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47 Days to Change (a translation) @snow_owl01
Diagon Alley

Chapter 21

NOTE: This is a translation of a Chinese HP Fanfiction by 墨玉绿


March 30, 1936

Eventually, Ellie became a regular house guest at Number 15, London Street, where, hanging over the iron gates, there was a large wood-carved sign announcing their owner's name for all to see: Harry Potter.

Now, why was she coming over all the time? Why! — the answer was simple —because Tom invited her; because the boy had found her useful, a short-cut to achieve his goal.

With his usual perceptiveness, easily, the boy had figured out that Harry likes Ellie. Every time, when he brought the girl home, Harry would smile warmly at her and offer them cookies. Tom observed with cold indifference, as the young man bought cakes and sweets for his friend. Every time, when he watched them, an irritated beast would roar in his chest, hissing at the intruder, but Tom would always suppress his urges, while adjusting his mask to a polite smile before facing them.

He could tolerate her. For Harry's sake.

"Tom, where have you been today?" Harry frowned, as Tom hurriedly came in through the front door, removing his scarf as he walked.

The boy looked up at Harry with clear black eyes, so sincere that Harry felt bad for questioning him. Discretely, Tom ran his fingers along the snake wrapped around his arm, whose cold body was concealed under his coat.

He smiled sweetly. "Ellie invited me over to her house."

Harry relaxed. "Oh, great. Are you hungry? I made dinner."

"I'm starving. Thanks, Harry," The handsome little boy nodded eagerly. Casually, he tossed the scarf, which was stained with some mysterious, foul-smelling liquid, into a basket filled with a large pile of laundry. Unnoticed by all, limestone dust fell from his sleeves, fine grey powders drifting onto hardwood floor, dust that had traveled all the way from some far, damp, dark cave.

Even though he was only seven years old, Tom knew how to take advantage of all the usable things around him— even people.

The little girl was busy dreaming— dreaming of princes and princesses, dreaming of the boy, of his perfect smile and gallant chivalry. She was too busy dreaming to notice that, to him, she was no more than a useable tool and a convenient excuse.

"Tom, I'm going to marry you when I grow up," she proclaimed loudly, face shiny with hope and innocence.

Under the orange glow of the setting sun, a boy and a girl were walking along a winding path, side-by-side, step-by-step, as they promised eternal devotion to one another. First love, sweet like tangerines, perfect like all the happily-ever-afters in fairytales.

"You are not all grown up."

"I will be! In no time— very soon — very quickly —"

The dark-haired boy smiled in response, but his beautiful black eyes were mirthless, ominous.

Tom was very mature for his age. Compared to the other children, he had an unusually profound understanding of 'marriage' — and he knew that he hates it. At the orphanage, Franny the fat nanny had described Tom's mother with utter disgust: "Oh, she was alone and pregnant, without a husband. Wandering like a tramp on the streets. Probably one of those tavern wrenches— you know— the ones thrown away by their husbands."

Tom never pitied his mother. Quite the opposite, he despised her. He despised her for being weak, for being a woman who only lived for love and marriage, and who died with shame and absolutely nothing. She was stupid, weak!

He doesn't need bonds or limitations or marriage. Power is all he needs!

All Marches and Aprils of spring were cool like morning dew, with the thermometer's silver mercury hovering about 10℃. In the damp cave, the air was chilling, cutting to the bone. In the darkness, there was only silence; one could even hear drips of every water condensation.

"Thissss... is not enough," the boy hissed, a quiet sound like snakes slithering in tall grass, barely audible but bloodcurdling in implications.

The snake reared her head and inspected the numerous, white skeletal faces submerged in the lake. She murmured.

"Looks plenty to me."

"Not in term of quality... Not enough... I need more powerful inferi."

The snake nodded in understanding. She replied confidently, "This place is suitable for raising Inferi... Let them stay for ten or twenty yearssss, they'll become powerful."

"Not good enough. The wait is too long."

Climbing onto precious quartz crystals, Tom inspected the isolated little island in the distance. His pupils flashed, a rich full darkness like moonless midnights. No one knew what the boy was planning, not even the snake always by his side.

Of course, the viper wasn't worrying about the future. She just wanted to find a solution for Tom's demands.

"Ooooh! Tom! Inferi made from wizards are much more powerful— "

The boy listened. Immediately, the first thing that he thought about is Harry. Up to this point in his life, Tom had only met one wizard — Harry Potter.

His dark eyes narrowed. Without hesitation, he removed Harry from the list of options.

Something stirred up the inferi from their rests. They poked their heads through the lake's calm surface, gaunt faces like mummies, ragged bodies slick with foul-smelling fluid, pale muscles half-eroded and distorted, frozen in their moment of death, in that horrified and twisted expression right before they were dragged under and transformed. Two black, gaping holes replaced where the eyes supposed to be.

The boy shoved his hands into his pocket, as he inspected his pets casually.

He doesn't want to make Harry into an inferius... He doesn't want to see the man's beautiful green eyes and captivating smile transform into those disgusting creatures. Not even one bit.

"Where... where can I find more wizards?"

"I... I don't know," the snake replied weakly. Her primordial memories all came from her family's ancestral lives in the unexplored, dark, magical forest. She never cared much about the wizarding and muggle worlds, so she never knew how to move between the two. Actually, she didn't even remember how she ended up in London.

Er... not by the tube, that's for sure.

"I think you should ask Harry. He'll know."

Harry? The boy pursed his lips.

Harry was a very kind man. He had infinitely patience for the boy.

"Of course, I'll take you," the young man smiled, green eyes unfocused and drowsy, black hair dishevelled, since he has just woken up. Wind-swept bangs flung aside to reveal an odd, lightning-shaped scar. Tom was very curious about the scar. But his instincts told him to not inquire after it.

Harry was more than happy to grant Tom's request. He remembered the first time he visited Diagon Alley — how happy he was— to enter that wonderful, mysterious, magical Wizarding world. He remembered curiosity and excitement ballooning in his chest as he walked down the magical street; how awe has coloured the memories of his first year with honey-golden sweetness. Ah, he might be getting nostalgic.

"The first time I saw Diagon Alley, it was amazing—" Harry recalled. His thick cotton coat was a tad loose on his slender frame, although it looked oddly charming.

Tom raised an eyebrow. This was the first time Harry mentioned his childhood.

"Harry, did you grow up in a wizarding family?" Tom asked, watching Harry's reaction closely.

The young man paused, before, quickly, he broke out a cheerful grin. "Nope, I grew up with Muggles. Muggles are non-magical people, by the way—"

"So... your parents aren't magical?"

"... Well, no. They are magical. Very powerful wizard and witch."

"Then... why did you grow up with Muggles?" Tom asked quietly.

The child looked up at Harry, dark eyes searching his smiling face, almost accusing as if the boy managed to see right through his false cheerfulness.

Harry stared at the child's calm face, suddenly he felt nervous. He licked his lips.

"Hey, look! The traffic cleared. Let's go—"

Tom's eyes flashed, but he didn't ask again.

As they walked together, Harry smiled wryly. Why did he grow up with Muggles? Because his parents are gone. Why were they gone? Because you murdered them. Only moments like this... it reminded Harry of the fate of the little boy who walked in front of him — in the future, he is Voldemort, Harry's mortal enemy.

"Harry, are we there yet?" The seven-year-old asked eagerly. Whenever he turned to face Harry, Tom was careful to appear suitably excited and fervent, black eyes gleaming with childish wonders.

"Not yet," Harry replied, ruffling the boy's hair playfully. He smiled again, this time the smile was genuine.

In the future, he is Voldemort, the enemy... But now is not the future. Right now, he was still a little boy, with a propensity for childhood silliness and softness. There was still hope for the future.

Somewhere on Charing Cross Road in London, there was a broken-down, old pub. So ordinary that Tom wouldn't have paid it any attention if Harry hadn't pointed it out to him.

Tom followed Harry closely, as the young man deftly navigated between crammed tables of oddly-dressed wizards and empty bottles, walking straight pass the dusty bar counter toward an empty courtyard in the back.

"Muggle clothing?... Nah, ain't no Muggles able to see this place," an old wizard with terrible teeth murmured. He slammed an empty mug on the counter and hollered at an ancient-looking bartender. "TOM! — bring on another pint."

Behind Harry, the boy stiffed slightly. Through the corner of his eyes, he gave the hunched-over bartender a scornful glance.

"Tab again?" The bartender grumbled. Impatiently, he filled the mug and slid it across the counter. Foaming amber liquid swirled wildly, but, oddly, none spilled.

Tom is such an ordinary name. Practically three out of every ten British men are named Tom... Tom sneered, as he observed the weak, old bartender who shared his name.

Tom... Him too, hmm?

Clearly, Harry also heard his name being called. He patted Tom's thin shoulders reassuringly, and gave him a brilliant smile. "No matter if your name is Tom or Sam or whatever. Just remember, you are only yourself."

No matter if your name is Tom or Voldemort, you are always yourself to me.

"Thanks," came the boy's sullen reply, as he sulked behind Harry.

Harry thought his reaction was quite cute. He couldn't help but ruffle Tom's hair again, messing up the child's perfectly-coiffed hair on purpose. "Cheer up! We are here — entering Diagon Alley."

Tom knew not to overplay his hand. Love and sympathy also required patience, and it was best not to test Harry's patience... just yet. He looked around the small walled courtyard and frowned. It didn't look like much, no more than four meters wide, chipped brick walls, with nothing but a trash can and a few weeds.

Harry walked up to a red-brick wall. He tapped the wall three times with his wand.

"Three up... two across," he told Tom.

Harry stepped back. Suddenly, the bricks came alive, they wiggled and moved backward, and an archway appeared before Tom, revealing a whole new world to the child.

Lively, noisy, crowded, real and magical — this was their world.

"Welcome to Diagon Alley," Harry announced, smiling at Tom's amazement. The boy's face was just as bright as Harry's when Hagrid first introduced him to the wizarding world. He felt proud, happy. This was home.

Unexpectedly, Tom was stunned into silence by the sights in front of him. He stared blankly. His eyes focused on the young man's smiling face, who, standing among the foggy backdrop of old Victorian houses, seemed to be glowing with an enigmatic, soft, rosy beauty.

Like imprinting of baby chicks, like how Harry became attached to Hagrid, the first-magical folk he met— Tom, too, was experiencing an inexplicable emotional transformation. Something was growing deep inside his heart, something powerful that'll come to shake his worldview entirely. His very soul trembled in anticipation.

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