Into The Labyrinth
– CHAPTER NINETEEN –
Into The Labyrinth
No sooner had I Apparated in front of Hogsmeade did I feel an Auror approaching somewhere over my shoulder.
"State your name and business!"
I turned around. As the Auror's eyebrows shot up, I muttered,"Imperio! Obliviate!"
His will was as thin and weak as his shoulders and I overcame him easily, at the same time wiping his memory of my appearance in Hogsmeade. I noticed that a nearby patrolling Auror, probably this one's partner, was now looking over curiously. I used the shadow created by the moonlight to hide my face from him and muttered, "go and tell your partner that I'm the nephew of the Honeyduke's manager."
As the Auror went over to his partner, I used the distraction to elongate my nose, lengthen my hair so that it was shoulder-length and turn my eyes brown. The sharp pain in my nose told me that all three had been done. I glanced in the gleaming window of Honeyduke's – I looked more like Snape than myself. I shuddered at the thought. Finally, I removed the Imperius Curse – they knew I was prone to using it, and a talented wizard might spot it.
I noticed the thin Auror stop in mid-sentence, looking confused. His broad-shouldered counterpart shot him a quizzical look then said something. After a moment, they seemed to come to some sort of agreement and came over. The thin Auror spoke first.
"So you're Parson's nephew?"
"Yes," I said, "I only need to go to the cellar and fetch my Uncle something."
I looked at him dead in the eye and willed the security measures over Honeydukes to reveal themselves to me, a course of action that took surprisingly little effort. A team of ten Aurors were set the task of patrolling Hogsmeade, I discovered, in case I returned; five in the day, five at night. A Caterwauling Charm had been implemented and had drawn the thin Auror to me initially. Every shop was alarmed after closing hours and only the Aurors on patrol could negate them.
"Do you have any form of identification, sir?"
"I'm afraid I don't. My parents went into hiding after H-He killed my grandfather. I-I moved in with my Uncle in a rush and left most of my stuff behind."
The thin Auror looked at me with pity. "Noble was your grandpa, then?"
I tried to look as dejected as I could manage. "Yeah. H-He used to come around every week..."
The broad-shouldered Auror grimaced and lay a hand on my shoulder. "I'm afraid I was there in Knockturn Alley the night that monster killed him. And to think...I used to think he was such a good 'un."
"Power corrupts," said the thin Auror.
"Aye, but he had good blood in him, that boy. I never thought I'd see the day when we were prowling around Hogsmeade on the lookout for a Potter. But then again, I said the same thing about Black."
"If I ever see him," I said, "I'm going to rip him limb from limb for what he did."
"You be a good lad and leave that to the Dementors," said the thin Auror.
I pulled back my sleeve and looked at my watch. "If it's alright with you," I said, "can I get into the shop?"
The two Aurors shared a look. The larger Auror nodded almost imperceptibly. While the thin Auror began prodding specific bricks with his wand, the larger Auror said, "this isn't the first time the Caterwauling Charm's been set off tonight."
"Yeah," said the Auror, a little pompously, "the Headmaster set it off. He flew down here, quick as if he was only thirty, and Apparated before we could even greet him. He must've had important Ministry business; he usually talks to me about Transfiguration Today."
He looked as me, as if expecting me to gasp in wonderment. I smiled weakly. So Dumbledore had taken the bait.
"That should do it."
The thin Auror tested the door and, satisfied that no harm had been done, held it open for me. He smiled at me as an uncle would his favourite nephew. "Go on in. Be sure you don't take longer than ten minutes or we'll come down there and confiscate whatever chocolate you try and stuff into your robe pockets."
I laughed meekly and entered the shop. So I had ten minutes to get into the Chamber before the Aurors raised the alarms. Once I was in the Chamber itself, however, it did not matter who knew I was in there. There were only two living Parselmouths, and I hardly expected Voldemort to suddenly sprout a body and help out the Ministry.
When I was safely down the cellar and into the secret tunnel bound for Hogwarts, I broke into a run. I knew that most Prefects and Professors would have gone to sleep by now, and any who were still awake had hopefully been suitably distracted by Dean.
I burst into the corridor that the tunnel led into. It felt strange being back at Hogwarts and I found that I had missed it. It was the only place I could call home. But I could not linger – I had to make my way to the first floor toilet. Quickly as I could manage, I careered down the stairs at the end of the corridor. All around me, portraits were gasping and pointing. Was my glamour wearing off?
I had no time to check. I stopped abruptly in front of a piece of wall I knew to be a door. I wheezed, "could...you...show...me...the...stairway...leading...to...the...first...floor?"
A door materialised from nowhere. I pushed it open with such force that it ricocheted off the wall. Though my body begged me not to, I began sprinting down the stairs two at a time. My throat felt like it was narrowing and my lungs were screaming with pain, but still I pressed on. On the final flight of stairs, I leaped from the fourth step to the landing and bulldozered the door open.
The door to the girl's toilet was directly ahead of me. Without looking either side of me, I jogged the final distance, my heart thudding like a dull drum roll.
As I entered the girl's toilet on the first floor, I found the marble floor flooded. I could not even muster the energy to roll my eyes and instead hobbled over to the tap that hid the entrance to the Chamber.
"Come back to laugh at me some more?" said Moaning Myrtle, who had just emerged from a toilet cubicle. "Oh, who are you?"
"Oh, I remember!" she squeaked. "You used to come here and brew that potion! You look...different."
"That's because I'm older now." To my alarm, Myrtle's eyes began to fill up with pearly white tears.
"Oh, yeah, poor old Myrtle can't get older, can she? I have to stay the same ugly, spotty girl with horrible glasses. Come to rub it in my face, have you? You're no different to the others!"
"What others?" I asked sharply. But it was too late. The ghost emitted a cry of anguish and leapt headfirst into the toilet seat, causing a fresh wave of water to scour the bathroom.
I scowled at the hem of my robes and shoes, which were now soaking wet. Casting a drying charm lazily, I examined the tap and found the tiny snake scratched on the side of one of the copper taps.
"Open up," I hissed, imagining the snake was alive. The sink sank out of sight and revealed a large pipe, just large enough for me to slide down.
The familiar rush of sliding down an almost vertical drop embraced me as I released my grip on the edge of the pipe. It was surprisingly thrilling twisting and turning deep underground, and I was rather disappointed when I landed on the damp floor of the tunnel.
I lit my wand, illuminating my immediate surroundings only. Even in the wand light, I could not make out anything more than a stone's throw away, so thick was the darkness.
I strode forward with purpose, frail animal bones disintegrating under my footfall. The tunnel bent ahead of me, and I tried not to think about what new obstacles Voldemort had constructed.
The tunnel turned and turned and turned and seemed to go on forever. As I began to wander whether this was an illusion of Voldemort's, like on the way to Slytherin's ring, a solid wall seemed to materialise out of the darkness as I crept around yet another bend. Flashbacks suddenly danced across my mind's eye as I saw two entwined serpents carved on the wall, their eyes set with great, glinting emeralds.
"Open," I hissed. The serpents' heads rose in unison but the wall did not part. I felt my body tense and tightened the grip on my wand. Was it possible that I had spoken in English?
I really concentrated on the snakes and their emerald eyes flickered as if alive. "Open," I said in a stronger, more commanding hiss.
One of the snakes shook its head and I stood in bewilderment. How could someone have possibly tampered with the snakes? Had Dumbledore somehow managed to imitate Parseltongue and come down here? As I began to anger, the other snake opened its mouth and hissed:
"What always runs but never walks
Often murmurs, never talks
Has a bed but never sleeps
Has a mouth but never eats?"
A riddle? Why had I not been faced with one in second year? Had the Weasley girl cleared them for me? Was this Riddle's idea of a joke? I could imagine him, as a sixteen year old, living up to his surname when bored. Luckily, this particular riddle was simple enough. "A river," I hissed.
The serpents parted as the wall cracked open and the halves slid smoothly out of sight and I, gripping my wand so hard my knuckles were white, walked inside.
I was standing in a familiar dimly lit chamber with towering stone pillars entwined with carved serpents rising to support the high ceiling. The air was rank with the stench of rotting flesh.
As I meandered around the columns, the putrid smell became too powerful – it seemed to be squeezing my stomach, hoping for me to vomit. I raised my wand to my head and performed the Bubble-Head Charm. I could breathe once more.
Finally, I brushed past the last pair of pillars and the gargantuan grey statue of Salazar Slytherin stood against the back wall and loomed menacingly over me. At its feet lay the skeleton of the Basilisk, its dried blood draped underneath it like a carpet.
Suddenly, something Hermione had discovered came to the forefront of my mind:
"Destroying a Horcrux needs some powerful magic – far beyond what a wizard's wand can accomplish."
Dumbledore had used a Basilisk's tooth! So did I, all those years ago. I rummaged around my deep robe pocket and found the tiny Hufflepuff Cup. As if it needed air to grow in, it became larger and larger, and its gold colour returned. In a manner of seconds, the entire cup was restored in all its beauty. I edged towards the head of the snake, hoping that the teeth hadn't been pillaged by Dumbledore.
Thankfully, there was a long fang left on the floor where the head would have been. I picked it up, avoiding the dark green substance at its tip. I placed the Cup on the floor and raised my hand.
Dumbledore's words came back to me. What if Riddle took me over? What if I was jeopardising my entire quest to rid the world of Voldemort? But at the same time, I was quite sure that I could suppress Voldemort if he did try and take me over. Had I not done so well this far?
I expected to meet some resistance from the Cup. I expected to be repelled. I expected...something.
Instead, the fang sunk into the cup, which emitted a low, foul hiss. It crumpled, like an aluminium can, until it was a craggy ball of gold. Finally, it burst into a flame and all that remained as an ooze of gold amongst the red.
The familiar thudding roared at my temples. I closed my eyes and rubbed them, hoping it would soothe the bubbling pain. Dumbledore said Riddle would take me over entirely. I couldn't let that happen. Not now. Not when I was so close.
I tore my gaze from the remains of the basilisk, and looked back up at the statue of Slytherin. I could see no visible passage into the depths of the chamber. Then again, I could see very little now that my vision was so cloudy. I took another tentative step forward. Somehow I knew what I had to do.
"Open," I hissed, loud as I could manage. I craned my neck to look at the ancient, monkey-like face of the founder's statue. I could have sworn I saw sign of life in the statue's sunken grey eyes. The lips parted slightly, and I thought it might reveal a large opening for me to pass through. I was wrong, however. Instead, there was hissing:
That downward thrust,
That never rust."
I sighed; this one I did not know. I couldn't think straight. I could hardly see straight. I looked around the hall for inspiration and received nothing but the blank stares of glittering rubies. I wondered if Voldemort knew, but, surprisingly, he seemed determined to keep as silent as he had been since I murdered Fudge. I asked for the riddle once more.
My initial thought was that it was an ancient weapon of some sort. I vaguely remembered a computer game Dudley used to play in which arrows were fired out of walls at an unfortunate red animal which seemed uncompromisingly happy despite being harmed in every way imaginable. So it can't be arrows, because they can rust. I needed to think outside the box.
"May I have a clue?" I asked. The only answer I received was my own echo rebounding off Slytherin's feet, which were the size of large sheds.
A small drop of murky water just missed me and landed at my own feet. Could it be rain? No, that can't be a 'sparkling spear'Hail? No, that wasn't a 'glittering point'. I began to get a little frustrated at my lack of progress and Voldemort's silence. A freezing cold sensation embraced the top of my head as a drop of the murky water finally hit me. Angrily, I directed my lit wand towards the high ceiling.
The wandlight illuminated a stalagmite – or was it a stalactite? And suddenly it hit me – it was so simple!
To my delight, the mouth of the statue opened wider and wider until even the king of snakes could comfortably slide through. My headache seemed to be subsiding, too.
I cast a Sticking Charm on my hands and feet. Grimly, I climbed up Slytherin's sweeping beard. Higher and higher I rose until the stone feet below me looked almost normal in size. Finally, I hoisted myself up into Slytherin's open mouth. Tapping my hands, feet and head removed both the Sticking Charm and the Bubble-Head Charm. I took a gulp of stale, thick air. At least the rotting Basilisk's stench had been diluted.
As I relit my wand; two paths, one leading right, the other left, were stretched out ahead of me. I pondered for a moment over which to take. I was quite sure that going left would lead to the school so I took the route to the right.
The tunnel leading onwards was very much like the one leading into the main chamber. There were old snake skins and animal remains scattered across the floor, and the darkness seemed omnipotent. By the wandlight, another wall adorned with two snake carvings, much like the one in the previous tunnel, was illuminated.
"Tell me the riddle," I hissed. One of the snake's head rose and the jewel in its eye glittered. Its mouth opened and it hissed:
"Until I am measured,
I am not known,
Yet how you miss me,
When I have flown."
I sighed. I was beginning to tire of answering riddles I didn't know the answer to. I racked my brain but nothing, not even the tiniest inkling, emerged. I was at a complete loss with this riddle. The more I thought, the further away the answer seemed to be.
"I think I'll go and check out the other path," I muttered, "this is a waste of time."
As I turned my back, I heard a rumbling sound. I swivelled around, wand ready to defend myself. To my great surprise, the two halves of the wall were peeling themselves apart from each other.
"It must have been time... Yeah, time flies, of course."
Rather pleased with my luck, I journeyed on down the winding tunnel, but soon let out an angry snarl as yet another wall came into view. Once again, the snakes, jewel-encrusted eyes glittering, hissed a riddle:
"I know of a word of letters three,
Add two and fewer there will be."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Too easy; fewer." The wall moved apart to reveal yet another wall. The effects of the tunnel were beginning to wear away my energy and patience. Maybe it was the intoxicating stench of death and decay, but I was getting agitated and hot.
Relentlessly, the carved snake hissed yet another riddle:
"Greater than Merlin,
More evil than the devil,
The poor have it,
The rich need it,
And death befalls its consumer."
"Nothing," I hissed, becoming silently hopeful that the riddles were becoming easier and easier. The walls parted to reveal a small door of solid gold with a frame of ornately carved snakes.
I tried to push the door but it would not budge. There were no cracks for me to work on. I tapped the wall and tried every charm of opening I knew.
"How the hell do you open this thing?" I muttered angrily. As if to answer my question, words in a cursive script began to etch themselves into the door. I peered closely and read:
"The blood through thy veins,
Oh heir of mine,
Wilt grant thee access
To knowledge divine."
"So crude," I muttered. I looked down at my forearm. Terry had once said that all the Pureblood families were related. Could it be that any distant relation could try? I would not lose anything by experimenting, except blood.
I conjured a silver knife, hoping that there were no consequences of failing to provide the right blood. Grimacing, I made a small cut in my forearm. I tried to ignore the stinging pain and placed the wound onto the door, under the writing.
Both blood and writing disappeared and word replaced them:
Immensely relieved, I sealed my wound as the door opened. I stepped into a small study which, compared to the rest of the chamber, seemed far too normal. Granted, the desk legs were blanketed by intertwined snakes, as were the large candle brackets and the shelves. But there was something about the room that made it seem oddly comfortable – I could see myself living in it.
The room began to spin and blur. I looked at my hands. They were long, thin and pale. My feet began to move without my order for them to do so. It was like my early dreams of Riddle...but I wasn't asleep.
The office looked perceptibly different. It looked far less habitable. There were gargantuan cobwebs between the shelves and I could hear the cries of scared rats. I flicked my wand at one and muttered,"Avada Kedavra."
The room fell deathly silent.
I loomed over the desk and open the bottom drawer. The only object inside was a large, tattered book. Its colour had faded, but a snake of solid silver coiled into the shape of an 's' had stood the test of time and was imprinted in the centre of the front cover.
With practised calm, I picked up the quill that lay on the edge of the table and dipped it in some ink. I then opened the book at a very precise page. In the same cursive script that had appeared on the door, the words Tom Marvolo Riddle headed the gnarled page.
Speak to me Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four, I wrote. The words sunk into the page. A pause. Then, in dark green ink and a cursive font:
Tom Riddle. You have thought about my words of advice?
Yes. I cannot rebuke the words of a great man such as yourself.
Then what shall you do with these...friends...of yours?
I believe that there is some merit in their aspirations.
What aspirations are these?
We shall perform the greatest of feats, sir. We will conquer death itself and lead the wizarding world into a new age of glory, and they will worship me. And those who shunned me...how they will suffer...
Conquer death? Those are high aspiration, my heir, but nothing is impossible with an uncensored knowledge of magic at hand. So you wish to punish those who claim to have my best intentions at heart?
And you wish to usurp authority with the view to cement a place in history?
These friends, my heir, will not help you. No matter how true they seem, they will betray you. The only person one can trust is oneself, and no other.
What do you suggest, sir?
Focus on your goals independent of all others. These...Purebloods...must be punished in ways more subtle. You are my heir and as such wield great power – use it. These children will look for a cause to rally around; they wish to surpass their station. Become that cause; allow them to rally around you. Promise them what you will, ensnare them. As time passes, you will command great authority over them and can degrade them, torture them and pick them off one by one.
I bow to your expertise in these matters, sir. What of the Knights of Walpurgis?
Do the same.
Forgive me, sir, but the Pureblood Slytherins are wary of the Knights, who in turn are wary of the Purebloods.
I am sure the situation will...resolve itself.
Thank you, sir. I am expected to give a speech presently.
Go gently, my heir.
I closed the book and rose, intent on leaving the room.
Wait, where was I going? I don't have a speech to give. I didn't actually communicate with Slytherin. My name isn't Tom Riddle.
I tried to lift my hand and was met with some was as though the air had liquefied and I was pushing my hand through a watery substance. A chill ran down my spine. Dumbledore was right. Voldemort was taking over.
But I would not let him. I could not let him. He had betrayed me. He had betrayed my grandfather. He had betrayed Moody. He had betrayed everyone. He wasn't trying to help me. He was against me from the start.
I tried to move my hand to the bottom draw of the desk, but it would not move there. It was as though a pane of glass stood in my way. No! I tried to think of Tracey, as I had done in Godric's Hollow, but it was of no use. All I could see was a vague outline, a silhouette, that was being swallowed by the encroaching darkness. I tried to think of my parents, of Godric's Hollow, but they too were a blur.
Parents? My mother was a near-Squib, destined to die giving birth to me. My father was a filthy coward, but I had exacted my revenge.
I had finally taken Potter's body. The boy was fool enough to ignore Dumbledore and destroy my Horcrux. His ignorance is my salvation.
But now, now I had to retrieve the Wand, my precious Horcrux. I could not let Dumbledore find it, not now that Potter had compromised its location.
I went to the shelf and picked out 'Most Potente Potions'. I prised it open and found the Wand, long and mahogany, resting in the hollow I had created in the book. I readied myself for the Portkey. How I hated the sickening feeling of being thrown through the air, not in control of my own movements. But this was necessary. Thomas would be waiting.
I reached out and wrapped my pale hand around the Wand. I felt the familiar, sickening tug at my navel. I landed on my hands and knees, wand still at hand. I rose to my feet quickly. I could not underestimate Dumbledore, not this time.
I cast my eye over the door that lay ahead of me. The door to the so-called Labyrinth. What a fool Potter was. Though his susceptibility to my plan was more concerned with its genius than his folly.
I prised open the door and found myself in a domed tunnel, surrounded with the glow of silver. I could see my reflection in the walls – the same black hair and pale skin as my youth. If not for the glasses, it may have been me, not Potter.
I walked briskly down the corridor, thinking of what a thorn Potter had been. He was surprisingly resilient to my efforts to take him over. I should have been able to defeat his weak mind after Dumbledore desecrated my locket. But no matter. In the end, he was no different to the other nameless, faceless wizards who tried to resist me. They all broke eventually.
The corridor split in two. Hardly considering it, I turned right. Turning left would lead to the fire room. I quickened my pace – Thomas was rash and I required his potion. Only then could I rid myself of Potter's cumbersome thoughts completely.
I came to another door. I knew that behind it lay my greatest fear. I readied myself then opened it.
I was in a vast field with row upon row of graves. A spectral light shone down from above and illuminated one grave in particular, no different in size from the others. I slowed as I approached it and read the first line of the gravestone:
Tom Marvolo Riddle
I gritted my teeth and tore my eyes from it. Death was a fate awaiting lesser men than I. I smiled – my construct was far more frightening than any Boggart. Potter would have been defeated by the Labyrinth had he attempted to pass to the centre.
"Lumos," I muttered, for this room required light to defeat the darkness of the mind. The graveyard faded and was replaced with the domed, silvery corridor.
After I drink the potion, Thomas would need to be dealt with. He possessed too many secrets of mine now. It was quite unnecessary to keep him alive. After Thomas, Dumbledore would be next. He would not suspect the boy of his murder. How fitting that love should be his undoing.
And without Dumbledore, there will no longer be a resistance. Perhaps I could even succeed him as Headmaster? It would not be difficult to age Potter's body and create a new identity for him. Yes, with no Dumbledore, I will be free to do as I wish without opposition.
The wizarding world will succumb to hysteria – the deaths of Fudge and Dumbledore in quick succession guarantee this. I will exploit their unrest and offer them my vision. I could be the last Minister for Magic if I so wished.
The corridor split, this time in three. I knew that the route to the right led to the never-ending corridor and the left housed that dragon Thomas had imported. Labyrinth indeed.
I could feel Potter resisting once more. I closed my eyes and constructed an intricate web of Occlumency to trap the boy with. I could not show any sign of weakness in the next room, which I knew to be the centre. It would not do to have Thomas find me in anything but the most composed of moods.
I could feel Potter's resistance against my masterfully constructed web. Did he not know it was futile? His body belonged to me now.
Suddenly, I felt something I had not done since Halloween 1980 – pain, and it came from his disgusting scar. Why was I feeling this pain? What was Potter doing? I sifted through the tangle of memories that cluttered his mind searching for the source of the pain. I noticed a memory, sharper than those surrounding it, and willed it to show itself to me.
As it came to the forefront of my mind, I readied the Widow's Web, that effective destroyer of memories. I had developed the technique myself and knew it would not fail me.
The memory materialised far quicker than I had anticipated. Potter was with the Davis girl, in a small bedroom of some sort.
"You're lucky I love you."
"I love you, too."
The pain was intense now; I wrapped my hand around my forehead. There was a delirious light that I could not overcome. I could no longer see. My concentration was rocked. I could not maintain control much longer...
Harry. I'm Harry. Not Tom, not Voldemort, Harry. I wrenched my hand from my forehead and, to my relief and delight, it complied. I was in charge once more. I willed my eyes to open.
My hands and knees were on a cold floor so polished, I could see myself in it. I rose to my feet. So this was the Labyrinth that Tom, Max and Moody had built. But why had Voldemort called it the 'so-called Labyrinth'? Perhaps he had disowned it?
I had the Wand! It was here in my hand. I was so close to the end. But what lay at the centre of the Labyrinth? What secrets did Tom have to hide? Perhaps his final, most precious shard of soul was hidden there. It would explain why he had gone to such pains hiding the history of the Knights from the world. He knew that if someone knew about the Knights, one day, it would lead them here. But he did not bank on me knowing.
The mild headache in my scar was fading now. I approached what Voldemort had unwittingly revealed to be the final door. Ravenclaw's Wand was in my left hand, my own phoenix-feather wand was in my right.
I braced myself. At last I would have my questions answered. Finally, I would get to the heart of what my grandfather was trying to achieve. The truth lay beyond the door, of that I was certain. Better still, the end of my struggle with Voldemort was within arm's reach.
I steeled myself and took a sharp breath.
I kicked open the final door.