The Wooing of Riddle
Tom leaned, scowling, against a damp dungeon wall. The
stones were icy under his back, but he paid them no mind, concentrating only on
the task at hand. The fingers of his right hand moved fluidly before him,
dancing a thick silver ring across the knuckles, and he felt the tension seep
out his body as if through a sieve. He didn’t want to attend this celebration,
and told himself that he didn’t know why he had even come, but a small, nagging
part of him knew exactly why. All told, though Tom was an abrasive and
coldhearted individual who rarely deigned to speak to even other members of his
house, he was slightly afraid of the ghosts who inhabited Hogwarts - and to a
greater degree, he was a great admirer of the knowledge he supposed they must
The heavy wooden door of the Potions classroom crashed open,
interrupting his quiet reverie. Professor Mathilda Manstra, head of Slytherin,
strode out of the room. Her arms were crossed, and she addressed Tom. “Do not
think for a moment that you will have any special attention, being the only
student at this event. It is only by the request of the Baron himself that you
are attending. You know what I expect from you.” Her face softened slightly.
“Now”, she said, smoothing her robes, and flicking a bit of plant matter off
them, “follow me.”
She turned quickly, her long, burgundy robes fanning behind
her as she moved down the corridor. Tom became slightly confused – there were
no more doors, save the broom closet at the end of this hall. The only thing
visible now was a design that had been etched in the large stones at the end of
the corridor and a large fern on a golden stand. Manstra
seemed to know exactly what she was doing, because she leaned down to the small
fern and whispered something to it. It shrieked, and its leaves began to beat
at the professor’s face excitedly, like an overgrown green bat with far too
many wings. Manstra pulled back quickly, a look of
distaste on her face. “Ugh! It gets far too excited when you give it...
finally, then.” She stepped back from the gold gilt table, and Tom watched with
fascination as the carvings in the stone twisted and slid along the stones,
finally forming a sizeable, luminous Hogwarts crest that sat a foot from the
floor. It then split down the middle, turning inwards. Manstra
motioned for Tom to go through first, and he waited on the other side to help
her through. Though he was mid-way through his fifth year, and knew a great
deal more than most of his peers, Hogwarts was constantly surprising him.
Tom and Professor Manstra emerged
in what appeared to be a crypt, and the teenager shuttered a bit. The smell of
the room was dry and somewhat unidentifiable, and Tom forced his thoughts away
from tying to estimate the combination of time and ingredients that
produced that particular odor. Without a
word, the Potions professor began to lead her student through a maze of high
walled passages. Dimly, Tom heard discordant music, and vaguely wondered if
perhaps ghost’s instruments were impossible to tune.
He and the professor finally emerged in an open room, filled
with lit candles and the incandescent forms of specters. A banner reading
“Baron Cassius Whittlewhip, March 12 1439 – January 23 1594” had been strung across the room. Tom
frowned, turning to Manstra. “It’s the thirty-first
of October. Why is he celebrating his deathday nearly
three months ahead of time?” Professor Manstra rolled
her eyes. “Vanity, I imagine. Spirits, unless they died on Halloween, never
celebrate their exact deathdates. The Ghost’s Council
decided many years ago that, in keeping with the fearsome tradition of
Halloween, all deathdays would be celebrated on the
thirty-first of October. Here in the castle, they rotate the ghost’s
celebrations every year – so each one has a celebration approximately every
twenty years, depending on the influx of ghosts.” She moved into the room,
smiling and nodding slightly to those she recognized.
Scattered here and there were the living, all of whom Tom
recognized as Hogwarts teachers and administrators. Titus Filch was nearby
talking to a ghost covered in what appeared to be seaweed, nervously tapping a
foot and looking distrustfully into his cup. Professors Nillis,
Grange, and Marstin were conversing in a corner, and
Tom saw Professor Dumbledore speaking with Headmaster Dippet
and Professor Ambrose, this year’s Dark Art’s Theory teacher. Tom himself had
always felt merely teaching theories was a waste, and had learned very little
in that class.
Dumbledore lifted his gaze to Tom and nodded, his eyes
twinkling merrily despite the atmosphere. Headmaster Dippet
had a bewildered expression on his face, doubtless because of some bit of
nonsense Dumbledore had been spewing. Tom had been under Dumbledore’s guidance
for five years in Transfiguration , and it was beyond him how the man had ever
even gotten a job, despite his obviously magnificent prowess with magic. He
raised his hand in a half hearted gesture, and was nudged forward into the
crowd of glowing beings by Professor Manstra. She
leaned over his shoulder and whispered “Go speak to the Baron, and then you may
leave, if you please”. Tom nodded slightly and made his way through the crowd,
doing his best to not walk through any of them, for fear that he would have to
cast numerous warming charms on himself later. He found the Baron at the end of
a grand table covered with rotten, festering food that made his stomach churn.
The Bloody Baron. Certainly the most feared of the ghosts at
Hogwarts, the Baron rarely spoke to students, and Tom was unsure of why he had
been invited to the deathday celebration in the first
place. His relations with the Baron had been nearly the same as every other
student’s – that is to say, nonexistent. His only encounters with the ghost had
been the few times when he had petrified Peeves, the school poltergeist, into
submission. Now, he approached the Baron, bowing slightly.
“Sir. I hope your celebration is going well...” He paused.
Unsure of what else to say, he glanced inquiringly at the Baron, who nodded.
“Fine... fine”, he said in his paper dry voice. “But you and I...” he smiled, a
macabre and disconcerting sight, and rose from his chair, “have business”.
“Gentlemen, Ladies...” he said, addressing the rest of the
table, who were chatting amongst themselves. “I must take momentary leave from
you.” The guests paid him little mind, most simply nodding and turning back to
their conversations. The Baron led Tom further into the catacombs.
When they were out of earshot of the crowd, the Baron turned
and scowled in the direction of the celebration. “They are fools. How it tries
my patience to be with those people.” He huffed angrily, and floated off,
indicating for Tom to follow.
“You’re here for a very specific reason, Tom Riddle. I would
not have you otherwise, as I have very little tolerance for children, and none
for those of impure magic heritage. You, however, are an exception.” Now they
were deep under Hogwarts castle, and the only light was coming from the Baron
himself. Tom wished he could light his wand, but did not want to interrupt what
“Of course”, continued the spirit, “You know what a
Half-bloods and Muggles are.” Tom nodded. Of course
he knew - his father had been a Muggle. It was a secret he had kept hidden for
years from the other students.
“Mmm”, said the Baron. “I assume
you are familiar to some degree with your own genealogy, so we need not delve
into it, I’m sure?” He looked to Tom, one eyebrow cocked. Again, Tom nodded.
“Fine, then.” He said, stopping before a large, wooden coffer. “You do not know
enough about your own ancestry, however, to know that you are a descendant of
the greatest of the Four Founders, Salazar Slytherin.”
He glanced slyly at the boy’s expression of disbelief.
“I have known it since the day I met you, young Parselmouth.
It is a trait, you know, of our line. The line you and I share.” The Baron
waved his hands in front of the coffer, and the lid popped open, a dry, aged
stench rising from it. From inside the box the Baron lifted a large tome, and
held it out to Tom.
“You will accomplish what I balked from, Tom. You shall take
this tome and follow its teachings. You shall complete your heritage.”
Tom took the book, heavy with uncertanty, but the moment it
touched his skin, the feeling disappeared.
This was truth.
This was destiny.
This was power.
“Now leave, Tom. Do what I could not.”