Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling
Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling.
He’d not anticipated such difficulty getting back to Hogwarts.
It had taken him longer than he’d expected to reach the train station, since all the students had been milling about before boarding to go home. It had taken him still longer to hike the rough, hot road from Great Hangleton into its smaller sister village, and, afterwards, he'd had the second hike, and he’d missed the last train out, and, lastly, he'd had to compensate and work his way round corners in the Muggle world, until he finally and blessedly arrived in Hogsmeade.
So it was quite by an unlucky turn of chance that Tom Riddle, close to midnight of the day after exams finished, found himself trying to sneak back into the school, and had no other choice but to skulk through the Forbidden Forest. It was really very undignified.
He was among a handful of students who always lingered in leaving the school, and so no one would be surprised to see the Head Boy’s trunk and possessions still lined up at the foot of his bed. No one would have missed him, either. There had been too much commotion – parents wandering the Great Hall, students lugging heavy bags, tearful goodbyes to much-loved teachers and friends. Riddle – but that wasn’t the name he was thinking for himself, certainly not now – pushed aside a fall of underbrush, and, ridiculously, almost felt like whistling. He reached into the pocket of his robes and closed his hand around his wand – how strange and marvellous that such an indiscriminate thing could channel such power! Those foolish Muggles could never understand this wonder, this raw loveliness. Magic. He thought of their astonished faces frozen into identical expressions, all together on that awful kitchen floor, and a smiled played about his lips. He felt quite like celebrating.
The Forest didn’t frighten him; in fact, it was quite the contrary. He had an odd, cold control over the boy Hagrid, and, consequently, was often led into the trees to see the Dark creatures. The inhabitants of the Forest could be extremely useful animals, and, in his opinion, it was wise to learn all he could about them. He had gotten to the point where no beasts would dare touch him; it was as though they shook in revulsion at his feet. Riddle liked this idea, and at the moment it certainly seemed true, for nothing had yet crossed his path.
He walked carefully onward for a few minutes, picking his way through the foliage. It was slightly difficult to see, as only starlight illuminated the trees, and Hagrid had once told him that there were places in these woods where not even celestial light would touch. Riddle believed it – even hoped for it. There was something deliciously appealing in the idea of unbreakable darkness.
He ducked under a large branch – and that was when he saw it. In front of him, in a small grassy clearing, was a beast he had never seen before. It resembled a horse and didn’t in the same breath; it was black and yet seemingly translucent, like the phantom of a living creature, and on its back were a massive pair of scaled wings, more suited to a serpent than a mammal. It was standing perfectly still, huge, majestic, as though it had been waiting for his arrival.
It struck him suddenly – this was a Thestral.
Of course! The winged horse was like an offering – no, an omen. He thought again of the pitiful Muggles – defenseless even against a young man! – and, very slowly, he smiled. He felt very much like he had been fated to see this beast here, this night, when it could mean nothing but that he had chosen the correct path, done the proper deed. Here was proof – visible proof.
Then Riddle creased his brow and frowned a little, working it out in his head. He knew, from the rudimentary knowledge he had culled from Hagrid, that Thestrals were drawn only by food – by dead beasts, by the scent of blood. Yet Riddle had no blood on his robes – the three Avada Kedavra curses had been flawlessly clean and quick. Still, he knew the Thestral was here for him. It stared unblinkingly, with depthless eyes, straight at him.
Unafraid, Riddle stepped up to it, and, with only a moment of hesitation, placed a hand on the beast’s head. It jerked slightly, and made a noise that Riddle would have called a whinny if it had come from a lesser animal. He made a soothing sound that was almost like a hiss, and began to stroke the horse’s mane. Perhaps this creature was so powerful that it could sense the very existence of death, the very act.
Riddle nearly forgot about getting about back to Hogwarts, though surely it now well past the witching hour. His heart was moving, rejoicing, and, in the stillness of the Forest, it was as though he could see his destiny laid out before him, as though all his accomplishments were poised and ready to savour, as though everything was at a gorgeous and indescribable beginning. The three Muggles – he would not think the word father, that was too foul – were only a starting-point. There were places in these woods, he remembered, that no celestial light would touch. There were such places – unimaginable, inconceivable, yet real and magical and true – and there could be more of them. He looked up at the sky, and found he could not see the heavens; there were too many branches and leaves blocking his gaze.
"You know," he said quietly to the Thestral, as his thumb moved over the beast’s great black head, "I’m quite pleased to see you."
Then he smiled again, and resumed his path.