October 1, 1956
The minutes inched by.
Tom had never enjoyed waiting and every second that passed was a test to his resolve. He could still feel the locket’s golden chain slip from his fingers. Yesterday Hepzibah Smith had finally revealed her treasures to him and already it felt like a year ago. The urge to take the locket and cup right there and then burned hot in his blood, but that would have been foolish. He had not pandered to the old lady for eight years to fail thanks to impatience and recklessness.
Tomorrow, Tom told himself, smoothing the front of his black suit and calming his composure.
It was good that Burke had sent him to the latest Cremp Auction. Tom needed something to distract himself with and who knew? Perhaps luck would continue to shine upon him and he would find another hard-sought relic to add to his collection.
“Tom! I’m so happy you made it!”
He turned and found himself facing Sebastian Cremp’s assistant: short, with no chin to speak of, Rosalyn Kurk beamed behind her thick, square-rimmed glasses. She was the one in charge of organizing the artifacts for auction. Tom had met her on numerous occasions, and with each, she clutched her clipboard to her chest, radiating excitement.
“Mr. Burke and Mr. Borgin were intrigued by Cremp’s letter,” said Tom. Glancing around the crowded auction hall, he added, “For Cremp to invite so many there must be something truly spectacular.”
Rosalyn’s eyes danced. She pushed her glasses more securely up her nose. “Spectacular is one way of putting it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the auction goes on for an extra hour.”
This did not amuse Tom. Cremp’s auctions already had a tendency to overrun themselves.
“I wouldn’t mind giving you a preview,” Rosalyn suggested, blushing to her roots.
Tom feigned surprise, but the slick smile he sent her was nothing of the kind.
“Rosalyn, I don’t want to risk your job.”
“We’ll be quick.” And mimicking Hepzibah, she said, “I know how much you value magic for magic’s sake. Everyone else just wants to add to their collection. Out of all the people here, you should be the one to see it up close.”
Tom’s interest rose. Was the sword of Gryffindor nestled away behind the stage?
“Lead the way.”
Rosalyn’s pink cheeks turned magenta. She led him through the waiting crowd until they reached a side door. She opened it with a quick tap of her wand and hurried into a narrow, dark hallway. A short trek and they emerged into Cremp’s holding area. Tonight’s auction spread out before him on a labyrinth of shelving. Almost immediately, Tom recognized half a dozen magical artifacts. As Rosalyn’s heels click-clacked to a shelf, his eyes scanned the items, but he was disappointed. There was nothing here that once belonged to Gryffindor.
“Here you go,” Rosalyn said breathlessly. “Take a look at this.”
She carried in her hands a disk burnished a fine gold. It looked perfectly unremarkable, but Tom recognized it at once.
“The Carcerem,” he said, surprised and fascinated.
Rosalyn bounced on her toes. “I knew you’d know it!”
Out of all the magical artifacts, the Carcerem was perhaps the most shrouded in mystery, its history more legend than fact. All studies of it had been short-winded. Thefts, and even principle scholars vanishing without a trace, had only added to its dark glamor. The Carcerem itself had disappeared from wizard eyes nearly a century ago.
The power it must hold.
Tom’s finger was against the golden disk before his brain caught up with his actions. At once, the Carcerem woke, opening like a flower in Rosalyn’s hands.
Startled, Rosalyn nearly dropped it. “I’ve never seen it open! Not even Sebastian could get it to and he put it through so many tests.”
Tom ignored her, too busy reading the fine etchings ringing its inner circle. The runes were archaic, in a language even he was not fully fluent in, but the few he knew were enough to have him jerking his hand away.
“Are you hurt?” asked Rosalyn, concerned.
“It is nothing,” said Tom, rubbing his forefinger and thumb together. The tip of his finger was tender, as if it had been pricked with a thorn, but there was no mark. No blood.
“Are you sure?” Rosalyn pressed. “You’re awfully pale.”
“I assure you, I’m perfectly well. We should return. Our absence might be noticed.”
Rosalyn gasped. “You’re right! The auction will start any minute!” She hurried away, putting the Carcerem back in its place and Tom released the breath he’d been holding.
He did not understand how, but he felt that when he’d touched the metal shell, the Carcerem had done more than simply unfurl its petals: it had opened its eye and looked at him. Looked into his very soul.
The philosopher, Nicolas Flamel, wrote perhaps the most famous of observations: Behold the Carcerem with great caution. The witness will find himself witnessed.
Tom returned to the gathering, feeling unusually unsettled. Almost vulnerable. He squashed the feelings. He was not like other wizards. He was set above and soon everyone in this cramped, musty hall would know his great and terrible power. The Carcerem was nothing to him. He was not vulnerable to anything or anyone. His Horcruxes saw to that.
The Carcerem made its appearance, the entire hall clamoring with excitement, but Tom did not raise his hand to bid for Borgin and Burke. His mind was occupied with far greater ambitions. Hepzibah would soon have an unexpected visit.
May 2, 1998
Severus Snape entered the headmaster’s office, locking the door behind him with a soft tap of his wand. For the barest slip of a moment, he allowed his facade to fall away. He regretted it immediately.
“Severus, what has happened?” Dumbledore asked from his portrait over the desk.
Severus pushed himself off the door and withdrew the sealed box he carried.
“I just confiscated this from Gregory Goyle.”
He placed the small box on the desk and gave it a tap. It opened and up rose a perfectly smooth golden disk. Severus had never seen it before in his life, but the magic radiating from it had caught his notice — a chaotic, churning energy. An electrical storm barely contained. He wouldn’t necessarily classify it as Dark, but it most certainly warranted caution and most certainly was not something a student should be within five yards of, much less stashed away in his bag.
Dumbledore inhaled sharply.
Severus looked up quickly. “You know what this is?”
“I do,” said Dumbledore. His eyes were latched onto the disk. “And you must remove it from the castle immediately.”
In all the years Severus had known Dumbledore, he’d only seen the man truly frightened a handful of times. This was one of them. He did not know what this device was or what it did, but he accepted that it could not be here.
Severus lowered the disk back into its box, the latch clicking shut once more.
“Where do you suggest I—”
A searing pain cut him off. Severus doubled up, clutching his left forearm, right where the Dark Mark was inked into his skin. With a grimace, he looked up at Dumbledore’s ashen face.
“That will have to wait, Albus,” he said grimly. “Potter’s here.”