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June 6, 1944

The second werewolf howl had been closer than the first. The full moon didn't filter much light beneath the thick canopy of trees, and Tom Riddle decided he had enough moonseed for the potion he was creating. He had tentatively named it the Drink of Despair, but it didn't really need a name. It just needed to do its job, and he wouldn't be publishing it anytime soon. He gathered the rest of the poisonous plants in a handkerchief and gingerly put the handkerchief into his potions satchel. He had to take care not to crush any of the moonseed, or it would release an airborne toxin.

Tom stripped off the dragonhide gloves as he strode from the Forbidden Forest and back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was near the beginning of June and the evening was warm; fragrant with all the plants that thrived under the light of a full moon. Tom wasn't worried about being caught. He had a note from Professor Slughorn, his Head of House. In addition to the moonseed, he had collected asphodel and wood avens for the Draught of Living Death they would be brewing during next week's Potions class. Even if someone caught him, his note would get him out of trouble from everyone, save maybe Dumbledore. Tom grinned when he thought of all the other little notes Slughorn had given him over the years. The professor was surprisingly easy to manipulate for a Slytherin. Tom had access to the Restricted Section since he was a third year, courtesy of Slughorn, and was regularly given notes to be out of class to pursue his own research interests.

He was halfway to the castle when he heard a cacophony of werewolf howls. Tom sped up, anxious to get back to the castle. As he drew nearer to the front stairs, he saw that something wasn't quite right. Even though the moon was high in the sky, casting a bright light over the dark grounds, there was a strange shadow on the steps. It swayed for a moment and then crumpled to the ground.

Tom picked up his speed, careful not to jostle his potions satchel too much as he hurried toward the steps. Just as he placed his foot on the bottom stair, the werewolf howled once more. This time the hair on the back of Tom's neck stood on end. He could feel the eyes of the werewolf on him from the edge of the forest.

Tom didn't hesitate. He scooped the person who had collapsed on the steps into his arms and dashed inside. He'd left the crossbar off the doors when he went to the forest earlier, but now, he replaced it quickly with a mumble and a wave of his wand. He was still cradling the inert person when the doors shook from the force of the werewolf impacting them. Tom shivered and took a deep breath to close his mind. The werewolf wasn't getting inside. Even now, Tom could hear its paws click back down the stairs.

He finally examined the person in his arms. It was a girl, he realized, and she looked so grey and cold that for a moment, he swore she was dead. Tom set her down in the Entrance Hall and checked for a pulse. His own heart hammered so loudly in his chest that he almost couldn't find hers. But then he felt it. It was thready and faint, but there.

He studied her for a moment but didn't recognize her. She certainly didn't attend Hogwarts. She was petite and

had bushy, brown hair. Her clothes were torn in places and dirty as if she'd been in a fight or battle. They were also very unusual. Her jumper wasn't so odd, but she was wearing it with denims like Tom had seen Muggle factory workers wear. She had a wand clutched tightly in her hand, so Tom knew she was a witch. He wondered where she'd come from and how she'd gotten into Hogwarts.

It didn't matter. If he wanted the answers to any of those questions, he'd need to get her to the Hospital Wing. He groaned as he thought of Madam Davies, the harridan that presided over the Hospital Wing. She would pepper him with questions that he wouldn't be able to answer, but Tom was also not going to let the girl die in the castle threshold. He was aiming to be Head Boy next year after all, and this might just be the action that would give him the lead.

He scooped the girl up once more and carried her bridal style toward the Hospital Wing. His potions satchel still hung from his shoulders and gently bumped against his hip. The castle was dark, and Tom was thankful he kept his wand in his hand so he could light his way. The portraits didn't care for it, but when they saw his burden, most quieted down again. Tom ignored them.

Tom backed through the double doors of the Hospital Wing and lowered the girl on the nearest bed. The wing appeared deserted. He headed toward the back of the ward and tried Madam Davies' office door. It was locked. He rapped on it loudly.

"Madam Davies?" he called out with a glance over his shoulder to see if the noise had roused the girl. No luck.

"Mr Riddle? What is the meaning of this?" Madam Davies snapped, and Tom whipped around to face her.

"I found a girl collapsed on the steps of the castle," Tom said and pointed at the still figure on the bed.

Madam Davies pushed past him as she wrapped her housecoat snugly around herself. He'd never seen her so disheveled before, but then Tom had never spent much time in the Hospital Wing. Her iron-grey hair was braided down her back, and she wore a pair of faded-black slippers. Her legs were bare below her worn blue housecoat, which stopped at mid-calf.

She bustled toward the girl and examined her quickly. She looked around the ward to confirm that she had no other patients waiting and waved her wand. Lights zoomed from her wand to each of the sconces on the wall, brightening the room instantly.

Tom blinked at the sudden brightness and joined Madam Davies next to the girl's bed.

"Tell me everything," Madam Davies said briskly.

Tom relayed how he found her as the mediwitch cast diagnostics over the girl. Tom didn't know much about healing magic beyond basic first aid for minor injuries. It wasn't an area that interested him all that much, so he couldn't decipher what the diagnostics said.

"If you can't be of further use, go wake Headmaster Dippet," she snapped.

Tom jumped at the sound of her voice and nodded. Madam Davies was a right bear in the best of times. Waking her up in the middle of the night was not going to produce a better personality.

Tom went to the Headmaster's quarters and gave the password. Prefects were given the passwords to all teachers' outer offices. A ward dinged as he stepped behind the gargoyle and waited patiently as the hidden stairs began to ascend. By the time he arrived in the office proper, Headmaster Dippet was climbing down a second set of stairs, yawning.

"Mr Riddle?"

"Headmaster Dippet," Tom greeted with a respectful nod. Dippet was even easier to manipulate than Slughorn, and Tom had him wrapped around his finger since becoming a prefect. "I found a girl collapsed on the front steps as I was returning from my potions collecting. Madam Davies asked that I summon you."

"Alright, my boy. Shall we?" The headmaster gestured for Tom to lead them back to the Hospital Wing.

Once there, Tom could see the girl didn't look so pale and grey. Instead of looking dead, she just looked as if she were asleep.

"You can go, Mr Riddle," Madam Davies snapped as she saw them enter the ward.

Tom nodded and wished them both a good night. He made his way back to the dungeons and his dorm. He wondered if the girl had awoken. And where was she from?

June 9, 1944

Later that week, Tom began hearing the rumors: there was a girl with nine lives, a girl who was dead and came back to life. He questioned Abraxas Malfoy intensely when he heard the boy tell someone that a girl had come back to life. Tom was disappointed when he realized they were talking about the girl who had collapsed on the steps a few days before. She hadn't died, Tom had saved her life. He had been looking for testimonials about people who were able to die and come back alive because he was very interested in immortality.

Tom never wanted to die. That's why he had created a Horcrux last June. In truth, the timing had been an accident. Well, creating the Horcrux was intentional, but the girl was merely a bystander. Myrtle Warren, just a random, third-year Ravenclaw, not someone Tom had taken the time to know personally. He'd sent the basilisk out to kill when he'd discovered the Chamber of Secrets, and all it had done so far was petrify. When he found Warren dead, he was elated. He closed his eyes as he thought back to that fateful day.

Quickly entering the girl's bathroom on the second floor, Tom cast a hasty warding charm at the door to warn him if someone intended to come in. He needed to get down to the Chamber of Secrets and call off the Basilisk. Hogwarts was going to close if the monster wasn't stopped. Professors Dumbledore and Dippet had been adamant about that. Tom had planned to close the chamber, blame the Gryffindor, Hagrid, and be done with it.

The basilisk was fascinating but impractical for Tom's purposes. It hadn't done anything but petrify a few people. When he turned back from warding the door, he was startled by the dead body lying half out of the stall. He looked at her for a moment, how had she died? When he didn't find any bodily injury, he gasped and realized it was his Basilisk that had killed her. He had murdered her. Deep in his bones, he felt a ripping sensation and knew it was his soul. It hurt, so fucking bad. It was so painful, he cried out at the rending feeling in his soul and fell to his knees on the floor. He wanted to vomit but managed to hold it off. He couldn't take his eyes off of Warren, lying on the cold floor, brown eyes gazing unseeing at the ceiling above her.

He had underestimated how excruciating it would be to make a Horcrux. A soul cleave was painful enough. Then, to tear that piece of soul away from the rest and force it into another object was agonizing beyond his reckoning. He hadn't known, but when he understood what was going on when the pain of the split in his soul lessened some, he got to work.

First, he dug his diary out of his school bag and then began the cleansing ritual necessary to force the object to accept his soul fragment. Once that was done, he cast the curse that took the ripped piece of soul and shoved the smaller segment into the diary. His soul fought him the entire time, trying to slip around the magic and rejoin the more substantial piece still inside him, but Tom persevered and was eventually able to succeed

Once done, he lay gasping on the bathroom floor, staring into the dead girl's glassy eyes. He was unable to move for hours, unable to stop his mind from careening between consciousness and darkness. Luckily, nobody came through his hurried ward. It had been imperfect and would have looked incredibly incriminating had he been found lying on the floor, staring at a dead body.

This experience was one of the reasons he had recently focused so much of his personal study on Occlumency. He was already building skills in Legilimency and had always assumed his mind was too keen to truly need Occlumency. Now he knew otherwise. He would need both to be truly safe.

For weeks after the ritual, he felt as if something was missing as if he forgot something. He took to carrying his diary, his new Horcrux, around everywhere to ease the feeling. It had helped. Eventually, he'd become used to it and stopped carrying the diary, which had been the point, after all. It would have been silly to keep it on him at all times.

His diary was now safe in case he was ever killed. If he were ever killed, another Dark ritual, a couple of potions, and Tom would live again. He had done his research well.

And so, he was excited when he'd heard of the girl with nine lives. Perhaps Horcruxes weren't the only way to immortality. They were very painful, and Tom planned to make six of them so that he would have seven bits of his soul. He had time though, and if there were a more natural way, Tom would take it.

June 16, 1944

As with most rumors, it turned out nobody really knew anything. The girl still hadn't woken up since Tom had found her two weeks ago. He visited every day, usually just stopping in when he knew Madam Davies would be busy with other tasks. The girl, Avens, he'd taken to calling her in his head. Like the Wood Avens that began blooming in February. Her hair especially reminded him of their roots which Tom had been collecting the night he found her. Avens had been moved to the back of the Hospital Wing and had a privacy curtain drawn around her.

Tom would slip behind the curtain and stay awhile, reading or working on homework. It was nice to get away from everyone for a bit. He was often interrupted when he was in the Slytherin common room or the library. His followers — his Knights — knew better and made an effort to discourage most interruptions. But even they weren't always around. It could be anything from someone asking for homework help to a crowd of girls, giggling and making sheep's eyes at him. He knew he was considered good looking, and he rather used it to his advantage. But he didn't have time for girls.

He was looking over his translation for Ancient Runes when he heard a gasp. He looked up and Avens was awake, her eyes staring widely at the ceiling. He stood quickly from his chair and looked down at her. She had big, brown eyes that were the color of whiskey, which widened in shock and for the first time, Tom noticed she had a smattering of freckles across her nose.

"Wh-Who are you?" Avens asked, her voice shaky and hoarse from misuse.

"Tom Riddle, at your service," he smirked at her and offered a small nod.

Suddenly, Madam Davies' diagnostic charms started going off. The girl's eyes widened even further, and she began trying to get away from him.

"No, no, no," she muttered repeatedly as she thrashed on the bed.

"Madam Davies!" Tom called out. "We need you!"

"I'm right here, you silly boy. No need to shout," Madam Davies scolded as she pushed aside the curtain and began assessing Avens.

"Go get Professor Dippet, Mr Riddle," Madam Davies said brusquely.

Tom stood watching for a moment, but the girl only thrashed harder.

"Now, Mr Riddle!" Madam Davies snapped.

Tom rushed off and tore out of the Hospital Wing toward the Headmaster's office. He didn't want to miss a word that the girl might say. He spat the password at the gargoyle and raced up the stairs calling for the headmaster.

"What is it, Mr Riddle?" Headmaster Dippet asked, half-rising from behind his ornate desk.

"The girl — she's awake," Tom bent over his knees, trying to catch his breath. He had run nonstop, and now he regretted it. Tom knew he looked like a fool, gasping like a schoolboy.

"She's awake! Come, Mr Riddle. Let's go find out who our impromptu guest is!" Professor Dippet said gleefully as he patted Tom on the back and led him out of the office.

Halfway to the Hospital Wing, they met Professor Dumbledore.

"Headmaster. Mr Riddle. Where are you off to in such a hurry?" Professor Dumbledore asked, narrowing his eyes at Tom.

"The girl is awake, Albus!" Dippet said excitedly.

"Indeed?" Dumbledore asked.

"She is, sir," Tom said. He was itching to get back to the infirmary. Who knew what she was saying to Madam Davies?

"Well, by all means, we should go see her then," Professor Dumbledore said as he gestured for the others to lead the way.

Tom rolled his eyes. Of course, Busybody Dumbledore had to join them to see Avens. Dumbledore was the only professor who didn't outright adore Tom, in fact, Tom was positive that Professor Dumbledore loathed him. And that irked Tom to no end. He was used to the adults in his life loving him and being easily manipulatable, but Professor Dumbledore was not like the rest of the adults. He had a heavy suspicion of all Slytherins, and of Tom in particular.

They entered the Hospital Wing to find the curtain around the girl's bed pushed to the side and Madam Davies offering potions and casting charms at the same time.

"Madam Davies, when you are finished, may we speak with our guest?" Headmaster Dippet asked.

"Of course, Headmaster," Madam Davies replied in what was probably her kindest tone though it still sounded like she was snapping at them. Tom didn't think Madam Davies was equipped to like anyone.

Madam Davies finished after only a few more minutes but stayed close to the patient.

"Let's keep it short, gentlemen," Madam Davies instructed.

"Of course, madam," Dippet said with a small smile.

Dippet approached the bed and waved Tom and Dumbledore closer.

Avens looked confused as she saw Dippet approaching. She stiffened when she caught Tom's eye, and when she saw Professor Dumbledore, she clutched at her chest. Tom could see she was wearing some sort of necklace, but he couldn't quite see what it was.

"Hello, I'm Headmaster Dippet. Who might you be?"

"H-Hermione Granger," the girl replied. Her voice was less hoarse now but still shaky.

"Well, Miss Granger, what are you doing at Hogwarts?"

"I-I'm not sure. I don't remember much."

"May I introduce Professor Dumbledore and Tom Riddle. Tom found you, my dear," Dippet explained.

At hearing Tom's name, Granger's eyes closed, and she began to shake and sob.

"No, it can't be, not him," she muttered.

Tom was sure he didn't know her? Why did she fear him so? He had done nothing but help her.

"Out! Mr Riddle, out of the Hospital Wing. I won't have you upsetting my patients!" Madam Davies shouted and pointed toward the door.

When Tom didn't move fast enough, Davies began shooing him out with her hands. He stuffed his Ancient Runes homework in his bag and left.

Who was she? This Hermione Granger? It didn't ring any bells. He knew he didn't know her. But she knew him. She knew enough to be scared of him. Why? How?

Tom didn't know, but he was going to find out.