This is the sequel to my story "Poison" and I guess it's necessary to have read "Poison" for "Perception" to make sense, so please feel invited to read "Poison" first if you haven't done so yet ;-)
Chapter One - Regrets and decisions
15 years later
Tom was standing in the living room of Malfoy Manor and was looking out of the window. He had just ended a meeting with his Death Eaters. The news concerning the prophecy about the one person that would be able to vanquish him had been alarming. Bellatrix was still hovering in the room trying to gain his attention and wanting to comfort him. Tom sneered. She definitely was his most loyal servant but she would never learn to see his true self. She would never learn that he didn't need to be comforted, that he didn't want to be comforted. It was times like these that he wished he had had better control of his temper that fateful night fifteen years ago. The inexplicably strange force that had joined his magic back then had never subsided. It was constantly with him, constantly fuelling him but, unfortunately, also constantly reminding him of the way he had deliberately destroyed what he had originally come to preserve. He snorted, thinking about the irony of that night. He had come to prevent her death and in the end it had been he himself who had taken her life, the one life that had ever been special to him. No one had ever been like her again. Even after he had finally left the shadows and had started to openly show the darkness that reigned inside of him, no one saw him the way she had seen him. No one had ever been faithful to him the way she had been. She had known about his darkness and still she had truly cared for him. His Death Eaters knew about his darkness but they didn't care for him, they simply feared him. And even Bellatrix wasn't the same. She had an insane idea of love and only lived to serve him. He cruelly dominated her and she desperately craved that.
Tom had tried to forget what had happened, had tried to discard it as negligible but the force that was constantly running through his veins seemed determined to prevent that from ever happening, mocking his inability to save what he had only ever truly cared for.
Tom exhaled sharply. He tried to imagine what she would have thought about the prophecy. She had always been so sensible. She would have discussed the prophecy's meaning with him until things would have made sense. The prophecy was concerning his downfall. This was important. He had to make sure he made the right decision.
Bellatrix was still pacing behind him. He suddenly turned around and hissed, "Stop moving."
Bellatrix instantly halted. "Of course, my lord, just as you wish, my lord."
Tom sneered at her. She was standing there, not daring to move an inch. He felt satisfaction wash over him. He drew his wand and brandished it slightly, hissing, "Crucio". He watched her pain emotionlessly. He was torturing her just for his pleasure and yet somewhere deep inside he knew that her tormented screams somehow eased his own pain. When he finally lifted the curse, Bellatrix crawled towards him on her knees, bowing to him. Tom suppressed a contemptuous smirk. She would even thank him for torturing her. She was just as pathetic as all the others.
That night Tom decided to visit the place he had once created when he had returned to England shortly after graduation, the place where he had spent so many hours with her. She had called it his lair and, actually, he couldn't think of a more accurate word to describe it. The loud crack of his Apparition tore the silence that had graced the place for more than two decades. Everything still looked the same as when he had left it the night after he had murdered Hepzibah Smith. He had never returned. Tonight, however, he finally wanted to be there again. He sat by the fireside and lit the fire with a flick of his wand. His gaze fell on the empty parchment that lay on the table in front of him. He took it and turned it with his long pale fingers. He could still smell her blood. If only he could talk to her about the prophecy. If only she would be somewhere around. Unfortunately, apparently her soul had left this world. He snorted. Of course he had done this just as perfectly as everything else. He felt his temper flare. Why ever had she provoked him so much? She should have known his temper. She should have known he would curse her. She should have known better. Tom exhaled sharply, realization finally dawning on him. He narrowed his eyes. Of course she had known he would curse her. She had probably even counted on it. Tom clenched his fist, crumpling the parchment in his hand. She had been ready to die either way that night but this way she had finally succeeded in making him realize…their connection.
Tom leaned back and let his mind wander, bringing back memories long since forgotten. They had had good times, the two of them, their magic and their books. They had read, studied and experimented with so much enthusiasm, always trying to outdo the other. They had been so alike, and yet so different. While he was thinking about it, he vaguely remembered her telling him a story she had once read when she had been trying to find alternative ways to immortality. It had been a children's tale and he hadn't paid much attention, because, after all, it was only a fairy tale. And yet he remembered her excitement when she had told him about the Deathly Hallows. Suddenly, Tom's mind sped up. He also remembered the three Hallows; the wand, the stone and the cloak. He frowned. The stone. It was said to be able to bring back the dead. He had never seen the necessity to bring back the dead but that had been…before. What if the stone was able to bring her back? Tom flicked his wand, summoning a book from the shelf behind him, and quickly started reading. When his gaze fell on the symbol drawn next to the tale he raised his eyebrows. He knew that symbol; he had seen it before, but he hadn't paid attention. A moment later he was on his way to Little Hangleton. It didn't take him long to retrieve Marvolo's ring from the Gaunt's shack. He turned it in his hand. There it was, the symbol, engraved on the stone. He snorted. He had tried so many spells on the ring before he had turned it into a Horcrux but he had never thought that this stone might be one of the Hallows. Tom pocketed the ring and returned to his lair. Sitting in his armchair again, he stared at the ring for a long time, wondering if he should really try it. Then curiosity got the better of him. He turned the ring thrice and pictured her to return. He had just made the last turn when he couldn't quite believe his eyes. It had actually worked. He stared at her face. She looked the same as on the night when he had killed her. Cassiopeia stared back at him. Neither of them said a word. Tom tried to decide what she was. She was more than a ghost but less than a living being. But she was there.
"It's been a long time." He felt stupid for his words but he couldn't think of anything else. After all, she was the first of his victims with whom he could talk after killing them.
"You have changed even further." Cassiopeia gazed at him. "I don't think I want to know how that happened." She gestured vaguely at him.
Tom couldn't suppress a smirk. "Losing you has been hard on me."
Cassiopeia raised an eyebrow. "Your lies used to be better. But I guess you're done with your charming masquerade. I'd say your darkness is finally showing."
"The world has changed," Tom stated.
"Probably you mean to say you changed it. You know I'd really have preferred if you had changed the world without changing yourself. But I think we already discussed that before you…succumbed to your fury."
Tom pressed his lips together. There was a moment of silence before Tom hissed, "If anything, I can assure you that in the end it made me understand."
The ghost of a smile flickered across Cassiopeia's face. She looked at the ring which he was still holding in his hand. The black stone glimmered slightly and finally Cassiopeia recognized it for what it was. The Resurrection Stone. She glanced at Tom. He had actually been able to use it. He had been able to bring her back. It seemed she couldn't have been so wrong about him, after all.
"You had the stone all this time?"
"I only realized it tonight."
"So, why tonight?" Cassiopeia asked.
After a moment Tom answered, "I wanted to talk to you."
"And then you realized that, unfortunately, you killed me? How lucky that you possessed the Resurrection Stone all along." Cassiopeia's voice was dripping with sarcasm.
Tom huffed, "Can't you just sit?"
"If I can sit? I don't know. I'm dead after all." Cassiopeia glared at him.
Tom flinched almost unnoticeably. "I don't remember you being so resentful. Let's just sit like…before."
A look of hurt crossed Cassiopeia's face. Then she shrugged and sat down beside him. After a moment Tom started telling her about the prophecy. When he had finished, there was a long silence. Finally, Cassiopeia stated in a humourless voice, "I'm afraid I can't help you. Neither of us ever believed in these future telling things. But maybe we shouldn't have skipped Divination."
Tom stared at his hands and his jaw clenched. "I need to prevent this prophecy from fulfilling."
"I fear that when you act upon it you're only going to start fulfilling it." Cassiopeia looked at him. Then she added with a hint of sadness in her voice, "I have to leave now. But I want you to know that I never wanted things to turn out like this."
Tom nodded but kept staring at his wand in his hands. When she was gone, Tom murmured, "I didn't want it this way either."
After further investigations Tom came to the conclusion that there were only two options as to whom the prophecy was about. It had to be either the Longbottoms or the Potters. When Tom had finally decided that the Potter boy was his target and he told his Death Eaters to hunt the Potters down, Severus reacted in a strange way. Obviously, everybody knew that the Potters needed to be killed but Severus seemed unusually tormented by the thought. When all the Death Eaters filed out after the meeting, Severus stayed behind, asking Tom for a word in private. Tom eyed him with his cold eyes, pondering the request. Out of curiosity he finally granted him his wish. At first Severus stammered incoherently about the prophecy. When Tom was already on the verge of losing his patience, Severus finally came out with his plea and begged him to spare the Potter woman's life. Tom instantly sneered in regard to this pathetic wish and was about to laugh at the ridiculous request when he caught a glimpse of the pain in Severus' eyes and the laughter stuck in his throat. Tom didn't quite know what happened but the pain in Severus' eyes vehemently reminded him of something he had buried somewhere very deep inside his memory, something he had tried so hard to forget and yet he simply couldn't get rid of. It reminded him of the excruciating pain he had felt the night when he had killed her. The sneer was wiped off his face and he pursed his lips. He stared at Severus for a long moment before he replied, "I will offer her the chance to be spared. That's all I can promise."
It was Halloween 1981 and Tom was standing in the Potter's house in Godric's Hollow, in the boy's room. James Potter had put up a courageous fight but in the end he had stood no chance and Tom had blasted him away. Lily Potter turned out to be a problem. Tom had already offered twice to spare her if she only stood aside and let him have a go at the boy. But the foolish woman didn't move. Tom felt his temper flare. He tried one last time, but it was in vain. Tom's eyes turned red and he cast the Killing Curse without further thinking. The split second before she was hit by the curse he saw this gleam in her eyes, strong and powerful. Then she fell and her eyes were empty. Tom turned towards the boy and raised his wand again but just when he was about to cast the fatal curse he suddenly felt as if he was missing something important. He lowered his wand again, staring at the boy in his cot. He swore under his breath. This wasn't good. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. He knew he needed to kill the boy, but he hesitated, his mind racing. He narrowed his eyes and glanced at the ring on his hand. He had taken to wearing it again ever since he had realized its true origin. He snorted and swore again. Then he took off the ring and slowly turned it thrice.
Tom stared at Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia looked at Tom, then at the boy and at the woman on the floor and finally back at Tom. She slightly raised an eyebrow. "I'd say you got yourself into trouble."
"You used to be less cheeky," Tom huffed.
"I guess that's the consequence of having nothing to lose." She looked at the boy again. "Obviously you didn't want to be alone with the boy."
"I have to kill him," Tom spat.
"Surely you don't need me for that?" Cassiopeia asked sarcastically.
Tom ignored her sarcasm. "Do you think it's safe?" Tom stared at Lily Potter's body on the floor.
Cassiopeia threw him a questioning glance. "Did I miss anything? It's a baby."
Tom scowled at the boy. "You missed the way I killed his mother. Severus wanted me to spare her and I intended to do so because….well, doesn't matter why, but I asked her to stand aside and the foolish woman wouldn't move."
Cassiopeia sneered. "And that surprised you? You threaten to kill her son and you expect her to step aside? I thought you said you understood something that night when you killed me."
Tom pursed his lips. "Anyway, I killed her, there's no changing that now. But the moment before she was hit by the curse there was something in her eyes, something….I don't know."
Cassiopeia stared at Tom. For once, his face was not as blank and emotionless as usual and Cassiopeia could see frustration shining in his eyes. She looked at the woman's body lying on the floor next to her baby's cot for a long time. Finally she whispered, "I know you won't like it but she died to protect her son. I think that by asking her to step aside you made her sacrifice herself for him. I may be wrong but I don't think you will be able to kill him. You should never raise your wand against him. It's dangerous. It's going to destroy you." Her voice trailed away. Tom glared at the boy and Lily, anger and fury spreading in his body, and he lost his temper at last. In his rage his magic burst uncontrollably from his wand, curses dashing violently in all directions, making the room explode with light, leaving him, Cassiopeia, Lily and the boy being surrounded by waves of thundering magic burning like fire.
Tom was furious, deeply furious. This wasn't the way all of this was supposed to be. This wasn't the way he had originally pictured all of this to be. He had always craved power and immortality, nothing more, nothing less. To be fair, he had achieved power and immortality, but there was no denying that he had truly wrecked himself impressively along the way. Tom's eyes were burning like fire. He hated his continuous restlessness and his unpredictable capriciousness; he hated the way his usually sharp mind turned hazy time and time again, depriving him of his grip on his thoughts much too frequently. He hated that he had killed the one person who had ever truly cared for him, and unfortunately, no matter how hard he tried to ignore this disturbing fact, being also the only one he had ever come close to caring for, and now he had even botched his chance to prevent the bloody prophecy from fulfilling. He swore loudly, sending a last blowing curse at what was left of the wardrobe.
Cassiopeia raised her eyebrows. "Once upon a time you were better at keeping your temper in check."
"I know," Tom growled, "Once upon a time everything used to be better."
A sad smile crossed Cassiopeia's face. "Once upon a time you made all the wrong choices."
Tom narrowed his eyes. "Maybe you're lucky you can't be killed twice."
Cassiopeia looked into Tom's eyes. They were blazing red. She flinched. She had always loved his dark eyes. "I'm aware that you've never been one for receiving criticism but maybe you should try to figure out when things started to…..go wrong."
Something akin to surprise flashed through Tom's eyes. Then he asked, "Any suggestions?", his voice full of sarcasm.
Cassiopeia didn't think twice. "I'd say the creation of Horcruxes was wrong."
Tom immediately shook his head. "No. There's no other way to immortality. I've figured out that much in the past decades."
"Well, maybe then it was wrong to create five Horcruxes. One would have been enough to gain immortality."
"One isn't safe enough," Tom countered.
Cassiopeia sighed. "You're difficult. But you definitely shouldn't have turned the diadem into a Horcrux and least of all the cup and the locket."
Tom exhaled sharply. "I shouldn't have killed you."
Cassiopeia moved closer. "Maybe you wouldn't have, if you had never created those last Horcruxes."
He stared at her. Then he looked away and he felt his temper flare again. "This is useless. Things are the way they are."
"Are they?" Cassiopeia whispered softly. "You claim to be the greatest sorcerer in the world. Shouldn't you be able to find a way to fix this?"
He watched her move even closer but just when he thought he would be able to feel her touch, she was gone. Tom stared at the boy with whom he was now alone again. Then he grabbed the boy and disapparated from the ruins of the house.
At Malfoy Manor he charged Narcissa with taking care of the boy and went to the library. He sat there contemplating for a long time. When he finally got up, he had a plan. He didn't know if it was going to work but he definitely thought it was worth a try. He knew he still craved power and immortality above all things but he was aware that his way of achieving his aims had had some flaws, to say the least. He wanted a second chance at this. He was certain that this time he wouldn't make the same mistakes. He only needed to make his teenage self realize that it wasn't wise to create more than two Horcruxes. He had yet to figure out how to accomplish that but there had to be a way. He already had an idea when to interfere and he knew he couldn't afford to waste time. Deep inside he suspected that maybe his plan was insane but somehow he had grown obsessed with the desire to make himself even greater by amending the mistakes that had occurred along the way, the second she had first planted the idea in his mind. He had obtained a time-turner long ago. After all, there wasn't any kind of magic he hadn't experimented with, no field of magic he hadn't explored. He had modified and refined the time-turner until it provided the possibility of travelling back years instead of only hours but he had never even considered using it. He had never seen the benefit of travelling in time. He had kept the time-turner only to insure against his enemies. The time-turner would be able to take him back to November 1943, the time when he had created his second Horcrux. He only had to work out how to convince his younger self that it was destructive to create too many Horcruxes. He vividly remembered the night when he had turned the diary into a Horcrux. He remembered the disastrous longing for Cassiopeia's touch he had felt back then. He had never been able to truly forget, no matter how hard he had tried; and he had tried really hard. Back then, his sixteen year old self had considered this longing to be a despicable weakness and he had vowed to never show this weakness again. To be fair, he had never been able to prevent the longing from flooding his body whenever he had created a Horcrux ever after, but he had always tried to ignore it and had regarded it as the only flaw in his otherwise flawless self. Tom knew that he probably had to admit that he had been quite wrong. The night when he had cast that fateful curse on Cassiopeia he had finally had to learn that there were emotions besides the familiar hatred that were unbelievably powerful. He had to admit that he still marvelled at the power of this strange force that had invigorated his magic ever since. If he only got his teenage self to accept the longing as part of something bigger, something stronger than what he had originally thought it to be. He was aware that this would undoubtedly turn out to be difficult. After all, he needed to convince a stubborn boy who had never known any feelings besides hatred and contempt; a boy that believed he wasn't able to feel anything besides the familiar hatred and contempt; a boy that strongly believed that feelings were nothing but weakness. But, maybe, if he had known about the power that came with allowing this kind of emotion, he wouldn't have wasted his time trying to ignore all the disastrous effects that creating the Horcruxes had on his self. Instead he might have gained access to this unlimited power much earlier. Tom finally made up his mind. He wanted to know what would have been. He wanted to make his stubborn teenage self see the truth. He wanted to gain infinite power and immortality without losing himself on the way.