Secrets and Riddles
– CHAPTER THREE –
Secrets and Riddles
"I told you to keep that damned rabbit away from my room!"
"It's a blinkin' rabbit for Christ's sake!"
The quiet, relaxing confines of sleep had been wrenched from me and had been replaced by another one of Tom's memories. I would have put my head in my hands if I could, but resigned myself to hoping this one would not involve torture or death in any form. A fool's hope.
"I couldn't care less if it was a bloody spider," said Tom angrily, "I don't let pests crawl around your room so why should your stupid rabbit hop into mine?"
Tom was standing in the shabby corridor outside his room, and gestured towards a miniscule rabbit with unkempt brown fur and floppy ears. Its only distinguishing feature was a spoon-sized white patch over one of its beady black eyes. Tom's eyes flicked away from the rabbit, which was making a dash for the spiral stone staircase.
A smile played at the edge of Tom's lips as the boy he was arguing with dived for his pet as it took its front paws off the landing. He had short, astonishing blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. He struggled to calm his rabbit but it eventually responded to the tranquil stroking and stopped fidgeting.
"Everyone else puts up with Flopsy so why can't you? You're no different to anyone else. You're not special."
Tom's clenched his fists until they were white and throbbing with pain. I was surprised the rabbit did not just fall dead under his murderous glare. "Don't let me catch your stupid pet in my room again, Billy, or else."
"Or else what?" snapped Billy defiantly. Flopsy was growing restless again.
Tom narrowed his eyes and took a step towards Billy until he could feel the boy's tuna breath against his face. Before he could say a word, however, Flopsy finally escaped from Billy's arms and dug its claws into Tom's pale, exposed forearm as it fell to the floor.
Tom gasped and cried out in pain as blood began forming at the wound. Billy seemed caught between delight and horror. He was saved from making a choice between the two. "What's happened here, then?"
Biting back tears, Tom glanced up at the harassed form of Mrs. Cole coming up the stairs, with Flopsy fruitlessly resisting her vice-like grip. She looked from Billy to Tom suspiciously. Then she spotted the latter's injury.
Understanding the risk of impeding punishment, Tom said, "Billy was just letting me play around with Flopsy." He forced a grin and placed his arm in plainer view. "I s'pose this means she don't like me." Mrs. Cole was not amused.
"You keep this rabbit under control or I'll feed it to the foxes," said Mrs. Cole exasperatedly.
"But Mrs. Cole, it was a present from my dad –"
"I don't care if it was a present from Saint Nicholas," replied Mrs. Cole waspishly, "it'll have to go if it causes a nuisance. Now take it out of my sight!"
"It didn't know what it was doing," said Billy moodily as he relieved Mrs. Cole of Flopsy and dragged his feet down the stairs.
"You won't know what hit you if you keep up that attitude," said Mrs. Cole after him. "Come with me, Tom, I'll have to fix you up."
Tom followed Mrs. Cole, blood oozing from his gash like molten lava from a volcano. Drops of scarlet fell like tears, painting the faded blue carpet. As they silently ascended the stairs to the second floor, Tom silently seethed. How dare Billy let his rabbit loose? How dare the rabbit touch him, let alone scratch him? How dare he get away with it?
They entered the first door just to the left of the second floor landing. The stench of antiseptic invaded Tom. The small, airy room comprised of a bed very similar to his own, and a row of cabinets interrupted by a stained sink.
While Mrs. Cole expertly treated Tom's wound while muttering irritably about wayward pets, he contemplated one thing only: revenge. In a few minutes which seemed to last an age, Mrs. Cole allowed him to leave.
Returning to his room, he opened his cupboard and gritted his teeth in ire. Flopsy was resting on the floor cupboard floor and slowly chewing its way through Tom's best shirt. Tom narrowed his eyes and leered intently at Flopsy. Very suddenly, the rabbit stopped its destruction of Tom's property and bounded out of the room, Tom following it intently. A worrying thought struck me: was Tom controlling Flopsy?
A few of the younger children ignored Tom as he climbed the spiral staircase, Flopsy was at enough of a distance that it could not have been associated with him. Upwards they climbed, past the second, third and fourth landings. On fifth landing, Tom found the scruffy rabbit stood perfectly still beside an old, rusty red door. He willed the door to open and it complied after a small tremor. Tom went in behind the rabbit and closed the door behind him.
The door guarded the largest part of the orphanage: the loft. Illuminated by a faint light which seemed to be tinted with red was a vast expanse of disused and broken objects. From old books to broken tables, from mountains of clothes to half a bed, years of rubbish had been dumped here. Tom noticed, with disdain, some small bones he assumed had belonged to rats. The air was far colder here, far more saturated. It was almost suffocating.
Tom glanced up at the rafters, where a thick piece of rope was dangling. Then his cool gaze returned to the unfortunate rabbit. With guile and speed, it hopped upwards, using the pile of waste as a ladder. After nimbly skipping on top of half a chest of drawers, it made one final leap so high it must have been propelled by magic. I was astonished it had made the eight foot bound to the wooden rafters.
I had a blood-curdling feeling as to what was to happen.
The rope rose like a cobra seduced by its flute-wielding charmer. I wished I could look away but Tom kept his eyes fixed on the frozen rabbit.
Snake-like, the rope writhed across the rabbit's neck and fashioned itself into a noose. Flopsy made its way towards the very edge of the rafter. Then it leapt. Tom smiled.
It had made its final hop.
Tuesday 15th December.
I know I promised myself I'd write in this thing every night but I haven't had a chance to. Well, I didn't want to. It just seems bizarre pouring all my thoughts and secrets into a book where everyone can have a look if they really wanted to. But it's come to a point where I have nobody else to talk to about certain stuff. I managed to come up with a secrecy spell to stop the curiosity of my dormmates from having a sneaky peak while I'm asleep. I don't know how I managed to come up with a spell on my own, this is one of the reasons I thought of writing a diary. My mind is so cluttered at the moment.
Ever since I had that…run in with Sirius Black over the summer, I keep getting these dreams about Tom Riddle. Except, they're not dreams. I'm pretty sure they actually happened. How crazy is that? I'm not sure if this is normal. After the parseltongue thing last year, this just seems like another thing which makes me different. Except this time I'm not angry that I'm different. I don't know why. Am I getting used to it? Or am I maturing?
The weird thing about the dreams is that I can hear his thoughts and feel what he feels. What's worse is that in one dream, I felt sorry for him. Well, it was more like I could understand what his going through. Can you believe that? Of course you can't, you're a diary. But it doesn't stop there. When I'm awake, I sometimes copy Riddle. I keep telling myself that it's normal to be picking up a few of his habits – I've definitely picked up enough of Ron's!
Ron says I've been acting weird lately. He reckons Hermione's had a bad influence on me. I don't think she has, but I've found learning new things quite interesting and I don't know why. Suddenly I'm comparing myself with Dudley and treating magic as a gift. Whenever McGonagall or Flitwick teaches us something new, especially if it's interesting, I actually practice it outside of lessons! Ron jokes around that he needs to find someone new to mess around with. Sometimes I worry that he's not kidding.
Snape still treats me like dung but it's bearable because the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin, is really kind and, as a bonus, knows his stuff! That's a change! The only gripe I have with him is that he didn't let me face the boggart, but I suppose he didn't want Voldemort to appear in the middle of his classroom, even if it was a stupid pest in disguise. Hagrid seems really gutted that I haven't taken Care of Magical Creatures, he's a bit distant when we visit him. Sometimes I don't care, sometimes I feel so guilty – he was my first ever friend after all. I don't regret it, though. Arithmancy is really interesting and Tracey Davis, a Slytherin girl who sits next to me in Ancient Runes, says that Hagrid's lessons are incredibly boring after Malfoy getting attacked. Hermione refused to say a bad word about him, she said he was just being cautious.
Speaking of Tracey Davis, I can't stop looking at her. She's one of the prettiest girl I've ever seen in my life. Hermione reckons it's just infatuation and that it'll pass. I hope so. I can hardly manage a string of clear sentences when she's around.
Hermione's been managing to be in two places at once recently and I have no idea how. I don't even know if it's me making a mountain out of a molehill (as she keeps telling me). One minute she'll be walking with me and Ron and the next she'd be back down the corridor, running to catch up with us with extra books in her arms. I've been trying everything to get something out of her but she won't budge.
She's doubly suspicious of me as I am of her. She keeps asking how I became so…clever, I suppose is the word. In lessons, I know most of the answers to questions (though I rarely put my hand up) and most teachers like me now. It's not just the teachers. When people talk to me, I always seem to know the right thing to say. My Arithmancy and Ancient Runes classes have virtually no Gryffindors so I've had to talk to a lot of Ravenclaws. They really seem to take to me, and, for once, not because I'm Harry Potter. They're more interesting than I thought they'd be – like Hermione, but easier going.
I've been bumping into Ginny a lot recently. I don't know if she's doing it on purpose or if I'm being too paranoid, but I wish she'd stop. I'm tired of the awkward conversations. And I hate that Ron doesn't step in and tell her to stop – it's almost like he wants it to keep happening. I'm also tired of people asking me to tell them what happened. I quickly got bored of their questions when I told them I got obliviated so I just tell a shortened version of Dumbledore's tale of events.
Halloween came and went. It was as eventless as the year's been so far. I was glad about that since I'm a bit tired of adventure now. I just want to work out how to stop Riddle's memories happening and look forward to Quidditch matches. Speaking of Quidditch, we trounced Slytherin. Wood was pretty happy I caught the snitch exactly when he planned me to. Even with his Nimbus 2001, Malfoy isn't a very good seeker. He just made my job easier.
That's all I can think of at the moment, and I think Ron's about to wake up anyway. He's doing his arm stretching ritual.
Until next time (I won't promise when),
The grey sky rumbled and growled like an angry, hungry wolf. It promised a downpour of rain and, judging by the brisk, bitter winds whipping between the decrepit skyline, snow. Sitting quite still on a patch of yellowing grass near the solid iron gates of the orphanage, unperturbed by the prospect of being drenched, was Tom. He looked around the same age as he did when the orphans went into the cave. Why was I not inside him this time? It was a welcome relief.
I moved closer towards his hunched form and peered over his shoulder. He held in his hands a small, tattered black book. The print was so small I could not make out the words on the yellowing pages. It seemed the sort of book a grown adult would have been intimidated by, let alone an eleven year old child.
A light clip-clopping attracted my attention. Strutting past the gates of the orphanage were two magnificent horses with luscious black coats. They were pulling an intricate carriage carved out of expensive wood, finished with golden-framed doors. Tom too looked up and his handsome young face contorted into a scowl. But in the frown, I noticed a sense of longing. He did not avert his gaze until the carriage had passed out of sight entirely.
The clouds rumbled deeply.
To both Tom's surprise and mine, we were not alone on our yellowing patch of grass. Struggling to slither out of sight was a small, scaly snake, no longer than a hand span. I guessed it must have been a baby since it was so miniscule. I called feel my brow furrowing as Tom's did. A snake in London? The chances were more than remote.
Tom's dark eyes were fixed on the snake, his skin deathly white. As I drew nearer, I understood why. "Blood too thick…no mice…no food…hurts…it hurts…" I remembered the first time I heard a snake speak, at the zoo. I could appreciate Tom's utter shock.
The snake was slithering towards the iron gates. Tom extended his unnaturally long fingers and picked up the snake. "Filthy human…I can taste it…it hurts…but no, I cannot…just a bite…no…it hurts." Tom stared ashen-faced at the snake, shaking to such an extent I was surprised the snake hadn't managed to wriggle out of grip.
"H-Hello?" hissed Tom shakily. The snake stopped writhing. It hung limp in Tom's unsteady grasp.
A drop of rain fell and connected with Tom's wrist.
"Can you understand me?" asked Tom, a little uncertain but no longer shaking.
"It speaks…the human speaks…it is he…can he help I wonder…"
Tom's lips twitched then, slowly at first, a wide smile had spread over his face. He looked like a child who had finally got the present he had been asking for all year. But why was he so happy? I wasn't until I had managed to embarrass Dudley with it.
More drops of rain fell and pattered against the stone floor.
"What hurts?" asked Tom quickly. "How can I help?"
"It hurts…it hurts…nasty humans…"
Tom raised the snake so it was level with his eyes, unaware of the steadily deteriorating weather. He ran a finger along the side of the snake, concentrating like a surgeon on a particularly delicate patient.
"The pain…gone…it is he…masster…masster…" I stared at Tom disbelievingly. He had somehow managed to cure a snake of an illness he definitely didn't know of. I started to wonder whether he even needed a wand, or even Hogwarts.
Tom turned slowly and walked towards the orphanage, slowly stroking the snake, rain lashing across his drenched body.
Thursday 27th March
The dreams about Tom Riddle keep coming. I don't know what to do. Should I talk to Dumbledore? Would he care? I don't know why I don't tell anyone; whenever I decide to, something holds me back. I'm starting to think something addled my brain that night at the Dursleys, something Dumbledore either doesn't know or didn't tell me.
I questioned Ginny long and hard about how she felt with the diary. Surprise, surprise, she's not giving much away. Maybe it's an after-effect of the diary? Whatever it is, I'm tired of it. And now she thinks I'm interested in her and so does Ron.
Speaking of Ron, my worry that he'd get bored of me is slowly coming true. Just because I'd rather research ways of stopping these dreams than play a stupid game of exploding snap, he gets into a huff. Then I snap at him to go and play with someone else so he starts playing with Dean. Things are looking even worse on the Hagrid front. All the homework I've been getting from Arithmancy and Runes means I've had hardly any time to visit him. Hermione says he just needs time to get over the disappointment. I'm not sure he will.
I decided to stay at the castle for Christmas (big surprise) and so did the Weasleys. It was a quiet Christmas. The bizarre Divination professor Ron keeps moaning about, Professor Trelawney, decided to come down to Christmas dinner for the first time in the years I've been here. She kept looking at me sadly and gasping, as if someone were about to murder me. I finally asked her what was wrong and she said, in a weird raspy sort of voice, 'your dreams, they shall consume you.' McGonagall snorted derisively but Dumbledore looked curious. Ron assured me she was a fraud so I ignored it.
I found out, to my surprise, that some Slytherins are actually alright. Whenever a mutual Ravenclaw friend, like Terry, introduces me to one, they're perfectly normal to talk to. When I told Hermione, she tutted in an 'I told you so' kind of way and Ron lectured me on how it's their way of luring me in. Seamus and Dean have been a bit short with me recently – they don't approve of any contact with Slytherins.
There's a fourth year Ravenclaw girl who I can't stop thinking about now. She's so unbelievably pretty; I can't keep my eyes off her. I've been told her name's Cho Cang. She's so pretty she made me forget about Tracey. Terry and Michael Corner laugh when they catch me staring at her in the library. Hermione doesn't find it too funny. She says it's just a crush that will go away. She was sort of right with Tracey, so I guess she could be right again. I wish it would go away sooner rather than later, though, or I'll need to find somewhere else to work.
Talking of things I'd like to go away, Parvati's been acting really weird these past few weeks. She keeps hanging around me, Ron and Hermione. Ron thought she was 'after him'. I told him to ask her out then. He did and she said no. He refused to talk to me for a week; he thought I had set him up. We made up the other day but he's still frosty. Now I need to work out why she insists on sitting with us in the Great Hall and common room. Between her, Ginny in the corridors and Cho Chang in the library, I can't find a minute where I'm not hiding or daydreaming.
Quidditch practice has been killing me. Wood is convinced we'll win the cup this year and he's not letting anyone or anything stand in the way. He's got us training three times a week, just in case I 'get into any trouble later on in the season'. Katie agrees he should stop putting me under so much pressure but she won't dare tell him in case he kicks her off the team. Oh well, I guess it's for my own good and it keeps my mind off these dreams.
The exams are coming up soon. For the first time ever, I'm actually looking forward to them. I've got a feeling that I'll do better than last year. Hermione says that's not going to happen without revision. While I don't do anywhere near the amount she does, I do a fair amount with my new study buddy Terry Boot. He's great – funny, clever and understanding. I can tell him things I wouldn't dream of telling Ron and Hermione since he isn't involved with Gryffindor.
Someone's coming up the stairs, I need to stop writing now,
I was a little angered as I saw the setting sun cast a crimson radiance over the grey, bleak London landscape. I had thought I would get some peace tonight; the night before my first exam. The sun's rays poked around St. Paul's Cathedral but refused to warm the cobbled road Vauxhall. I was once again utterly taken aback by the backwardness of the city before the Second World War.
There were no cars in this part of the city. If the ash-stained buildings did not convey the poverty of the area, the state of its inhabitants certainly did. A boy so skinny bones stuck out at angles was walking from door to door, his dirt-ridden hands clasped together, yearning for food.
"Got any food, 'gov?" he begged Tom in a small voice. His eyes were grey and distant, almost broken. Tom shook his head without saying a word. He did, however, track the boy's progress towards a nearby terraced house. A woman with jet black hair fashioned into tight curls wearing a white apron answered his pleads with a look of scorn and a few well-chosen words before slamming the door shut.
Tom tore his eyes away from the urchin and turned right at the end of the row of terraced houses. A rusted sign told him it was Vauxhall Road. There was a dog-like beggar with small, keen eyes and dirty grey hair sitting underneath the rusted sign. Tom tried to hide his contempt for the man as he quickened his pace down the road.
Tom's destination soon became clear.
Beside the shell of a terraced house, black with ash, was a grey building, slightly taller than the others. The windows were dusty and revealed very little from the outside. The crooked sign read 'Smith's Stationer's'. Tom showed no reaction to its appearance except a twitch at the mouth. He collected himself and entered through a green, wooden door, triggering a tinny bell.
The shop was dim, even the flickering bulb hanging from the low ceiling could not change this. There were shelves running the length of the walls either side of Tom, groaning under the weight of books, pens, inks and other small pieces of stationary. The chipped wooden counter was unmanned but I guessed the owner, presumably Smith, was on the other side of a small door behind the counter.
Tom browsed the shelves in the far corner of the room where the exercise books were displayed. He flicked through them with great speed before deciding on a black book. As he picked it out, realisation dawned on me. This was the book that was to become Riddle's diary. It made sense. This shop was on Vauxhall Road.
With a quick glance around, Riddle placed the book underneath his grey top. Curiously, it looked almost as though nothing was there. While I disapproved of the theft, his 'accidental' magic never ceased to amaze me.
"What can I do you for, son?" Riddle almost jumped at the gruff voice. A man in his last walks of life was behind the counter. He had an unruly grey beard and a wild look in his dark eyes.
"Do…you have any books on the Great War, sir?" asked Tom, regaining his composure.
"Afraid not, boy. You might wanna try Manor Lane; there's a bloody good bookshop there for young scholarly types."
Riddle thanked him and almost ran out of the shop. I had to jog to keep up with him as he turned this way and that. It was rather difficult making out where he was as night had finally fallen. Tom evidently knew the area well as I was following him through a number of deserted alleyways. Finally, we came to the grim orphanage.
Tom did not take the front entrance as I had expected but went around the side of the building. He came to a spot beside the building covered in gravel. He tapped his foot on the floor and listened. After repeating this for a number of different spots, he seemed satisfied and began moving gravel. My confusion turned to surprise as a door appeared. Tom opened it and entered. I just managed to fit through before he closed it.
We appeared to be in some sort of cellar, though it was far too dark to make out any details. I blindly followed the sound of Tom's footsteps. He managed to reach his room without Mrs. Cole noticing. He removed the diary and placed it under his pillow.
Sunday 15th July.
Good news and bad news. Bad news: I'm back at the Dursleys. Good news: I'm no longer having the dreams about Riddle every night; it tends to skip nights every now and then. I hope this means it's slowly going to grind to a halt. But I have a confession to make: I'm beginning to find them fascinating. I've been seeing what made Tom Riddle turn into Voldemort and I know secrets about him no one else does. Is it wrong to be interested by them? I'm beginning to think I'm taking a liking to Tom and that's what worries me the most. I don't now what to do. Whenever I tell myself to visit Dumbledore, something always stops me and I don't know what it is.
Hermione asked me what was wrong with me near the end of term when I had dozed off in the common room and had a short but violent dream about Riddle. Luckily everyone else had already gone up to their dorms. She said I was thrashing around like a lunatic. I told her it was just a bad dream. She didn't buy it. I've got a horrible feeling that she'll find out sooner rather later. What if she thinks I'm crazy? Worse still, what if she thinks I'm turning Dark?
She wouldn't be far off. A week before term ended, Malfoy insulted me in a corridor full of people. For a second, I felt like killing him. Not a childish wish to kill him. I actually wanted to see him dead. I keep trying to tell myself that he just caught me at the wrong time (I'd only just argued with Ron about something stupid, I forgot what it was now).
As I predicted, I did well in the end of year exams. I came second only to Hermione, and even that was close. She finally told me how she'd managed to get to all those lessons. It's a little contraption could a time-turner. She decided not to use it next year, though, since it had exhausted her so much.
We won the Quidditch Cup this year. I caught the snitch at the exact right time against Ravenclaw. Cho wasn't too happy. Everyone made a huge thing of it, but to be honest, it didn't mean as much to me as I first thought it would. Dean and Seamus and the others were suddenly best friends with me again, which annoyed Ron almost as much as it did me. It just seemed so shallow that the same people who were whispering behind my back last year had the nerve to congratulate me. I didn't go to the celebration party.
Some of the Ravenclaws had a sour taste in their mouths after the match and weren't too pleased with me. Terry assured me that it was temporary. He invited me to his house during the summer, by the way! I was so happy at a chance to leave the Dursleys! McGonagall had a word with me and said I'd have to stay with the Dursleys for a couple of weeks, though. Terry said we might even get a chance to get tickets to the final of the Quidditch World Cup!
I doubt it'll ever be the same with Ron now. The worst thing possible happened. Ginny asked me out. What could I say? I couldn't pretend that I was interested in a girl I didn't find attractive in any way. So I said no. Apparently, she took it badly. Ron blew up at me but I was having none of it. Hermione tried to get Ron to see that I had done the right thing but his eyes were firmly shut. Idiot. Now he's not talking to me or Hermione. Next year will be fun.
I have to go to sleep now, or else Uncle Vernon will notice the light from the torch I stole from Dudley.