47 Days to Change (a translation) @snow_owl01
Waiting For Me

Chapter 24

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

BETA: the brilliant and awesome AzulticSerpens

parseltongue

December, 1938

December of 1938 was cold and fickle. Once again, snow was falling in anticipation of a white Christmas. Another winter, another year coming to pass. It seemed that God was rather fond of this frigid weather, as snow and sleet had been hanging over Britain for months, merciless with gloomy dark clouds.

Hogwart's grey courtyard and stone walls were blanketed with snow. A vast whiteness as far as the eye could see; undisturbed fresh ground where the snow redirected the sunlight into a blinding brightness that flashed at passersby. And, at midnight, silver moonlight reflected from white cloaked forest, granting the castle a mysterious glow.

At that moment, the castle was silent. Nearly everyone was in deep sleep —even the ghosts, who drifted quietly around the ceilings, pretended to partake in the rituals of their passed living days. Only Peeves the Poltergeist was up to his old antics, howling about the empty hallways, unnoticed by people and ghosts alike.

In the Slytherin Common Room, a fire was still dancing in the marble fireplace. The flame wasn't very bright, but under its heat, glowing embers crackled viciously.

Next to the warm fire, Tom sat with a piece of blank parchment in front of him, feathered quill hovering above its surface, tentative as his mind pondered the mystery of his previous letters. None of which had ever received a reply. His face was frozen in place, seemingly calm and expressionless; but his fists were tight with furious, long-repressed resentment. Once again, after months of strained suppression, that familiar simmering darkness was bubbling up to the surface.

Hogwarts was an isolated, private school. There were almost no means to reach the outside world, other than those stupid, slow owls.

Tom glowered at the poor trembling owl hiding in the candelabra. He crushed the quill in his hand.

It snapped easily. Black ink spurted out and coated his pale fingers.

The boy took a deep breath. Then, he waved his wand and fixed everything with a simple reparo.

He gulped in the cool air, frenzied as a drowning man, until his vicious expression fell away to a cold emptiness.

He felt calmer now, although he was never truly calm. As his cool, calculating mind returned, he started to write, quill scratching against parchment paper with unnecessary force.

The words came pouring out of him, because he had composed the same letter so many times... and his hopes were dashed so many times, as, one after another, the owls had all returned from London with nothing. As words appeared in neat rows of elaborate cursive, the quill's nib attacked the paper in his vicious anger, black ink soaking through thick parchment. His handsome face became twisted with the same rage that came pouring out of his hand, but, very quickly, he cleared his mind once again.

He was getting better at pretending.

Still, the thought of that man was almost enough to make him lose his temper. From September first to mid December, thoughts of that man had never really left his mind. Yet, Harry never wrote to him. Not even once.

Tom fidgeted. But he could do no more than wait, wait until the owls came back with more empty disappointment. Right now, all he wanted to do was to wring the man's neck for ignoring his letters, but ... he couldn't. So Tom had learned to suppress his rage. Right now, he was not powerful enough to demand for more.

So he wrote, with stiff and polite words. Pleading. Addressing that man with all the concerns of a devoted son.

"Dearest Harry:

This is the twelfth letter I've sent to you in the past three months. If and when you read this, do kindly send along a reply. Please let me know if you are well or busy.

I have been sorted into Slytherin, as I have mentioned to you for the twelfth time. The Slytherin house is located in the dungeon— did you know that? In the winter, the dungeon can get awfully cold. Is it also cold at home? Hopefully, you do remember to take advantage of heating charms. Do remember to take care of yourself.

I wish that they would teach us the heating charm already. I bet that would really come in handy right now—"

He paused, then sneered at the childishness of his blatant lie. With a twist of his wand, he threw a perfectly cast heating charm on his chair.

What would Harry's reaction be when he sees the letter? Maybe the man would send along warm clothing or a hand-drawn diagram with an elaborate explanation on the heating charm.

That is... if Harry sees the letter at all. As Tom recalled his previously unanswered letters all eleven of them his expression darkened once more.

He remembered the train station, how Harry had smiled at him with warm green eyes, promising, "I'll be waiting for you to return home."

As his writing filled the long parchment, Tom sat still in the empty common room, pouring over every phrase with great care. His young face was sullen, his eyes incensed, and his chest trembled with something that was part hatred and part dread. He almost couldn't breathe as he finished the letter. Finally, he let all his long-suppressed emotions bubble to the surface, all dark desires and lies and fears, crawling along his nerves toward the quill's nib. And so, with trembling hands, he poured his resentment and insecurities into one last sentence.

He gave Harry Potter one last warning—

"Lastly, Harry, remember what you have promised me— you said that you are waiting for me to return home. I hope to see you soon.

Sincerely yours,

Tom Marvolo Riddle."

Diligently, Tom put the letter into an envelope and wrote out his home address in green ink. He tied the letter to the leg of the frightened owl. Then he went out to the hallways, up the long-winding stairs, and opened a window. Outside, a snow storm was brewing. Tom took one look at the cruel white storm, then at the shivering little owl in his arm. He nodded, then swiftly tossed the poor creature out the window.

It was almost to Christmas holiday. Soon, the school would be empty, students returning home to be with their families.

You said you were waiting for me to return home.

Tom bit his lips, then smiled to himself. Although his face was young and beautiful, there was nothing cheery about his smile — it was all sharp teeth and cruel dark eyes, so sinister and frightening that the little owl took one look at him and zoomed away like a rocket toward London.

Life at Hogwarts seemed to revolve around homework and timetables.

Every morning, breakfast was at the same time, at the same place.

The Slytherins' breakfast tended to be a bit more sumptuous than most. Legend has it... that many years ago, some pure-bloods grew unsatisfied with Hogwart's traditional menu, so they sent some of their own house-elves to Hogwarts, as a separate force that catered exclusively to Slytherins.

Tom didn't know if that was true... not that he cared. Sensual pleasure of the taste was brief, fleeting, so it never interested him.

He was in the middle of finishing a pudding, when someone patted him on the shoulder.

"Hello, Tom!"

Tom's eyebrows furrowed in annoyance, but when he turned around, his face was bright and friendly.

"Good morning, Professor Slughorn," the handsome boy greeted politely, white teeth gleaming beneath a wide smile.

It was obvious that Slughorn favoured him. Clearly the man had thought this little boy was someone with a bright future that he could collect.

"Say, Tom, why are you all by yourself?" Slughorn asked with false concern, pretending to inspect the empty seats around Tom with confusion.

Of course, as Slughorn had expected, he saw Tom lower his head in shame.

"Professor, you know I'm a half-blood and so... I'm not exactly popular...here."

After nearly three months at Hogwarts, the boy had grown more than familiar with the rules and games of Slytherin society.

Professor Slughorn waved his hands dismissively, his walrus-like moustaches shaking with his movements, fat belly juggling up and down. He exclaimed with animated friendliness, "AH! But— even half-bloods can be great!"

What a scheming, vain old fool! As if Tom couldn't deduce the implications behind his false charity...

As Tom watched Slughorn's retreating form, he sneered. Out of all the Professors, the head of Slytherin was among the most cunning, but also the most obvious.

He was cunning because he knew the value of maximizing investments— extending a hand to someone at the low point of his life, and thus, winning his gratitude and loyalty with minimum effort.

Also, he was obvious because, compared to the other professors, everyone knew what Slughorn was after. The more his inner desires became exposed, the easier it was for someone to use his own greed against him. Yet, Slughorn was set on his old-school methods, scheming in the most obvious ways. Rather stupid for a Slytherin, really—

Professor Slughorn strode leisurely toward the high-table, quite contented with the crop of new students. He thought to himself, how wonderfully sweet are children, for they are so gullible.

What he didn't know was that one of those "children" was laughing at him behind his back.

Idiot, Tom sneered, as he dabbed a napkin at the comer of his mouth. Then, he got up and slinked away quietly.

The first class of the morning was Transfiguration.

Although by now he could recite his timetable backwards, Tom still diligently checked his books and schedule. His eyes lingered on the name beside Transfiguration — Professor Albus Dumbledore, and he tsked with disdain.

He had never liked the auburn-haired professor. Oh, the man was intelligent, no doubt, a competent teacher... but Tom couldn't figure him out, which meant he was also dangerous.

Tom had known the man even before he had started school, when Dumbledore visited his London home with Tom's Hogwarts letter in hand. The tall wizard had been dressed in an absurdly bright plaid jacket, auburn-beard braided in front of his chest.

He'd greeted them with a friendly smile, blue-eyes twinkling, "My name is Professor Albus Dumbledore. May I speak to Mr. Tom Riddle?"

Dumbledore — instantly, that name had rung a bell in Tom's head. He recalled how that name had appeared in every document in Harry's study. He recalled how Harry used to shut himself inside his study, secluded and secretive as he worked on endless plans of Dumbledore's army.

At first, he thought those two must've known each other. He had even noticed Harry turning misty-eyed when he shook the old man's hand, yet... it seemed that Dumbledore didn't recognize Harry at all.

"My boy, are you alright?" Dumbledore had asked with concern. The young man's eyes had been unexpectedly red-rimmed, but nonetheless Dumbledore had felt a genuine fondness from the dark-haired stranger as they shook hands.

"I'm fine, sir... It's just... It's just you reminded me of my mentor," Harry replied fondly.

Indeed, their formality implied that they did not know each other.

After just one minute of brief interaction, Tom could tell that Professor Dumbledore quite liked Harry and Harry, too, admired the older wizard very much. It was almost as if they had an instant connection, something like a newly-formed friendship that excluded Tom. Tom gritted his teeth. He'd always hated when new people came into their lives and took away Harry's attention, because a boy like Tom should never be ignored... And since he couldn't take his anger out on Harry, he had grown to hate Professor Dumbledore and his stupid Gryffindors.

"Good morning, Tom. I see you are the earliest one to arrive, yet again," Professor Dumbledore's wise blue eyes twinkled behind half-moon glasses, as he greeted Tom warmly.

Tom, who was now taller than the podium in front, nodded politely. "Not quite, sir. I think you are always earlier than me." Tom hesitated, then, with a serious expression on his face, he proposed a question to the professor.

"Professor, have you ever formed... an army?"

"An army?" Dumbledore repeated, puzzled. He knew that the boy in front of him was exceptionally intelligent and not all he seemed, but even he couldn't make sense of such a random question.

"Yes, an army— something like Dumbledore's army," Tom said with a grim tone. His dark eyes searched the man's slightly wrinkled face, carefully looking for any sign of recognition.

The auburn-haired man laughed jovially, pulling on his ugly robe, a bright purple one with an odd, swirling moon-and-stars pattern.

He winked at Tom. "No, my boy. But if I ever form my own army, I shall call it — the Bumble Bee Brigade."

For a moment, Tom's smile faltered, which Dumbledore caught and his eyes twinkled even more. Rather annoyed, Tom sat down in his seat. It seemed that... Dumbledore was telling the truth.

In the Great Hall, the children bustled and dined nosily. Above, owls of every colour and size imaginable screeched and dived toward them.

"Hey, look! Your mum sent you sweets again! Great! I love sweets— Best mates share, right?"

"Ugh! — NOT this dress again. I've told her I WON'T wear it. And now I have to send it back — so annoying —"

"Woohoo! My brother sent me his old Wizard's Chess set."

"Er... Is that a Remembrall?"

"Blimey Charley! This AGAIN? "

Tom's head was buried in a thick book, completely isolated from the noises and festivities all around him. Owls fluttered about, but none were looking for him.

He had sent his twelfth letter and still... no reply.

Still nothing.

All around him, the children's flaunting, complaining, surprised yells only made his own desolation feel more alone, more pathetic. Those irritating noises filled his eardrums, tearing at his nerves, stoking his well-concealed resentment into rage. Tom lowered his head, silky black hair flopped forward and hid the fiendish darkness in his eyes — oh, how he wished to silence all of them with his powers!

The boy took a deep breath and told himself, over and over again, to stay calm.

Christmas holiday was coming in less than a week. Then, Tom would return home, where he would find his answers... Had Harry been lying to him at the train station?

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

But... he promised.

Are you still waiting for me?

TN:

Woohoo! Finally used 'blimey' and 'mate' in the translation. Always means to do it, always forgets. Also, wow, Tom sure is a friendly person... =_=

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