The Road to Hell
Chapter 4: A Collector’s Cruelty
Shadows crept along sprawling lawns and across the darkening lake as the sun dipped behind the tops of distant trees.
All of it is mine. His lips curved up into a small half-smile. All of it.
The sudden sound of hissing pulled him from his thoughts. “He approaches,” warned the stone serpent’s head from above his office door.
Tom dragged his eyes away from the window and swept behind his desk. “Enter,” he called when the soft knock came.
“Good evening, Tom,” said Dumbledore. “Pardon my tardiness, I was held up by students downstairs.”
Tom’s eyes flicked down toward the ring on the old man’s finger. Torchlight danced along a golden band, atop which sat a strange gemstone carved in the shape of a dragon’s head. The stone looked like ruby at first glance, but the longer he stared, the more colours he saw.
“Which students?” he asked. “They should never have harassed you.”
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as he took the chair across from him. “I assure you, there was no harassment. I welcome their attention each time I visit.”
“Welcome or not, they should know better. I will never understand your tolerance for disrespect.”
Dumbledore’s brow furrowed. “Disrespect?”
“What else would you call it?”
“Curiosity, and there is no harm in that.”
Tom’s fingers flexed beneath the desk. His wrist burned with phantom pain and the old sound of a belt whistled in his ears. “Not from a distance.”
“It is important they see me.” No, it is important they fear you. “What becomes of a ruler whose face is forgotten?”
Tom conjured up a smile. “Let’s not waste time on old arguments. You know that we will never agree.”
“We need not agree, but I value varying perspectives. They often shed light on matters otherwise obscured.”
“You have heard my perspective more than once — the unknown is feared by all; its power knows no bounds.”
Dumbledore pursed his lips. “Fear is a dangerous thing.”
“I have heard it said that fear freezes daring and swallows courage whole. There is power in fear.”
“That power goes both ways,” the old man said. “Some might say it swallows courage whole, but some of history’s most courageous acts came from people who were afraid. A weapon it might be, but its blade is double-edged and must be handled carefully.”
“There are always outliers,” Tom said. “I could talk about how many students I watched freeze in front of boggarts, but all it would do is prompt your next retort and then we would be back at the beginning.”
“You never were one for patience.”
Tom’s smile strained. “Patience is worthless when you’re waiting for the end of a circle. All men have a breaking point, and they will one day find it.”
“And I fear that you have long since found yours.” Dumbledore’s smile fell from his lips. “Good that you did, there is more to discuss than fear and philosophy.”
Why must he waste so much time with his whinging? “What is it?”
“A request.” Tom allowed the silence to stretch on; Dumbledore would not dictate their every exchange. “There is a student of yours I would like watched.”
A letter could have said as much. “Which student?”
“A seventh-year boy named Harry Kalloway.”
Intrigue prickled at the corners of his warded mind. “I’ve wondered about him.”
“Is there anything I should watch for? Anything in particular that interests you?”
Dumbledore stroked his silver beard. “There are no records of him prior to his arrival at St. Mungo’s in late June. He appears stable, but claims his memories are scrambled.”
“Scrambled? That is an odd way of describing memories.”
“There are things he allegedly remembers that never happened, and foundational pieces of our world were missing from his mind.”
“Would you like me to… verify his story?”
Dumbledore looked away. “No, thank you.”
How can someone rule so many, yet still lack the strength to do what must be done?
“Watch the boy,” said Dumbledore. “If his story is a lie, the truth will present itself soon. Small lapses are all it takes for tales like this to unravel.”
Would he know if I seized the truth? Tom met a pair of piercing eyes and felt his stare unwillingly drop toward the blasted ring. For nearly forty years it had been dormant, but still, its presence was like an axe hovering above him in the hands of an unseen headsman.
The reward wouldn’t be worth the risk — not until that power is one day mine. “I will watch him. Is there anything else?”
“Not tonight.” Dumbledore stood. “I tire faster these days and have had a demanding month on the American continent.”
Tom nurtured an expression of concern. “Dealing with the uprisings?”
“Not quite uprisings. Alistair remains invaluable in quelling the worst of the racket. This unrest was just rowdier than its recent counterparts.”
A ball of loathing settled in the back of his throat at the mention of Alastair Van-Laurier, but Tom’s face and voice remained as calm as tranquil water. “I’m sorry to hear that. You must crave rest.”
“I have not yet spoken with Minerva, so there is still work that needs doing. I hope to rest soon.”
“Good luck, sir.” Bile filled his throat as Dumbledore swept from his office.
Tom crossed the room and studied his most treasured trophies. Failing sunlight shone through warded glass and sparkled off an aged tiara wrought from shining silver. Red jewels gleamed against polished gold and a badger stood tall and proud. Crimson rubies glittered atop a silver hilt with a sacred name engraved beneath. Faded runes lingered upon dark green wood, scrawled beneath a serpent’s head. All mine.
He looked up from his prizes and back out the room’s large window. The sun was sinking fast. Good.
Tom cast a final glance down at his four trophies and caressed one of two serpent heads pinned against his chest. “Libertas.”
The office vanished in a multicoloured blur, replaced by dark trees and a leaf-strewn clearing. Branches swayed in the autumn breeze, their rustling the only break from silence.
He felt the familiar shiver run down his spine when his disillusionment took effect. The air left his lungs when he took his next step, but returned when his feet slammed against a cobbled road. The street was quiet and the breeze was faint, held back by low-roofed buildings on both sides.
A smile stretched across his face as he strode down the empty road. I remember when these streets still teemed with filth. The empire was a dangerous half-measure, but there were some things it had done right over the years.
He stopped before a plain oak door and reached out with phantom fingers. The wards hummed. Good. They were designed to keep the muggles in.
Footsteps came from inside seconds after he had knocked and then the door swung open, revealing a blonde-haired woman dressed in black. “Hello?” she asked with a puzzled glance around. “Who’s there?”
Tom met her eyes and conjured memories of a young orphan named Amy Benson; her thick hair and reedy voice, the way she had shrunk back each time she saw him, her screams echoing off the cave’s damp walls, and the vacant look that lingered in her too-wide eyes forever after.
Those eyes soon swam up through this muggle’s mind, framed by wrinkles he had never seen, but still with the same hollow stare.
He seized the strand and pulled, digesting a sudden rush of memories. There, he thought, focusing on a door labelled with the number thirty-four.
He went back through the chain of memories and shredded them. The woman crumpled.
Tom stepped over her body and continued down the hall, still invisible, until he reached the room from her memories. He slid his wand from his sleeve and flicked it. The lock clicked and he layered the room with wards, then stepped inside.
A woman rose from beside the room’s lone bed as he stepped across the threshold. A muggle, but not her.
“What—” Tom ripped the memory from her mind and she too collapsed.
The door closed with a soft snap and someone roused from underneath the sheets.
“What’s going on?” an old woman asked, blinking as she squinted through the darkness.
A wave of savage pleasure crashed over him. The trauma aged her. He flicked his wand and lit the lamps beside her bed, then dispensed with his concealment and stepped forward.
Her face paled; all signs of weariness had been wiped from her. “T-T-Tom?”
His heart raced, urged as it was by a sudden thrill. Forty years and she still stutters. “Hello, Amy. It’s a pleasure seeing you again.”
“W-w-what do you want?” she asked, cowering back against the wall.
A grin sliced across his face. “I think you know.”
“The p-p-papers,” she whimpered. “They’re always filled with… with—”
“Do you recognize the names?”
“They’re all from the orphanage.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth. Heat flooded down past Tom’s midsection and his breaths grew short and ragged. The stench of urine filled the room. Perfect.
“HELP!” Amy Benson screamed. “HE’S GONNA KILL ME! HELP!”
Tom laughed, a quiet sound like the branches rustling back in that shaded clearing. “Why would they come now? They never came before, why would this be different?” Still, she shrieked through wracking sobs. “Scream all you want, Amy, they can’t hear you.”
“Why?” she wept. “Why n-n-now? Why me?”
Tom saw his eyes flash scarlet in a mirror just above her bed. “Because you complete my collection.”
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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