of the surrounding gardens.
How had a whole Manor disappeared?
I had to break into a reluctant trot due to the steep downward slope. The lane curved right and passed a hole in a hedge. The village rapidly approached. It wasn't too long before the lane was widening, the gradient was becoming gentler and detached Tudor houses began appearing on either side of me.
A girl and boy, not older than ten, were chasing each other around their parent's Land Rover. As I walked past, they stopped and stared at me. I glanced down at my clothes. I was wearing a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt; why were they staring? Ignoring them, I continued along the lane, which had become a road, trees and lampposts appearing on newly laid pavement.
I turned left at a crossroads, ignoring the furtive looks of the people at the small village sole traders. As I came closer to the country lane leading to the Manor, a small pub called 'The Hanged Man' appeared to my left, its double doors flung open. I glanced inside and locked eyes with the barman, who had deep-set, bloodshot eyes which were wide with disbelief. In the blink of an eye, he had disappeared into the backroom. I frowned and walked on.
"Can I help ye with summin'?" asked a haggard old man. His roman nose took the attention away from his grey, sunken eyes.
"Yeah, actually," I said, my voice surprisingly croaky. I cleared my throat and continued. "Do you know where the old manor is?"
"Manor?" said the old man, his voice dropping conspiratorially. "Yer not from 'round here are ye, son?"
"No," I said, frowning.
"There ain't no manor here," said the old man, nodding his head sagely. "That's only a myth parents tell their young 'uns. There be some strange rumours 'round here, that's for sure." I looked at him searchingly.
"Apart from the manor o' death ye heard?" He began hobbling back in the direction I came from and beckoned for me to follow him. "There's said to be strange folk over the way." He lifted a thin, wrinkled finger towards a dark patch of trees on the hillside.
"Strange in what way?"
"The stories go that there lives a family yonder what worship snakes. Snakes! Some say they even speak to them, can ye believe?" I stiffened – it sounded like Riddle's relatives may have lived there. Where else in Britain were there Parseltongues? "If ye ask me, there's some truth in it. A friend's mother said to the day of her death that she saw it. Through a gap in the hedge up there, she says. And there's a dead snake nailed to the–"
"Dad!" came a strong, deep voice. "There you are!"
A tall, broad-chested man wearing a white vest walked up to us. He looked between me and the old man suspiciously. "Has he been causing you any trouble?" he asked me, to which I shook my head.
"Not at all. He's been very helpful, actually." The son didn't seem convinced. He gave a short farewell and led his grumbling father across the road.
It took me five minutes to make my way back onto the lane, which was now a very steep and difficult hike. Finally, I came to the hole in the hedge. Through it was a narrow dirt track bordered by higher and wilder hedgerows than those I had left behind. The path was crooked, rocky and potholed, sloping downhill like the last one, and it seemed to be heading for a patch of dark trees below me. Sure enough, the track soon opened up at the copse
Despite the cloudless sky, the old trees cast deep, dark, cool shadows and it was a few seconds before my eyes discerned the hollow remains of a house. All that stood was a section of the front wall, which partly hid a mass of rubble surrounded by a clearing where nothing grew.
I inched forward and cast my wandlight into the dark depths of the rubble. There was no denying it. The old man was wrong – nobody had been near the remains of this house for years. I cursed my luck. Davis had lied to me. It seemed so improbable that he had done such a thing in his state, but here was the evidence, right before my eyes.
Suddenly, my light passed over something coiled up and decaying. I held my wand steady with one hand and with the other brushed aside the blanket of cobwebs. I gasped. It was unmistakably a dead snake, punctured in three places by long, black nails. Why was it here? I extended my fingers and brushed past the cold, scaly skin of the snake in order to examine the nails. Without warning, an invisible force tugged at my arm. With a great lurch, my head began to spin and I felt as though I was being flushed down a plughole.
As quickly as it began, the sensation stopped. I was lying spread-eagle on a smooth, cold surface. Miraculously, my glasses were still in one piece, though they were digging painfully into my nose. I groaned and rose to my feet.
I was alone in a long, dark corridor lit only by a smattering of candles floating near the high ceiling. The red flames cast flickering reflections in the dark glass floor, making it seem as though I was walking on a carpet of scorching hot coals. Hand firmly around my wand, I made my way down the corridor of fire.
I thought I could hear whispering coming from the black walls, but this may have been another one of Riddle's memories. As such, I ignored it, trying in vain to calm my breathing as I did so. No amount of calming breaths and Occlumency could shield me from the horrible feeling that the temperature was actually rising.
I walked and walked and walked and walked. The longer I walked, the further away I felt I was from an exit. Furthermore, the temperature increase was now tangible. Sweat began to drip from my brow as though I had been walking through a desert. A chilling thought crossed my mind: were there really coals beneath my feet?
I kept casting and re-casting cooling charms but to no avail. The inexorable heat overcame everything I threw at it. An overwhelming urge to give up suddenly became all too attractive.
The whispering grew in volume. The last thing I needed was Riddle's memories plaguing my mind and subduing my rationale. I couldn't let him win. I had to find this Horcrux of his and destroy it. Then I'd be a step closer to getting rid of him altogether.
Then I saw it. My heart pounded in excitement. A door! A door of the purest white. I broke into a run, pearls of sweat blurring my vision. The faster I ran, the further away the door was.
"Hope is fickle," hissed a distant voice. I recognised it as Parseltongue. "Power is the key that fits in all doors."
I stopped running and frantically looked around. There was no sign of any other life. Was Voldemort here? I cast a human detection charm. Negative. Was he even classified as human?
"Power is the key," I mumbled. I needed to use magic, that much was evident. But what spell? I panted and my mind began to spin. I was sure I had lost more water than I ever had inside me. Any longer in this room and I'd succumb to the urges to just collapse, to just give up.
The key that fits in all doors. Could it be that easy?
"Alohamora," I whispered. I laughed with relief as the white door swung open. I took a tentative step towards it. It came a step closer towards me. I smiled again. A handful of steps and I was clear of the dark room.
I looked around at this new room. The size of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, it was well lit with an assortment of torches, carried by brackets carved into the shape of golden lions. Somehow, it made the room friendlier, more relaxing. I saw a glint in the corner of my eye and turned towards it, wand at the ready. I could only gape.
Stacked almost as high as the ceiling was a mountain of golden Galleons, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. I took an involuntary step towards them.
"Take it," said a soothing voice by my ear. I jumped, but could not bring myself to look away from the pile of riches. It was almost as though the glinting rubies had cast a spell on me. "It is yours now."
I took another involuntary step towards the gold. I didn't want it. I didn't need it. Then why didn't I walk away?
"You deserve it," said the disembodied voice. This was a trick, I thought, never taking my eyes off the gold, it had to be a trick.
"Did you not think there would be a reward for defeating the corridor?"
It may have been a trick of the light, but it seemed as though the gold was edging towards me. The thought was too absurd – gold didn't move on its own. I must have taken another step without realising it.
"Snake Speaker, son of Slytherin, take what is yours."
Maybe it wasn't a trick, maybe this was Slytherin's treasure. After all, it seemed unlikely that the untrusting Founder would have used Gringotts. Come to think of it, Gringott's may not even have existed in Slytherin's time. It made perfect sense that he'd hide his treasure away from ordinary wizards.
I blinked and with my spare hand rubbed my eyes. The thought was too absurd, but it seemed as though the gold was multiplying. I checked again. Yes, there was more gold now than when I first my eyes upon the pile – I was sure of it.
"The family of Slytherin need not work."
I reached out my hand to an emerald-encrusted sword that was now within reach. No! This treasure belongs to Slytherin, not me. Then I heard a voice I had not heard for a long time; the voice of my teenage grandfather.
"…You see, my dad's family's been in Gryffindor since before anyone I spoke to can remember, but my Nan traced my mother's side all the way back to Salazar Slytherin's niece…"
I was a Slytherin. This treasure does belong to me. "It's mine," I muttered.
"Do not hesitate to take your birthright."
But then, why would the entrance to his treasure trove be conveniently kept near the Muggle village where Voldemort's Muggle father lived?
"It is yours…"
It was a trick. I stepped back from the treasure. The temptation to bend down and pick up the gold lying no more than a foot from my shoes was overwhelming. I had to focus on why I was here. Voldemort's Horcrux. This wasn't a treasure hunt.
I glanced towards the far end of the hall where a small, uninviting, decrepit wooden door stood in contrast to its elegant surroundings. Looking neither left nor right, I darted for it.
"TAKE IT! TAKE WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY YOURS!"
The treasure was spilling over as its content increased. I glanced over my shoulder. It was rising up like a wall of golden water, filling the hall with a chorus of rushing metal.
"FOOL! YOU DARE RESIST THE MIGHT OF SALAZAR SLYTHERIN?"
I broke into a run. The sound of clinking gold was deafening. I stole another look over my shoulder – the wave of treasure was crashing towards me. The door was close now, but it seemed as though the rushing gold was closer. An almighty crash reverberated around me. I didn't look back. I sprinted as fast as I could. My heart was racing wildly, groaning that it would not be able to support my pace any longer.
"ALOHAMORA!" I yelled, barely audible over the roar from the treasure. The wooden door flung open.
I could feel something icy cold scraping against my heels. As I burst through the doorway, I continued running. I heard the slam of the door. I ground down to a halt and turned around, hands on my knees, panting for air.
A single coin had managed to squeeze through the gap of the closing door and it rolled pathetically towards me. It slowed down, spun on its edge and toppled onto its back with a faint thud.
Once I had caught my breath, I stared around at the new monstrosity Riddle had set up for me. The room was well lit. Punctuating the panelled wooden walls were large, arch windows offering a breathtaking view of the valley, with its rich greens, browns and golds. Sunlight streamed in and illuminated a portrait scaling the entire height of the wall.
On a black backdrop were two figures; a man and a woman. For the second time, my jaw dropped. It felt like I was eleven years old again. The man had jet black hair, glasses and a face very similar to mine. The woman, around whom he had his arm, had long, red hair, startling green eyes and a friendly smile.
"Mum?" I said quietly. "Dad?"
"Harry," said Dad, smiling broadly, "you've grown so much."
"This is a trick," I said quietly. I did not think that even Riddle would stoop so low.
"We miss you, Harry," said Mum. I cast my eyes away from them. I couldn't bear to think of this as anything but a cruel joke of Voldemort's.
"This isn't real," I said, coldly now I was not looking at them, "because you're dead."
"It isn't so bad, you know," said Dad, "death, that is. Dumbledore was absolutely right; it's the next great adventure."
"We really, really miss you, honey," said Mum, her voice laden with love. I closed my eyes and shook my head. How dare he? I had never felt so disgusted.
"All our friends and family are here," said Dad, "even the Founders! You should join us, son." I suddenly looked up at them incredulously. I had at least expected Voldemort to make an effort with their characters. But this open invitation to suicide?
"Everyone who loves you is here, darling," said Mum. How dare he? After taking them away from me, he does this…
"Your grandfather is desperate to meet you," said Dad.
"What do you know about my grandfather, Voldemort?" I said coldly.
"He was a great man," said Dad earnestly, apparently deaf to my name for him.
"What house was he in?" I asked. I felt reviled even talking to the portrait.
"A Gryffindor, of course!" said Dad with a laugh.
Finally having enough, dashed for the door.
"Where are you going?" I heard Dad yell.
"You can't abandon us," Mum was crying, "not again."
"Your mother gave her life for you and you turn your back?" spat Dad.
I wished they were real. I wished I could sit there and talk to them for hours and hours on end, not caring about Riddle or his stupid Horcruxes, not caring about the stupid Knights of Walpurgis. I wished we could be a normal family, living at Godric's Hollow. Grandfather Maximus would have visited from time to time, telling me himself what he, Riddle and Moody had got up to. But this was all fantasy now, because I had been robbed. Robbed by Voldemort. He had taken all of this from me and now he was trying to rob me of myself. There was no chance of undoing his wrongs. All I had now was vengeance, starting with his ring.
The door, in complete contrast to the one previous, was arched and carved out of marble. There was no handle here, only a marble snake hanging from the top of the door-frame, as if the door had been shut as the snake attempted to escape. I stared into the snake's hollow eyes, pretending that it was real and hissed,"open."
With a lurch, the door disappeared up into the frame of the door. Ignoring the cries of my parents, I stepped into the opening. My heart ached – I knew they were Voldemort's inventions, but hearing their voices had been alarming. I didn't know how many more of Voldemort's traps I could stand.
The light from the arched windows opposite the portrait seeped into the otherwise unlit room. No larger than the smallest bedroom at Number Four Privet Drive, it was completely bare aside from a wooden table right in its centre. I edged closer to the table, hand gripped firmly on my wand. What would Riddle throw at me this time?
I lit my wand and brought it over the desk. I did not know whether to feel elated or downtrodden. Glinting at me were three rings, completely identical. All three were clumsily made, a cracked stone cast into them. As I reached out towards them, my scar erupted with pain. I gritted my teeth and clutched my forehead. The rings were blurred now, pain obscured them.
"I do not understand, Maximus."
Maximus? The voice had come from the doorway and I was sure it was Riddle. The pain in my scar was beginning to fade, as though it was a distant memory. I was right, it was Riddle. He was tall, pale and handsome – at least in his seventh year.
A shorter boy stepped out of the shadow of the room. He had long, messy black hair and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses perched in front of his brown eyes. He was staring at Riddle furiously.
"We are not blind, Tom."
"It's Voldemort, Max." hissed Tom, his eye twitching as he said it.
"You cavort with the very people we vowed one day would serve us," said Max, ignoring Tom's correction.
"I have tricked those fools. I do not look at them as equals, as I do with you and Al; I am slowly bringing them under our control." He was staring at Max with surprise, as if he had never seen him before.
My hands were trembling with excitement, the ring quite forgotten; was this the moment where Tom and Max went their separate ways? I edged closer to them, scared I would miss something.
"I have seen you with them," snapped Max, "and they are poisoning you. We do not need to associate with them if you follow the plan." His eyes were fierce and determined.
"And who is the one who has searched actively to reach our objectives?"
"Horcruxes are not the answer," said Max, almost disappointed, "can't you see that? How are we to rule when our hands are stained with the blood of innocents? How long before we are found out? Dumbledore has already buffeted us with questions. Remember our shambolic little Basilisk plan last year? He suspects us…"
"Dumbledore knows nothing!"
"If we are to defeat it," said Max, trembling now, "we must work together. We will invent a new branch of magic, push aside these barbaric out-dated practises and become the most celebrated wizards of all time. Is that not one of our goals?" He looked at Tom almost pleadingly.
"If we are to see further than any other wizards, we must stand on the shoulders of giants; use the work of our forefathers. Our goals may take us decades to achieve! What good would it be if we die before they are reached?" Tom spat the sentence out, as if it had offended him.
"We have already come so far, we will be finished before we are thirty. Our children will be born into a new world order. The names Riddle, Potter and Moody will be revered. We will be rich and powerful beyond our wildest imaginations…" He smiled distantly at the thought, entranced by it.
"Dreams, dreams, and more dreams," said Tom bitterly. "I am the only one actively taking steps towards achieving them. I refuse to waste a precious year and wait until we are out of Hogwarts. Let us insure our lives before challenging death." Tom glared at Max, and Max glared at Tom. None of them said a word and I thought I heard footsteps in the distance.
"I know of the group you have dubbed the Death Eaters," said Max finally, his tone icy.
"They are all fools. I feed them with lies and hope and they swallow it. They are willing to do m- our bidding. They will become Ministry workers after Hogwarts. We must surround the Ministry with our people before it is ours. And what of you? I hardly think the likes of Zabini, Thomas and Bones are likely to help our cause." It was Max's turn now to look at Tom with surprise.
"I am spreading the word of our revolution," said Max, with as much intent as Riddle, "and you must admit they could become powerful wizards. They could help us." There was a triumphant gleam in Tom's eyes as Max said this.
"So you agree that we need more Knights around the table?" said Tom, smiling slightly. There was a protracted silence, then Max sighed.
"Yes," he said dolefully, "I do. But we must remember that the revolution belongs to you, Al and I. All three of us. You will remember at all times that they must give in to our ideals, and not the other way around. Never forget what they did to the Heir of Slytherin." A flash of anger passed over Tom's eyes, but it was gone in an instant.
"Then we are reconciled," said Tom smoothly. "Argument is such a waste of time. I need to go and talk to Al."
"Where is he?" asked Max, his tone now as civil as Tom's.
"Working on the labyrinth," said Tom as he walked into the light.
"Voldemort, wait!" cried Max and he too was enveloped by the light of the portrait room.
I stood there gaping after them for what seemed like an age. They were friends in their late teens! They had started a revolution! Now that I thought about it, Voldemort's goals hadn't veered far from what he dreamed of achieving at Hogwarts.
I couldn't quell the growing feeling of betrayal. All my life I had been told that my family were the lightest of light, modest and great. But here was proof that my father's father was no better than Voldemort. His words echoed in my mind… people we vowed one day would serve us… our shambolic little Basilisk plan last year… rich and powerful beyond our wildest imaginations… Worst of all, I wanted to be there with them – I wanted to be a Knight. What was becoming of me?
"Why are you here, Harry?"
I spun around, and my heart sunk. It was Dumbledore.