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1. Two Types of Darkness

Even amongst magical folk, the fact that the monster exists—that I exist—excites a degree of fear and distrust on an instinctive, even visceral level. It is obvious that I must make strenuous efforts to assure you of my innocence, at least of the crimes of which I am currently accused. I will vouchsafe my tale to you. When I’m done, you can seek out my witnesses. They will validate my account.

I will begin with an account of my meetings with Tom Riddle. It was those meetings that forced me onto the road I have travelled for more than half a century. I met young Tom on only two occasions, however, we corresponded frequently in the years between those two meetings. You will have to take me at my word, regarding this, for I’m certain he destroyed my letters to him. In nineteen-forty-six, he destroyed not merely his letters to me but the building in which I kept them, and every other building I owned.

I shall tell you how we met and what happened. It is important that you understand, because that is the reason the records you have obtained from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures list me as “destroyed by person or persons unknown”. As you see, the records held by “Magical Creatures” are inaccurate. Hardly surprising, as they did not investigate, and I went into hiding.

Destroyed is the official Ministry terminology. What other word would you like me to use? No one can kill me, because I am already dead.

I want you to trust me, and I know that gaining your trust will not be easy. For that reason, I will be completely honest. This will reflect badly on me.

I will begin with my second encounter with Tom Riddle, the night everything changed, the night I became hunted, not hunter. There were no witnesses to that encounter, so nothing of what I’m about to tell you can be corroborated.

It was late in the summer of 1946, and I was hungry. Eight weeks earlier I had pulled my penultimate victim from the Thames. She had jumped into the Thames from Westminster Bridge, and was still alive when I pulled her out. Not for long. When I finished feeding, I simply put her back into the water.

That murder was inconsequential, at the time it didn’t trouble me at all. My victim had obviously wanted to die, and death at my hands was quicker—and no more painful—than drowning. By 1946 I had been “assisting” suicides and “removing” criminals for five years. I believed I was doing the right thing, that I had changed. Someone seeking death, or causing suffering, had died. In dying, they had fed me.

That is who I was at the time. Now, those killings trouble me, but I can’t change the past. I do not dream, but there are times during the last half-century when I look over my shoulder and expect to see the mountain of corpses I’ve left in my wake. They are never visible, but I can sense their presence, and hear their voices. I cannot deny what I have done.

After receiving a rather cryptic letter from Tom Riddle, I left the safety of London and took the train to Yorkshire. That night on the clifftop at Whitby I faced the monster hiding behind his lovely smile. Despite more than a century of experience, I foolishly judged him by his appearance. In those days he was a good looking young man.

When I met him on that second occasion he was an adult, and he exuded confidence and power. It was obvious that he was on the cusp of something. I had no idea what, but I was about to find out.

As everyone now knows, Tom Riddle wanted to live forever, and he did not care who died in order to achieve that goal. In many ways, the path I took is the same one he followed. I want to assure you that I turned away from that path more than half a century ago.

Like me, he chose to corrupt himself. Unlike mine, his corruption brought with it a change in appearance. Once he started to look like a monster people became wary, or in awe, of him. My corruption can be felt, but it can’t be seen.

I was foolish. Given my years of experience I should have been more cautious. We all judge by appearances, don’t we? Unless we know better, we assume that good looks and good intentions go hand in hand. Look at me. My form and size, or rather my lack of size, are enough to disarm most people. How could this small and slight young thing be a killer?

The answer, of course, is very easily. You are wary in my presence, because you recognise me for what I am.

People will describe someone’s appearance as disarming, or alarming. In the end, Tom looked alarming. By then he was so powerful that it didn’t matter. Had he always looked like a monster on the outside—and I have little doubt he always was a monster on the inside—I don’t believe he would have achieved a fraction of what he did. Appearance is an advantage I retain. Perhaps he should have taken me up on my offer.

I digress.

It was 1946 and the war was over, but Britain was still struggling in the aftermath. It was Tom’s idea that we meet. He wrote to me, to the address I’d given him, and he told me that he had made his decision. He referred in some detail to the conversation we’d had six years earlier. As I mentioned, we had corresponded over the intervening years. Despite our letters I had met him on only one occasion, during the blitz. His letter was discreet, and full of vague allusions to my abilities. I naturally assumed that he wanted me to share my gift with him. I was both flattered, and willing to do so.

You may think that it isn’t a gift and that, like him, I too am a monster. I agree, I am, spending more than half-a-century as an “ordinary” person has convinced me of that. I hope that I have changed, but you must be the judge.

On that day in nineteen-forty-six, I truly thought of my condition as precious gift, and of myself as merciful. After my encounter with the priest, I had killed only people who were about to kill, or about to die. I had spent six years of war convincing myself that I was a killer, but a killer of evil, not an evil killer.

When I travelled to Whitby to meet Tom Riddle I was so pleased with myself. I was a much better person than I’d been before the war. Before my encounter with the priest I had killed indiscriminately. Killing was my nature, it was what I was, what I did.

Thinking back, what troubles me more than anything else is the fact that I was prepared to turn him. I’d convinced myself that I had changed, that I took only those who sought death, or those who led a violent and criminal life. Despite my self-satisfaction, I was prepared to take his lifeblood. Not to kill him, but to create another monster, another killer.

I have no idea why I didn’t stop to consider his future victims. Of course, he didn’t need my help to become a killer, I know that. But I was prepared to turn him, so in truth, at that point, I had not changed. Now, I have, I am a different person; motherhood does that. I still don’t know what I am. My son tells me that I’m a glamorous granny. It would be nice if that were true.

How many people have I killed? I honestly do not know. It must be several hundred. In fact, as I think about it, it is likely more than a thousand.

I see the horror in your face. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But you must remember that I have been killing for a long time. I am not trying to excuse my actions; I am simply stating a fact. I have allowed myself to be incarcerated in an Auror cell, I have chosen my path, and I must face the consequences.

More than a thousand dead, but less than two thousand. I can be certain of that. Until my second meeting with Tom, my murder rate was no more than one death a month but I had been killing for a century-and-a-half.

If you want a better guess, I’d say more than twelve hundred, but less than fifteen hundred. They are the deaths I’m directly responsible for. Hopefully, it will never reach two thousand. That number is likely more than Tom and his Death Eaters managed, isn’t it? That’s a sobering thought.

My margin of error is three hundred lives, and even that is a number I now find horrifying. There is, unfortunately, nothing I can do about it. When I was young I didn’t keep count, it didn’t matter. The corpses in my wake meant nothing to me.

Tom Riddle was one of the four stepping stones on my journey out of that river of death. The others were the priest, my final victim, and a woman I killed only a few years after I first arrived on these British Isles. All four are responsible for my current situation.

I met Tom on the harbour side at Whitby, at one hour before midnight. The moon was full, and it was slowly climbing towards its zenith. He had suggested Whitby as a meeting place in his letter to me. Perhaps he was trying to be funny when he did so. I doubt it, as he showed no sign of having a sense of humour on either of the occasions we met.

After we’d said a polite hello, he silently led me up the one-hundred ninety-nine steps to the remains of Whitby Abbey. The summer night was clear and cloudless and, on our right, the ruins were a dark and jagged shadow silhouetted against the stars.

Still unspeaking, he led me past the Abbey and across the grass to a bench on the cliff top. He made the appropriate gesture, I sat, and he joined me. We were side-by-side, but not together; we certainly didn’t touch. I wanted to, but I knew that he would have to instigate that first contact. There was a gap, a distance, between us. It intrigued me.

Remaining silent, he stared out into the night, out to the limit of vision. I followed his gaze and tried to chart the faint line where the darkness of the star-sprinkled sky met the black and treacherous sea. The separation was no more than a slight change in colour. At that point on the distant horizon two different types of darkness met. They seemed to touch, but their proximity was illusionary.

I moved my gaze closer to the shore, to a point where the bright moonlight shimmered and danced on the waves. To my eyes, which are accustomed to the dark, it was a wonderful sight. Despite the view, the silence was beginning to oppress me.

‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ I asked him. ‘The moon reflected on the sea.’

He seemed to think I was fishing for a compliment. Perhaps I was; he had that effect on me.

‘Not as beautiful as you,’ he told me.

I smiled at him, and he took my hand. He did not flinch when he touched me. Most people do, but he was not “most people” he was different. I didn’t realise how different.

You have to realise how he made me feel. His gentle touch almost overwhelmed me. His hand was full of warmth, full of life, full of blood. He was so very much alive.

I know what he was, what he became, and what he did, but that was later. When we sat on that cliff top he was still in his late teens, and our proximity was as illusionary as that of sea and stars. At the time, so far as I knew, he’d done nothing. He had grown from the child I’d first met into a handsome young man, and I liked him. He was clever, and witty, and charming, and he certainly knew how to charm me. I am not the only person to have been charmed by him.

He was charming. But he was always a monster. I have thought about him often since that meeting. Now, with the benefit of almost sixty years of hindsight, I am convinced that his charm was a mask, a necessary disguise, and that when he became powerful enough he simply discarded the mask. Nevertheless, his actions that night forced me to look at myself afresh.

That second encounter on the clifftop, or at least its aftermath, was when everything changed for me. The Muggles’ war had lasted for over six years, I’d grown smug and complacent. His actions forced me to see that I had slipped into self-satisfaction and over-confidence. Sitting next to him on that cliff top I thought that I was wise, that I knew everything. I thought that I was at the top of the food chain. He showed me that I was not.

I sat on that cliff top seat and accepted his compliment. Turning, I examined him. His hair was slicked back, a style that was fashionable at the time. He was wearing a blue pinstripe suit, a demob suit, and he looked every inch the young ex-serviceman. I was in a suit too. Mine was a slate grey pinstripe, the pencil skirt was calf-length, my hat was a wide-brimmed navy-blue thing, and my stockings were sheer silk. Women’s fashions were so much more elegant in those days. They were a little drab, perhaps, but the war had only just ended and the Muggles weren’t feeling particularly bright or cheerful. I found them much more comfortable than the movement restricting corsets and petticoats of the late Victorian era.

I squeezed his hand, not too tightly, but tightly enough to remind him what I was.

‘You’re strong, aren’t you?’ he said, smiling. He showed neither pain not fear.

‘A lot stronger than all Muggles, and almost all witches and wizards,’ I told him.

‘How old are you?’ he asked.

‘Tom!’ I said, pretending shock. ‘You must never ask a lady her age. You should know that! You are such a naughty boy.’ I paused and looked into his face. He gave me his most self-depreciating smile.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m simply curious, Camelia. I ask too many questions, I always have done. I did the same the first time we met, but that’s because I want answers.’

‘I’m twenty-one, Tom,’ I told him. ‘I will always be twenty-one. Don’t you know that?’

Squeezing my hand, he smiled politely. ‘And you don’t look a day older than twenty-one, Camelia,’ he assured me. ‘But, when were you born, where were you born? Tell me a little about yourself.’

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Years of looking back over the events of that evening has convinced me that he knew the answers. He wasn’t seeking knowledge, he was simply confirming that he had identified me correctly. I fell into his trap.

‘I was born on the twelfth of August seventeen-sixty-six, in Transylvania,’ I told him, suddenly nostalgic for the old country. ‘To me, and to my compatriots, it will always be Transylvania. Nevertheless, when I left the country, many years later, the Muggles were already calling it the Kaisertum Österreich, later, it was Roumania. Who knows what they will call it in the future. No doubt, now that this latest conflict between the Muggles is over, they will once again redraw their national boundaries. I find it tedious having to keep track of such things.’ I admitted. ‘Do you know, I think that’s why I like these islands so much. Here, there are no significant land borders to be redrawn. For close to a millennium the borders between England, Scotland, and Wales have changed very little.’

‘You are one hundred and eighty years old today, Camelia,’ Tom told me. He was smiling. ‘Had you really forgotten your own birthday?’

That was another clue I missed at the time. His choice of date for our meeting was deliberate. It was another indication that he’d been researching me. I had been open with him. Six years of correspondence was enough for him to be able to discover a great deal about me. Foolishly, my reaction was one of surprise, not suspicion.

Even when I told him my birth date, I did not make the connection. I simply had not realised what day it was. Why should I? My birthday was unimportant. I had no one to celebrate it with. It was simply another meaningless day.

‘Happy birthday, Camelia,’ he said. He drew his wand, conjured a bouquet of red and white roses in mid-air, caught them, and presented them to me with a flourish. They were fresh and beautiful and their perfume was pungent and heady.

‘Not camellias?’ I asked, as I smiled my thanks. ‘Over the years, the majority of my suitors have given me camellias. They seem to think that it’s fitting.’

‘Really?’ he said. ‘I am surprised. Roses are the loveliest of flowers; their beauty and fragrance are unsurpassed. Nothing else I could offer you would be enough. The white is like your skin, which is perfect unblemished porcelain, even after almost two centuries. The red is for the bright ruby of the blood you drink.’ He leaned forwards, and for a moment I thought that he was going to kiss me on the cheek, as I had kissed him all those years before. He didn’t. Instead, he whispered his final sentence in my ear. ‘The thorns are a reminder that your ageless beauty has a sharp side.’

He raised his thumb in front of my eyes. He had pricked himself on a thorn, and a single drop of his blood glistened wetly in front of my eyes. I licked my lips. The shining red sphere was a tiny, juicy berry awaiting my bite; it was the finest and most full-bodied of red wines; it was the only thing which could quench my always raging thirst. I moved forwards to lick the blood, but he snatched his hand away and sucked the blood himself. Close to losing control, I bared my teeth.

‘I don’t like the taste of blood,’ he said, observing his now clean thumb. ‘Do you? It seems to me that it is a craving. Can you control it?’

‘Control it?’ I asked. The hunger was growing within me, the smell of his blood, the sight of it, was making me yearn for a taste. I put on my haughtiest expression and remained calm. ‘Of course I can control it,’ I assured him.

He raised an eyebrow. ‘Liar!’ he said harshly. ‘It’s a hunger, rather an unquenchable thirst. I’ve studied the documentation, Camelia. Last century, in Whitechapel, the man the Muggles called Jack was one of you. He was a ravenous beast.’

‘He was an aberration,’ I said.

‘An aberration you created, Camelia,’ he told me.

‘How do you know that?’ I asked. He’d uncovered a secret I’d thought long buried and forgotten.

‘Study,’ he told me. ‘You’d be astonished at the things I have discovered. The man Jack’s crimes were so bloody that the Ministry was forced to enact new laws. Because of you, your kind are licensed and catalogued. By law you must inform the Ministry of the location of every one of your resting places.’

I stared at him in admiration; his self confidence was astonishing, he was not afraid of me, not in the slightest.

‘I know all of your secrets, Camelia,’ he told me. ‘You are better at fighting your urges than most of your kind, but you are driven by your lust for blood. You won’t have mine.’

‘Be very careful, Tom,’ I warned him. He was beginning to make me angry.

‘I have been,’ he assured me, his eyes boring into mine. ‘I have been very careful, indeed, Camelia. Diagon Alley, Inverness, Auchtermuchty, Litchfield, Conwy, Penzance, Winchelsea.’ I listened in horror as he listed every grave soil location I had given to the Ministry in order to retain my freedom. Somehow, he knew the locations of my properties, my bolt-holes, my sanctuaries. ‘They are all gone, and so are the ones you tried to hide from the Ministry.’

I would have struck, but I was too late. His wand, fresh from conjuring distracting flowers, was on my chest.

Avada Kedavra,’ he said softly.