His goal is to know every meter of the woods before school begins again. He wants to know where the centaurs reside, to figure out where the Acromantula weave their webs, to discover every animal and plant species that calls these woods home. He’s sixteen now, and he knows he has limited time before he’ll be finished with his classes. Of course, he intends to become a professor and teach here if Headmaster Dumbledore agrees. That might take effort, since the Headmaster has been suspicious since that daft Myrtle got herself killed. It’s not Tom’s fault that she crossed him. He had warned her, after all.
There’s nothing particularly forbidden about the forest, so he believes the name is misleading. Perhaps first years might get lost, but it’s not that difficult to remember directions and know how to get back to the castle. This is his fifth day exploring, and he’s going further than before. He thinks he saw a unicorn yesterday, so he plans to follow that path to see if he can locate it. The woods do make it far too easy to imagine things, he’s learning, because the trees are so heavy and there’s little natural light to illuminate the shadows lurking about.
When he nears a clearing, he becomes aware of the sound of twigs snapping. He hasn’t noticed before because he’s been focused on the trees. Tilting his head slightly, he determines that the sound is coming from behind him. Something is following him. His lips curl into a slight sneer as he imagines the prey becoming the hunter. He is no creature’s prey. Gripping his wand, he waits until the noise is close enough to strike and then turns quickly, aiming and ready to curse.
“Who are you?” He is surprised to see a young woman standing there instead of a creature of some sort. He doesn’t recognize her, though she can’t be much older than him.
“I knew you’d come eventually,” she says, stepping closer to him and not at all bothered by the wand he’s pointing at her. She moves her gaze over him in a way that leaves him feeling exposed, which makes him tighten his grip on his wand. “Tom Riddle.”
“How do you know me?” He frowns and stands tall, not taking a step back despite how close she’s coming. In an aesthetic way, he can appreciate her facial features and figure, but her hair is wild and there’s a look in his eyes that disturbs him. It’s familiar, but it takes him a moment to realize he’s seen it in his own eyes while staring in the mirror.
“I know all about you. That frightens you, doesn’t it?” She smiles. “I don’t even need a wand to scare you because you know it’s true. I know you, Tom Riddle. Your plans, your thirst for knowledge and power, your hatred for your parents…I know who you are and what you’ll become. What you’ll do to this world.”
“How do you know of my parents?” He hasn’t yet been able to find out details, too young for anyone to speak with him, yet she claims to know. “Who are you? Answer me or I’ll tell the headmaster you’re here.”
“You may call me Nemesis,” she says, taking another step closer. She’s now even with his wand, and he can feel the pressure on the tip as she presses her body against it. “Do you know your mythology, Tom Riddle?”
“Muggle stories,” he says with a sneer. “I don’t care about Muggles or those with dirty Muggle blood.”
“Ah. There it is. I had to know, you see? I wasn’t entirely sure of the year, whether I had arrived in time to save poor Myrtle or if it was too late.” She studies him a moment. “I’m too late to save her, but she’s going to be your only victim. I’m here to make sure of that.”
“How do you know about Myrtle?” He feels a slight tremble of excitement. “Are you from the future? You know of me then?”
“Hubris,” she whispers, no longer smiling or amused. “Arrogance before the gods. You should have studied your mythology, Tom Riddle. It took me two years, but I managed to find a way to come here to fulfill the role of Nemesis. They warn about time travel, say not to change anything, but I’ve thought about this so often that I can’t even sleep at night anymore. Nothing I do will make things worse. It can only get better for everyone I care about. My life will change the most, but I accept the sacrifice required to improve the world for everyone else.”
“You’re crazy,” he decides. “You’ve escaped from St. Mungos, and you think you can hide here and scare me. You don’t scare me with your talk of Muggle mythology and time travel talk. Did Dumbledore send you? I suspected he knew about Myrtle, and this proves it.”
“There is no escape from Nemesis, Tom Riddle.” The woman smiles again. “It is time to balance the world. Instead of waiting for you to commit the crimes and instigate the deaths of so many before their time, I seek retribution before you have the opportunity to follow the path that you’ve already started walking. I believe in being pro-active, you know?”
Before he has a chance to react, she has moved, knocking his arm to the side and holding her own wand to his throat. When he looks into her eyes, he feels fear for the first time in his life.
“There isn’t time to list all of your crimes, Tom Riddle. The gods know of them and have found you guilty. This is for everyone I love who has suffered from your choices and acts. For Harry and Neville who lost their parents and lived as orphans. For Teddy who is destined for the same life. For those taken. James, Lily, Sirius, Regulus, Snape, Remus, Tonks, Fred, Colin, Moody,” she lists names of people he’s never heard of, and he can’t fight back because she’s got him under a charm that he never even heard her cast. “I don’t know what my life will be when I return, but it’s going to be a different world. A better world without your evil infecting it.”
She kisses his forehead, and he stares at her as she steps back. Her arm doesn’t waver as she aims her wand at him. There is an expression in her eyes that reminds him of determination and acceptance when she whispers a curse that he’s only ever read about in books. His world turns green then there is nothing.