I lay stretched out on the bed, my eyes tracing the grainy pattern of the ceiling overhead. The dorm was quiet, its amiable silence broken now and then with muffled laughter from the common room. I sucked in a deep breath and closed my eyes, my head swimming with the strangeness of Hogwarts. I had thought that I would find an instant sense of belonging here, but I was wrong. True, the castle and its inhabitants have welcomed me with open arms, but I couldn’t help feeling like an outsider. Sighing, I struggled into a sitting position and surveyed the dorm.
There were narrow beds lined against the walls, enough to accommodate ten boys. Littered in between the beds were the belongings of each boy, here a bag, there a coat. At the foot of each bed laid wooden trunks, some sturdy and polished and others, like mine, were cheap and scarred. I stood up and slid my feet into old slippers, then walked down between the rows of beds. Hands tracing the smooth oak footboards, I paused at each bunk to look through the belongings of the bed’s owner. There was a chessboard on a table beside one bed, its corners worn flat with use. A pile of comics lay on the pillow of another bed, their glossy cover calling me invitingly. I picked one up and flicked through its pages, fascinated by the moving pictures. Taking the comic back to my bed, I sat cross legged on the duvet and began reading.
“Tom Riddle, studying already on your first night at Hogwarts?” asked a husky voice.
I looked up, my eyes flickering around the room to find the source of the voice. A shadow stood by the windowsill across from my bed, its luminous eyes looking at me with mirth. I shoved the comic under my duvet and sat up straighter.
“No sir, not studying,” I said, my voice sounding stronger than I felt, “Just borrowing a comic.”
“Borrowing?” the figure said and laughed, “Doesn’t seem like borrowing to me, what with you hiding it and all.”
“Who are you, sir?” I asked, my eyes daring him to come out into the light and talk.
“The head ghost of Slytherin, of course,” said the figure, gliding closer to me, “Have you not heard of the Bloody Baron?”
The Baron came fully into the light, his long cloak swishing around his feet. I stared up into the colourless eyes of the ghost, craning my neck to see his entire tall frame. He wore the elaborate garments of an old time lord, a semi-opaque cloak pinned with a silver brooch over shirt and breeches. His silvery hair was tied back with a leather strap, with a few curls arranged artfully over his brow to hide the horrid gash on his forehead. One of his gaunt cheeks was stained with blood, although as a ghost it only appeared as a dark gray crust. He raised an eyebrow at me, and I lowered my eyes, having been caught staring into the bloody wound.
“An old wartime wound, that one,” he said, patting the gash with a death-pale hand, “I haven’t the time to say it before, but welcome to Slytherin young Riddle.”
“Thank you sir,” I said, “May I ask how it feels like being a ghost? Is it cold?”
“Curious, are you? Well, it is cold, to say the least,” he told me, “If you want to know how cold, then...”
He rushed through me, his ghostlike form surrounding my body for a brief second. I felt my heart numbing to the touch of a ghost, my eyes frozen in their surprised expression. It was as though someone drove a shard of ice through my chest. I shivered and wrapped my arms around my body, trying to hold the heat in. Goosebumps formed all over my arms, and the hairs at the back of my neck stood up straighter than soldiers at Buckingham Palace. I’ve never felt so cold in my life, so utterly frozen to the core. I’ve never felt so devoid of feelings in the entire eleven years of my existence.
“Now you know how cold,” the Baron said, a cruel smile tugging up the corners of his mouth, “Did no one ever tell you that curiosity kills the cat?”
I shook my head pathetically, slumped into a shivering heap on my bed.
“You’ve learnt something new today then, young Riddle,” the Baron said, a dry laugh emitting from his throat, “I bid you farewell and good night. Never fear, we will see a lot more of each other yet.”
With that he glided gracefully out, exiting through the solid brick wall of the dormitory. I curled into foetal position, rocking back and forth in my bed in a bid to regain some warmth back in my heart. My foot hit something hard from beneath the duvet, and I reached underneath to pull the crinkled comic out.
“Tom? Want to join us for a few games before bed?” Alfred Avery’s voice asked from between the crack in the dormitory door.
“Umm... I’ll be right there,” I replied, hastily standing up.
Alfred nodded and closed the door behind him. I held up the crumpled comic and tried to straighten the pages out. The faces of Phoenix Woman and the Animagus looked out at me from the cover, their miniature figures flying through the dark sky. In that split second of staring at the cover, I decided to keep the comic. Lazarus Lestrange would not miss that one comic out of the pile of dozens or more. Dropping the crumpled book into my trunk, I headed down to the common room.