|reversathon_mod (reversathon_mod) wrote in reversathon,|
@ 2012-08-01 20:35:00
|Entry tags:||reversathon 2012|
"Anguilliform" for "Gilda Groendyke"
Author/Artist: Delilah Dillwort (gmth)
Recipient: Gilda Groendyke (bellariddle)
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Lord Voldemort, The Grey Lady
Word count: 4497
Summary: A treasure hunt leads to an important find. And a new friend.
Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me.
Author's notes: For Gilda Groendyke, who wanted a to see a snapshot of Voldemort's activities after leaving Hogwarts/during his rise to power. I hope this fits the bill. Thanks so much to my wonderful beta and to the mods for all their hard work.
He jerked as though she'd startled him, pretending to let his book slip so it almost dropped from his lap. He looked up sharply, then allowed his features to soften into a smile of welcome. "Oh, hello," he said, swinging his legs over the side of the stone bench on which he'd been reclining.
"I'm not disturbing you?" she asked, hesitantly floating closer.
"Not at all." He patted the bench next to his leg. He'd been sitting there waiting for her for over an hour, and had been about to give it up as a bad job.
She smiled and settled herself beside him, not sitting so much as molding herself to the stones in a way no living woman ever could. "I'm sorry we were interrupted last time," she said.
"I am, too," he said, meaning it with all his heart. Sometimes the responsibilities of being Head Boy were very inconvenient. "I've so little time left to talk with you."
The smile gave way to a slow, sad tilt of her head. "You're almost finished here."
"Yes. Term ends next week."
A prickle of icy cold washed over his thigh where she brushed it with her fingers. "I'll miss our little talks," she said. "They've been such a pleasure for me these past few months."
"For me, too."
"Have you decided what you're doing after you leave?"
"I asked Headmaster Dippet for a teaching position here, but he said I'm too young and lack the experience needed to be a good teacher." He sighed for her benefit and looked down at the closed book he still held in one hand. His knuckles were going white with strain, and with an effort he loosened his grip. He could still see the bland, stupid expression on Dippet's face as he delivered his refusal, and it galled. "I suppose I'll do some traveling. Go abroad, see some of the world, and perhaps when I return I'll be ready."
"That sounds lovely," she said. "Where will you start?"
He raised his head to look at her. A torch on the wall behind her shone through the misty haze of her face, making her eyes dance as the flame flickered. "I don't know yet," he said. "You tell me."
She pulled back her hand. "I?" she said. "What could I tell you?"
He continued to stare into her eyes, unblinking, until she folded both hands in her lap and turned her face away. "Look at me," he said, and when she did not comply he repeated the command with a hint of steel in his voice that caused her to obey immediately. "Have you thought about what I asked? Will you tell me?"
She didn't speak. For a moment, he wished she were alive so he could clasp her hands, squeeze them tightly between his own. The idea was repulsive, but he could swallow his revulsion at the idea of touching another human being for a second or two if it would throw some weight behind his entreaty. But she was not alive, and so he would have to rely on his wits and his looks and the strength of his personality to persuade her to part with the information he needed. "You must," he said.
"I can't," she said at last, looking away again. Her voice was barely more than a whisper. "I'm so ashamed of what I've done, the way I betrayed my mother. She died for the want of it, and because I had left her. No." She shook her head vehemently. "Let it remain hidden forever. Better that than to have to face my shame again."
He licked at his dry lips. "You told me yourself no one ever knew it was gone. Your mother never told anyone what happened, not even the other Founders. To this day everyone assumes it has merely been lost. If you tell me where it is, I can go get it and bring it back here where it belongs. Think how surprised everyone will be when it is found, what a sense of relief it will bring to the entire Wizarding world. Perhaps you could even be the one to find it again, once I return it to the castle. You'd be a heroine!"
"The Baron will know the truth."
"He wouldn't betray you again. He's kept your secret for centuries, you've no reason to believe he would break that silence now."
"I... I suppose that's true," she said.
"I'll talk to him," he promised. "You needn't worry. I swear it."
"I don't understand why you want it so badly," she said, twisting the hands she had clasped in her lap. "You're leaving next week, you don't need it to help you with your classes."
He took a deep breath. "It's not for me," he said. "It's for Hogwarts. Don't you see? This is my home. I'm connected to this school in a way very few can ever understand." He thought fleetingly of telling her that he, too, could claim one of the Founders as family, but just as quickly rejected the idea; it wouldn't do to have her make the connection between himself and the new ghost living in the second floor girls' bathroom. "And it's for you, too," he said instead. "I so want to bring you some comfort. Perhaps relieve some of your guilt. When you told me you felt responsible for your mother's death, it touched me. Right here." He put his hand over his heart.
"It did?" she asked in a very small voice, and he nodded.
"I've never told anyone this before," he said, "but I was responsible for my mother's death, too. She died in childbirth."
Her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh!"
He'd been rehearsing this part of his speech for days, trying to make himself cry, or at least tear up, at this point in his oratory, but he'd never quite been able to manage it. Luckily, it didn't appear to be necessary; her eyes glittered with transparent tears of their own.
"I had no idea," she said through her fingers. "I'm so sorry."
He leaned in close, as close as he could without actually touching her, and repressed a shiver as a frigid wave of air flowed from her like a January breeze. "I knew you would understand," he said. "And you see now why you must tell me."
Slowly, she curled her fingers into a fist and dropped it into her lap. It seemed an ominous sign, and his heart sank along with it. He'd pressed too hard, or perhaps she'd seen through his facade; she was about to refuse. Months of work, wasted. Countless hours spent talking to her, earning her trust, when he had so many other pressing matters to attend to. All for nothing. Worst of all, it was a blow to his plans from which he might never recover.
The fierce emotion he let show on his face was real, though he hoped she would misinterpret it for earnestness and a desire to serve rather than a fervent wish that she were still human so he could use the Imperius Curse and get this farce over with once and for all.
"Yes, of course," she said at last. "If it means so much to you..." Her voice trailed off as though asking for a final confirmation. She found it in his eyes. "I will tell you."
He'd thought it would be easy. Apparate into the forest, use Accio to retrieve what he'd come for, and Apparate home. He'd be back in London in time for lunch.
Hours of fruitless wandering later, it occurred to him he may have been a touch too optimistic.
The Accio had yielded no result. He'd tried several times at first, and continued to try at intervals as he tramped his way through the undergrowth, but so far, no luck. This meant he was either too far away for the spell to be effective, or...
Someone else had already found it.
He wiped the perspiration from his forehead and gripped his wand more tightly, pushing the thought from his mind. It had to be here somewhere.
"It's in the base of a hollow beech tree," she had told him, "the branches of which shade a large boulder. I used a sharp stone to mark the tree's bark with my initials. A stream runs along near it, close enough to be heard but not seen from the tree in which it is hidden."
And, of course, the most important clue of all. "The Baron felt horribly guilty about killing me," she had said. "So guilty he took his own life the next moment. But not before he put a charm in place around me, to protect my body from the elements, and from... from the animals." She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, as though the thought of what might have happened had the Baron not performed this final kindness was disturbing to her. "My flesh has no doubt melted away over the centuries, but my bones may still remain. Perhaps the Baron's do, as well, if he happened to fall within the sphere of his own charm. Look for us, and you will find what you seek."
It had seemed a detailed enough description when she'd told him. But now, looking around, it was a struggle to keep a check on his despair. Every third tree in the forest was a beech, it seemed, and the ground was littered with rocks of various sizes. None seemed large enough to be termed a "boulder," in his estimation, but her definition may have differed from his. The initials, of course, would have long since been erased by time. And as for the stream, it might have dried up, as there was no visible sign of water nearby.
The heat was oppressive, and shortly he decided to stop and rest himself. Just ahead in the path there was yet another large stone with flat top that would do nicely as a place to sit. He pulled a flask of water from the pocket of his robes and was about to unscrew the top when he noticed a small, coiled snake had taken up a portion of the stone seat. He stepped on a twig, snapping it in two, and the snake lifted her head. She met his eye for the briefest of moments, her tongue flickering in the air between them, and a heartbeat later she had uncoiled herself and started to slither away.
"Wait," he called to her in Parseltongue. "Don't go, little friend. There's room enough for both of us."
The snake stopped, twisting the upper half of her body around so she faced him. The tongue flickered again, then again, coils twitching as though part of her were still attempting to flee.
He smiled. "It's all right," he said. "I won't hurt you."
"You're not going to eat me?" the snake asked.
Her entire body curled back towards him now. "Have you brought me anything to eat?"
"No," he said again with a soft laugh.
"Well if you're not going to eat me, and you haven't got anything for me to eat, what do you want?"
"I have water," he said, holding up the flask. "And I need a friend right now. May I sit?"
The snake moved aside, her manner none too gracious about it, and he took a seat on the stone next to her. He unscrewed the flask and poured some of the water into a hollow in the stone for the snake to drink. "What's your name?" he asked, after taking a long draught himself.
The snake looked up at him, her chin dripping water. She obviously didn't have the foggiest notion what he was talking about.
"What do they call you?" he said patiently.
"What does who call me?"
"The other snakes."
"I don't talk to other snakes. They might try to eat me, so whenever I see them, I hurry away."
He nodded. "That sounds wise."
"So what's your thing, then?"
"Your thing. That thing you asked me about. What the other snakes call you."
"Oh, my name, you mean?" He gave it over, then took another drink. "But I'm not a snake. I'm human. For now, anyway."
"I've seen others like you. Just a few, but I always hurry away from them, too. You're the first one I've ever talked to. I never knew they could talk to snakes."
"They can't." He held out a hand to the little creature. She hesitated for a moment, then curled her body around his palm and fingers and allowed herself to be lifted up. "I'm special."
"You seem nice," she said. "Even if you haven't brought me any food. Perhaps we can hunt together later. I know where we can find some mice."
"I'm hunting right now. But not for mice." He stroked the little snake's head, and she squirmed happily in his hand. "Maybe you can help me. Have you ever heard any stories about other humans coming into this forest?"
"I saw one a few days ago," the snake replied. "He did something to a quail that made it bleed, and then he carried it away."
"This would have been a very, very long time ago. Long before you were hatched. Two humans died in this forest."
He nodded. "Yes. I'm trying to find the place where they died. The exact place."
"What good will that do you now?" the snake asked. "If they died a very, very long time ago, they won't be any good to eat by now."
"I don't want to eat them," he said. "I want to see if I can find their bones."
The snake tilted her head. "Their bones? What are bones?"
He stifled an irritated sigh. This snake was either very young or very stupid, perhaps both. He drew his wand with his free hand and glanced around the clearing. There was a burst of green light, and a starling tumbled from a nearby tree. With another wave of his wand, he stripped the bird of its feathers and flesh until only its skeleton remained. "Those are bones," he said.
The snake unwound herself from his hand and slithered to the bird's remains. She examined the skeleton from every angle, tongue darting in and out of her mouth. After several minutes of careful study, she made her way back to the rock. "That was wasteful," she scolded. "Someone could have made a good meal of that."
"My apologies," he murmured.
"I know where some of these can be found," the snake said. "I didn't know what they were called, but I have seen some before."
"Oh, yes?" He bent to scoop the snake up again with fingers that trembled with excitement. "Can you show me where they are?"
"If you promise me something in return," she said.
He was already on his feet. "What would you like? A mouse?"
"No. Well, yes. I would also like a mouse. But what I really want is one of those name things you were talking about. Would you give me one of those?"
"If you can show me where the bones are," he said, tucking the snake into one of his pockets, "I'll not only give you the greatest name a snake ever had, but an entire nest of mice."
"One at a time will do," the snake said. "Let's go."
It didn't take long to reach their destination. Fifteen minutes later, he stepped out of the edge of the forest onto a narrow dirt road. Ahead was a small roadside inn. A donkey was tied to a rail in front, its nose down in the grass. The breeze carried a tempting whiff of roasted meat.
"What is this?" he asked, stopping short. "Where are we?"
"This is it," the snake said.
"This is what?"
"This is where the bones are."
A wave of disappointment made his shoulders droop. "No, this isn't what I'm looking for," he said.
"It is," the snake insisted. "Look." She jabbed her head in the direction of a wooden sign standing alongside the inn. It was inscribed with a few words in a language he was unable to understand, though he assumed it was the name of this particular inn. Below the writing, in white paint that had faded considerably over the years, was an image of two crossed bones.
"There," the snake said. "What did I tell you?"
The inn served a decent potato and cabbage soup, and the bed was comfortable enough to get a good night's sleep. He carried none of the local currency, but this was not a problem; it was easy enough to Obliviate the owner every morning so if he had to return in the evening it would be as if the man were meeting him for the first time. He smuggled the snake in and out in his pocket every day. She slept curled up on a spare pillow in his room, and the owner was delighted to notice a sudden and mysterious reduction in the mouse population in his establishment.
Every morning, he left the inn with the expectation that they would not be returning. He continued his search of the forest for a few days, until he had to admit he would likely never find the exact spot on his own. He began to make oblique inquiries of other guests at the inn, but most of these were fellow travellers who knew as little about the surrounding area as he did himself. The employees proved no more knowledgeable; most were members of the owner's family and cared little for anything unrelated to the business of running the inn. No help there.
He next began to walk the countryside. He stopped at each small farm along the way, asking for information, coercing the famers and their families with magic if they refused to talk without it, altering memories as he went so as not to draw unwanted attention to himself. He gained very little for his efforts beyond a sunburn and the longing looks of several of the farmers' daughters, and had to spend a good portion of every evening listening to the snake complain about being cooped up in his pocket all day.
"And when are you going to give me the name you promised me?" she asked in petulant tones at least once a day. "I kept my end of the bargain. It's not my fault the bones I showed you weren't the ones you were looking for."
One morning, about two weeks after his arrival, he decided to try looking in the forest one more time. He attended to the owner's memory, and they started walking down the dirt road that led back into the heart of the forest. Ahead of them in the distance, a Muggle woman limped slowly along. Every few feet she would stop to add another stick or pine cone to the basket hanging from her arm. As they drew nearer, he could see her clothes were dusty, the skirt patched roughly in several spots along the hem. She didn't look up at the sound of his footsteps on the road behind her, indicating she either didn't hear him or didn't care. He glanced at her as he passed. The scarf tied around her head hid most of her face, but the bits he was able to see were wrinkled and careworn.
He continued walking until he was some ten or fifteen steps ahead of her, then drew his wand and whirled to face her with the Imperius Curse on his lips. She swayed in the road, nearly losing her balance, and dropped her burden of firewood to her feet.
"What are you doing?" asked the snake, popping her head out of his pocket. He ignored her and approached the old woman, the tip of his wand swirling in the air between them to allow him to both speak and understand her native language.
"You've lived here a long time, haven't you," he said.
She nodded serenely. "All my life," she replied in a thin, cracked voice. "I was born just over the hillside, there." She began to raise a pointed finger, but he cut her off in mid-gesture.
"You know all the stories, all the local legends." She nodded again. "I'm looking for a place in this forest where two lovers died many, many years ago. The man killed the woman, then killed himself."
"Oh, yes," she said. "My grandmother used to tell me the story. But they weren't lovers. The legend is he loved her and wanted to care for her, and her parents gave her to him in marriage. On the morning of their wedding day, she decided she couldn't go through with it. She stole his mother's priceless necklace and fled. He found her here, in this forest, and when she refused to return with him, he ended her life, then his own. He couldn't live without her."
He considered these words for a moment. The stories didn't quite match, but that could simply be a matter of the details getting blurred over time. In fact, given the vast amount of time that had passed since the incident took place, it was really rather remarkable the story had survived so well.
"Do you know where this is supposed to have occurred?" he asked.
"I know the general area. My friends and I used to play in that part of the forest when we were children."
She turned without speaking again and led them back into the forest. Her steps were steady and sure, treading across the undergrowth with no sign of the infirmity she had shown earlier. She looked to neither left nor right as they walked, and stopped only once, when they reached a fork in the forest path. "I have good memories of this place," she said. "This is where—"
"Keep moving," he said.
They walked on in silence, heading into a part of the forest he had never seen before. After another twenty minutes or so of walking, they picked their way across a series of flat stones that served as a crossing for a narrow stream, and climbed a hill studded with wildflowers. At the top was a circular clearing with a pointed, waist-high stone in the middle.
"This is the spot," she said, and his heart began to pound.
He moved quickly from tree to tree around the clearing, searching the area around the base of each for any sign of what he sought. There was nothing to be found near any of them, but he felt himself becoming more and more breathless with anticipation nonetheless.
The snake seemed to sense his growing excitement, as well. "Are the bones here?" she asked, wriggling out of his pocket and falling onto a soft pile of dead leaves. "Where are they? I want to see them."
"I don't know yet," he replied. "But they're nearby. I can feel it." He looked around one more time. The old woman stood off to the side, humming quietly to herself. Behind her stood the withered trunk of a long-dead tree. Only one of its branches remained, and this had snapped and fallen to the ground near the trunk's base. One end of this branch had completely rotted and melted away into dust. At the other end, a single healthy leaf sprouted from the branch, fluttering in the morning breeze.
He pushed the old woman aside so roughly she was knocked off her feet and pointed his wand at the leaf. "Finite Incantatem."
The Baron's charm had done its work. His body had fallen so only the upper half had been protected. He lay with his face toward the ground, bony fingers of one hand still wrapped around the hilt of the knife that had killed them both. Her skeleton, on the other hand, had been perfectly preserved from head to foot. Before he died the Baron had crossed her arms over her chest, and she lay on her back with her eyes toward the sky.
"You found them!" the snake said, slithering quickly across the grass. "I want to see."
But she might as well not have spoken for all the attention he paid her. He peered into the trunk of the tree, pushing aside the piles of dead leaves, matted pine needles, and dirt that had gathered at its base. His fingers brushed against something solid, and he allowed himself a great whoop of glee. More frenzied digging, a desperate blast of magic, and within moments he had uncovered the object he sought and held it with trembling hands.
It was caked with the dirt and muck of a millennium, yet still as beautiful as anything he had ever seen. He sat with it until mid-afternoon, stripping away the layers of mud and grime with alternating bursts of air and water from the tip of his wand, polishing the stones with the hem of his robes once the worst of the dirt was gone. It sparkled by the time he was finished, each stone glowing with a deep, brilliant fire as he turned it this way and that to admire it in the sunlight.
It was truly worthy of the purpose to which it was about to be put.
The old peasant woman died in a blaze of green light, and when he finally rose to his feet, he had his third precious Horcrux in his hands.
"What is that?" a familiar voice asked. He turned to see the snake had crawled the length of the skeleton and up into the skull. "It's very pretty."
He held the Horcrux up for show. "This is what I came for," he said. The snake poked her body through the skull's mouth like an obscene tongue, stretching herself out so she could see the thing more closely. He stared at the image she made, entranced, feeling as though it were the final piece to a puzzle he had been laboring to finish for years. "And I believe I have a name for you at last."
"You do?" The snake's tongue darted out of her mouth with excitement. "What is it?"
He plucked her from her perch and draped her around his neck so she would no longer have to ride in the pocket she found so offensive. The Horcrux would rest there instead.
"I told you I would give you the grandest name a snake ever had," he said, preparing to Apparate them back to London. It was time to talk to Mr Borgin again, to put the rest of his plans in motion, and the snake would be the perfect companion while he worked. He stroked her coils lovingly with the side of his finger. "From now on," he said, "your name is Morsmordre."