Chapter 147 : Birthright
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Like his power.
Power. A delicious thing. He could taste it on his tongue as he would taste it forever after. It would always be his. With it, he could have all of the things he’d been denied by this... this... thing that some would call his father, those things that some would call his grandparents. They were his family, but only through a slight accident of nature, nothing more.
He had no family. He had no need of it.
Perhaps, once, he had, but those memories were distant. All that remained were like droplets on a window sill after the rain or lit embers in the hearth long after the fire had gone out. He could see himself, a child, sitting by the window, the small fireplace in his room cold, as cold as he always was. Cold from within. But then the droplets on the sill had not been from the rain.
“You have no mother, Tom.”
A long pause.
“Not all are fortunate in that way.”
Not all children live as punishment for their mother’s weaknesses, either.
He nudged his toe against the lifeless body of Tom Riddle, his namesake. To be named after such a worthless thing was disgusting. To think that his mother, fallen royalty of the magical world, could have – he hated to even think the word – loved this thing was beyond his comprehension. There were certain... physical attributes that had tempted her, but she had given her power, her sanity, her life to fulfill that temptation, and it had not been worth the price.
There could be no price on power.
He pulls his foot away from the thing, his lip twisting in disgust. A Muggle, of all things. A filthy, dirty Muggle who lorded over the village like a little king, believing himself the greatest being in existence. No Muggle could be great. They were no more than insects in comparison to those who knew true power, the power of the earth and wind, of time and space. Only when magic flowed through your veins could you refer to yourself as great, and even then, you would be wrong.
There were those who were destined for greatness, those who could wield their power without fear, without trembling at the thought of using it to its full potential.
He was sixteen years old, far from that potential, but he reached for it with clawing fingers and greedy hands, desiring just the smallest taste of all it could bring him. All of that power, all of that glory, it would feed him as no mortal food could. Living on it, and it alone, he would become more than human. No temptation would consume him as it had his mother. No weakness would bring him down.
He would not need to fear death.
Like the phoenix, ever flaming, he would live forever. But unlike the phoenix, he would never need to die to be reborn. He would simply live.
Tilting his head, he regarded his father once more. The fascination was narcissistic, the boy looking into the pool to see his own reflection, only now, it was aged and dead, two things he would never be. Perhaps Tom Riddle had been handsome once. Long ago. Before he had been taken in by the local witch, a cunning girl, desperate in her lonely despair, in her hunger for something beyond herself. Silly girl. If only she had known that such a thing could not be satisfied by mere physical passion. She could have been great, but now she was only dead.
Yes, Tom Riddle had a handsome face, one gift he had passed on to his wayward son.
A handsome face could hide many things within. How many times he had tested that hypothesis only to discover it as truth. Headmaster Dippet had all but worshipped him when he had accused that brute Hagrid of killing that girl. A smile for some people, showing just the right amount of teeth, could win him the world. Add a little charm and he could possess the universe. It had proved useful.
“What would we have done without you, Tom?”
“I’m sure you would have found out in the end, Professor.” A smile to placate the minuscule professor’s expansive sense of self-importance.
“We must get you a special award for this. It is a little thing, I’m afraid...”
A little thing, a colossal victory.
He would be Head Boy in the coming year. That he already knew. Another victory, another way of gaining power, of rooting himself into the very foundations of Hogwarts, into the very history of the magical world.
But it was all to be in the name of one whom he so despised, the one who now lay dead before him, forever defeated.
His eyes measured the features of Tom Riddle’s face, drifting over the nose, protruding like a sinking ship, the lips, like carved marble, the cheekbones, as hollow as the cavity in his chest, then to the eyes, so wide and staring, fear and derision combined in their depths even still. Had Tom Riddle seen himself in the face of the adolescent boy who had stood before him, the same nose thrusting out of his face, the same lips twisted in a cruel smile, the same hollowed cheeks, the same chest, devoid of heart? Only the eyes differed. His had contained only derision, never fear.
He took the ring from his pocket. It, too, was a circle. Everlasting, like the love his mother had offered this worthless Muggle. Infinite, like the power he desired for himself and himself alone. Eternal, like the life he would possess.
Eyes closed. Breath slowed. Heart sped. The candles dripped their last beads of wax onto the table, hissing as they hit the surface, the hot wax carving into the wood shapes like blood stains.
Blood. There had been no blood.
“Who are you? What are you doing here, boy?”
He felt the anger within, but held it there.
“I am your son.”
Titters of anxious laughter filled the air.
“My son? I have no son.”
The green light lit his features once, twice, then again.
It was over.
It was only beginning.
The chains of blood no longer held him fast, sinking him into the mire of existence. He was free of one family, and would soon be free of another. This ring, and this ring alone, would tie him to any notion of family, but it would be a tie of uncorrupted purity, a direct line of ascendance to Salazar Slytherin himself, the greatest wizard of all.
Though not for long. No, not for long.
He smiled, his soul swelling, revelling in the act of murder. His eyes flickered toward the other two bodies. Murders.
Would the result of the spell be more successful now that he had killed three and done so with both will and intention?
The last time had been little more than an accident, a girl where there should not have been any. Her presence had been convenient, that was all. He had made good use of the diary at that time, but now, with this ring, and with these murders, he had far more than mere convenience on his hands. He had their blood. He could feel it dripping from his fingers like the wax from the candlesticks, staining the floor below, and he loved it. More satisfaction than he had ever known before. Neither the incident in the cave nor his first descent into the Chamber of Secrets had given him such feelings of gratification, of pride.
He had gotten his revenge. Not for his mother, a silly lovelorn girl. Not for the Gaunts, a family of ruin and disgrace. But for himself, the common name negligently bestowed upon him, the dirty blood poured into his veins, the face of a Muggle imprinted across his features.
His soul was ready. It felt so large now, an infinite pressure on his chest that threatened to squeeze the breath from his lungs. The fragment sat on the tip of his tongue, awaiting release.
With his twisted little smile, he took up his wand, holding it over the ring.
No hesitation. No thoughts other than the desired goal. No feeling but that of a pure, most dangerous pride.
If only he had known that such a pride had been shared by his father. A pride of blood, of status, of superiority. What was the rest of the world to one so admired? The ants that populated its surface were useful, at best, easily spared when necessary, and all expected to admire the he that stared down at them from a haughty height. A god, or something like it.
Yes, like a god.
A lord of Death, the last and greatest foe.
He spoke the secret words, his voice ringing hollow against the walls, across the floor, over the bodies of the things. They were terrible words, fearful in their power and their darkness, the silvery, silky voice too beautiful to speak them into being, but speak it did without cease, the words growing in volume until they pealed and boomed and deafened his ears. The candlelight twitched, casting demonic shadows upon his face, his eyes glittering as he at last went silent.
Head thrown back, mouth a shapely O, he staggered against the table, the candlesticks collapsing, the flames quenched in the pools of wax below. But the room did not grow dark. His eyes, the ring, the fragment of soul that emerged, all shone, like the ill-gotten gains they were, with their own light. The fragment hung, suspended, in the air for a long moment, and he watched it with fascination. Part of him. Unknown and unknowable. His only freedom lay in its imprisonment within the ring.
There was a sound, so hard to hear unless one knew its voice.
The soul shrieked, a tiny golden ball, spinning wildly in the air, as it drew nearer its prison, the ring’s stone gleaming menacingly as though it knew its own purpose, as though it remembered its once-possessor and recognised its inheritor. Perhaps it hungered for a piece of soul, a piece of something greater than itself.
A flash of light, gold and silver and white, briefly illuminated the faces of the dead.
To some, if not many, he might as well be dead now. Two parts of his soul locked away, there was so much less of him, so much less, but also so much more. What was humanity to power but a detriment, a weakness? He need not be human anymore. He need only be power.
He collapsed when the spell was complete, lying on his back beside the body of his father. They never looked so much the same as now, when their pale faces faced the sky, all of their similarities laid out for view. No touch of a mother had marred the boy’s perfect features, softening their hardness with affection, smoothing their lines with care. Blood and blood alone had made him what he was. Blood and something else.
Pride is a hard thing to kill.
His eyes opened.
Red irises stared up into the sky, stained as his hands, as the shrivelled heart that beat within his chest and the cloven soul that bled and bled and would one day drain the youth from his marble cheeks and the charm from his twisted smile.
But not yet.
He held the ring above him, eyes tracing the circle around and around again. No beginning, only endlessness.
He no longer had history.
All he had now was forever.
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