The cave was so dark there were no traces of light, revealing a suffocating kind of silence. The darkness was so overwhelming that not even one's pupils would be able to receive any hope.
Despair. Shatter. Ruin.
The cave was a natural barrier that separated a small area of the sea. Although it was a small area, for Harry, it was endless.
In this space, except for him and that person, there were almost no living, warm creatures. Within the waters were tens of thousands of Inferi, and over the water surface were hooded Dementors.
He had no wand, no time-travel device, no sharp metal, and even the walls were hard to break from force, made of materials that deform under pressure; death has become a delusion, let alone leaving.
He was just like the fairytale princess Rapunzel. The beautiful princess was taken to the tower by the witch, where there's only one window for air and for viewing; isolated from the world, the ultimate beauty was trapped in captivity for only her eyes to see.
He once grabbed the collar of the child brought up by him, and roared at him with red eyes, "I'll go crazy! I'll go crazy!"
That person allowed him to act up like he was spoiling a child who was unreasonably making trouble; he spoke in a soft tone, but the words instantly pushed him down to hell.
He said gently, "If you go crazy, then you'd never be able to leave."
Harry buried his face between his knees. Ever since he left the cupboard of Number 4, Privet Drive, he hadn't made such a vulnerable gesture since. Harry closed his eyes tightly, not wanting to look at any of the furniture in this small tower.
Harry felt almost like he was losing his ability to speak. In a dark cave where neither day nor night could be distinguished, he just felt as if it's been an immensely long time since he's spoken to anyone other than Tom. Even if he did talk to Tom, it would only be with perfunctory 'hm's or moans.
He really wanted to go out… He really missed the outdoors...
He missed the smell of quilt left out to dry by the sun, even if Hermione was extremely perturbed by it; he'd simply say the odor was from burnt mite carcasses. He missed the smell of grass after rainfall, even if he never really liked the indescribable smell of grassroots. He also missed contentedly walking into a bathroom after a duel with Tom, the scent of sweat on their skin, although that Tom had long since disappeared.
Time seemed to deliberately stretch out, ever elastic, allowing the pain to endlessly spread. It stretched out far too long, so long Harry couldn't even remember how long he'd been staying there nor the present date.
"What's the date today?" His tongue was stiff, the useless and gradually degrading organ left in knots after lengthening periods of disuse. Even trying to express this question proved to be extremely difficult.
Tom was clearly extremely happy to see Harry taking the initiative to speak; he leaned in like they were a normal couple and exchanged a kiss. "It's November. The temperature's beginning to drop, so I cast an insulation charm inside the tower; do you feel a draft?"
Harry didn't seem to hear Tom's question; the blood in his entire body seemed to flow backwards, cooling before freezing.
November; November 1946.
This date was like a hammer on an auction stage, falling in the air before stopping with a loud and unchangeable slam, announcing the end to everything.
Tom would never grow up to be what he imagined.
Half of his mission failed.
Truthfully, he'd already failed. Harry knew that. It's just, he subconsciously placed his faith on the slim possibility of success; like an insistent dog, he stubbornly awaited its conclusion.
But, winter was already upon them. November.
His task, his comrades, his life-mission… He was burdened too much, worried too much, hesitated too much, and in the end, he could only sadly realise he achieved nothing.
He didn't know when all his persistence bled into self-righteousness, his efforts contributing themselves to some sick cosmic joke. His tolerance and willingness to indulge Tom's wiles had led to this withdrawal, and ultimately, his grand moment of stupidity.
He finally understood the meaning of Hermione's words.
"It's a book that's been long written by Fate!"
Fate, you've won.
Harry once asked Tom, "what is your weakness?"
What answered him was the other's predatory bites and kisses; after it was all over, the handsome Slytherin would pull back slightly, smile arrogantly and say with pride, "I don't have a weakness."
That's right, who would possibly tell others their weaknesses with such a lack of vulnerability or cautiousness?
Joan was a Slytherin, and she was an excellent one.
If it weren't for how some of her Slytherin family's ideas violated her principles, by now the one sitting as the head of her family wouldn't be her hedonistic younger brother.
Abraxas Malfoy sat across from Joan, his eyes narrowed as he looked at the Slytherin senior.
The name Joan was no stranger to Slytherins; even if they were beaten to sensibility, the elders would still contemptuously say Joan was a traitor. An excellent, outstanding and powerful Slytherin was unwilling to seek benefits for her family's future; how shameful of her to abandon the family that raised and nurtured her!
But this humiliation was undoubtedly accompanied by jealousy and resentment.
As one of the younger Auror directors and one with the most potential to influence the Ministry of Magic's power, just imagine how much power she'd bring if she still stood by her family and the Slytherins' sides!
The other was a Slytherin who was no less inferior to him, and possibly even better; Abraxas Malfoy had no choice but to tighten his nerves and go all out.
"I wonder if… This senior is interested in working with me?" Malfoy offered a fake smile.
Joan didn't have time to play this game between Slytherins; after hearing this sentence her expression changed, and she reached a certain conclusion. "This has something to do with Harry."
Abraxas didn't shy away; instead, he nodded his head in a carefree manner. "I believe this senior's already noticed something's wrong. I'm not sure to what degree you've guessed it to?"
Joan indeed noticed something was wrong. Although Harry said he'd be away for a very long time and wouldn't be able to meet up, they still should've been able to maintain contact with each other. Magic owls weren't carrier pigeons; usually, they'd be able to accurately find the recipient, unless something was blocking them from doing so. And… Tom, who was still working at Borgin and Burkes, wasn't showing any signs of anxiety.
Something was very, very wrong.
"I couldn't even begin to guess," Joan shook her head in reply, "since you've initiated a collaboration, I think you should provide me with all necessary information."
Malfoy smiled a little, this time with a genuine curve of his lips, and it even wore a sense of magician's mystery. He took out a necklace from his pocket and placed it on the table. "I think Senior Joan should be able to recognise this."
Naturally, she recognised it.
Silver necklaces with hourglass pendants weren't common jewelry and, in Joan's impression, only Harry wore one. At first, she thought this jewelry had a special meaning to it, but the hourglass-shaped pendant wasn't small, and was even a bit cumbersome; even so, Harry never left this pendant away from him for even a moment.
"Where did you get this from?!" The heroic woman's expression contorted, the bitter look in her eyes seemingly able to kill.
Malfoy wasn't cowed, he merely shrugged his shoulders. "I watched Tom try to damage it with numerous spells, using even the Killing Curse, but it always came out unscathed. Later, he threw it into the English Channel, and I asked a house-elf to retrieve it. The Malfoy family almost lost a house-elf skilled in magic for this."
"What did Tom do to Harry?" Joan's attention was only focused on this.
"I think you can guess."
Joan stopped speaking. She was able to make a vague assumption. With Tom Riddle's distorted and perverted monopoly towards Harry Potter, what else would he do to Harry?
The only fortunate thing was, with Tom, Harry's life would absolutely not be endangered.
"So will we be working together now?" Malfoy asked with a smirk.
Joan couldn't help but frown with a cold sneer. "Aren't you worried I'll bring a team of Aurors to guide you all directly to Azkaban?"
"You've already been demoted, Miss Joan." Malfoy smiled, wagging a stretched finger in front of Joan with a look of laxness. "Right now, half of the Ministry of Magic positions are filled by Slytherins with like-minded goals and priorities, and more than half of those Slytherins are officially affiliated with the Death Eaters. Did you really think they'd let you take away their leader? It doesn't matter if I tell you all of this, because you're already unable to shake him."
Joan hooked up the corners of her mouth. She was born a Slytherin; to play as an Auror for the Ministry of Magic was nothing more than a commitment to the profession, not a form of moral integrity. The current Joan had no more obligation to get rid of Tom Riddle for the Wizarding World.
The observant Malfoy immediately caught the subtle changes on the other's expressions, so he reached out his hand. "May our collaboration be pleasant."
Joan also reached out her hands, shaking his hand seriously.
Before Abraxas could speak, Joan suddenly asked, "why are you betraying Tom Riddle?"
"I'm not betraying him. For familial interests, I just want… A better leader," Malfoy said smilingly, his eyes narrowed.
From ancient times to the present; from men to women; from Caesar to Elizabeth; and from lords, emperors, to queens; none of them would allow someone to influence them to such a degree. So Tom Riddle, his Lord, must not either.
"Although we have different political beliefs, our end goal is still the same. Let's discuss what we should do."
Joan asked Malfoy for the hourglass necklace.
"What do you want to do?" Malfoy looked at Joan with a strange expression. "If you're looking for someone to investigate the runes, I already have; however, nobody was able to identify what they're for."
Joan laughed coldly. "Could the people you've found possibly compare to the professors at Hogwarts?"
"Alright." Malfoy clearly didn't trust Joan, but he had no choice but to nonchalantly hand her necklace.
And so, Joan stored the necklace close by her side and visited the Hogwarts Ancient Runes professor.
"Joan? How may I help you?" The elegant Ancient Runes professor smiled and poured a glass of water for Joan.
Joan couldn't help but smile; without any guise, she handed the necklace straight over. "Professor, I have something to trouble you with today; could you help me identify what this is?"
The middle-aged spectacled man with white temple-hairs took the necklace; after carefully studying it for a while, his expression suddenly changed in realisation.
"Four or five years ago, a student came to me with a sketched copy of these runes for me to study. At that time, I was surprised and curious, but I didn't expect to see the real thing today," the Ancient Runes professor said with a smile as he handed the necklace back to Joan.
Student? There was almost no doubt this student was Tom Riddle. But… Four or five years ago? Tom Riddle had begun doubting the role of this necklace and began investigating four or five years ago?
This Slytherin was very frightening.
"Then, what's the use of these runes?" Joan asked.
The elegant man pushed up his glasses. "To put it simply, it allows travel through time and space. This necklace allows people to travel decades at a time."
"...What does that mean?"
"In other words, the owner of this necklace can go back to any point of time within the past 100 years. Or, you could say they jumped 100 years from the future or past to the present moment," the professor explained patiently.
Harry… Is from the future or the past?
Joan clenched her fingers around the necklace, her brows furrowed.
This would explain why Tom wanted to destroy this necklace.
...He didn't want him to leave.