Alphabet Soup

O

Hello again, dears.

This particular hunk of story was eleven pages long, so I would really appreciate a REVIEW.

The rating is well-deserved here: there's a large helping of cursing in TWO languages. I'm so proud of myself.

Alphabet Soup

O

Observations

The earthquake on Halloween had been frightening; this one had Ginny standing in the doorway connecting her bedroom to the toilet for protection. She knew that she should be searching for safe, steady ground, but she also knew that she was on an island. None of the area would be safe. Doorways, she had been told, were typically the safest place to be if indoors. As her bones reverberated within her muscles, she recalled that October's earthquake had been a result of Tom's anger.

Was this?

Did it matter?

She heard shrieks and screams coming from all around her, some people shouting prayers, some calling for Merlin's grand protection, and others still yelled for their parents. Ginny bit her lip to keep strident squawks from escaping her throat. The cupric taste of blood soon filled her mouth and she gave a dry sob of desperation. Her fingertips were numb against the vibrating doorframe. Then it stopped.

She stayed beneath the plain cornice, anticipating the dangerous aftershocks. After what Ginny approximated to be fifteen minutes, she took a few steps into the toilet and spat the blood from her mouth. Her face was gaunt in the mirror and she could see herself trembling slightly. Happy Christmas, she thought wryly. Brushing her teeth seemed a novel idea, and a gulp of water followed.

An hour, maybe two, passed without incident. Ginny was extremely tired; her body was sore from stress and her mind was exhausted. It hurt to move her eyes around the dark room, but it hurt more to close them. Even blinking was excruciating. Tears of pain prickled the corners of her eyes. She was certain that when she looked in the mirror next, the whites of her eyes would be apple-red. A few times Ginny thought the earth shook again, only to realize that it was her fingers tingling from her vice grip of the wall during the quake. At long last the weight of her eyelashes was too much for her to bear and her lids fluttered closed. The respite was brief.

Who the hell is knocking on my door at this time of night?

"Miss Weasley," an unfamiliar male voice said through the door, "the Dark Lord requires your presence immediately."

"I- I'll be right there," Ginny stammered loudly, curiously. "Just let me get my robes…"

"Robes or pajamas, the Dark Lord won't care. Now, Weasley, or both our arses are on the line."

"Okay, okay," she muttered as she put on her dressing gown and a pair of fuzzy pink slippers. She opened her bedroom door and unsurprisingly found the masked face of a Death Eater waiting for her. "What's so important that you had to drag me out in the middle of the night?" she grumbled. "This had better be good."

"On the contrary, Weasley," the man replied grimly. He almost sounded melancholy. "It's bad- very, very bad. Follow me."

Follow she did. She walked through a maze of endless bleak corridors and tried to keep track of their route. Right, left, right, left, left again- or was it right? Or did we go straight at that intersection? Finally they reached a set of ornate doors.

They were made of a polished black stone Ginny couldn't identify and had gilded handles crafted to look like snakes ready to strike. The cornice reached the ceiling, its gold decadence starkly contrasting the dreary ambiance of the rest of the corridors. She didn't know what to do; should she knock? Would the sound of a knock caused by her small fist even carry through the stone? Surely she wasn't expected to simply walk in; Tom would be furious. She stole a glance at her masked escort.

He grasped the serpentine handles of the ingress. He heaved with all his might and groans of pain issued from behind that dreadful mask. The door didn't budge. The Death Eater sighed in frustration and swore beneath his breath.

The doors opened, seemingly of their own volition. Ginny heard Tom's voice ring out, echoing in the ornate chamber ahead. "Are you a Muggle or a wizard? You didn't think to use a spell? Incompetent idiot."

"I've brought Weasley," the Death Eater said tonelessly.

"I can see that," Tom replied. His voice sounded almost empty, hollow. "Leave her with me and go practice elementary-level spells."

The man bowed, turned, and rushed from the decadent room. The exit- the only exit- shut with a great reverberation. Ginny took time to look around her. Tapestries adorned the walls. Some were pastoral, others depicted historic scenes from the Wizarding past. One showed Hogwarts castle burning. Her eyes lingered on this for a while. That hadn't even happened a year ago.

This chamber was incredibly long and rectangular. The floor was made of a shiny dark marble that looked like the surface of the bluest ocean. She almost thought that she would slip if she tried to walk. At the far end of the room, some fifty yards away, stood a throne made of the same marble as the floor. Its height was astounding and unnecessary. Tom's head came to rest at about the middle of the throne. Before him lay a bundle of some sort, covered in a pale white cloth. Ginny bit her lip.

"Don't be shy, Ginny," Tom said quietly. The echo of his words made it seem like he was speaking directly into her ear. "Come stand before me."

Her steps were slow and tentative. Her eyes met his, but she never looked away. Something was inside those eyes, behind them, and she didn't like the feeling that his gaze gave her. Those blue eyes hid something dangerous, of that she was certain. Have I done something wrong again? Tom's expression was grim. He didn't look unhappy, just solemn. Ginny had seen that look on her father's face years ago, right before he told her that Charlie had been badly burned by a particularly ornery dragon and had to stay in hospital for three weeks. Finally Ginny reached her destination. She did not bow.

"Tom," she whispered, "what's this all about?"

"There's a problem," Tom explained. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his throne and let his eyes linger to the bundle on the floor. "I've decided to let you determine the solution."

Options

"Me?" Ginny squeaked. What was he playing at? "What on earth could you want my opinion of?"

"A punishment is in store," Tom replied. There were little lines forming between his eyebrows as he frowned.

"What did I do this time?" Ginny asked with exasperation. She looked at her fluffy slipper-clad feet and blushed.

"You, darling Ginny, did nothing wrong," Tom smirked. "Someone has slighted you in one of the worst possible ways. I'd like to hear any ideas you may have on how to… resolve the matter." He looked to his left and shouted, "Bring him in!"

Two people in masks were dragging the immobilized body of a man with a face Ginny had never seen. The face was ugly; it was ill-proportioned. The eyes were squinty, the nose was long and pointed, and a scar dragged across the entire left side of his countenance. The hairline was receding, but the hair itself identified the individual. The frizzy brown hair that Ginny had come to associate with a nasty French sneer and general cruelty was angled oddly from the man's head.

"De Danann," Ginny whispered. She turned her wide eyes to Tom expectantly.

"Leave him," Tom commanded in a voice not entirely his own. The two masked figures unceremoniously dropped de Danann to the floor in front of their Lord and next to the strange bundle. With a wave of his hand, Tom signaled the exit of the others. He stood. "Treason, de Danann, is a very dangerous thing, especially when it is carried out against Lord Voldemort. Wouldn't you agree? Oh, but you cannot speak! You may say your piece to Miss Weasley shortly. A little chat is in order first, wouldn't you agree, little Ginny?" He didn't move his eyes from the shocked face of the man on the floor.

"You see, you treacherous lump of filth, I believe that Lord Voldemort's orders were quite clear. I cannot say that I am entirely shocked by your disloyalty; you've been a thorn in the side of my organization for some time. You've gone too far this time. I've let slide your little mistakes, your obnoxious quirks, and even a few of the comments you've made about me when you thought you were in safe company. Swine, Lord Voldemort has ears everywhere. He hears everything, knows everything. You knew the risks when you took the Mark. Foolish man, you believed yourself above the laws set forth by the Dark Lord. Not only did you speak out against the state we have begun to solidify, but you acted upon an idiotic impulse that undermines all I have worked for. Such insubordination cannot be tolerated. Lord Voldemort will not be deciding your punishment, as you may have guessed by the presence of little Ginny. She will decide your fate. It's only fair. It cannot be said that the Dark Lord feels nothing for his people."

His wild eyes turned to Ginny, the piercing blue a shocking reminder of the events of her first year at Hogwarts. This was not the Tom Riddle to whom she had written, nor was this the Tom Riddle she'd seen over the past few months. For the first time, Ginny appreciated Tom as Voldemort. A manic laugh escaped his lips as he released the jinx on de Danann, allowing him to speak.

Words did not immediately leave his mouth; de Danann spat at Tom's feet. "Upstart child," he snarled, "you speak as though you know the will of the Dark Lord, as though you are his confidante. You know nothing, boy, nothing. The Dark Lord certainly knows of your impertinence, your constant meddling in my affairs, and he will soundly punish you!"

Tom laughed heartily. The sound was unnerving; the laugh was genuine. He stepped gently onto de Danann's wild mane and nudged his cheek with the toe of his boot. "Oh, Lord Voldemort certainly does punish those who defy him. He is angry, very angry. The world quivered in fear of him. That's why you're here: you're facing sentence for your crimes, and it's being done in the manner the Dark Lord wishes." A rueful glare from the man on the floor made Tom chuckle again. "Little Ginny, would you care to enlighten him?"

Ginny's mouth was agape. This man, this wretched man, didn't know who Tom truly was, yet Ginny did. The world must be spinning backwards. Where to start? "Shall I… Tom, where should I begin?"

"At the beginning, of course, little one. The beginning of our story."

Ginny eyed de Danann with disdain and confusion. Where was this going? What had he done that was so horrible? Why did she get to determine his sentence?

"I found a diary," Ginny murmured. She looked shyly at Tom to make sure she was saying the correct things. Tom just smiled. "But… my diary wrote back to me. Tom… lived in the diary. Sort of. I'm not sure how it worked, but he was like a ghost, only different, living in this old book. When I wrote, he stole parts of me. I would black out. I didn't understand what was happening, didn't know it was Tom, my best friend." She blushed furiously as she said this. "He almost killed me. Tom's memory almost killed me. I was barely alive, but I could hear well enough. Harry came to save me. I heard them talking. Tom admitted his true identity. That's it, I guess."

"Any good at anagrams, de Danann?" Tom asked jovially. "Tom Marvolo Riddle was my birth name. You get thirty seconds to figure it out." De Danann just stared at Tom. "No? My little one, tell him the anagram."

"I- I can't say that name, Tom," Ginny protested. She began to tremble. He glared at her sternly, all mirth, real or fabricated, drained from his face. "Tom…" she looked at de Danann, a useless lump on the floor, and almost felt sorry for him. He was just another victim of Tom's. "He's Lord V-V-Vol…" she stammered, shuddering. Saying that name had gotten her here in the first place; she didn't know what, if anything, would happen if she said it again. "Tom is You-Know-Who!" she cried.

De Danann snorted. "And I'm Agrippa. I'm no fool."

"Tell my dear little Ginny what you've done," Tom said smoothly.

"I don't know what you're talking about," the man on the floor snarled.

"Don't you?" Tom asked, cracking a malevolent smile. He nudged de Danann's face with his boot again, a little harder this time. "Watch this, sweet Ginny. I came up with it myself. Essentially it's Veritaserum in the form of a spell. Veritas." Even as the first syllable of the word rolled off Tom's lips, Ginny could see de Danann's eyes dilate and his jaw slacken. Drool flowed from the corner of his mouth and slid in a bead across his face. Tom looked disgusted. "Now, tell little Ginny Lord Voldemort's rule about purebloods."

"Purebloods remain alive and relatively healthy," came a dead voice.

"Did you break that rule, you slithering bit of filth?"

"Yes."

"What's under this tarp?" Tom gestured broadly to the lump of fabric that lay before his decadent throne.

"I don't know."

"Did you disobey a direct order issued by the Dark Lord himself?"

"Yes."

"What is under this tarp?"

"I don't know."

"Did you attack a pureblood?"

"Yes."

"What is under this tarp?"

"I don't know."

Tom turned to Ginny and shook his head. "He's not being very cooperative, is he?"

"If… if it's a truth spell, then he really doesn't know," Ginny said, trembling. She had a very strong suspicion about the contents of that misshapen heap on the floor. She bit her lip harshly and tore some of the skin with her teeth. It was a human. It was a person, a pureblood from the sound of it. But why am I here? Why me? Unless… "Oh, God, don't tell me it's somebody from my family, Tom!" Tears burned her eyes. What if it's George? What if it's Ron?

"It's not, but I fear it may feel just as bad," Tom said to her sadly. Sadly?

"Tom," Ginny pressed, "are you pretending to be upset or are you actually upset?"

Tom closed his eyes and frowned. After a moment he replied, "The latter."

Ginny's eyes widened. She pushed further. "Are you only upset because it- that person is a pureblood?"

His fists clenched. "No," he ground out.

"Why else are you upset?"

"This little Q&A session is over, Ginevra!" Tom flicked his wand at de Danann, who immediately sat up and rubbed his eyes. Apparently Tom had removed all the enchantments on him.

"Imperio!" Tom shouted. "Pull aside the tarp."

De Danann did so unblinkingly.

He looked uninjured. It was almost as if he was in a deep sleep, but with his eyes wide open. The gray hue often associated with death didn't tint his skin at all.

For an eternity Ginny just looked at Neville, disbelief etched onto every centimeter of her face. Her knees shook and she could almost feel the blood rushing out of her face and running cold through the rest of her body. Her mouth opened once, twice, and finally her voice managed to escape.

"You son of a bitch! You goddamn son of a bitch!" She ran forward and launched herself at de Danann. She hit him as hard as she could, kicked his shins, and screamed. "What the fuck did he ever do to you?! He's a hero, a fucking hero, and you murdered him, you son of a bitch!"

"Tell her why you did it," Tom commanded over Ginny's lamentations.

"He wouldn't stop talking."

Ginny froze. "He wouldn't stop talking. You wouldn't shut your mouth, you French bastard! You talk; voulez vous mourir, maudite viche? Fous le camp, fous le camp! Va te faire foutre, trouduc!" She was extremely grateful to Fleur, whose presence required that she learn to speak French. She was even more grateful to Gabrielle, whom had taught her about every dirty word imaginable. She was positively thrilled to be able to berate this murderer in his native tongue. Her grief quieted to harsh dry sobs and mutterings. "Conneries… mon dieu, il est… il est…"

"The question now is this," Tom interjected steadily, "What do you want his fate to be? Shall I simply reprimand him? A bit of torture? Death?"

Fire in her eyes, lip twitching, Ginny spun and held Tom tightly in an angry embrace. "Oh, Tom! How can he be… He's gone, Tom, gone! Now his Gran is all alone. He's dead! Neville Longbottom is dead."

Tom cradled her to his chest and stroked her hair soothingly. "I know, little one." Her tears were staining her face and the front of his robes, but neither of them noticed. "What do you want me to do?" he whispered. Her heart rate increased exponentially. Tom felt it and knew what she would say. He held her gently at arms' length and watched memory after memory pass through her eyes. "Tell me what you want me to do."

Tom was so understanding. He was so gentle and caring. He's my stability. He was so sane. He was so generous. He's my tragic hero. My tragic hero, an orphan who had to make his way through life alone and didn't know any better when he did bad things. He understands now. He's giving me what I need. He's giving me a measure of closure.

"I want him to go away."

"Is that what you really want?"

"Yes." She didn't hesitate when she said it.

Tom Riddle smiled a true smile. "On your head be it," he told her. She nodded and clung to him. The world would certainly end if he wasn't there. "I'm alive in you," he told her cryptically.

She felt oddly reassured when she fell into a deep sleep.

*Cue dramatic music*

I originally had Gin being even more crazy- sadistic, really. I'm not really into Dark!Ginny, so don't worry about that...

Sorry, Neville fans. You *had* to see it coming. I left a big trail of foreshadowing breadcrumbs. In the original outline, he died a chapter earlier. It's an entirely necessary event. I wouldn't needlessly kill cute li'l Neville.

The fun translations! "Veritas" is easy enough: it's just Latin for "truth". Our French tirade translates as: "Do you want to die, you bastard? Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck off, asshole! This is bullshit... oh my god, he's... he's..."

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