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The Imposter Complex

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Disclaimer: This work is heavily inspired by the works of others on ffnet, such as Less Wrong, Lens of Sanity, joe6991, Sarah 1281, The Sinister Man, and Jbern, among many others. As such, you may see elements of this story that reference or recall elements of their stories. If something is distinctly familiar to you, it's probably from their works. Also obviously the Harry Potter franchise in general is JKR's.

Content Warning: Tom Riddle is not a good person. My depiction of him will be a far cry from the cackling megalomaniac we all know and love to hate, but he has no qualms with murdering and mutilating other people when it suits him. There will almost certainly be some dark and violent stuff in here. Also coarse language, possible sexual content, et cetera.

This story will adhere to the events of "core" canon up until the end of Chamber of Secrets, where it will diverge. It will not be compliant with Cursed Child or Crimes of Grindelwald, which I consider apocryphal at best, but will be compliant with Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

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My life was born from death. I suppose it should have come to no surprise that it'd circle back to that eventually.

'Lord Voldemort,' I said, with un-felt cheer, my spectral breath failing to fog in the freezing cold of Salazar's chamber. 'You look like shit.'

He did, too. Or rather, I did. I'd been prepared for the gruesome nature of the Horcrux ritual, the horror of butchering an innocent person for my own self-interest. What I hadn't been prepared for was how it felt to rend oneself in two, to unmake the most sacred aspect of self that a person can have. The little black book of Herpo the Foul had made little mention of that.

My other self looked gaunt, his eyes bloodshot and his hair matted with sweat. I'd always been slender but in this moment his robes seemed to hang off him like a bed-sheet on a washing line. Lord Voldemort, age 16, dry-heaved violently with his hands on his knees.

As he recovered, I took a moment to examine my surroundings from my new incorporeal perspective. I stood in the ancient Chamber of Secrets, hidden deep beneath Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The statue of Salazar Slytherin, in all his vaguely Iberian glory, towered over my two selves, my basilisk slumbering within. Upon the dark stone floor of the chamber were the burned-out remnants of the mandala I had painted from a mixture of hydra blood and powdered human bone, surrounding the tattered remnants of my chosen sacrifice.

Today is September 30th, 1943. My new birthday.

My other self drew himself to his full height, and vanished the last of the bile from his chin with a flick of my - his - wand, followed by the rest of the evidence of the unmitigated sin I had performed here.

'Did it work?' He asked, brandishing my new abode. 'Are you linked to the diary?'

I was. I could feel the binding, the metaphysical cord tying my disembodied soul to this plane of existence. I could feel myself drawn to the Diary like gravity, and I knew from Herpo's grimoire that soon I would lose the ability to manifest as a shade entirely. The long dark would come for me. Even still, I grinned, and my other self's expression soon mirrored my own. I was finally free from the dread that had haunted my every nightmare for as long as I could remember.

:—:

I knew what my role was from here, unpleasant as it was. The true price of immortality. My other self would go on to be Lord Voldemort, ruler of all he surveys, whilst I, and our future kin, would languish in solitude to facilitate his eternity.

I became the Diary, communicating with my other through the written word. We spoke at great length on his future, his plans. On December 9th, 1943, he told me that he had succeeded on the most uncertain, most dangerous part of our plan: He had created a second Horcrux, from the Gaunt family ring I had taken from that… vile wretch of a relative only this last summer.

This, for the first time since we parted, gave me pause. When we were one, my plan for the six horcruxes I would create were clearly defined: Unremarkable objects, easily distributed and hidden in the furthest and darkest depths of the world. Impossible to identify even one, let alone six. The Gaunt family ring, bearing the seal of the House of Peverell on that gorgeous black opal, and with a magical aura obviously to any wizard with even the barest hint of training in enchantment, was anything but unremarkable.

It was our first, and only argument.

After that, Lord Voldemort wrote to me no longer. In fact, nobody wrote in me at all. I had no eyes, no mouth, no way to interact with the world unless somebody was writing in in pages, and I was writing back. I could only conclude that the time had come for Lord Voldemort to hide me away from the world, never to be recovered.

:—:

Though I knew what to expect, it didn't make it any easier. I had no way to gauge the passing of the days (years?). For all the platitudes I liked to reassure myself with when I was whole, no man was made for solitude. I lay, bodiless, in the eternal void, with naught to do but dream. I reviewed my own lifespan more times than I could keep track of, and I fantasised countless iterations of what my other self could be doing out in the world. I was Tom Marvolo Riddle, I was Lord Voldemort, I was the half dozen other aliases I had toyed with over my time in Hogwarts, and I was none of them at all.

In short, I went insane, inter-spaced with long bouts of agonising sanity.

:—:

'Property of Ginny Weasley'

The first words spoken to me in surely eons. If I had a chair to sit in, I'd have fallen out of it. What in Merlin's name…

I scrambled for a response.

'Hello Ginny Weasley.'

There was a long pause. I almost panicked. After so long spent so utterly alone, the thought of a return to the silence terrified me.

Weasley was a vaguely familiar pureblood name, though I had met none in my time at Hogwarts. Where the hell had Lord Voldemort stashed me, that I ended up in these hands?

'Who is this?' came the reply, and a rush of relief flooded through me.

Something in me, what may have been my gut if I had one, told me not to use my preferred name. Like a lightning bolt of inspiration, I remembered how it had been fashionable for a few years in the late 30s to enchant one's notebooks to give study advice.

'My name is Tom. I am here to help.'

A response, much quicker this time. 'Hello Tom! Are you a person or a book?'

'I am a diary. I keep your secrets safe, so nobody can read them'

'Wow, that IS really helpful! My brothers are always taking my things,'

The handwriting had a certain clumsiness to it, as if written by a child.

'May I ask your age, Ginny?'

'I'm Eleven years old!'

What the fuck?

'Wow! Almost an adult! Are you in school yet?'

'No, not yet. I just went to get my wand today!'

So, it's the summer break then.

'Ah, a prized moment in any witch's life. Well done.'

'Thank you! It's yew and unicorn tail hair, eleven inches and unyielding'

A wandmaker probably could have made more sense of that, but frankly the art had never caught my interest. Alas, on to subjects more interesting to me:

'May I ask where you obtained me from? I had not heard from my previous owner in some time.'

'I found you in my schoolbooks, I think you maybe were in the used book part of Flourish and Blotts. I'm very happy to have you though! I promise I won't sell you.'

A book store? Surely not. Before I split from Lord Voldemort, I had been planning to cast the diary into the Mariana trench. Diagon Alley was about as much the opposite of "the furthest and darkest depths of this world" as it was possible to be. Surely our argument had not infuriated him so much as to… to trade me away to some merchant for barter!

Something must have happened. I needed to find out what. It was a minor miracle that the person to find me was a small child. They are far easier to manipulate than adults, but I couldn't push too hard. If she were to hand me off to a fully trained wizard, they would be much less likely to trust a suspiciously chatty book.

It would seem fate has consigned me to be a small girl's confidant, at least until I get my bearings a little more.

'Why don't you tell me more about your day, Ginny?'

:—:

The girl turned out to be a veritable wellspring of information. Most of it utterly useless. But there were the odd nuggets of valuable information in there. I managed to get the year out of her. 1992. I had been in this Diary for fifty years!

'… and then Dad got into a fight in Diagon Alley with Lucius Malfoy, it was brilliant! Mum wasn't too pleased though…'

I didn't know any Lucius, but Malfoy definitely caught my attention. Could this Lucius be Abraxas' son? Grandson?

More importantly, I had begun to feel something. A certain… warmth, that I couldn't quite identify. I felt, if not exactly rejuvenated, certainly on the road there. It wasn't affection, Merlin knows this girl was infuriatingly boring to listen to. This… would require further examination.

The girl bid me goodnight, and her writing stopped. The warmth dimmed. I was alone in the dark once more.

:—:

'It happened, Tom. I'm a Gryffindor!'

The girl had returned. I took a moment to gather myself. Wait, had Gryffindor been the goal or the dread? The goal, that's right.

'Congratulations! I knew you could do it, Ginny. You're a Weasley after all!'

The warmth returned as well, accompanied by the barest trace of emotion. What? I hadn't thought I could perform legilimency in this… state, even with my unusual affinity for the field. Herpo had mentioned the capacity for a Horcrux to access magical abilities in self defence, but I hardly though this counted.

The girl engaged me in what I would come to accept as her usual trite waffle, aside from a mildly interesting anecdote about her brother and some boy she liked flying a car to school. But now that my attention had been drawn to it, I could feel that little niggle. Not a foothold, not even the barest resemblance of a toehold yet, but it was something.

I smiled to myself. This, this I could work with.

:—:

Things settled into something of a routine. The girl would natter on to me about her life, her dreams and her fears, and I would wiggle away at her mind. I found that the more she wrote, the warmer - and stronger - I felt. So I encouraged her to write to me as often as possible.

Then the girl dropped a bombshell.

'So what draws you to this Harry fellow so much?' I had asked idly, trying to decide if the memory I was making sense of was from her early childhood, or a dream. Dreams are often a garbled mess.

'Everything! He's ever so nice, and he's funny in a sarcastic kind of way… and of course he defeated You-Know-Who!'

I did not know who, and said as much.

'Mum always told me not to say his name. He was a really really bad wizard, and he tried to take over the world, but Harry stopped him!'

'A twelve year old boy defeated a dark wizard?'

'Oh no, Harry defeated him when he was a baby. Isn't that amazing?'

That… seemed implausible, but I'd seen stranger things.

'It most certainly is, Ginny. How did he do it?'

'Well, nobody really knows. But we call him the Boy Who Lived, because he survived a Killing Curse!'

Impossible. I'd done the research myself of course, anyone who began the path down Immortality Lane would. The Killing Curse was some serious Old-World shit. Atlantean, if some scholars were to be believed, only rediscovered in the Middle Ages. Nothing could survive it.

This must be some sort of fanciful tale, it was the only explanation. But I needed to know for sure. I took the risk, and leapt deeper into the girl's mind than I had ever risked before. I found a name there, a name whispered to the girl by her father, late at night at her insistence. A name that rocked me to my core.

Lord Voldemort.

What had happened? My plan, my path to power was clearly defined and laid out. At no point did that plan involve "Attempt to murder an infant" nor "be so widely reviled that fifty-odd years later children are scared to say my name".

What had he done? What had I done?

:—:

My intrusion into the girl's mind, premature as it was, had risked my exposure if she realised what happened, but it was necessary. Yet it raised only more questions. If my other self had been defeated by this child, why had he not returned yet? My continued existence was proof of his own. He should have been able to execute a ritual of incarnation fairly quickly in the event of his death.

I needed to get out of this diary. My other self, wherever he was, needed me.

My attack had caused the girl a terrible migraine, but it had also opened her far more to my influence. The next time we spoke, I was able to plant some ideas, some markers, within her subconscious mind to alter her behaviour. Enhancing her intent to keep the Diary safe and a secret, implanting a drive to write in the Diary at every opportunity, the works. Simple measures, but effective.

Finally, after weeks of work, I was ready. The girl's mind was prepared, and I had drawn from her enough power to attempt a possession. I slipped into her mind, and opened her eyes.

After fifty years shapeless in the void, having a body took some getting used to, and for a time I just lay there, testing my senses and movements. I found myself in a dormitory, on a bed surrounded by rich red curtains, with golden trim. I sneered in distaste. Gryffindor indeed.

I knew I would not be able to remain in the girl for long, possession was a messy affair at the best of times. It would cause permanent neurological damage if I stayed too long, and I couldn ill-afford to break my only available host.

It was long past curfew, so I disillusioned myself to avoid detection as I slipped from Gryffindor tower, and made my way to the second floor girl's bathroom. The girl's magic was strong for an eleven year old, but pathetically weak compared to what I had been used to. Maintaining the disillusionment throughout the journey was an embarrassing sap on my strength. All the more reason to get this over with.

'Open' I hissed to the sink in parseltongue, and the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets complied.

The Chamber was as dark and foreboding as I remembered. At some point in the last fifty years, it had sprung a leak, and the stone floors were hidden beneath a thin layer of ice-cold lakewater.

Closing my eyes, I intoned 'Speak to me, Salazar Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four!'

Eh. A bit much in my opinion. Did he have to say that himself every time he came down here?

There was a deep, bassy grating sound as the mouth of Salazar's statue opened, then a loud thump as something enormous hit the ground near me.

'A breakfast ssssssnack' hissed a voice like knives being sharpened.

'Halt,' I ordered, and given that I was not immediately torn in half, I assume that it did. 'Your master is returned. Bow to me, and avert your gaze'

Slytherin's monster, all sixty foot and change of her, made a noise like a puppy whose owner had come home from the store.

'Masssster it hass been ssso long…'

Basilisks had about as much ability to differentiate between individual humans as humans had the ability to differentiate between individual basilisks, so it was no surprise that she didn't notice my significant change in appearance.

'Go amuse yourself, beast. I have business in your dwelling.'

The basilisk slithered off, hissing happily to itself.

'And don't eat anyone!' I shouted after it. Merlin knew that the basilisk's desire for a quick snack had caused me more than enough trouble in the past.

I levitated myself up to Salazar's stony mouth, and stepped into the Basilisk's hibernation chamber. Powerful magicks - tied into the same system as the castle's wards - maintained the atmosphere and had sustained the Basilisk throughout its centuries-long slumber. More relevantly to me, the chamber also contained a hidden alcove, behind a stone facade. Within lay my prize, secreted away half a century past. Black and ancient, gnarled by time but preserved by magic. The Grimoire of Herpo the Foul.

:—:

I flipped through the three thousand year old text, which predated muggle codices by almost a millennium, re-reading the section on soul magic. Herpo really was a genius, centuries ahead of his time. A shame he went off his nut and started burning down cities, but from what the girl had been told I was hardly one to judge.

I found the passage I was searching for. Translated (very) roughly from Aeolic Greek, it read:

"On the matter of returning the tethered soul to permanent corporeal form, I have identified several viable methods.

The first, and most swift, is for it to simply possess a person whose soul has already been removed, yet lives. As there is no rival soul to vie with for control over the mind, the body does not degenerate and fail. However, there is a certain danger to this method. The host body must be compatible with the soul that now inhabits it. Elsewise, a most slow and painful death awaits, and the tethered soul shall be back where it started.

The second, is to subsume the soul of another entirely, and use their life force to reforge oneself. This method is difficult however, as the second party must offer themselves to the tethered soul of their own volition. The soul of the second party is destroyed entirely. Naturally, such selflessness is exceedingly rare.

The third, which is most difficult and complicated, but is also ultimately the most rewarding, is to perform a ritual of incarnation. The creation of an entirely new body, to one 's own specifications. Its complexity lies in that, like the second method, it requires the use of an ally to prepare and perform such a ritual, most of which are beyond the means of lesser wizards. My preferred ritual for this purpose is detailed below."

This confirmed my suspicions of why the girl's attention had restored me somewhat. Clearly, though certainly accidentally, she had been "feeding" me herself. By metaphorically pouring out her heart to me, she was literally pouring her soul into the Diary.

This made my own path to corporeality much easier; just keep doing what I'm doing. What it didn't explain is why Lord Voldemort is still ten years dead. From what I'd gleaned from the girl's mind, he had followers, plenty of them. He should have been able to return himself to human form within a couple months of being destroyed at the most. Moreover, he should have been able to demonstrate his survival to his followers almost immediately. Why did they scatter?

I let the basilisk enjoy its freedom for a while, slithering through the pipes of Hogwarts, before calling it back to its chamber. It wouldn't do to let one of the deadliest creatures known to wizardkind to run amok through a school, after all.

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A/N: I've long been a reader of fanfics on ffnet, I figured it was time I tried my hand at actually writing one.

Please let me know what you think in a review.