47 Days to Change (a translation) @snow_owl01
Growing Pains

Chapter 25

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

BETA: the brilliant and awesome AzulticSerpens

parseltongue

December 20-27, 1938

Finally, it was the tail end of December. Once again, Hogwarts was ready to release all her students for the holidays.

"Hey there, I sent your presents via owl!"

"Thanks, mate. I left you a surprise too."

Tom walked along the lengthy hallway, words of joy and gratitude drifting around him. The boy's eyes were incensed, his jaw taut, and it took all his strength to not lash out at them, to snarl at their happiness and stupid affections, to destroy that annoying festival atmosphere, all because their happiness only emphasized his loneliness. Although Tom had never been afraid of being alone, this was different; in the past, solitude was always his choice, yet now, it was because that person had abandoned him.

Has he abandoned me?

Tom could not stop thinking about the possibility. If so, said a vile and angry voice inside his head, I will destroy him. He can't leave me! No! NEVER...Not even if I have to lock him up, trap him inside the cave and turn him into an inferius.

He remembered three years ago, how he had felt when he was left behind in the empty house, doing nothing but waiting, day after day, with no letters and no end in sight. He had felt those white-picketed fences closing in around him, locking him within like an injured beast trapped in the bottom of a well— trapped inside the mockery of what was once his home. Even though the nanny came by everyday, she was nothing to him. The house was nothing to him, nothing but a shell of dark and empty spaces, filled with unrecognizable lies and dreadful dreams... So he stayed out everyday, loitering in the cave or at the black-market, just to avoid returning to his — Harry's — home.

Despair. Powerlessness. Weakness.

He never wanted to experience such emotions again.

No. He would not permit Harry to abandon him. Even if, one day in the future, Tom no longer cared about Harry, he still wouldn't allow Harry to leave him —Harry Potter had to stay with Tom Riddle, forever, willingly or not.

Swiftly, he returned to the Slytherin dormitory.

The Hogwarts Express was pulling into the station, its crisp whistles reaching far and wide. Departure was to be at 11 AM and arrival to be at London at 7PM... In eight hours, he would finally find out, once and for all, whether Harry's promise was true...or lies. Then, depending on the situation, Tom could decide on his Christmas present for Harry — would it be mulled mead from the Three Broomsticks or floral mead laced with cyanide?

Tom smiled ever so sweetly. His lips were as red as sweet cherry, yet his heart was as black as deadly venom.

When he arrived at his dorm room, the other bed had already been cleared out.

Due to the generosity of their pure-blood forebearers, the Slytherin children enjoyed the privilege of separate dorm rooms — two students per room, with two large green-and-silver four-poster beds.

Tom knew that his roommate, Parkinson, did not like him. The boy avoided him, never uttering an extra word to him in three months of rooming together, which was just fine with Tom. See, Tom could easily identify the flaws within Slytherin's internal hierarchy, because, pure-blood or not, people everywhere were the same — the same greedy, vain, selfish bastards. Slytherin's hierarchy served no higher function than as a gimmick for rich children to show off, as an excuse for the strong to bully the weak, yet it came with a great cost — it divided them amongst themselves. It weakened their resolve, their unity, and greatly diminished the power and potential of their noble house.

Obviously, cunning did not equal wisdom. Tom sneered.

Tom didn't have much to pack. After all, he was only leaving for two weeks, so he planned on only bringing one small hand-held suitcase.

Tom was surprised to see three parcels lying on his suitcase. They were wrapped neatly with silk ribbons and shiny paper.

Christmas presents!

Maybe Harry had sent him something, after all.

Tom's eyes lit up. Of course, they must've come from Harry... Given his current circumstances, who else would give him presents?

The thought calmed him a little. He reached out with trembling hands and picked up the packages. As his fingers tugged on soft ribbons, Tom felt the poisonous rage, which was coursing through him just a moment ago, slowly receding in his bloodstream.

The first parcel came from Slughorn, a thick book titled A Collection of Rare and Practical Potions. It was a heavy and substantial book, with illustrations and few annotations by Slughorn himself. Tom flipped through it quickly and noticed it even included a lengthy section on how to brew poison. The boy smirked cruelly.

How stupid was the vain old man to give him something so dangerous? Well, then... Tom supposed that he definitely ought to make good use of the professor's generosity.

The second parcel was much smaller, but wrapped quite ostentatiously in luxurious golden threads and dark burgundy paper. Tom raised an eyebrow and tore off the wrapping carelessly. On the velvet inlay of the small box, there was a bejeweled silver brooch and a note with the sender's name in fancy cursive — Abraxas Malfoy.

Tom rolled the expensive brooch between his fingers. The inlaid sapphire gem gleamed beautifully, as Tom's red lips curled up with unreadable intentions.

He picked up the third — and last — parcel. This had to be the one from Harry.

Suddenly, he was so nervous he couldn't breathe.

His heart pounded madly as he carefully unwrapped the present. Compared to the other two, the ribbon on this one was crooked, evidently its sender had been in a hurry.

To Tom Riddle; From Ovidius Parkinson — said the attached card.

Tom's heart plummeted until the world turned dark and blurry in front of his eyes. His chest hurt, his hands trembled, and he thought he was suffocating from the assaulting amalgam of disappointment and anxiety.

He felt like he was drowning, like inferi had dragged him under cold water and held him there, in eternal darkness, until his brain lost its ability to think and he couldn't even lift a finger to defend himself.

It wasn't from Harry.

The handwriting on the card was neat, meticulous, so there was no chance of him misreading the name. Tom blinked. Of course, he would never misread Harry's name! He almost wanted to laugh out loud, to mock himself and his silly, childish hopes.

Tom couldn't even remember how many times had it been, when even the mere thought of Harry were enough to scramble his emotions — he had hoped again and again, and he was disappointed again and again.

Disillusionment could tempt even angels to fall, so what could it do to the devil?

The devil was calm and stoic as he picked up his suitcase and marched out of the room; it was as if his previous outbreak of anxiety had never happened. He had left all of those frivolous presents on the nightstand, and had only taken the potions book with him.

The devil had already fallen, and so he couldn't fall any further. He had been cast out of his home, with nowhere to go. And so, he chose to armour himself with all the negativity and sins of the world, forging his rage into the perfect mask.

Women wear their dolled-up masks to greet their lovers; the devil, too, wears his carefully cultivated mask to welcome his one and only love— eternal damnation.

It was winter, so the night came early. Snow fell at dusk, soft white flakes leaving cold streaks on their faces.

At seven exactly, the red steam-engine train entered King's Cross station, greeted by the eager faces of parents waiting by.

As he stepped off the train, Tom held his suitcase close to his chest. The eleven-year-old couldn't help but search through the numerous faces in the crowd. When, as expected, he didn't find the face he was looking for, his expression didn't change and his eyes only flashed briefly, carefully concealing the violent rage growing within.

Number 15 London Street was not far from King's Station. But the night was dark and cold, and the snow didn't make for ideal walking conditions. All alone, the boy walked with steady steps, trudging slowly through snow and empty streets. After twenty minutes of exposure to the silent, freezing night, his fingers and toes had turned into ice.

He could see the house up ahead— it was grim and pitch-black in the night, not a single light was shining through its windows. Tom halted and looked up at his home, at the lonely, lifeless square building. Suddenly, he burst out laughing.

"HAHAHA—"

The child's sharp laughter cut through the tranquility of the winter night with a dreadful, odd dissonance. Although his voice were childish and soft like the chiming of bells, underneath, it also carried a layer of warning, spine-chilling and horrible in its mad desperation.

There was a pile of letters lying on the mat by the front door. Tom recognized the ones he had sent — all twelve of them — from September 3rd to December. Every letter was delivered safely; every letter remained unopened.

"I'll be waiting for you to return home." Harry's voice rang in his ears, the whispers of nightmares. Tom replayed that moment over and over again in his head, until that same face, that same voice and that same warm smile filled his mind. Harry's words were like knives prodding at his wounds, mocking with him with the truth — Harry had lied to him!

"I'll be waiting for you"— was no more than a false promise to get rid of Tom!

Even if one day he would become the Dark Lord, right now he was no more than an eleven year old boy with no allies and no ability to find the man who had abandoned him. Even if he wanted to destroy this entire street to satisfy the blood-lust raging in his chest, he had no power to do so. In the end, even with all his viciousness, cruelty, and ironclad resolution, he was still a little boy. There were still some childish longing left in him.

So he hesitated. He decided to give the man a little more time.

He would wait a bit longer— for one more day... no, for one more week. He would give Harry one more week to come back to him.

With quiet and nimble movements, he pried open the window to his own bedroom. Unnoticed by all, he slipped inside and returned home, to the house where the other half of "home" was missing.

The first day of Christmas break, December 21:

The handsome young boy sat alone in his bedroom, avidly reading his new book, A Collection of Rare and Practical Potions.

He told himself, over and over again — do not fret; there were still six days left.

The second day of Christmas break, December 22:

Without anyone doing chores and manning the fireplace, the house was very chilly. Tom bundled himself up and dug up some soon-to-be-expired cheese and crackers from the pantry. He stuffed them down without tasting anything.

The young Dark Lord watched a snow storm sweeping through the streets, onyx eyes dark and unreadable.

Tick, tock. Harry, you only have five days left.

The third day of Christmas break, December 23:

He was half-way through A Collection of Rare and Practical Potions. His notebook was half-filled. If any potion master managed to peek inside the boy's notes, he would gasp in horror — unconsciousness-inducing potions, petrification potions, mind-control potions, and dissociative potions with addictive properties similar to that of heroin.

Tom smirked as he poured over his notes, red lips full of malice — Harry, which one shall you taste first?

The fourth day of Christmas break, December 24:

It was Christmas Eve. Tom turned on all the lights in the house, which gave the large empty place a false festive glow. There was nothing on the kitchen table, no turkey, no pumpkin pie, no presents. The boy chewed on flavourless crackers, trembling hands crushing the thick book in his lap.

Harry... Harry would be back by tomorrow, wouldn't he? The young Dark Lord told himself, yes, yes, he must come back, because tomorrow is Christmas.

The fifth day of Christmas break, December 25:

With a thud, the boy closed the thick book that he had finished reading. Then, he took out his wand and ran through every spell he had learned in the past three months. Heating charms were scattered throughout the empty house, bringing a warmth that no one was present to enjoy.

Harry... come back to me, please?

Tom suppressed the silly wish as soon as it popped into his mind. Hmm, he would not beg!

The sixth day of Christmas break, December 26:

Tom stood in the dark damp cave, impassively watching some muggle scream as inferi advanced towards him. The snake, who had missed him greatly, was coiled snugly around the boy's neck, but unexpectedly Tom did not return her affections.

"Tom... Are you upssset?"

The boy smirked and let her crawl down his arm. "No, I'm happy."

Yes, he was happy because he was not truly alone. At least he had his loyal pet as company. Not that he needed company, mind you... Tom didn't need friends or partners, no one was good enough to stand by his side as an equal — not even Harry.

The seventh day of Christmas break, December 27:

The child... No, the handsome youth smiled brightly as he packed up his suitcase and left number 15 London Street. He was dressed impeccably in the finest suits, tall and proud and full of plans and ambitions.

Harry Potter? The young Dark Lord looked up at the lifeless building behind him, dark eyes roving over the name on the card by the door. His smile was frozen into place, mirthless and sharp, with all traces of childhood hopes and naivety left behind.

Fate was very happy with the result of its hard work. It watched silently, everywhere at once, as the young Dark Lord abandoned his boyhood identify inside that empty house. He was growing up, becoming a youth, then the great man he was meant to be. Fate read all the lives of the densely packed names on her palm, all the comedies and tragedies, all the causes and effects. Even if the beginning had been shifted, the ending was still well on its way.

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