Tom Riddle raised his voice. The winterly blowing snow had driven everyone into the salon and ballroom, where the Malfoys – Abraxas Malfoy and his father – had invited to the annual Christmas ball shortly after the holidays. He had thought awhile about accepting the invitation. A glance into the mirror had torn him apart. His formerly so delicate face appeared somehow deformed. A red shimmer had slid above his dark eyes – a side effect of his latest accomplishments. It filled him with pride, but he knew he had lost his irresistible charm with the adjustments. Therefore his plans of reviving the Knights of Walpurgis and turning them into a powerful association were made more difficult. In this regard, he did not want to lie to himself. He had decided it was time to return to Britain and get to work.
"That's why we need a reorganisation of British society," he said, "When Blood traitors can continue to live out their inclinations unchecked, we are heading straight to a demolition of magic – a subjection to the muggles. I'm talking about –"
He paused, because the old Abel Avery, who was standing in the knot of people crowded around Tom, had started to roar with laughter.
"Excuse me, what is so amusing?" Like a scalpel his voice cut through the audience.
The man stopped. "Mr Riddle," he emphasised his name in a firm way of speaking and Tom knew which argument would follow. He had to fight for everything – for his magic and his place in society, while others had it by birth. Even his appearance had to be broken to make it his own. He had come a long way, but he had already achieved more than anyone else in this room.
"Your words honour you and your demonstrated intelligence is only outdone by your youthful naivety." The old Avery said so with appreciation, but it was not a compliment.
Tom clenched his lips together, but he had to suffer the following denigration. Civility commanded it and in the circles, in which he wanted to socialise, a great deal of importance was placed on observing these rules.
"But how is a person like you going to achieve these goals?" Avery grinned sneering. "You are penniless, I heard. Everybody knows that no dignified pure-blooded family is standing behind you. A few years ago you had an inferior temporary job at Borgin & Burke's. Not much has been heard from you since your hasty departure five years ago."
Anger boiled under his skin, as it always did, when somebody dared to question him. He had a pure-blooded family behind him, in more than one way. There was his heritage of Salazar Slytherin – something no one else could say about themselves – and there were the Malfoys. Abraxas supported him and his endeavour, wherever he could, and he had been born with all the advantages Tom had lost through his Muggle father. With the calm of a puppeteer, he countered, "Surely, you must have heard of my impeccable graduation. Professor Slughorn already thinks I am the future minister."
Avery stared at him steadfastly and impenetrable. "This may be the truth, but your plans of reorganisation go far beyond the legislative competence of a minister. You will need more than a few powerful proponents – and I don't mean Mr Slughorn, I think of the Malfoys. Therefore my question: Which resources do you intend to use? Or should I rather ask: Which family funds do you intend to use?"
Sublimely he smiled. Avery might doubt him, but he gave Tom the opportunity to spread his ideas and to introduce them to an audience. It could not be better for him. In his attempt to keep him small, Avery would help his fame to grow.
"Everyone should know that Tom is a talented and resourceful fellow. He had already attracted a lot of admirers at school," said somebody behind them. Albus Dumbledore had approached the group unnoticed and had caught the last words. "Isn't that right, Tom?" His eyes sparkled. "The hosts are about to open the buffet, I heard."
The old Avery turned to the even older wizard and asked, "Dear Mr Dumbledore, tell us, how is your research on the dragonblood?"
Dumbledore lost himself in airs and graces and the crowd gradually dissolved. Some listened to the old man, others started walking around. Tom himself went to another corner to make it difficult for Dumbledore to observe him. He felt the glances in his back and every time he turned around he was proven right. Dumbledore's eyes followed him wherever he went. Well, that wasn't anything to unsettle him. He stood alone and with his head held high until Abraxas Malfoy joined him.
"I'm happy to see that you followed my invitation," he greeted Tom. Since it was the first time the young Malfoy was organising the event in his father's place, he had had his hands full.
"My pleasure," he lied.
"Say, how were your travels?" asked Abraxas boldly, "You promised to write and I'm waiting for the first letter until today." He inspected him from head to toe and shuddered at the red gleam in his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said with a humbly voice and bit his lip. "I couldn't find the peace of mind to write one and yet I haven't experienced enough to fill a whole page."
His counterpart laughed out loud. "I don't think so, Tom, but if you don't want to say anything, keep quiet. Come on, we greet the guests together. I still have to do my round and surely I can introduce you to some important people before my duties call for me again."
They started moving.
"All right, as long as we don't approach Dumbledore." He never made a mystery out of his dislike for the professor.
"You should try to come to terms with him," Abraxas warned eagerly. "It's rumoured that he will soon succeed Headmaster Dippet. If yo still want to become a teacher at Hogwarts, there will be no getting around him."
Tom whistled disparagingly and shook his head. "What is he doing here anyway? He never attended any of those social occasions, has he?" He glanced towards Dumbledore and met his gaze. They looked at each other for seconds, although they both were engaged in conversations.
Abraxas shrugged as he headed towards a well-heeled looking couple. "My father insisted on inviting him over and over again. He defeated Grindelwald. No doubt he is the most powerful wizard today," he replied, "Still, I didn't think he'd accept the invitation. See, you have something in common with him. You also surprised me with your arrival."
In this moment, a panicked cry came from the next room. The crowd streamed from the grand ballroom into the small parlour and huddled around a woman who was having a nervous breakdown and a man who was lying motionless on the floor. Abraxas struggled through the crowds with Tom in tow and came to a stop in the front row, directly next to his father. Tom inspected the area curiously.
Avery had collapsed. The glass he was holding in his hand had shattered on the floor. Malicious joy rose within him, but he was able to suppress a twitching of his mouth.
"Is he still alive?" asked a woman flustered. Her voice broke.
Everyone stood frozenly and stared at each other. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, and in that silence the approaching footsteps sounded like thunder. The audience parted and let Dumbledore through. With a sublime look, he went down on his knees, checked Avery's pulse and finally shook his head. The woman who asked about his survival collapsed. Another who looked like her sister was tending to her.
"What happened?" asked the professor. "It seems the man has been poisoned." He quickly cast a spell over the liquid that had been spread to the floor. "Just as I thought."
A horror went through the people. Tom looked to his right and noticed Armand Malfoy pulling Abraxas away. This was odd, and when he turned his head forward again, he was looking straight into Dumbledore's eyes.
"The man is Abel Avery. I was having a conversation with him a moment ago." He stepped forward, for he wanted to take the offensive. This was a good opportunity to shine.
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "Please seal all the exits, no one leaves until I have spoken to him. Call the Aurors!" Some people rushed off to close the doors. "Those who were here in the parlour when the man collapsed, stay here. The others go back to the ballroom."
A pushing and shoving ensued. Unimpressed, Tom remained where he stood. "Sir, with respect," he said as kindly as he could, "I think I should linger."
His counterpart nodded. "Yes, Tom, I agree."
He was astonished by this little resistance, but it was no trouble not to let it show.
The professor stepped closer to him and whispered, "As much as I dislike to say it, you and I are the only ones I can rule out."
Tom nodded. "Because you couldn't take your eyes off me."
"Yes," he sighed, "As much as it pains me to see the damage you've done to yourself." Regretfully, he eyed Riddle's distorted appearance and inhuman-looking features.
Early on he had had to learn to ignore Dumbledore's baseless accusations. Nothing good had ever come out of discussions with him. "I can clear Abraxas of suspicion as well. He was by my side when it happened."
At that very moment the young man approached. He had returned from talking to his father. "Will you have a drink, gentlemen?" he asked, "Our Christmas whiskey has an exquisite cinnamon note. Perhaps it will help to overcome the shock that has taken us all."
"Thank you, I'll pass."
"Until the circumstances of the poisoning are cleared up, I won't drink a drop of anything," Tom also affirmed.
Abraxas' features slipped. "Er... yes! Understandable!" He laughed awkwardly. "That probably even makes sense." Puzzled, he looked around. "Then I'll have to make myself useful elsewhere. I'll go check on my wife and see how she's doing. After all, Avery was her uncle."
"Do what you can't resist."
They watched Abraxas for a while and Tom realised with every step the Malfoy took away that he didn't want to be alone with the professor. He did not like him, Dumbledore saw a monster in him and if they hadn't been watching each other all evening, they would spend the hours suspecting one another. Tom certainly trusted the old man to commit murder. Fortunately, a group of competent-looking wizards came up to them. They turned out to be one of the best Auror squads. Reverently Dumbledore was greeted, Tom on the other hand received only a small nod.
"Mr Dumbledore! I am pleased to meet you here," said the senior Auror, who introduced himself as a Mr McGrath.
The professor returned the courtesy and added, "What is already known?"
"The victim, a certain Abel Avery, was poisoned. It was a high dose of poison. He died within a few minutes. As we were able to ascertain through their quick intervention, he had ingested it through his drink," McGrath informed. "Through questioning his wife, er... widow, we discovered that he had been drinking the Malfoys' whiskey."
Dumbledore and Tom exchanged glances. For the first time not in hostility. "Were the bottles recovered?" asked Tom.
McGrath furrowed his brow but answered, "From the inventory list in the kitchen, which was kept quite conscientiously by the house elves, it could be gathered that the Malfoys had eleven whiskeys in stock. We seized ten of them."
"The last one is missing?" grumbled Tom.
The Auror nodded.
This could have been dangerous for Abraxas and if it was, it would have been for a new foundation of the Knights of Walpurgis. "Where did you seize how many bottles?"
"Excuse me," the Auror narrowed his eyes and his friendly face turned into a grimace, " I ask the questions here. Who are you anyway?"
He had to bite his tongue as McGrath's gaze flitted over his appearance. "Tom Riddle, pleased to meet you."
"Tom Riddle! Aren't you the one who had a verbal spat with the deceased today, are you? … – Not long before his death."
His heart raced as he heard the words. Surely this could not be true! The evening was just turning into a nightmare and all this in front of his former professor, who was watching him warily.
"I can testify that Mr Riddle had nothing to do with Avery's sudden death," Dumbledore actually jumped to his feet."
"I have been watching him all evening, he had no opportunity to slip anything into the drink unnoticed. You should definitely speak to young Abraxas Malfoy, he just offered us a drink. Perhaps the missing bottle is still in his possession." The Auror scribbled something in a notepad. Dumbledore as a witness, any court would convict Abraxas immediately.
Tom gnashed his teeth. "Now tell me, where were the whiskey bottles found?"
"Ha, yes! We recovered seven in the cellar, one in the fireplace room, which hadn't been opened to the public today, and two in the parlour. None of the ones we found showed any traces of the poison."
Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair. Abraxas' bottle had probably been the murder weapon and now it was gone. It didn't look well.
You could see it rattling in the officer's head. "Riddle... Riddle... This rings a bell, stop... Riddle! You're the boy who graduated from Hogwarts with unexceptional Outstandings a few years ago and, contrary to expectations, was never heard from again." He was pleased to have drawn that conclusion. "I can tell you, everyone at Auror Headquarters had been waiting for you to show up. All you had to do was write a one-liner and you would have got a apperenticeship. So it was all the more surprising, if I may say so, that you did not come off comparatively well."
Tom drew in a hissing breath.
"Excuse me for asking this now, but, what happened to you?" asked McGrath, and you could hear from his tone that this would be a new topic of conversation in the office on Monday.
"I've studied, I've travelled," Tom growled.
"Go, interrogate Mr Malfoy," Dumbledore also demanded.
The Auror and his team set off and suddenly he was alone again with his former professor. It wasn't that he was afraid or felt even a hint of distress, no. It was just uncomfortable to be eyed so warily.
"Do you think your friend did it?", Dumbledore addressed him.
Tom growled. "Of course he didn't. Abraxas wouldn't be able to do it. Besides, it would mean that he had just tried to kill us."
"Miraculous, most miraculous."
"You don't think Abraxas is the perpetrator, do you?" he snorted. "Why would he kill his uncle by marriage at a party with about a hundred people present? Why today of all days and not any other day of the year?"
"Maybe to increase the suspect pool?"
"No, no, no. You know that yourself. Abraxas is a family man, he's married and the father of a one-year-old son, he wouldn't risk it."
Tom started to move and Dumbledore followed him. He looked over at him through his half-moon spectacles. "Are you campaigning for young Malfoy because you genuinely care about him, or just because you fear that your influence and contact would fade with him?"
Tom clenched his jaw. His mask, meanwhile, did not slip. Clearly, the professor only confide in him as far as he could throw him and the truth was, Tom trusted him even less. "Of course I'm interested in his welfare. He's my friend." The sentence almost knotted his tongue, but he knew he was a much better liar on the outside than he gave himself credit for.
They wandered together through the ballroom and adjoining parlour, to a staircase that led to the upper floor. It had been clearly visible that the Auror team had taken this staircase. Most of the guests had left the manor in a hurry by now, so it had not been difficult to spot the group.
"Abraxas has taken the path everyone expected. He got married, started a family and is now entrusted with the management of assets for his father," Dumbledore began to chatter. "You, on the other hand, Tom, have thrown everyone's expectations to the wind. I don't think I need to tell you that Horace was disappointed."
He put on a smile. "Why don't you give him my regards the next time you'll see him?"
Dumbledore nodded. "I'll give him your regards. Come with me and we'll see how the questioning goes. I will secure us special participation in the investigation. Together we will have a balanced view of the facts."
Either one knew the truth or one did not. Tom did not believe in balanced views. But this earned him a special position and he did not say 'no' to that.
Together they strode up the stairs. On the last steps the cry of a child reached them. Tom sighed. It also got on his nerves, but they were approaching the roaring and crying, for there was a cluster of people – the Aurors, Abraxas and his wife with their son in her arms. She was wearing a black evening dress, but her make-up was run down from the many tears she had shed. Still sobbing, she pressed her son against her.
"It's unnecessary, isn't it!" protested Abraxas against something the Aurors had said. He sounded upset.
"It is not for you to judge my actions," McGrath countered. "You're both coming with me now. Find someone who can look after the child."
"Your actions concern me, so I'll be able to comment on that, won't I! But all right, I just need to find my father so he can take Lucius." He started to walk through the rooms, but a Auror grabbed his arm and another held his wand out to him.
"You stay here!" one snarled.
"Gentlemen, what is going on, if I may ask?" Dumbledore interjected, giving McGrath the critising look he had always held for Tom at Hogwarts as well.
"We'll take these two with us. They got tangled up in conflicting statements about where the bottle had gone."
Tom took another step closer. "That means you still haven't found the murder weapon, have you?"
"Tom!" exclaimed Abraxas' wife in relief. "How nice that you –" She hesitated as she studied his face and noticed the red gleam in his eyes. "er... – are here. So much time has passed since we last met and now we meet again under such circumstances," she said carefully. You could see from the outside that thoughts were swirling in her head.
He just nodded and let the others also look at him closely. "My condolences on the loss of your uncle."
She swallowed. "My uncle was very present in my childhood. I will never forget him. Here, please take Lucius and take him to his grandfather." Without hesitation she pressed the child into his arms and Tom was too perplexed to refuse. Lucius, on the other hand, did not like it at all and began to scream even louder.
The Aurors pulled Abraxas away and he turned to his wife calling "Ariana". Still sobbing, she followed the team and they entered one of the rooms, from which they would flee to the headquarters.
Tenderly Tom stroked the child's back and rocked him back and forth, but it did no good. He groaned in exasperation. "Do you want it?" he offered to Dumbledore.
The latter shook his head. "The mother placed it in your arms, not in mine. Ariana is her name?"
Tom did not quite understand Dumbledore's interest in it, but he just nodded. Looking for Armand Malfoy, they went in the opposite direction than the one the Aurors had gone with the parents.
"She wasn't a student at Hogwarts," the professor noted.
"Yes, she went to Beauxbaton and as I'm sure you've noticed, she's a born Avery," Tom grumbled. "I suppose the family has a penchant for alliterations."
Dumbledore smirked. "There are, after all, many fine names beginning with an A."
"We need to find that bottle of whiskey Abraxas had in his hands earlier. Perhaps it will shed more light on who the perpetrator is."
His smile died. "You still believe in Mr Malfoy's innocence, don't you, Tom?"
He bit his lip and glanced down at the crying bundle in his arms. "Yes, Abraxas wouldn't have poisoned me, he didn't know he had the murder weapon in his hands."
"You have to remember that you can't tell the bottles apart. Maybe the bottle he had was also recovered and it's another one that was prepared with poison and disappeared."
"You mean we mustn't dwell on the bottles… – Now shut up!" he growled.
"It's a child, Tom."
He pressed his lips together.
They turned around and Ariana came running towards them. There was no sign of the Aurors or Abraxas. Out of breath, she reached them. "Abraxas confessed, just now. They've let me go for now, so that I can look after Lucius. I should come back for questioning later. You can give him to me."
He was glad to be rid of Lucius, but dismay gripped his mind. "Abraxas? A confession? It can't be!"
Ariana only had eyes for her child. She hugged him and covered him with kisses. Without looking at Tom, she said, "I don't know what got into him. Abraxas is a loving man. Never would he do such a thing to his family."
He would not do it to him either. He needed Abraxas and his influence.
"If you'll excuse me." She retreated with the boy.
Standing alone with Dumbledore again, he knew that the time to act was now. He had to save his friend's head. Azkaban would do Abraxas Malfoy and his plans for the Knights of Walpurgis no good. "Sir, you can't let the boy grow up without a father!" He tried to sound sympathetic, even horrified.
Dumbledore looked at him, unimpressed. "Family or not, if he did it, he must receive a just punishment." An incensed glint appeared in his eyes. "Do not pretend you care about the boy. You grew up without a father, and not only you. Do you regret never knowing your father? I heard that Tom Riddle senior was found dead in his home ten years ago. I'm sure that's not new to you."
Tom froze and stared at Dumbledore. He was on to him, and he had done everything he could to cover his tracks. In fact, the professor could be dangerous to him. When the time was right, he would have to take care of him before he got another chance to foil his plans. He swallowed and then swerved back to the original topic, "I'm sure Abraxas didn't do it. What makes you think so?"
"Simple, he offered us something to drink, even though one of his guests had been poisoned. Even if he didn't want to do the same to us, he knew there was no poison in his drink, which, by implication, leads me to believe he knew which bottle of whiskey had been prepared. Then, there is the confession on his part. It will be hard, Tom, to prove his innocence. Even if your unshakeable faith in Abraxas would be for reasons inherent in his person."
Tom laughed out. "You don't trust me, sir, you never have and slowly, but surely, your mistrust is turning out to be nothing more than paranoia. Go ahead, keep watching me. Your words and actions cannot harm me."
"Every time I look at you, I see the eleven-year-old boy in the orphanage. You may have grown and matured, but you are still the child I told about the wizarding world."
"Of course I am!" growled Tom. "You can't shed your skin like a reptile."
"Is that what you were trying to do?"
"What do you mean?""
"Don't play dumb with me! You've changed. Everyone has noticed it. You seem... more inhuman, if I may say so. Especially the red gleam in your eyes sends a shiver down the spines of those around you. What have you done to yourself, boy?"
"You have no idea!" hissed Tom. "Get the hell out of here! Leave my side and leave me in peace!"
Dumbledore shook his head. "No, I can't. I have always known that you have a tendency towards darkness and yet I could not stop you from going down such a dark path. For one thing is clear: one day you will pay dearly for what you have done."
"You old fool! Stop talking about things you know nothing about!"
"I understand more than you want to give me credit for, because I was once in such a position myself. Don't make the same mistakes I made. I have bitterly regretted it. No matter what you have done to yourself, let me help you. Together we can find a solution to everything." The professor held out a hand to him.
Tom did not move until Dumbledore's hand slid to his side again. Him in the same position? That he was not laughing! If it was true, how could he be so arrogant – so condescending with him? No, Dumbledore was a liar, and a very clever one. He was one of the finest manipulators, but he do not understand Toms' pursuit. "I don't need help, but Abraxas does. Instead of getting on my nerves with flimsy moralising, you should be doing everything you can to keep an innocent man out of Azkaban."
Dumbledore was about to open his mouth, but Tom interrupted him immediately. "I know you believe in his guilt, but give me the opportunity to prove his innocence by finding the real perpetrator."
His counterpart took a deep breath. "All right, I'll assist you and you think again about what I said. How can I help you?"
He growled inwardly. At last he had brought his former professor to the intended point. But that emphasis! Although he had counted on Dumbledore's help, it still pained him to hear it that way. "I need you to make an excuse to gather the Aurors, Mrs Malfoy and a few other guests."
"What do you want me to tell them?"
"That I want to recreate the scene of the crime."
"You have a plan."
Dumbledore nodded. "I'll see you in a moment, then."
For the first time that evening, he disappeared from Tom's field of vision. Noticeably relieved, he exhaled. Along with Dumbledore, much of his tension had vanished. With a clear head, he made his way to the Auror Headquarters to borrow Abraxas and get everything ready.
At the Auror Headquarters, it had been easier than Tom had thought to put his plan into action. Now that Abraxas was being investigated as the accused, he had the right to be present at all investigative proceedings against him, albeit under close surveillance. McGrath showed himself willing to give Tom the reins, after he had assured him that he did not want to cover up any clues. So they had all gathered in the parlour, at the spot where Abel Avery had collapsed. McGrath, his Auror team, Armand Malfoy, Abraxas, Ariana and Dumbledore. Lucius was finally asleep upstairs.
In short words and with completely false content, Tom retold his conversation with Avery and Dumbledore's intervention. The professor summarised his conversation with Avery and added an abstract of his research, as this suddenly interested McGrath. Inwardly Tom growled at such disinterest in the actual work. It was an affront!
"And then Mr Avery drank of the whiskey. Mr Abraxas Malfoy had been with me at that point," Tom explained the sequence of events.
McGrath whistled impatiently. "That doesn't mean he couldn't be the culprit. After all, it's possible that he poured him the poisoned drink and then, before he drank it, sought you out. We don't know how much time passed between the pouring and the drinking, and he also confessed that's how it went down."
"Just wait and see," Tom hissed at him and McGrath fell silent. "I wanted to recreate that once. So here was Mr Avery standing, talking to his wife. That's when Abraxas came and poured him the whiskey. Come on, Abraxas, do it like you say you did."versc
Hesitantly Abraxas came striding towards Tom. He exchanged a long look with his former classmate, who held out a whiskey bottle to him, confident of victory. His hands trembled as he took it. Stumbling, he began to pour the drink for Tom, who was miming Avery, and Ariana, who was miming Mrs Avery. He spilled a little bit.
Tom gave a put-upon smile. "Don't worry about it. It's only water, but we do want to get a feeling for the situation."
The Aurors laughed aggravated.
Although he was not privy to it, Dumbledore recognised his role and led by example, taking the bottle from Abraxas' hand and filling the others' glasses. The Aurors were also persuaded.
Everyone toasted and it seemed macabre. As they raised the glasses to their mouths, Tom watched them with a wide grin.
"Yuck! – Ah!"
While some spat out the liquid, others swallowed it in shock.
"Mr Riddle!" scolded McGrath immediately. "You tricked us!"
Tom laughed. "It was just a joke, after all. You'd have to see your faces! I asked the house elves to bring me a whiskey bottle and they brought me one. At first I wanted to tip it away, but I couldn't pass up the chance."
"But what if it was the poisoned bottle?" cried Ariana indignantly. "It wasn't found yet. Tom, you could get us all killed!"
"Oh, nonsense!" Tom was still grinning arrogantly and with pleasure he watched the mask crumble on her face. He had the upper hand, because he was the only one who knew that he had just bought the bottle at the nearest shop. "Surely the house elves won't have just given me the missing bottle. You asked the house elves, didn't you, Mr McGrath?"
"We did," the Auror assured him. "But they said we confiscated them all. The house elves assured us they had given them all out."
"Oh!" Tom let his smile die.
"They lied to us then, the beasts!" one of the other Aurors scolded at the same time.
"We need to call the house elves and ask where they got the whiskey!" demanded Ariana. She called out all sorts of names, but no house elf came to them. "Where are they?" wailed she in despair. Sweat beaded on her forehead and impatiently she paced back and forth. "Oh no, oh no," she whispered over and over to herself. "My poor child..." She raised her head and spoke in a loud voice, "Excuse me a moment! I have to go check on Lucius!"
"Ariana!" Abraxas tried to go after her, but McGrath held him.
"We should go after her, all of us," Tom advised and went after her. Dumbledore followed him and then the rest started moving as well.
They went up the stairs, always close on Ariana's heels, but she didn't notice anything any more.
The young woman began to run and stormed into the nursery. Her sobs escaped from the room. When the rest entered, they saw her sitting slumped in a corner. In her lap was not the child, but the missing bottle of whiskey. A drawer stood open. It dawned on her what was really going on. Accusingly, she turned her gaze on Tom: "You've hoodwinked me!"
"And how," he spoke coldly.
"It's not what it looks like!" she began to affirm as the Aurors approached her and led her away.
"So, we weren't poisoned?" one asked. The others nodded cautiously.
Dumbledore appraised the young woman. "Why did you do that?"
Ariana cried, unable to make a sound. The Aurors literally dragged her from the room.
Tom was waiting outside room where McGrath had retreated with Abraxas. Armand Malfoy was standing next to him, but they did not exchange a glance or a word. He seemed deep in thought and Tom was also lost in his mind.
The door opened and Abraxas stepped out – as free man. He headed straight for his father.
The Malfoys put their heads together. "Avery had her sister on his conscience and she never got over it. It had been planned all along. She had waited until today, hoping to slip under the radar with many suspects," Abraxas told his father in a soft tone, but not low enough for Tom not to hear.
"Son, I'm sorry," Armand murmured.
"I had to do it. I couldn't leave any stone unturned. It's my duty to protect them."
"I'll see what I can do. I still know a judge or two." Armand nodded and then he became aware of Tom. "I'll get right to work. Please, show Mr Riddle the way out."
Abraxas did as he was asked and in silence they walked down the stairs.
"It was unwise to take the blame on yourself," Tom began to speak. He knew he was walking on thin ice, but he couldn't let it go unspoken between them. "You had better get her the best lawyer right away."
His counterpart growled. "What do you know about it, Tom?"
"What do you mean?" he had to ask.
"You may never have loved anyone and have no idea why anyone would do such a thing. It doesn't honour you. Don't judge my actions. Not everyone has a heart made of ice."
Outraged, he gasped. "Don't you think your anger is a little misdirected? I didn't kill Avery."
"It's your fault Lucius has to grow up without a mother now. How could you do this to me? What will become of Lucius? My poor child..."
Staring at him, Tom said. "I also grew up without a mother..."
"And look at you!"
Tom gasped. Hot anger coursed through his veins. "What are you trying to tell me?"
Abraxas snorted. "You know perfectly well what I'm trying to tell you. Torture me all you want, but this is now pronounced between us. Leave my house!"
He turned and left.
Perplexed, Tom watched him go and when he had cooled down again, he started to move. With leaden limbs he strode towards the exit door to disappear behind the walls of the estate. He sighed when he was stopped by Dumbledore. The latter had a whiskey bottle in one hand and a glass in the other.
"Tom!" he called out to him.
Tom did not exactly know what it was – and strongly suspected that it was the one drink he had already had – but he stopped and joined the professor. He handed him a glass that he had conjured up and filled it. Wordlessly they toasted.
"How did you know that Ariana Malfoy had been the perpetrator?" asked Dumbledore after a while.
"You were right." The words came heavily over his lips, even though his tongue was loosened. "Abraxas knew everything when he offered us a drink. The only person he would take a false confession for was her."
"He wasn't pleased that you intervened."
"He'll calm down again, but I have to leave the house for now." Tom strode down the gravel path through the estate and sighed as Dumbledore followed him. "Can you finally stop sticking to me and accusing me of nothing but the worst?"
Dumbledore smiled. "Remember what I said, Tom. Don't be afraid to request my help."
Tom snorted. "When I have a problem, perhaps. Right now I don't have one. Why do you always stare at me like that?"
For a long time they glared at each other. Then Dumbledore took his leave without a reply.
Dumbledore sighed as he caught sight of Hogwarts – his home.
Tom Riddle had once felt at home here, too. Inevitably, his thoughts drifted back to the young man. When he thought of his present form, a cold shiver ran down his spine. He could not refuse it. As intelligent and arrogant as he was, he was a tragic figure. Anyone who destroyed himself like that had a demonic struggles, even if he did not want to see it.
The boy had always fascinated him, for he was like his younger self. Attracted to the darkness, with a black soul and greedy for power. Like him, he came from a broken family. Urgently, Dumbledore hoped that Riddle would not fall into the abyss on whose edge he walked. With dread he thought of the red glow and mourned the beautiful dark eyes.
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