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With the apparent mystery curse ended, the boy sat in bed quietly while he ate his dinner. The entire thing, although much of it had vanished from his memory, had been very frightening and he wondered just who he had angered enough for it to have occurred. Of course the second year Slytherin boy was a prime suspect, but the first year was fairly certain that the slightly older boy couldn’t possibly know enough to do what had occurred.

Thaddeus Williams reached for the glass of pumpkin juice that was intended to wash down the meal and sighed as he realized that it was nearly empty. A pitcher of the liquid sat on a stand just out of his reach and he knew that he couldn’t possibly reach it by leaning out of bed. His wand was out of the question as well as it hung uselessly in the pocket of his robe, a robe that was secured in the cupboard of the room.

He glanced hopefully at the door to his room, wishing that one of the healers or a nurse would enter the chamber to assist him. They had given him firm instructions to remain in bed and he wanted to do just that. Perhaps he could reach it by leaning out of the bed. It wasn’t truly as far as it appeared, or so he hoped, as a fall from the bed would likely result in broken bones and a slightly longer stay here at St. Mungos.

The boy, his mind made up and his stomach not quite full; leaned over to stretch his arm out for the vessel. His fingers could just touch the stand that it rested on and he felt certain that he could grasp it enough to pull it towards him. All that he needed to do was to lean a bit farther out and the prize would be his.

‘Accio stand,” he announced as he remembered what to say.

The stand apparently didn’t understand that it was intended to move towards him or the attempted required the use of a wand because nothing happened. The stand remained where it was and the pitcher stubbornly where it had been placed. Not to be dissuaded, Thaddeus leaned out once again and was pleased to feel his fingertips gain more purchase on the corner of the stand. He tightened the grip of his fingers on the edge and felt the piece of furniture move slightly towards the bed and his triumph.

It was almost within easy grasp and the boy, growing impatient, leaned a bit farther out to pull it towards him. Apparently it was too far a lean because he felt the bed suddenly tip and then he was falling towards the floor and broken bones. He clenched his eyes tight in anticipation of the impact and was highly surprised at the soft contact that he made at the conclusion of the drop. He opened his eyes to look around at surroundings that did not resemble his hospital room at all. The place that he was in had a strange, almost organic appearance to it and he could smell an earthy aroma that was very unpleasant. A strange breeze that would blow and then stop only to repeat its action again pushed past him and the ground under his feet was extremely wet.

He walked away from where he had landed and towards a dark, nearly frightening cavern that he could see dimly. Abruptly he jumped to one side as a strange serpentine object brushed past his bare feet and he looked down to try to determine just what it was. The darkness revealed nothing about his companion and he hurried away from it, not wishing to have anything more to do with the unknown.

“Hello?” he suddenly cried out. “Is anyone here?”

“Thaddeusssss! It is I, I am hereee!”

The strange voice was eerily familiar and he backed away in alarm as he recognized the voice as the one from his nightmare.

“Who are you? What do you want?” he screamed as if in defiance while his courage began to fail him.

“Who I am is not important! What I want issss!”

“W-what do you want?”

“What I already haveeee!”

“What is that?”

“You!”

It was then that the writhing thing on the floor of the chamber suddenly wrapped around him and he realized, to his horror, that it was a tongue. It tightened around him in an impossible number of coils that stretched from his lower legs to constrict his chest and arms before it then dragged him off of his feet and towards the dark space before him. He screamed in panic as he was pulled down a pulsating tube that ended abruptly in a dark and horrible place that reminded him very much of the stories that he had heard about dungeons. There he was released to find himself trapped in a small room populated by the skeletal remains of unfortunates that had been here long before he had arrived. He turned back towards the portal that he had entered through to find a familiar figure standing before him.

“Who are you?”

“I have already told you, Thaddeusssss, who I am isss not important!”

“Let me go, my parents shall be furious!”

“Perhapsss, but I really think that you should look over thereee.”

The gaze of the boy turned to follow the arm that had directed his attention and he screamed when he realized that the ruined corpses that occupied that wall were those of his parents. They lay there, arms bound by shackles and hung above their heads so that they could not move. Chains bound their legs to the wall as well and they sat silently, their heads hanging so that their faces were not visible.

“Mother? Father?” Thaddeus cried out as he approached the devastated remains.

“Yesss, Ssson, we are hereeee!”

The heads of the remains rose and he recoiled as he beheld the red eyes that blazed back at him and the serpentine tongues that flicked forward from their mouths. A slow rambling motion ensued as the things that had been his parents rose to their feet to stand in front of him, the rattling of the chains that bound them adding to the horrifying scenario.

“What have you done to them?” he screamed as he threw himself at the figure that now stood near him as it flung its insane laughter at the ceiling of the chamber. He hurled himself forward and could only wonder as he passed through the figure to fall through empty space.

A moment later, the crash of the hospital bed onto the floor and the impact with the tile brought him to the realization that he was in his room. He cried out in pain as he felt ribs break and then the stand next to the bed fell upon him to add its wounds to the ones that he had already received. Almost instantly the door to the room was flung open as several healers and nurses, as well as his parents, rushed into the chamber. They rushed to the side of the stricken child as he trembled through a convulsion and then his eyes went blank as his mind retreated to someplace where they doubted that it would ever return from. His consciousness collapsed in on itself and the last thing that he truly heard before his mind abandoned him was the sound of maniacal laughter intertwined with the hissing of a great serpent.

“What is it?” the mother of the boy shrieked as her child went limp in her arms.

“His mind, it has totally collapsed,” a healer announced as an attempt at Legilimency failed horribly.

Tom sat up abruptly in his bed while the woman wailed out her anguish. He had seen it, he had seen it all and it terrified him! The boy, Thaddeus Williams, had been cast into madness and would likely never be able to crawl out of the dark pit that he had been thrown into. His mind had crumbled under the assault and now he represented a threat no longer.

The dark haired boy could feel the fact that he was bathed with sweat from head to foot and this frightened him. He now had nothing to fear from the boy, but he was afraid, afraid that a door had been opened that he could never close. Hurling hot soup onto someone was one thing, but this, this was something far beyond that and far reaching for its victim. Tom whimpered as he climbed out of bed to walk out of the dorm to make his way to the Slytherin Common Room where he nearly collapsed onto the couch that rested in the center of the room. A large portrait of Salazar dominated the room and seemed to glare down on him as he sat with head hung.

'What have I done?’ he thought to himself. ‘What have I done and what will happen next? Will they know who is responsible for this and send me away? Will they send me to some dark place to wither, rot and die?’

Tears fell from his eyes as he sat on that lonely couch in front of a fire that normally would have been comforting. But it offered no succor to him and he glanced up at the portrait of the founder while Salazar glared down at him. Boy and founder regarded one another for a long moment and it was Tom that finally broke the staring match to speak.

“You know what I did, do you not?”

The portrait continued to gaze at him, offering no words of guidance, support or rebuke, and Tom was left to his thoughts for a long while until he finally rose to walk back to his bed. He closed the door behind him and slipped back into bed while his mind replayed what had happened to his victim and something that he had seen but the meaning of which was eluding him. He had seen something, but what, what had he seen that troubled him now more than what had happened to the other boy? Tom fell back to sleep as the wonder went through his mind and awoke in the hovel once again.

The girl that he had seen before toiled over the cleaning of dishes in an ancient pan that had obviously seen many such chores. Chipped and cracked dishes that were covered with the remnants of past meals sat on the counter beside her and she labored to clean them in the absence of the two men who also lived in the home. From time to time, he noticed, she would pause in her chore to gaze longingly out through the filthy window at the fine house that surmounted the hill. No doubt, he thought, she would have given anything that she possessed to even have a chance to look inside the home but that chance was extremely unlikely.

Another bowl joined those that had been scrubbed and placed off to one side to dry. Tom could clearly see that it was not completely clean; it definitely would not have passed Mrs. Cole’s inspection, but the girl seemed satisfied with it and she turned her attention to the next. While she worked she hummed a nameless tune and it startled Tom. He could swear that he had heard it before and suddenly realized that it was one that he himself had hummed on occasion. The boy watched the girl for a moment longer and was just as startled as she when the door slammed open and the old man entered, followed by his younger fellow.

“Why are you still working on those dishes, Merope? I told you to have them finished before I returned! Have you been dawdling again? Well, do not just sit there and stare, answer me, girl!”

“I just stopped for a moment, Father, my arm was tired.”

“If you were any use, you would have been able to use your wand to clean them! How is it that I am surrounded by an idiot and a useless squib?”

Before the girl could answer the rather terrible question the old man advanced on her and struck her hard across the face with the hand that bore the ring.

'The ring,' Tom thought in his dream.  'The ring is what I wanted to see. Something about it draws me, something that I have seen before, but where? Where have I seen this thing that grasps my attention and refuses to release me?'

The girl spun under the impact to land on her backside on the floor where she curled into a ball in preparation for the next attack while the idiot laughed at her misfortune.

“Get those dishes clean before I return again, Merope!” the old man screamed at his daughter. “And be certain to have something worth eating on the table when I return or you shall get more of that.”

“More of that you get,” the idiot chimed in before breaking into laughter as he and the older man left the room.

The door slammed behind them and it was a long while before the girl rose from her place on the floor to resume her duties. Abruptly her head jerked upwards towards a sound coming through the window and she paused to watch as a young man rode by on a horse, not giving the hovel or its occupants any attention other than a look of disgust. She watched until he was out of sight and the sound of his horse had faded into silence. Then and only then did she return to what she was doing while she hummed that tune only stopping to once again look out at the rode where the rider had been and utter a single word.

“Someday!”

The dream faded, as dreams do, but the boy would wake the next morning clearly seeing everything that had transpired.

‘The ring, it is the key, if I can find where I have seen it before I can learn what I need to know.’

He hurried to climb out of bed and then rush to the showers to prepare for the day’s classes. There was no time to waste and his chums were slightly put off by the fact that he brushed aside their greetings as he dressed and then raced out of the common room to make his way to the Great Hall. Students were already gathering for the morning meal and all were surprised to see the faculty already at the High Table and speaking to each other in low tones. Clearly something important was going on and all wondered what sort of announcement would be made that would affect them.

Molly entered the chamber with her friends and Tom was stunned to see her face red and her eyes puffy. Clearly she had been crying and he wondered who was responsible for hurting her. They would pay, whoever they were, he would make certain of it, he thought with anger.

When everyone seemed to be in attendance Professor Dippet rose and walked to the lectern as the room fell silent. This was an uncommon occurrence, the headmaster addressing the students at breakfast, and all wondered what was going on.

“I have been given the sad duty to inform you that last night Hogwarts lost a first year student after an unfortunate accident. As you may be aware, Thaddeus Williams from Hufflepuff suffered yesterday what seemed to be a seizure of some sort which required that he be sent to St. Mungos for treatment. During his stay at the hospital, he suffered a second episode which was far more severe than the one that occurred here at Hogwarts. I am told that the episode was quite horrific to witness and all were grateful when he seemed to once again recover. At some point last night he apparently suffered yet another seizure and fell from his bed with that piece of furniture and another falling upon him. While that would not normally be serious other than the injuries that one can expect from a fall, I am told that his mind has collapsed and that, although they have tried all measures at their disposal, there is very little chance that he will recover from this unfortunate incident.”

Tom watched as several girls, and a number of boys, around the room either cried openly or brushed tears away from their faces at the news. He could see Molly clearly and she was among the students who were weeping brokenheartedly. Carol was doing her best to comfort the girl while also trying bravely to hold back her own anguish.

“To that end, I am excusing classes for today to allow those among you who are most affected to regain your composure. The professors and staff are available for those students who wish to speak to someone about this tragedy and their feelings. When you are finished with your meal you may go about your day as you wish but I will caution all to show some respect in light of this event.”

The students watched in silence as the diminutive headmaster turned and walked back to his chair. Only once he was seated did conversation resume, although it was restrained and barely above a whisper.

“Hey, Tom,” a whispered hail reached him and he turned to see Abraxas looking at him intently.

“What?”

“Was he part of the lot that went into the lower levels?”

“Yes, he was one of them.”

“I guess that perhaps he got a little more than scared.”

Tom looked at the wolfish gaze on the face of the pale boy and then nodded silently before turning his attention to the breakfast that had appeared. Molly was sitting at the table, refusing to eat and instead expending her energy weeping. As he watched, the girl rose and hurried out of the room with her face in her hands and Carol in pursuit. Tom put down his fork and rose to follow the pair, despite the insistent urging from his friends to stay. He walked out of the room and hurried in the direction that the girls had taken, finding them sitting on a bench in one of the corridors.

Carol looked up as Tom approached and the look in her eyes told him that she didn’t welcome his presence. This didn’t dissuade him because he was here for Molly and didn’t care what the other girl thought.

“Is there anything that I can do, Molly?”

“Please leave, Tom, I am with her and I think that we shall be just fine,” Carol answered with considerable venom.

“I wanted to talk to Molly, not you,” he responded.

“Leave now, Tom Riddle, she does not need your kind, now or ever.”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Everyone knows that you were one of the four that told them to go into the lower levels, Tom! You sent first years looking for pixies in a dungeon? Just who is the hopeless git now? It was cruel and ignorant on your part and Molly can do far better than you!”

“I want to hear that from her, Carol.”

“Do you really, Tom? Do you really want to hear her tell you that she does not want to see you again?”

“Let her decide, Carol.”

“STOP IT!”

Tom and Carol stopped to see Molly glaring at them both with pain and fury clear in her features.

“STOP TALKING ABOUT ME LIKE I AM NOT RIGHT HERE! I AM PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF DECIDING WHAT I WANT AND WHO I WANT TO BE WITH! YOU ARE BOTH MY FRIENDS, BUT IF YOU DO NOT STOP RIGHT NOW I NEVER WANT TO SEE OR SPEAK TO EITHER OF YOU AGAIN!”

The blonde girl rose abruptly and then raced away from the scene, leaving the speechless pair behind her. Tom and Carol looked at each other with animosity before the girl rose to follow her friend.

“Leave us alone, Tom!”

Tom watched as the girl hurried to follow Molly as anger grew within him. Carol was interfering with him and Molly and he didn’t like it one bit. Clearly something had to be done, but he wasn’t sure that he wanted it to go as far as it had with Thaddeus. If something like that happened again the Ministry was likely to look into it and then it could lead back to him.

He hadn’t intended for it to go as far as it had with the boy, but his emotions had gotten the better of him and he had lashed out uncontrollably. It couldn’t happen again, he knew that, he had to be much more careful with what he could do before someone caught on to his responsibility in the matter of Thaddeus’ problems.

Giving up for the moment until he was certain that he could be alone with Molly, Tom walked down a corridor that he visited only very rarely. The walls were full of portraits and he was not surprised to see yet another of Salazar Slytherin, as one of the four founders he had a high presence among the portraits and the boy stopped to examine the artwork. While he gazed at the portrait be noticed something that he had never seen before and it drew his attention instantly.

A gold locket on a chain hung around the neck of the wizard in the portrait and the sight of it transfixed the boy. To be a founder of a place like Hogwarts and also have fine things like the locket must have been a pinnacle in the life of Slytherin. This is what Tom wanted, he knew that his mother had died during his birth and his father had no place in his life, save his surname, but the boy wanted more. He wanted to be remembered for as long as the founder before him had been, in fact, he wanted to live forever. To be undying, immortal, the most powerful wizard in the history of their world, that was what Tom Riddle wanted and somewhere in this castle, perhaps in his training, the answer to that desire lay.

He turned and walked away from the portrait, secure in his desires but puzzled by his present and near future. How could he have all that he wanted while also being tied to the girl? Did Molly Porter have a place in his future or would she have to be cast aside eventually? He walked down one of the many corridors in Hogwarts castle thinking about what he wanted for himself and questioning what he would have to surrender to achieve it.
 

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