A Soulless Solace
"Tom, can I ask you something?"
He knew he was intruding, but he felt like it was for a good cause. He waned her to understand how he felt. "Why didn't you ever change?"
"When you were younger," he said. "If you wanted to be female, why didn't you? I mean, you changed your whole identity – you took on a completely new name from at least the age of sixteen, dropping 'Tom Riddle' to start a new life, away from Muggles. What stopped you from becoming who you really wanted to be, from becoming a woman?"
Tom stood very still, staring at him. A thousand thoughts and considerations flickered behind her eyes. She didn't smile or turn away, nor was she irritated. Instead, she acted as if this were a test. She didn't trust him.
"I'm afraid I don't know," she said. "The Dark Lord, as we know him, still very much identifies with masculinity... At least outwardly; his recent rebirth may have rendered him genderless. Especially as it was done so hastily. I assume that, upon his rebirth, he either chose to forget about such a desire in favour of keeping his Death Eaters satisfied, or he simply lost interest in favour of pursuing intellectual matters over physical ones. We can only guess."
"But what about you?" Harry pressed, not wanting to speak about Lord Voldemort. "You must have learnt how to change by the time you were in your later years at Hogwarts, surely? I mean, you were able to make Horcruxes. It can't be harder than that."
Tom considered the matter slowly. She was reluctant. She was wary.
"I possessed the skills to transform myself from an early age, yes," she agreed, "but I could not find the right time to make any such change."
For the first time, Tom looked away. Harry thought she was going to ignore him, but she must have been aware that this wouldn't leave his mind any time soon. She straightened up where she stood. He waited for her to find the right words.
"My friends at Hogwarts didn't understand it," she admitted quietly. "They associated masculinity with power, almost as readily as they associated pure-blood with it. The irony was startling; I saw femininity as a comment upon how skill in intelligence and magic easily overrode that of physical brutality. I considered the idea of changing sexes to be the ultimate proof of my rebirth, of shedding my association to the old beliefs of the Muggle world... No, I could not make my friends understand my desire to change, no more than I could explain to them that I was living proof of the pure-blood within my veins overriding that of my Muggle-blood. I shared my desire with no one."
Harry was startled – not because of the nature of Tom's secret, but because she had been hiding something so important for so long. Harry may have been the only non-Death Eater Tom had ever been close enough to speak about this to, if not the only person at all. No matter how reluctantly she spoke, she wanted to trust him with how she really felt.
"Why did you care about what they thought?" Harry asked, more affected by this than he'd ever guess. "That was your choice to make, not theirs."
"It was convenient," Tom answered shortly. "I needed my friends to view me as something greater than human. I couldn't convince them to give up their views on women, no matter how right I was. Even Slughorn would never have looked at me the same again if he knew. It was a fleeting desire..."
It hurt Harry to hear her say it. It hurt him more to see the way Tom's expression darkened with these old memories in mind. She had never before been in an environment where voicing this was acceptable, but she regretted speaking to Harry about it. He didn't know how to comfort her.
"I'll find a better solution soon," Tom added in a low voice, as an afterthought.
"Like what?" Harry asked her quietly.
Tom pulled at the cusp of her robes absent-mindedly. When she eventually spoke, there was a cold expression on her face. Harry sensed her anger.
"I want to find my father's bones..."