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Slytherin's Heir: Tom's Tale

By chrisoftheconte

Action / Fantasy

Slytherin's Heir: Tom's Tale

Tom's Tale Slytherin's Heir

By

Chris Conte

To The Reader:

With all the wild tales that circulate about the famous boy–who–lived, Harry Potter, and his personal crusade to save the wizarding world, it seemed only prudent that I, Rita Skeeter – special correspondent, as an unbiased and reliable source, should investigate the entire story and reveal the truth in its entirety.

After I used all of my many contacts, paid handsome rewards and cleverly dispensed veritaserum; I distilled the truth of the wizard most commonly known as 'he–who–must–not–be–named'. The following pages tell the story that history has hidden so well. Here is the initial installment of an ongoing expose' that fully reveals, for the first time, the whole story of he–who–must–not–be–named and his famous followers, the Death Eaters.

Please read on, with the full knowledge, that I, Rita Skeeter, have personally and vigorously researched each fact and verified them all to sufficient satisfaction.

Thank-you,

Rita Skeeter

CHAPTER ONE

DREAMS AND GOALS

It was a reoccurring dream to Tom, almost a nightmare but it never frightened him, as there was nothing scary. Many things about it seemed crystal clear and some vague and gauzy. Always it started the same with Tom, alone as always, exiting the Hogwarts Express. At its only stop, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at the start of the term some five years passed, Tom's first year, when everything about the hidden world of magic was not only new to him, but astoundingly amazing.

"Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be brought to the school separately… welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," an androgynous voice stated in monotones, almost like the pre-recorded voices that give instruction on muggle transit systems. Tom knew it was not a broadcast voice though as there were no visible speakers and the voice was too hauntingly familiar.

Tom saw his reflection in the train car window made reflective by the dark of the night outside. Wearing his long black robes that were the school's uniform, Tom noticed their severe contrast to his pale skin pallor. The robes matched his jet-black hair. He ran his long fingers through his hair and blinked his dark eyes and paused in thought. He was skeletal thin, almost scrawny, but a bit taller than most boys eleven years in age.

Tom, standing alone in the last boxcar of the train not sure of what to expect beyond the doors of this tiny cubicle, let alone outside the train, was more than hesitant to move. He was petrified; maybe if he just stood here everyone else would leave the train. Tom could then sneak up to the school unnoticed and slip in the back. Just as he started to sit back down thinking his plan the best, the door opened wide revealing a tall boy at least a few years Toms senior.

The older boy stood in his black robes with an equally black pointy hat over his light brown hair. A silver badge on his chest shown quite prominently and appeared to make him feel authority over Tom. He stared down at Tom then shouted, "Come on, what are you doing? We're here…jeez, you first years." Then pointing out of the cubicle he yelled, "Well, let's go!"

Jumping in fear Tom started to move past the boy while saying softly, "Sorry, sorry I'm new and I'm sorry."

"Yes, you are sorry: now apologize!" The tall boy snorted.

"I apologize!" Tom said.

"Now go!" He said finally.

Tom hurried out of the train onto a wide concrete platform filled with a few hundred other children all in black robes and pointy hats. Most were milling about but they headed in one general direction; where they were climbing into old-fashioned horse and buggy carriages, with huge Clydesdales pulling the large wheeled coaches. In an attempt to follow suit he made to cue-up into the haphazard lines that were forming. As he reached the tail end of the crowd, he heard a huge booming voice.

"Hey you! You, boy just off the train." The loud voice called.

As Tom turned assuming the voice was calling him, it continued, "Yeah, you… here, over here is where you belong; first years this way." And the tall male speaker shook his head disbelievingly and stared at Tom.

Tom, greatly embarrassed at being singled out, walked slowly away from the large group. Passing a large sign that read: Hogwarts Terminal, Tom shuffled to the much smaller group. Finally, coming to stand at the back end of the first year cue-up, Tom looked up at the tall man and sighed.

"Okay, now that everyone is here… Let's go!"

As Tom came to see the man properly, he looked as if he had been chiseled from granite, as muscular as a Roman statue and easily two meters tall. His skin looked tanned like leather and just as rough. He was dressed in the same black robes as Tom and everyone else. He started to count the heads of students around him.

"One, two, three…" Finally, he sniffed and waved one hand over his head in a motion to suggest they follow and yelled, "Right! This way!"

The whole group followed him to the edge of the platform and then down a rough path. The path appeared cut through the dense brush only by repeated use, but it was still well defined. Soon the whole group stood mesmerized at the shore of a large lake. Facing out across the dark rippling water of the lake was a large cliff, yet it was not the lake or the cliff that held the group spellbound.

Upon the cliff was a true to life castle, right out of some medieval legend, stone walls and turrets with a tower and spires. It was cast in jet-black relief against the dark purple of the night sky, with moonlight to emphasize its strong angles. The castle stood on the cliff as the most impressive thing in Tom's short memory. Before even thinking, the words escaped his lips in breathy awe, "Woah!"

All around him Tom heard equal comments of shock and disbelief. In the distance he heard the big muscled man, "Yes, that's Hogwarts!"

"All aboard, now!" The man's voice carried. "Okay, let's load up; four to a boat, no more than that. Ready? Let's…wait!" The voice paused; "Why is that boat empty, who, where's … Hey, lost boy!"

Tom snapped about in attention, he stood some nine meters from everyone else in their boats. Tom had just stood staring while they were all loading into the small wooden rowboats. He began walking towards the boats, head bowed down in shame. The man started to berate Tom, "You will be the death of me yet or my name isn't Etam-Tep Gamee… No!" He stopped short.

Tom froze in place.

Etam-Tep said in an almost pleading voice, "No, don't use the empty boat… jeez; I'd never get you to school."

Tom stopped mid-step into the empty boat and looked around in question as to the next correct action he should take. Etam-Tep pointed at the boat with only one boy in it; a small boy with a strong nose and pale blond hair slicked back in a widow's peak. The boy had an almost hawk-like look to him.

"That one… and you, don't let him get lost," he said to the boy in the boat.

The boy in the boat looked scandalized at being appointed Tom's keeper without so much as a please. The small boy's mouth twisted into a snarl as he eyed Tom. His attention was drawn back to Etam-Tep as the man continued talking.

"I have faith in you lad, you look a born leader and a smart chap. I thank-you for the help." Etam-Tep sounded encouraging and he smiled.

This caused the hawk-faced boy to nod and wink in agreement. He looked very self-assured and quite pleased with Etam-Tep's assessment of his competence. The small blond boy looked back as Tom stepped gingerly into the shaky boat and sat down rather quickly.

"Well since everyone now seems ready; let's sail!"

With those last words every boat moved magically from the shore towards the cliff, which held Hogwarts Castle. Tom just stared at the castle's high walls and towers, barely noting the boy beside him speaking to him in harsh tones. "Are you okay? You look pale. You aren't sick are you? I didn't come here to get sick, you know?"

Tom just stared in wonder, but the other boy continued on. "Are you deaf? … Hello!" Tom snapped out of his mental reverie.

"No," Tom sighed. "No, I am fine." Tom said. Then still transfixed on the castle and speaking as if in a dream, he added, "I've just never seen such a place in all my life."

"Yes, Hogwarts is impressive but I think the Malfoy Manor is at least equally excellent." The boy responded.

Before Tom was even aware of it the boats were passing through an ivy canopy hanging over a hole in the cliff and docking in an underground alcove of sorts. At the far end of the stone dock was a grand staircase of white marble wide enough for five people to walk up abreast. At the top of the splendid staircase was a set of mahogany double doors with an ornate coat of arms engraved into them. It was of a capital H.

"Everyone out," Etam-Tep bellowed. Looking about, he continued with, "Where are the lost boy and his keeper?"

"Here, Sir, you left the lost boy with me, Abraxas Malfoy, and I still have him, Sir." The small blond boy Abraxas, smiled at Etam-Tep.

"Knew you'd come through Malfoy," Etam-Tep said.

Abraxas looked as pleased as ever looking at Tom, still in the boat he snapped, "Come on, what's your name, let's go, you aren't going to get me in trouble."

Tom followed him up the steps and leaned in close to speak softly, "Tom."

"What?" Abraxas asked without looking at Tom.

"Tom… my name is Tom Riddle," Tom said meekly.

"Tom what! Who cares!" Abraxas said grimacing and rolling his eyes.

"You asked what my –"

"Shut up!" Abraxas snapped.

Tom looked completely abashed and was about to apologize again when suddenly a man with long auburn hair in robes identical to the school uniform save their deep violet color and a matching hat came through the ornate doors to stand at the top of the stairs. The man had a long crooked nose and a very long full beard, auburn just like his hair. He nodded generously to Etam-Tep then turned to smile at the congregation of students. Then smiling very wide he began to speak.

"Hello, first years." His voice was soft and smooth, but it carried well. "My name is Professor Dumbledore… I teach transfiguration and am the head of Gryffindor House. Welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In a moment you will all follow me into the main hall where the Sorting Ceremony will be held; at that time you will be placed into one of the four houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin. This process is important as your house decides who you will attend classes with and your teammates in the Inter-House Cup Competition. I will ask you to remain as silent as you can during the Sorting Ceremony. Once you have been sorted you may join your house table to enjoy The Start-of-Term Feast. Everyone ready then? Good, let's go." With that the man named Albus Dumbledore turned and strode through the thick mahogany doors, beckoning the group to follow him.

"Let's go, lost boy," chuckled Abraxas Malfoy as he pushed Tom forward, "you heard the good Professor."

As he followed the pack of students through the door, Tom stared wide-eyed at the entrance hall of the castle. The three meter double doors were thrown open to the night and sweeping staircases both up and down to other floors could be seen. Tom felt as though he had entered a palace, the sheer magnificence of every feature was overwhelming.

The floor was smoothed stone and the staircases were an ornate sculpture from marble with a banister of stone and wood. The ceiling was a cathedral style dome that reached an indeterminable distance. The stone walls were made of smooth blocks and covered from floor to ceiling with paintings. Tom's eye caught movement and he gasped in shock.

The person from one portrait had just walked into the painting of a field that hung beside it. Impossible, Tom thought, but it moved again. Then staring open-mouthed in wonder Tom realized all the paintings moved. They were alive. "No way," Tom gasped in awe.

"What is it?" hissed Abraxas, spinning quickly to face Tom.

"Nothing, I thought the pictures moved; I'm…"

"Of course, what did you expect? … Ah, a Mudblood, I'm keeper to a Mudblood, of all the… Just keep quiet and pretend it's all normal, O.K." Abraxas stared at him, then stalked to follow the other first years, pulling Tom with him.

"What's a Mud…" but Tom quailed at the look in Malfoy's eyes and quickly shut his mouth. Silent unasked questions reeled in his mind none-the-less.

As quiet as possible Tom followed the group into yet another chamber, obviously the main hall, judging by its size. It was huge, with four long tables paralleling each other and students in their black robes and pointy hats filling each. At the far end was another table, presumably for the staff, as it sat on a raised dais perpendicular to the four. All the occupants of this table wore robes and hats in different colors, except Etam-Tep Gamee. The staff table was raised just enough that the staff, all seated on one side, could see the entire hall.

The hall was given light by countless candles of all lengths and widths floating in mid-air. The candles all white in color hid in the mist of the ceiling that appeared identical to the night sky Tom had seen only moments before. The floors were smooth stone just as the walls were. Every few meters a deep recess was carved into the wall to reveal a three meter wide and five-meter tall stained glass window that came to a pointed arch on top.

Front and center between the students and staff stood Albus Dumbledore, smiling at the group of first years. Beside him was a short three-legged stool that had an old wizard's hat perched upon it. He bowed to the students and gestured the first years forward to him. The small group moved slowly down the center aisle between the tables, Tom stayed as close to the blond boy, Abraxas, as he could.

"Now, first years, let me again welcome you to Hogwarts and wish you the best of luck over the next and most important few years of your life." And with that he, Albus Dumbledore smiled and nodded. The whole school began to clap in the brief pause.

When the noise died down Dumbledore again spoke, "We shall now begin the sorting ceremony; I will call each of you first years to individually sit on this stool and place this hat, the sorting hat, on your head. The sorting hat will in turn place you in your respective house. After you are sorted you may join your house table. When everyone has been sorted we will eat The Start-of-Term Feast. However, before we begin I think that maybe the sorting hat has something it would like to say," and with that the professor bowed and stepped away from the stool.

Simultaneously all eyes fell onto the stool with the pointy wizard hat. The hat looked old and crumpled, as if it had laid in a corner forgotten for some time. Everyone, including the staff, stared at the old hat as if expecting something to happen and Tom joined suit, feeling foolish for it. Then, to Tom's amazement, as he looked at the hat, it seemed to bend and fold in such a way that a face could be imagined to be forming.

Blinking in disbelief, the space that would be the mouth began to move and a smooth baritone voice issued out a flowing rhyme:

Every year I sit up here

And sort the year's new class

Honestly I find it all

To be a laughing gas

To peer inside your minds

And see your secrets untold

But first let me tell you

What it takes to fit the mold

As you know Hogwarts School

Is split into four factions

And each fine house is known

For its own course of actions

Gryffindor was brave and true

Strong and loyal to all his friends

Ravenclaw was smart and quick

Mentally above most do tend

Slytherin was a wizard king

Powerful, ambitious and then

Hufflepuff was soft, kind, nice

Helpful and everybody's friend

Each one had a section

To house their student choices

Common room and classes

To hear the students voices

And give to them their lessons

Of vast and great importance

How they strove to teach them

These youthful adolescence

But since they can no longer separate

Or pick and choose their own students

I quarter each year into the houses

As I believe makes the most sense

You may think me right or wrong

You may think me nice or mean

But just try me on and I

Can see what needs to be seen

The tumultuous applause lasted for a quick moment, but Tom was rather unaware. A singing hat that could tell if he was smart, brave, tough, or ambitious, pictures that moved, living in a castle, and walking around in a nightgown; all of it just seemed a bit too much to take for Tom. Was any of this real, and if so, why was Tom, the only orphan here? It was all Tom could think about.

Meanwhile, Albus Dumbledore was calling out names and the group of first years got steadily smaller. Eventually, even the blond boy, Abraxas Malfoy was gone, yet Tom remained lost in his thoughts. Then a sudden silence fell in the hall. Albus Dumbledore stood holding an old piece of parchment paper staring at the few unsorted first years left pleadingly, "Is there a Tom Riddle?" Tom jumped out of his stupor to the words of, "Hey! Lost boy, put the hat on!" and resounding laughter.

Quickly Tom stepped forward and Dumbledore handed him the sorting hat saying, "Did I disturb you, Tom? You can daydream in class tomorrow, but right now we are all a bit hungry, O.K.?"

Embarrassed and blushing under the hat that fell over his eyes, Tom sat on the stool, when he heard the little voice whisper in his ear, "Lost boy indeed, eh Tom… you've finally come home as I see it. Oh yes, I know where you go, in your namesake; Slytherin House."

"My name sake," Tom thought.

"Yes, do you think I cannot recognize one of Slytherin's own descendants, it's been a while… some years, but I remember," the voice stated.

"I'm Slytherin's descendant?" Tom wondered.

"Yes Tom, have you come back to champion the Noble Cause of Slytherin as he called it?"

"I do not know," Tom thought. "It sounds good," he smiled to himself at that.

"Good? Good is a relative term Tom." The voice said adding, "Now join your relatives in…"

Throughout the hall the word "Slytherin" resounded.

To Tom it was deafening, almost as loud as the man beside his bed. The man said, "Tom, wake up already, Tom, Mistress Angela is looking for you… Tom!"

Tom opened his eyes slowly, his big eyes, were dark and right now having trouble focusing in the dim light of early morning. The weak light barely illuminated more than the small windows high in the plaster walls of the orphanage dormitory.

"Get up, Tom!" snapped the man. Pushing and shaking Tom he continued to call him, "Now, Tom, now!"

"O.K. George, I am awake, I'm up," Tom said in his high-pitched voice. Still groggy he asked, "Why does the mistress want me?"

"No one wants you, Tom. You are an orphan. Now, get up and go see Mistress Angela before I get in trouble for letting you laze about." George walked off quietly, his long hair in a ponytail that bounced with each step.

Tom grumbled to himself about being called this early in the morning before anyone but the facility staff was awake. It could only mean trouble; no matter how you looked at it. "It's too early for trouble," he sighed. Then he added, "It's too early to be alive." Chuckling to himself all the while pulling on clothes, his old jeans that were two sizes too big and his white crumpled t-shirt two sizes too small.

Still thinking on his dream, really a memory of five years previous, Tom thought of what little change that time had brought. He was quite taller with fingers that seemed too long for the hands they were connected with, even if they were quite nimble. He was still a poor orphan, struggling to do his best.

Honestly, some things were extremely different from his dream. He was now sixteen and well acquainted with the hidden world of magic. Preparing to start his fifth year at the school in his dream, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Tom was almost a fully qualified wizard. This was a happy thought that made him sigh unconsciously.

Sitting on his bunk, Tom looked around the dormitory room, some twenty other beds lay in neat rows. Every one of them was accommodating a sleeping boy as best it could. Tom's bunk was the only one lacking the large hump to indicate a sleeping body. By the grey light in the window Tom could tell it was pre-dawn. He wondered why the mistress would want him now.

What had he done or who had blamed him for something? No, it was too early for that. Besides, of everyone in this place, St. Anne's Orphanage and Mission, Tom had to admit that Mistress Angela was by far the nicest to him of anyone else. In fact, she was the only one who was nice to him. Ever since he got his first invitation to attend Hogwarts, all the other staffers had left all his issues and problems with Mistress Angela.

Walking down the row of beds, Tom heard the soft breathing of sleep and felt envious of the others. Coming to the end of the row he approached the door that led out of the dorm into the hallway. The door stood slightly ajar and Tom could see out into the hall through the thin opening. George, St. Anne's maintenance man, stood in the hall, waiting impatiently for Tom.

In his green jump suit, George stood tapping his foot in his black work boots, arms folded across his chest; he glared at the door with his blue eyes. With his long dark hair, so greasy it looked wet, pulled into a ponytail, George leaned against the wall. As Tom stepped through the door George grumbled, " 'Bout time." Then heaved himself off the wall. "Come on," he added. Then he began walking down the corridor, which was barely lit any better then the dormitory room.

The wood floors creaked as the two hustled towards the end of the hallway; there two double doors were set before a stairway. Of all the ceiling mounted light fixtures, only the one at the far end of the hall was lit; its electric buzz was audible above the thumping of their feet and the creaks of the old floors. The plaster walls, once white, were now a pale yellow which was exaggerated by the off white electric light.

Reaching for the dark wood double doors, Tom stretched his hand to push the heavy wood on its old hinges. With a creaking groan the door slowly swung open. Behind the door a wooden staircase down to the first floor lay in almost complete darkness. Walking down them in the dark would have been tricky if Tom had not known them his whole life. Tom knew every creak and bow in the half flight of stairs. Plus the switchback landing that spun him around to the other half flight to the first floor. At the foot of the stairs was another set of double doors identical to those on the floor above.

Past the second set of doors lay another hallway. This hall was tiled in black and white with white plaster walls, but this hall was well lit by the ceiling mounted lights. Many dark wooden doors lined both sides of the hall down to a set of doors that was the main entrance of the orphanage. Tom led George through the doors into the hall where George stated, "Mistress Angela's Office".

Tom knew the office well. It was the second door on his left, one past Head Matron Cole's door. George knocked on the wooden door, which was closed. A soft voice came back, "Enter Tom".

"Well… go on," George said as he pushed the door open. "I'll leave you two then, shall I?"

"Yes; thank-you George," said the woman.

Behind a large wooden desk covered in papers sat a middle-aged woman. She had bright blue eyes that sparkled in the light. Her long blond hair was naturally very curly, forming ringlets that were pulled loose only by the weight of the hair's length. Her skin had an olive tinge to it that seemed to compliment by her white cotton blouse that was buttoned tight to her neck.

"You may sit Tom," she said without looking at him.

In her hand she held two letters; one was opened, but the other remained sealed. Staring at the open one she read it slowly muttering to herself about "silly denials" and "obvious truths". Eventually she looked up at Tom who was sitting in a high backed, upholstered chair. When their eyes met she flashed a sympathetic smile. Then she put down the letters, and still looking at Tom, she sighed. Picking up the open one, she looked down at it, put it down and sighed again saying, "Where to begin… Tom… Anywhere seems as good as anyplace, right?"

Tom stared blankly becoming nervous. He recognized one of the envelopes she had held. It was one of many that he had addressed to the Riddle family of Little Hangleton, where his father, Tom Riddle was said to live. The second would undoubtably be the letter that had accompanied his which was returned unopened. The second would deny Tom Riddle as his father and continue with a word of sympathy at his search for his dad. Often the other would also have a check for a large sum of money in it for the benefit of the orphanage. No more than Tom expected and certainly no different, but Tom always hoped for something different… something more.

"First Tom, I'm sorry to awaken you so early… no… you are not in any trouble… that I know of." Mistress Angela smiled at this. She continued on, "This is your letter that you wrote to your father and this is the response, if you can respond to an unopened letter." She sniffed then went on again, "You are no doubt, not surprised to hear that he denies you… but sends you money, or rather the orphanage money. He further states that he sees no reason to believe that you are his son and would appreciate your stopping the claim he is; at least until proof can establish otherwise," pausing she handed Tom both of the letters.

Tom, stared at both, he felt a true sense of loss. Honestly, the man never gave him any reason to believe they were related. Mistress Angela always insisted it was true and used his large donations as an admission of his knowledge. It was she who pushed Tom to write the man every summer. On his own Tom would have given up the idea as each denial hurt more than the previous one, Mistress Angela just kept telling him to write and she was all he had for a parent, so he did.

"Tom," she stated. "The time has come for you to give this man visible proof of your blood relation," and she nodded in agreement to herself. "Tom, I'm sending you to Little Hangleton to see Tom Riddle; when he sees you, his own mirror reflection, he will have to believe you. That is why I've called you so early. No one is to know where you've gone and I will say that you've left for school early this semester. Honestly Tom, I doubt very seriously that you'll want to return here once you've gone to the Riddle manor. I think you'll want to stay there in Little Hangleton until school." With that Mistress Angela came around the desk to stand before Tom.

Her dress was white cotton just like her blouse; it was very concealing in length. She leaned back on the desk and looked deep into Tom's eyes with a smile. She said to him, "Now some good news, your Hogwarts letter arrived… Head Master Dippet thinks very highly of you, as always, but this year his praise has an added bonus. This year the Head Master has made you a Prefect Tom… I'm very impressed, but I'd expect no less from you, honestly." She beamed with pride at Tom saying this last bit. "I wish I could do something special for you to show you how great I think it is, but you must leave soon if you are to travel to Little Hangleton to see your father." Handing him his Hogwarts letter, a new Prefect badge fell out of the thick folded parchment.

Mistress Angela chuckled and walked to her door, opening it quickly as she reached the handle. She held out her hand and quietly said, "Thank-you, George." Retracting her hand she held Tom's wand from school. Looking at it, a slender piece of wood, she sighed, looked at Tom and shook her head. Coming back to stand in front of Tom, she put her hand on his shoulder and spoke very softly and looked very serious, "Tom, why do you not carry this with you at all times? You know you shouldn't leave it lying about," handing him the wand she leaned back against her desk again.

Then she looked down at her feet and pressed her lips together, inhaling sharply she looked at Tom, "I don't know what you can or can't do with that stick, but I assume you're pretty good with it as your grades seem above what your school deems acceptable, so why don't you keep it in your back pocket from now on Tom. Regardless of what happens in Little Hangleton, promise me that you and your wand will go to see your father, and then you and your wand will go to school… promise me Tom."

"I promise Mistress Angela," Tom said. Silently he wondered why she was so concerned about his wand or thought he would not go to school.

"Good, thank-you Tom," and she rose quickly. Walking around her desk again she opened a drawer and removed her purse fumbling for a moment with its contents. She pulled out some money, then walked back to Tom and placed it in his hand delicately. She stood upright and said to him very matter-of-factly.

"This is sufficient to see you through your trip I believe; now, you must go. A driver is waiting." And at those words her office door swung open to reveal George standing in his jumpsuit. George had Tom's school trunk in his arms and beside George stood a man in a black suit and cap.

"Let's go boy," George growled nodding his head towards the doors at the end of the hall.

"If you're ready Sir," the driver added with a curious glance at George. "Your car awaits."

"Good luck Tom," Mistress Angela sighed.

"Thank-you," Tom said, in shock at the way the past ten minutes had unfolded and staring at Mistress Angela he thought he saw a tear forming in her eye.

CHAPTER TWO

TRAINS & BUSSES

Tom followed George wordlessly; he was still in shock from the past few minutes. They walked through the doors into the wide paved parking area in front of the orphanage, Tom saw only two automobiles: one, the old sedan he knew to be Mistress Angela's, the other, a new model sedan in a shiny black that spoke of often waxing.

The early morning sky turned to chalk grey as the sun finally broke the horizon. The sun had not burned off the morning mist or the dew, but Tom could already feel the sun's power on his neck and he knew that soon the temperature would rise to stifling hot. George carried Tom's trunk to the rear of the car then set it down with a nod to the driver. George then turned to face Tom and spoke, "Good luck boy. That said, get going now." Then he reached to shake Tom's hand.

Tom stared at the outstretched hand in disbelief unsure of what to do. Hesitantly, he took it. George's shake was brief yet firm, "Make us proud, Tom Riddle." With that, he turned and walked back to the doors and entered the building without so much as a glance back to Tom.

The driver meanwhile had loaded the trunk and now held the rear door of the car open and spoke, "By your leave, Sir, I believe you've a train to catch at the hour, yes?"

Tom walked to the open door and climbed into the car with a hundred questions in his mind, none of which the driver could answer. The car's interior had the smell of leather, which was not totally surprising. The seats were a soft black leather and the doors were covered in the same. The windows had a dark tint to them and the carpet was jet black as well. As the door shut behind Tom, he slid into the center of the wide seat that stretched across the whole car.

The driver sat down and adjusted his hat. Briefly, he looked in the rear view mirror at Tom and spoke, "Right, Master Tom, shall we go then?"

Tom only nodded in agreement. So much of the past half hour had completely baffled him that he seemed unable to speak. The car began to roll forward, but Tom was almost unaware of the motion. As they pulled onto the road, Tom's mind began to wander.

The whole episode since he awoke replayed in his mind and only left him with more questions. George had called him Tom, and had said, "Make us proud". Which shocked Tom as George had only called him boy in the past; plus he'd never said anything nice before; not to Tom anyways. Mistress Angela with the wand and promises about school, then she just handed him money and sent him off in a car. Tom had never had money before, nor rode in a rented car. This trip to meet his father must be very important for Mistress Angela to have done all this.

Tom recognized the train station; he came here twice every year, once to go to the Hogwart and once to come from Hogwarts. That was about the sum of Tom's knowledge beyond school and the orphanage. He began to wonder about this Riddle Manor, it sounded big.

He wondered if the Riddle Manor was a huge castle and grounds like his friend, Abraxas Malfoy described when Abraxas spoke of his home, the Malfoy Manor, as he called it. Ridiculous, Tom thought, Abraxas Malfoy was from a very wealthy family. The Malfoys had owned their manor for many generations and were well-respected wizards.

The driver parked the car right in front of the train station, in the drop off lane. The engine still humming; the driver turned to Tom, "Sir, we've arrived… shall I help you with your trunk?"

Before Tom could respond, the driver was out of the car and opening Tom's door. His next actions brought Tom's trunk out of the back of the car and nodding he said, "Behind you then, Sir." And he waited for Tom to lead the way.

Tom began to walk to the large doors of the building. They were made of a glass that was shining in the early morning sun. As Tom came up to the doors, he began to wonder how he would know what train to take. Mistress Angela had always escorted him to the train to school. Of course, she was also at King's Cross at the year's end to take him back to the orphanage. The question became moot as the driver following Tom chimed, "To the front desk to retrieve your ticket, Sir?"

So, Tom following the driver's advice went straight to the front desk, behind which stood a plump woman in a navy blue blazer. The woman smiled and looked at Tom thoughtfully then spoke in a cheery voice, "Good morning, Sir. How may I help you today?" As she spoke, she leaned over the desk and folded her hands and stared at Tom as if his next words were the most important in the world.

Tom looked at her and said, "I'd like to purchase a ticket for the next train to Little Hangleton, please." Then he began to dig in his pocket for the money Mistress Angela had given him.

"Well," the ticket clerk said as if thinking about her words very hard. "You can't take a train to Little Hangleton… but you can get to Greater Hangleton via train. Then you can ride a bus from the terminal to the town of Little Hangleton. Will that be acceptable, Sir?"

"Yes, it will."

"Great, then we better get you going because your train will leave in approximately ten minutes, and the next one isn't until tomorrow. It costs Fifty Pounds to purchase a ticket, plus Five more to check the trunk on the baggage car." As she said that she leaned back and pulled out a white tag from a box and a pen off her desk.

"Baggage Car?" Tom asked. He had never heard of this 'baggage check'. In the past he and Mistress Angela always just carried his trunk.

"Oh, yes," the woman said. "You can 'check it', we'll take care of it and get it to you at your destination. This way you don't have to carry it about with you." She handed Tom the white tag and pen. Then she continued, "Fill this out and attach it to the trunk while I make a ticket for you."

The ticket clerk was typing away on a typewriter, mumbling to herself while Tom filled out the tag, which asked for his address at home and his travel destination. He then affixed it to the handle of the trunk. The driver then brought the trunk up to the desk and set it down on the ground. Turning to Tom, the driver, tipped his hat and said, "All seems in order Sir. Have a pleasant journey". With that he strode off.

"Alright," The woman said looking down at Tom's ticket. Then looking up at him, "That's one ticket plus a baggage handling fee, Fifty-Five Pounds, please," she held out her hand.

Tom quickly counted out the fare and passed it over to her. She turned and shouted, "Lou… Lou, Baggage Check!"

A small man in a red valet suit came in through the glass doors, just as Tom had. The woman saw him and began again, "Lou… baggage check this trunk please." The man only nodded and took the trunk into his arms with a grunt.

"Thank-you, Lou," she said as she looked back down to count Tom's money and get his ticket.

The small man placed the trunk on a cart with a few other bags and cases and began to push it away. Tom watched him pass the ticket desk then disappear out the doors to the loading platform. Tom was not sure he liked the idea of "Baggage Check", but he couldn't carry the trunk alone.

The ticket woman looked up at Tom and handed him his typed ticket and began, "O.K., now you need to go through that door there." She pointed to a door on the opposite side of the building that Lou, the valet had used. "Then use the footbridge to cross over the tracks and board train number sixteen," she smiled. "Have a pleasant journey, Mr. Riddle"

"Thank-you," Tom said perfunctorily. Then he began to walk toward the door she had indicated.

Exiting the building onto the loading platform was a blinding experience, as the sun had fully cleared the horizon and was now a huge disk of molten gold in the sky. The bright light it emanated cast everything into a silhouette of black geometric shapes. Using his hands to shield his eyes, Tom made for the stairway to cross onto the opposite platform.

As Tom's foot fell on the first step, the engine whistle blew one long shriek. The sound of the whistle caused Tom to run up the steps, across the footbridge and down the following staircase. As he made it to the level concrete of the platform, he heard the conductor shout, "All aboard!" Then the engine whistle blew twice.

Tom spun and ran to the conductor, an older man, in a pair of black slacks with a matching vest. The conductor had his pocket watch in his hand and he flipped it closed and sniffed as he saw Tom running. "Come on, boy!" he shouted as he tucked his pocket watch into a small pocket in his vest, letting the chain hang out.

Tom hustled up to him and the conductor stepped aside to allow him onto the train. The engine whistle gave another short blast then a long one and Tom felt the train lurch into motion. Walking down the aisle of the train car Tom saw most of the seats were unoccupied.

The seats that were in use held sleeping people. Tom found a pair of seats with both unoccupied in the middle of the train car and sat down with a long sigh. He stared out the window and shielded his eyes from the bright sun; all of the landscape was a blur in its brilliance. Tom blinked hard against the brightness, but his eyes still burned from the light when he opened them again.

So, he leaned his head against the glass window and tried to look forward. He could see a few houses ahead, but by the time he passed them his eyes were closed; not in a blink this time, but in sleep. The train rolled on, rocking in its own rhythm, through small towns until its first stop. Tom opened his eyes to see a middle-aged woman sitting across the aisle smile at him and say, "Good morning, sunshine."

Wiping sleep from his eyes, Tom sat up straight and smiled wide at the woman. Her long dark hair framed her round face, with its twinkling eyes. The women wore a pale pink blouse with a frilly collar and a warm lime skirt. In her hands, she held a paper fan, though it was folded. She leaned into the aisle and asked Tom in a warm voice, "Are you traveling alone, young man? Come sit and chat with me, a lady could use some company." With that she patted the vacant seat beside her.

Tom was entranced by the warm smile and friendly eyes the woman possessed. Almost before he was aware of moving, he was on his feet and stepping across the aisle to take up the vacancy, beside the woman. He promptly sat down on the cushion she had indicated and gazed at her with his mouth open. As he sat, she adjusted herself in her seat and straightened her skirt. In an awkward attempt to start conversation Tom said, "Well, I've nothing to talk about, but I shall sit next to you, if you like."

The woman tilted her head back and eyed Tom as if she were measuring him and stated quite matter-of-factly, "Well, I would like and as for conversation a topic will come as it may," with that she smiled and nodded. "For a start my name is Wendelin, but you can call me Wendy." Then tapping Tom's knee with her still folded paper fan she looked him in the eyes and asked, "Now, how shall I address you, fine Sir?"

Tom had never been called fine Sir, by anyone, usually it was, "you" or "boy". Now, however, a total stranger had dubbed him "fine Sir". The experience caught him by surprise and he stammered to answer, "Tom, Tom-I-guess." and he smiled.

Wendy tilting her head towards Tom and smiling said, "Well, Tom, Tom-I-Guess," and she chuckled, then added, "I'm traveling to Preston to sightsee. What brings you to travel alone by the train?"

Without thinking Tom said, "I'm going to Little Hangleton to… to," he stopped and looking at Wendy he inhaled deeply and sighed out, "To find my father."

"Oh dear, how did you lose him?" Wendy asked.

Tom not catching her humor replied, "I never had one… him, I mean."

Wendy looked at him very seriously and nodded understanding, and asked very meekly, "Have you met this man before?"

To hide the red in his cheeks, Tom stared down at the floor and muttered, "No." Then looking up at Wendy he began, "But Mistress Angela insists this man is my father and we've the same name".

"Well, I'm sure Mistress Angela has more reason to say this man is your father aside from you share the same name," she said thoughtfully. "Though in all honesty I bet Tom, Tom-I-Guess, is a very unique name." She smiled and laughed at the last bit, then winked quickly.

At the far end of the train, the door connecting one car to the next opened and the conductor sidled through it. The door slid shut with a snap as the conductor began to walk up the aisle looking at tickets. Tom watched the man with his hole punch stamping each passenger's ticket and answering their questions in a hushed voice. Something about the man in his black vest and black pants, or maybe it was his small black cap perched on his balding head; but the man had an air to him that demanded respect.

As the conductor came up to Tom and Wendy, he smiled and opened his mouth to speak, but was cut short by Wendy who burst out, "Hello, Charles!"

"Hello, Wendy. Going to see Isabelle then, are you?" He asked rhetorically. "Who is your friend there, that almost missed the train, I might add." He looked at Tom in mock sternness.

"This is Tom, Tom-I-Guess, Charles, he's keeping me company on his way to Little Hangleton," Wendy responded; pointing at Tom with the still closed fan.

"Well that can't be right… Tom, Tom-I-Guess is riding the wrong train." And Charles laughed.

"What?" Tom cried.

"Tsk, seriously Charles," Wendy said, waving her hand in a dismissive gesture. So her limp wrist held the fan pointing down and sounding playful. "Tom, Tom-I-Guess has never ridden the train to Little Hangleton before. Don't play with him like that," Wendy cooed.

Charles looked at Wendy very seriously, "I'm not playing, Wendy, this train doesn't stop at the terminal in Greater Hangleton; we pass around it." Charles paused then as an afterthought added, "Tom, Tom-I-Guess should have gotten on the sixteen; which was pulling in at his terminal just as we left." Then Charles looked to Tom and said, "I'm very sorry for the mix up, Sir." But Charles did not look very sorry or even slightly concerned to Tom.

"Well, can we fix it somehow?" Wendy asked, before Tom could speak.

"Hmm, I suppose he could ride to Preston with you; then catch the twenty-seven and back track to Greater Hangleton if, that is… if we arrive on time and he runs to catch it. The twenty-seven is scheduled to leave at the same time we are due to arrive." Charles said in an off hand manner.

"And if Tom, Tom-I-Guess isn't the track star you think him to be?" Wendy stated sarcastically.

"Well then he can wait until the evening twenty-seven." He matched Wendy's tone. Then turning to Tom, Charles said, "Not to worry, Tom, Tom-I-Guess, you'll get there at some point. Just relax and at Preston we'll get you all settled," sounding completely unconcerned. Charles then tipped his hat and began to walk on, looking back he spoke to Wendy quite plainly, "Have a nice trip."

Wendy turned to face Tom, " Tom, Tom-I-Guess, I'm very sorry about this; but all we can do now is fix it as best we can, right?" Then shrugging she continued, "Now then, we've about two hours to London, best get comfy." Wendy gave a wan smile, but looked right into Tom's eyes.

"Un-bloody-believable," Tom sighed in a combination of disbelief, fear and anger, "I'm on the wrong bloody train, what am I to do now?" And at that Tom sighed and threw his head back to stare at the ceiling.

With another long sigh, Tom looked at Wendy, "This is not a very positive start to this trip". Then before Wendy spoke he continued, "And I see being on the wrong train as a very serious problem even if no one else does."

Wendy looked at Tom with consoling eyes and spoke with a voice to match, "Look Tom, at Preston I'll make sure you get on the right train and you'll be fine, I promise." Then she paused and her voice became very sarcastic, "You know, traveling is all about adventure, excitement, seeing new things and just as luck would have it, you are getting a bonus helping of all three. Not to mention conversation with me. I mean, honestly Tom. You're quite lucky." With that Wendy tilted her head at Tom and smirked.

As the sound of Wendy's voice dropped into silence an uncomfortable feeling rose in Tom. The sound of the train wheels clicking on the rails seemed deafening and the constant sway of the train car hypnotic while the uneasy feeling grew to unbearable proportions. Tom sat in his chair rocking in time with the train unconsciously. He was unable to form a coherent thought, as he felt overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Wendy was staring at him in a bemused sort of way, her weak smile still present.

Finally, Wendy leaned in close to Tom and whispered in his ear, "Relax, honey, it'll be fine. Why don't you take a nap and I'll get you up at Preston. We will fix it all then, I promise." And with her fan, she pointed at Tom's former seat. Without a response Tom stood and crossed the aisle to his seat, where he sat down and sighed loudly. Before he even thought to say thank-you he was fast asleep.

"Tom… Tom, honey, we are here," was the sound that woke him some time later. "Come on Tom, let's get you ready." Wendy placed a hand on his shoulder. At her touch Tom's eyes opened.

Charles, the conductor, stood in the aisle looking down at Tom, his hand on the back of the seat just in front of Tom; he looked at Tom impatiently and asked as soon as the two made eye contact, "Let me see your ticket and get you on track, O.K. boy."

"Yes, Sir," Tom said standing up quickly. Then he began to dig in his back pocket for his ticket. His pocket seemed quite full and so he emptied it onto the seat, his ticket, his returned letter, and his Hogwarts letter all came out in one clump. Digging at the pile of paper, he handed Charles his ticket, and in picking the others up, dropped the Hogwarts letter to the floor. As Wendy bent to pick it up Charles' voice boomed.

"This is your baggage check ticket, not your-wait; I thought you were going to Greater Hangleton?"

"I am," Tom stated.

"Well, your luggage is going to Haggerstown according to this…" Charles said in an exasperated voice. "Give me that," and he snatched Tom's ticket and began reading it.

"Oh, dear!" Wendy breathed then she sighed. Handing Tom his other letter she made eye contact and looked at him questioningly.

Then the conductor came back into the conversation sounding quite flustered, "Well, your ticket puts you in Greater Hangleton, but your bags in Haggerstown. This is going to take some fixing… maybe you will have to wait for the bags to arrive in Greater Hangleton, or maybe they will go home to wait for you. You did fill out the white baggage card?"

"Yes, I did; but I need my trunk… how will I…"

"Wait Charles, let's get him correct; then worry about his bags." Looking at Tom, she continued, "Relax Tom, your trunk is safe, no one will take it. It will just catch up to you later."

Take his trunk? Tom had not thought of that, or it being lost. What if someone opened it and saw all his books and his broom or his other magical stuff. This was serious and it was getting more so, rather quickly. Tom was very grateful that because of Mistress Angela's strong words, his wand was pushed up his sleeve, "Keep it with you at all times," she had said. Tom was very glad he had listened to her now. Sometimes Tom felt she knew things as if by magic, but that was silly. Tom was getting very nervous and began to shake as his heart raced, so did his mind and he thought both would explode.

"Relax! Tom, relax, your trunk is safe. Now, let's get you onto your next train." Wendy's voice stopped Tom's racing mind, but not his heart.

"Yes, boy, let's get you there." Charles said quite firmly.

"O… O.K.," was all Tom could form. He still held all his papers in his hand as Wendy placed her hand on his shoulder and began to steer him out of the train, onto the platform following Charles.

Charles turned and spoke to Wendy, "Hold up now, Wendy," and then he whistled at a man across the platform.

That man, in the same red valet suit as Lou had worn back at Tom's home station, walked towards Charles, Wendy, and Tom; likewise, Charles walked towards him. The two of them met in the middle of the platform. Charles began talking and pointing, while the other man nodded at him. The two then came back towards Tom and Wendy speaking to one another.

Tom was unable to hear the words exchanged by Charles and the other train worker, but he knew his traveling troubles were the main topic. He took the few moments he had watching them walk back to Wendy and himself to put his letters back into his pocket, and make sure his wand was still tucked up his sleeve. As he finished these activities he looked back at the two men, who had arrived.

Charles looked at Tom gravely and began, "Well… Tom, I'm sorry to say that we've not arrived in time for you to catch the twenty-seven, as it is pulling out as we speak, but –" and here he hesitated to look at the man beside him, "Robert says the evening twenty-seven is sure to be able to accommodate you and will arrive in Hangleton Terminal at about ten or so this evening."

Now the man in the valet suit spoke up, "Yes, Sir, in the meantime, we'll tackle your luggage problem, so if you will just follow me, Sir," and at that the man turned to walk.

"Wait!" Wendy said loudly, "Ten o'clock this evening is entirely too late for this boy to arrive in a train station some miles away from his final destination." Staring at Charles, Wendy awaited a response.

It was the valet who chimed in though, "I'm sorry for this inconvenience, but I'm not responsible for the boy boarding the wrong train. So, I'm just going to fix it as best I can. If it's all the same to you, ma'am?"

"Well, it's not all the same." Wendy said, "What will happen to his luggage? As obviously, you can't give it to him; how will he ever get it back?" She was now domineering over the valet and she looked as though if she got the wrong answer, he would not like it.

Looking very timid and sounding quite meek, the valet spoke, "Usually lost or unclaimed baggage is sent to the home address on the baggage claim ticket at the owner's expense…"

"Unacceptable," Wendy said firmly cutting off the valet, her fan pressed to his chest. "Completely and totally unacceptable… you lost his trunk, you will return it undamaged at your expense… to the home address, presently, and I'll take no less! Do you understand me?"

The valet, sputtering and stammering, said, "Of course, ma'am." Then he looked at Charles for some sort of help, but all he got for his pleading eyes was a shrug from the conductor.

Charles did turn to Tom though, and as he began to tell him where to catch the twenty-seven train, Wendy came in with her firm voice, "Thank-you Charles, but you have done all you can, I believe." Then she used her sarcastic voice, "It's obvious to me that I'll have to see this boy to his destination or you two will have him swimming the English Channel looking for a train at midnight next week."

"Now, Wendy, please, it's my job to help –"

"Charles, go collect tickets, I'll take care of this," Wendy said angrily. "And you, in your monkey suit, go find his trunk and see it home safely," with that she took Tom's hand and began walking away leaving the conductor and the valet staring at each other.

Wendy, pulled Tom behind her, muttering something indistinct under her breath, but upon exiting the platform and entering the main station, she turned to face Tom and said, "And of course, you need to eat, how about at that sandwich shop there." Pointing at a stand with a group of tables, she continued to drag Tom.

As they came to the tables she practically pushed Tom into a seat and told him to stay put as she got some food. Tom, sat in the hard-wooden chair, a whirlwind of emotions swirled in him. Most of all though, relief kept washing up to the forefront at every trouble he thought of: train, baggage, food; he saw how Wendy had already seen to its solution. Just as he began to relax, Wendy arrived at the table with a hamburger and a drink for them both. As she sat down, she sighed then looking at Tom she smiled.

Tom was suddenly aware of how hungry he was and barely gave an audible thank-you before sinking his teeth into his lunch. With Wendy looking at him like a doting mother, he got half way through his burger before she took her first bite. After her first bite she frowned and put it down grimacing, she looked at Tom and said, "Figures… Muggles can't cook any better than they can travel. How the muggles can get by without magic; amazing. I guess the non-magic folk are smarter than we guess."

Tom began choking on his last bite and coughing. Wendy quickly jumped up and began beating on his back saying, "Easy, easy Tom, chew then swallow." Then after Tom got food down, she gave him a drink of soda and sat down in her seat.

Tom, staring at her in disbelief, quickly gulped down a bit of his drink and before he even caught his breath he gasped, "You're a witch?"

Wendy picked up a napkin; she handed it to Tom and smoothly said, "Yes, honey, now wipe the ketchup off your face. You look a mess." Then she sipped her own soda.

When Tom finished cleaning his face up, Wendy put down her drink and looked at him very seriously. Tom was beginning to think she was going to yell at him like she had done Charles and the Valet, but instead she spoke very softly. "Tom, I travel via the muggle train because I enjoy it. I find it soothing to rock in time with the train and watch the scenery slide by my window, but you… you Tom, should not use muggle transit. Or if you do, you should learn a bit more about it, and maybe grow up a little bit, too." And she sipped her soda again."But how else will I get to Little Hangleton?" Tom asked.

Wendy flashed a smirk that matched her sarcastic voice perfectly, "Honey, at the rate you're going neither you nor your trunk will ever make it to Little Hangleton." Then looking rather serious she began, "Now, your trunk won't ever make it there; it will however be shipped to your home, and barring some incredible unforeseeable event it will make the trip safely. No one will open it, and if they did, it would look like a child's trunk of books and toys and such… they'd never believe any of it was real magic, so relax."

Tom thought again of someone opening the trunk, he was so engrossed in it being sent to the wrong place; it had never crossed his mind, really. Now that Wendy mentioned it, he was beginning to think there could be a distinct possibility that it would be opened. It was Wendy's voice that brought him back to the moment.

"Tom!" She stated loudly enough that the people sitting at other tables turned to look at them. "Tom, you are my real concern, I don't think you can travel by train. So, as much as I hate to do this, I'm putting you on the bus and I'll ensure you make it by going with you."

"But your sister, won't she worry?" Tom asked rather quickly.

"Tom, my sister is a cover story; I just ride the train wherever I want, then I apparate home to my sister. I'm quite good at it, in the blink of an eye I can vanish from one place and appear at almost exactly where I want to appear," she said as he looked at him consolingly. "Now recently, one of my cousins, Ernie Prang, started some emergency wizard transportation service. I don't like him; he's always been a bit snooty, plus he was a Ravenclaw. He thinks he is oh so smart. His idea, however, was worthy of a Slytherin. I mean, it doesn't get any bigger than an emergency transportation service only witches and wizards can use, right?" She chuckled at that. "None-the-less, I think it best if I see you aboard the bus, then I'll go home after you get to Little Hangleton."

"O.K.," said Tom. "Where do we catch this magic bus?"

"Well… as I understand it, the bus is only a wand wave away. So, after we finish… well, you finish, as I can't eat this. Do they really consider this food? Ah well, when you are done, we'll go outside and call for it. How's that sound to you?"

"Great," said Tom, very excited at the idea of a magic bus driving him all the way to his father's home. Not to mention, all the other wizards and witches he could meet. Tom was beginning to think that traveling was an adventure just as Wendy had said it should be. Then he saw the valet man walking directly at him and Wendy, his stomach flipped.

Wendy seeing his expression change so suddenly, turned to look at what it was he saw. "Ah yes, the luggage monkey," she sneered.

The valet came to the table and without delay began, "Begging pardon Ma'am and Sir, I've talked to my colleagues in Haggerstown and the Sir's trunk shall be in the Evening Post, at our cost, with an apology at our mistake. I was unaware of your exact travel destination and the length of your stay; so, I felt it best to send the trunk to the listed home address at…" The valet looked down at a slip of paper in his hand then continued, "Saint Anne's Orphanage and Mission," he then looked at Tom smiling.

"Marvelous, that will do just fine," Wendy said surprised.

"Yes, thank-you," chimed Tom, quite relieved to hear some good news.

"If there's nothing else then?" And at that the valet removed his hat and looked at his feet.

"No, that is all." Wendy said dismissively.

"Right then, have a pleasant trip," and he quickly walked away.

Wendy looked directly at Tom and smiled; then picking up her handbag she asked, "Are you ready, Tom?"

"You bet!" He exclaimed as he hopped up out of his chair.

"Well then, let's go see your father," and having said that, she began to walk through the train station towards the main exit, without looking back.

As the two exited onto the sidewalk the bright sun overhead said it was close to noon. Tom blinked to adjust his eyes and while he did, Wendy opened her fan and pulled out a slender piece of wood; Tom recognized it as her wand. She said, "Right, let's do this Tom." And then she held the wand above her head and gave it a circular wave. As though one hundred guns had simultaneously fired, Tom heard an echoing boom.

"There we go," Wendy said, "Look at that, those Ravenclaws are pretty smart, aren't they?" And she smiled and nodded as if impressed at the bus before her.

Tom had never seen such a ridiculous thing in his whole life. A triple-decker bus painted the most preposterous purple; even the windows had painted gold lettering that spelled out, "The Knight Bus" on them. The vehicle came to an abrupt halt directly in front of Tom and Wendy, then gave off another loud bang.

The door jerked open and a man dressed in a purple outfit jumped out and shouted, "Hello and welcome to the…" Then his eyes met Wendy and looking rather crestfallen he continued, "Oh dear… what do you want, Wendy?"

Wendy looked at the man questioningly, then smoothly responded, "The, Oh dear, what do you want, Wendy…hmm, I must admit Ernie, I like it better than the Knight Bus; it calls to me," then she chuckled obviously humored at her own joke.

Ernie, however, did not look amused at all. He stood staring at Wendy with a look on his face that could only be exasperation. His shoulders were even hunched over making the gold tassels on them swing. Ernie's purple uniform was that of a chauffeur, the tight slacks and jacket with bright gold buttons off-centered to the left all the way up with a high collar. Even his shoes, a soft leather loafer, were the same color as the bus he stood in front of. His driver's cap was also purple, but it had a gold trim and the words, "The Knight Bus" imprinted on it; the lettering identical to the font and color as that on the bus windows.

"Now Ernie," Wendy said with mock sweetness. "Why such a long face? Especially when I've brought you what I'm sure is your first paying passenger. His name is only slightly less pleasing than your bus'." Then, turning to face Tom she said plainly, "Ernie, of the, Oh dear, what do you want, Wendy, meet Tom, Tom-I-Guess." And at that, she smiled.

The man in the purple suit stood up straight at attention, and pulled off his purple hat to bow a hello to Tom. "Good day, Sir. Tom, Tom-I-Guess, is it?" Realizing it was just Tom, he flashed a heated look at Wendy. Then he carried on even though his cheeks were a bit rosy. "Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transportation for the stranded witch or wizard. My name is Ernie and I'll be you conductor this afternoon. How may we be of service to you?" And with that, he smiled wide.

Wendy cut in, "We? … Ernie, you are alone and you're the driver anytime, plus now that I look at this thing you call a bus, I believe my mother. This is a hunk of junk. Honestly, I'm tempted to put Tom back on the muggle train and let him take his chances."

Ernie's eyes never left Tom, "Sir, please excuse my cousin Wendy; she has the tongue of a viper, but I assure you, she is as harmless as a flubberworm. Now, where is it that you need to go?" And then he turned and motioned to the bus, "Climb aboard and the Knight Bus will carry you to your destination as quick as can be." Then he looked at Wendy, "Unfortunately, you will not have the distinguished pleasure of claiming to be the first passenger aboard the Knight Bus, as that honor belongs to one Marie Polkiss." And he gave a revengeful, 'take that' smile, which Wendy dismissed by rolling her eyes.

Tom knew he was watching the antics of an old family rivalry and thought not of cousins, but of brother-sister relationships. Not wanting to get in between them, yet not wanting it to grow into an argument, he spoke in a shaky voice, "Well, Sir, I need to get to Little Hangleton to see my father."

"That's in England, Ernie," Wendy snapped. "Now, let's see what this thing is like on the inside," then she climbed into the bus.

Ernie followed her, then came Tom who was shocked to see armchairs and tables in complete disarray about the bus interior. It was more a sitting room or a den then a bus. The inside walls were the same color purple as the outside. Between windows there were gold candle brackets mounted onto the walls. The floor was a hard wood that looked freshly waxed and all the windows spotless. On some of the tables were cloth coverings that appeared to be freshly laundered.

"Well Ernie… if nothing else, it's certainly clean; I guess with no riders you have plenty of time for that, huh?" Wendy sounded impressed though, "Well, no magical passengers anyways. I guess squibs like Marie probably need this thing as they can't apparate like a true witch." She said as she wrinkled her nose.

"Now, Wendy," Ernie pleaded, "Marie is a marvelous lady and what she lacks in hocus pocus, she makes up in other ways." He looked at Wendy quite pointedly.

Tom jumped in here before things could really heat up; he did not know anything about Marie Polkiss or care to, but he could tell these two could and would snap at one another the way only family can. "How does this bus work?" he asked.

"Ah, yes," Ernie spun as if just remembering Tom. "A good question, Sir, a good question, indeed." And Ernie looked excited to answer. "Well, I sit here," and he pointed to a black leather armchair, "In what's called the driver's seat and I engage the engine to propel the bus forward," then he put his hands on the steering wheel and beamed, "Then by turning this large wheel, I can steer the vehicle either left or right." Now Ernie got on his knees and pointed at the pedals in order as he spoke in a high voice of excitement, "When I want to go forward I use my foot to push this one called an accelerator, and to stop I push this one referred to as a brake…" standing up again, he had a huge grin that showed his satisfaction at his explanation and looking at Tom said, "Easy enough, right?"

"Umm, yeah." Tom saw Ernie's pleasure and did not want to ruin it, but he was more concerned with his trip to his father then Ernie's explanation of driving a bus. "I meant, how do I pay you and go to Little Hangleton… Sir?" Tom spoke meekly.

"Oh… of course you did." Ernie chuckled, but his smile fell off his face. "Sorry, this time just to show my lovely cousin, Wendy," his voice was icy on her name, "And also you, the ease of traveling on the Knight Bus, it's on the house… or the bus," and he chuckled again.

Ernie looked at them both and said, "Have a seat," as he pointed to two chairs behind the driver's seat. "And hold on, next stop is Little Hangleton," and he jumped into his own chair, pointed forward, and the bus jumped into motion.

Tom having chosen a soft armchair, upholstered in a tan corduroy, sank back into it. Wendy sat beside him in a day glow reclining chase lounge chair that clashed terribly with her lime skirt and pink blouse. As relaxed as she looked, Wendy began to stammer at Ernie when he completely removed his hands from the steering wheel and spun in his chair to face Tom to ask, "So, where is this Little Hangleton, anyways?"

Tom didn't answer Ernie. He was staring at Wendy who was watching a line of parked cars in front of the bus come closer and closer, while Ernie had his back turned and had apparently forgotten the steering wheel, perhaps even that he was driving. All Tom heard was Wendy stutter, "Ernie, Ernie, Ernie, Ernie," as if in a fit. Then she began to smack the back of his black leather armchair.

At the moment Tom expected contact. Ernie turned to Wendy and said in a mocking voice, "Wendy, Wendy, Wendy, Wendy."

Wendy threw her hands up to brace herself from the impact, but Tom, a little slower, saw the most amazing thing. The cars, though all parked, jumped aside to let the bus pass by unharmed. Then as Tom stared dumbfounded, a tree and a phone booth moved as well. Thinking quick Tom spun to see the wreckage behind the bus; however, he was once again stunned to see all the objects jump back into the same spot they were in, prior to the bus passing them.

"Whoa… amazing!" Tom said.

"My word, Ernie… what… how… why…" was all Wendy got out.

"I know, I know," brushing off Wendy's shock, as another attack, Ernie imitated Wendy's voice, "You are the bus driver, how can you not know the location?" Then he sighed assuming his own voice he continued, "I'm new at this, so excuse me; in time I will know the location of everything, until then I need a little directing." Then he looked at Tom again, "So, how about it Tom, where is this Little Hangleton?"

Wendy shouted, "Who cares about stupid Hangleton, Ernie!" Why the heck didn't we crash into that line of cars… or the tree… or this building –"

At that moment an entire three-story building bent to allow the bus to pass by unharmed. After the bus passed, the building molded back into its initial shape. Tom and Wendy, both sighed in relief.

"Oh, that!" Ernie said. "Well, it's a combination of an impervious charm and a reverse malleability charm, with a hint of a displacement hex; but I can tell by the blank look on your face, cousin, I've lost you."

Wendy did have a blank stare and her mouth hung open, but at his comment about it she rolled her eyes and shook her head. Ernie's face took on a patronizing smile and he spoke as a parent to a child, "Just trust old Ernie when he says nothing can touch the bus." He looked really happy, but Tom was unsure if it was at his ingenious spell work or Wendy's lack of understanding the magic.

Wendy looked a bit abashed at being told she could not understand the magic and retorted, "You Ravenclaws are always so smart."

"Yes, we are!" Ernie gleamed in pride.

"So, tell me, genius cousin of mine, if nothing can touch this bus, how will you re-paint it in the future?" Wendy asked.

"Well… I…" but Ernie looked stumped and a bit defeated.

Tom suddenly wondered aloud, "If you can't touch the bus, how do you add petrol?"

"What's petrol?" Ernie and Wendy asked in unison.

"Petrol fuel… for the engine," Tom said questioningly.

"I don't feed them petrol fuel, whatever that is… I feed Whiskers milk, and Hammy bread," Ernie said.

"Who are Whiskers and Hammy?" Tom and Wendy asked.

"My engine… Whiskers, my cat; and Hammy, my rat," Ernie said as if Tom and Wendy were stupid for not knowing this.

"What do your pets have to do with an engine?" Tom asked.

Ernie looked at Tom as if he were crazy, "What do you mean; they are the engine." Seeing Tom's eyes bulging and hearing Wendy gasp, Ernie hurried on, "I know muggles use horses, but I couldn't find a horse small enough to fit. So, I put whiskers and Hammy in the wheel and, as you can see, a cat chasing a rat works just as well as a horse running in the wheel." Ernie nodded then spoke as if to himself, "Those muggles must have very small horses."

Wendy and Tom looked at each other and they began to laugh. Wendy shaking her head in disbelief sputtered, "You mean your cat running in a wheel powers this bus?"

Ernie looked indignant and bellowed, "I will have you know, my sweet cousin, it takes the muggles a few hundred horses to do what my one cat is doing."

Tom finally got enough control of himself to ask, "If there is no engine –" Ernie began to round on Tom. Tom cut him off by saying, "Sorry, Whiskers… is the engine, and a fine one at that." This seemed to calm Ernie enough that Tom tried again, "If there is no muggle engine, with horsepower, what makes the loud bang?"

Wendy began giggling again and Ernie shot her a nasty glance before looking at Tom to answer, "Well, I could not figure out why the muggle bus did it, so, I figured it must be some sort of beacon to announce the bus' arrival, and I added this button and whenever I arrive somewhere, I press it."

Ernie pressed the button and Tom heard the loud bang clearly over Wendy's giggles.

CHAPTER THREE

THE RIDDLE MANOR

As the sound of one hundred guns faded, Wendy and Tom's chairs lay tipped over. Tom was on his back staring at the ceiling. Wendy was crumpled up next to him and sharply taking in air while pushing herself up. Her face was red with indignant anger and she glared at Tom as she yelled, "Ernie!"

"Huh," Ernie said as he muttered to himself, "Where the…"

Jumping up with a scowl on her face, Wendy stood over Ernie, staring daggers into the back of his head. Ernie looked out the front windows puzzled. Wendy spoke in a voice that denoted anger in strict control, "Ernie! What the –"

Wendy's words were cut off as the bus came to a jolting halt, catching her unaware much as the previous jump had. Wendy flew to the front of the bus, stopping with her face mashed into the wide glass window. Peeling herself off the glass, she looked completely flustered and she lunged at Ernie, who had been unable to control his giggles at seeing his cousin tossed about like a rag doll.

"Ernie, are you trying to kill us… I'll murder you!" Wendy screamed. Ernie caught her hands just short of his neck.

"I'm sorry, really sorry," but his soft chuckles did not carry any sympathy. "It's the apparation, the whole bus apparating. Every time it does, the contents of the bus shift. It is not an intentional effect. It's an unexpected phenomenon, I've yet to explain or correct."

Then seeing Tom sprawled on his back and totally disoriented he called back, "All right, Tom?"

"Hmphf," was all Tom could muster.

Wendy settling down and composing herself snapped at Ernie, "Ridiculous, preposterous, absolutely scandalous," but she walked back to help Tom up.

Ernie, completely undaunted, stated, "Well, now that we know we're all alright, let's see who called us, shall we." He opened the door and climbed out of the bus. Outside he could be heard giving the same greeting he had unsuccessfully given Tom and Wendy, "Hello, welcome to the Knight Bus…"

Wendy bent over Tom and helped him up, Tom looked at her in confusion and stuttered, "What – Where –"

"Apparation, Tom, the whole bus apparated, that's what. As for where, I think London's shopping district… Vauxhall Road, possibly, I'm not sure, nor is Ernie I'll bet." Wendy looked at Tom with eyes that spoke of concern for him and anger at Ernie simultaneously.

Tom, now standing, peered out the glass windows of the bus and sighed, "Wow! London's shopping district… I've never seen downtown before, only King's Cross Train Terminal."

"What?" Wendy exclaimed, "This is the pinnacle of muggle society, their favorite pastime… shopping."

As Wendy finished, Ernie came back on the bus with about seven different bags in each hand, all from different stores. Speaking over his shoulder to someone Tom could not yet see, Ernie shouted, "Oh yes, this is truly a magical transport for magical types, specializing in emergency transport for stranded witches and wizards. So, was it Tom at the Leaky Cauldron that told you about us? I'll have to thank him."

The breathy, almost winded voice of a woman with a unique accent came up behind Ernie, "Oh, I've forgotten his name, as I've forgotten yours; I'm terrible with names, but yes, I'm at the Inn on Diagon Alley. The bar keep told me, if I get turned around just give a wand wave and you would come get me. I must say I'm very impressed at how quickly you came."

The woman came into view; she was a middle-aged witch with several more bags of shopping in her hand; in the other a wand. The woman's hair was shoulder length dirty blond pulled into a low riding ponytail, her eyes an electric blue. She smiled warmly at Tom and Wendy and spoke in her breathy voice, dropping her bags to extend her hand, "Hello, I'm Sarah Emm –"

"Sarah," Ernie snapped, "You shouldn't carry your bags, you will make me look bad; is that how it is in America? Have your men no decency in treating a lady?" Then picking up the bags she had just dropped, Ernie carried them to the others he had placed beside a brilliant green chintz chair.

Looking quite abashed, Sarah waved her hand in a dismissive gesture and cooed, "Oh, you English men, such gentlemen."

Now Ernie looked embarrassed, trying to cover his rosy cheeks, he covered his mouth with his fist and cleared his throat. He turned to Wendy and Tom, now standing at the window looking at the newcomer and Ernie with keen interest he began introductions, "Miss Sarah, this is Miss Wendy and Master Tom. Master Tom is traveling to Little Hangleton, a small village beyond London. Miss Wendy is accompanying him."

"Pleased to meet you, Sarah," said Wendy.

"Hello," Tom smiled.

"Yes, well," Ernie said before Sarah could respond, "Now that everyone is acquainted, if you'll please take your seats. Miss Sarah is in a rush to return her bags to the Leaky Cauldron."

"Wait," both Wendy and Sarah chorused.

"I'm sorry," they spoke over one another.

"After you," they giggled at each other.

Ernie broke in, "Wendy, what do you want? Miss Sarah is tired and on unfamiliar ground. She needs to return to Diagon Alley."Before Wendy spoke, Sarah put a hand on Ernie's shoulder and spoke softly, "Oh really, call me Sarah; no, they were here first, so take them to Little – uh?"

"Little Hangleton," Tom said.

"Yes, Little Hangleton," Sarah smiled at Tom. "Please, I'd love to see the countryside of England. I hear it is beautiful, plus I'm sure Master Tom is equally anxious to see his destination, more if I know anything of young men."

"Well… if you are quite sure, Sarah," Ernie said.

Then Wendy spoke up, "First, and especially since Sarah is not in a hurry; Tom has never seen London, so –"

"Wendy, we're not sightseeing," Ernie said quite matter-of-factly.

Wendy looked to protest, but glancing at Sarah, she said, "I know, Ernie! Let me grab him a small memento of his first visit, please… just a moment, Ernie." And at that she pushed Ernie aside and ran off the bus.

The three still on the bus watched her step onto the sidewalk and stand before a bookstore. Then after looking left and right, and seeing no one she said, "AccioBook!" And a small red book jumped right through the glass window storefront, leaving shards of shattered glass all over the concrete. Then she turned around and boarded the bus.

"Galloping Gargoyles!" Ernie cried.

Tom and Sarah just stood there silent, Tom caught completely off guard at what he just witnessed, Sarah's expression totally unreadable.Wendy came up the steps. Smiling, she tossed the book to Tom and said, "Here! A keepsake of your first trip to London's shopping district."

"Wendy," Ernie shouted, "What are you doing?"

"What's wrong Ernie?" Wendy asked innocently.

"I'll start at breaking the magic secrecy laws," Ernie exhaled in a tone of mock question, as if unsure where to begin or how to explain.

"Did you see any muggles, Tom or Sarah?" Wendy asked.

Before either could answer Ernie continued, "Then let's try petty larceny?" Ernie began to sound firm. Then looking at Wendy, whose face remained a mixture of shock and innocence, Ernie's voice grew angry, "Destruction of property!"

Wendy, still looking serene, said dismissively, "Ernie, who cares? They – are – muggles."

"Too right!" Sarah cheered.

"What?" Ernie spun on Sarah, "Sarah, you're not one of those 'Noble Cause of Slytherin' types are you?"

"I don't know what this Noble Cause is, but in America, the muggles tried to eradicate us. So, I certainly hold no love for them. I think a little pay back is in order. Of course, I usually just hit the store clerk with a memory charm. The clerk then thinks I paid, or just stands still in complete confusion as I leave." Sarah said quite calmly.

Tom cut in, "I thought the 'Noble Cause of Slytherin', was about Slytherins sticking together."

"And so much more Tom." Wendy said.

"What are slitherings?" Sarah asked.

Tom spoke, "No, it's Slytherin… Slytherin, as in Salazar Slytherin, one of the founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The school is split into four houses to represent each founder; Slytherin is one of them. Wendy and I were… or rather, are members of the Slytherin House. So, we are Slytherins."

"Does each house have a cause?" Sarah sounded quite interested. "In America, we've only one school, 'The Salem Witches Institute'… well there is that silly upstart 'Voodoo Vocational for Hexers and Healers' in the south, but it's more a joke then a school. Anyways, the institute is too busy hiding to champion a cause."

Tom looked a bit nervous then spoke, "Well, our houses don't really share that kind of information… really, it's an odd competitive relationship; but I suppose they do." Tom then looked very confident and added, "The cause of Slytherin is really just Slytherins always sticking together and helping other Slytherin achieve more than anyone else."

Wendy spoke up, "Tom, for a prefect of House Slytherin you are very ignorant of everything it means to be part of the 'Noble Cause of Slytherin'. Sarah and you too, Tom, we Slytherins are the aristocracy –"

"Stop Wendy," Ernie snapped, "You'll not proselytize and pollute this boy with your pure blood, mud blood hysteria or the wizards are superior cock and bull –"

"Superior, huh?" Sarah intoned.

Ernie looked at her and shook his head saying, "Oh, yes! And it only gets worse from there."

"Well," Sarah said in a haughty voice, "The muggles in America sure felt superior to us. Of course, their attempts to rid themselves of us led them to kill more muggles than magics; but that just proved they need to be protected from themselves more than us, huh?" And she smiled.

"And it is the Slytherins who should rule them!" Wendy shouted.

"Somebody needs to, Wendy," Sarah said.

"Oh, no!" Ernie sighed. "It's a convention! Can we go, before you both organize a muggle hunt?"

"Oow, a hunt…" Wendy said sarcastically.

Ernie was not paying attention though, as he was now standing at the front of the bus looking out the still open door. Frowning at the broken glass laying on the curb, Ernie pointed his wand at it and said, "Reparo!" And all the pieces flew back into place. Then Ernie sat down in his leather chair, and looking at the group over his shoulder said, "Please, take your seats, the Knight Bus is preparing to depart; next stop is Little Hangleton."

They all sat down promptly and the loud bang of a beacon that announced the Knight Bus' departure sounded and they took off as if they had been shot out of one of those one hundred guns echoing into the distance. The three of them were pinned into their chairs by the jolt of motion.

Outside the windows a pastoral countryside was now sliding by, a farmhouse in the distance surrounded by fields in a myriad of green tones. The sky a light blue unmarred by clouds held a bright warm sun overhead. Sarah stared out the window, still seated in her chintz chair, mouth half open and eyes wide.

Tom turned to Wendy, "Wendy –"

"Not now Tom," then to Ernie she directed, "Yes, Ernie as picturesque as this is, it's not getting us any closer to Tom's destination, which if I remember correctly, none of us knows the location of."

"Not now Wendy," then to Sarah he directed, "Yes, Sarah, it is nice, but I wonder if you'd be interested in seeing the shore cliffs on the coast?"

"Ooh, yes, but can we just drive this lane for a moment. Then after Tom is home, if you've enough time, I'd love a visit to the beach… or anywhere else you'd care to show me, Ernie, you seem a lovely tour guide." Sarah chimed never taking her nose out of the window.

"Right-O!" said Ernie, obviously pleased with the response. Then he turned to Tom and in a soft tone of voice with a serious look in his eyes he asked, "No idea where Little Hangleton is, huh?"

"No, Sir," said Tom.

"Hmm, oh well… I suppose I'll just have to do the locatus charm –"

"The what?" Wendy asked.

Ernie looked at Wendy, completely ignoring the fence jumping out of the buses way, as the bus left the road. Then he smiled and spoke in a very condescending tone, "The locatus charm, Wendy. It's a very complex bit of spell work. I'm sure it's quite above your talent. So, I'm not surprised you know nothing of it. I assure you though; it will direct us to the very spot, which Tom desires to go. Now, please be quiet and let me do this." Then looking at Tom again he asked, "It's your father's home, right?"

"Yes, Sir, the Riddle House, Little Hangleton," Tom spoke very eagerly.

Ernie nodded, "Good!" Then to Sarah his eyes went, "O.K. back there Sarah? Are you ready to see Little Hangleton?"

"Well, of course." Then she added, "I'm more interested to see this enchantment, honestly."

Ernie chuckled to himself and pulled his wand up over his head. He began to make a swirling motion with the wand tip over the steering wheel. All the while he had his eyes closed and as he mumbled a few words there was a loud cracking sound, even louder than the Knight Bus beacon.

Tom found himself laying on the floor next to Wendy, who was now muttering to herself. Sarah's shopping bags were completely scattered about the bus, but Sarah herself sat on the edge of her seat, eyes wide in amazement, jaw hanging open. She appeared to be surprised and awed.

"Excellent Ernie, extremely impressive," Sarah said.

"Why thank-you, Sarah. I appreciate it." Ernie looked like he did, too.

The bus came to a shuddering halt that brought Tom, who had been trying to stand up, back to his knees holding onto his chair in desperation. Wendy, not as quick, hit the floor in a complete flop that made Sarah giggle softly. Wendy jumped up in a complete tirade of pent up anger suddenly released and screamed, "Ernie, stop it before I curse you into an oblivion so far away, you'll need a locatus enchantment to find yourself!"

"Of course, cousin… as you wish," Ernie said coolly. "We are stopped and if I'm not mistaken this fine residence is that of the Riddles." Ernie pointed out the window to a large building on the right. "What do you think, Tom?"

Beyond the glass panes of the Knight Bus was a grand building of brick and stone. The fine masonry was accentuated by the large mullioned windows that bordered the front entrance. There was a wide wooden double door in a recessed stone archway. The house stood three-stories and had large bay windows above the front door show-casing a broad central stairway, with a crystalline chandelier hanging somewhere about story two. The house looked a mansion.

The grounds surrounding the house were well manicured as if attended daily. Even the ivy climbing the side of the house was trimmed to perfection around each window. Beyond the immediate lawn, more a field in size, the ground fell away in a gentle slope that gave a view of the town that must be Little Hangleton. Compared to the majestic building before Tom, the town appeared a village of hovels.

Tom licked his lips and sighed, "No."

"Pardon," said Ernie sounding confused.

"No, this can't be, my dad is a muggle and this practically a castle." Tom didn't remove his eyes from the house. He just stared in awe.

Wendy laughed, "Muggle!… O.K. Tom," obviously in disbelief.

Ernie shot her a look that spoke enough to demand quiet on her part. Then he spoke, "Well, then he is an extremely wealthy muggle, Tom."

"Don't be ridiculous!" Wendy snapped. "Tom, if your dad was a muggle, you'd never be a Slytherin… we are pure –"

"Wendy," Ernie spun on her, "Tom said he's a muggle, or are you saying Tom is a liar." Then Ernie added, "I'm sure that's a common slytherin trait, eh?"

Sarah cut in, "Well Tom, it's a lovely home. Be it muggle or magic; can we help you with your bags or will your servants carry them?"

"No, I've no bags Sarah… and my father is unaware of my arrival, as we've never met –"

"Tom," Wendy interrupted, "Come on, let's go!"

Sarah started speaking, but Wendy talked over her to Ernie, "Please Ernie, if you'll wait a moment, I'll escort Tom to the door."

"Yes, of course, Wendy… good luck Tom!" Ernie held out his hand.

Then Wendy grabbed Tom's hand and pulled him to the stairs out of the bus. Leading the way she and Tom stepped out onto the gravel road. Walking down the drive she looked at Tom and asked, "Are you alright?"

Tom just grunted. His stomach was doing flips and his tongue was stuck to the roof of his dry mouth. He began to think this was not the great idea it seemed this morning when Mistress Angela sent him out on it. He was preparing to say so to Wendy when a man came round the corner of the house and hailed them with a wave.

"Well now, that sure is encouraging, isn't it?" Wendy said.

"Perhaps, it's best if I let you do this alone, hmm?"

"No," Tom spit out. Then recovering himself he added, "Please, just a moment, Wendy."

The man came up close, walking stiffly on a bad leg and holding pruning shears in his hands. He came close enough for speech at a reasonable volume. Then he spoke in a throaty voice, "Hello, may I help you?"

"Is this the Riddle house?" Wendy asked.

"Why yes it is; the Riddles are inside I believe. Shall I call for them?" The man asked.

"On no, we'll be fine, Sir. Thank-you." Wendy responded. Then she pulled out her wand and pointing it at him she said, "Obliviate!"

"Why did you do that?" Tom asked, astounded at Wendy.

"I don't know," then she shrugged. "It's just fun I guess, besides it doesn't hurt them." Then she turned and started to walk up the stone path to the front entrance of the house. The man just stood in place with a blank look on his face as if dazzled by a thousand lights no one else could see.

Tom's heart began to pound in his chest; this was it, he was here. All that Mistress Angela had ever told him about his father came back to him. It was too late to retreat now; he was here to finally meet the man in the flesh, but what if Mistress Angela was wrong, what if this man was not his father?

Wendy led Tom up the walk to the front door, all the while she was speaking softly to Tom, but he was unable to catch the words due to the noise in his head; a loud buzz of worry. Standing before the front door arch she looked at Tom and smiled, "You're on your own now, Tom. I'm not worried as I know you'll do fine. Good luck!"

Tom was reaching for the large knocker, a serpentine image wrought in silver that was centered in the right side door. As his fingers grasped it, Wendy rapped on the door with a loud cracking sound that resounded so loud Tom spun to face her; but she was gone. In the roadway he saw the Knight Bus' door swing shut and heard the one-hundred-gun salute, as it began to roll away.

A woman's voice behind Tom made him snap back to face the front doors, "Yes, may I help y –" but that was all she got out as the moment Tom faced her she fainted.

"Ma'am," Tom cried frantically. "Help… oh dear, hello… anyone, please help she's fainted."

In the entranceway, she lay limp on the stone floor, in her cream color evening gown and diamond necklace. Her jet-black hair a stark contrast to her milk-white skin, once done perfect now lay in disarray just as the rest of her did.

"My word," came a high-pitched male voice, followed by the quick shuffle of shoes running down steps. "Q, honey!" The man called in his high voice.

Tom's head snapped up even as his body bent over the now limp woman. An older man was hurrying down the broad stairs, in his dinner jacket of black and his shiny loafers. He came right to the woman and knelt beside her.

"Quintessa, honey… Wake up!" He tapped her cheeks. "Blimey, what happened?" And he looked at Tom. As their eyes met, the man fell over backwards, though Tom was unsure which of the two, the man or himself jumped further. Tom thought he'd looked in a mirror.

"You –" they said at each other.

"But –" the man said.

"Aah," Tom spoke over the man.

"Mom," came a third man's voice, just as high-pitched as the first man's. "Dad, what's happened?"

The man looked back and said, "Nothing! Tom, go get some water for your mother."

"Mmuhh," the woman moaned.

The man pulled her upright and said in a soft high voice, "Easy now Q, easy… it's alright, easy."

"M, you'd not believe; I thought I saw Tom as a young boy at the –" her mouth froze as she saw Tom again.

"Easy, don't talk. Are you O.K.?" M asked.

"Yes, it was just a fright I suppose, help me up now." And she began to stand up.

"Are you sure?" But M was already helping her up.

As the woman came upright once again she saw Tom. This time she gave only a small start and said, "Oh, my!"

"Relax dear, it's O.K." He soothed her patting her hand. Then turning to Tom, he spoke in a very apologetic voice, "Sorry, Sir… you just – well, you just resemble our son so much… it's a – well, it's a bit disconcerting."

Then allowing the woman's hands to drop from his, he extended his hand to Tom and said, "I'm Mister Riddle, how can we help you? Was it your bus I heard back-firing, are you in need of assistance?"

"You heard the Kn – … I mean," Tom caught himself, "I'm sorry." Then smiling taking Mr. Riddle's hand, he said, "I'm Tom Riddle… Well, I'm actually… Tom Marvolo Riddle."

"Are you now?" The man asked sounding awe struck.

Tom suddenly felt very self-conscience and he looked at the man while trying to formulate the correct response. At that very moment the appearance of a fourth person, the yard worker, rescued him.

"Mr. Riddle, Sir, I thought I heard yelling; are you and the misses alright?" The man's voice was rather flat of emotion, but sounded quite confident.

Mr. Riddle looked from Tom to the gardener and spoke confidently, "Oh yes, Frank, quite alright." Then he looked back at Tom and walked towards the door to close it.

As the door shut, Tom began fumbling in his rear pocket for the letters; his to his father and its response. Mr. Riddle snapped the door shut and turned back to face Tom and the woman. At the sight of the envelopes in Tom's hand, a look of recognition flashed across his face, and he took in a sharp breath as though a bit anxious at their presence.

"Hmm, you're that Tom Marvolo Riddle, are you?" Mr. Riddle said nodding his head. "Well, I can see now why you insist that you are Tom's son, though I don't imagine it will help you with him?" Then taking the letters from Tom's hand, he put his own hand on Tom's shoulder and said, "Please, come in, you've come so far and no doubt have many questions, yes?"

Tom stared at Mr. Riddle in the shock of disbelief, then stammered, "Yes, Sir… I mean thank-you, Sir."

Mr. Riddle chuckled, "Relax, Tom we'll sit and have tea, it'll give us time to discuss this, yes?" And at that he gestured up the stairs.

Meanwhile, Quintessa stood frozen, smiling and as Mr. Riddle and Tom began up the stairs, Mr. Riddle called back to her, "Come on dear, some tea for you would not be amiss either."

Quintessa promptly began to follow them up the wide, sweeping stone stairs. At the top of the staircase, Mr. Riddle led Tom to the Library, a room full of bookcases with a small table surrounded by large leather chairs. Along the wall was an ornate hearth, though it contained no fire at present, a generous stack of wood sat beside it.

On the table sat a sterling silver tea set with porcelain cups on saucers. Steam issued from the large shiny decanter and the smell of tea mingled with odor of fresh baked pastries that lay open on a platter beside the tea set. The windows on either side of the fireplace looked out over the sprawling grounds of the Riddle's home.

Everywhere Tom looked he saw opulence. The walls that were not covered in books had marvelous paintings of people and scenery. The portraits did not move as they did at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and this library certainly did not rival the school's library; but it amazed Tom that a person would have so many books of their own.

Without speaking, Quintessa sat down in one of the leather chairs and began pouring tea, all the while staring at Tom. When she finally opened her mouth to speak it was a breathy voice that spoke of shock and intrigue, "Unbelievable," was all she said before sipping her tea.

Mr. Riddle let out a soft chuckle, "Please, Tom," and he pointed at the chairs. Then he spoke again, "Sit… have some tea."

Tom, still a bit unsure of himself and confused by the warm reception, sat rather quickly. Mr. Riddle began pouring tea into a small porcelain cup; then turning to Tom he asked, "Sugar or cream, Tom?" As Tom shook his head, he continued, "Crumpet then?"

"No, thank-you, Sir," Tom said.

"Mike, Tom, please call me Mike," he smiled.

"Right, Sir… I mean Mike," Tom responded.

"Good," Mike said. Then without pouring tea for himself, he picked up the envelopes Tom had brought and threw them into the hearth. He reached up into a small tin on the mantle above the hearth and retrieved a match. As he bent down he turned to Tom and said, "After seeing you Tom, I'm only more convinced, my son is mistaken. So, let's try and make a new start, shall we?" And he struck the match. Touching the tiny flame to the corner of the envelope, a flame jumped high in the fireplace, beneath which the paper blackened and curled into ash.

CHAPTER FOUR

CONFRONTATIONS

The library was completely silent except for the sound of the paper crackling as it burned itself out. Mike stood up and waved his hand very quickly to extinguish the match; then he threw that into the fireplace as well. He stood completely transfixed on the burning pages, almost smiling at them as they disappeared into smoke.

Tom held his teacup to his lips, but did not actually drink any of the hot liquid. His eyes were roving around the whole library, but he kept coming back to a large painted portrait above the fireplace of a man who looked just like Mike and himself. It was eerie how similar they all looked: the same skeletal thinness; jet-black hair, pale skin, the hands even looked the same. Tom found it quite disconcerting to look at it; yet it seemed he could not stop looking.

Then a delicate woman's voice broke the silence, "Yes, it is almost scary, how you all look just like one another, isn't it?"

"Is he a Riddle?" Tom asked.

"No – well, yes – sort of," Mike waffled. "First, though I'm sure you'd rather ask other questions. Really though it seems it all starts with him," pointing to the portrait over the fireplace. "Before you begin asking though, I have to know something Tom. Will you answer my one question? Then I promise to answer yours, all of them as best as I can." And Mike looked very excited.

Tom was taken aback; he wondered what question could this man have for him that was causing such a reaction. Tom put down his tea that he still had yet to taste and stuttered, "Um, y-y-yes, Sir… Mike."

The excitement in Mike's eyes was a fire of desire and his voice, usually very high-pitched was almost twice as high, as he himself stuttered, "Can you – do you… ah, well… are you like your lady friend?"

Tom became very nervous, "lady friend," could only be Wendy. What had this man seen, he wondered. Would Tom be in trouble for what she did, now that she was gone? Slowly he asked, "My lady friend? You mean Wendy the wo –"

"Wendy?" Mike said in surprise. "How normal! All the books have names like a star or in Latin or in some unknown language. Most of them, I can't even pronounce," he chuckled. "But yes, are you? Can you make these books work, Tom?"

"Ha!" The woman laughed. "M, I told you it's all a load of tosh. Please, you'll make the boy think we're crazy."

Tom's mind was really racing now. This man was asking about magic. What books though? This man had seen Wendy, but do what? Modify the memory of the gardener… disapparate onto the Knight Bus… wait! Tom's mind froze; this man saw the Knight Bus! Tom became frantic; what should he say? How he could use Wendy right now!Tom's mouth engaged before he knew what to say, "W-w-what are you asking, Sir – Mike, Sir?"

"Magic, Tom, can you –"

"Oh, Lord!" The woman cried.

"Q, relax, this is serious, we've a whole library about a science we can't even prove the existence of."

"A library on –" Tom stated.

"Yes!" Mike cut in. "Tom, this library, all of it is about magic." Then, turning to the portrait he added, "All written by him, Salazar Slytherin."

Tom gasped unconsciously and stared at the picture.

Fortunately, neither, Mike or Quintessa noticed his reaction, as Quintessa was chastising Mike again, "M… stop it! You're going to scare him; look he's shaking."

"Who's shaking?" came a third voice from behind the chairs Tom and Quintessa occupied. Mike's eyes snapped up to the newcomer who began speaking, again in a high-pitched voice. "Mother, here's your wat –"

The glass slipped from his hands as he was handing it to Quintessa. The water sprayed everywhere as the crystal glass shattered into tiny pieces. One large piece lay on the area rug that the chairs were on, the wetness turning the green into a darker shade that seemed black and the silver trim a dark gray. The rest scattered across the tile floor, which Tom just registered was also a conspicuous green and gray block pattern.

The man stood stock-still, eyes locked on Tom in his chair, his whole body frozen and his eyes wide in shock. The man's pale skin became white and his mouth hung half open though no sound emanated from it. His right hand was still poised as if it held the glass of water.

Tom thought he was gazing at an older version of himself, with an even older version in front of the fireplace, with the eldest above the mantle in a portrait. Every feature seemed to be identical, down to the way they all stood; it was beyond disconcerting; it was creepy.

It was Mike who broke the tension, his voice high-pitched just like Tom's, just like the newcomer, "Yes, well… Tom Marvolo Riddle, meet Tom Riddle."Who are you?" The newcomer asked Tom very aggressively.

"I'm… I'm Tom Marvolo Riddle," Tom said meekly. Then he stood up to offer his hand in greeting.

The other man came around the table and chairs very fast, pointing at Tom repeatedly, "You… you're…" Then he inhaled very deeply and snarled, "You're that stupid orphan kid, who claims he's my son, aren't you?"

"Tom!" Mike shouted.

Both Tom and the newcomer snapped to Mike's voice. "My son, Tom," and he addressed the newcomer directly, "Sit down and pour some tea."

The older Tom, looked very cross, but did as his father had told him. His eyes never wavering from the young Tom, he poured tea into a cup and immediately set it on the table. Mike immediately began speaking to the older Tom, but his words faded into the background.

Young Tom was once again transfixed on the painting of Salazar Slytherin; he had never seen a portrait of his house founder. He'd been told that he was Slytherin's descendant by the sorting hat, some five years ago. This fact had never really registered until now, when he saw just how similar they looked.

The thought suddenly occurred to Tom that he was not just related to Salazar Slytherin, but a direct descendant. It struck him that he might be able to follow his lineage all the way back to the first Slytherin, through the Riddle family. It must be so, if the physical traits were still so dominant. Tom wondered if one of these books had a family tree in it, or if Mike could tell him. It was a shame the Salazar Slytherin painting was not magic like the Hogwarts' paintings. If it was, Tom could just ask the great Slytherin himself.

Tom's mental reverie was disturbed by the escalating voices of the Riddle father and son arguing, " – No, father; you are the ridiculous one! To invite this opportunistic bastard into our home."

Mike walked to his son and promptly smacked him across his face, "You are blind, Tom! Blinded by the anger you feel at his mother and what you perceive as her betrayal. You are still harboring a grudge to a dead woman; Tom, it's preposterous! And now, in her absence you plan to transpose this anger onto your innocent child."

The older Tom jumped up, "He is not my child!"

"How can you ignore the physical evidence before you?" Mike asked pointing at young Tom.

"No!" Older Tom shouted. "He is not mine, he can't be."

Mike looked at his son in disgust and exasperation; young Tom held his breath unconsciously. This was extremely uncomfortable, his supposed father would not concede, even though Mike seemed so certain of the relation. Even after this heated exchange between Tom and Mike, Tom's father would not admit parentage. There was nothing for it; young Tom had done all he could, Mike had done all he could. It seemed that Tom Marvolo Riddle was, and would remain, an unwanted orphan.

Mike looked at young Tom with warm eyes and spoke very consolingly, "Please! Young Tom, try to understand my son is beyond troubled. This is not easy. Do not let his words of anger disturb you, or discourage you."

At this point the older Tom stood up and opened his mouth to speak, but Mike cut him off, "Sit down! And meet your son."

"He's no son of mine," the older Tom said in defiance.

Those words hurt, denied yet again. The emotional level in the library was high; Mike angry at his son, old Tom angry at young Tom for arriving and at Mike for believing him, young Tom confused by Mike's acceptance and older Tom's denial. Tom stared at the portrait, "How can I convince him?" He wondered aloud.

"What?" Mike and his son asked.

Quintessa put down her tea and said, "Excuse us, young man, did you say something?" in her soft voice. She alone seemed completely composed.

Young Tom was shaking, in the wake of the argument he felt a strange mix of anger and confusion. In a quaking voice he spoke, "How do I convince you?"

His supposed father looked at him and snarled, "You can't!"

"Why?" Tom shot back. So quick he surprised himself.

Tom's confusion was becoming overridden by anger. This man, his father, was just obstinately refusing to accept a self-evident truth. Tom could not fathom why; was it him, was it something Tom had done to this man?

The older Tom looked at the younger Tom and said nothing. His eyes were squinted and his breath was huffy, with his lips pressed so tight they were becoming as pale as the rest of his skin. Finally, he pointed at the portrait and then said, "You may look like him, but you're not, just like you're not him," pointing at Mike. "You're not my son!" Then he shouted, "I don't want you!"

"Tom!" Mike shouted. "Please, at least have some human dignity."

Young Tom was beyond hurt, beyond anger. How could this man sit there and refuse to admit truth. No, Tom wasn't Salazar Slytherin, or Mike Riddle; but he was definitely Tom's son. It was beyond obvious.

"I'm your son," Tom spat at him. Then in anger he snarled, "Admit it!"

"Liar!" The man shouted. "You're not mine, I don't want you, go away!"

Tom was so hurt; he sat up and shouted as loud as he could, "I'm your son!" tears now coming out of his eyes.

"No, you're not," the man yelled back. "You're not and I don't want you."

At those words Tom's heart broke in two and he jumped up and screamed, "Why don't you want me?"

"I hate you, go away!" came back at him.

"No!" Tom shrieked.

Then the whole room erupted into a flash of green light that blinded Tom. Tom's skin prickled with goose bumps as a flash of cold air blasted the room. A moment later Tom was staring at the ceiling as he lay on his back, the only sound was that of water pouring on the floor.

As Tom moved to get up, every muscle in his body ached and his head was ringing. His eyesight was a bit blurry and a large purple spot was obscuring the center field of his vision as if he had been staring at the sun. The sound of water pouring ended into a soft drip, that Tom noticed was the tea decanter spilling its contents onto the carpet.

The room was a dead silence as Tom came completely upright. All three Riddles lay unmoving, exactly where they had been a moment before, Quintessa in her chair, older Tom in his chair, and Mike beside Tom on the floor. The only difference was a look of mortification on their faces and a hazy mist in their eyes. Then the silence was broken from behind Tom.

"Oh, bravo!" said a high-pitched voice, then it chuckled.

Tom spun around wildly looking for the speaker, but no one was present. Then the high voice spoke again, "That was the single greatest step in forwarding the Noble Cause in many a year."

Then motion caught Tom's eye, the portrait of Salazar Slytherin was standing up from his painted chair. Salazar nodded at Tom and said, "I applaud you, Tom." and he did.

Tom stared open mouthed and made incoherent sounds as if he forgot how to speak. Salazar sat back down and smiled at Tom, "All three of them in one shot, and without a wand; you must be very good."

"What do you mean, how can you, why didn't you –" Tom's mouth was just dropping questions.

"All three of them dead with one curse and you didn't even use your wand, because your magic broke the spell that kept me frozen, which is also why I didn't do anything previously; is that sufficient enough for now, Tom?" Salazar replied curtly.

Then as Salazar stretched his arms, he kept on talking, "Well, now that I'm free, let's hear the whole story, right! I mean, you came here to find a father, yes. So, since that poor excuse of humanity refused you, allow me, Salazar Slytherin to claim you. Further, let me tell you, you are a Slytherin; not a Riddle traitor, and I would be honored to call you son. Mind you, it's not a title I bestow easily and I dare say you'll need a bit more training; but it seems obvious you've had a fairly decent start. So, tell me son, where did you learn the noble art?"

Tom was stunned, his voice wavered, "Well, actually Sir," then firming up a bit he carried on, "I'm a Slytherin at the greatest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

"Hogwarts!" Salazar cried. "That sham still stands, never did I imagine it would survive after my departure. You say you are a Slytherin; how can that be? There are no Slytherins to teach my students, or did my old students finally revolt on Godric Gryffindor and bring reason to light."

Tom looked rather perplexed, then said, "Well, we've never been taught about any revolt, but I can tell you that all the teachers teach classes to all the houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and of course, Slytherin."

"Oh," Salazar was taken aback. "Hmm, please sit down Tom," Salazar said firmly. "You're going to be here a while, I've a great many inquiries to set before you; Beginning with the house leaders, and just how many teachers, oh and the fate of my fellow founders. Now start at the beginning if you please." Then Salazar sat down in his pointed chair, sat back crossing his legs and looked at Tom expectantly.

A nervous Tom looked around at the room and noticing the three Riddles still on the floor said, "How long until they'll wake up, I wonder?"

Salazar began laughing and clapped is hands, "Jolly good! A fine sense of humor, too. Oh yes, I do like you, Tom."

"I'm not joking," Tom got up and walked to Mike who was laying on his back, eyes open and staring straight ahead at the ceiling. Tom bent over Mike and tried to shake him, but he remained unresponsive. Tom called out his name; still there was no reaction.

"Come now, Tom," Salazar said condescendingly. "Really, Tom, they are dead."

"No – I – can't – oh – no," Tom fell backwards.

"Yes – you – are – hmm – yes," Salazar retorted. "Now listen their problems have ended, ours however have just begun. So, forget them and let's help ourselves."

Tom seemed a thousand miles away, still on the floor he breathed, "I killed them… oh no, I'm going to Azkaban… I've got to get away, no, I'm sorry, it was a mistake, I didn't –""Tom!" Salazar shouted. "Please, you're not going to go to Azkaban… I cannot believe that old wizard prison is still open, is it still run by dementors? … Anyway, was it a mistake? That disappoints me, honestly." Salazar sat back and looked at Tom. Then he asked, "You can't really be sorry that you killed them: They hated you; they denied you."Then putting on a very consoling voice Salazar said, "Listen Tom, I do not deny you; I embrace you. I do not hate you; I love you, you are my son. Now if you listen and follow my advice, I assure you everything will be completely fine. Please, Tom come here and sit with me."

Doggedly Tom came back to his senses and he looked at the now living portrait of Salazar Slytherin. With tears streaming down his face and a quaking voice he spoke between gasps of air, "Have you no compassion?"

"For the dead: No, Tom I have no compassion for the dead. The dead have no use for compassion and in this case; you'll find I've no remorse for the deceased and their departure." Salazar said in a very cold voice.

Then in a much softer voice Salazar continued, "For you, yes, I have compassion for the living and in this case you will find I have also help to offer. See Tom, for you I can effect some change; for them it is too late. Now, if you want help then work with me, please."

"O-O-K." Then Tom stood up and dragged himself to the leather armchair before the fireplace. Looking up at Salazar he dried his eyes on his shirtsleeves and asked, "What do I do first?"

Salazar laughed and cheered, "Why you've already done the first thing, it's now just continuing down the path." At that Salazar smiled and added, "And I'm sure you will want to continue."

"W-what path?" Tom asked tentatively.

"The path that takes the wizard race to the greatness they once had as the nobility of the world. The path that rids us of the filthy mudbloods and sets us, wizards, above the common muggles as their rulers; just as we were meant to be." Salazar grinned.

"H-how will that help me?" Tom sounded quite confused.

"Tom, you are my heir, you will lead the way, that all of wizard kind will follow. Don't you see Tom, you'll be the leader of the movement that restores us as the nobility we are; you, Tom, will be the ruler of everything." Salazar started speaking fast and gesticulating with his hands.

"W-what!"

"Tom!" Salazar snapped, "Don't interrupt me when I'm speaking, listen and learn son." Then Salazar thought for a moment and looked back at Tom. "Tom, look around you." And at that Salazar threw his hands wide. "What do you see, tell me?"Tom looked around the library, "All I see is books, lots of books… and three dead people; oh, what have I done?" And tears began to form in his eyes again.

"Don't you dare!" Salazar spat. "Don't you dare shed one single tear for them. They denied me, they denied you, Tom." Then Salazar looked pointedly at Tom and his voice took a pleading to it, as if he were desperate to make Tom listen to his words. "Every day, you sat in an orphanage, they knew; every day was another denial. Every time you wondered about your father and your family roots, they knew; every single time was a denial. Every time you went hungry in the night, they sat at a table with more food then they could dream of eating, and they knew; every pain in your stomach was a denial. When you shivered in a bed amid strangers who cared nothing for you, they laid in beds of feathery down and stoked the fires of their private bed chambers, and they knew; every shiver was a denial." Salazar sounded so angry, as if he himself had suffered all those things. "They knew, Tom, they knew and didn't care; why should you?"

Tom looked down on those three bodies and his mind absorbed the words of Salazar Slytherin like a sponge soaks up water. The tears dried into a fire of rising hate, as Tom's whole childhood flashed before him. His hands balled into fists and his teeth clenched as he realized the truth of Salazar's words. The Riddles had condemned Tom to all he had endured, all of it, while they lived in luxury. All this time they had lived with the full knowledge of their decision and its ramification on Tom's life with complete indifference.

"Did they hate you, like they hated me, father? Did they imprison you as they did me?" Tom asked with steel cold hatred in his voice.

"Not them, my son, but their forefathers before them; who in turn taught them to hate me, to fear me. Likewise, to hate and fear you, Tom, because you are better then them. You are superior to them, and this scared them. They knew if you came, you would take all of this from them. They knew it was really all mine. And so it would be all yours, and so it is; just as it should be." Salazar looked at Tom over his steepled fingers, a smirk played on his lips.

"Now, son please," Salazar spoke again. "Before I told you about the true nature of our thankfully deceased relatives, you said all you saw was books. Yes, Tom, books! But not just any books, these books are the entire catalogue of knowledge accumulated by myself and all my teachers before me."

"You mean you wrote all of these?" Tom breathed as he looked about again.

"Yes, son all of this knowledge is or was mine and now it is yours. It is the arsenal with which you shall lead the wizards back to our rightful place." And Salazar spread his hands wide in a grand gesture.

"I–it would take a lifetime to learn all of this!" Tom stammered. Then speaking as if Salazar was crazy he went on, "How can I remember all this, it's a whole library. No one could know everything in all these books, they'd be the greatest wizard ever."

"Well… thank-you son, but I do not like to brag." Salazar smiled in mock modesty."You mean… you know…" Tom sounded amazed."Yes… yes… and you will too," Salazar stated.

"How?" Tom wondered aloud.

"What do you… wait, Tom; do you mean to tell me that you don't instantly memorize everything you see or hear?" Salazar asked pointedly.

"Ha!" Tom laughed. "A photographic memory, I wish; only one in a few million have that… no, I don't have one."

"Well," Salazar looked surprised. "I don't know the term 'photographic memory' but I assumed you could match my memory, as you seem so similar in every other aspect." Then he spoke offhandedly to himself, "Oh well, we shall remedy your memory problem on the morrow."

"Huh!" Tom disbelievingly laughed.

"Pardon, Tom, the word is pardon," Salazar admonished. "And I said we shall remedy your memory problem on the morrow; now are you a parselmouth?"

"Yes," Tom beamed. "Though it doesn't seem very useful, honestly. It just seems to make people think I'm not to be trusted."

"Of course," Salazar dismissed with a wave of his hand. "Like the Riddles, they know it denotes your superiority to them, so they fear you." Then sounding serious again Salazar continued, "Can you do any psionics consistently or only during emotional outbursts?"

"What are psionics?" Tom asked.

Salazar looked stunned that Tom didn't know this and spoke slowly, "Magic Tom; magic without using a wand, that is psionics; can you do it whenever you want or is it only uncontrollable outbursts?"

"Well, I didn't know that psionics existed; so I've never tried, but as a child I often did magic without a wand." Tom offered cheerfully.

"Yes, in childhood that is often how our magic manifests itself, it is difficult to master psionic powers after you grow dependent on the crutch of wand-use; but we shall try." Then Salazar got up from his chair and began pacing from frame edge to frame edge, talking to himself.

Tom looked around and noticed it was getting very late as the sun was set and nighttime was fast approaching. Already the library was cast in a deep gloom that hid all color and cast black shadows. He stood up and walked to the library entrance to find the light switch.

As electric light flashed in every corner of the library, color flooded into the picture. Tom looked around and was struck with surprise as the true vastness of this chamber hit him. He had thought that the library was large and quite impressive for a personal library, but he now noticed its true proportions. It was quite impressive in any setting.

Walking back to the chairs and fireplace, that held the portrait of his father, he noticed that this area was really just a reading nook. The library itself went straight back to the far end of the house. He stepped over the body of Mike Riddle and said to himself, "Have to move that."

"No you won't," Tom's father said. "The servants will arrive about daybreak and they will clean it up." Then he gestured to a large leather armchair and spoke again, "Sit down and tell me all about yourself, son."

"Servants!" Tom yelled. "The servants will know I killed them… they'll call the police. No! No!"

"Tom," Salazar stated firmly and Tom snapped to attention.

"Yes, father," Tom said.

"When the servants come you will wait in the workroom." Salazar placated.

"W–what workroom? Where is it?" Tom asked hastily.

"Behind you," Salazar pointed. "Behind a magic gate in the wall." Then Salazar scoffed, "So muggles can't get in."

"Oh," Tom said in shock. "How do I get in?"

"Just tell the snake to open, son. I think he will listen to you."

Tom turned around and saw along the wall were two columns, with snakes coiling up them. They were casted into the wall, so half showed and half seemed in the wall. Between them was an engraved archway with an ornate carving done directly into the stone of the wall. The carving was of a serpent slithering as if to come at the person standing before it. The snake's body was gilded in bright silver and his eyes were large green gemstones.

Looking directly at the snake's eyes Tom inhaled deeply and hissed like a snake, "Open!" A line appeared between the snake's eyes that went from the zenith of the arch to the tile floor; it split the serpent into two halves and grew to an opening that formed a doorway into a dark room. Tom just stood there looking at the columns and archway, beyond the threshold was a darkness that left the room beyond a shadow.

"Oh, bravo!" Salazar cheered. "Now come back here and let us talk."

Tom spat and hissed, "Close." And the doors slid back into place, the serpent re-appeared.

"And I did not even need to tell you," Salazar proudly mused. "Oh Tom, I can tell that you are definitely going to be all I ever hoped for in a son."

CHAPTER FIVE

A NEW HOME

Tom smiled at the words and he leaned against the tall leather armchair, with his elbow against the high back. It suddenly struck him that Salazar was standing exactly the same way, in his portrait. Tom laughed and said, "We are truly two of a kind, aren't we?"

The painting laughed and said, "Yes, we are!" Then looking down at Tom he spoke very enthusiastically, "But come now, Tom, sit; we have much to discuss."

Tom promptly sat down in the leather armchair and crossed his legs, as Salazar did the exact same thing. Together they chuckled. It was Tom who finally got out the words, "What do you want to talk about, Sir?"

"Hmm, so proper, I like that Tom. Keep up like you are and wizards will remember you for a thousand years as well; of course that is what I expect from you." And Salazar smiled. Then without much of a pause he kept going, "Tom, I want to know your whole life story, especially the part about Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Then I say to myself, do I not already know the tale, or at least the more important parts. I know your mother passed on giving birth to you. I know that Tom denied you and you went to a muggle orphanage. I know that the life of an orphan is difficult and when I add to it the fact that you were a magic, stuck with muggles; I would say it was probably unimaginably hard. You always felt different, you always had to struggle to fit in; which of course you never did." He looked at Tom who was nodding in agreement.

Then Salazar went on, "Of course you did not, the stupid muggle children could probably sense you were different even if they could not tell how, and this led them to fear you and so to cover up their own fear, they attacked you mentally; though they found themselves woefully inferior," and he gave a sly nod to Tom; who was still nodding agreement.

"Then they attacked you physically and no doubt your latent magic revealed itself to save you from serious harm; but then the muggles, they now knew you were different; plus they knew you could do things that they could not. Now their fear was of your obvious superiority, so all they could do was hate you and ostracize you from themselves in an attempt to suppress you." Looking at Tom, Salazar asked, "How am I doing, son?"

"So far, Sir, you're right on all accounts." Tom said in an awestruck voice.

"I am sorry –"

"Why?" Tom asked.

"Tom," Salazar held up a hand, "I have already told you not to interrupt me. Now, I am sorry, I was saying." And the portrait of Salazar picked up as if nothing had stopped him. "I am sorry this is the way you grew up, you deserve better and I will give it to you, I swear." And Salazar paused to smile at Tom.

Continuing his summation of Tom's life, "Now, at some point, it became obvious to even the muggle adults that you were special and needed to be kept separate. I hope and assume I am correct, that at this point, a witch found you and took you to your kind, and you found out the true nature of your specialty, yes?"

Tom's mouth was wide open, "Sir, you are amazing –"

"Well thank-you," Salazar laughed.

"– That's exactly my story." Tom declared.

"Next!" Salazar held up a finger pointing straight up to emphasize this word. "You were carted off to the poor excuse wreckage of its former self; Hogwarts School, to learn magic. It was here that you put on my former friend and colleague Godric Gryffindor's hat and were found to be worthy of my house, Slytherin. After entering the most noble house in that sham of a school you found your true friends and an adoptive family that found your differences to be commonalities and so they greeted you with open arms. Especially, when they found you to have remarkable magic talents. I would even wager that over the years in the school you have emerged as a leader in the noble house of Slytherin and are a respected member of the school community at large."

Then Salazar uncrossed his legs and leaned forward in his portrait's armchair and intoned, "Well, son, that is my idea of your life story. Now, please correct it as need be."

Tom just stared at the portrait and said in breathy awe, "I have no corrections to make, Sir; that is my life. How do you know that stuff?"

"Stuff!" Salazar said indignantly. "That is not stuff… it is not facts and figures to be prattled off in a memorized rote, son. It is the moments in time that have formed my only true son. It is precious information with a value that transcends the value of all these books, or any pile of gold in Gringotts Bank."

A feeling of closeness welled inside Tom's chest, a fluttery queasiness he had never experienced before. The connection he had with this portrait was something he had with no one else in the world. It was as if all his years of searching for acceptance had finally come to an end. That thought put a large smile on Tom's young face.

Just as Tom felt compelled to attempt to explain to Salazar the jumble of excitement and joy that pounded in his chest, Salazar's face broke out in a similar smile, and he spoke, "I know Tom, I can feel it as well."

Tom's chest exploded at those words. He wanted to say something, but he could find no words to express himself; he doubted that they existed.

"Now that we have heard your story, my son, perhaps you would like to hear mine?" Salazar looked at Tom questioningly.

"Please, Sir, why did you leave Hogwarts; why are there no pictures of you, but this one; why where you frozen –"

"Tom, Tom, Tom," Salazar chuckled. "You are very inquisitive are you not? Yes; well, I shall tell you all of that and why you are a Riddle; which is a nasty muggle name, and not a Slytherin, like you should be. It's a fascinating tale of betrayal and magic. For the purposes of brevity I shall leave out my early years; which like yours, were full of fear and hatred directed at me, and all of wizard kind. I shall start directly at the inception of Hogwarts School and carry you to my entrapment in this portrait."

Salazar looked at Tom and paused. Then with his high-pitched voice he whispered conspiratorially, "This is a long story, are you sure you are ready?"

Tom laughed nervously, "Of course, Sir." And Tom looked it. He had settled himself back into his leather armchair.

A twinkle appeared in Salazar's eyes, "Are you quite comfortable then?"

"Now you are just stalling." Tom chided.

"O.K.," Salazar placated. "Now, when myself and my three friends started Hogwarts, Tom, it was a very difficult time to be a wizard. Wizards were few and the muggles had persecuted us almost into extinction. Mind you, for every wizard they caught, there was ten or so of them; but they outnumbered us so, this scarcely mattered. In an effort to not only save ourselves, but also our kind, we decided to create a sanctuary for wizards far from the prying and dangerous eyes of the muggles.

Our common goal was to save our kind and its knowledge from disappearing into the myths of a long gone past. To that end we each found young magics we felt most able to represent the best our kind had to offer. Eventually though our ideas of the best were strained. You see, as time wore on we found less and less of our kind and the others began to talk of letting mudbloods into our sanctuary. Now, Tom, these were the half-blood children of our prosecutors, I could not reconcile allowing them to enter my home, only to let them reveal us to the common muggles. Surely, the muggles had proved they were not safe to mix with magics; unfortunately my colleagues felt differently and I was forced to leave.

Now, before I left the old castle I warned the remaining three of their impending doom, which they were bringing down on themselves; but my warnings fell on deaf ears. So, in desperation I told them I would one day return and remove the scourge they had invited into their midst, as I doubted they would ever be able to overcome the violence of the muggles and their desire to destroy magic.

I left the castle to their care, with me came my one true love; well, my human love. She was a teacher of divination."

Salazar's voice went all dreamy and he sounded nostalgic, "Oh, Lorac!" And he sighed. "She was talented and gifted with prescience and beautiful. Oh, so beautiful, with red tresses and milky skin that had a few freckles."

Then with his voice coming back to normal, as if he had come out of a deep reverie, "Together we left the castle and as we departed she yelled:

'I've seen the heir of Slytherin return to these castle walls and continue the noble work of his father.'

Falling back into his high voice, "I remember that day as though it was yesterday. Mind you, I remember every day as though it was yesterday, but that morning in particular. For as we walked from the table in the Great Hall, she threw her arms wide and stared at the ceiling, her eyes glazed white, just like her skin in stark contrast to her vibrant red hair and as she professed her vision, a lightning bolt scorched the clear blue sky and a booming thunder rolled in it's wake.

Salazar looked disconsolate for a moment then he said to himself, "Oh, Lorac! My love; how I miss you, so." Then snapping out of his reverie, he looked to Tom with misty eyes.

With a flash of a weak smile he carried on with his story, "So, together we left and came here to establish ourselves a new sanctuary, but my love to educate was squelched. In lieu of students being the recipients of our knowledge we began to catalog all our wisdom and knowledge to bequeath to our children. Thusly our library, which you see around you, was born. In time so were children… or child, I should say." And again Salazar looked solemn.

Speaking to himself again he said, "Perhaps if she had lived, a mother makes a difference, but alas…"

"And so," Salazar's head snapped up. "As I was saying, our child a boy; Salazar Socrates Slytherin… my happiest and saddest day, for I gained an heir and lost a wife –"

"I'm sorry, father," Tom softly intimated.

"Tom," Salazar snapped, "Do not interrupt me, that is three times, I have told you." Then assuming his composure again Salazar continued, "Regardless, my heir was a fleeting joy. Over time muggles began to settle close to my new home and knowing as I do that the two should not mix, I made every attempt to scare them off. I put repelling charms on the land, and wreaked havoc as I could in their village, but they remained. Over time, young Salazar grew and began to sneak off to this village. Then one day when he was a young man, he came home and declared he loved a muggle. My heart was wrenched as he told me that he was planning to wed a commoner from this village that I could not eradicate.

For some days I tried to dissuade him from his foolish idea. I told him of all the travesties the muggles had inflicted on me, and our kind, but he would hear none of it. He maintained that this muggle was different; that she understood and she loved him. So in a last bit to gain my approval he brought her to this house and sought to introduce us.

I was beside myself as he tried to introduce this burlap clad, unclean commoner to me at the dinner table. Her stench alone caused me to lose my appetite. She had not the manners to wipe the mud off her face or to curtsy; she just stared at me with these pale eyes, unable to speak. I immediately removed myself from the situation and sought the solace of my own library and workroom. Close on my heels came my poor misguided son, who demanded I accept this filth into my home."

Salazar shivered and whispered, "As if…" then composing himself; he began again, "As I refused, our disagreement quickly escalated into an argument void of reason, but full of loud voices. Finally, my son screamed:

'Then I will denounce magic and all its rights!'

I was so taken aback I stood completely frozen of shock as he continued:

'Beginning with you old man, you and your old beliefs!' He pulled out his wand and cursed me into my painting and declared he and his sired to be squibs until I should witness my descendant brought forth of a witch."

Salazar's voice changed to one of impression, "Actually! It was quite an incantation, completely impressive and original, not to mention highly effective. It was probably his best spell ever." Then Salazar looked at Tom again, "So here I have been ever since waiting for a descendant to sire a child with a witch; and here you are, fancy that!"

Tom asked, "So, why am I a Riddle and not a Slytherin?"

The man in the portrait sneered, "My son took that filth's muggle surname as a final act of defiance."

Then, before thinking, Tom quizzed Salazar, "And why do we look so alike?"

"I am unsure, son," Salazar spoke thoughtfully. "I would hypothesize it to be an unplanned by-product of the powerful magic. My evidence for that theory is this, in a thousand years each generation of Riddles, all squibs, has birthed only one child; always a male, always with my physical characteristics."

Tom yawned wide, "W-wow!" Then recovering, "A thousand years is a long time to wait –"

"Tom?" Salazar asked quite frankly. "Did I bore you?"

"No, no," Tom stammered. "It's just really late… or… I'm very sorry, Sir. I'm just very tired, please understand?"

"I do, son," Salazar smiled. "In fact, perhaps it is best if you retire to the workroom for the night. Tomorrow there is so much for us to do."

Tom stood up mindlessly and began to walk towards the magic gate that concealed the workroom. A meter from the door he turned to Salazar Slytherin's portrait and began to ask a question. Salazar spoke over him, "Good night, son."

"Good night, Sir," Tom responded.

Then Tom turned to face the engraved serpent and hissed, "Open!" in a series of hissing spits. Once again the stone that filled the archway was split down the center and receded to allow passage into the chamber beyond. Though the library was well lit by electric lights, the workroom of Salazar Slytherin had not been remodeled in a thousand years and it had no lights. There was only the light coming from beyond the archway to illuminate the room, still Tom could see candles.

A candle was pressed into a bracket just beside the archway on both sides, and Tom thought he made out more brackets every so often on other walls. Tom spun around and walked back to the fireplace to grab a match so he could light a candle for light in the workroom, when Salazar's voice stopped him, "What are you doing, Tom?"

Tom looked up and said, "It's dark; I need a match to light a candle, Sir."

"Tom, from now on, you will always use magic, if the choice is magic or muggle substitute… use magic," Salazar instructed.

"But, Sir; what about the statute about underage magic?"

"The what?" Salazar asked incredulously.

"The decree for the reasonable restriction of underage sorcery that prohibits underage wizards from doing sorcery outside of school." Tom exasperated, as though he could not fathom why he was explaining the law to Salazar Slytherin.

"Tom, that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Mind you, a thousand years above a fireplace leads to the opportunity to hear many truly stupid things, but this takes the prize. How can you be a wizard if you cannot use magic, Tom?" Salazar sounded rather annoyed then he blurted out, "What moron told you not to use magic?"

Tom looked timidly at his father and meekly spoke, "The Ministry of Magic, Sir."

"The –" Salazar paused, his head cocked back and a unique expression of confusion and anger flashed across his face. "We have a ministry now: and this ministry tells you not to use magic?"

"Yes, Sir, not until I'm old enough to do so responsibly." Tom chimed.

"This ministry sounds spotty to me. What else do they do; aside from tell you not use magic?" Salazar inquired.

"Mostly they hide us from the muggles and make sure that wizards in other places do too." Tom spoke in a shaky voice.

"That settles it, this ministry is a sham; tell me, do they also run the fallacy that is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?" Salazar stated rhetorically.

"I – I suppose," Tom guessed.

"What a load of tosh, it is obvious this ministry is not operating in your or wizard kinds best interest. Now, Tom, I am your father, you can and you will use magic. Anyone who says you should not use magic, is not yours or any other wizards friend, understand?" Salazar spoke heatedly. "The very idea… Not use magic, preposterous."

"Yes, Sir," Tom said and he snapped his wrist.

With only the single movement of his wrist flicking, Tom's wand slid out of his sleeve and into his palm. Salazar observing the whole thing cheered, "Bravo; that is smooth."

Tom was too weary to reply, so he just walked to the workroom and touched his wand tip to the candle in the bracket just inside the archway. A flame immediately flared up on the wick and Tom turned to repeat this process to the candle on the opposite side of the archway. With both candles lit the workroom lost its gloom and began to brighten.

Standing just beyond the archway into the workroom, Tom looked around and saw a few steps at his feet that led down to the sunken stone block floor of the workroom. There were no rugs or carpets of any kind, just a bare stone floor that matched the stone block walls. In the center of the room was a tall wooden table with some random objects on it. A small cauldron, some parchment and quill, a few mixing instruments and glass vials.

Tom came down the steps and walked to his left to the next candle rack, which hung in the corner. As he lit those candles, he observed the bookcase that ran the length of the wall. It was full of books, bones, parchment, large jars with samples of soil and insects, (though they were now dead) and a lot of dust. In the corner at the other end was a desk. Above the desk was another candle rack and Tom walked to it, to light those candles as well.

Lighting this set of candles, Tom looked at the desk and saw it had a set of scales and measuring spoons and cups. Beneath the desk was an assortment of cauldrons from huge to tiny, made of many different materials from stone to metal and glass. The desktop was dirty from spilled potion ingredients, and dusty from years of solitude.

The wall opposite the archway was covered from floor to ceiling with jars and containers, some with labels, some without. A small stepladder sat beside the shelving unit to allow you to reach the top shelf. The next candle bracket was in the far corner and Tom saw beneath that lay a pallet of pillows and blankets.

Tom's heart leapt at the sight of what resembled a sleeping space. He had begun to think he would have to sleep on the floor or on the worktable. His excitement was such that he did not light these candles, but instead sat on the pallet and began to pull off his shoes. As Tom looked at the archway he hissed, "Close," and did not watch the doorway close, but fumbled pulling off his socks.

The pallet had plenty of blankets and pillows. They were all so dust covered that when he lay down it puffed a large dust cloud into the air and he sneezed. Neither dust nor the musty odor could stop Tom from sleeping though, and his eyes shut as soon as his head and feet were level. It was an amazingly deep sleep completely void of any dreams that Tom could recall, but none-the-less a few hours later he awoke to screams.

Tom's eyes popped open to the shriek of a woman beyond the magic gate. He thought to himself, I suppose the servants have arrived and wondered if he should stay awake to listen to the chain of events. A second voice came in the workroom from the library and Tom heard another scream, "Murder, murder!"

Then silence fell again in the hidden chamber and Tom thought it best to wait before coming out of his hideaway. He must have fallen asleep again, because the sounds of many people in the library woke him some time later. Tom could not tell how many people there were, as the voices seemed to roll over one another and meld into one large jumble.

Tom sat up on the pallet and suddenly noticed the candles he had lit last night still burned, though they did not seem to have burned down at all. Tom stood up and peered out the gateway into the library.

"Wow!" He breathed. The magic gate was transparent on this side. He was looking into the reading nook of the library. He walked up to the steps and stared at the scene, an invisible observer to it all.

Looking through the magic gate was like watching the library through a tinted pane of glass. On the other side was the reading nook just as Tom had left it; the two Riddles in their chairs and Mike on the floor. The tea set decanter tipped over, the shattered crystal glass covering the floor. The large portrait of Salazar Slytherin that hung above the mantle, was perfectly still just like any normal muggle painting, even the eyes did not follow the moving people in the room.

Two policemen stood by the fireplace talking to a woman in a black dress and matching top with a short white apron, obviously a maid. Two more policemen were crouched over the body of Mike Riddle, one taking notes on a small pad; the other was dictating the notes. The maid kept looking at the two men, as if she were speaking with the two by Mike's body. Each glance seemed to make her more frantic.

Tom overheard one of the questions directed to her, "Ma'am, did you see anyone else about the house, yesterday?"

"Hmm, no… no," she replied.

"Do you know of anyone who had access to the house?" The man asked.

"No… wait, yes; Frank! Frank Bryce," she accused.

"Frank Bryce, who is Mr. Bryce?" The man inquired.

"He's the gardener… he's been a bit funny; since… well, since as long as I have known him." The maid spoke frankly.

"Anyone else?" He asked.

"No… no one," she stated.

Then the two interrogating officers looked at each other and with a slight nod the silent one spoke softly, "Thank-you, ma'am; you've been quite helpful. Now, go on home, I dare say you'll need to recover from this."

"O – O.K." She said absently still watching the other two working on Mike as she began walking out of the library.

The two bending men stood up and looked at the interrogators, one spoke, "Well! We're at a loss… how they died is a mystery; perhaps the autopsy report will reveal something. Did you get any leads from the maid?"

"Only this: The gardener, a man by the name of –" The man looked down at his notes. "Frank Bryce, that's his name. Frank has access to the house and he's a bit funny."

"Huh," the man who had taken notes over Mike's body sounded.

Then his partner, who had been dictating his findings of the Riddles said in a deep voice, "The coroner is here, let's have them clean up and go talk to this gardener. I'm interested to hear his story then get out of here. Do you both have everything you need?" Looking at the maid's questioners, "Once I leave I'm not coming back; this place feels weird."

"We're all done, Sarge; maybe we should just get the gardener and head back to Greater Hangleton. I don't like this place either," the interrogator responded.

"Hmmm," was all Sarge replied as he turned away.

Tom saw four men in white coats come into his field of view. They bent down over Mike Riddle then with a heave picked him up and carried him out of view. The policemen followed and Tom heard a loud clanking as of metal on stone; followed by a long zipping sound. The white clad men came back and grabbed Tom Riddle, again there was a bit of clanking noise that fell away to a zipping sound. Finally they came and grabbed Quintessa and after the same repeating noises they did not return.

Tom heard some squeaking noises and the ring of laughter momentarily, but they both faded into the distance. After a few more moments the front door was slammed shut so loud the silver serpentine knocker rang out through the house. Tom looked at the portrait of Salazar, which was perfectly still and wondered how long he should wait before he exited the workroom.

As if Salazar had read his mind, he quickly stood up from his pointed leather chair and gave Tom the beckoning wave that said: Come out now. Tom hissed and spit, "Open." And the doors opened; from this side it looked as if the door split in two and swung back to Tom like a double French door.

Climbing up the steps and entering the library, Tom blinked as full sunlight hit him in the face. He was about to say good morning to his father when Salazar snapped, "Hurry, look out the window and see if they have gone."

Tom went to the window and looked down on the drive that just yesterday, he and Wendy had walked together. He could see the white coated men loading three long tables covered with white sheets into the back of a white van. There were also two police cars, both black and unoccupied as Tom began to speak; the police officers came into view, with the man Tom had spoke to yesterday between two officers. It seemed he was a bit reluctant to accompany them.

"Well," Tom said. "Those white coated –"

"The coroner," Salazar said.

"Yeah, they are leaving and the police have some guy –"

"Frank Bryce, the gardener?" Salazar guessed.

"I think so; they are putting him in a police squad car and now they are leaving, too." Then Tom turned from the window and looked at Salazar.

A sudden thought came to Tom, he had seen and spoke with Frank Bryce, but then Wendy had modified his memory for no reason, and now Frank would never recall Tom or Wendy. Tom was suddenly grateful Wendy was so impulsive.

"Well, Tom!" Salazar spoke in a voice that seemed very satisfied. "See, how everything worked out just fine. All because you stopped and listened? Remember that, never act without thinking, Tom; that always creates more problems and rarely solves any."

"Yes, Sir," said Tom. "About remembering, you said that today you were going to fix my memory problem; but I don't have a memory problem. I am very smart."

Salazar smiled, "Yes, you are smart, son, however you do have a memory problem, for example: What was the last word the maid said to the police, or my first word to you today, what were Quintessa Riddle's last words? And this is all within twenty-four hours. I intend to make it so you will remember everything you see or hear forever." At that, Salazar smiled and raised his eyebrows quickly then dropped them again.

"How?" Tom asked.

"With a marvelously brewed mega memory mixture, that you are going to make, from my ingredient stores in the workroom."

Tom looked at his father with a very disbelieving face and quietly spoke. "I don't know that one; is it in a book, here in the library?"

Salazar laughed, "Yes, it is. 'Priceless Potions' by me. It is on the third shelf, of the fifth bookcase, seventh book from the left."

As Tom turned to go get the book, Salazar asked, "Tom? Where are you going?"

"To get the book, Sir." He responded meekly looking at his feet.

Laughing Salazar chided, "Tom… I wrote it. I can just tell you the preparation's requirements."

Tom's face flushed with embarrassment. Then Salazar's voice became very stern and serious as he went on, "Now, listen because it is very difficult to make, but I will give you explicit instructions every step of the way."

Tom spent the next hour running between the workroom and the reading nook, carrying jars from the shelves out for Salazar's inspection. Then back to the workrooms small desk to weigh the correct amount and replace the jar in its specific place. He took a small metal cauldron out to the nook and placed it in the fireplace, which seemed designed for potion brewing.

The fireplace had a high arched mantle that allowed him to stir the cauldron or look in it, without removing it from the flame. It was also deep enough to fit a very large cauldron that could be suspended on the wrought iron bar that was embedded in the walls. When Tom commented on this, Salazar asked why Tom found it surprising.

After chopping and weighing out ingredients, some as common as fish scales, others as rare as powdered dragon claw, and still others Tom had never heard of in his life. When he asked what medulla oblongata was, the response was, "A very important ingredient that wizards before you gave their lives for. So, do not spill it!" This was followed by a sincere apology and a request for understanding, as this was a very tricky potion. Salazar also said that few wizards had skill enough to brew it and that an even precious fewer actually had done it successfully to his knowledge.

It was easily the hardest potion Tom had ever seen; its complex ingredients came with even more complex instructions. It seemed that every specific item added needed a stir this way or that, or else an incantation, or a moment to stew until a reaction occurred. It must have been afternoon by the time a huge explosion of dark blue sparks erupted from the bright red solution accompanied by a puff of white smoke. It was at that moment that the portrait of Salazar jumped up and screamed at Tom, "Now! Tom!" Then hopping he yelled, "Drink it all, now!"

Tom pulled the cauldron out of the fireplace and poured the contents into a clay bowl. As the red liquid came out of the cauldron it turned green.

"Hurry!" Salazar franticly admonished. "Before it cools!"

As Tom tipped the clay bowl to his lips, a foul smell of fish and rotting meat hit his nose. The liquid tasted worse than it smelled, which was a true accomplishment, Tom thought. It burned all the way to his sinuses and his eyes watered, all the while Salazar yelled at Tom, "Faster, drink faster!"

Tom finished the potion and put the clay bowl down on the table, but missed and it shattered on the floor in slow motion. Then Tom's knees felt weak and his legs turned to jelly, while the room began to spin about him. Beginning to feel nauseous, Tom sat in a chair that felt just like the stone floor. Tom closed his eyes and curled into a ball, as an intense sickness came over him.

Laying on the floor and unable to move, Tom heard moaning and someone calling his name.

BOOM!

A loud reverberating knock brought his eyes open, but his mind was still fuzzy and his body unresponsive. Tom realized that he was the one moaning and shut his mouth. Someone was still calling his name; however and in his vertigo he asked the voice, "Where happened? What am I?"

A chuckle answered, followed by a high-pitch voice, "Yes, it is working. Relax Tom, you drank a po –"

BOOM!

A louder reverberating knock came again from beyond the immediate room and Tom fumbled upright trying to clear his mind and regaining his sight; Tom looked for the speaker who had told him to relax. Then he looked up at Salazar Slytherin's portrait and his memory came back along with a bit of clarity.

"– And you are at your new home." Salazar said.

BOOM… BOOM!

The loud knocks came loud and angry in quick succession.

"– And that is someone knocking on your front door."

CHAPTER SIX

LESSONS FROM SLYTHERIN

This last set of knocks brought Tom almost completely upright, with the fog in his mind quickly clearing. Tom looked at the portrait in question of his next action, "Who would be knocking at the door, with all the Riddles dead?"

"I have no idea Tom, why do you not look out the window and see?" Salazar offered.

Tom half ran to the window and stared down at the front entrance in disbelief at what he saw. A medium height woman with blond curly hair; dressed in a cotton sundress and a flowing blouse in white so clean it seemed reflective.

"Mistress Angela?" Tom called in questioning excitement.

As though Mistress Angela heard him she looked up at the very window Tom was looking out. Tom knew she could not see him, but he waved just the same.

"It might be more effective if you were positioned so she could see you, Tom." Salazar said.

"I suppose so," Tom chuckled.

Then he spun and left the library at an extremely quick pace, down the stairs to the front door. At the door he heard a voice that sounded a bit different than Mistress Angela's, "He better be fine, if anything has happened to him, I'll –"

Tom flung the front door open to look out at not the one woman he expected, but two.

"Wow, hel –" was all he got out before he was swept up into Mistress Angela's arms as she swooped into the house, followed by none other than Wendy.

Mistress Angela held Tom rather tight and immediately began speaking to Tom, "My word, Tom, you have had us so very worried. I mean, Wendy, told me about the baggage problem. Then when I heard of the mysterious deaths of the entire Riddle family in this morning's newspaper, I came straight away."

Then letting Tom out of her grasp, she began to straighten his clothes in a rather doting fashion and looking him very squarely in the eyes as she began to speak again, but whatever she was going to say was cut off by the domineering voice of Wendy.

"Well, you're fine, I knew it. I was saying just before you opened the door, if anything had happened to you, I'd go after that muggle gardener myself. Wasn't I, sis?"

"Sis?" Tom got out, amid the flurry of questions in his mind.

"Of course," Wendy said. "Now, tell me Tom, how did that nasty muggle do it? Did he poison them?"

"Wendy," Mistress Angela said matter-of-factly, "I don't think that Tom really wants to discuss how he narrowly escaped death at the entry way of his home."

Then she turned and pointed to an arch that led to a back room and said, "Wendy, why don't you go fix us all some tea and Tom will show me upstairs, O.K.?"

"Sure, sis," Wendy said eagerly smiling so wide it filled her round face.

Tom watched as Wendy bounced through the archway, her dark hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Mistress Angela turned to Tom and spoke softly, "Perhaps we could go upstairs to the library?"

Tom just looked at her in amazement; Mistress Angela had always surprised Tom with the way she knew things and could always tell the best course of action in any situation, usually before Tom was even aware of the situation. Tom smiled and pointed to the stairway.

"So, if Wendy is a witch, are you –" he began.

"Not here Tom," she intoned. "Upstairs."

Then she called to Wendy, "And some sandwiches, too."

Tom led Mistress Angela up the steps and towards the library. A bit confused by the past few minutes and wondering how Wendy and Mistress Angela had gotten here so soon, or how the newspaper had already printed the story of the Riddles' death.

As they entered the library Tom decided to ask about that first and making it sound like a statement he spoke, "I wonder how the paper got word so soon. The maid only found them at sunrise and the police only took Frank Bryce mid-morning."

"Tom," Mistress Angela sounded mystified. "That was yesterday, why are you acting dumb? Now Wendy may believe this gardener poisoned them; however I am not Wendy, am I?"

"No, Mistress," Tom replied quickly.

"Right!" And she nodded. "Now starting at the beginning, but quickly, what kind of magic did you use to kill them and why? No, I won't tell Wendy… nor will you." She looked at Tom expectantly.

"Um, well, I don't know really –"

"Tom!" Mistress Angela disbelievingly huffed. "Seriously, now; what happened, why are you pretending you don't know it's been a whole day?"

"It definitely hasn't been a whole day since –"

"Tom!" Now she sounded quite irate.

"Mistress, I came here just like you said to and I met the Riddles. Then my grandfather said I was a Riddle, but my-would-be father denied me. We argued and I just blew up, literally!" Tom exhaled. Then as if struggling for words he continued, "When I got up… they were all… all dead… and… and –"

"O.K., Tom it'll be O.K." Mistress Angela cooed and put an arm out and touched Tom's shoulder.

"Hmm! And who is your friend that looks exactly like you?" She asked walking past Tom to the portrait and looking at it very curiously.

"Hello, Mr. Riddle," she said. "I'm Angela Hunt; I've been watching your grand or great grand or however far back it is since his third day of life."

The portrait of Salazar Slytherin stood completely still giving no indication that it was anything other then a normal muggle painting above a normal muggle fireplace. Tom came up beside Mistress Angela and looked at the portrait wondering if it would speak to Mistress Angela or him. Then finally, Mistress Angela said in disgust, "Fine, don't talk! But you've blinked twice since I came in and I'm not some stupid muggle."

She then turned to Tom and pulled a small black velvet drawstring bag, the size of a change purse from her waistband. She slowly pulled the cinched end open as wide as it would stretch. Then she spoke to Tom, "I've brought your school trunk and I daresay you need it. Those clothes are two days dirty and you are too. I might add."

Then she turned the open end of her drawstring bag toward the floor and dumped it out. After a gold galleon coin and a few muggle pounds hit the floor she stuck her fingers in the open end and gave a tug on something inside the bag. Without warning Tom's school trunk fell out of the small velvet bag, banging on the floor and shaking the floor under its weight.

Tom was completely surprised and dumbstruck, he had never seen such an amazing item; he wondered how it worked. Tom was about to ask about the bag's magic properties; when as usual Mistress Angela pre-empted him.

"It's a keeper," she smiled to Tom. "I can put anything I want in it. Well, I assume anything as I've never been able to fill it; though I have lost a few things in it, before." She spoke very quickly. Then in addition she continued, "This is the only one I have ever seen, and I've never met anyone who has seen another. My mother told me it has been in our family since forever as an heirloom. All I know is it's dead useful, if I could make keepers I'd –"

"Bag of holding," a high-pitched voice said.

"Are you speaking now?" Mistress Angela asked over her shoulder.

"Apparently," said Salazar in his portrait. "It is a bag of holding and it has not been in your family forever, as I invented it about a thousand years ago, when my lovely wife couldn't decide which robes to bring on our honeymoon, I made it so she would never have to worry about such things. Eventually all of her friends wanted them as well; I am glad at least one has survived."

"And who are you?" Mistress Angela asked.

Tom chimed in, "Mistress Angela, meet my father." Then he smiled wide, "The greatest wizard ever, Salazar Slytherin."

Mistress Angela looked up at the painting with an appraising eye and spoke with an unbelieving voice, "Oh really!"

"Yes!" Salazar smiled, "Really Ms. Hunt," mimicking Mistress Angela's tones.

Mistress Angela turned to Tom and asked him, rather formally, "Tom would you please assist my sister, Wendy, with some lunch for the three of us?"

Tom nodded and walked out the library towards the staircase. As he entered the hallway he heard Mistress Angela and Salazar Slytherin begin talking. The words were too soft to be distinguished and when he made it to the stairway it sounded like faint whispers, not even recognizable as different voices.

Tom looked out the wide front window that gave a sweeping view of the front grounds of the Riddle house. He chuckled to himself and corrected the thought, the Slytherin house, Tom's house. He just stood at the head of the steps and drank in that idea, it seemed almost too good to be true; but it was. This was now Tom's home.

The sound of water coming to a boil in a kettle brought Tom out of his reverie and back to reality. He quickly went down the stone staircase into the front entrance room and kept up the pace into the kitchen. There he saw Wendy struggling with a jar of mustard. Tom came in without a word and took the jar from her hands.

Brandishing his wand he pointed the tip at the jar's top and giving it a slight tap called out, "Laxare!" Then he spun the lid off with two fingers.

"Tom!" Wendy accused. "You shouldn't use magic out of school, you know that." Then she smiled, "But thanks."

Tom looked at her and responded, "No, thank-you for all you did to get me here Wendy. You disappeared before I could say that, you know."

Wendy only nodded as she began to spread mustard onto bread slices.

Tom picked up an empty carafe and began pouring in the boiled water, "Wendy, it's ridiculous that I or any wizard couldn't use magic. Wizards use magic! That's what makes us wizards and not muggles. So, from now on I'll be using magic at every opportunity."

Wendy laughed and gave a conspiring smile, "I guess the house is going to your head. You think you're all grown up now, huh? Don't need school? Or the ministry?"

Tom just brushed off the question with a shrug and put down the now filled carafe. Looking at Wendy he asked very direct, "Wendy, what is the Noble Cause of Slytherin? The real deal?"

Wendy looked at Tom and put down the bread and mustard knife, "Well Tom, it's a whole lot of things really. Like you said on The Knight Bus: it's about Slytherins sticking together and always helping each other. Then there is also the idea that we are the aristocracy of wizards, the last of the pure-bloods and we need to lead the other wizards back to the greatness we once had, before the muggles persecuted us to the brink of extinction. That's it in a quick thirty-second lesson, I guess. Why?"

Tom looked at Wendy, "I don't know. I just feel that I want to be a part of something like a Noble Cause. Then I ask myself about you and Sarah on the bus; that didn't seem to be very noble, it –"

"Tom," Wendy pleaded. Quite serious she added, "Sarah has had to hide, but not like you or I; we just blend in with muggles. Sarah has had to run in fear from the muggles in her homeland that search her out. Sarah lives in constant fear and to her it is more a war for survival than a cause. Remember, she said her school was too busy hiding to even think of causes."

"Yes," Tom said rather ashamed. "I don't know. I just –"

"Tom, listen, the cause isn't about anything more than we, magics, living as we should. We need to be free of persecution. We need to be free to use magic, not hide it." Then she smiled wanly.

"Now Tom, let's get this fine lunch upstairs and eat. Show me your marvelous new house." Then she chuckled, "Really, it's a manor, shall I call you Lord? It has a nice ring, huh? Well, Lord Riddle, lead me, show me the way." And she picked one tray up, motioned her eyes to the second for Tom to carry.

"Of course, I will lead you Wendy," Tom smiled.

The two of them walked out the kitchen and up the stairs, Tom led Wendy down the hall, or thought he did. As Wendy sighed, he noticed she stood at the head of the steps staring out of the wide view the window gave of the surrounding land.

"Oh Tom, it's beautiful," she breathed and just stood there staring.

Tom turned to her, holding the tray of sandwiches, napkins, plates and silverware; he watched her stare in awe. He thought of himself and how he had stood in the same spot with the same thought only a short while ago. As he began to call to her, he heard Mistress Angela's voice come from the library.

"Of course, Master, as you wish. I, as all Slytherins, believe in the cause and would do whatever is required of me to further it." She spoke in supplication.

The next thing Tom heard was Mistress Angela call to him, "Tom, will you and Wendy hurry up?"

"Coming," Wendy called and she began to walk towards Tom.

When she caught up, Tom turned and led the way into the library's reading nook. Mistress Angela was seated in a large armchair facing the portrait of Salazar Slytherin. As she saw them enter she said, "Oh dear, I guess I should have cleared the table, look at the mess," as she stared at the old tea set and pastries in disarray across the wooden table.

Tom chimed, "Nonsense, Mistress Angela, allow me."

In one motion he tossed his tray, complete with sandwiches, napkins, plates and silverware a few inches straight up in the air. Snapped his wrist to reveal his wand and pointing it at the now falling tray and said, "Flotien!"

The trays descent slowed to a stop and began to hover just before Tom. Pointing his wand towards the cluttered table he said, "Evanesco!"

The table spontaneously became clear as with a small popping sound and a flash of light everything vanished.

"Tom!" came from all three of his companions.

Mistress Angela, Wendy and Salazar all looked at Tom, each wore a different expression. Mistress Angela looked shocked at Tom's actions. Wendy's eyes bulged questioning either why or how Tom had done that; he could not discern which. Salazar, he looked rather disappointed and he shook his head at Tom.

When Salazar spoke it was as though he was giving instructions to a student, not admonishing bad behavior, "Tom, that was quite trivial –"

"Yes, it –" Mistress Angela added before she was cut-off by Salazar Slytherin.

"Do not interrupt me, Angela," Salazar scolded.

"Yes, Sir, I am sorry." Angela blushed and sounded rather embarrassed.

"Now Tom, as I was saying," and Salazar faced Tom squarely. "Those were very basic and you used a wand and words, why?"

Tom was now embarrassed, "Well… Sir, that's how I was taught those charms."

"At this school they call Hogwarts?" Salazar asked.

"Yes," replied Tom.

"Hmm, it is a shame. I have so much to unteach you before I can teach you anything; and it has all been done in my name." At that Salazar sat in his portrait's chair.

Salazar then cast a glance to Mistress Angela, who met his eyes briefly. He appeared quite unhappy about something, but Tom was unsure of what.

Wendy's voice broke the silence, "Well Tom, I thought it was great."

Mistress Angela cut her off curtly, "Yes, well you are practically a squib aren't –"

"Nonsense," Salazar jumped up and said. "Wendy could be a marvelous witch, she just needs proper instruction."

Salazar focused his attention on Wendy. "Tell me Wendy." He used his teacher voice. "Would you like to learn under me? You could stay here with Tom and me and receive instruction, I am confident that I could make you quite formidable."

Wendy looked so excited with her eyes alight she practically jumped up to say, "Yes, please!" Then she looked at her sister and asked, "But who are you?"

Mistress Angela winced and put her hand up to her face as if she felt pain and was holding back a tirade of angry words. The scene prompted Salazar to address her before he answered Wendy. "Now, Angela, never begrudge ignorance; rather, remedy it with knowledge."

Then to Wendy he spoke, "Well Wendy…" and Salazar bowed deep. "I am Salazar Slytherin and I am your new teacher, but you will call me Sir or Master, understood?"

Wendy gasped, "Really… Salazar Sly –"

"Wendy!" Salazar shot.

Wendy snapped her mouth closed and stared at the portrait that looked at her expectant of an answer. After she regained herself she nodded, "I'd be honored, Sir."

"Good," Salazar replied and added as an after thought, "you will find me very demanding and terribly strict; however, when I am finished with you, your magic will surpass even your own dreams."

Tom reached his hand forward to grab the still hovering tray, but immediately thought better of it. His hands stopped and he made a pushing gesture in the air well short of the tray. Miraculously the tray floated toward the table and began to sink and rest on it without, so much as a sound.

"Excellent," Salazar said. "You are an excellent student, son."

"Thank-you, father," Tom beamed.

"Shall we then?" Mistress Angela asked as she sat down to eat.

Tom looked at the sandwiches and realized it was going on two days with no food and he became ravenously hungry. Half way through the second sandwich he had to stop to breath and Wendy shook her head at him, she had barely eaten half of one; Mistress Angela had not even taken one. She did have a cup of tea though, with more sugar than tea in it. Tom thought it must be a thick syrup.

Finishing his fourth sandwich, Tom turned to his name being called by his father. "Tom, go to the book shelf numbered one. Starting at the first book on the top shelf left side, read the whole bookcase. We will discuss it at sunset and you will demonstrate basic cantrips for us without the use of your wand."

Tom stood up and looked against the wall at bookcase one and immediately knew it was two hundred fifteen books total. How he knew he was not sure. He also knew that he could not read that many books in five weeks, let alone the five hours to sunset. Just as he had this thought Salazar spoke again, as if reading his mind.

"Oh you will find reading much easier now, son." Then he chuckled, "You may even find time to practice."

Tom reached for the first book, a dark leather-bound tome that had gold lettering on its binding. The lettering read:

"Beginner's Magic – Cantrips and Exercises"

The paper of the book was thick and yellowed by years of age. Looking at the front cover Tom caught a glimpse of the unbound edge; seventy-four leaves he thought. Instinctively, Tom flipped to the last page and saw it was number one hundred forty-four.

Astonished at himself he opened the book properly and read the whole first page before the book was completely open, though it was only a title page. He immediately went to the next and as it opened he was done. He kept going, just turning pages and almost instantly absorbing their contents. As fast as his eyes ran down the page, it was read.

Mistress Angela began to ask Tom what he was doing, but Salazar answered for him all the while laughing. Wendy sounded excited and asked if she would be able to do that as well. Salazar was less confident but said, "That in time Wendy could grow to be much more than she ever dreamed; provided she did not burn herself out or blow herself up."

Mistress Angela said with a chuckle, "Be careful what you teach her then Sir, or she'll blow herself up and burn out at the same time."

Wendy was not happy about those grim predictions, but let it slide without comment when she was told to clean up lunch by her new teacher.

Meanwhile, Tom had finished book one of the series: "Beginner's Magic: Cantrips and Exercises" and began book two, which bore the same title. Looking down the row Tom saw there were twelve books of this title. The information just kept flowing into his mind and he was amazed at how easy he could recall all of it at a whim. At page one hundred forty-four of book six, he mentally flashed to page twelve of book one, just to impress himself with his ability to do so.

Tom was reading so fast and felt so content just to absorb all this knowledge that he ceased to pay attention to passing time or changing topics. It was almost a surprise to find himself on the last book of: "The Persecution of Magics – The Rise of The Noble Cause of Salazar Slytherin"; as he closed it he looked at the whole bookcase and smiled.

The sun was just a hair above the horizon and Tom was complete. He had read every book on every shelf and could recall every sentence of every book. He looked around at the darkening library and saw he was alone. Wendy and Mistress Angela had gone somewhere, though he did not know where. He thought of his upcoming discussion with his father.

Tom had learned a great deal of magic, albeit remedial magic. He could not think of one wizard he knew that could do a single cantrip. It was quite basic magic, but it was entirely mental, without wand or word. Some used a physical motion, but not all. Beyond cantrips, Tom really wanted to discuss the topic of the last section, the series "Persecution of Magics", so much in those books he had never known before and could hardly believe.

There was so much knowledge in those books it made Tom feel smarter than he ever had. Looking around the library he smiled at the thought of the rest of the books he would read and all the new insights he would gain. In turn all the magic he would know and above all use to lead the Noble Cause of Salazar Slytherin; which he now understood completely.

Tom reflected back to a few short days ago, before he had come here and realized he had learned more than he had in fifteen years. Sitting in the orphanage he had thought it an accomplishment to become a prefect at Hogwarts, but now he knew he had been ignorant. Ignorant just like the rest of the students and as far as Tom could tell, the staff as well, but that was all going to change; Tom was going to change it. He would educate them.

Tom looked out the window of the library and saw the sun had just reached the horizon. Suddenly, in walked Mistress Angela and behind her Wendy. Wendy carried a tray full of various items: candles, a pitcher of water, a bowl of sugar, two six-sided dice, a deck of cards, teacups, tea leaves, napkins, and more sandwiches. Behind Tom came the sound of Salazar shuffling in his chair, which pre-empted his high-pitched voice that rang out in the silent library, "Excellent."

Mistress Angela sat down in a chair and remained silent. Wendy set her tray down and then began to spread out the candles randomly about the room, though she did not light them. Next, she set out the teacups and leaves along with the pitcher of water in front of Mistress Angela, also placing the bowl of sugar next to the water. Wendy then put the dice and playing cards on the table in front of the tall armchair that Tom had used at lunch. Finally, she took a seat beside her sister and looked at Tom.

The portrait of Salazar Slytherin spoke in his teacher voice again; it was a high-pitched monotone that demanded attention. "Well Tom, the allotted time is now expired and we shall discuss today's lesson. Further, you will demonstrate an aptitude or deficiency, as the case may be. First, though would you give us some candlelight, that we may see you."

Tom nodded to the portrait of his father and spun on his heels to face the reading nook. Taking a deep breath in while bringing his fist to his mouth, he looked at the candles. Tom blew out the warm air into his hand then pointed his index and middle fingers at the candle on the table. A flame sprung up instantly, first a point of light that grew to a steady twinkle. He proceeded to ignite all the candles Wendy had spread about the room in the same manner, with just a point of his fingers.

"Only one at a time," Salazar said sounding disappointed. "Well, for a first time it will have to do, I suppose."

Wendy looked thoroughly amazed and the soft candlelight reflected in her wide eyes. She seemed as though she would clap at Tom's display, but she did not. The most likely reason was the reproving look of Mistress Angela, which in turn shone on Tom in quiet approval, but glanced back at Wendy like a warning.

Tom turned and faced Salazar, "Ignite, was the first cantrip you wrote of. Shall I run through each in order for you, Sir? I have many questions for you; though they pertain to information more towards the end of the bookcase."

"The end," Salazar sounded impressed. "A history buff, are you?"

"No Sir," Tom said. "I wish to know more of the Noble Cause that I may serve it."

Salazar replied in a very calculated tone, "No, you shall not serve the Noble Cause, my son. You shall lead the Noble Cause."

Then Salazar crossed his legs and steepled his fingers before his nose and spoke plainly, "Please continue; next is?"

Tom nodded, "Heat," then grinning, "For which, Wendy has brought water."

Tom walked to the table and touched his finger to the surface of the water in the pitcher. With a slow circular motion he stirred the water, which began to give off a light steam vapor. Removing his finger from the water he looked at Mistress Angela and inquired, "Would you care to steep your tea now, Mistress?"

Mistress Angela smiled and poured water into a cup. Then added tea leaves and offered it to Wendy. Wendy's eyes looked as if they would fall out if she opened them any wider. Wendy took the cup and set it before her on the table all the while gazing at Tom.

Tom smiled and began to hum very softly with his mouth closed. The hum slowly grew to a rumble as if the hum were an oncoming train. The rumble in turn crescendoed to a thundering sound of indistinct voices and growls. Abruptly it ended to an equally deafening silence broken when Tom cleared his throat.

Both Wendy and Mistress Angela looked at Tom. Wendy had pressed her hands over her ears. Mistress Angela did not even blink and as soon as the noise ended she began to add way too much sugar to her cup of tea, which she had poured during the demonstration. Tom chuckled to Wendy, "That was noise."

Then he spoke to no one, "Faerie lights" and as the words left his mouth a jumble of multi-colored flashing lights began to blink above his head. They gave off little light, but the bobbing and buzzing swirl of tiny pinpricks of light was very distracting and seemed to mystify Wendy.

Salazar made an approving nod, "Good, continue."

Tom held up his hand and pointing his finger at the water pitcher he made a quick jab. Then the pitcher tipped over. Hot water splashed all over the floor and Wendy jumped up with a shriek. Mistress Angela looked at the puddle and deadpanned, "Well, so much for a second cup."

She then reached for the pitcher that was threatening to roll off the table. Tom hooked his finger and jerked his hand back to himself. The pitcher slid back onto the table and as Mistress Angela looked at him she spoke again, "Thank-you, Tom."

"Of course Mistress," Tom's voice spoke from the library entrance.

Wendy spun to look at the voice; Mistress Angela just looked at Tom as though nothing could distract her.

"Are we skipping ahead?" Salazar asked.

"No," Tom said.

Wendy spun back to look at Tom, but didn't see him. Even Mistress Angela blinked at him as if he had moved.

"I'm here." Came Tom's voice from just behind their chairs, but both were staring at his face without blinking.

"That would be ventriloquism, distract and attract, in the best format I could think to display them, Sir. I am not trying to confuse you." Tom explained.

"Those were great Tom, teach me." Wendy squealed.

"Finish Tom," Salazar firmly stated.

Holding up his hand, Tom made a fist and throwing it down and open, a bright blinding flash of light; like that of a camera flash, popped then died out. Wendy's head snapped back in shock and she clapped her hands. Tom, using her startlement did it quickly again this time throwing the flash at her. This time when the flash blinked, Tom nodded his head and rolled his wrist. Wendy toppled out of her chair.

"Tom!" she screamed.

"I'm sorry, just playing Wendy," he laughed.

"You scared me; I got dizzy in the light," she pouted.

"No, that was flash followed by vertigo. Neat, huh?" He jested.

"Do it to Angela, next time," she whined.

"Maybe," he said noncommittally, "Now for my last display, chance! Please Wendy pick a card."

Wendy reached up, pulled a card off the top of the deck, "The jack of hearts," she proclaimed.

As Wendy sat back in her chair Tom shuffled the deck and pulled out a card randomly, then displayed the jack of hearts to all three of them. Again he shuffled, once then twice, then he cut the deck to the same jack, without even looking he showed them.

"Three times a charm," he chuckled and after shuffling the cards once he dropped them on the table in a stack. As they fell one card fluttered away and landed beside the messy stack, landing face up was the jack of hearts.

CHAPTER SEVEN

GIFTS FROM SLYTHERIN

As the jack landed on the table Wendy whooped and began clapping. Mistress Angela looked at Tom rather severely as she put down her teacup and spoke softly, "Yes, it was a marvelous display Tom; very impressive."

Tom nodded, "Thank-you both, I –"

"Mmnphmm," came Salazar's throat clearing drowning out the rest.

Instinctively Tom spun around to look at his father. Salazar sat legs crossed in his portrait chair looking at Tom with a stern look as if he was deciding what to say and Tom grew fearful that he had made a mistake. Then Salazar's face broke wide in a grin and he said, "Absolutely amazing… you are incredible and I applaud you, son." And he stood up and began clapping.

Tom beamed with pride; he had always been quite adept at learning magic. At school, he often grasped the lessons before most of the other students, but he also worked very hard at it. Tom was frequently doing extra reading or staying after class for a few extra questions with a teacher privately. This was different though, it had come so easy and he was sure that if learning remained this easy he would excel beyond anyone he had ever seen.

As Tom stood there before his father, an image of book pages fluttered past his eyes. He blinked and it vanished with a soft throb in his head. Then a flurry of pages whirled by his eyes again as a sharp pain erupted in his forehead. Tom raised his hand to rub his forehead and the pain subsided.

"Tom, sit down," Salazar instructed. Now, no longer clapping, but sounding concerned.

Tom stood motionless as if he had not heard his Father's words. A pain jumped in his head, a sharp pain then a throb. Tom grabbed his head with both hands and massaged his forehead with his fingers. His vision blurred as the sharp pain struck again. "Unnhh," Tom winced.

"Tom!" Salazar shouted.

Tom looked up at him.

"Sit down! Now!" Salazar pointed at Tom's high-back leather armchair.

Tom stepped to the chair and fell into it as another stab of pain more intense then the others struck. Tom felt dizzy with pain and winced again.

Wendy's voice cut through the throbbing, "Tom? Are you O.K.?"

"Oww," Tom griped. "It feels as if my head is splitting open."

Wendy's voice only increased Tom's pain, "What did you do to him, you stupid painting?"

Salazar's response was lost in another painful pulse in Tom's head, each pulse growing stronger than its predecessor. Tom's stomach flipped in the wake of the pain and he made an indistinct mumble as the next wave washed over him. In its ebb Tom opened his teary eyes to look at Wendy and his father shouting at each other.

Opening his mouth to plead for silence as their voices reverberated in his skull another shot of pain came. Tom's stomach clenched and emptied its contents on the table, floor, and Tom's feet. In the spontaneous relief that ensued Tom relaxed back in his chair, vomiting again into his own lap.

"Oh Tom!" Wendy cried.

Tom said nothing; another wave of relief washed over him as the last of his lunch dribbled out of his mouth. The pain in his head subsided just as quickly as it had come on. The ecstasy of it made Tom smile and open his eyes halfway while sighing.

Wendy looked frantic, dancing and hopping over Tom's sickness, unaware of what to do to be of some assistance. Tom watched her with complete detachment and wanted nothing more than to just relax where he was in his chair. In the corner of his vision he saw Mistress Angela rise.

"When you are ready Tom, I'll have drawn you a bath. Please, leave your clothes right there so Wendy can clean up." Then Mistress Angela walked out of the library.

Wendy watched her leave and when Mistress Angela was gone, she turned her eyes to Tom's mess with a grimace. Then stepping closer she spoke in resignation, "Well, come on then! Let's get you out of those clothes."

Tom held up a hand to halt Wendy and sighed very deeply, "Mmnhh."

Looking up at Wendy he asked, "Please, Wendy, get me a robe from my trunk if you would?"

"Yes, Tom," Wendy responded.

Tom looked up at his father, who was gazing in turn at Tom, "Sorry father, I guess this is a deficiency?"

"Nonsense, son, it is a one time event that we both learned from, yes? Now, relax and clean up; then rest as the morrow is an even bigger day than today and in the morning we have much to discuss." Salazar looked at Tom with watery eyes adding, "I am very impressed by your display, son."

"Thank-you, father," Tom breathed.

Standing up was a bit of a struggle, as Tom felt weak, but the wetness was becoming rather uncomfortable. Tom began to shed his clothing and as he removed his shirt and pants Wendy came to stand beside him to wrap him in a soft bathrobe.

"Would you like me to walk you to the bathroom, Tom?" She inquired.

"No," Tom exhaled shaking his head. "I can manage."

Then Tom began to trudge out of the library, not feeling the slightest bit sick, but tired as if he had not slept for days. Into the hall he ambled slowly past the stairway and on towards the sound of running water.

The bright ceiling lights were softened by the cloud of steam that hovered around them, but everything still seemed to sparkle in their light. The bathroom was divided into two sections: The first was a sink with a full mirror beside which was a toilet, which had a sterile look, even its tile floor was immaculate. The second was accessed through an ornate archway that led to the bath area, which was much larger.

On the raised edge of a deep roman bath sat Mistress Angela, watching the water fill the tub, though it looked the size of a pool and was only half full. When Tom came through the arch she spoke without looking at him, "That door leads to a bedroom," she pointed to a door on the opposite wall. "So, when you're done you can sleep in there. It is much better than the floor or a musty pallet, yes?"

Tom looked through the slightly ajar door and saw a large four poster bed, "Yes, Mistress."

Mistress Angela stood up and pointed to a stool against the wall that held a stack of towels, "That should be enough. Remember to get good and clean and not just float around, O.K.?"

Tom laughed.

"I'll have Wendy spread out bed clothes for you in your room." Then she made for the archway. "Good night, Tom, sleep well. Saturday we have a lot to do." Then pulling the door closed behind her she disappeared into the hallway.

"Saturday? Tomorrow is only Thursday Mi –" he stalled; he knew she had heard none of it.

Tom climbed into the bath; the water was already over his knees and looked as though it could make it to his waist without overflowing the bath. He did not turn the water off, but just laid down and floated in it until the tub was full. Then he bathed himself properly and began to think about tomorrow, which he chuckled was not Saturday. He wondered what Mistress Angela thought would happen that would make it so busy.

Coming out of his bathroom dried and in his robe, Tom saw his bedclothes laid out on his bed. He walked right to them and dressed quickly. The warm bath water had relaxed him and increased his desire to sleep now that all traces of his momentary illness were gone, except for his memory of the episode. All that was in his mind was his increasing weariness that went straight to his bones and its cure was only a bed sheet away.

Tom crawled into the bed and fell asleep immediately. When he awoke the next morning, the room light was turned off and fresh clothes were laid out on a chair beside his bed. Outside the window, Tom could see a large tree and hear a bird singing a song as refreshing as his sleep had been. Tom climbed out of bed and dressed into his clothes.

A gnawing hunger came over him as he opened his bedroom door and stepped into the hall. He could hear voices down the hall, but could not make out any words and his grumbling stomach only complicated the procedure. Tom walked towards the library.

Coming to the large staircase and its large mullioned windows he glanced out into the front grounds. Momentarily pausing to appreciate the marvelous view out his front window, Tom guessed it was still early in the morning as the shadows were still very long. In the distance he heard his father, Salazar, laughing and he thought again of food, but the sounds of the library won out. He did not go down to the kitchen, but continued down the hall to the library.

Tom entered the library to see it was completely cleaned from last night and set for breakfast. Mistress Angela was standing before the portrait of Salazar Slytherin and they were talking about some place. Obviously, they both had visited this place as they were discussing it in detail as if comparing notes. As Tom sat down and pulled a scone from a tray of pastries, their conversation ended and they both turned to face Tom. Tom smiled and bit into his scone.

"Angela, would you please, leave us?" Salazar asked.

Then he added adjusting his eyes back to her, "Make whatever preparations are necessary, you may leave at noon."

"Of course, Sir," Mistress Angela replied.

She turned to leave nodding to Tom as she left the library, so Tom and his father would be alone. He continued to eat and looked up at his father only between bites. Salazar however, sat in his chair watching his son eat with great pleasure.

"Tom," he began. "While you eat I am going to speak to you, as we are pressed for time and I want to discuss many things before you depart."

Tom choked his last bite, "Depart! I'm not leaving."

"Yes Tom, first to Diagon Alley to buy school supplies. Then to school for your fifth year," Salazar stated.

"But I learned more yesterday in one after–"

"A mistake! One we both must learn from, Tom." Salazar cut in.

"Mistake?" Tom cried.

"Yes, son," Salazar nodded. "That is why you got sick. I pushed you entirely too far. That bookshelf is usually a year in the reading and at that point, I decide if a student is worthy." And he raised his eyebrows quickly.

"And I'm not worthy," Tom claimed with a broken heart. "But I can do better, father. I swear, I –"

"Tom!" Salazar said in his controlling teacher voice.

Tom closed his mouth and stared at his father through teary eyes.

Salazar's voice became very soothing, "Please, eat a pastry while I speak."

Salazar waited while Tom picked up another pastry, a large cinnamon bun. It was not until Tom took a bite that Salazar spoke again.

"First, you are beyond worthy; more worthy than anyone I have ever had the opportunity to instruct. It was a mistake, because my overzealous instruction and demanding expectations made you take on more than you could handle. Also, you in your unending desire to appease me did the requested task with no regard for personal safety. This makes me believe that we need to temper our lessons over time." And Salazar looked at Tom earnestly, begging for some understanding.

"Also son, for future reference; only read one book a day, anymore and you will experience the same illness."

"A little vomiting and some dizziness is hardly a bad side effect for reading a whole bookcase." Tom retorted.

"Tom, you have been asleep for two days –"

"Two –"

"Do not interrupt me!" Salazar snapped.

"Sorry."

"Tom!" Salazar glared. "Now, please eat, son. You need to eat." And he waited for Tom to begin eating again.

Tom finished the cinnamon bun and selected a frosted donut and noticed a pitcher of orange juice, which reminded him he was thirsty as well. Pouring himself a tall glass of juice and picking his donut, he turned to his father and began to eat.

"Excellent, son," Salazar smiled. "I will give you lessons on your vacations when you return home. I am sure that these will outstrip anything at that school. Which brings up my next point; school. While you are at school, you will do some work for the Noble Cause; first, you will educate all the Slytherin students of the true nature of the cause and second, you will visit my secret chamber."

Tom looked up at his father with a question on his face, but waited for a moment of silence to voice it.

"Yes Tom?" Salazar inquired.

"A secret chamber, Sir, why is there a secret chamber?"

"Well, you already know the circumstances that led to my leaving the castle, and you know that I vowed to return and cleanse the school of the muggle born mudbloods. So, I created a special haven in the castle, for myself, and my students. I then sealed this chamber so only I or my heir could enter it. Now, in this special chamber I left a means with which to accomplish my goal and while you are at school you will enter the chamber to ensure everything is in good order, understand?"

"I think so." Tom said mid swallow of juice. "Where is this chamber?"

"At the second floor landing of the main staircase is a small privy, yes?"

"Well, yes a girl's bathroom is there." Tom replied.

"They separate them now, interesting. Yes well on the far wall is a large mural of the Hogwarts coat of arms. A capital 'H' with a lion, griffin, raven and serpent in this mural is an engraved snake, just like the gate to the workroom." Salazar paused.

"So, I tell the snake to open?" Tom questioned. "And then?"

"Then enter the lower chamber, where you will find another magic gate, which leads to the secret chamber. Inside the chamber proper you will find an old friend of mine, the snake king. A mighty basilisk."

"A basilisk!" Tom cried in shock.

"Yes," Salazar replied nonchalantly. "He will purge the school of the mudbloods. First, you must ensure his safety. You know how to do that, right? You must get rid of any roosters in the area, as the rooster's crowing is fatal to it. After that, just set it free."

"Father, why?" Tom asked.

"To cleanse the school of the mudblood filth, Tom. The mudbloods cannot be trusted with our kind's arcane secrets. Their muggle kin despise us, they subjugate us, and they hunt us down and kill us." Salazar plainly stated.

"They are not all bad, honest," Tom pleaded.

"Your evidence for this is what? The orphanage muggles who taunted you? The muggle girl who turned my first son against me? The muggles who hunted us to the brink of extinction when I was a child? The muggles who scare this Ministry of Magic into enforcing a strict secrecy law?" Salazar asked sarcastically.

Tom had no defense; he knew the torment of his father's youth, he had read the memoir. Salazar Slytherin had been ridiculed and hunted all his life by muggles with pitchforks and torches, with only one thought for justice, kill the wizards. Undoubtedly, the ministry was also fearful of muggles or why hide the magic world.

"Tom, I would like nothing more than for magic and muggle kind to peaceably co-exist, but that is not a feasible reality. As the muggles have demonstrated for over a thousand years, they hate us and wish us only harm." Salazar again paused while Tom chose another pastry; a croissant and refilled his juice.

Tom wanted to protest, but he had no leg to stand on. He thought of Wendy telling him of Sarah's problems with muggles. The evidence all said that muggles were really trying to rid the world of wizards.

"Now Tom please be reasonable," Salazar intoned. "I am not asking you to do anything terribly difficult. All I am asking is for you to educate the Slytherin students of the truth and ensure my secret chamber is still safe. This does not seem an outlandish request. This is the legwork of the Noble Cause. The very base foundation that you will use to develop the true followers of the cause."

Tom nodded to his father; it really was such a simple thing and no one was going to know about the chamber, just Tom and his father. It seemed ridiculous that Tom should refuse these tasks. Besides, this was Salazar Slytherin, the greatest wizard of all time, the founder of his school, his father that loved him and taught him more in one day than five years of school, the man who gave him an infallible photographic memory.

"Yes, father it is rather easy, isn't it? I am just being silly, I guess," Tom said.

"Nonsense, son," Salazar reassured. "You are concerned for your welfare and that of your fellow students and that, my son, is quite admirable." And he smiled. "I assure you, that you will be more able to protect them in the future, if you just follow my advice today. Listen to me and heed my words, just as you did four days ago and you will never need to fear for yourself or them. This I assure you, my son."

Tom blanched. He didn't like thinking of how he had killed three people in this very room, yet they had deserved it. They deserved it for years of denial and suffering they had inflicted on Tom. It all came back to the muggles suppressing the wizards. Tom became angry as he thought of the Riddles and all they had made him endure. He stood up and spoke firmly, "Father, I love you and I want to serve the cause. It's an honor to serve."

Salazar looked at his son with warmth in his eyes and when he spoke his tones carried the same feel, "Tom, my son, you will serve the cause as its leader. You will carry all of wizard kind back to our rightful place; you will educate all of wizard kind in what it means to be a wizard. That, my son, is how you honor me, honor the cause, honor all of wizard kind."

"I will do my best, I swear it." Tom replied.

"Then I have nothing to fear, my son." Salazar smiled.

The sound of footsteps approaching from the hallway was the only sound in the house, the person who made them getting closer with each step. Tom felt a wave of anger that someone would intrude on this very private moment between he and his father.

"Relax son, there is plenty of time for us in the future. Let us deal with the now, yes?" Salazar commented.

It instantly soothed Tom to hear this simple fact, more so because it was a reminder of the special link between he and his father, Salazar Slytherin. The steps behind Tom died at the entrance to the library and Mistress Angela's voice carried into the room soft and timid in a conscious effort to not startle Tom or Salazar.

"Excuse me, Sirs?" She asked.

"Yes, Angela?" Salazar answered.

It quickly registered to Tom that she had said "Sirs", including Tom in the class of Sir. In fact, as Tom replayed the last few days back it seemed Mistress Angela was becoming more formal with him at every turn.

"I have sent Wendy out with the necessary documents to secure the house, in Tom's name."

Tom turned in his chair to look at Mistress Angela at those words. Admittedly, Tom had never even thought of the legal aspects of securing the house for himself. After the Riddle's death, he had not given them another thought. Everyone had just said it was his house and Tom had just gone along with that belief.

"Please, Mistress come in." Tom offered.

"Thank-you, Sir," Mistress Angela replied.

Walking into the library, she came to stand before the living portrait of Salazar and beside Tom's chair, "Further, I have been informed the muggle gardener –"

"Frank Bryce," both Tom and Salazar corrected.

"Yes, Sirs," she said. "Frank Bryce is going to be set free as the muggle police cannot explain how he killed the previous tenants of this manor. Also, Frank Bryce claims to have seen a boy about the manor on the day prior to the deaths. Again the muggle police cannot explain this, as no one else claims to have seen anything. The muggle police, are just assuming that Frank Bryce is lying about the boy to protect himself."

"How unfortunate," Salazar mused.

Salazar drummed his fingers on his portrait's armchair and explained, "I had hoped there would be no questions. I was told that Wendy had modified his memory, so he would not recall either of them. She seemed rather pleased about the whole thing. Even I felt it was a strike of genius. Apparently, her wand work is much more inferior than I first thought."

Tom spoke up, "No, it's not Wendy's fault. Frank saw me a second time." Then Tom smacked his forehead, "Ungh, at the time it seemed so inconsequential, it skipped my notice. I'm sorry."

Both Mistress Angela and Salazar looked at Tom; it was Salazar who spoke, "Continue."

"At the front entrance," Tom admitted, "When I first met Quintessa Riddle. She fainted at her first glance of me and I – I – I panicked." Tom sighed.

Salazar's voice comforted Tom, "A woman collapsed and you had to act to save her, you yelled for help, yes? I heard you. That was not panic, it was action." Then his voice firmed, "Noble and chivalrous action to offer help to someone in need."

Tom felt emboldened by his father's critique of his response to the situation that he continued, "Both Mike Riddle and Frank Bryce came to my calls, and eventually Tom also walked by and pretended to be concerned –"

"Yes, he always was an ungrateful, selfish, snob of a squib, but please continue Tom." Salazar commented.

"Well, before Frank could say anything, Mike told him everything would be fine and closed the door on him. Quintessa came around and we came up to the library." Tom shrugged.

"That explains why Wendy found the diary that she gave you tossed into the corner of the front foyer." Mistress Angela said.

Silence reigned for a few moments and then Tom was about to speak just to break the tension, but Salazar spoke first, "Supposedly Frank Bryce is a very capable groundskeeper and has an undying devotion to keeping the lawns pristine. Modify his memory again and let him tend the grounds as Tom's servant."

Mistress Angela nodded, "Yes Sir, I will inform Wendy of your decision; when she returns."

Mistress Angela then turned and left the library. At the archway to the hallway she turned and spoke again, "Sir, Tom and myself should be leaving soon we have much to do."

"Yes, Angela, we shall be brief." Then Salazar looked at Tom with a prideful smile. "But please, let a father indulge himself in his son's company."

Without a word Mistress Angela left the library and her footsteps faded away. Tom wondered about all he and Mistress Angela had to do this afternoon. Tom had never bought his own school supplies before; he knew that the books and such mostly came from stores on Diagon Alley. Tom himself had only heard other students talk of shopping for them at Diagon Alley, which was a magically hidden commerce center for wizard supplies, in the heart of London. Every year Tom's books and robes were somehow awaiting his arrival at school, he had never questioned how. It suddenly struck him that Mistress Angela must have gone out each year and bought them, then sent them ahead of Tom.

Tom had always envisioned Diagon Alley to be a smaller version of the town just outside the grounds of Hogwarts School. He had been to the village a few times to buy a bit of potion ingredients or extra quills or parchment during the few visits allowed over the school year. As usual, Tom's father had some idea of his thoughts because he spoke on the very same topic.

"Hogsmeade came into existence because of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, you know," Salazar began. "Myself and my colleagues chose a place far away from the muggles and began the great task of building a school. So many witches and wizards came to see it, and to be a part of it, that a whole town grew out of it. Angela tells me it is still only populated by magics, true to its original intent. Ah, that my school had remained so. Alas, it did not."

Salazar stood up and walked around his chair resting his fingers on the back of it. "Now, to the business at hand, before you leave, I have some things to say and a few things to give you. Which shall we do first, son?" He asked.

"Actually," Tom chimed. "First, I'd like to ask a question that is, I think, very important, if it's O.K. with you?" Tom asked with such blatant demand it hardly seemed a question.

"Of course Tom, ask away." Salazar invited him.

"How do I get you out of that painting?" And at that a deep silence fell in the library.

Salazar looked at Tom with soft eyes, "Ambition is one of my favorite character traits, son, yet removing me from this portrait is beyond your, or even my, skill. Perhaps that after time at studying this unique situation, we will find a solution to the best conundrum of the millennia."

Tom's eyes fell to the floor in disappointment that was written all over his face. He hoped that some book here in the library would contain the answer and he could just read a few chapters then rescue his father from a thousand year torment.

"I'm sorry, father, I… I wanted… wanted to help." Tom struggled.

"You have, son." Salazar intimated. "You woke me. No one else could have done that, only you." Salazar smiled.

"But I want to – I…" Frustration oozed over Tom's words.

"Tom, that was the most important part," Salazar pleaded. "Now, we can work together to release me, and I am sure one day I will not reside in this painting."

Tom mumbled something and stared at the ground.

"Tom, you have done so much and will do so much more, I am sure." Salazar confided. He hitched an unconvincing smile on his face and kept on speaking, "And to assist you, I have some gifts for you to take with you, back to school and some to take through life. So, if you would please, enter the workroom and I will direct you to the correct objects."

Tom stood up and walked to the carved serpent on the far wall of the reading nook and hissed, "Open."

Then he watched as the doorway opened. After he stepped through the archway he turned to the first candle rack and with a finger lit it, next he ignited the one behind him, on the opposite side of the archway.

The daylight from the reading nook and the few candles gave enough light to begin distinguishing the features of the workroom. Across the room, Tom saw the shelves of potion ingredients, beside them the small desk with its scale and measuring cups. Centered in the room, the large worktable was still littered with various items; in the corner obscured by the table, the pallet of blankets and pillows.

Salazar's voice came from behind Tom, "The bookshelf on your left, Tom." Then Salazar paused as Tom turned.

"The third shelf from the floor, has a serpent skin in it, with green and silver diamonds in a tessellating pattern, do you see it?"

"Yes," Tom replied.

"Excellent, to the left of the skin is a book with the same pattern on its binding, grab that book."

Tom saw the book, it was very dusty and as he picked it up off the shelf, he saw a distinct line of dust that ended where the book had lain. There was no lettering on the binding or the cover, only the same pattern as the snakeskin. As Tom's hand slid over the cover, he felt the texture of the cover and wondered if it was bound in the same snakeskin.

"Next," Salazar's voice rang out. "On the same shelf at the other side, the small wooden box with the serpent carved into its lid."

Tom looked at the shelf; it had only one small box. In fact, it had only one book, one snakeskin, and one box; otherwise it was bare except for the thick dust. Tom reached out to pick up the box and Salazar's voice came to him again.

"There in the serpent's mouth is a small key on a silver chain. Please, bring all three out here."

Tom lifted the snakeskin head and the key fell out onto the shelf. He held the book in his left hand and balanced the box on it, then pressed them to his chest. Using his right hand to pick up the key, he caught the chain around his finger and let it dangle. Tom turned to leave the workroom and as he exited the room, he shook his head and exhaled to put out the candles.

Entering the reading nook, the sunlight caught Tom in the eyes and he blinked hard to stop from tearing. He hissed, "Close" without a backward glance.

Salazar's eyes were lit up with excitement as Tom sat down with all three objects, "Excellent! First, the book!"

Tom put the box and key on the table and displayed the snakeskin book to his father. Then he laid it in his lap and made direct eye contact with his father.

"That is a book of mimicry," Salazar proclaimed.

Tom's puzzled look spoke volumes and Salazar's voice sounded so eager to explain that Tom's confusion seemed to only egg him on.

"It will mimic any book, it knows; for example, it's already aware of the whole contents of the first book shelf. So all you need to do is tell it to mimic one of those books and it will, go on try." Salazar looked very eager.

Tom looked at the book and spoke loudly, "Mimic book one of The Persecution of Magics: The Rise of The Noble Cause of Slytherin."

"Ooh, one of my favorites!" Salazar cheered.

Tom opened the book and saw the title page of book one and quickly opened to the middle. "It's all here! Every word!"

"Of course!" Salazar said indignantly. "Try another!"

Tom closed the book and spoke calmly, "Mimic the book, What is Magic: Volume One!" Again opening the cover Tom saw the title page to his new request.

"Amazing!" Tom breathed.

Tom looked at the book and his mind exploded with ideas, he could take the whole library with him with just this one book. It seemed incredible, "Unbelievable," Tom breathed.

"Well, it is ingenious, son. Unbelievable seems a bit extreme. Now to teach it a book, lay the book of mimicry on the table and the original on top and command it to learn." Salazar paused. "It is that easy."

Tom began to nod while staring at the book in wonder.

"Now, Tom," Salazar's voice continued. "Next is the small wooden box, if you please."

Tom set the book down on the table and picked up the wooden box then holding it gingerly in one hand he looked at his father with great expectations. What could top the book, he wondered?

Salazar's voice was a jumble of hisses and spits that Tom recognized as, "The ring."

At those words the box grew lighter in weight and became translucent. Tom marveled as the box itself began to evaporate before his eyes. It soon vanished entirely and only a shining gold ring was left in his palm.

Tom's jaw dropped and he fingered the bright gold band spinning it about to take in all the sparkle it offered. A diamond shaped black stone was set into the ring and a snake was inscribed into the inside.

"Put that ring on, son. If you ever need me, spin it all the way around and it will teleport you back to this very spot." Salazar informed Tom.

Tom looked at his father completely speechless.

"Honest, just one full spin will bring you right home." Salazar smiled. 'Now, for the third item."

Tom looked at the key and its silver chain; picking them up very gingerly, the key in his fingers and the chain dangling and swaying.

"That is the key to my vault at Gringotts Wizard Bank, there you shall find the funds to carry you through life so that you can focus on two things; first – your magical education and second – the Noble Cause." Salazar paused and looked past Tom.

A soft feminine voice came in from behind Tom, "Sir, it is time for us to go, are you ready?"

Then outside in the drive Tom heard the sound of one hundred guns simultaneously firing.

CHAPTER EIGHT

BEHIND THE CAULDRON

The resounding backfire of the Knight Bus was clearly recognizable to Tom. A smile broke out on his face as he thought of speaking to Ernie and maybe a few other magic folk. Tom looked at the portrait of his father and stood up, an awkward silence between them.

"Have a safe trip, son. I shall see you over the holidays." Salazar stated plainly.

"Yes, Sir, I shall return as soon as I can." Tom replied, too formally for his liking.

Salazar winked his left eye quickly and smiled a bit mischieviously then laughed softly. Tom felt that was a more appropriate close and he smiled then nodded.

"Come Sir, the Knight Bus awaits." Mistress Angela invited from behind Tom.

At her words Tom began to spin to face her and ask, "Where are my school trunks, Mistress Angela?"

"Inside my bag of holding," and she patted the small velvet bag that hung off her waist. "Everything is ready for your departure."

Without a word Tom walked to the hallway and down the stone steps into the foyer. After opening the front door, he turned to Mistress Angela and said, "Oh! Excuse me Mistress, but I have forgotten something."

Then looking down to his left hand ring finger, he grabbed his gold ring and gave a quick spin.

Crack!

"Yes, son?" Salazar asked.

Tom sat in the leather armchair looking at his father, staring in amazement.

"Thank-you, father! I will do my best with your gifts and in completing your tasks." Tom offered.

"I know! Now, go!" Salazar smiled.

Tom stood up and quickly walked back to the front entrance of his home. There stood Mistress Angela holding the door open for him. As Tom came down the stairs she gave him a soft smile.

"Are you ready, now?" She asked.

"Yes!" Tom declared with a burst of energy, he walked right out the door of the house into the bright sunlight.

Mistress Angela closed the door behind her and followed Tom across the lawn to the Knight Bus. Tom's eyes were quick to adjust to the brightness outside, but he did not think they would ever adjust to the crazy color of that triple-decker bus before him. Coming around the front of the bus, the door popped open and out sprang Ernie in his purple suit.

"Good Afternoon, Sir. Welcome to the Knight Bus –"

"Shut up, Ernie!" Mistress Angela chided. "Is this how you treat your favorite cousin?"

"Angela!" Ernie cried. "Great goblins! I expected Wendy, well when I got her letter and –"

"Well, give me a hug, already," Mistress Angela demanded.

Ernie did just that, throwing his arms wide around Mistress Angela and kissing her cheeks. Then he took a step back from her and keeping his eyes on her spoke to Tom, "Well, Master Tom, I see you've met the better portion of my family, yes?" Then he chuckled and turned to Tom.

"Oh Ernie!" Mistress Angela incredulously snorted. "Master Tom and I go back some fifteen years."

"Well, you hid Wendy for fifteen years, at least." Ernie conceded. "And that is no easy task."

"Ernie!" A female voice shouted from the bus. "Be nice!"

Tom looked to see Sarah come down the steps and out into the bright sun. "Hello, Tom; how was your visit?" She asked.

"Excellent!" Tom responded without thinking.

Sarah then looked to Ernie and Mistress Angela, and in a mock jealous tone scowled, "And who is this woman that you hug and kiss, so; Mister Prang?"

"Ah yes, Sarah," Ernie offered. "This is Angela; she is my cousin and unfortunately Wendy's sister."

"Ernie!" Sarah said indignantly.

Mistress Angela waved it off, "Oh, it's O.K., Ernie and Wendy are always at each other's throats. It's really a bit of a running gag now."

Ernie nodded, "See!"

"Yes, well I like Wendy and I'd appreciate it if you'd respect my friends, Sir." Sarah challenged.

"Of course, Sarah!" Ernie acquiesced.

"Good! Well, come on everybody," Sarah waved her hand. "Let's get out of the road; and on it. Huh?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" Ernie remembered. "Any bags this time, Master Tom?"

"No, Sir!" Tom responded.

"Right, then let's get some… Diagon Alley is it?" Ernie asked.

"Yes, Sir!" Tom responded.

"All aboard!" Ernie called. Then, offered the open door to Tom and Mistress Angela.

Sarah disappeared into the bus followed by Mistress Angela; who took the time to pause at the door to say, "Such fine gentlemen you both are. Thank-you."

After Mistress Angela boarded, Ernie looked at Tom and proffered the open door again. Tom smiled and climbed up the entrance steps and into the purple bus, closely followed by Ernie who closed the door behind him.

Coming up the steps, Tom saw the interior of the bus was in complete disarray as it was last time. Mismatched chairs spread about the place, of all sizes and colors arranged in no particular order. Tom saw Wendy's chair, the chaise lounge, was no longer about; a plaid upholstered loveseat was in its place, right behind Ernie's black leather chair.

Sarah was sitting in the plaid chair; beside her was the corduroy chair Tom had used on his last trip. Mistress Angela looked at it appraisingly; she passed it by favoring a straight back chair with high wooden arms that rested behind Tom's corduroy one.

Sarah pointed at the corduroy chair and spoke to Tom, "Please Tom, sit and we can talk. Tell me about your visit. Wendy wrote that you now own that fine manor, are we to call you Lord Tom, now?"

Tom flopped down in the chair and knowingly grabbed his chair's arms as Ernie called out, "Next stop… Diagon Alley!"

"No, just Tom, Sarah." He laughed. "But Lord has a nice ring to it I admit."

BANG!

Tom's chair shifted a meter back, but he did not fall out. Mistress Angela let out a slight gasp, which prompted Ernie to comment, "It's a bit bumpy, cousin… sorry!"

"Not to worry!" Mistress Angela replied.

Outside the windows, a wide expanse of trees and rolling hills showed.

"Beautiful, Ernie," Sarah claimed. "Is this the Black Forest?"

"Right in one!" Ernie congratulated.

BANG!

The scenery flashed to a vast prairie land of cornfields. Tom's chair jumped a half a meter in the air then fell hard almost unseating him.

"Kansas!" Sarah yelled.

"And again!" Ernie replied.

Sarah looked at Tom, "This is our little game, we just jump around the globe and I guess the locations. I'm getting fairly good, honestly. So, Tom, tell me all about your family."

Tom looked out the window at the fields of corn that were speeding by in the distance. Unsure of what to say to Sarah, he looked at her and shrugged his shoulders, "My father is a marvelous man!" Tom confided.

Sarah looked very pleased at that comment and did not press for more information. She just beamed, "I'm sure he is, Tom."

BANG!

All the chairs slid about and Tom was bent over the arms of his chair in the shift. Sarah was white knuckling her plaid recliner's armrest. Mistress Angela's chair fully tipped over, but she was on her feet crouching in front of it like a cat ready to pounce.

"Sorry! Sorry!" Ernie called, even his chair was off center and he was clinging to the steering wheel for balance.

"London, the Leaky Cauldron!" Sarah chimed.

"That one was easy," Ernie retorted.

The bus came to a dead stop and both Sarah and Tom pitched forward in their chairs; Tom stopped himself by putting his hands to the floor in a full forward bend. Sarah came to her feet and caught herself on the back of Ernie's chair. Mistress Angela still crouching low, put out one hand to balance herself.

"The Leaky Cauldron!" Ernie called out.

Sarah looked out the window and smiled; patting Ernie on the shoulder she pointed and spoke in his ear. Mistress Angela came up beside Tom and spoke to him very softly, "Well that was quite a trip, eh?" Then she motioned with her head to the front of the bus, "Come on, let's get your school supplies."

Tom stood up and rather excited spoke very fast, "Yes, let's go!"

Mistress Angela chuckled, "You're going to love Diagon Alley, Sir. After we get your school gear; we'll stroll the Alley and window shop. Maybe even visit Knockturn Alley, if we've time."

Sarah spun around at that, "Ooh! Knockturn Alley, at Brutus' Beautiful Beasties, they have a new litter of hellhounds. Ahh! I'd love a dog, but you know… they're so much work! I mean training and all… still it's a nice dream."

Ernie meanwhile was climbing out of the bus and greeting a wizened witch in his usual cheery opening lines, "Good Afternoon, welcome to the Knight Bus –"

"Yes, well maybe we'll see the pups, but first we've serious business, right Sir?" Mistress Angela spoke.

Tom looked at her and nodded, "Goodbye Sarah, it was nice to see you again."

"Goodbye Tom; be well." Sarah smiled. Then to Mistress Angela she held out her hand and spoke in a low whisper, "It was nice to meet Ernie's favorite cousin."

"The pleasure was mine." Mistress Angela replied taking the offered hand. "Perhaps we shall meet again, yes?"

"I'd like that. Tell Wendy I said hello."

"Of course, Sarah," Mistress Angela said.

Tom led the way off the bus onto the sidewalk where Ernie was talking to the old witch. Ernie gave a slight nod and broke off his conversation with the witch to speak to Tom and Mistress Angela, "Glad to assist you both, please call the Knight Bus anytime you need it," his voice very businesslike.

"Thank-you, Sir." Mistress Angela responded. "We had a lovely trip and will undoubtably call you again." Then she pushed Tom toward a dark building with no windows. Tom nodded to Ernie as his head spun to face the direction his feet were walking.

In front of him was an old building that looked as if it had been built a century or more ago and not kept very well. An old sign above a grimy door read 'pub', beneath that the words 'The Leaky Cauldron' could just be made out. Tom's eyes roved left and right to see a large bookstore on one side of the pub; to the right was a vacant store. The pub between was tiny by comparison and looked as though it could be out of business by its appearance.

Tom looked at Mistress Angela with question written all over his face. She looked at him and spoke plainly, "This is the Leaky Cauldron." She then led him to the door.

Mistress Angela opened the door and walked in followed closely by Tom. The sound of the door closing behind Tom was lost in the din of the active main room, which was much larger then Tom would have believed possible when standing outside. Mistress Angela looked at him and smiled at the surprise on his face.

In keeping with the outside of the pub, the inside was a bit dark. The center of the room was filled with four large community tables that seated more than a few people. Around the walls were smaller tables and booths; on the walls were large candle racks and oil lamps that gave off little light. The far wall was a long bar with stools in front of it.

Behind the bar stood an aging man, cleaning a glass tumbler. He looked up at the two new entrants with a warm smile on his lips. Placing the glass down behind the bar he came around into a more complete view. His dark hair was a bit long and he wore a heavily stained white apron over his button down shirt.

A woman in dark red wizard robes called him as he came around the bar. "Tom, could I get another glass of gilly water?"

He nodded in response to her. Then he spoke to Mistress Angela, "Good day, Angela, I've two rooms saved for you. Would you like to see them, now?"

"No, Tom." She replied. "We need to shop, yet."

The bartender, who was apparently named Tom bowed and said, "When you return then."

"Thank-you, Tom." Mistress Angela said. "By the way Tom, this is..," she looked at young Tom Riddle, "Master Tom."

"Why hello! Master Tom, it's always nice to meet myself!" The man laughed at his own joke, then continued. "I assume the second room is yours, welcome to the Leaky Cauldron. I am Tom and if I can get you anything just ask." Then he held out his hand.

Tom shook barkeep Tom's hand while thanking him. Mistress Angela then took Tom through the main pub to a backdoor exit. The two of them came to stand in an alleyway, empty save a trashcan. Mistress Angela then took her wand and tapped it on a brick, which quivered then shuffled back taking with it the bricks around it. Soon, enough bricks had retracted and reassembled to form an archway that both could walk through.

Tom stared at the amazing sight on the other side of the arch, a busy avenue of shops and street vendors amid a bustling crowd of people in robes. The sharp intake of breath prompted Mistress Angela to speak.

"This is Diagon Alley, the largest commerce center for witch or wizard in all of England." Then she stepped through the arch.

Tom, eyes wide in wonder and amazement, followed Mistress Angela through the magic arch. Looking out over the avenue, Tom saw shop after shop of magical items disappear into the distance where Diagon Alley curved out of sight. Directly ahead of them, taller than any other building, was a white marble castle, so bright it seemed reflective.

"What's that?" Tom asked pointing to the white stone building.

"That's your first stop on the tour, Gringotts Bank." Mistress Angela answered.

Mistress Angela began walking down the Alley without even looking at a single shop's window display. Her pace was a bit brisk and periodically she would glance back to Tom and catch him right before a store display grabbed his interest and he fell behind.

"Please, keep up," she would say.

Tom did his best; it was just so hard to almost run past all these stores without even a glance. Eventually though the two of them came up the white marble steps of the marble castle. The sunlight made the walls painful to look at so Tom kept his eyes down as he followed Mistress Angela inside the gleaming bronze doors.

Beyond the first set of doors was a wide foyer where a small humanoid creature stood in a scarlet doorman uniform trimmed in gold. Tom assumed it to be a goblin as he was aware that goblins ran the wizard bank. Following Mistress Angela's lead he walked through the next set of doors, these being silver.

The room beyond was a vaulted ceiling hall of solid marble. A large wooden counter ran the length of one wall, where various goblins acted as clerks helping witches or wizards with all sorts of money exchanges. As one became available Mistress Angela and Tom approached it.

"Sir, I think you'll need that key now." Mistress Angela called over her shoulder.

Tom stepped up to the counter and pulled the chain with the key from around his neck, then handed it to Mistress Angela with a bit of hesitation.

"Master Tom would like access to his account." She spoke, dropping the key onto the counter.

The goblin looked at the key quizzically, then spoke in a very shaky voice, "Please, wait a moment."

He then turned and motioned to a second goblin. Speaking in some foreign language, presumably goblin, to his co-worker, who nodded and walked away; the clerk turned and began to speak when Mistress Angela asked, "Is there a problem?"

"No, not at all." The goblin soothed.

A third goblin arrived; coming up behind the clerk, he immediately spoke in goblin. The clerk handed him the key. After a close inspection, the new goblin spoke in English.

"Please madam, I apologize for the inconvenience, but this is a rather old key. My clerk has not seen the likes of it before, in fact, few clerks have. These vaults are very special and so it is custom that a supervisor such as I oversee them. My name is Arrakis, and it is an honor to assist House Slytherin. May I take you to a carriage?"

"Of course!" Mistress Angela replied.

Arrakis motioned towards the end of the counter and began walking. Mistress Angela followed him on her side of the counter with Tom trailing in her wake. At the abrupt end of the wooden divider stood a pair of goblins each carrying an axe and dressed in red leather.

Arrakis came around the guards and led Tom and Mistress Angela to a dark wood door on a wall opposite the counter. Beyond the door was a large wooden carriage that appeared to be straight out of a fairytale. The carriage had large wheels and draped box windows. It even had a driver's chair on top, though no driver was present and it rolled on tracks like a train. Opening the door of the carriage, the goblin motioned for them both to enter.

They sat on one side of the carriage while Arrakis followed and sat opposite them. As soon as he sat down, the carriage took off at a ridiculous pace and began to take a path that spiraled down. The ride was quite smooth, even if fast and disorienting. Tom felt a bit dizzy as he climbed out to stand before a large vault door.

Torches on either side of the door gave ample light for Tom to discern the engraved portrait on the wood. It was the same snake engraved into the magic gate of the workroom back home. Arrakis came up behind Tom and began to fumble with a key, not Tom's silver key but an old golden key.

"These vaults use a double key; one ours, one yours for extra safety." He explained trying to turn his golden key.

Tom flashed with a thought of his father laughing at some goblin banker trying to unlock the door and hissed, "Open!" in parseltongue.

The whole door became misty and insubstantial then evaporated to reveal a large chamber beyond. Arrakis began to stammer and sputter holding his gold key in the air that once was a lock.

"I… err… ahh," then looking at Tom with wide eyes of wonder, Arrakis spoke in a questioning voice, "Your gold, Sir?"

Arrakis was obviously caught off guard by the whole disappearing door, but in an effort to console himself or explain it he began, "I knew that some vaults were accessible by alternative means, but I've never seen it. Who knew… well, you did!" He chuckled then mumbled in Goblin.

Tom walked into the chamber, leaving Mistress Angela and Arrakis at the door. The size of the vault was enormous; Tom guessed a small house could have been built in it with room to spare. Aside from the size of the vault, Tom marveled at the vast piles of shining gold coins and bags of silver that were stacked very neatly.

As Tom walked deeper into the vault he saw at the far end of the room a pyramid of golden bricks and he called back to the goblin, "Arrakis, what is this?"

Arrakis came to stand beside Tom and looking at the gold pyramid with vague interest, "That's a pyramid, Sir. With business weight galleons."

At Tom's blank stare, Arrakis continued, "A business can't use single galleons for transactions. So, they use business weight, its equivalent to one thousand galleons." Then he turned to the vast piles of gold, "I believe each pile is a full stack, Sir. That's one million galleons. Of course, the silver is one million sickles. Mind you, I've all your account papers in the upper offices; shall I send for the reports?"

"No, Arrakis," Mistress Angela said. "Thank–you! We know Gringotts is a remarkable institution of impeccable honor. Master Tom just needs to make a small withdrawal and then we'll be on our way."

"As you wish," Arrakis responded. He walked to the vault entrance, his footsteps echoing off Tom's incredible wealth.

Mistress Angela stood beside Tom and spoke softly in his ear, "Sir, I know this is very impressive; but we've much to do yet. So, go ahead and grab as much as you like, mind you, a thousand galleons is rather ridiculous… and would take a wheelbarrow to carry. One hundred should be enough." Then she put a moneybag in Tom's hand before joining Arrakis at the vault door.

Tom walked to a pile, and thought to himself; a full stack-one million galleons. Then looking about the vault, he noticed that minus the pyramid he had ten stacks of gold and at least that many in silver.

"I am rich!" he laughed. "A week ago, I wore donated clothes that did not even fit. Today, I am one of the richest wizards in the world, I bet."

Then as that sunk into his consciousness, he vowed, "Never again! From now on everything will be brand new; the best gold can buy." He heard his voice echo.

After filling his bag with as much gold as it would hold, he came out to see Arrakis and Mistress Angela standing beside each other waiting. Just at the entrance Mistress Angela stopped him to ask for twenty galleons. Tom grabbed them from a stack and gave them to her without a thought.

Standing beyond the door he looked at the gaping hole that once held a door and hissed, "Close!" And a dark shimmering began to solidify until a door with a serpent engraving became completely corporeal in the entrance. Mistress Angela then looked at Arrakis and held her hand with ten galleons to him and spoke quietly.

"I am sure, you'll keep this in the strictest of confidence for us, Arrakis. Especially… Master Tom's special key."

Arrakis looked at the gold, then at Tom, then to Mistress Angela and spoke hesitantly, "Of – of course, Mistress… all transactions are confidential." He nodded. Then looking at the gold he held out his hand and shook his head, "It is against policy, but I do Thank-you." He added.

"I think," Mistress Angela said airily. "That we have a relationship more personal than just banking transactions. It rises above bank policy, Arrakis." She intimated pushing all twenty of the coins into the hands of the goblin.

"Of – of course, Mistress," Arrakis smiled. "No one will be handling any of Master's account information, except myself."

"Thank-you Arrakis." She nodded. "Sir, are you ready?"

Tom looked at Mistress Angela and nodded.

They climbed into the carriage followed by Arrakis who closed the door. The carriage immediately took off at a breakneck speed climbing an endless spiral. Soon enough it came to rest at the large wooden door that led to the main hall of the bank.

Arrakis opened the door and allowed Tom and Mistress Angela to pass through first. Closing the door behind him, he ushered them past desks of goblins doing various paperwork and conducting business. All the while, he spoke in a hushed voice.

"Can I offer any other service, today?"

"No!" Mistress Angela replied.

"Well then, Sir, should you need money while you are at school, just send me an owl."

Tom's surprise must have shown because Arrakis began to clarify himself, "A great wizard at such a young age; with the House Slytherin key; could only be a student at the most esteemed and prestigious, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

"My father, also of House Slytherin; thinks it a travesty of a school and a wreck of its former self." Tom replied.

Arrakis bowed his head and back-pedaled, "What do goblins know of such things."

Mistress Angela stopped the goblin's awkward apology by saying, "Arrakis, we will undoubtably see you again. So, for now, good day." Then to Tom she spoke, "Sir, we have your errands to do yet."

Tom nodded to her then spoke to Arrakis, "Yes! Thank-you, Arrakis."

Arrakis bowed.

Mistress Angela led Tom out the doors of the bank and into the early afternoon sun of Diagon Alley. Standing on the bright marble steps of the bank, Tom could see all the way down Diagon Alley, over the crowd, until it curved out of sight. Mistress Angela spoke to Tom very firmly.

"We best not stand around, Sir."

Tom snapped his focus on her, "What Mistress?"

She looked at Tom and spoke clearly, "From now on, everything will be brand new… the best that gold can buy; isn't that what you said? Then we have quite a bit to buy, which means little time to stand around."

Tom nodded, a bit embarrassed to know that she had overheard him talking to himself.

"I believe Master Slytherin wanted that when he gave you that key." The Mistress confided.

CHAPTER NINE

SCHOOL SUPPLIES

Mistress Angela took a deep breath and visually surveyed the Alley that stretched out before them. Exhaling loudly she looked sideways at Tom then gave a mischievous smirk, "Are you ready, Sir?"

Tom looked at her in blatant excitement and spoke with matching enthusiasm, "Yes, I am."

Together they strolled down the steps, into the milling mass of afternoon shoppers. Tom was looking at every store they passed with the wide-eyes of a child in a candy store. Through each window he looked in, a plethora of magic items or services became available to him.

Mistress Angela spoke into Tom's ear as he looked in the window of 'Potion Paul's Boutique.'

"Personally, I have always favored brewing my own potions. I suppose if you lack the skills then it's necessary to have a professional do it. I'm sure, however, that you do not need any help."

Tom nodded at her reflection in the glass window. "Yes, I suppose you are right, Mistress. What do you suggest we buy first?"

"Well, Sir, my favorite shopping is clothes shopping." She giggled.

"Clothes it is!" Tom cried.

"Since only the best will do, Madam Malkin's is our first stop." Mistress Angela offered.

"Lead the way Mistress." Tom flourished his hand to accentuate his words.

Mistress Angela crossed the Alley and walked down a few stores then stopped before a large window. On the other side of the glass stood a mannequin dressed in a soft crème set of robes that had silken cuffs and matching suede moccasins that were ankle high.

"This is it, Madam Malkin's robes for all occasions," she said eyeing the beautiful mannequin.

Tom walked around her and into the shop, leaving Mistress Angela staring at the window display. As the door closed behind him a young woman just over Tom's age, yet not as tall came to stand before him and smiled warmly.

"Good Afternoon, Sir. How may I help you?" She spoke softly barely moving her lips.

"Ah well, I need robes for Hogwarts Sch–"

"This way, young man," came another woman's voice.

Tom looked over the first witch to see another, older version of the first, standing with a pincushion and tape measure in one hand and black robes in the other.

"I dare say you want out of those muggle rags." She commented appraising Tom's shabby pants that were too small and his high-collared button down shirt that was missing a button in the middle.

"Yes!" He laughed. "And that woman outside," Tom pointed at Mistress Angela, "Would like that set of robes, perhaps something else, too!"

"Of course," the older witch acquiesced. "Honey, help the lady while I size this gentleman. Come here, Sir."

As Tom stepped up onto a small box, Madam Malkin draped the robes over him. She then began to circle Tom measuring and pinning the robes. From behind him, Tom could hear the younger Madam Malkin invite Mistress Angela into the shop.

"He did, did he?" Mistress Angela sounded offended.

Next he heard the two ladies behind him giggle. All the while he watched his own set of robes change from a black curtain draped over him to a splendidly tailored uniform. He could not help but smile at himself in the mirror as the witch continued to work on the robes.

"You like?" She asked, standing up and appraising her own work.

"It is marvelous," Tom intoned.

"Oh, my!" Mistress Angela said coming up behind him. "Sir, you look very handsome in your uniform." Then she flourished and twirled her own robes and flashed the moccasins at the full size mirror with a large grin. "What do you think, Sir?"

"It matches your hair perfectly, Mistress." Tom spoke plainly. Then he turned to the young shop assistant and asked, "I thought it had a matching belt and pouch?"

"Very observant Sir, but she –"

"Oh, no Sir I –"

"And maybe an extra set that matches her eyes." He spoke over Mistress Angela.

Turning to the older seamstress he asked, "Can I wear this out?"

"Of course Sir," she replied.

"And can you make a few extra sets for me?" Tom inquired.

"How many?" She instantly responded.

"Aahhh –" Tom shrugged.

"I think five would be sufficient, Sir." She suggested.

"Five, it is then." Tom nodded and stepped off the box.

"How much for mine and the Mistress' robes?" Tom asked as he opened his moneybag and pulled out some gold.

The witch thought for a moment and tallying the numbers in her head whispered and wiggled fingers, "Two sickles for each of the uniforms, ten for the honey robes, two more for the shoes and belt." Then to Tom she said, "Twenty-two sickles; plus whatever else the Mistress chooses."

Tom handed her two gold galleons, "That's for the current bill, and here is two more for whatever the Mistress would like." Tom handed her two more gold coins.

"Thank-you, Sir!" The witch exclaimed at Tom's generosity.

Tom knew why she was impressed, he had overpaid the initial bill by twelve sickles, and the two extra galleons was another thirty-four sickles. The gold meant nothing to Tom though; he had more than he would ever need in a lifetime in a vault only he could open. Besides that, the way he felt wearing these new robes and seeing Mistress Angela giggle was worth more than gold.

A fresh burst of laughter came from a corner of the shop he could not see. Maybe the witch was unhappy about this because her lips pursed at it. Tom looked at her and with a smile he shrugged.

"Clothes shopping is her favorite shopping." He commented.

At that remark the witch laughed herself, leaned in close to Tom and whispered, "Is there any other kind?"

Not knowing how to respond to that Tom asked the witch, "Madam, I need to buy some other things for school. I would like for Mistress Angela to be able to finish shopping here while I do. Can you direct me to a good bookstore?"

She looked surprised at this request, "Dear, are you unfamiliar with Diagon Alley?"

As Tom nodded she warned, "You shouldn't wander about then, really. You do seem quite capable however; I think you could handle going to Flourish & Blotts. It's the bookstore directly across the way." Then pointing directly across Diagon Alley she continued, "I will inform your Mistress, I'm sure she'll be finished by the time you finish in there."

"Thank-you, Madam Malkin." Tom said.

"Madam Malkin!" She exclaimed. "That's my mother, Sir. I am Eloise." Then pointing at the younger shop assistant she said, "And that's my daughter, Illustra," with a wink. "But you're welcome all the same, Sir." She nodded deeply.

Tom exited the shop and stood in the cobblestone roadway that was Diagon Alley. Watching the swirl of people moving about, each on their own shopping mission; Tom felt a special kinship to them all. Across the way was a three-story stone building that had a large display window full of books in every size or shape imaginable. Above the window was a large sign with broad gold lettering that read: Flourish & Blotts.

Crossing the sea of shoppers and entering the store, Tom stood in awe at the store's interior. Books covered every surface, from floor to ceiling, shelf upon shelf of books. The store was one gigantic library. The air smelled of musty pages and a feeling of solemness accompanied the unbelievable quiet. Randomly scattered about the store were people leafing through books or showing a book to another person in such hushed voices that not a hint of their whispers carried to Tom.

Tom began to walk about the store just looking at all the various titles and marveling at all the topics. This store was even larger than the school library at Hogwarts and Tom had thought that to be enormous. Coming around a shelf that contained no less than four hundred and twenty books on pangenesis or other related areas thereof, Tom found a stairwell that led to the next floor of the store. Before his foot made it to the first step a squeaky voice came from behind him.

"Hogwarts books?" The voice questioned.

Tom turned to see an extremely short woman in bright green robes, with thick glasses on a pointy nose. As he began to speak, she interrupted him. "This way then; what year?"

"Fifth, but –"

"Come along," and she turned, leading him on a circuitous route through the store.

The witch came to stand before a table and spoke to the books, collected on it in various stacks, "You'll obviously need the standard Book of Spells Grade 5; and History of Magic: The Ministry Begins; ah –" she pointed at a small stack. Then looking to Tom she said, "Here!" And she handed him both titles.

"Thanks," Tom said as the short witch spun away in a whirl of green.

"Transfiguration?" She questioned herself; then answered, "Nope, not until sixth year. But you'll need the new potions text." Then with a sigh she added, "Why?" Throwing up her hands in a questioning gesture, "Who knows, it's identical except for the cover and page three fourteen; which he corrected a misspelled ingredient, faven reather, which is some unknown substance to; raven feather, which is the soft downy skin covering of a large blackbird." She laughed to herself.

Looking down a long shelf of books, using her finger to point at books, she muttered titles until she cried, "Ah ha!" Then she struggled to pull the book off the shelf before handing it to Tom.

He took the book and placed it on the stack of the other two. The short witch spun to face him, "Now, what are your electives?"

"Huh?" Tom said.

"Your other classes, non-core like, arythmancy, thermatology, divination, muggle studies… that kind of stuff." She said looking up at the ceiling as if reading the list of classes off it.

"Oh, I take arythmancy, thermionics and div–"

"Wow! Thermionics… impressive!" And she looked it. "Do you take alchemy or occlumency?"

"No, I… I –" Tom stammered as the short witch blushed and smiled.

"Tom Riddle?" A voice came from behind Tom.

Tom spun to see a rather plain looking witch in robes of green with shiny metallic silver cuffs. Her hair was jet-black and her skin rather fair, Tom recognized Florence Carr immediately. A fellow Slytherin at Hogwarts, she was one year ahead of him. The witch came right up to Tom and spoke to him in a very accusatory voice, "I thought you never came to Diagon Alley?"

Tom, a bit taken aback by her tone began to excuse himself, "Yes, well Florence; it's my first time."

"Mmmhhmm," Florence sounded in disbelief.

The store clerk meanwhile, undaunted by Tom's lack of attention, attempted to hand him a book on thermionics and said, "I think that's it."

A third voice rang out from beyond Tom's view, this one belonged to Mistress Angela, "Yes, Thank-you!"

Tom turned around to see Mistress Angela standing in robes the same golden tone as her curly blond hair. Before he could make a comment, she overrode him.

"Could you please send all the Master's books to the Leaky Cauldron. The innkeeper, Tom, will hold them for us."

The store clerk nodded, "Of course."

Tom looked quizzically at Mistress Angela, obviously unhappy about her curt ending to his book shopping. As she caught his look she qualified herself to him with a nod of deference, "If you are done, Sir?"

"Yes, Mistress Angela. Please allow me to pay and we can leave." Tom replied.

Florence looked at Tom strangely, a sort of mix between a scowl and confusion, "Oh – oh well, I – I'll see you around then, Tom. Bye."

"Uh – huh," Tom said.

The short store clerk looked at Florence and spoke, "Once I ring these up, I will gladly assist you, Miss." Then she led Tom towards the front of the store.

Tom and Mistress Angela followed her in a brief silence that Tom broke to ask the store clerk a question, "You find my course load… interesting?"

She smiled and squeaked, "Yes!" then shrugged, "Very few students take those really hard courses, most just want an easy O.W.L."

"Well, Master Tom is an interesting young man." Mistress Angela replied. "He is even a prefect for Slytherin this year."

"My house, too!" She squealed and jumped a bit so that her glasses slid to the tip of her nose.

Mistress Angela sniffed at the witch's outburst. Tom noticed how young she looked and realized she was barely older than him.

At Mistress Angela's disapproval, the short witch regained herself and put Tom's books into a box. "That's going to be –"

"Fifteen sickles and seventeen knuts," Tom stated in voice of mock disinterest.

"Ye – Wow! You are good." The witch said staring into Tom's eyes.

Tom handed a galleon to her and said, "Keep the rest for the delivery."

Mistress Angela led Tom out of the bookstore. Coming back onto the stone of Diagon Alley Tom looked at her and commented softly, "The robes look great, Mistress."

"Thank-you, Sir," came her reply. "I know you love books like I love clothes, but we are rushed, yes? You shouldn't have left me, but thank-you."

Then they began to walk down the alley of stores, meandering through other shoppers. After passing a large group of young witches and wizard, some of which Tom recognized from school, Mistress Angela asked, "Who was the young witch Florence, a girlfriend maybe?"

Tom chuckled and looked away, "No, just a fellow Slytherin."

"Hmmm," came as a grunt of disbelief. "Well, I think you should look again; I thought I saw some interest."

"Maybe… so where are we going?" Tom asked.

Mistress Angela then stopped, "Here! Ollivander's!" Then she pointed at a faded sign with peeling letters.

They stood in front of a window that had only one item on display, a fading purple cushion upon which rested a finely crafted wand. Beyond the window, into the store, Tom saw only skinny boxes that were fairly long. Tom figured each held a wand.

"A wand store? But I've got a –"

"Not your own wand." Mistress Angela cut-in. "No! Your own will really be something. It'll feel like a piece of you, honest." She walked towards the shop door. "The wand you use is a loaner, and I'd like it back. So, you need your own. Well, this is the best place; the only place… worth mentioning." And she pushed open the door.

Tom entered the store before her and noticed immediately that the shop was really small. Both walls were covered in shelves that held boxes of wands, from floor to ceiling. At the opposite end from the door was a small counter, behind which was a doorway to a back room. Aside from the shelves and wand boxes the whole shop was void of anything. The door closed and a soft bell rang out in the back room.

"Coming!" A voice said from the back room.

A short man with salt and pepper colored hair came from the hidden room. His silver eyes met with Tom's briefly then passed to Mistress Angela. A smile of recognition came across his lips as he pointed, "Eight inches… ebony… bicorn hair, yes, Ms. Hunt?"

Then looking at Tom, he pursed his lips and bounced his fingers on them, "And you… I've never met."

Tom stood transfixed on the man while Angela said, "This is Master Tom Riddle and he is here for the first time, Mr. Ollivander."

Mister Ollivander looked scandalized, "What kind of wand do you use now, Mister Riddle? A gregorovitch… a varsati… a hochi?"

Tom pulled out his wand unaware of any meaning to the words Mister Ollivander was speaking, Mistress Angela came to the rescue, "My mother's; eight inches, maple, pixie hair... I think."

"Pixie dust?" The man offered. Then with a wave of his hand he chuckled, "It's an Ollivander's at least?"

"Yes." Mistress Angela stated rather curtly.

"Well Sir," Mister Ollivander rounded on Tom. "Now you need your own wand and it's about time too. What are you a fourth or fifth year at Hogwarts?"

"Fifth year," Tom proudly stated. "And a Slytherin prefect."

"Then your own wand is a necessity." The man affirmed. "Especially with your O.W.L.'S coming. Oh yes, you need every advantage you can have for those tests. You will never achieve your best results using someone else's wand." Then Mister Ollivander came around the corner of the counter and took Tom's loaner wand from his hand.

Handing the wand to Mistress Angela, Mister Ollivander took Tom's hand into his own and asked, "Now, tell me; that wand, was it weak, powerful or just right?"

"Er... well, I don't know." Tom struggled.

"O.K. then," the man said. "Try this!" and he gave Tom a short thick one. "Wave it!" He instructed.

A cloud of green mist trailed out of the wand tip that smelled of rotten eggs. "Oh, no!" The man said.

Then he walked to a different stack of boxes and pulled one out, "Ten inches, willow, dragon heartstring," then putting it in Tom's hand, "Go on!"

Tom raised the wand and the wand made a sound like a raspberry. Mistress Angela and Mister Ollivander laughed and the shopkeeper struggled, "That won't do, will it?"

Quickly Tom was holding a different wand and waving it, a small housefly sprang out of the tip. Mister Ollivander kept sticking different wands into Tom's hand until finally the bottom of the stack, a seven-and-a-half, oak, doxy wings, went limp as a wet noodle in this hand, then began to swing like a piece of rope from Tom's hand.

Mister Ollivander declared, "More power!" and turned a different shelf.

Placing a whole stack of boxes on the small counter which was already cluttered with the wands that were already tried, the man said, "Tom, your magic work is going to improve a hundred fold; those wands like your old one were way to soft for you."

Then again he started trying to find the right response from the wand when Tom gave it a wave. Quickly running through the boxes Tom produced: bubbles; a mocking bird; two fish that had to be promptly put in water; a dandelion; and at the last one in the stack a loud yawn came out of the wand. Mister Ollivander looked at Tom and shook his head.

"Wow, you are really something, Mister Riddle." Then he smiled, "No wonder you are a prefect... very impressive."

As the man vanished into the back room to find another batch, Mister Ollivander's voice sounded distant as he called out that this batch was a bit more potent than those required by normal customers, so he left them in the back. Tom looked at Mistress Angela and asked, "Am I doing something wrong?"

From behind Tom, Mister Ollivander's voice firmly stated, "No!"

Tom turned to look at the man; he felt a bit embarrassed to have been overheard. The man had only one wand in his hand and he held it delicately in both hands. Coming to the counter, he held it forward to Tom speaking very frankly.

"Now, this is one of two wands, I've only just finished. This is very strong, maybe one of the strongest I've made. It's thirteen-and-a-half inches, yew, tail feather of a phoenix."

Tom took the wand and as he waved it his hand felt warm and a booming chorus of music resounded. "Sorry!" Tom called.

"Yes!" Mister Ollivander cheered. "Oh, yes! Yes indeed! Tom Riddle, there is your wand. Very powerful indeed, you are very magic, Sir. I suspect with this wand you'll scarcely recognize your own spell work."

"But, but, but –" Tom stammered, as Mister Ollivander kept on going.

"Now, as I have just made that wand and its brother, neither has a proper box. So, we'll just give you a bit of a discount, yes?" He offered congenially. "Shall we say... six galleons?"

"That is fine, Mister Ollivander," Mistress Angela said. "Besides, Tom seems to enjoy keeping his wand up his sleeve," as she laid the gold on the counter.

The man chuckled lightly at that comment, then leaned onto the counter to speak directly to Tom, "Well a wizard should never be without a wand, yes Mister Riddle? Now, do you know how to care for a wand?"

Tom nodded.

"Good." The man said. "I think you'll find that with this new wand, magic will come much easier for you. Spells that seemed beyond your reach will now be completely attainable. In fact, the last wand I made that strong, or my father actually, went to one of your teachers I believe, a Professor Dumbledore."

This comment did not seem to sit well with Mistress Angela who curtly said, "Thank-you, Sir." Then grabbed Tom and pushed him out of the store.

"Good lu–" was all Tom heard before the closing door cut off Mister Ollivander's voice.

Standing in the late afternoon sun, Tom blinked his eyes to see Mistress Angela; he was about to ask her why she had run out of the store when she spoke.

"Potion ingredients is all that's left. Then maybe after dinner we can stroll to Knockturn Alley and see the pups."

Tom replied, "I think I'd like to get an owl as well."

"Hmmm," Mistress Angela sighed in deep thought. "Well, I'm not an expert on animals, but I know Eeylops Owl Emporium is supposed to be pretty good."

Tom did not respond, he just followed her through the thinning crowds. They came to stand before an old wizard in very stained robes with long grey hair and buck teeth. He looked at them both and grinned, "Just about to close up for a quick dinner."

Putting down the barrel of dragon dung he had been carrying towards the shop entrance, he looked at Tom, "Hogwarts eh? Well, I suppose you'll need the standard supply refill then."

The old wizard bowed them into his store, a vast warehouse of wooden casks and open barrels of all sorts of potential potion additives. Along some walls were shelves of clay pots and jars; while on others were books on potion brewing or ingredient encyclopedias. The light was fairly dim as no candles were lit and daylight was failing.

The smells caught Tom off guard as each cask had its own distinct aroma; some pleasant, some not so, some too unique to classify as likable or not. Then Tom saw a bright red flower alone in a pot and he bent to sniff it. As he got close the flower seemed to shudder, then it sneezed at him, which brought a chuckle from the old storeowner. Tom looked quizzically at the flower as it sneezed again.

A soft woman's voice asked politely from a dark corner, "Would you please step away from Gretchen? She is allergic to wizards."

Tom, too intrigued by the plant to be startled by an unseen person speaking in a store he thought empty, backed up as the old wizard chuckled a bit more and came to stand beside him. Mistress Angela came up and passed Tom looking at the red flower with keen interest.

She asked tentatively, "Is it... really?"

The soft woman's voice came back from the corner as her silhouette passed the front window, "Yes, it's a rhodon allosergon viskard."

Mistress Angela sighed, "It's beautiful."

The other woman stepped up beside Mistress Angela, "Yes! Gretchen is quite pulchritudinous." She spoke dotingly.

"Oooh and its scent," Mistress Angela cooed.

"What scent," Tom demanded. "I can't smell anything!" He claimed stepping forward and sniffing.

As the flower gave another shudder, the old witch looked at Tom and the old wizard as if they were very offensive, "And highly allergic! Please step back... both of you, Demitrius."

The old wizard did so and also pulled Tom back a step and asked, "Shall we get you ready for school, Sir?" Then he walked towards the front store counter, which was against the sidewall and ended right at the exit.

Demitrius bent beneath the counter and pulled out a piece of parchment and a rather ratty quill, "Now, I'll run down the basics and just say yea or nay, if you need more, alright?"

Tom nodded, as the man ran down his list, "Aarons rod?"

"Nay!"

"Abaca?"

"Nay!"

"Abalone?"

"Nay!"

And so it went down a two-meter long parchment at which point the man looked at Tom and spoke quite confidently, "This should be rather easy."

Meanwhile, Mistress Angela and the old witch talked about the crazy red flower and made large sniffing sounds. Each one made the shop owner chuckle softly until, as he put down the list of items, Tom asked, "What's so funny?"

"Well, you can't smell it, can you? He asked.

"No!" Tom replied shaking his head.

"Yes, no wizard can; but it is claimed by witches that the scent of the witch's rose is intoxicating. So, each sniff Phyllida takes, gets me one sniff closer to a fortescue sundae and butterbeer dinner." He chuckled and winked.

As Tom heard another sniff he continued, "And I find a sundae and butterbeer dinner intoxicating," smiling slyly.

At the next deep nasal inhale Tom chuckled with the old man. Then as the man weighed out some lacewings, Tom asked, "Do you sell those?"

Demitrius looked at Tom strangely.

"Witch's rose!" Tom clarified.

"Oh," Demitrius shook his head. "Initially that was for sale, but it's so expensive. Plus, Phyllida likes it so. It's sort of taken up the center table as its home." Demitrius told him.

"How expensive is one?" Tom inquired.

"Well, it was about one-hundred galleons for the bulb and then the pot, dragon dung, time invested caring for it... most of all, overcoming my wife's undying love... about five-hundred galleons."

"Wow!" Tom said.

"Yes," Demitrius nodded. "And even that, my love, claims is too low... still that is the price."

"Is Gringott's still open?" Tom asked.

"Sunrise to sunset only," the man replied. "Why, do you need some extra silver to cover this? I could maybe half the –"

"No!" Tom interrupted. "Just a passing thought," as he pulled out his coin purse to reveal ample gold.

"Oh, alright." Demitrius put all of Tom's items into a small box for easier carrying. "That's it! Anything else I can do for you?" looking over Tom's shoulder.

With a soft chuckle Demitrius said, "Like pry the ladies off the table; so you can go and I can eat."

Tom turned to look at both ladies just staring at the red flower in a dreamy daze. Their heads rested in their hands with their elbows propping them up to the red bud's height. Mistress Angela looked completely content and Phyllida looked half asleep and already dreaming.

"Fortunately, I know how to break the spell." And Demitrius walked right up to the flower, which shuddered then sneezed.

"Demitrius!" Phyllida yelled angrily, then looked back at the rose.

Mistress Angela looked up and asked, "Are you ready?"

"Yes Mistress Angela," Tom responded.

"Let's go then." She stood up slowly. "Goodbye Gretchen," she called over her shoulder.

As they left the store Tom overheard the old man talk to his wife. "Dinnertime, Phyllida."

A dreamy Phyllida answered, "O.K., what shall we have dear?"

"How about a sundae and a butterbeer, love?"

"O.K. dear."

CHAPTER TEN

KNOCKTURN ALLEY

Coming out of the apothecary, Mistress Angela giggled to herself, "Silliness..." A weird grin played across her lips.

"Excuse me, Mistress?" Tom asked following her back the way they had come, the sun behind him casting a long shadow in front of him.

"I'm acting silly." She clarified, "Daydreaming about a silly flower like a silly school girl." Then she smiled at him.

In her eyes Tom could see returning clarity as the effect of the witch's rose fell away. "I don't think you're silly, Mistress." Tom offered.

"Well thank-you, Sir." She nodded. "Shall we take your supplies back to the Leaky Cauldron and eat? Then we'll go do some window shopping down Knockturn Alley, maybe you'll find an owl you like." Then she picked up her walking pace.

Walking back up Diagon Alley, Tom saw a few shops worth investigating after dinner, one store called, Quality Quidditch Supplies; also, two pet stores, and then he saw Fortescue's Sundae Shop. It looked very inviting. Tom was about to try Demitrius' ploy and suggest a sundae for dinner, when Mistress Angela spoke.

"Phyllida spent a lot more time with that rose than I did; come on," and she turned to open a door.

Tom looked at the door; it was dark and grimy. Above it swung an old sign that read:

The Leaky Cauldron

Mistress Angela opened the door to reveal the backroom they had both used to enter the empty alleyway that created the magical arch entrance to Diagon Alley.

Mistress Angela looked at Tom as he followed her through the door. Tom's obvious questioning looks prompted her, "We don't need to hide the Leaky Cauldron from magics, Sir. We need to hide Diagon Alley from muggles." Then she proceeded to walk into the common room of the Leaky Cauldron.

The barkeep was standing at the community table talking to a pair of witches. Another group of people sat at the other end of the table. A few of the booths were also in use. A young witch was standing at a small table against the wall talking to a couple, writing down what Tom presumed to be their dinner order.

Tom, the barkeep, saw Mistress Angela and young Tom Riddle enter and excused himself from the community table. As he walked to them, he held up his hands to take Tom's potion supply box.

"I'll send this up to your room; your robes and books are already upstairs, Master Tom. Please sit down, dinner is ready; tonight, a marvelous meatloaf with boiled potatoes on the side." He directed them to a nearby table.

Mistress Angela spoke to the man, "Thank-you, Tom. Master Tom and I are a bit rushed. We would like to eat promptly and finish some shopping; is that possible?"

"Of course!" He beamed. "Drinks first; what shall it be?"

Mistress Angela said, "A water for myself."

Tom asked, "Do you have root beer?"

"Of course! My favorite muggle drink also," Tom, the barkeep, nodded. "A water and a root beer." Then he walked away.

Tom looked at Mistress Angela and quickly asked, "Mistress, please excuse me a moment?"

"Sure, Sir," smiling amusedly.

Tom got up and followed the barkeeper to the bar. As he caught up to him Tom spoke softly in his ear, "Sir, you said if I needed anything, you could assist me, correct?"

"Yes, Master Tom. How can I be of assistance," he replied.

"I need to send word to Gringotts before it closes, is that possible?" Tom leaned in close.

"Yes, I've a few owls on hand." Then pulling parchment and quill from beneath the counter, he gave it to Tom. "Just write it down and I'll send it straight off. It should arrive in no more than fifteen minutes."

"Thank-you," Tom said as he dipped the quill into the inkwell.

Dinner was a rather hurried affair as Mistress Angela insisted most shops would close around sundown, which meant they had only a few hours left. When the young witch came to collect the plates, Mistress Angela asked, "Are you finished, Sir?"

Tom nodded.

When the table was cleared, Tom looked at Mistress Angela and asked, "Mistress why do you call me Sir and introduce me as Master Tom?" Then looking away he continued, "For years, I've been Tom or boy at the orphanage. Now you suddenly have become very formal, why?"

She looked at Tom very seriously then spoke in an even more formal voice than usual, "Well, Sir... at the orphanage, you were 'Tom the orphan' and though I obviously knew all about you, your school, the secret world of magic, I could hardly show any outward favoritism toward you over the other children. It would have been too great a risk to you, to me either losing my job or worse, exposing myself as a witch. So I did the best I could, by doing things like making sure I, and only I, ever dealt with any of your casework and such."

She paused and offered a smile, "But, now you are grown and you have a manor, you are heir to the great Slytherin and that demands respect. You are not Tom or boy anymore; you are Master Tom Riddle or Sir."

Tom looked at Mistress Angela as if she were crazy and said, "I still feel like Tom and I'd like it if you'd call me Tom, O.K.?"

Mistress Angela giggled, "O.K. Tom... then you best call me Angela."

Tom felt a bit unsure about that and was saved from responding by Mistress Angela rising and asking, "Are you ready, Tom?" with a heavy emphasis on Tom.

"Yes, I am... Angela." He said a bit self-conscious.

She smiled at him and stated, "You wanted an owl I believe." As she spoke she pointed to the backroom that led to Diagon Alley.

Seeing the archway open up to the stores beyond was a bit less impressive the second time. Though it took the same amount of time as the first, Tom's anxiety to get back to Diagon Alley created the illusion of it taking longer. As they stepped through the arch Angela shielded her eyes from the low sitting sun and spoke to Tom, "Right! Now, as I said before I don't know much of owls, but there is an owl shop down this way."

They began walking towards the potion ingredient store of Demetrius and Phyllida, Tom noticed. Tom mentally noted that he wanted to stop at the Quidditch Supplies store that was directly across from them. As the wide window came into view Tom saw Demetrius standing outside once again, apparently Angela did as well.

"The apothecary is still open," she commented.

"Would you like to visit Gretchen?" Tom inquired.

At Angela's sidelong glance he added, "I would like to visit the Quidditch shop and maybe purchase a new broom. My old Whisker is about useless. I'd like to get something new."

"Tom, I rode that broom when I was your age." Angela said indignantly.

"That sounds about right... it must be a hundred or so years old." He laughed.

"Go!" Angela pointed, not looking amused at all.

Tom smirked as he stepped away from Angela towards the Quidditch store. Walking towards Quality Quidditch Supplies Tom thought of the excitement of playing Quidditch, wizard sport. With three chasers trying to score points with a large red ball, the quaffle, by throwing it through one of the three hoops. The two beaters that try to knock the opposing team off their brooms with the jet-black ball called a bludger. Not to mention the seeker who ignored everything to find a tiny golden ball with wings, and catching it scores one hundred fifty points for their team thereby ends the game.

In the big display that showed all the newest gear for Quidditch was a new style broom called 'The Silver Arrow.' Tom stopped to glance at it, immediately noticing the thin wood handle and fanned out tail. He wondered how the Slytherin Quidditch team would react to having a seeker that rode an international class broom rather than the old Whisker Tom had used for three previous seasons. A quick nod later, Tom opened the door and entered a shrine to Quidditch.

The walls were covered with various team posters and replica team robes of every Quidditch team Tom knew and a few he could not name. The ceiling was inordinately high, at least some twenty meters, with three large goal hoops floating in the center, just like one end of the Quidditch pitch. Tom gazed up at the hoops as a small golden ball with wings fluttered back and forth through the center one.

"A miniature version of the hoop sand," a man's voice came. "It's for customers who wish to try out a product before they buy it."

Tom's eyes came to rest on a wizard of middle age. He wore a matching set of bright orange Quidditch robes that Tom immediately placed as an official Chudley Cannons uniform.

"Do I get to catch the snitch?" Tom asked as he pointed at the small golden ball looping in a far corner.

"Only if a bludger doesn't get you first," replied the clerk as a jet-black ball charged at the tiny golden snitch.

Tom chuckled softly as the snitch dropped a bit to avoid the larger black bludger. The clerk continued at Tom's amusement. "Or if you play as a chaser, I've a quaffle you can try a few shots on the hoop." He said looking about for the large red quaffle. Finally, he gave up and pointed his wand at a large wooden crate and cried out, "Accio Quaffle!" And a large red ball came out and soared across the room to him.

Holding the large ball out to Tom, the salesman said, "So how can I help you, today?"

Tom looked at him and said, "Well, I need a broom; but not just any broom, I need the best broom... a Silver Arrow."

The salesman said, "That's about the best there is; mind you that's according to which broomstick. Personally, I favor the Persian Moustafan; not as fast a top speed but a quicker take off."

Tom asked, "Can I try both?"

"Sure," the clerk replied.

Then he led Tom to a wall display that had many different varieties of broomsticks separated into type and style. The clerk held up a Silver Arrow and then walked to a different pile of brooms.

"Shall I play keeper?" He asked excitedly.

"If you like, but I'm a seeker. So, it might get a bit boring with no one shooting goals at you. Maybe an opposing team's beater would be better.

"Nope, I can't hit customers," he mourned. "Store policy."

Tom laughed, then took the Moustafan broom for a test ride. It was such an improvement from his old Whisker, he felt he had never ridden a real broom before. He caught the snitch in a few moments and came back to the clerk on the floor.

"Wow! That was great. I wish I had a whole pitch, not just the hoop sand." Tom said.

The clerk looked around and agreed, "Yes, I wish our store was that big, too!" Then he handed Tom the Silver Arrow. "Let the snitch go."

Tom released the small golden ball and watched it fly up to the ceiling.

"What do you ride now?" asked the clerk.

"A Whisker." Tom said.

"I'm sorry," the clerk consoled.

They both laughed.

Tom took off on the broom and reveled in the ease with which it flew, as if his mind directed it. The slightest touch was all he needed to turn the broom, opposed to the full lean the old Whisker needed. Tom caught the snitch so fast he let it go and did a lap around the hoops then caught it again. The clerk applauded his performance as he returned down to the floor.

"I'll take the Arrow!" Tom declared.

"Very good, Sir," nodded the clerk. "Anything else?"

"No thank-you," Tom responded staring at a pair of padded seeker gloves.

"Then it will be a thousand galleons even, Sir." The clerk stated.

Tom's jaw dropped in surprise and he stammered, "Can I –"

"I've got it in a Gringotts cube, will that be acceptable?" a voice came from behind Tom.

The clerk looked past Tom, "Of course, it is preferred actually."

Tom looked back to see Arrakis, the goblin from Gringotts with two other goblins behind him. Arrakis looked at Tom and gave a slight bow, "I apologize, Sir, I attempted to make it before your arrival. Proper bookkeeping held me back."

Tom said nothing to the banker, who pulled a small golden cube from his hip pouch. The salesclerk took the cube and looked at it, then nodded.

"Shall I wrap this, Sir?" He asked Tom.

"Please," Tom answered.

Arrakis came to stand beside Tom and spoke softly as the clerk walked away, "Again I apologize. I was not able to access your vault in time, so I arrived in person to assist you. I will send the appropriate forms to you at school, to withdraw the funds to cover the marker."

"Thank-you, Arrakis," Tom said.

Arrakis nodded acknowledgement and turned to his two companions. They nodded to Arrakis and all three left.

A few minutes later Tom re-entered Diagon Alley, with a large brown paper wrapped broomstick, to see Angela consoling Phyllida outside the apothecary. He came up to catch the tail end of her words.

"– Demetrius, will get you another?"

"Gretchen deserved better!"

Angela looked at Tom, who was holding his new broom over his shoulder. She patted Phyllida's hands and spoke very softly, "Phy, I've got to go, but I'm sure it'll be fine." And she motioned to Tom.

Phyllida looked up and seeing Tom tried to cover her face as she went back into the store. Angela watched her, then she turned to Tom and explained, "Someone bought Gretchen."

Tom did not really understand the problem with that. "Isn't that good?" He asked.

"In theory yes," Angela said. "But I think Phyllida had grown a bit attached... used to it... I mean –"

"Witch's rose is addictive?" Tom asked with surprise in his voice.

"Well... it's debated," Angela scrunched her face. "Witches act a bit funny, really depressed –"

"So, yes!" Tom said.

"She'll be fine in a few days." Angela reassured Tom. "Now, I see you got a broom. Do you still want an owl?"

"A few days..." Tom painfully breathed.

"We don't have a few days Tom –"

"No, Phyllida... a few days?" Tom asked. "I didn't know, it was –"

"Tom," Angela said. "Phyllida will be fine. Don't worry."

Concern was all over Tom's face and he looked through the windows of the apothecary for Phyllida.

"Tom!" Angela snapped.

Tom's eyes locked onto her.

"Do you want an owl?" She asked directly.

"Yes!" Tom stated firmly.

"Well, I want a witch's rose candle, but those are only sold on Knockturn Alley. So, let's go there and while I nip into the Candle Opera; you can go to Brutus' Beasties, see the hellhound pups and get an owl simultaneously, yes?"

"Sure," Tom answered. "Does the candle affect you like the rose?" He asked with concern.

"No," Angela sighed. "In fact it's not even the same scent, but it's very similar." Then looking in his eyes she stated, "And it's completely safe!"

Together they walked down Diagon Alley towards the setting sun. Between a candy store and a parchment shop Angela turned a sharp corner into a small walkway, emerging into a whole new street of shops. Barely any sunlight made it into the alleyway and every so often a gas streetlamp was burning.

A flat black slate cut into large paving blocks replaced the smooth cobblestone of Diagon Alley. The storefronts were all a bit shabbier than those of Diagon Alley. Then it struck Tom on closer inspection they were not really in disrepair, so much as considerably older. Noticing this, Tom began to notice all the people seemed older too.

Right on cue Angela chimed in, "This was around in your father's time, Tom. Many wizards now scorn this place, shunning it for Diagon Alley, claiming it is better. Really, it's just a watered down version for the half-bloods; this is the real powerful magic section of magic shopping now. Most magics can't even use the stuff sold here."

Tom looked at the crowd with renewed respect and a bit of wonder. A witch walked up to Tom and smiled a toothless grin. Her robes were jet-black and her hair snow white, her skin was like a liver spot covered piece of tanned leather.

"Cheering chocolates? A knut a piece." She said showing a tray of various sweets.

"No, thanks!" Angela sniffed walking past.

Standing before a window full of various candles and bric-a-brac Angela stopped. She pointed at a very small candle of bright red. It was short and thin and looked completely useless for anything as it probably burned out in about two minutes, judging by its size.

"That's it!" Angela said triumphantly. "Next door is Brutus', Tom. Would you like me to walk –" she stopped as she noticed Tom had already started walking away.

Brutus' Beautiful Beasties was a rather large store. Tom walked in and saw that the hellhound puppy litter held a prominent spot in the window and the store. The pups' kennel extended at least ten meters back from the front wall. All the pups were awake and yipping at one another, most had three heads, which meant some were barking at themselves. A runt had only two heads and it sat in the corner alone, looking sick. A sign posted on the kennel gate read:

WARNING

THEY BITE... HARD

Tom looked over the gate, down at a brown three-headed pup that barked once from each head in succession. Finding it amusing, Tom smiled at the hound. The tiny brown body could barely hold the heads up without falling forward, yet it somehow managed to get its front paws on the gate and look up at Tom.

"Hello puppy dog," Tom said brightly.

A woman's voice came from behind Tom, "Yes; they are cute, aren't they? Would you like one?"

"No, not really," Tom responded still smiling at the small pup.

"Well, it's free if you do!" The woman intoned. "Brutus loves them, but I find them to be a menace."

Tom turned from the kennel to face the woman; she was tall and very skinny with dark hair and bright eyes. Her robes were a greyish blue and cut very low. The woman stood behind a counter of about waist height and she leaned over it to peek at the kennel saying, "Then how can I help you this evening?"

The gas lamps of the store gave her bright eyes a soft twinkle that caught Tom's eyes. He forgot all about his reason for being in the store and stared at the woman slack-jawed. A smile played across her lips as she flipped her hair back over her shoulder and she winked at Tom.

"Beautiful!" Tom thought aloud, unable to take his eyes off the witch.

The witch smirked leaning back from the counter, "You sure you don't want a cute puppy?" She asked coyly, making intense eye contact.

"Desiree!" snapped a harsh man's voice. "He said no! Now help him for real."

The witch broke the eye contact, to glance at the husky voiced man. Tom felt so hollow without her attention, he reminisced about it even as he looked at the profile of his musing. The time she spent speaking to this man was the most grueling few seconds Tom had ever known.

"Of course, Brutus, but these pups have got to go." Her melodious voice sang.

She turned to face Tom again and Tom's heart jumped at her smile. Her intense eyes swallowed Tom and he felt completely content just to gaze into her eyes forever. She leaned forward close to Tom and he froze at the idea she was going to kiss him. Pausing only a breath from him, she scrunched her nose and flashed large fangs with a guttural growl.

The abrupt change shocked Tom out of his stupor. His heart first racing at her beauty now ran twice as fast in fear of the beast he had witnessed beneath her beautiful exterior. Her voice still rang like bells though, "So, what do you want; if not a hellhound?"

Tom looked at her, she looked completely different, yet totally the same. Her beauty was still present, but not as magically captivating for some reason. As Tom's heart slowed to a normal pace, he shrugged it off as irrelevant or inexplicable. She came around the counter and Tom spoke timidly, "A – an owl... a good one."

"Well, you're in luck!" She claimed, "As I just sold out of all my bad ones." Then she smiled at her own joke.

Tom blinked at her.

"O.K., an owl," she said a bit crestfallen. "I'm a pet shop owner, not a comedian." Then she looked pleadingly at Tom and melodramatically cried, "But can't a girl have dreams!"

"Ahh –"

"Never mind," she dismissed. "Come on, owls are in the back."

Before Tom even took a step she spun on her heels and pointed at Tom like an accusation, "You're not scared of snakes are you?" Then drawing back her hand, she informed him, "Cause the owls are behind the snakes."

"Love them!" Tom smiled holding his hands up.

"Well, they scare the heck out of me!" She said. "So, we're taking the long way."

"Ahh –" Tom, was unsure what to do.

"Are you awake?" She asked, snapping her fingers. "This is funny stuff, geez."

"Do I still get to see the snakes?" Tom ventured to ask.

"Come on!" She conceded blandly, then turned to walk down an aisle of shelves full of rat and mice cages.

As they walked down it, she pointed with her right finger and spoke in a droning monotone, "Magic black rat... one for five sickles."

She pointed with her left hand, "Feeder mice... two for two."

Right hand again, "Blond Asian short tails... one for ten."

Left hand, "Grey Americans... two for one, great owl food."

Right hand, "Magic Albino, careful they vanish... fifteen sickles a piece."

Left hand, "White lab rat, free to good home, preferably with a large cat."

Then she stopped and spoke in her same droning voice, "That was another feeble joke for the humorless guy behind me, who might have missed it."

Tom sighed.

They walked the rest of the aisle in silence. At the aisle's end she turned and walked straight to the aisle just before the wall. Pointing down it she said in her monotone, "Snake books left side; live specimens mostly poisonous on the right. Please keep hands out of the cages."

Then, pointing at the wall aisle she said, "Other various live snakes and reptiles, mostly non-poisonous. Large specimens on the right may try to eat you."

A babble of many voices booing the woman's poor comedy and a few raspberries came up the aisle.

Tom smirked in agreement with his legless friends. The witch looked, and seeing his smile spoke in a normal voice, "Is that a smile?"

Then taking a serious tone she asked, "Are you interested in buying a snake or did you just want to see one?"

"Well –" Tom said thoughtfully. "Do you know much about them?"

"Honey, I'm a pet shop owner, not a comedian." She mocked.

A few snakes called out, "Thank goodness!"

Another hissed, "You said it lady!"

Tom laughed at these comments.

She blinked, "Are you O.K.?"

"Yes," Tom nodded. "Do you know of a snake that has a long skin... maybe ten meters with large green and silver diamonds patterned on it's back; a really big head like –"

"Gret Gramen Selfer Snaca," she answered and spun to start walking down the wall aisle.

A few snakes in cages hissed, "Salazar, you got a visitor!"

The witch continued, "The great green and silver snake more commonly known as Slytherin's serpent or The Slytherin; since it was the Great Salazar Slytherin of legend who made them famous."

Tom followed her down the aisle to a glass display that was easily the largest terrarium, at least twice that of the next one smaller. It sat in the corner and went from the floor to about Tom's chest. Inside was a large log that branched down into a fake pond and stretched the ten or so meters to the opposite end, where it had a tuft of leaves and berries.

On the ground was a fine grain white sand with few smooth stones in it and wrapped in a coil was the living version of the snakeskin, Tom had pulled his Gringotts vault key from. The snake was wrapped in a tight coil that exposed only its large diamond shape head and pointed tail. The rest of its body was a mass of folds and overlapping coils. Tom bent down in front of the glass and looked at the beautiful thing.

"This is Salazar." The witch said.

"How much?" Tom asked.

A chorus of snakes cried out, "Everyone wants Salazar, how much for the big guy? What is it about him?"

The witch pointed a black wax pencil writing in the corner of the glass that read:

Salazar is not for sale!

Please do not tap glass, he may get mad –

And eat you!

Tom's eyes went back to the serpent, "Why?"

"Why, why, why," called a python behind Tom.

The witch crouched beside Tom and watched as Salazar, the serpent uncoiled and came up unto the log to be at eye level, with Tom and the witch. She spoke very thoughtfully, "Well, first off he's my pet –"

"Captive!" hissed Salazar.

The witch's voice took on a soft loving tone like a mother, but her words were drowned out by many snake voices, "Lying veelan monster!" The witch looked at Tom.

Tom smiled at her; as it clicked in his head why she seemed so beautiful initially, and then a monster. She was a veela, a female monster that lulls its victims with its magical beauty. As the witch kept talking, Tom appraised her again; she had to be only part vela, he guessed, or he'd still be in a stupor at the front door.

"– Then it's illegal as his breeding makes him an instinctive muggle hunter, so,"

"Ridiculous!" hissed Salazar.

Tom chuckled.

"What is so funny?" The witch asked with a perplexed look.

"Well, Salazar seems more a captive than a pet and it's ridiculous that he instinctively eats muggles."

An audible gasp came from every snake cage.

Salazar cocked up his head at Tom. He brought his nose close to the glass, "Hello?" he hissed.

Tom stared into his black eyes, "Hello, Salazar," then to the witch he turned, "This is the symbol of the Noble Cause of Slytherin. Making it illegal is just another ploy by the Ministry of Magic to suppress us." Tom said.

The witch's face cracked into a pleased grin, "It's good to see the youth carries the cause in its heart. Are you a Slytherin?"

"More than anyone I've ever met," Tom said. "How do I get a Slytherin serpent?"

Salazar hissed, "Just open my cage."

"Mine too!" came some other snakes.

Tom spoke to Salazar, "Is that it?"

"What?" The witch asked.

Tom was transfixed on the serpent and ignored the rest of her words.

Salazar continued, "Brutus! Let me out! Years I stayed at your side, a companion and friend. Now, you let the veela make me a captive, why?"

Tom looked at the witch, "Why did Brutus put Salazar in a cage, when for years he let Salazar roam free? Or are all veela afraid of snakes?"

"How –" the witch stammered.

The husky voice came from behind Tom, "He scared away customers; the size and reputation of Salazar made them shun my store."

Then the man knelt on Tom's other side. In the reflection Tom saw his grizzled beard and unruly black hair; his robes a shabby brown. The man hissed at the glass, "You know that old friend."

Tom looked at the man and exclaimed, "You're a parselmouth?"

The man looking nonplussed replied, "That makes two of us then." Smiling at Tom in the glass cage's reflection, continuing to spit and hiss the man said, "Yes! Salazar deserves better."

Tom hissed back, "I'd give it to him; in House Slytherin he would be my constant companion. He could hunt the mice of my school and my home." Then to Salazar he spit, "Never to know a cage again. Free with me."

"Would you Salazar?" The man asked the serpent.

"Yesss!" he replied.

The man looked deep in thought, "Would you protect this boy for his life, like you did me?"

"Yesss!"

Turning to Tom the man spoke, "Desiree, our friend wanted an owl. Give him the female snowy owl with the black patch on her chest."

"Andromeda!" she whined. "I love her."

"Desiree!" he said curtly.

Desiree walked away huffing. The man looked at Tom and whispered, "For the record... she's only part veela." Then he sniggered, "Still a bit temperamental though –"

"I heard that!" Desiree's angry voice came back.

"Who cares!" came many snake voices.

The man looked from Tom to Salazar and gave a weak smile, then stood up. As he did he accidentally bumped the gilded screen top of Salazar's cage. As he walked away, Tom thought he heard him hiss, "Goodbye, old friend."

Salazar stretched his head out of the cage and came over the edge. Looking at Tom, the huge serpent hissed, "It's you and me, kid."

He then dropped onto the floor and slithered off to follow the man. Tom watched in awe as seven meters of undulating green and silver diamonds slid with unbelievable ease across the stone floor and out of sight.

At the storefront Tom heard the husky voice call out, "Desiree, bring that owl up here, now!" Then adding, "And grab a few mice, too!"

"Coming," she responded.

Tom walked to the front of the store and saw the husky voiced man at the counter talking to a very tall man. On the counter was a large bird box. It looked big enough to fit a dozen owls, let alone one. Desiree came up with a large white owl, it had one small black spot on its chest. It was average size, not really large enough to justify the large box.

"Think the box is big enough?" Desiree chided.

Brutus spoke to the big man congenially, "You seem to know enough to safely raise one. You and Desiree, just pick one out and we'll get you set up."

Just then Desiree came up with two mice; the man grabbed them and tossed them in the box. He then added the owl, which hooted and fluttered in protest, and closed the box ceremoniously.

"Desiree, would you help this man?" he asked.

Tom looked at the tall man in black robes almost identical to his own. The black eyes looked so familiar, but Tom could think of no place where he would know this man from, except maybe school. It was obvious that this large man was too old for school though, so Tom brushed the thought aside. Walking to the counter, the tall man and Tom made eye contact and both gave a mute nod to each other.

Tom pulled out his moneybag and asked, "How much?"

The husky voiced man smiled, "Parselmouth to parselmouth it is free." Then he leaned in close and whispered, "I hope the owl lives."

CHAPTER ELEVEN

NEW FRIENDS AND OLD ENEMIES

Tom stepped out of the pet store with his broomstick in his left hand and a huge bird box in the right. The weight of the box was ridiculous and Tom wondered if the box was made of lead. The owl would not stop hooting and fluttering about in the box and Tom felt a bit self-conscious as it banged the box's top.

Walking to the candle shop to look in the window for Angela, the owl hooted, screeched, and snapped enough to attract quite a few stares. Tom peered into the glass display window and saw Angela and a tall witch with blond hair talking over a candle. Angela caught sight of him and gave an inviting wave for him to join her inside. Tom responded by lifting his incredibly heavy bird and broomstick purchases, so she could see them.

Angela gave a quizzical look at the exceptionally large box and held up a finger to indicate she would come out momentarily. As Tom lowered the bird box again, the owl screeched and fluttered so hard that feathers came out the circular air holes.

"Andromeda," Tom pleaded. "Relax! I'll let you out at the Leaky Cauldron."

A soft hiss startled Tom, "It's me... I scare her."

"Salazar?" Tom breathed, dropping the box and looking in the air holes.

Sure enough all of Salazar's enormous body was coiled around the bottom of the box, leaving little room for the petrified snow owl. Tom did not really know what to do, Salazar had to stay in the box, and if the owl came out then Tom would not need the box.

With a sharp intake of breath he cooed at the owl, "You will be fine Andromeda; I promise." Then thinking of Brutus' last words he added, "Right?!"

"Yesss," Salazar hissed.

The bird seemed to find a bit of comfort in Tom's words as it stopped snapping its beak and flapping its wings. Tom stood up and looked at Angela through the window. She and the tall witch looked almost through with their discussion, as the tall blond was wrapping up something while Angela was counting out coins.

"Slytherin's seeker! Yeh, tha's who y'are," came a voice that startled Tom.

Tom snapped to look at the speaker, taking a step back. It was the tall man in Hogwarts' robes that Tom had seen in the pet store. In the man's large hands was a three-headed hellhound puppy that was barking. The man adjusted the small pup in his arms and held out a hand in introduction.

"Call me Hagrid." He smiled, "Third year at Hogwarts myself. Huffle Puff, I knew I seen yeh before. Y'are the seeker on Slytherin's Quidditch team."

Tom took his hand, "Yes, my name is Tom..." Tom shook the man's hand in shock. It was hard to believe that this huge person was actually a third year student; he stood over two meters tall. Then looking closer in the face Tom saw the youth of a boy that no height could hide.

"Saw yeh got a snowy, best there is," then shrugging to bring the pup to Tom's face, he said, "I got me a pup, neat eh?"

Tom leaned back as the center head nipped at his nose, "Yes, very interesting."

Hagrid then leaned forward to speak softly to Tom, "Bit worried there for a mo'ent, seeing yeh. Thought yeh might say something 'bout a dog at school and all. 'Ppreciate the silence."

"Sure," Tom replied. He wondered if Hagrid had seen Salazar climb into the large bird box. His worries were immediately relieved by Hagrid's next words.

"Got out just in time, yeh did." He nodded, "I was asking Brutus 'bout breeding hellhounds, when his wife screamed that the Slytherin serpent was out of its cage. Overreacting if yeh ask me, but she pushed me out and locked the door." He shrugged again.

"I hope they find it!" Tom said feigning shock.

"Not me," Hagrid frowned. "A shame to keep an animal caged like that."

Tom smiled, "I think so, too."

Salazar hissed out the bird box, "Yesss."

Tom chuckled.

Hagrid's black eyes crinkled at the edges as he smiled, "An animal lover, I like you!"

The tinkling of a bell sounded as Angela exited the candle store. She came to stand beside Tom and looking at Hagrid introduced herself, "Well, since Tom isn't going to do it; I'm Mistress Angela and you are?"

"Hagrid, Ma'am," he responded.

"Nice to meet you, Hagrid," with a nod to him. Looking at the exceptionally large bird box, she continued, "Since there is obviously not a small three-headed dog in that box, as evidenced by Hagrid holding his. What is in the box? A whole flock of owls?"

"No," Tom snorted, " One owl."

"Brutus gave you a box that would fit you, for one owl?" Angela asked disbelievingly.

Hagrid spoke passionately with wide eyes, "Not any snowy owl, Ma'am. Andromeda! She is his best owl... snowy owls can instinctively track their masters and fly great distances with speed."

"It still seems a rather large box, unless this great bird is a meter tall," said Angela.

"No!" Hagrid chuckled. "The snowy owl is an average size of about a half meter tall an' a meter an' a half wing span. It is generally white with touches of grey. Tom's owl, Andromeda, however has a black spot centered on 'er chest. Most breeders consider that ter be a special mark, means the bird is 'ceptionally smart."

"You sure do know your birds, Hagrid," Angela said. "Did you help Tom pick out his owl?"

"Nah," Hagrid blushed. "I was looking at hellhound puppies; Tom got it all on his own."

"Hmm..." Angela eyed the box again. "There's not a small dog in the box, with the highly esteemed Andromeda is there?" she asked.

"No Angela, no three-headed dog." Tom assured her.

Angela nodded, "Well, it's getting late and the shops are all closing, Tom. We'd best get back to the Leaky Cauldron."

Tom nodded.

Hagrid spoke excitedly, "The Leaky Cauldron!"

"Yes," Angela said. "Are you staying there as well?"

"Sure am, then the Knight Bus ter King's Cross tomorrow." Hagrid beamed.

"Well then, you should be getting back as well. Where are your parents?" Angela asked.

"Ah… well –" Hagrid hemmed. "My mom is gone and my dad… he, ah –"

"Why don't you walk with us, Hagrid?" Tom cut him off.

"O-O.K.," Hagrid said. He showed a bit of relief at not having to finish his previous statement.

The group of them walked up Knockturn Alley in relative silence. The gas lamps gave off just enough light to carry through to the next one. Angela led them without looking back; the crowd had thinned to just stragglers walking at a brisk pace. Most of the stores were closed and their windows were dark.

Angela came to a stop at a unique looking store that was one of the few still open. Tom could not read the sign above the entrance but the window was full of an odd assortment of rocks, carved stone and wood, even some metal sculptures. Some of the items looked nice and some ugly, a few were so weird Tom could not decide if he liked them. Angela seemed to be considering something as she stared into the window.

Hagrid was playing with his puppy and Tom's arms were getting tired when Angela spoke, "Can I trust you two, to make it back to the Leaky Cauldron without starting any trouble?"

"Yes, Angela," Tom said. "Why?'

She did not take her eyes off a round black stone, "I want to run in here, but I don't know if it will be quick or not. So, I want you to just head on back to the Leaky Cauldron."

"O.K.," Tom said.

"You know the way?" she asked.

Hagrid answered, "Yes Ma'am, two stores on the right, through the alley, right towards Florence Fortescue's."

Angela nodded, "Good! I'll see you both shortly."

Angela pushed the store door open and Tom heard a funny sound, like a wooden wind chime. Then to Hagrid he shrugged and started walking towards the alley to Diagon Alley. As they walked past a store with a large portrait of a dragon on it, Hagrid paused. Looking at the picture, the dragon bared its fangs at Hagrid and Tom.

Hagrid sighed, "Dragons, I'd love ter own a dragon."

"A dragon? For a pet?" Tom asked with surprise.

"Yeh," Hagrid sighed. "Wouldn't yeh?"

"I'm happy with what I got." Tom said, lifting the heavy bird box.

A hissing voice said, "Good! Dragons smell bad."

Tom chuckled, "which is getting heavy, let's go."

"Yeh could let Andromeda out, she'd follow yeh, yeh know." Hagrid told Tom.

"Nah," Tom answered.

They walked side by side down the skinny alley that curved around to Diagon Alley. Coming into the street Tom noticed the gas lamps were much more frequent and one was posted on every storefront as well. The whole street had an eerie haze of yellow light, no one was about at all and it was completely quiet.

Standing in the soft pool of yellow light Tom stopped abruptly and looked around. He felt as if he were being watched, it was an uncomfortable sensation. Confirmation came in a soft chuckle that preceded a person stepping into the street.

Tom recognized the boy immediately. He had seen Zane Bates more than once pelt bludgers at him during Quidditch games. His dark brown hair down to his shoulders came across his face, creating a shadow over his eyes. Zane was big, in every sense of the word, his arms the thickness of Tom's neck seemed perfectly proportioned to the rest of his body.

Zane laughed softly, "Look at this Follis."

Follis Fogy stepped into the light as well. House Gryffindor's other beater had taken as many shots at Tom as Zane had. Follis was a seventh year student now and looked much older. He was shaved bald and had a menacing look that made Tom's heart race.

Follis' voice was deep, "The big stupid orphan and the little smart orphan, what a team."

A third voice came out of the darkness behind Follis and Zane, "Maybe between the two they can scrape up someone who cares."

All three laughed, as the Gryffindor chaser, Dylan Burr came into the light. Dylan was rather skinny and had curly blond hair in tight ringlets. In his hands he brandished his wand. Then pointing it at Tom he spoke.

"What's that Riddle? A new broom? I didn't know that Quality Quidditch Supplies took on charity cases," he laughed.

Follis came in with, "A Silver Arrow couldn't save the Slytherin team. Mind you, no orphan could ever buy one either."

Zane looked at Hagrid, "Still, at least they make a broom Riddle can ride. Where as Hagrid here is too big and stupid to do more than sweep out animal cages with a broom."

The three Gryffindors all guffawed as Tom and Hagrid stood in the pool of light across the way. Hagrid's dog was still now; a steady growl came from all three heads, directed at Zane, Follis and Dylan.

"Look, the oaf's got a hellhound… is the big bad puppy going to get us. Oooow… I'm scared!" Dylan said.

"Well, it's one way to make a friend... buy one!" Zane commented. "Right stupid?"

"Shut up!" Tom said braver then he felt.

"Oooow… Riddle's got a backbone." Dylan called out. "I didn't think Slytherins were allowed, you all seem too slimy for vertebrae."

Tom flushed, Hagrid tried to shush his puppy.

Tom stepped closer to the Gryffindors and said, "Go away! Go pick on someone else."

"But no one else is out. So, you'll have to do." Zane stated.

"I guess you're right, Zane," Dylan said. "But you can go if you want, Riddle. I get bored of beating you in Quidditch. Be a good little Slytherin, run away. We'll spend our time with big and stupid." He smiled.

Hagrid started to say something but a flash of light absorbed him.

"Petrificus totalus!" cried Zane and Follis.

Hagrid fell over like a chopped down tree.

"Now, Riddle." Zane said turning to face him.

"Let me out!" Let me out!" Salazar hissed.

Zane pointed at the broom and said, "Let's see the new broom, Riddle."

Tom stood still, unsure what to do; almost too scared to move.

"Give me the broom, Riddle," he repeated slowly.

"No," Tom quivered.

"Accio Broom!" Dylan shouted.

The broom jumped from Tom's hands towards Dylan's. The owl in the bird box was screeching and flapping violently making the over-sized box hard to hold. Tom began to put it down as Zane spoke.

"Don't move! Riddle," he snarled, his wand pointed at Tom.

Tom froze.

The box was shaking hard, feathers coming out of every air hole. Tom could barely hold it the few inches off the ground in his half bent posture. He stared helpless as Dylan ripped the brown paper off the broom.

"A Silver Arrow!" Dylan exclaimed.

Zane spun to look, "What?" His eyes wide, "No way!"

Follis looked over Dylan's shoulder to check out the broom. The owl was going crazy in the box. Salazar was hissing to be let out, Tom took the boys distracted moment to put down the box.

"Hey!" Zane said looking up. "Stupefy!"

Reflexes brought Tom to a crouch as he whipped out his new wand, "Stupefy!"

A blazing red jet of light shot over Zane's shoulder. It hit the gas lamp that lit the street, which exploded in a fireball of glass and smoke.

Follis lay on the ground behind a crouching Zane, who like Dylan had his arms over his head as protection from the falling glass.

"Good shot, Riddle." Dylan said. "Try this, Tarantallegra!"

"Protego!" Tom cried.

The flash of Dylan's jinx rebounded off Tom's shield into the sky.

"Riddle," Dylan's voice came in awe. "Let me find out, you're not some Slytherin punk."

Tom's heart was racing, he was faced with three opponents and his instinct was to run. That did not seem to be an option, at the moment. As he braced himself for another volley, Zane pushed Dylan aside and pointed his wand at Tom, "He's mine, Dylan."

He snarled at Tom, "Come on, Riddle. Let's have a go."

Before Tom could respond, he yelled, "Impedimenta!"

Tom jumped out of the way as a flash of blue sailed passed him. Laying on the ground Tom cried, "Impedimenta!"

Zane called, "Protego!" To no avail as Tom's jinx smashed his small shield into a grey mist, continuing on to his now unprotected chest.

Zane dropped his wand and grunted as the jinx hit him with such force. He came off the ground and fell backwards. He landed with a loud thud and remained motionless.

Follis shouted, "Petrificus Totalis!"

The jinx went wide of Tom and as he turned to retaliate Dylan caught him unaware.

"Impedimenta!" came Dylan's jinx.

Tom froze unable to move and fell over.

"See what you made me do, Riddle." He spoke standing over Tom. With a glance at the large bird box that was now banging, hooting, screeching and spitting out feathers, "Now, all this excitement has scared your owl."

Dylan sat down on Tom's chest and asked sarcastically, "What should I do, Riddle? How can I help, hhmmm?" He shook his head and shrugged, "I can't let the bird die in a box, can I?"

Dylan pointed his wand at the box and smiled, "Reducto!"

The box blew apart and feathers went everywhere as Andromeda bolted skyward. Dylan's eyes became saucers and his jaw fell open making indistinct noises.

"Run!" Follis called, and he did.

Out of Tom's vision he heard Salazar, "I'm coming!"

"Call it off, Riddle," Dylan demanded.

Tom couldn't speak; he was completely frozen, bound by the jinx.

Dylan stood up and in a very scared voice whimpered, "This isn't funny, Riddle. Call it off."

Salazar coiled up before Dylan. He looked rather menacing as Dylan took two steps back. Then Dylan spun around and ran full tilt into the night, leaving Zane on the ground behind him. Salazar looked past Tom and then slithered out of view.

Footsteps came up from behind Tom and he began to panic about how he would explain this.

"Three on one, and they lost." Angela's voice sighed. "I thought Gryffindors were strong and brave, fighting for justice; not bullies."

Coming into Tom's view, she drew her wand, "Finite!"

The jinx immediately lifted. Tom stood up looking for Salazar and began wondering if he was chasing Dylan down Diagon Alley. Behind him Angela was releasing Hagrid from his magical bond. The puppy immediately began barking and after a rushed thank-you, Hagrid attempted to calm him. Angela then walked to stand over Zane.

"What shall we do with you, I wonder?" She asked his unconscious body.

"Leave him!" Hagrid growled.

Angela chuckled, "We may have to, I think he's unconscious. Tom, what did you hit him with?" Looking down at him, she pointed her wand and said, "Ennervate!"

Angela looked unhappy at the young man, still completely motionless.

"Finite!"

Standing over Zane's still unconscious body, Angela looked entirely perplexed as to what else to do. Finally, she bent over him and slapped his face very hard.

Zane grunted, grabbed his jaw, and sat up looking a bit dazed. He scoped his surroundings before he spoke, "Thanks, lady!"

Angela snapped at him, "Thanks, nothing! Get out of here before I tell your father about this, oh yes! I know Shane Bates…" she responded to his look of disbelief.

Rather than question her he got up and walked in the same direction Follis and Dylan had run. Angela and Tom both watched him disappear down Diagon Alley. Hagrid came up beside them and apologized for the attack.

"Ridiculous!" Angela cried. "You're not responsible, Hagrid."

Hagrid blushed and mumbled, "They always pick on me." And his puppy began to growl prompting him to begin fussing over it again.

"Not anymore!" Tom said defiantly.

"Not tonight anyways," Angela said. "Tom, call your snake out of the bushes and let's go, hmmm."

Tom blushed.

"And his box is destroyed," she added holding out her small velvet bag. "So hide him in this and tell him he can't have my cheering chocolates."

Before Tom even reached the dark bushes that fronted the alley between the two closed stores Salazar came out. He looked at Tom and hissed, "You should have let me out. I could have protected you."

Tom shrugged and opened the bag, "Sorry!" Then crouching down he held the bag open for Salazar, "I didn't want anyone in the street to see you. I'd be in real trouble and you'd be in a cage… or worse!"

"Yesss!" Salazar hissed. "But I promised Brutus I'd protect you."

"Well, protect us both and hide!" Tom hissed.

Salazar slunk into the bag without further protest.

Angela, who was standing behind Tom said, "And if you see anything else alive in there, eat it!"

"Oh, yesss!" Salazar hissed.

Tom chuckled.

"What?" Angela asked.

Tom said, "Oh, yesssss –"

Tom stood up and holding the bag a bit gingerly and scared tried to hand it to Angela.

"You hold it!" Angela said, picking up Tom's broomstick. "A Silver Arrow…" She rolled her eyes at Tom, "I should've known."A muffled hiss called, "Chocolate!"

Tom held the bag to his face, "No!" he yelled.

Angela looked at him weird and he said, "Chocolate."

Prompting her to shriek, "No! No! No!"

Hagrid asked, "No chocolate?" Then with a look of recognition he wondered aloud, "Is Florence's even open?"

Angela looked at Hagrid. Then realizing that he was unaware of the large snake Tom was carrying said, "Well, if it is, we're not eating chocolate."

Hagrid offered, "Peanut butter and strawberry makes a good sundae."

"Peanut butter and strawberry it is," she smiled.

The muffled snake hiss came again, "Peanuts aren't nuts, they are legumes."

Tom shook his head at the comment only he could hear.

"Yes Tom?" Angela prompted.

Tom looked pointedly at the dark velvet bag and said, "Peanuts aren't nuts, they're legumes."

"Wow," Hagrid replied. "You're really smart, Tom."

"Thank-you," hissed Salazar's soft voice. "Tomatoes are fruits not vegetables, you know."

Tom repeated his words to Hagrid. Then as they continued to walk down Diagon Alley, he gave them a whole string of useless facts that Salazar knew and found interesting. For example: a goldfish has a three second memory span, dogs can barely vocalize ten different sounds, however cats over twice that.

Tom slipped up on zebras have striped skin not just striped fur. When Hagrid asked how he knew, Tom responded Salazar's words of: used to hunt them, without thinking; he caught himself and ended it – in a book of wild animals. Angela smirked at him but Tom just brushed it off by saying, "An ostrich's eye is bigger than it's brain."

"Did you hunt them, too?" Angela asked in a hush tone that made Hagrid ask her to repeat herself.

"Nothing, Hagrid," she said.

Hagrid was not paying attention, though he was peering down the street, "Looks like Fortescue has closed already." He sullenly informed them.

"Not to worry," said Angela. "I'm sure Tom can make us all a nice dessert once we are settled." She assured him, as she reached for the door to the Leaky Cauldron.

Exposing the small backroom to Diagon Alley, Angela led the way followed by Tom then Hagrid. Coming into the main room of the Leaky Cauldron Angela strode right to the bar and asked Tom, the barkeep, for the room keys. Tom came around the bar and nodded to both Tom and Hagrid as he held up a ring of keys.

"Come on," he said, turning and leading them up a set of wooden steps and down a hallway.

"Had a few packages delivered for you both Angela. I took the liberty of having them put in your rooms. Well, with yours; I couldn't really keep it elsewhere." Tom said looking at Angela.

"I'm sure it's fine Tom." Angela dismissed.

Then the innkeeper stopped at door number eleven and opened it, "The young Sir Tom's room." He said allowing Tom to see his packages in the corner; a box from Madam Malkin's Robes, a box from Flourish and Blotts Bookstore, and his carton of potion ingredients.

Angela handed Tom his broomstick and shook her head in approval, "Hagrid, you're right! That owl is beautiful."

Tom gave a start, he had forgotten all about Andromeda. There she was perched on the windowsill.

"Huh?" Barkeep Tom grunted. "I don't remember any owl." He looked at young Tom and began, "Didn't you ask to borrow an –"

"Andromeda!" Tom yelled in a cheery welcome covering the innkeeper's next words. "You made it!"

The older Tom looked at Angela and shrugged, "Kids, eh?"

"Hagrid," Tom turned pointing at a door across the hall. "You're here in ten directly across the hall. Mind you keep the dog from chewing anything." He stated.

Tom Riddle stepped into his room as he heard the door of room ten open and Hagrid thank the man. Angela leaned into Tom's room and said, "Get your friend settled and let's have a snack before bed, huh?"

"Yes, Angela," Tom called over his shoulder.

Angela shut the door and Tom heard the other Tom lead her down the hall.

"Angela, you are…" the innkeeper's voice trailed off as he and Angela walked down the hall.

Tom put his broom on the pile of packages and then opened the black velvet, bag of holding. Looking inside it, all he saw was a big black hole. Tom did not want to turn it over and just empty it out onto the floor, as he feared this might hurt Salazar.

Tom hissed and spit, "Salazar, where are you?"

The serpent's voice came back, "In this ridiculous bag with a box of chocolate, a trunk that smells like you, a wardrobe of women's clothes now out of fashion, a few odd shoes, what looks like a slightly used handkerchief, and three door – mmunph - make that two door mice."

Tom laughed, "Anything else?"

"Well, I ate two owls and a parakeet. I think I'm going to be sick," came Salazar's hissing voice.

"Then get out here!" Tom parselmouthed.

With shocking speed Salazar's large diamond shaped head popped out of the bag. His tongue poking out at Tom, Salazar turned his head to check out the rest of the room. Slowly, the snake inched out a bit further, one large diamond at a time.

"Come on!" Tom hissed.

Salazar's body started to move quickly out of the bag spilling onto the large bed of Tom's room. All seven meters of his body was covered in green or silver diamonds, from nose to tail tip, they wrapped his whole thick body. The soft underside was as silver as the Diamonds on top. When Salazar's body moved his skin would sparkle in the light.

"Free!" The snake hissed.

"Yeah, but stay hidden until we get to school." Tom instructed. "We don't want any trouble, right?"

"Yesss," Salazar responded.

Andromeda snapped her beak and flapped her wings behind Tom. Salazar looked at the bird, flicked his tongue, "I still can't eat her, can I?" He hissed disappointedly.

Tom did not get a chance to answer as Angela's voice rang out in an ear-piercing screech, "Aaaaahhhhh!"

CHAPTER TWELVE

INSIDE THE CAULDRON

Tom ran out of the room; wrenching the door open, he jumped into the hallway with his wand at the ready. The next set of doors down the hall was only some ten meters and the one on the right stood ajar. Tom was running to it when Angela yelled again.

"Out! Out!" She shrieked.

The innkeeper came wheeling out of the open door as if he had been pushed; falling into the closed door, across the hall, he caught himself. He saw Tom coming down the hall and drew his wand from his stained apron. Coming off the door, the innkeeper's eyes locked onto Tom and he yelled, "Impedimenta!"

Tom barely moved to avoid the jinx; he was completely expecting trouble when he had exited his room. With barely a flick of his wand he yelled, "Protego!" And a clear oblong disk appeared between Tom and the innkeeper.

The innkeeper's jinx bounced from Tom's shield towards the candle bracket above the door, the man had been leaning against. As Tom continued down the hall, the innkeeper made to strike again, Tom pre-empted him, this time with a quick stunner.

"Stupefy!" Tom called out as a vermillion flash of light shot from his wand tip and exploded like a firework upon the innkeeper's chest.

The innkeeper dropped his wand as he fell back into the unopened door once again. This time after he stopped traveling backwards, he slid down the doorframe into a crumpled mass at the base of the door; completely unconscious.

"Tom!" Angela yelled.

Tom immediately spun to see her standing in the open doorway. Tom meant to ask her if she was alright, when she demanded, "What are you doing?"

"He attacked –"

She interrupted, "The seven meter snake that was creeping up behind you!"

Tom spun around again, to see that indeed Salazar was right behind him. At a loss for words, Tom, stared from his new pet to Angela, who kept speaking, "Which is big enough and has a bad enough reputation to prompt most wizards to spell first and ask questions later."

Tom began to speak, "But I –"

He was promptly cut off by Angela, pointing her wand at him and saying, "Shouldn't be letting that thing out; or running around stunning people... or doing any magic outside of school, unless it's at home with your father."

"He attacked you!" Tom shouted.

"Who?" Angela asked.

"Tom!" Tom said in anger.

"Tom? That Tom... innkeeper Tom? Attack me?" Angela questioned pointing her wand at the crumpled man on the floor. "You thought he... and so you... oh, Tom." Angela smiled. "That's so sweet, almost as sweet as buying me Gretchen." And she scrunched her whole face in an embarrassed schoolgirl smile.

Tom realized in one hand Angela had a wand and in the other she held Gretchen, the witch's rose. Angela held the rose up and inhaled deeply, "Mmm, hold on!"

She walked back into her room. Tom followed her to the doorway, to see her put Gretchen on the table. Angela turned and saw Tom, "Out! Out!" she chided.

Tom stepped back into the hallway as Angela came out and closed her door. "She's very allergic Tom, you know that!"

As Angela looked down at the still unconscious innkeeper she clicked her tongue, "First off, thank-you for coming to my, what you thought rescue, Tom and serpent." She nodded to them both.

Salazar hissed, "He never stood a chance!"

Angela kept speaking unaware of Salazar's comment, "I'm very appreciative, none-the-less," she paused to crouch over the innkeeper, "Before we awaken Tom, I think the snake should go back into your room."

"Typical!" hissed Salazar. "Save a damsel in distress and once the threat is gone, she's got to be in charge again... women!"

Tom tried not to laugh, but failed.

"What's he saying?" Angela asked accusatorily. "Is he making fun of me?"

"Not you per-se," Salazar hissed.

"Not you per-se," Tom echoed.

"Per-se?" she repeated.

"Bye now!" Salazar called, then slithered away.

"I'll be back in a moment, Salazar." Tom responded.

Angela looked at Tom as if appraising him; eventually she looked away. With a quick glance to make sure Salazar was gone, she pointed her wand at the stunned innkeeper, "Ennervate!"

Innkeeper Tom lay on the floor as motionless as before Angela had tried reviving him. With a stern look of determination, Angela tried to revive innkeeper Tom again, "Ennervate!"

The man lay unchanged on the floor, in frustration Angela looked from him to young Tom Riddle, "Well! Once again, Tom, you've really put the whammy on someone. Are all your spells this strong?"

Tom stammered, he had not been worried about reviving the man, so much as explaining his actions to the man once he awoke.

"It's the new wand." Angela offered, "It's got a whole lot more kick to it then that old thing my mom used. You do need to learn a bit of control though."

As Tom's mind followed this path, he recalled the gas lamp, the way Zane had been unconscious and now Tom, the innkeeper. "Yes, Angela!" Tom said thoughtfully.

Angela stood upright and in exasperation shook her head, "Will you sort Tom out, please!" Then looking around she tentatively added, "Before someone comes along."

Tom pointed his wand at the motionless man, "Ennervate!"

No sooner had he spoke the words then the innkeeper jumped up pushing Tom aside as he snatched his wand from the floor. The Innkeeper scanned the hallway and tried to herd Angela and Tom behind him.

Angela spoke in a very concerned voice, "Tom? Are you feeling alright?"

"Snake..." Innkeeper Tom muttered, "There was a huge snake."

Young Tom looked at the man and assured him, "There is nothing to be afraid of Sir."

"Snake... attacked," was all the innkeeper said.

Angela spoke softly, "Tom... there is no snake. I'm sorry I pushed you so hard, I got a bit carried away."

Wide eyed, the man spun on Angela, "I saw a huge snake, it was going to attack this boy," He pointed at Tom. "And... you..." He focused on Tom, "You attacked me!" He accused.

Angela laughed loudly, "Tom! Attack you!" Then she scoffed, "My word, you did bump your head! Maybe you should sit down."

The innkeeper stood fast looking more certain with each passing moment, "You attacked me! To defend that thing!" His eyes flashed with the intensity of anger, "Out! I want you both out of my inn, now!"

Tom was very scared now; he knew he was going to be in trouble for this. He had indeed attacked this man to defend an illegal snake, his pet, Salazar. He began to speak in his own defense, to offer some explanation, "But –"

"Obliviate!" Angela held her wand in the man's face.

Innkeeper Tom's eyes glazed and his jaw went slack as he blinked stupidly. Young Tom could see the obvious effects of the strong memory erasing charm Angela had used on the man. Unsure of how to react, Tom watched her and waited on her next action.

Angela spoke firmly, "Well! That settles that!"

Footsteps coming up the stairs drew all their attention, even the blank faced innkeeper's.

The bar waitress' face came into view, "Is everything O.K.?"

"Yes!" Angela said.

The innkeeper's eyes began to come back into focus and he looked at Angela, who promptly said to him, "The rooms are perfect; just as I expected."

A still dazed innkeeper Tom replied, "I'm glad you like them." Then he began to walk towards the staircase, in a slow and leaden way.

The waitress eyed him funny, but before she could really get a good look, Angela caught her attention, "Could you bring me some water, please?"

The waitress did a double take on Angela, but it was the now coherent innkeeper Tom, who said, "She'll be right back with it." Together, waitress and innkeeper went down the stairs.

Tom and Angela shared a meaningful look in silence, his mind was racing with a multitude of questions. The overriding factor in it all was that he had an enormous feeling of guilt for attacking innkeeper Tom, when he had been trying to save Tom from a dangerous snake. Angela, in keeping with her usual insight, spoke as if she read his mind.

"You didn't know that, Tom. You believed he was trying to hurt me." She assured him. "Come on in," then she opened her door and saw Gretchen. Quickly she said, "Better yet, your room!" And she closed her door.

Tom led her into his room, where the day's packages still sat next to the dresser and Andromeda, the owl, sat in front of the large mirror gazing at her own reflection. Salazar was nowhere to be seen. Angela closed the door as she entered behind Tom.

"You can't blame yourself, Tom, you did what you thought was right. Honestly, I'll sleep a lot better knowing you and your seven meter friend will come running at my call." Angela said, as she seated herself on Tom's bed.

From under the bed Salazar hissed, "It's more an ear splitting shriek than a call."

Tom sort of smiled at this, but did not repeat it. He spoke his own thoughts, "Even so, I did really hurt him."

"No, you didn't." Angela replied.

"And you with the memory charm..."

She looked at Tom with raised eyebrows, "Tom, what was the alternative, leave the Leaky Cauldron and go to... where?" She paused and gave Tom a questioning look. "Of course! He'd notify ministry officials and tell them... what?" She paused again with the same look. "Well, let's see what would he tell them." Again Angela paused.

Tom's mind flashed the whole story quickly, in a mockery of the innkeeper's voice Angela spoke, "The woman screamed in joy at the surprise gift of the witch's rose." Then in her voice, "Thank-you, by the way... you shouldn't have, but I love it!"

"You are welcome," Tom said.

In Tom's mock voice, she went on with the innkeeper's story; "She pushed me into the hallway to prevent an allergic reaction, from the rose and I coming too close. Out runs the boy with wand in hand, immediately behind him, I see a monstrous –"

Salazar hissed, "Not necessarily monstrous, but beautiful!" Angela did not hear this though and she kept on.

"– Seven meter Slytherin serpent. In an effort to save the boy, I attack the snake. The boy then protects the monster –"

"What monster?" Salazar interjects. Again Angela does not hear him and keeps talking.

"– By stunning me!" Angela again pauses, taking in a deep breath. Then holding up her index finger says, "You're in trouble for using magic." Holding up the next finger, "Brutus is in trouble for giving you the snake." Then with a huff of a laugh, "Mind you, I intend to have words with him about it anyways." Then regaining her composure, "Meanwhile, we're at your manor when the aurors come to confiscate your wand and new pet. I wonder what you would say in your own defense." She paused and looked deep in thought.

"I know!" Angela offered, "You could tell them to go away, as your adoptive father and great, great, great et cetera of a grandfather; who is none other than the great Salazar Slytherin trapped in a portrait; told you that you could use magic. Of course, you and I are the only ones who know that you released him from the worst part of this curse by destroying two squibs and a muggle in front of the portrait and then claimed the home as your own."

Pausing again, Angela looked at Tom very seriously, "That puts you out of school, most likely in Azkaban; Brutus and Desiree in serious jeopardy of joining you, but definitely out of a pet store; myself, in an inquiry for the role I played; Wendy, well who knows what would become of her, being that she's still in the manor and is planning on staying; of course, your father's portrait will be removed and brought to the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries, where you and he will never speak again... he'd probably never speak to anyone again."

Standing up quickly Angela said firmly, "I think the memory charm was the perfect course of action." And she made for the door.

Tom sat on his bed speechless. To hear it all laid out like that, so plain, so factual was disarming. He knew he could make no arguments. In the silence, as Angela opened the door, Salazar's hiss came from beneath the bed, "Well, at least she's right about that! Monster? Great goony, woman!"

Standing at the door, Angela asked, "Now, would you like a snack or are you ready to turn in, Tom. We leave for King's Cross early in the morning. It's probably best to pack now; if you need me I'll be next door; if I need you, I'll scream." She smiled at Tom then stepped through the door.

Tom watched the door close and when the latch clicked he fell backwards onto the soft bed with a loud sigh. His mind was racing at what Angela had just said to him. It was all true. In the past few days Tom had done and seen more than enough to put himself and a few others into serious trouble. On the flip side, he had also learned more and grown more then he had in all his life combined. He felt Salazar coming up onto the bed and heard the snake's voice.

"You know, she is right Tom." He hissed. "We – you, Brutus, Desiree and myself too would all be in trouble if people found out about how Brutus let you keep me."

"You're right," Tom conceded.

"Besides," Salazar added, "Brutus always said only the weak follow the rules, because only the weak benefit from their protection."

Tom did not say anything to that, as he was reminded of his friend from school, Abraxas Malfoy, by those words. Abraxas Malfoy who always laughed at Tom and his silly rules. Abraxas was always telling Tom that Slytherins were above the rules, just before he told Tom of some new scheme to get back at the Gryffindors; who, Abraxas always pointed out, had broken the rules first. Tom was not sure if Slytherins were above the rules, but he had to admit he had broken a whole bunch recently and at every instance it seemed the right thing to do.

Salazar came to put his head on Tom's chest, "I always felt Brutus was one of the smartest humans I ever met, Tom. I also don't think you need too much protection... but I'm here just in case."

Tom smiled at the serpent and patted his large diamond shaped head, "Thanks, Salazar."

After rubbing Salazar's head for a moment, Tom sat up and looked at his packages that sat on the floor. He knew he had to pack like Angela had suggested. His school trunk was still in the black velvet bag of holding and as he looked about for it he realized he was sitting on it. Pulling it out from underneath himself, he stood up and sighed again.

"How will I fit all this stuff in my trunk and leave room for you, Salazar?" He asked rhetorically.

Tom opened the bag and stuck his finger in it, feeling for his trunk, catching his finger on the handle he gave a quick tug and out of the tiny change purse slid his whole school trunk. The chest of drawers shook a bit when the heavy trunk hit the floor, causing Andromeda to hoot and flap her wings.

"Ahh, I've no cage for you either... how am I going to bring you with me?" He asked the owl futilely.

Salazar hissed in excitement, "She could travel in me!"

The owl snapped her beak then spread her wings and flew to Tom, rested onto his shoulder and began hooting softly. Tom looked at her and spoke plainly, "Well, Hagrid says you're one of the best birds; will you stay on my shoulder?

Andromeda just hooted.

"My offer still stands," Salazar hissed.

Tom did not even respond to this comment, he just opened his trunk and stared at its interior space in thought. It was already so close to being full, he could not see how he could fit all his new supplies; let alone a seven meter snake as well. He pulled out all his old school uniforms and left them on the floor, then his old broomstick went next to them.

"I'll never use those again." He said to himself.

After a few packing and repacking attempts with the advice of Salazar, Tom had managed to fit everything in and leave enough space for Salazar to hide inside the trunk. Strewn about the floor were robes, a broom, books from previous years, all of Tom's History of Magic notes that he had ever taken, and his chocolate frog card collection and still it was a tight fit Salazar said.

Tom bent over to flip the lid shut and lock it when from inside the trunk Salazar hissed, "It'll be a hard squeeze, but I think I can fit Andromeda too!"

Andromeda flapped her wings hitting Tom in the face with one, as she was still perched on his shoulder. In fact, she had only moved to maintain her balance when Tom bent over, even then though she stayed on his shoulder.

"It's O.K. Andromeda," Tom said. "You're riding with me."

The owl calmed down at Tom's words and began hooting softly in his ear. Tom looked down at the trunk that was now packed and shut properly. He frowned; he was unhappy about putting Salazar in the trunk for the duration of his trip back to school. There seemed to be no other way to hide the snake safely for the long train ride, at least no way that Tom thought of.

"Salazar, the train ride is an all day affair; will you be able to stay in there that long?" Tom asked.

"All day!" Salazar exclaimed in his hiss. "In that case, you better give me that owl."

Andromeda started flapping her wings and snapping her beak again. Tom reached up to pat and soothe her. "Maybe a few feeder mice or rats instead."

"Feeder mice give me gas," Salazar hissed. "How about a muggle?"

"Salazar!" Tom hissed.

"Kidding, kidding, just playing," the snake said. "Besides, muggles have a bad after taste, now a good house elf –"

"Be quiet," Tom sighed, as he leaned over to unlock the trunk and lift the lid.

Salazar looked up at him and came out of the box quickly, "Seriously, Tom, I won't need to eat for a few days. So, Andromeda has until then."

Tom looked at him with one raised eyebrow and one squinted eye.

"O.K., a week!"

Tom's eyebrow went higher, the other eye squintier and his head pointed down a bit.

"Oh alright, I won't eat the stupid owl," he conceded. "But no feeder mice!"

"Deal!" Tom said, as he sat down on the bed.

Looking around his room, he began to wonder what he would do with all the stuff he was not going to keep. The old broom would go back to Angela, the old robes were trash, the chocolate frog collection was a bit of a problem; while not huge, it was decent in size and had taken four years to amass. Perhaps Hagrid was also a collector Tom thought as he put them on his chest of drawers.

The History of Magic notes were trash, all of them instantly committed to memory the moment Tom saw them. Which Tom had a sneaking suspicion was the reason why he was developing a slight throb in his temples; his father had warned him not to overexert his newfound mental capacity. Tom closed his eyes and laid back on the bed as Andromeda shuffled from his shoulder to his chest.

"Hmmm," Tom grunted in amusement at the bird.

Then a sharp knocking on his door made Tom's eyes pop open. A blinding light shone directly into them, making him shut them again and raise his hand to shield them. He sat up and Andromeda ran up his chest to perch on his shoulder.

"Tom?" came a woman's voice from beyond the closed door. "Tom, are you awake?"

Tom walked towards the door and pulled it open as the voice called him again. "Tom, get –"

Sarah blanched at Tom and Andromeda now standing before her. In a much softer and meeker voice she finished, "Ready to go." Then looking beyond Tom she gasped, "You're not even packed!"

Tom turned aside to look at the stuff littering his room. The old broom, robes, notes and cards were not coming with him. "It's all trash, except for the old Whisker." Pointing at him, he clarified, "It's Angela's broom." Looking back at Sarah, whose face usually smiling, now looked fretful, "Why do you ask, Sarah?"

Looking completely distraught, Sarah responded, "It's almost time to go, Tom. Ernie is eating breakfast and the innkeeper, Tom, told us you and Angela had not yet come down. I'm just checking on you." Sarah's face was wrought with concern and her voice wavered, "Are you almost ready?"

Tom thought Sarah had gone crazy or something; he spoke very calmly in an effort to comfort her, "Sarah, please relax. The Hogwarts Express doesn't leave until tomorrow morning."

Now Sarah looked as if Tom was crazy, "Tom... it leaves in a few hours.

"No it's –"

Sarah strode across the room, yanked open the curtains and sure enough the sun was up. Tom immediately knew what the blinding light had been, as he saw the sun shining down onto Diagon Alley.

"I just laid down a –"

"Hurry, Tom!" Sarah cut him off.

"Give me a moment, please!" Tom said in confusion as he sat back on the bed.

"Hurry, I'll get Angela," Sarah said as she left the room.

Tom knew he had just laid down, he did not even feel as though he had slept. His eyes had barely closed, there was no way he could of slept for hours. A gentle throb in his temple and a glance at his History of Magic notes and Tom put the pieces together. Standing up, he smirked at the owl on his shoulder and whispered, "I'll need to be more careful; won't I Andromeda."

The owl hooted in response.

Footsteps that stopped at Tom's door caught his attention. Tom looked around to the open door and saw Hagrid. He was dressed in his school robes and looked eager to be on his way.

"Need some help, Tom?" Hagrid asked looking in on the mess.

"No, this is all pretty much junk, except the old broom –"

"All those chocolate frog cards!" Hagrid exclaimed.

Tom did not really want to part with those, now that he thought of it. It had taken him four years to get all those cards. There was no room for them though; it was the cards or Salazar.

"Yes," Tom conceded, "The cards, too."

Hagrid looked stricken at that piece of information and as his eyes came up to Tom's, Tom asked, "Would you like them?"

"Really!" Hagrid smiled.

"Really," Tom nodded, "Just take good care of them."

"Oh, I will Tom, I will." Hagrid said excitedly, after he picked them up he continued, "We need ter leave soon, the Knight Bus' driver said ter tell yeh it's time ter go."

"O.K., I'll be down in a minute." Tom assured Hagrid.

Hagrid turned to leave and when he got to the door he called over his shoulder, "Thanks Tom!"

Tom did not say anything, but he shook his head at the disappearing Hagrid. Closing the door he turned back to face his trunk and the pile of stuff he did not want. He was all set to go, except for Salazar. Looking around he did not see the snake.

"Salazar!" He hissed.

"In the trunk," came Salazar's muffled hiss.

"Are you ready?" Tom asked.

"I'm in the trunk," came Salazar's muffled sarcasm.

Tom shook his head and sighed at the trunk. As Tom bent over to secure the latch, he heard Sarah call him from outside his closed door.

"Come in!" He responded.

Sarah opened the door and poked her head into the room, "Tom, will you give me a hand?"

Tom was perplexed, "What's wrong?" He asked as he stood up.

"Nothing serious," Sarah stated casually, "Just, I need your help waking Angela."

That did not make any sense to Tom at all. Then he walked into Angela's room and saw her, still in her brand new honey colored robes. She was sitting on a stool leaning on a table; on the table was Gretchen. Angela's eyes were half closed but only whites showed. Her lips were pulled back in a soft grin that gave her the look of being under a spell. It quickly registered to Tom that she was enchanted by the bright red rose, Gretchen.

"Closer Tom," Sarah instructed.

"But Gretchen will sneeze," Tom retorted.

As the words left his mouth, Tom vividly recalled the old wizard, Demetrius at the apothecary breaking the witch's rose spell on his wife by making the flower sneeze. This thought hastened Tom's step and he strode right up to Angela and touched her shoulder.

"Achoo!" Gretchen sneezed. With a brisk shiver she began to sneeze repeatedly at Tom.

"Angela –" Tom called softly as he touched her shoulder.

Angela jerked in surprise falling sideways off the stool and hitting the floor with a loud thud. The rose meanwhile was sneezing even harder in Tom's continued close proximity. Angela looked up at Tom and repeatedly blinked, her eyes trying to focus on Tom. As her eyesight seemed to return she blinked one last time and straightened up.

The witch's rose gave an exceptionally strong sneeze. A bright red petal shook loose and floated downwards in slow motion. Angela caught sight of the free falling petal and jumped with a shout.

"Tom!"

Hands came from behind Tom and pulled him away from the precious flower. Sarah's voice came in his ear, "She's fine! Now, step back, Tom."

Tom willingly gave ground to the flower's need for space. He stopped only once Gretchen's violent reaction to his presence subsided. Standing in the open doorway he watched Angela straighten her robes. Angela looked rather irate and her voice carried the sentiment.

"Tom! I –" Angela paused as she noticed Sarah. "Sarah, what brings you here so early?"

"It's time to go, Angela." Sarah offered politely.

"Oh, my! I must've drifted off, Gretchen is –"

"No doubt marvelous," Sarah cut-in, "But really I'll find out later. Right now, Ernie awaits us."

Angela looked at Tom, "Are you ready?"

"Yes, Angela," Tom nodded. "Only your broom is unpacked."

"Excellent!" she nodded. "Sarah, please tell my cousin, we shall depart shortly."

Sarah turned and walked out of the room without saying a word to either of them.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

TO KING'S CROSS

Tom stood just inside the doorway of his hotel room looking at the mess of robes and parchment that littered the floor. The open window had let in a breeze to keep the room cool, but the breeze had also destroyed any semblance of order to the stack of old 'History of Magic' notes. Pieces of parchment containing vital information on the goblin riots of the eighteenth century were in the far corner, while the truth about The Ministry of Magic's inception was hiding beneath his bed, The Witch Persecutions of the thirteen hundreds were pressed to the side of his school trunk.

Completely unenthused about picking up the mess, Tom let out a long sigh. He looked at Andromeda, who was perched on his third year syllabus, which lay on the bed. As the owl's eyes and Tom's met she hooted dolefully and spread her wings, with a quick couple of flaps she landed on Tom's shoulder.

"This could take forever," he whined at the owl.

Then the sound of Sarah's voice came from downstairs, Tom could not make out the words exactly, but he had heard one word: late; along with the sentiment of irritation and he knew he had to do something quick. A quick snap of his wrist revealed his new wand from his robes' sleeve and it fell deftly into his hand. Pointing his wand at the parchment with the goblin riots information he called out, "Evanesco!"

The pages vanished into thin air. Andromeda hooted and flapped her wings in excitement. Tom looked at the owl on his shoulder and grinned, "That's better, huh?"

Without waiting for a response, he pointed his wand at The Witch Persecution papers, in a bright flash they disappeared. Next, he cleaned the bed of its parchment, followed by one under the bed and finally the last vestiges of the once neat pile. Each pile vanished with a flash at his command, "Evanesco!"

With all his papers gone he turned his attention towards the robes. After vanishing the one that lay at his feet, he heard Sarah's voice at his room door.

"Tom, are you ready to go? Ernie is waiting out –" She stopped mid-word as Tom vanished an old pair of particularly uncomfortable socks.

"Tom!" she demanded. "Did you just vanish that? You can't use magic outside of school; there are laws that prohibit –"

"Silencio!" Angela commanded from behind Sarah. Stepping past Sarah to stand in the open doorway she spoke to Sarah, "I've too big a headache to listen to some stupid law that no one cares about."

Sarah's mouth continued to work furiously, her face turning red in anger. It seemed obvious to Tom that if she could have made a sound, she would have yelled.

Angela observed her calmly, "Easy Sarah, your face is beginning to match your robes. Which, I might add, are a lovely rose red... just like Gretchen."

Angela held up the rose in Sarah's face, but Sarah pulled her head back and continued to yell soundlessly. Tom looked at the rose, he remembered it being a full bloom rose, yet now it looked a tight bud. Angela looked at Tom and caught him investigating the flower. She must have misread the expression on his face as she spoke to him sarcastically.

"Oh, I'm sorry! Did you care to listen Tom, as if you were ignorant of the underage restrictions and would heed them; if you only knew of their existence."

"No," Tom said indifferently. He turned and vanished his last set of robes thoughtlessly, "But eventually she'll be able to speak again. At which point, she'll also yell about how you attacked her."

"Tom, did you just vanish that without saying the spell?" Angela asked.

Even Sarah, who had been fiddling with her own wand as if to remove the silencing spell, stopped and stared at Tom. Tom looked at Angela, pausing in thought before responding.

"Yes, I suppose I did," he shrugged.

"Impressive," Angela said, while Sarah nodded and began to attempt speech in vain again.

"Yes! I suppose it is Sarah. Unfortunately for you though, you'll never remember it." With a snap of his wand in Sarah's direction.

Sarah's voice exploded from her, "– Remember, attack me –"

"Obliviate!"

Sarah's voice stopped and she dropped her wand as she stumbled a step back into the wall. Her eyes were half closed and her face relaxed as she stared into space completely dazed by the force of Tom's memory charm.

"Good work, Tom," Angela approved.

"No choice really, just like innkeeper Tom." He replied.

"I suppose you're right." Angela nodded as she bent over to pick up Sarah's wand.

The sound of approaching footsteps came from the stairs. Angela quickly spun to greet the newcomer, "Good morning, Tom, please stay back." She said to the middle-age innkeeper. Then she held up the bright red witch's rose.

"Ah yes! The precious Gretchen," Tom said from a distance, "I thought I heard shouting, is everything O.K. up here?"

"Quite!" Angela responded immediately. "We're just coming down actually. In fact, it would be great if you would help us by grabbing Tom's school trunk for us."

"Of course!" innkeeper Tom bowed. He entered Tom's room with his wand at the ready, "Locomotor trunks!"

Tom's school trunk elevated off the floor and floated out of the room with a prompt of the man's wand. Angela watched as the innkeeper took them down the steps.

Angela looked at Tom and asked, "Is that my broom?"

"Yes and your bag of holding." Tom tried handing her the velvet bag, which had been on his bed.

Angela took a step back and spoke to Tom in a hushed tone, "Haven't you scared Gretchen enough today? As it is I doubt she'll open her bloom for hours, mind you; it's her only protection from wizards." She caught the look of shame that flashed on Tom's face, "It's O.K., I understand; but try something more subtle next time." Then she gave a weak smile.

Tom nodded.

"Good, now put my broom in the bag and I'll get them later. I trust everything is still in it."

Tom shook his head, "No, you are two owls, a parakeet and a door mouse lighter." Tom chuckled. "Salazar thought he was going to be sick after the mouse."

Angela shrugged, "Well, thank Salazar for me, I hope this means I can quit feeding them now, though I had thought that there was three mice.

Tom looked quizzically at Angela, though she gave no indication that she saw his look. Angela turned to Sarah, who was blinking furiously, "I'm sorry did you bump your head, Sarah?" Angela asked in a sweet voice.

Sarah stopped blinking and tried to focus on Angela, "Mm, guess so," she muttered.

Angela put an arm around her shoulder, "Well, come on then. We'll sit you down with a cup of tea and see if you're O.K."

Sarah grunted as Angela led her out of the room and down the steps. Tom smiled to himself and spoke to the owl on his shoulder, "Are we ready, Andromeda?"

The owl hooted in response.

Tom walked out the open door and proceeded down the wooden steps into the main room of the Leaky Cauldron. Sitting at the bar were both Angela and Sarah, Sarah was shaking her head in protest to the teacup Angela was offering. As Tom's foot hit the floor of the main room both Ernie and the innkeeper came in from the muggle street.

Ernie wearing his purple suit with matching hat walked right up to Sarah and Angela. He took off his hat and spoke very formally, "Ladies; there is no time for tea, we must be going."

Angela put down her cup and looked at Sarah sternly, "I told you, Sarah. Ernie is always in a hurry." After a quick glance at Ernie, the Knight Bus driver, she continued, "I'm sorry, Ernie. I tried to explain but she insisted." Angela stood up and said, "Let's go!" then walked towards the muggle exit.

Ernie pursed his lips and flashed Sarah a strong look of displeasure that prompted a quick apology and a quicker exit to the street beyond. Ernie looked at Tom and smiled wide.

"Good morning, Sir," Ernie said. "Your trunk is ready and the Knight Bus awaits only you."

"Good morning, Ernie," Tom responded. "I am ready to leave." With a nod to the innkeeper he said, "Thank-you, Tom, I had a marvelous stay."

"Anytime," Tom answered.

Ernie walked to the muggle exit of the Leaky Cauldron and held it open for Tom. In the street Tom could see the large purple bus with gold writing across the windows. Beyond the bus the streets of downtown London bustled with the morning activity of muggles.

Tom walked out the door and saw such a peculiar sight that he stopped walking. He stared in awe as a muggle woman and her child walked into the side of the Knight Bus in an attempt to cross the street. Only they did not touch the bus, the Woman's body contorted and stretched as if she were made of elastic and her boy followed. Her legs stretched in a bow from her ankles all the way around the back of the bus and her mid-riff pulled back over the top of the bus leaving her head perched on the top. The young boy's body stretched sideways at his knees to the bus' rear bumper. The whole scene looked like a television tuned to a bad signal, where the picture is all wavy.

Tom winced and Ernie breathed, "And they don't even notice."

Tom shook his head in disbelief, "Can't they see it?"

"No," Ernie sighed, "you need to be a wizard for some reason... which I also can't discern. No muggle can see the bus; I suppose the powerful magic on it makes it invisible to non-magics."

Ernie led the way onto the bus and sat down in his large black leather armchair, behind the steering wheel. Tom followed him up the steps and saw the familiar assortment of chairs in total disarray. The corduroy chair he had used both previous times was vacant as was the plaid chair Sarah had used. Making his way to the chair he heard giggling.

"Tom, you look like a pirate." Sarah chided.

She stood in the rear of the bus, beside the stairwell leading to the upper decks. She was pouring tea for an extremely old witch sitting on an inflatable armchair, complete with a blow-up ottoman. Next to the old witch was another witch also quite old, but not nearly as old as the first. The second witch sat on an old upholstered loveseat. Both old women held teacups, which Sarah was filling with hot tea.

Angela was seated next to Sarah's plaid chair in the same straight back wooden chair with high arms. She smiled and held up her own cup of tea when Tom made eye contact.

"Complimentary tea, with every fare," she informed Tom. In a louder voice she added, "Great idea, Ernie! I like it!"

Ernie closed the bus door, "It was Sarah's idea actually and it seems everyone likes it. I carry more riders every day since I started." Ernie smiled at Angela through his rear view mirror.

Tom spoke up, "So, how much is a fare?" as he grabbed his moneybag at his waist.

"Paid!" Ernie responded. "You and your friend both, King's Cross."

Tom nodded, "Where is Hagrid?"

Ernie chuckled, "He ran right up to the top and sat down in the front, said he wanted the best view."

Sarah called out from the back, "Tom, would you like a cup of –"

BANG!

The whole bus jumped and shook. It sounded of a hundred guns ringing out. Tom's chair tilted back almost to the point of tipping over. Angela's wooden chair made a loud scraping noise as it slid across the floor. One of the witches behind Tom screamed as her tea splashed everywhere.

"Ernie!" Sarah yelled.

But Ernie was staring out the window in wonder. He mouthed the word, "Kent?" in question.

Ernie stood up and walked to the door of the bus. He hesitantly pushed it open and began his usual welcome speech that Tom had almost heard twice. Tom was not going to hear this time either, as the moment Ernie got past "Hello" Sarah was speaking to him.

"Tea?" she asked.

"No," Tom said.

"Good, it only spills everywhere each time we jump." She informed him.

Sarah made to sit in her plaid chair, picking up a book that had lain on its cushion. Tom had not noticed it before, but in her hands he recognized it at once. Sarah caught Tom eyeing the book and held it so Tom could get a full view of the cover.

"Yes, Wendy loaned it to me," she began. "Wendy told me that you would have extensive knowledge of it and loved discussing it and all its partner books."

Tom looked at the old worn leather cover on the book. The gold lettering mostly gone and its thick pages now a sickly yellow gave it the appearance of being ancient and Tom knew it was. It was the first book of the series "The Persecution of Magics: The Rise of The Noble Cause of Salazar Slytherin" just the sight of it made Tom's heart jump. Tom pressed his lips together and looked Sarah in the eyes.

"They are my favorite books; I've read the whole series. I know them all by heart. They are also very rare, in fact that is the only copy I know of... so please, do not let anything happen to it."

Sarah blushed, "Wow! Wendy told me a lot of..." She paused and looked squarely at Tom, "Unique stuff about these books, but not that. Maybe she shouldn't have let me borrow it, I'm sorry." She tried to hand the book to Tom.

Tom shook his head quickly, "No! Please read it, I would never deny someone this knowledge; just take special care of it.

"Of course, Tom!" Sarah assured him. "Can I ask you some questions?"

"Sure!" said Tom eagerly.

Sarah leaned forward in her chair and looked at Tom very seriously, "Tom, do you believe this is a true account of Salazar Slytherin's life or do you think it has been a bit embellished?"

Tom thought that a silly question, "Huh?" He thought out loud. "It's all true; every word of it. Written in his own hand."

Sarah nodded and frowned simultaneously, "It just seems so... barbaric. The muggles are–"

"Killing all the wizards!" Tom interrupted. He kept on going in Sarah's silence, "Out of fear! They are scared, so they destroy what it is that they fear."

Sarah looked at him rather painfully, "In my country just two hundred years ago, a similar thing occurred; though in truth it is still not safe for us; it truly drove us to the brink of extinction. We have never recovered from it. Honestly, it seems so..." She struggled, "Weird? That it should happen so similar in places so far apart."

"Muggles are the same the world over, Sarah. My father says they have not changed in a thousand years; they still hate and fear now, just as they did then. Unfortunately, he predicts the next thousand will not change them either." He looked at Sarah, in an attempt to show sympathy, "They fear us and our obvious superiority."

Sarah opened her mouth to speak, but Tom never heard the words, as Ernie's voice drowned them out.

Ernie talked loud and cheerfully, "Please, take a seat Mister Merrick."

A short, fat wizard with a limp so bad he required a walking staff ambled down the center aisle of the bus. His hazel eyes darted about looking for an open chair in the front row where Tom and Sarah sat, but he settled for a lime green pappason under a window. As the man eased himself into the large disk of the chair, Ernie sat in his driving chair.

"Next stop, Greenbriar!"

BANG!

Tom fell over his armrest and caught himself with his hands before he toppled out of his chair. The view out the windows was a desert of sand dunes and tumbleweed. Tom sat upright and stared at the passing scenery in confusion. He had never seen real desert before and he wondered if the whole desert looked like this.

BANG!

Tom's chair flipped backwards and his footrest came out. Laying in a totally reclined position he heard the witches behind him swear about spilled tea and ruined robes. Outside the window was a muggle freeway full of bumper-to-bumper traffic, yet the Knight Bus kept on rolling at its own pace. All around the outside world just bent and twisted itself around the tiny vortex of invulnerability that was the Knight Bus.

"Ugh! I hate traffic!" Sarah confided to Tom. She looked past Tom to the wizard on the pappason, "Tea, Sir?"

"No, no, thank-you." He said half-heartedly, all the while gazing out the window.

BANG!

A brilliant blaze of white surrounded the bus. In all directions was a pristine whiteness that sparkled and blinded Tom with reflected sunlight.

"It's true!" Ernie cried.

The whole bus leaned to the left, Tom's chair even slid a bit, as the bus made a sharp right turn. Tom's eyes were squinted to help block the bright light that emanated from all directions. He slowly came to realize that it was snow. The Knight Bus was in a field of snow so large Tom saw no boundaries in any direction.

"Look!" Ernie yelled. "Just like all the pictures!"

Tom followed Ernie's pointing hand and saw a huge pole painted in a red and white spiral, just like a candy cane. At the top of the pole was a large shiny gold ball, that sparkled even more then the pure white snow. The bus continued its tight turn around the pole, so everyone aboard could see the wonderful sight.

"The North Pole!" Sarah screamed.

"Amazing!" A witch behind Tom breathed.

Up above, Tom heard Hagrid yelling and stamping his feet. Meanwhile, Angela leaned forward and looked very closely at the pole. After close scrutiny she let out a soft, "Mmmph," then leaned back into her chair with a shrug.

BANG!

Tom's chair dropped out from under him and he fell into it rather hard. The bus was now rolling up a well-paved road. One side of the road was an untamed snarl of trees and undergrowth; the other was devoted to a large strip mall and parking lot. A large sign in the center of the parking lot dubbed the mall:

"Shoppes at Greenbriar"

Behind Tom the old witches began to talk excitedly about home. Tom assumed this was their stop. Sarah stood up and walked back to them. After passing the shopping center, a few houses became visible and Ernie stopped the bus in front of one with a large front lawn that sloped up from the road gently to an old Victorian style home.

Ernie walked past Tom and spoke to the old ladies in the back of the bus. Sarah came back and sat down in her plaid chair. Looking at Tom she smiled and held up the book, "It's awfully short."

"Yes," Tom said. "That's because people are more likely to read a series of short books as opposed to one long one."

Sarah gave a thoughtful look and a nod.

"My father wanted as many people as possible to read these books. Reading a book under two hundred pages is quick and easy, plus you remember it. So you will read the next one, which is also short, by then you are completely interested and want to read the rest."

Sarah looked at the book and questioned, "Your father? I thought Salazar Slytherin wrote this a thousand years ago. You know, Wendy said her master wrote it. Do Slytherins not use the name Salazar Slytherin out of some form of respect I do not know, or did he not really write this?"

Tom did not know how to answer this; it would be a bit difficult to explain the truth with its unique ending to Salazar Slytherin's life. Fortunately, Tom was saved in this awkward moment by Angela.

"Tom is Slytherin's heir, Sarah. He means father in a more proverbial context than literal."

"Slytherin's heir!" The ancient witch called out. Standing just behind Tom's chair she stepped forward then leaned over very close to Tom. Gazing into his eyes she wondered aloud, "Hmm, I always see them as red, but –" she looked to the witch behind her, "The sight is like that, eh?"

"Yes, Cassandra it's quite arbitrary," the woman commented. "Like the time seers around the world saw the falling of Madam Milano's Quiche. Then we still let her cook the meal at the annual Astrologers Association meeting... dreadful!" The woman smiled briefly, "Fine cookies though!" Then she prodded the witch in front, "Now, come on; let's go." The two witches walked past followed by Ernie, whose brow furrowed as he looked at Tom.

Sarah looked at Tom, "What was that all about?"

Tom just shrugged.

Angela again came to his aid, "That was Cassandra Trelawney."

At Tom and Sarah's blank looks she continued, "The famous seer, she predicts tragedy and death at every turn."

Tom and Sarah continued to stare blankly.

"Forget it! Prophesy is pretty much lucky guesses anyway."

Sarah pointed at Angela, "I knew an oracle as a young girl, Nostra was her name. She was good, only she always predicted the silliest things, completely opposite. For example, she'd predict; you'll get a blue card in the mail the day after your birthday; but you'd get a red card the day before." Sarah paused briefly. To herself she mumbled, "Bit odd really."

Angela softly closed her eyes and shook her head, in disbelief or resignation; Tom was unsure which. He did not have time to decide as Ernie came back aboard the bus and hollered.

"Next stop, King's Cross!"

He plopped down into his chair and pressed his magic beacon button.

BANG!

The bus was rolling past the world famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Shunting tourist aside and bending a fence, the Knight Bus trundled on towards the small visitor's booth outside the tower. Ernie turned around to speak to Tom, just as the booth jumped aside to avoid the large bus.

"Don't listen to anything that old witch, Trelawney, says Tom. Sadists, that's what those seers are; always predicting death and misfortune. How about predicting a beautiful sunset sometime or a sunny day? Nothing doing, it's always the same death, destruction, pain, misery, and a little more death. So whatever she said you just forget it, right?"

Tom nodded mutely.

"Good!" Ernie smiled. "Now, ready for school? Fifth year, that's a big one that is, O.W.L.'S! Yep, you got a heck of a year to go. Good luck, Tom." Ernie spun back around to look out the driver's window just as a brick wall bent in two to make way for the Knight Bus.

BANG!

The bus was rolling down a crowed city street; it came to a quick halt at the front doors of King's Cross Train Station.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE PREFECT CAR

"King's Cross!" Ernie hollered.

Tom, Angela and Sarah all stood up simultaneously. Ernie looked back at the three of them and chuckled.

"I'll get the luggage." He said.

He pulled out his wand and looked at the two trunks in the back of the bus, "Accio trunks!"

The trunks slid right up to the front of the bus. Following them so closely, it seemed he also summoned Hagrid.

"Did yeh see the North Pole, Tom?" He asked in breathy excitement.

Tom nodded.

"I can't believe, I seen the North Pole; who'd a thunk?" Hagrid mused.

Then noticing Ernie staring at the trunks he said, "I'll get those." And he bent over and lifted them both into his huge arms.

Ernie's eyes got wide as Hagrid ambled off the bus holding the school trunks as if they were weightless. Sarah followed Hagrid with her eyes, but spoke to Tom.

"I had so many questions, Tom." She mourned.

"All of which will be answered in future books, which I will instruct Wendy to get to you, soon." Tom stated.

"Well," Sarah spoke slowly, "Can we still talk, sometimes?"

"I think so." Tom said.

Sarah looked at Angela, "And I want a sniff of that rose, too!"

"Another time," Angela politely nodded. "Tom."

Angela led the way off the bus. Tom followed her and shook Ernie's hand on the way past.

"Good luck, Tom." Ernie offered.

"Yes, good luck!" Sarah mirrored.

Stepping into the sunlight, it suddenly dawned on Tom how silly he looked. As a group of muggles eyed him curiously and gave him a wide berth, he realized he was in his wizard robes and a large white owl was perched on his shoulder. Angela in her robes could pass as an eccentric muggle, even with the flowerpot in her hand. Tom was just too weird looking to pass for anything other than crazy.

"Perhaps, we should hurry to the platform then," Angela whispered.

Tom and Angela bustled across the main terminal of King's Cross Train Station, so quickly it seemed a blur. All the while Hagrid was walking in front of them, at what seemed a comfortable pace with his long legs. People parted to make way for him, as Tom and Angela hurried just to stay in his wake. Hagrid with his unusual size seemed to attract just as much attention as Tom in his robes and with the owl on his shoulder.

The train to Hogwarts was boarded at a special platform, number nine and three quarters, which was located between platforms nine and ten. Ordinary non-magic folk did not know of platform nine and three quarters, as it was only accessible via a magic gate that was hidden in the stone barrier between platforms nine and ten. All students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry knew of this platform and how to get on it, as all students rode the Hogwarts Express to the school.

Hagrid walked right through the barrier without even a glance back to Tom or Angela, who both paused to make sure no one was watching. While waiting for a particularly large group of tourists to pass before entering the magic gate, Tom heard a soft sneeze.

"Oh dear," Angela fretted.

Tom looked to see what was wrong.

"The rose! Oh, it's going to open back up." She frowned. "It'll be a mess on the platform, come on!"

Tom ran after Angela through the magic gate onto platform nine and three quarters. Just beyond the gateway stood Hagrid, still holding both trunks in his hands. The rest of the platform was full of other students and parents making final goodbyes before the train to school left. The rose in Angela's hands shuddered and sneezed again.

"Tom –" Angela said inquisitively.

"I'll be fine, Angela." He said before she could finish.

"Good luck, then. Write home." She hurried as the rose sneezed very loudly.

A few people turned to look, all the witches around smiled as they saw the brilliant red rose. One in particular looked as if she was planning to come over and speak to Angela. A wizard cleared his throat and this unknown witch promptly turned her attention to her son. Angela was growing rather frantic as the rose began to quiver again. Tom could not stand it any longer.

"I'll write, goodbye!" He said.

"Bye!" The words barely escaping her lips, before, with a loud cracking sound she vanished.

Tom looked at the empty space where Angela had stood only a moment before. He knew that she had disapparated, the magical transportation of disappearing from one place and re-appearing some other place. In Angela's absence Tom felt a wave of sadness and looked at Hagrid. Hagrid stood with the trunks looking at Tom and when their eyes met he spoke, "Alright, Tom?"

"Yeah," Tom spoke disheartedly.

"Well, it's just us now; come on I'll carry yer trunk on ter the train." Hagrid said as he turned towards the train.

"Right," Tom followed.

As they entered the train Hagrid turned and began to walk to the back end of the train. Tom stopped and called out to the giant sized boy.

"Wait!"

Hagrid paused and looked over his shoulder towards Tom, "Yeh?"

"I need to go up to the front of the train to the prefect car." Tom informed him.

Hagrid spun around and began to walk to the front of the train.

"No, Hagrid!" Tom said. "I'll take my trunk, thanks though."

"O-O.K.," Hagrid said sullenly, placing the trunks on the floor.

The top trunk was shaking softly and Tom grabbed the handles quickly to make it seem like he was doing it as opposed to the seven meter snake, he knew was concealed inside. Hagrid put his hands over Tom's and smiled wide.

"This one is mine, Tom."

"How can you –"

At that moment Tom heard a soft growling come from it.

Hagrid picked it up quickly and spun away from Tom, "See yeh!"

"Bye," Tom called at Hagrid's retreating back.

Andromeda hooted softly in Tom's ear and a muffled hiss came from Tom's trunk, "Is that lunch?"

Tom ignored Salazar's comment and flipped his wrist to reveal his wand. With a very familiar swish and flick motion of his wand and the accompanying words, "Wingardium Leviosa!" The trunk rose off the floor. Tom directed the trunk towards the front of the train with his wand.

The trunk floated lazily in front of Tom all the way to the front car. Tom entered the train car and levitated his trunk right into the corner next to a group of others. He did not look up at his surroundings until his trunk was stowed away. When he did, finally look around, he noticed everyone in the car was completely focused on him.

Standing at the very front of the car and facing the door Tom had just entered through, was fellow Slytherin, Kalisa Donnas. She stood on one leg, the other one bent at the knee, which was planted in a seat, giving her a relaxed look. Her brown hair had bleached blond highlights and came down to her shoulders. She was fairly skinny and of average height, her eyes matched the brown hue of her hair and usually looked warm and soft. Her lips were pale and skinny though they looked more so as they were pressed tightly shut while she scrutinized Tom.

Next to Kalisa was her younger sister, Diedre Donnas, though most people called her D.D., Tom knew her very well as she was in the same year as he and played Quidditch for Slytherin. D.D. also dated Tom's best friend, Abraxas Malfoy, which was why Tom knew she was a quiet person in general. D.D.'s close-cropped blond hair framed her face, with its pointy nose and chin, which looked very pretty with the smile she wore.

Directly across from D.D. was a young woman, whom Tom did not recognize. She appeared to be from the Middle East with her dark hair and tan skin. Her eyes were black and squinted in a hawkish look of disapproval, which carried all the way to her pursed lips. After Tom made brief direct eye contact, she scowled a bit harder, then looked at Kalisa.

The silence was broken by Kalisa, who spoke in a firm yet soft voice, "Take it off!"

"Huh?" Tom questioned.

"The owl; you can't walk around like a pirate," she chided.

"Oh!" Tom caught on, "Go on, Andromeda."

The white owl flew over to Tom's trunk and rested on its lid. Then Kalisa continued to speak in her soft voice.

"Hello Tom, please sit down while we wait for the rest of the prefects." Kalisa gestured to all the vacant seats about the train compartment.

The girl Tom did not know clicked her tongue and huffed in obvious irritation.

"Is something wrong?" Kalisa asked her.

The girl spoke very curtly, "I don't think it's appropriate for prefects to be using magic outside of school."

Kalisa looked at the girl, as if she had two heads, "It's the train." When the girl still looked perturbed Kalisa kept speaking, "It's fine; everyone uses magic on the Hogwarts Express." Kalisa sounded a bit bothered.

The girl continued undaunted, "A prefect should be an example –"

"Pinky," Kalisa huffed, "Let it go!"

Just then the backdoor opened and a man's voice came from behind Tom, "Let what go?"

Tom turned to look, but the three girls only needed to look past him; Tom recognized them both immediately, it was Dylan Burr and his older brother, James. Dylan eyed Tom warily; obviously he had not forgotten their most previous encounter, where after a brief duel with Tom, Dylan and his two friends had made a shamefully hasty retreat. The calculated look that Dylan's brother, James, wore for Tom, made Tom think the story was not a secret from James.

James strode right to the front of the car and stood beside Kalisa. His hair was blond and curly; its weight from its length stretched its tight curls to waves. James was rather tall and appeared a bit scrawny in his black school robes. His voice was forceful and confident, "Let what go?"

"Pinky thinks prefects shouldn't use magic on the train."

James looked at the dark haired girl, "Why?" He asked.

Pinky pointed at Tom, "Because this wand happy fool, levitated his trunk into the cars."

"Well, that's right," James agreed. "No magic outside of school, those are the rules."

Kalisa gave James a doubtful look, "I seem to recall you and an unnamed character, dueling on the platform in our fifth year."

James looked down at his feet to conceal his reddening cheeks, "Well that –"

"Was a serious breaking of the rules, where as levitation on the train is a slight bending," Kalisa finished.

The backdoor of the train opened again and in filed four students Tom knew well, if by looks only, as all four of them where common adversaries on the Quidditch pitch. The first two to enter the prefect car were the Longshank twins, Ethel and Marie. Then behind them came Hassan Moustafa and Micah Cirrella.

Ethel and Marie were almost indistinguishable from one another; their hair was a rich brown and came all the way down to their waist. Both had eyes of brown that were dark and wide as if they were constantly surprised. The major difference was the color of the hair clip used to pull back their hair; Ethel wore a bright red and Marie a navy. They both entered without saying a word and took seats next to each other.

Hassan Moustafa had the swarthy look of a Middle Easterner with the black hair and eyes. His bushy eyebrows looked painted, they were so dark. He had a slight build to him, owing no doubt, to the intense training he did in Quidditch. Having a professional keeper for a father had meant exquisite private instruction and a demanding coach round the clock. All of which clearly came out when he took to guarding the hoops for Hufflepuff.

Last to enter the train was Micah Cirrella. Micah was rather heavyset and seemed an unusual candidate for keeper on the Ravenclaw team, yet he performed well. His thin black hair was combed straight back to reveal a widow's peak and a smile played on his lips that went all the way to his twinkling brown eyes. He looked about the car and gave a friendly nod to each person in turn. He stood in the doorway and paused before he turned to give his back to the car full of people.

Tom noticed he had his wand out and was propping the car door open with his foot. Micah gestured with his wand and mumbled something Tom did not hear. Then he walked backwards into the train car directing a stack of trunks, four high, into the car with his wand. He levitated the trunks into the back corner by all the others and after placing them down found himself a seat.

At the sight of his actions Kalisa chuckled and Pinky huffed. At the same moment the train's whistle blew loudly.

"Well, it seems we are all here." Kalisa said. Then looking around with a smile, she continued in her soft voice, "My name is Kalisa Donnas and I am the head girl. This is James Burr," and she motioned to James, beside her. "James is the head boy. It seems that most of us know each other, but just to be sure. I'll run through everyone's name and house, real quick. Then we'll discuss the duties and privileges of being a prefect." She nodded and smiled looking about the train car.

Kalisa pointed to each person and spoke very clearly so everyone could hear, "D.D., Diedre Donnas, Slytherin; Tom Riddle, Slytherin; Dylan Burr, Gryffindor; Pinky Jan, Gryffindor; Ethel Red Longshanks – with the red hairclip, Hufflepuff; Hassan Moustafa, Hufflepuff; Marie Longshanks – with the blue hairclip, Ravenclaw; Micah Cirrella, Ravenclaw; head boy, James Burr, Gryffindor and of course, me, Kalisa Donnas, head girl, Slytherin."

Kalisa looked at James and asked him softly, "Do you want to take over or shall I just –"

"No, I just want to say hello –" then with a brief frown of thought, he paused, "– it seems that we all; except for you Kalisa; we all play Quidditch. How weird, huh? Oh well! We need to work together regardless of house competition or personal vendettas. So, let's do our best to get along and do our jobs." He looked around as if expecting to hear protests. "And on a personal note, Gryffindor will take the cup – again!" He chuckled.

The whole car broke out in a jumble of voices at that comment. Kalisa threw James a nasty look then held her hands up for silence, which was slow in coming. Finally, everyone settled down and turned their attention to Kalisa. Kalisa stood at the front of the train in her school robes looking at the group patiently. Outside the train car, the sound of last minute goodbyes was drowned out by the blaring whistle that signaled the train's imminent departure.

The train lurched forward a few times before it began to move steadily. The platform slid by in the carriage windows. Tom watched as they left the train station and began to move through London quickly. His attention snapped back to Kalisa when she handed him an envelope bearing the Hogwarts seal on the front and the Slytherin Coat of Arms on the back.

"Open these quickly and memorize the information inside," Kalisa instructed. "These are the passwords to your house common rooms and the prefect's bathroom. I scarcely need to tell you that under no circumstance should you share this information with anyone of a different house." When she had finished speaking and handing out the envelopes, she walked back to the front of the car.

Resting her knee in an unoccupied seat and leaning into the chair back, Kalisa watched as everyone opened their envelope and read its contents. Tom popped his envelope's seal and it gave a soft hiss. Across from Tom, Micah Cirrella sat with a smile of surprise as his envelope cawed when its seal broke. Tom pulled out a short piece of parchment and saw again the green and silver Slytherin Coat of Arms letterhead. Beneath the letterhead lay a short statement from Armando Dippet, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry:

Congratulations on becoming a Slytherin prefect,

Mr. Tom Riddle. Myself and the staff are

certain that your assistance will be invaluable

this year; and we look forward to working

closely with you. The password to your house's

common room is: Onomatopoeia

and the password to the prefect lavatory and

bath is: Privacy.

Thank you,

Armando Dippet

Head Master

As Tom finished reading the letter, the parchment began to yellow and curl, as if rapidly aging. Before Tom could react the whole parchment turned to dust in his hands. Tom looked across the aisle to Micah, whose own parchment now resembled a pile of ash on his lap.

"Nice!" Micah cheered, blowing the dust from his robes.

Tom smiled at Micah, "It is interesting," then brushing the dust off himself he continued, "I wonder how they altered the howler enchantment to make it silent; or if it was a cross between once read ink and an aging solution on the parchment."

Micah looked at Tom rather seriously, "You know Tom, you're so smart I wonder why you're not in Ravenclaw sometimes; but then something like this happens and I realize you're just not cool enough!"

"And you're too much of a slime ball for Gryffindor!" Dylan Burr whispered.

Tom sat back in his seat and glared at Dylan, though Micah's comment was mean; Tom could easily see the relevance and even appreciate the jibe. Tom and Micah had taken classes together in the past where they had been plotted against one another in a battle of wits and Micah often said that Tom was too busy analyzing things to enjoy the spectacle of well-done clever magic. It struck Tom that this was one of those instances.

Dylan's words were pure insult born of malice and anger. Dylan had a history with many people of being an antagonist and causing trouble. The most recent encounter in Diagon Alley being only one of many incidents where Dylan had viciously come after someone he thought he could overpower.

Dylan was a bully. Tom knew that he often picked on any available target; all that was necessary was two or three of his friends to back him up. Looking at Dylan with his curly blond hair and blue eyes made Tom angry. Tom felt a strong desire to curse him into oblivion. Dylan just stared back, with his eyes cold as steel, then he slowly leaned closer to Tom and whispered, "Want another go?"

Tom's heart jumped and he sat upright.

"No snake to save you now, is there?"

Tom's heart dropped, he did not want anyone to know about the seven meter snake in his trunk.

Dylan chuckled softly and leaned back.

Kalisa cleared her throat loudly, "O.K., well if we're all ready then." She looked directly at Tom and Dylan. "I'll start telling you about your duties and responsibilities." Kalisa smiled and looked at her sister, D.D., "First though, someone needs to go patrol the train and make sure everyone is alright. So, D.D. and Pinky, we talked about this stuff earlier, why don't you two go make a quick trip to the last car and back. Just make sure everyone is safe; no crying first years or that sort of thing. Thank-you!"

D.D. got up without a sound, but Pinky sniffed as she stood up and looked pointedly at Dylan. He caught the look and stood up rather quickly and offered to go.

"I'll patrol with Pinky." Dylan said. "James can just tell us everything we missed in the common room."

"No, that's O.K. Dylan," Kalisa disregarded. "Sit down and let the girls do their thing."

Together D.D. and Pinky left the prefect car.

For the next forty-five minutes or so Kalisa talked of all the prefect duties and what staff expected of prefects. Tom listened to her very closely as she spoke of monitoring halls and assisting first year students. When she began to discuss holiday decorating and maintenance his attention began to wane. At the end of her speech, Kalisa turned to James Burr, who was daydreaming out the window and did not hear her, then acted as if he had listened with rapt attention. When James said he had nothing to add, Kalisa opened the discussion to questions.

Tom could not force himself to listen to the silly questions of Ethel Red, who seemed completely pre-occupied with boys and working along side them. At every answer she seemed to bat her eyes at James and say, "Maybe you could explain it further to me in private."

After the question section was done, Kalisa thanked everyone and wished them a good year. She then said she was going to visit with friends on the train and she would see them at school. She promptly walked to the door at the back of the train. As she reached for it, the door seemed to magically open. Tom realized this was not the case as D.D. and Pinky came through it. Kalisa stopped short looking a bit startled, but she quickly recovered.

"D.D., come on! I want to go talk with some friends and you should come."

D.D. did not speak; she spun on her heels and followed her older sister. Tom watched as D.D.'s blond hair spun around and caught in her mouth. As the two Donnas sisters left, Pinky walked right to Dylan and flopped down beside him. Her dark eyes looked at him angrily and her brow furrowed.

"Why didn't you –"

"I tried!" Dylan exclaimed.

Pinky barely seemed placated, "I had to walk the whole train twice with her. Do you know she's a mute!" Pinky snapped.

"What?" Dylan asked.

"Mute!" Pinky yelled as if being louder made her easier to understand. "She said like three words the whole time, and that was to some first year."

"Then she is not a mute." James joked.

"Ha ha!" Pinky pounded angrily on James. "All those Slytherins are weird. How could Dippet have chosen one to be head girl?"

"Well, that's why we call him Dippy." Dylan informed her.

Tom stood up, "I like Dippet."

Dylan laughed, "Ha! Another weird Slytherin. It figures you'd like him."

Tom did not say a word; he just began to walk towards the train's backdoor.

James stopped him, "Riddle!"

Tom turned to look at the older boy. James had a mischievous grin on his lips and his eyes had a nasty looking twinkle to them. James held up his hand and made a beckoning motion. Tom walked towards him.

"Sit down, Riddle. I have a special job for you," James said. "Everyone else, you're excused."

The Longshanks twins got up and began to walk out of the car, Micah followed the girls. Hassan Moustafa went to his trunk and began to dig for something. Dylan and Pinky sat still in their seats looking at each other. James said not a word, but watched everyone leave. Finally, as Micah closed the door, he looked at his younger brother, Dylan and Pinky sitting in their seats and asked them in a mocking voice.

"Do you need special unvitations?"

They both jumped up and hurried out the door of the train. Hassan found what he was looking for: a new broomstick. He held it up for James and Tom to see and declared proudly, "It's my dad's model." Then he left quickly.

After the door closed behind Hassan, James turned his attention to Tom. Their eyes locked for a moment and Tom noticed the blue of James' eyes was like a chunk of ice, and looked just as cold. Tom felt very anxious as he looked at James and he wondered what this special job was; somehow he knew it could not be good.

James spoke slowly, "Now that we are alone, let's be frank, O.K. Riddle?"

"O.K.," Tom replied.

"I know all about you and Dylan's little run in at Diagon Alley, about the snake Hagrid stole, about the new broomstick, even the three-headed dog." James raised his eyebrows quickly for emphasis. "I'm less than impressed! I don't like anyone beating up on my little brother, you and that giant dunce might enjoy double-teaming a smaller boy. I'm sure you and your Slytherin slime-ball friends find it to be a hoot; but I find it repulsive."

Tom stared in disbelief and stammered to tell James he was wrong, that Dylan and his friends had laid in wait to pounce on he and Hagrid. James did not seem to notice that Tom even attempted to speak or he just did not care. James just bullied over him.

"Further, I intend to make you pay for humiliating him. I would challenge you to a duel, but I seriously doubt that you have the talent or the courage to face me." James paused momentarily.

Tom began to sweat. He began to wonder if James was going to attack him. James noticed the slight tremble in Tom's body and laughed.

"All Slytherins are cowards." He said, "Slimy, conniving, backstabbing filth! I don't like you or any of your friends. I'll be watching you, at every turn, Riddle." James paused briefly, "Now, to keep you out of trouble and my way. I want you to count every student on this train and report back to me."

Tom sat in stunned silence; he knew that it was a stupid task that had no purpose but to aggravate him. Tom wanted to scream at James and tell him the uselessness of this "special task;" but all he could muster was, "Why?"

"Because, I said so," James remarked.

Tom closed his eyes and collected his thoughts briefly. He was about to ask the total number he should reach.

James snapped, "What are you waiting for?"

Tom stood up reflexively, as he made his way to the door James spoke again, "And I don't care what kind of broom you have Riddle, you'll never beat us. Cause you stink at Quidditch."

Tom turned to face James and tell him what he thought, but he was shaking with anger and words eluded him. Tom wanted to whip out his wand and hex James into an incoherent slug. Their eyes met again and the malice in James' was undaunted by fury in Tom's.

"Go ahead, Riddle." James taunted. "I'm not as easy as my brother."

Tom's lips pressed together and his eyes squinted.

"Well, either draw your wand or go count students." James said coolly.

Tom opened the door.

"Good choice, Riddle!"

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

THE DUELING CAR

Tom slammed the door behind him a bit too hard; out of anger or frustration, he could not tell which emotion currently predominated him. Either way, the result was the same, the door hit the jamb too fast and hard to lock securely and it opened back up. James' face was laughing on the other side and he chided Tom, "Temper Riddle..."

Tom scowled as he attempted to close the door again, but apparently the latch was broken because it would not close. The soft chuckling from the other side of the door broke Tom's limit and with a flick of his wrist he snatched his wand from his sleeve and pointed it at the door, "Porticus Locken!"

A searing white light erupted from the cracks around the door, as it faded away purple spots swam in Tom's vision. Scrunching his face and blinking repeatedly the doorway slowly came back into focus. Tom had definitely closed the door, the only question was, would it ever open again. The handle was gone and the door appeared fused into the frame. Tom stared at the former doorway with a slack jaw. He was so stunned he barely noticed the small voice behind him.

"Wwwooaahhh!" a soft voice that carried awe said.

Tom turned quickly to see a small boy, in his school robes and hat staring wide eyed at the door beyond Tom. His cheeks were rosy and his eyes looked exceptionally red and moist. The boy's eyelash still held a drop of water that Tom knew must be a tear. The boy rubbed his nose on the cuff of his robes and stammered unintelligible words about home and parents; the rest was all gibberish.

Tom spoke to the boy, whom he knew must be a first year, "Can I help you?"

The boy's eyes snapped from the door to Tom's face and he wiped his eyes using the same cuff he had wiped his nose with, "W-w-well, I came to ask to go home." He sniffled, "I miss my mum."

Tom was about to point out they had just left an hour ago when the boy kept speaking, "But if I can learn to do magic like that, she can wait." The boy smiled, "You must be the best wizard in the school."

Tom smiled at the compliment, but inside he knew he had only meant to lock the door, not make the door a wall. He was actually wondering how he would undo it before someone noticed. Tom attempted to speak again, but the boy pre-empted him, "Will I be able to do that?"

"Maybe!" Tom jumped in quickly, "But only if you go to school and learn."

"O.K.!" The boy said, he turned and walked away.

Tom watched as the boy drew his wand from his robe pocket and pointed it at every door he passed and said, "Porchus locky!" or, "Portnus Locking!"

To himself, Tom thought, "And a whole lot of practice." He looked at the door and shook his head. Tom wondered how he would undo this spell. On the other side he could hear James laughing and calling him a wiley bastard, claiming the door would not stop him as anything a Slytherin could do a Gryffindor could do better. Then he heard James call out a few spells to open doors and the once door shuddered. It was James' final declaration to break it down, if need be, followed by a rather violent jarring on the door; which convinced Tom he did not want to be standing around when James came through.

Tom figured he had best commence his student counting chore and turned to do so as the door gave a hard shake. Tom walked to the first compartment and peered in the glass to count the students, but it held none. This compartment was full of snacks and candies that the cart lady sold to students at lunchtime on the train. The second compartment was filled with similar things, though this one also had the little cart inside.

Tom assumed the third would be the same, but it was not. The third was occupied by the cart lady, who was sitting with the small boy, who had been crying only a minute ago. Together they sat, she drinking tea and he trying to open a chocolate frog box, to eat the magical snack and see what wizard card was inside. As Tom looked in the window, the woman saw him and waved a quick hello before pointing him out to the boy. The boy barely gave a quick glance before he began to struggle with his chocolate frog again.

Tom kept walking, skipping the next two doors with only a knock on each. He knew these were the lavatories, so when no response came from his knock he walked on to the door that led to the next train car. At the far end of the train car, the door he had sealed shook and creaked loudly, as if James was indeed about to break through it. With a quick glance over his shoulder, Tom opened the door in front of him and stepped through it.

"Tom!" Someone said, catching Tom completely off guard, as he was completely focused on the door behind him and not looking ahead.

Tom snapped to look forward in surprise, before him stood his best friend, Abraxas Malfoy. A smile played on Abraxas's hawkish face and his bright blue eyes twinkled in excitement. Abraxas had blond hair, just short of shoulder length and he slicked it back giving his widow's peak an appearance that resembled a receding hairline. Dressed in his black school robes, Abraxas looked very aristocratic.

"I wondered if you were ever going to come out. What stupid questions were you needling about?" Abraxas laughed.

"Nothing," Tom glanced back over his shoulder. "I got a special assignment from the head boy –"

"James Burr!" Abraxas cried. "Oh, no! What did he say?"

"Nothing, I –" Tom glanced over his shoulder at a loud bang.

"Tom!" Abraxas said curtly. "Tell me, what did he do?"

"Nothing, I –" An explosion behind Tom made him shudder.

Abraxas tried to look past Tom, but the door shut. "You're acting funny Tom." Abraxas directed his eyes back to Tom. "What's up?"

"Nothing, I –"

"What! You what?" Abraxas demanded.

"I, well, I –"

"Tell me," Abraxas looked serious.

"I broke the door to the prefect car and I tried to fix it, honest," Tom took a sharp intake of air. "But I accidentally sealed it shut."

Tom paused as Abraxas's eyebrows practically jumped to his hairline. "You sealed it?" Abraxas asked sounding perplexed.

"Yes, but with James trapped on the other side." Tom answered.

Abraxas laughed, "No way!" Abraxas pushed Tom out of the way and opened the door behind Tom. "Are you serious, that is so awesome!"

"Wait!" Tom yelled, stopping Abraxas halfway through the door.

"What, I've got to see this!" Abraxas laughed.

"No! He's super angry!"

"I'll bet!"

"And trying to blast it open!"

"Excellent!"

Abraxas walked though the door still laughing. Tom did not want to follow him. He was beginning to feel a bit guilty about the whole thing. Down the corridor, he heard Abraxas laugh extra loud and shout at James, "Gryffindors are losers!" Then Abraxas came back out.

Abraxas looked at Tom very seriously and sighed as he put his hand on Tom's shoulder, "Tom," he said looking away briefly.

Abraxas's eyes came back to Tom's; Tom noticed they were misty. Abraxas spoke very slowly and very seriously, "Tom, this is without a doubt the greatest thing you've ever done. It makes me so proud to know that at last you're showing some sign, that all I've been showing you over the last few years hasn't been in vain." Then he lost all pretense and collapsed in a fit of laughter.

Tom stood by idly as his friend howled in laughter, tears welling from his eyes. Finally, Abraxas came around and patted Tom on the shoulder again, "Come on! We got to tell everyone about this, they'll be quite impressed. Heck, I'm impressed and that doesn't happen often." Abraxas began to prod Tom forward.

"I can't, Abraxas, I've got to count all the students on the train and report back to James." Tom said, with a sigh of resignation.

"What?" Abraxas shouted incredulously. "Are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious," Tom answered.

"And how; pray tell, will you report back to the great James Burr; with owl post?" Abraxas laughed, he stifled them when he saw Tom's stern face, "Sorry, it's not funny," he said quite seriously. "Yes, it is!" And he lost composure giggling.

"Look Abraxas, I'm in enough trouble as it is. I'm going to do this really fast and I'll catch up with you after," Tom explained.

"Unhhh," Abraxas grunted. "Tom this is the best thing you've ever done, please, don't ruin it by doing some stupid task that idiot gave you."

"Goodbye, Abraxas!" Tom said, peering into the first compartment of the train car. "That's five!"

Abraxas looked into the window, "Ugh! Hufflepuffs!" Then he looked at Tom, "O.K. Tom, it's not funny, let's go!"

"I'm counting, I'll see you soon." Tom replied.

"You're killing me!" Abraxas said as he pushed past Tom.

Tom tried to pay no attention to Abraxas as he walked to the end of the train car, snickering to himself. Tom looked into the next compartment and saw four girls giggling at one another and thought, "Nine."

"Last chance, Tom?" Abraxas called from the far end of the train car.

Tom paid him no mind and walked to the next glass window. Inside were Hassan Moustafa and three teammates from the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, all of them listening in rapt attention with the broomstick that Hassan had brought before them. Tom knew all three were the chasers; Franklin Pierce with his light blond hair and pink skin, Millard Fillmore whose pointy nose had a ridiculous hump in the bridge from when it had been broken in a game, and William Harrison with dark hair and matching skin whose height was accentuated by his scrawniness.

None of them looked up to see Tom until he spoke out loud, "Thirteen!"

Tom had only meant to put Abraxas off, but he had spoken too loudly. All four of them looked up as one and none looked happy about seeing Tom peering in on them.

Hassan opened the door quickly, "What are you doing?" He demanded.

"Spying!" accused Millard Fillmore his nose pointing at Tom much better than any finger. "Dirty Slytherin tricks to beat us this year."

Before Tom could explain anything, Abraxas was at his side, "We don't need any tricks to beat you, so shut up Fillmore before I break your nose... again!" He sneered at the last part.

"What!" Millard screamed indignantly. "Why, I'll –"

But that was all he got out before Tom silenced him with a point of his wand and a soft word, "Silencio!"

Millard unaware of the silencing charm at first, continued to yell momentarily though not a single sound came from him. The other three Hufflepuffs fell back and scrabbled for their own wands. Abraxas's was in his hand and he was postured beside Tom and looking eager for a wizard duel.

"Wait!" Tom cried, though Hassan and his friends kept grabbing about pockets for their wands. "Hassan, I'm just counting all the students aboard the train."

Hassan held his wand like a sword and spoke angrily, "That's stupid, why would you do that? Not only are you spying on me and my Quidditch team, you've now attacked my chaser. I don't care how smart or slick you Slytherins think you are; I intend to tell James about this and I'll see you lose your prefect badge for this, Riddle."

Abraxas snorted, "You'll have to wait then!"

Hassan eyed Abraxas warily, "What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I said," Abraxas stated calmly. "You'll have to wait until he breaks out of the prefect car."

"Break out! Don't be an idiot! Why would he need to break out of the prefect car?" Hassan asked pointing his wand at Abraxas.

"Cause Tom sealed him in it!" Abraxas laughed.

"What?" Hassan exclaimed. "Are you serious?" He half asked pushing Tom out of the way and rushing past him.

Tom tried to follow but was pushed twice more as Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce ran behind Hassan.

"No!" Tom called after them.

William Harrison spoke in a half laugh, "Did you really or is he lying?"

"I did!" Tom said, "But I –"

Tom did not finish because Harrison yelped, "I gotta see!" and ran towards the prefect car. When he got to the door and slid it open, Tom heard Hassan laughing. Tom began to walk towards the prefect car.

"I told you it was the greatest thing you ever did." Abraxas said matter-of-factly.

Tom followed Abraxas back to the prefect car, with a sense of dread in his chest. Regardless of what Abraxas said, Tom did not believe that anyone else would find James being trapped very humorous. Tom definitely could not see why the Hufflepuffs would, as they had not suffered at the hands of Gryffindor, not in anyway he had ever seen. When he stepped into the train car, Tom saw how wrong he was.

At the far end of the train, the sealed door rattled and shook then bent as if it would snap into a thousand pieces. All the while a steady stream of obscenities came from the far side in a voice so fierce and full of rage, if Tom had not known the person on the other side was James Burr, he would not have been able to guess. Amid the scene all four of the Hufflepuffs pointed and laughed with tears in their eyes.

The only one whose jeering and laughter did not drown James' voice was Millard Fillmore, who was still stricken silent by Tom's charm. Tom pointed his wand at Fillmore and waved it lazily, "Finite!"

Fillmore's laughter boomed out instantly louder than any of the others. He wiped a tear from his eye and looked at Tom, "That is so funny, I'm not even angry you used a silence charm on me, Riddle." And he laughed again. "Finally! Someone brought the Gryffindor git down a peg," he cheered. "You know who'd love this, guys?" He asked of his friends.

The other Hufflepuffs silenced their laughs just enough for Hassan to reply, "Who?" Before he succumbed to another fit of laughter.

"Everyone!" Millard shouted and began to laugh. "And I'm going to go tell them." He began to walk away, "Good one Riddle..." then he vanished out the train car door with a peal of laughter.

"Oh, dear!" Tom said nervously.

Everyone around him grew silent. Tom looked into Abraxas's blue eyes and continued, "This is getting serious."

"Yeah!" Abraxas snorted. "Seriously funny!" And everyone began to laugh, as the door rattled. Tom gave a slight chuckle, as James yelled something quite inappropriate from the other side of the sealed door.

Tom was beginning to see the humor as the door shook violently from a magic blast, "I guess I should open it, huh?" He spoke thoughtfully.

"What!" came from so many voices, Tom did not know who had said it and who had not.

Abraxas kept on talking, "No way, you can't," fishing with his eyes for help from the others, though only a meek assent came from Hassan. "Why don't you go count the students on the train, then when you are done come back and you'll open the door and give him your total." Abraxas grinned and his eyes twinkled in that special way, which told Tom he was planning something mischievous, if not devious, but irresistible all the same.

Though the plan sounded rather simple and quite safe, the gleam in Abraxas's eyes told Tom more was to come. "What are you planning, Abraxas?" Tom asked.

Abraxas looked affronted and sounded genuinely insulted, "Nothing!" Then he smiled wide, "I was just going to stand here with my wand drawn and if he broke out claim I'd been trying to help, while you carried out your duties." And Abraxas drew his wand from his robe pocket.

"Hmph," Tom sounded disbelieving.

"Well, go on." Abraxas said, pointing towards the door.

Tom nodded, "Yeah, good idea..." Tom mumbled and began to walk to the door.

"Riddle!" an angry voice screamed.

"No, Malfoy!" Abraxas yelled at the door. "Riddle is counting students or some such stupid thing."

The door groaned, creaked, shuddered and bounced in its jamb.

"Go!" Abraxas hissed at Tom, before turning to face the sealed door. "I'm trying to help you, Sir." Abraxas yelled at the door as it jostled about in violent motion.

Tom left the car to continue his task. He felt a bit guilty at first, about leaving Abraxas to deal with James; but if anyone could talk their way out of this, Tom knew it was Abraxas. Abraxas was good with people in most situations. Abraxas could put a spin on words and talk in circles so well it seemed he could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.

Well, Abraxas was a pusher after all, Tom thought to himself. Abraxas could push his will or thoughts onto others. Sometimes, if the person was weak enough Abraxas could make them do whatever he wanted. Tom had witnessed it a few times, but not often. Abraxas said usually the person had to want to do, or believe, what he said or it would not work. Tom knew that was true, as Abraxas always used his wiles on Tom when they pulled some stunt sure to land them in trouble. Abraxas would have to use all his skills and even then Tom could refuse him. Tom hoped Abraxas was up to using all his skill on James; he felt Abraxas would need it.

Halfway through the second car Tom resumed his counting, with a compartment full of what must be first years comparing wands. In the next car he found Millard Fillmore telling a group of Hufflepuffs to come see "the most amazing thing," though he would not say what it was. They seemed a bit unwilling to walk to the prefect car without more information. Fillmore grabbed Tom and asked, "Riddle, isn't it worth the trip?"

Tom shrugged, "Really, Fillmore... James Burr locked in the prefect car and struggling to break out isn't –"

"What!" Two girls shouted. "Get –" and the first pushed Tom to pass, the rest followed.

Tom sighed, as he began to think it was a bit funnier than he had initially thought. Tom wondered if these things were more funny if you looked at them from the sidelines and not as an active participant. He smiled to himself, because being a participant meant you got revenge. The next compartment had some Slytherins in it and Tom waved at them, only one of the six acknowledged him.

Tom opened the door, "I happen to know that at this moment many a Slytherin can enjoy a chuckle at the Gryffindor head boy, James Burr, who is currently sealed in the prefect car and casting every spell known to wizard kind in an effort to escape."

All six of them looked at Tom and only one of them, a sixth year boy named, Erik Rich, whose dark hair covered his eyes spoke in breathy awe, "Abraxas didn't –"

"No!" Tom replied. "I did!" And he grinned.

"No way!" Erik's girlfriend, Anna Chicas, shrieked.

Tom nodded.

Anna stood up and her long brown wavy hair smacked Erik's face momentarily brushing his out of his eyes. "Let's go!" She yelled grabbing Erik's robes and pulling them until he followed. The other four, followed quickly talking amongst themselves.

One of them, a short heavyset boy, Brent Moore, also in his sixth year called back to Tom, "We knew you had it in you, Riddle!" Then they all disappeared towards the front of the train.

It was at train car number six, that Tom saw Kalisa Donnas and her sister, D.D., sitting with three other girls. Florence Carr, who Tom had seen briefly at a bookstore in Diagon Alley; Andrea Towson, a striking blond with misty blue eyes, fair skin and a soft voice; Sarah Rich whose long black hair hung over her eyes just as her brother's did. Tom waved congenially to the ladies through the glass window and Florence pulled it open. She gave a warm smile to Tom, "Hello, Mister Perfect –"

All the girls squealed and giggled.

"I meant prefect." Florence blushed.

Tom thought the color in her cheeks a nice change to her pale skin that contrasted her jet-black hair. He smiled at her for a bit longer than he intended and was still in direct eye contact with her when he spoke, "Kalisa, can we speak... in the hall." And Tom backed up a pace. He was suddenly aware he was still staring into Florence's eyes and he began to blush himself. Florence broke the eye contact as she moved to allow Kalisa to pass.

Kalisa closed the compartment door behind her and turned to face Tom as another bout of giggles broke out among the girls. Kalisa gave a quick smile to Tom and gave a quick sip on a brown glass bottle. Tom frowned at the bottle. He was use to seeing students drink butterbeer; it was a common bit of rule breaking in the Slytherin common room, where it was always available. It was barely alcoholic, really; it just tasted so good.

Kalisa saw Tom's look and spoke promptly, "I'm on my second drink, but I've had a few before." She looked at Tom as if he were being a bit judgmental.

"No!" Tom explained. "In Slytherin Hall and all is one thing, but on the train, I mean, you're head girl."

"Tom!" Kalisa snapped. "We're not even at school yet! Which is why I can't figure out, how you could need the head girl yet?" Then Kalisa glanced in the compartment window, to a fresh batch of giggles. "Which you must, or you wouldn't have passed up the opportunity to speak with a pretty woman like Florence, in favor of me."

"Yes." Tom answered without thinking.

Kalisa looked at Tom in such a way that he realized what, yes, had really meant and began backpedaling.

"I, mean no... it's –"

The giggles from the train compartment reminded Tom he had an audience.

Kalisa smiled, "It's O.K., relax," she paused. "Have a sip of butterbeer and collect your thoughts." She offered her half drank bottle.

"No," Tom responded.

"O.K., collect your thoughts while I have a sip." She jested and took another quick sip. "What's up?"

"I sealed James Burr in the prefect car," Tom blurted out rapidly.

Kalisa did not say anything; she did not need to. The way the bottle of butterbeer dropped from her hands mid-sip and shattered on the floor, with her hand still believing it was tilting the bottle up for a sip spoke more than words ever could. Then of course, the fact that her eyes were bulged so large and wide Tom thought they might fall out of their sockets and her eyebrows, which currently resided well past her hairline, confirmed Tom's fears; he was in trouble.

Tom noticed the wetness of spilled butterbeer on his shoes seeping through to his skin. The silence following his words was so deep he heard the spilled beverage fizzing on the carpet. Kalisa stood still, no giggles filtered out from the compartment door, it seemed even the train was still and silent. The compartment door slowly slid open and Florence's head popped out, her green eyes wild with excitement, but her voice came smooth and calm and inquisitive, "Say that again."

Tom was still looking at Kalisa when he repeated himself, "I sealed James Burr in the prefect car."

Kalisa's eyes came back to normal and her shoulders shook, when she spoke her voice had a nervous laugh, "No, seriously!"

"Seriously," Tom assured.

"Seriously?" Florence asked in disbelief.

Tom only nodded. His voice feeble when he started, "When I left him, Abraxas and the Hufflepuff Quidditch team were heckling him as he tried to blast the door open."

"Tom –"

"Kalisa –"

Florence almost fell as D.D., Andrea and Sarah came out into the hall. Florence came out and Tom saw her smiling at him and felt a bit self-conscious.

Kalisa spoke, "Tom, no joke."

"No joke." Tom looked to Kalisa and shrugged, "Well, Abraxas thinks it's a riot, but –"

"Damn right!" Kalisa said and she spun so fast she pushed Florence to the ground. Then she sprinted towards the prefect car. The others followed Kalisa, while Florence stood up, Tom bent over to assist her though she seemed quite capable.

Their eyes met and she smiled, "Thank-you," blushing even more than before.

"They left you." Tom answered, immediately thinking that was not the correct response.

Florence laughed and turned redder, "Yes, I suppose I shall have to catch up." She turned to walk, "Aren't you coming?"

"No," Tom said. "Kalisa can handle it, I'm in the middle of perfect –" Tom laughed at that.

Florence laughed.

"Go ahead." Tom blushed.

Tom watched Florence walk to the far end of the train. He stared idly watching the way her robes swung with each step she took. Tom could barely tell where her black hair ended and the black school robes began, except her hair seemed to shine. As Florence reached the door to the next train car she stopped to look over her shoulder and Tom saw her face was still flushed, "Goodbye then." She giggled.

"Yeah," Tom responded. He instantly felt this was the wrong response and that he sounded stupid.

When Florence stepped through and closed the door behind herself, the thought came to Tom, "Goodbye," that was what he should have said. He wanted to chase after her and tell her, but he immediately felt that was even worse than not originally saying it. He stood there completely confused for a moment and gave it all up to a bad job.

Tom got to the end of car seven before he realized, he had not counted a single student. He went to the front and counted again or for the first time rather, he thought to himself. His mind was suddenly full of nothing; it was hard to concentrate and count when he kept seeing Florence's smile and hearing her voice, mistakenly calling him, Mister Perfect. Tom stopped at the door that led to train car eight, he was not sure if he had counted that time either.

"Third time is a charm," Tom thought to himself as he made it to the door again, and he was certain up to this door he had counted everyone. Tom stepped into car number eight and counted the students in each compartment, except the last one, which was empty except for two trunks. Tom figured these two students must be in car nine. The only problem with this theory was car nine was conspicuously lacking in people.

Tom checked all the compartments once again just to be sure, but no one was present. Tom thought it odd, but figured the two owners of the school trunks had passed him going the opposite direction as he had walked to count everyone. So, the grand total was two hundred forty-four; plus himself and James made two hundred forty-six. Just as Tom reached this conclusion, he heard a sound from what must be car ten.

Car ten was just as devoid of life as nine and this seemed odd to Tom. He felt an eeriness that made him edgy. Tom was certain he had heard noise in this car, yet no one was present to account for it. Unsure how to explain it; Tom thought to check another car. It was the best solution; though Tom did not really want to walk through empty cars, looking for two students he had probably counted five trains ago.

Suddenly, Tom heard noise again, laughter.

Tom ran to the door and jerked it open. Train car eleven was silent and dimly lit. Then laughter could be heard again, coming from the door at the far end of the train, which was open. Tom ran to the door and shouted at the unseen people, "Stop!"

Coming into train twelve, Tom saw the door at the far end close and he gave chase shouting again, "Stop!"

Tom ran all the way down the corridor, pushed the door open, and took two steps before he realized he was in total darkness. He stopped dead when he heard laughter all around him. A candle flared in the corner and Tom saw the outline of a person standing beside it.

"Hello Riddle," a male voice said from the dark, laughter chorused around Tom. The voice continued, "We meet again... in the dark."

More candles lit in the corners and as the train car grew more illuminated, Tom began to make out the silhouettes of three people. The train car was different from any other Tom had ever seen. It had no compartments at all; it was just one room with a red narrow strip of carpet down the center. The rest of the floor was polished wood, just like the walls, which lacked windows. In the far corners were tall candle stands, which gave the only illumination.

In the left corner stood a girl with dark hair and skin, Pinky Jan, Tom knew her even in the dim light. Dylan Burr stood in the center, his long blond hair pulled back into a ponytail at his neck, his hands were held before him caressing his wand as if he were inspecting it. Zane Bates, whose long hair hung loosely down onto his shoulders, occupied the right corner, he was lighting more candles with his wand.

Dylan looked over his wand towards Tom and sneered maliciously. He took a step forward, "I'm glad you finally made it, Riddle."

Tom stood still as the others laughed; he noticed that someone was laughing from behind him.

"I believe we all know each other, right?" Dylan asked rhetorically. "Have you finished your count Riddle? My brother gets very angry when people don't do as he says. If not there are two hundred fifty students aboard." Dylan flashed a brief smile. Then taking another step forward he continued, "Now that you are done with the count, you and I have unfinished business, yes?"

Tom spoke slowly, "No, we have no business."

Everyone laughed as Dylan spoke, "Come now, Riddle, we need to finish what we started in Diagon Alley."

"You started!" Tom retorted.

"Whatever," Dylan brushed off. "This time with no help, no snakes, no passing shoppers, just you and I, Riddle." Dylan smiled.

"And your three friends," Tom added.

"Ha!" Dylan laughed. "No, a straight duel, Riddle, come on!" Dylan came forward a bit more and held his wand in one hand. "I'd bow to you, but I'm sure you'd attack me. So, on the count of three..."

Tom's stomach clenched into a knot as he flicked his wrist to reveal his wand. Its cool handle slid into his palm and he gripped it tightly.

Dylan cleared his throat and began to count, "One... Expellarmus!"

Tom's wand flew from his hand towards Dylan. Tom stood shocked, caught unaware.

"Now Riddle, you can't duel without a wand." Everyone laughed at Dylan's jibe. "Fallus klutzen!"

Tom's feet slid out from underneath him and he fell to the floor hard. All about him, the Gryffindors laughed. "Get up!" Dylan yelled.

Tom tried to stand but fell back down in the attempt. A fresh batch of laughter rang out. Dylan walked over to stand over Tom and then he dropped Tom's wand on the floor, "Impedimenta!"

Tom froze.

"Finite!" Dylan yelled.

Tom grabbed at his wand, but it flew away from him at Dylan's command, "Wingardium leviosa!"

Tom stood up; his wand hovered above him just out of reach. Suddenly, the wand fell and Tom snatched for it as another hex hit him in the stomach. "Tarntallegra!"

Tom's legs began to flail about completely outside of his control; Tom was doing a ridiculous jig about the room as another curse flew at him.

"Protego!" Tom yelled as a yellow bolt came at him.

The bolt fizzled on his shield. "Silencio!" Tom screamed as he pointed at Dylan with his wand, but Tom fell over and the spell went wide of its mark, shattering into a million sparkles on the wall behind Dylan.

"Kike!" Dylan yelled.

Tom curled up into a ball as he felt an invisible boot kick him hard in the stomach. Tom's legs kicked madly and he thought: "End the hex," when his wand erupted in a white flash. His legs immediately came back under his control. Tom reflexively rolled over twice, away from Dylan, just in time to avoid the red flash of stinging hex.

"Silencio!" Tom called. This time the spell went true to Tom's aim and Dylan choked halfway through his hex.

Pinky Jan drew her wand so fast she knocked the candles she had lit over and the train car grew dimmer. She did not care, as she pointed her wand at Tom, who was just coming upright, "Stupefy!"

The vermillion blast flashed so quick Tom dropped back to the floor. The blast erupted in the chest of Follis Fogy, whose mean looking face illuminated briefly before he fell backwards unconscious.

"Finite!" Pinky said as a white flash shone on Dylan's face.

"Expelliarmus!" Dylan screeched, but Tom was ready.

"Protego!" And Tom countered, "Impedimenta!" But the blazing blue shot was deflected by Dylan's own shield and it exploded at his feet.

Pinky Jan began to edge away from Dylan, keeping her eyes and wand trained on Tom, which was unfortunate for her as he slipped on a candle and fell to the floor with a squeak. Dylan took a quick glance towards her and Tom seized his opportunity to hex him, "Impedimenta!"

Dylan froze looking down at the female prefect and lost balance, toppling over like a hewn tree. From the far corner, Zane Bates attempted to step in with a quick disarming spell, but Tom was quick with, "Protego!"

Tom squared to face Zane, "Locomotor mortis!" But the yellow flash went wide and knocked a few candles over, plunging the train car into further darkness. Tom stepped back and stumbled on the unconscious body of Follis. He nearly fell, but he caught himself on the wall. Zane took Tom's blunder as a boon and hexed him, "Kike!"

Tom fell down, as a boot seemed to catch his thigh. His wand skittered across the floor and out of sight. In the dim light Tom could not make out the facial features of the two people standing on his left, but he knew one was Dylan and he snarled, "Just you and I."

"Accio wand!" Dylan said. Catching Tom's wand he chuckled, "Yes, but that ended when I beat you in one jinx, Riddle." Then he held Tom's wand aloft. "Besides this is twice I've got your wand, how will you duel me now?"

Tom came upright, standing with one foot on Follis Fogy's hand. He thought of grabbing Fogy's wand, he only needed a moment. Tom balled his hand and concentrated, "Like this!" He yelled.

Throwing his hand out and open, Tom released the flash cantrip and twisted his wrist to send a vertigo with it, just as he had done to Wendy at the Riddle Manor. In the bright pop of light he reached for Fogy's wand, but he didn't find it. Pinky screamed as Dylan knocked her to the wall. Bates was too surprised to act it seemed, it was Dylan who peppered the wall with stunners.

"Stupefy!" Came again and again, as showers of vermillion sparks exploded over and around Tom.

Tom ran at Zane, envisioning faerie lights and making them swarm around his head. Tom ran right into Zane, though Zane's powerful build prevented anything from happening, except Tom bouncing off him and onto the floor. It was Dylan's stunner that brought Zane down. Tom's eyes snapped shut as bright light burst into the room.

Tom heard the familiar voices of Abraxas Malfoy and two women, he cracked his eyes open to see a volley of stunners explode on Dylan and Jan, both of whom promptly crumpled to the floor unceremoniously.

"Tom!" Abraxas called.

"Lumos!" Someone said behind Abraxas and the train car lit up.

Tom blinked a few times to adjust his eyes to the light. His first clear vision was Abraxas looking him in the eyes. "Alright there?"

Tom nodded as Abraxas helped him stand. His thigh was quite sore and his stomach had to be bruised it hurt so bad. Tom stood up on his own and looked around the train car. Tom saw D.D. and Florence standing over Pinky and Dylan, Abraxas beside him smiling broadly. All four of the Gryffindors were stunned on the floor.

Over Abraxas's shoulder, Tom saw Diedre Donnas who was looking at Pinky Jan, say to Florence, "Now that I'm getting to know her, part of me wants to show her who she's really screwing over."

Florence nodded in agreement, "Yeah! Let's wake her up and hex her again!"

Abraxas laughed and Tom joined in.

Tom looked at Abraxas, "How –"

"– Did we find out?" Abraxas finished. "The Hufflepuff beater, Gable. He overheard Dylan telling someone. So, when he came to admire your work in the prefect car; which is very admirable." Abraxas paused to smile. "He said it was a shame to let them gang up on you. After all you were obviously such a great guy."

Abraxas stepped past Tom and crouched over the stunned body of Zane, "Though it looks like you were doing some very admirable work here. I mean, four on one and you have two stunned and the other two huddled into the corner. Maybe we should've given you a few more minutes, huh?" Then he laughed, "Shall we wake them and leave you alone?"

"No!" Tom stated, as he walked to Dylan and snatched his own wand from the floor.

"Well, can we at least leave them for someone else to find... like the whole train. They're getting bored of James Burr. Besides, Kalisa said you need to come free him, as she can't, and she's a bit touchy about that so don't mention it." Abraxas chuckled at the last part.

Abraxas led the way back to the prefect car, the going was rather slow, as every time they entered a new train car someone would want to congratulate Tom or point him out to someone else. At one point, a group of nerdy looking Ravenclaws even applauded him. Periodically, Abraxas would pull someone aside and tell them of Tom's latest triumph at the back of the train. He would usually add something silly like, "He's conquering this train end to end, run before he gets you!"

When at last they reached the prefect car door, Hassan Moustafa and Micah Cirrella stood like guards barring passage to any curious eyes. When they saw Tom, they both gave him a big smile. Cirrella even opened the door for Abraxas, Tom and the girls. Inside the prefect car, not much was different from the way Tom had left it; Burr was still attacking the door to no avail.

Kalisa was leaning against the wall with Andrea; both were looking a bit irate. Kalisa saw Tom and she lost the angry face to one of concern, "Tom, are you O.K.?" She pined.

Tom did not say anything, mainly because Abraxas jumped in, "O.K.! Are you kidding? He had all four of those Gryffindors stunned before we even got there, like any four of them could handle one of us."

Neither Kalisa nor Andrea responded verbally, but Andrea looked at Tom with a smile and an appraising stare. Kalisa sighed in relief, then she spoke softly, "Way to go, Tom." She then banged on the door and shouted, "Burr!"

The door stopped shaking.

"Tom is here, stand back!" She yelled.

"Shut up! Riddle is –"

"Finished with your brother!" Tom yelled. "And Jan! ... And Fogy! ... And Bates!" Then he touched the door with his wand.

"Porticus usar!" Tom said.

In a flash of light that made everyone, save Tom, shield their eyes, the door unsealed and slid open. On the other side of the threshold stood a completely disheveled, Burr.

"What did you do to my little brother?" Burr snarled.

Kalisa stepped in between Tom and James, she spoke firmly, "Yes, your welcome! This ends, now!" She looked over her shoulder to Tom.

"O.K.," Tom shrugged.

Glaring at James, Kalisa kept going, "I'll hear nothing about your prefect car mishap; you'll hear nothing about sending Tom to a planned attack, agreed?"

Burr snarled, "Agreed."

"Good!" Kalisa nodded. "Your four flunkies are stunned at their ambush." She informed Burr as he pushed past her and Tom. She spoke again as Burr made it to the exit at the end of the train car, "And Burr, if four ambushers couldn't handle him, then you Gryffindors don't have what it takes."

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

GREAT HALL SECRETS

James stormed out of the car in a towering rage. The train car rang in a howling laughter, "Way to go, Tom!" Kalisa cheered.

Tom rode the rest of the way to school in the compartment of train car six with Abraxas, D.D., Florence, Kalisa and Andrea who kept adjusting her long blonde hair and staring at Tom. Sometime in the afternoon, the woman who pushed the snack cart opened the compartment door and offered her treats to the group. When she saw Tom, she paused and said, "I know you! Anything you want dear, it's on me."

When Tom politely refused, she offered, "Well, if you run short of butterbeer, I've some Ogden's... fire whiskey." Then she closed the door.

"Tom!" Abraxas accused. "Let me find out you found love on the Hogwarts Express!"

Florence grumbled.

Everyone else, including Tom, laughed.

The train ride the rest of the way to school was passed in this manner, with summer tales and lots of jokes. It seemed to fly by and in almost no time the train pulled into its stop. It was already dark outside when Tom stepped onto the wide concrete platform and looked around for Abraxas. Abraxas was a few people behind Tom and not moving fast.

"First years! First years this way!" A voice boomed.

Tom looked down the platform and saw Etam-Tep, the care of magical creatures teacher. The man was tall and powerfully built, even the long flowing robes of black he wore could not conceal his large muscles. He was holding a lantern over his head and calling all the first year students to him so he could take them across the lake in boats. Everyone's first view of Hogwarts was from the lakeshore, with the castle climbing into the sky. Tom recalled his first time and remembered the impressive sight.

Abraxas came up beside Tom and nudged him, "Ready?"

Tom turned to Abraxas as D.D. came up as well and said, "Hold on, Florence wants to ride in our carriage."

Abraxas looked at her with a frown, "Huh?"

D.D. tilted her head down and looked up at Tom.

"Ohhh..." Abraxas nodded.

"What?" Tom asked, feeling something had transpired and he had missed it.

"Would you two like a private car?" Abraxas asked in a facetious voice.

"Why would –" Tom stopped as Florence approached.

Florence asked, "Why would what?"

Abraxas stepped in, "Why would Tom want to do prefect stuff, when he could ride with us?"

"I don't –" but before Tom finished Kalisa started.

"There's no prefect work," then she looked at D.D., "until after the feast." Then she looked at Tom, "Jeez, Tom! Relax, we're already impressed, Dippet wouldn't have made you a prefect if he wasn't... and today, you impressed everybody else. Now, let's go. I'm hungry."

The crew of them walked across the platform to join the queue up of students, all waiting for the carriages to take them to the castle. Standing in line, Tom was tall enough to see over most of the students and so he knew that many carriages were returning. Large Clydesdale horses pulled the carriages effortlessly, with their hooves hair streaming behind them as they trotted. All the horses were large and muscular with well-groomed manes and coats that shined in the moonlight.

Eventually Tom, Abraxas, D.D., Florence, Kalisa and Andrea packed into a carriage and began to trundle up the bumpy path to Hogwarts Castle. Kalisa and Andrea had climbed in last and smushed themselves in so tight that Kalisa sat in D.D.'s lap and Andrea on top of Tom. This left Florence a bit huffy and she quickly pointed out that other carriages were available, but Andrea pulled the door shut and the horses began to trot.

"Am I squashing you, Tom?" Andrea asked leaning into him.

"No," Tom lied, blowing strands of her golden hair out of his mouth.

"Good, cause this is pretty comfy," Andrea giggled.

Tom could tell Florence was not very comfortable, though no one was on top of her.

As they rolled past the gates of the school, with its winged boars and iron fence, Tom sighed in relief. It felt good to be back in school, even if his father was less than impressed with its curriculum. Besides, Tom knew he had a lot of work to do this year between the O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizard Level) tests and the secret chamber his father had built. It would be a busy year.

Under normal circumstances Tom would have worried about the tests, O.W.L.'s were the most important thing in the wizarding world. Good test scores were imperative to finding a respectable profession in the world after school. After the O.W.L.'s, you could stop going to school if you like and try your hand, but Tom was not going to do that. He was going to stay the two extra years and take his N.E.W.T.'s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests) in hopes of finding work in the Ministry of Magic. Tom was not worried though, normal circumstances had changed and his new memory skills virtually assured him perfect scores. This made Tom smile.

Andrea wiggled in his lap, "Are you comfortable?" She asked as she leaned back into him. Her hair swayed into his eyes as they hit another bump.

Tom flashed her a quick smile.

The carriage stopped outside the front doors of the castle. Kalisa leaned forward and popped the door open, then climbed out and waited for the rest, D.D. quickly jumped out, followed by Abraxas, Andrea pushed herself off of Tom and stepped out, Tom followed, then Florence. Tom closed the carriage door and it immediately rolled away.

The front entrance of the castle was lit up by large gas lamps on both sides of the doors. The Hogwarts emblem, a large "H" with all four house familiars about it; the serpent for Slytherin, the raven for Ravenclaw, the badger for Hufflepuff, the griffin for Gryffindor; was carved into the center of the wide double doors. The top of the doors was an arch and the doors were a dark wood. They swung inwards by magic as the group came up the three wide stone steps. Beyond the door was a foyer, with a tile floor that was a depiction of the Hogwarts emblem again.

The foyer was about ten meters wide and a few more long, it ended in another set of double doors, pulled open so that only the stone archway of the doorframe could be seen. Just beyond the arch stood a group of students speaking to the transfiguration professor, Professor Dumbledore. The teacher was leaning in on a young girl, speaking in a hushed voice that Tom could not hear, but when he was done the girl squealed, "Thank-you Professor!"

Professor Dumbledore smiled through his long auburn beard and winked his bright blue eyes at her. Only the teacher's height let Tom see him over the growing number of students, Professor Dumbledore wore scarlet robes with a gold trim at the collar and cuffs. Tom knew these matched the house colors of Gryffindor, of which the professor was the head. Being head of Gryffindor was not why Tom disliked the teacher; it was the way he acted towards Tom. Whenever Tom asked questions outside the normal scope of lessons, Professor Dumbledore always needled Tom about why he was asking these things.

Openly, Professor Dumbledore praised Tom and his aptitude for magic, even Tom's dedication to understanding all he could. It was in the private moments, when Tom and the professor were speaking after classes or about the school, that the teacher's concern for Tom's insatiable curiosity became apparent. It was not something Tom could explain, it was just a feeling that if he did not have a good reason for asking a particular question then the professor would not answer him.

As Tom crossed the threshold into the main entrance of the school, with its wide staircases, living portraits and tall stained glass windows, the professor looked up and caught his eye. He gave Tom a brief nod then spoke loudly, "Now, I must really get the first year students ready for the sorting ceremony before The Start-of-Term Feast."

An outbreak of moans came from the group of students.

"I'm sure all of your questions can be answered by our very inquisitive prefect, Mister Riddle. Or our head girl, Miss Donnas." The professor added seeing Kalisa behind Tom. "And after the feast, I'll speak with him to see if there are any problems." Then Professor Dumbledore swept out of the entrance hall, leaving the group of students to Tom and Kalisa.

Tom had no problems with the gathering of students, as none of them had any questions for him except, "Did you really lock the head boy in the prefect car?"

Which Tom nodded to in response.

Then after a few giggles another asked, "And stun half the Gryffindor Quidditch team, because they tried to free him?"

Before Tom could answer, the asker said, "I knew it was true!"

Murmurs broke out amongst the group.

"Does anyone have a question about the school?" A stern man's voice called from the staircase that led into the entrance hall from the dungeons below.

Tom knew the voice well, Professor Slughorn, the potions teacher and head of Slytherin. Professor Slughorn's voice was rough and strong, but still friendly somehow. He wore robes of green and had always worn green robes since the day Tom arrived at Hogwarts five years ago. The tint would change, as would the color of the trim, but always green. Today it was a kelly green that somehow seemed to flatter his wispy red hair.

Professor Slughorn came to a halt at the head of the steps; he gave a quick glance around the small crowd. "If not, then you should be moving along into the Great Hall, for The Start-of-Term Feast."

The group immediately began to move towards the hall.

"Riddle," the professor called at Tom, "a word."

Tom froze in his steps, he was sure he was in trouble. Why else would Professor Slughorn want him in private? Tom broke from Abraxas, D.D., Kalisa, Florence and Andrea with a nervous glance of dread and a hurried plea, "Save me a seat."

Abraxas nodded nonchalantly and kept walking with the others towards the Great Hall, while Tom walked to Professor Slughorn feeling pretty glum. He eyed Tom impatiently, then led him down the steps to his office. Tom followed him in silence, thinking of excuses for his actions during the train ride to school.

A flick of the Professor's wand opened his office door, before he made it to the door. Tom followed him. Professor Slughorn's office was cold and dark, but another wave of his wand brought light from groups of candles scattered about. Tom smiled to himself thinking, he could light those candles without a wand.

"Well, Mister Riddle," he began. "I'm afraid that I've a bit of bad news for you –"

"– I'm sorry, I didn't –" Tom interrupted.

"– Your books have not arrived yet," Professor Slughorn kept speaking.

Tom's mouth clamped shut.

Professor Slughorn gave a quick nod and a smile, "Thank-you! I hate talking over people." Then he cleared his throat, "Sit down, please."

The professor indicated a small chair beside his fireplace. He sat in a large wooden armchair facing Tom. Pointing his wand at the fireplace, a fire jumped to life as if it had been burning for hours. Tom smiled at his work and spoke tentatively, "You use no words, Professor."

"No, Mister Riddle," he brushed off. "I'm powerful enough that I need not use words, my thoughts are sufficient." Then he visually appraised Tom, "I'd think that as much reading as you do, you'd be able to create fire without words as well. Which brings me –"

"No wand," Tom muttered.

"– Excuse me?" he asked.

"I don't need a wand." Tom repeated loudly.

Professor Slughorn chuckled, "Really, Mister Riddle, you're good, but –"

His words faltered as Tom made the gesture of blowing out a candle and instantly all the candles extinguished. He next pointed to each group and they relit. In the returning light Tom saw his teacher's astonishment. His mouth hung open and his eyes were wide with wonder.

"Amazing!" he breathed.

Tom looked at him and waited for the rest, which he knew was coming.

"That's extremely impressive, in my life I've only met one other person who could do spell work without a wand, Professor Dumbledore. I shall have to tell him about –"

"No!" Tom yelled.

The surprise on Professor Slughorn's face, made his former look of surprise appear to be one of mild interest. Tom immediately realized, he had yelled at his teacher and he was not accustomed to being yelled at by students. He commanded too much respect to be treated like that.

Tom explained quickly and very softly, "Please, Professor! I don't want anyone to know, let's just keep it secret."

Professor Slughorn really looked shocked now, bordering on looking scandalized, "But Mister Riddle, this is a rare gift and how will you hone it without proper instruction?"

The stern look on Tom's face showed his seriousness about the matter. Professor Slughorn shrugged.

"I suppose the stories of Mister Burr and Miss Jan weren't tall tales."

Tom's heart jumped as his eyebrows shot up past his forehead and his mouth fell open in surprise as the teacher continued, "You stunned and blinded them without a wand. Honestly, we had all discounted it as nonsense."

Tom's eyebrows went higher and his heart faster, but his lips pursed as he received confirmation of his fear. He was in trouble.

"Yes, all the staff knows," Professor Slughorn stated. "None of them believe it and I won't change that by telling them your secret. You are definitely not the first Slytherin to possess secret powers." He paused to reposition himself in his chair.

Tom took the opportunity to say, "Thank-you."

Professor Slughorn looked at Tom, "Since none of the staff believes it happened, I don't believe there should be any punishment, however..." and he stressed that. "The staff will now be watching you to see if you exhibit any special powers. So, I'd suggest you keep your hidden powers... hidden."

"Yes." Tom acknowledged.

Professor Slughorn looked appeased by Tom's response. "I don't know what happened, nor do I wish too. On a personal note though, I'm glad that whatever happened; a student of mine stood up to a group of Dumbledore's and emerged victorious. Or close enough to it that they ran for help." He smiled. "I firmly believe that only the loser of the fight appeals to a higher authority for help."

Tom felt a closeness to the professor in this exchange and thought it a nice aberration from his normal stoic self. He thought he felt some bit of pride in his performance.

"Personally," Professor Slughorn intoned. "I find the headmaster's appointments of James and Dylan Burr; questionable. I think his love of Quidditch may have clouded his judgement, but it's his decision to make, so we'll just have to do our best." Professor Slughorn stood up and strode over to his desk.

Tom was thinking it was time to leave, when the professor pointed at a stack of books and spoke again, "Now, as I said your books have yet to arrive, so I've written the orphanage and checked these out of the school library, for you to use in the interim."

Tom cut in, "No, Professor, I've got my books."

Professor Slughorn looked perplexed.

Tom continued, "I went to Diagon Alley and bought them, new robes, new wand and a new broomstick."

Professor Slughorn was stunned, "How?"

Before Tom could respond, he asked, "Did you say a new broomstick?"

Tom smiled, "A Silver Arrow, Professor."

Professor Slughorn fell back into his desk chair, "Oh my!" He looked at Tom very thoughtfully, "Mister Riddle, Headmaster Dippet isn't the only one who appreciates good Quidditch. Why, a broom like that could be just what you need to finally defeat Dumble – I mean Gryffindor for the cup." He smiled. Then he stood up very quickly and walked to his office door, "Well, this is going to be a very exciting year for you, isn't it?" He opened his office door, "Now, go on to the feast and start it." He nodded as Tom left his office.

Tom ran up the steps and into the entrance hall. He slowed down at the doors of the Great Hall to grab the large silver handle and jerk the door open.

"Running late, aren't we?" An oil painting of a dog beside the door chastised.

Tom did not answer, he just walked through the doorway and pulled the large door shut behind him.

No matter how many times Tom walked into the Great Hall, it impressed him each time. Everything about the hall was impressive from its tall stain glass windows, to its enchanted ceiling that mimicked the sky above the castle, to the floating candles that illuminated the tables. The tables were also amazing; four of them ran the length of the hall, one for each house and all full of students. At the far end of the hall was a raised platform upon which a fifth table for staff rested. This table ran perpendicular to the student tables and had chairs on only one side, so all those seated at it could observe the four tables of students.

The enchanted ceiling was a dark purple filled with a multitude of tiny bright white spots that twinkled, just like the stars they mirrored. The candles that floated overhead flickered as if their flames were stars themselves, shining their pale light on the congregation below. The soft mist the candles hung in was the thin veil of clouds above the castle, but in the Great Hall it served to give each candle's flame a halo.

The center aisle between the tables was congested with small children who glanced around nervously. They tried to peer around one another to look at the head table. Over their heads, Tom could see Professor Dumbledore stood in front of the staff table. The tall man held a roll of parchment in his hand, but he did not read from it. He was looking at something shorter than him by his side.

Tom could not see the item beside Professor Dumbledore, but he knew what it was. The sorting hat on its old stool, the old wizard hat of Godric Gryffindor, who had left the hat to decide which student belonged in which of the four houses at Hogwarts. The expectant silence that hung in the air, confirmed this to Tom as students at every table craned their necks to see the hat. Suddenly, all the first year students, who had never seen this ceremony, gasped.

In the dark ages

The misty times of yore

Amidst magic persecution

Arose the Hogwarts four

They built themselves a castle

To stand forever more

A sanctuary of learning

Amid the raging storm

First came Slytherin

Who took all whose blood was pure

Then spoke Gryffindor

Asking for courage to the core

Next Hufflepuff

Needing loyalty to endure

Last Ravenclaw

Wanting those with brains galore

It was a time of misconception

A time of myth and lore

When all thought magic evil

And so sought to destroy

Yet Hogwarts stood fast

With the knowledge to endure

To teach the young ones magic

And make it, as it was before

When times look bleak and troubles dark

Just knock upon our door

We'll help you out, set things right

Cause that's what Hogwarts for

As promised a seat was waiting right next to Abraxas at the Slytherin house table.

Tom sat down abruptly and looked at Abraxas, then to his other side where D.D. sat. "Not sitting together?" Tom asked, astonished they were apart.

Abraxas chuckled, "D.D. thought it would be safer this way."

Tom's questioning look at D.D. must have been enough because D.D. spoke immediately, "Florence and Andrea might have killed each other to sit next to you."

Tom's expression did not change. He could not fathom why either one of them would want to sit beside him. Florence often did, they had been friends for years. Andrea did not really make any sense and was older, Tom knew her by name only.

D.D. answered Tom's look, "Tom, if you ever looked up from your stupid books, then you'd notice that Florence likes you... a lot." Then she looked across the table at Andrea and muttered, "She's just a floozy."

Abraxas snorted.

D.D. snapped at him, "She only wants Tom because Florence does and she needs to prove she is prettier."

Tom was a bit nonplussed by the exchange. He liked Florence just fine, but this Andrea, while pretty, had something in her stare that made Tom feel weird. Tom looked up idly to the sorting while Abraxas and D.D. finished their quarrel; that only seemed to humor Abraxas while D.D. got angry. It ended abruptly, without Tom noticing.

"Tom!" Abraxas snapped.

Tom inclined his head toward Abraxas, but kept looking at the sorting ceremony. He was wishing that it would finish, so he could eat. Tom realized he had not eaten all day.

"Tom!" Abraxas repeated and nudged Tom.

Tom looked at Abraxas, "What?"

Abraxas shook his head, "What did Slughorn want? Are you in trouble?"

"Nothing of importance. No, but he knows. Apparently none of the staff believe their story about me doing magic without my wand. So –"

"What are you talking about?" Abraxas asked incredulously.

"Told you!" D.D. said.

"Huh?" Tom asked.

"I knew that wand was yours!" D.D. spoke matter-of-factly. "Abraxas said you were stealing Dylan's."

Abraxas spoke very pointedly at D.D., "Tom, tell her!"

"Tell her what?" Tom asked.

"That you stole Dylan's wand, show her the wand you took." Abraxas replied in exasperated tones.

Tom pulled his wand from his sleeve and showed it to D.D., "This is the wand I took from Dylan."

"Now, show her your wand." Abraxas directed.

Tom looked from the wand to Abraxas, "This is my wand."

"But!" Abraxas's head snapped back in shock.

"Ha!" D.D. laughed.

Tom held the wand in front of him and spoke to them both, "This is my new wand, thirteen and one half inches, yew, Phoenix tail feather core. The man, Mister Ollivander told me it's one of the strongest he has ever made." Tom smiled at the wand as it slid back up his sleeve.

"That old wand was entirely too weak for me, apparently this one will improve my magic work a hundred fold. From what I've seen of its ability, I don't doubt it. I mean, look at what I did to the door on the train. Then coming out of Knock –"

"You went to Diagon Alley?" Abraxas asked.

"Told you!" D.D. said haughtily.

"Yeah, but –" Tom paused to look at Abraxas, who looked hurt. "I'll tell you later, promise." This seemed to placate Abraxas, a bit.

"Listen!" Tom commanded Abraxas. "Coming out of Knockturn Alley –"

"Knockturn Alley!" Abraxas said a bit too loud and it seemed as if the whole hall rang with the words as everyone looked at him.

Professor Dumbledore looked at Abraxas, Tom and D.D. and then swept his glance about the hall, "Well, now that the boring part is over, perhaps we should eat while Mister Malfoy finishes his story."

The hall rang with laughter.

As the Headmaster, Armando Dippet, stood up, silence fell across the hall. He briefly adjusted his robes of black, emblazoned on his left chest was a large "H". He raised his hands in greeting, "Welcome! To another year of Hogwarts. Now, let's eat!"

When the headmaster finished speaking, a brief applause broke out. The tables in the hall groaned under the weight of food trays that began to materialize. Pitchers of iced pumpkin juice and water popped into existence and beside them were trays of mashed potatoes and peas, garden salads, pork chops, meat loaf, whole chickens roasted crispy golden. The whole school began the feast and even the story Tom had been trying to tell lost its intrigue when compared to the marvelous food offered.

Abraxas was piling lasagna on Tom's plate saying, "I know it's your favorite."

Tom took the opportunity to steal a glance at the head table. The headmaster sat at the very center of the table in a huge ornate chair, beside him sat Professor Dumbledore who was handing a loaf of bread on a cutting board to Professor Spectacus, the divination teacher. Beside her was charms Professor Trichinus, then Professor Slughorn, who was looking directly at Abraxas. This prompted Tom to nudge Abraxas and nod to the head of House Slytherin. Abraxas blanched as he looked up and Professor Slughorn shook his head while pursing his lips, he could convey so much in that look that Tom even felt embarrassed.

Abraxas sighed and shrugged meekly.

As Abraxas passed D.D. the large bowl of garden salad, Tom peered around him to look down the other side of the table. Professor Merrythought who taught defense against the dark arts was picking out the tiny whole tomatoes of his own salad, while Professor Celeste stared at the stars pointing some out to Professor Herrera, who looked most interested in her astronomy lesson even if it would never help grow a single plant in his herbology department. Professor Arimiam sat next to Professor Gamee, the arythmancy and care of magical creatures teachers, both laughed at a joke Tom had not heard.

Abraxas took the bowl back from D.D. and asked, "Are you going to finish your story?"

Tom looked at Abraxas, "Yeah, I was coming out of Knockturn Alley –"

Abraxas cut in, "I can't believe you went to Knockturn Alley."

Tom took a bite of his lasagna and instantly was ravenously hungry, he kept eating, while Abraxas rambled about how if he had known he would have met Tom and showed him around. Tom had to stop shoveling food in his mouth, so he could catch his breath. Abraxas took that as a sign that Tom was going to talk and shut up. Tom merely looked at him sideways over another piled high forkful of lasagna and said, "Angela took me everywhere important, I got robes –"

"I knew it!" D.D. proclaimed. "Madam Malkins, I'd say."

Tom's puzzled look gave D.D. the opening to continue, "They fit too perfectly to be anyone else."

Abraxas leaned forward to look past Tom, "D.D., no one cares about Tom's new robes."

D.D. blushed, "They do look great," she murmured.

Tom looked at Abraxas, "I care, it's the first new thing I've ever owned."

Abraxas exhaled, "It's clothes –"

"Damn fine clothes!" D.D. cheered.

"– And how did you pay –"

"Good choice, Tom." D.D. said, just when Abraxas frowned at her so severely she pulled back in silence and muttered, "Sorry!"

"Tom!" Abraxas snapped, bringing Tom's attention from the lasagna to him.

"Yeah?" Tom asked.

"Pay? How?" Abraxas demanded.

"Oh, well... money isn't a problem now, I –" but Tom stopped. "This is best talked about later, with less ears around," looking across the table at Andrea.

Andrea looked very pleased to catch Tom's eye, "Your robes do look exquisite." She smiled.

Tom nodded his thank-you and stuffed the forkful of lasagna into his mouth.

"What do you mean, money is not a problem now?" Abraxas asked. "Did you perfect alchemy over the summer or did the orphanage –"

"I'm not at the orphanage." Tom told Abraxas calmly.

Andrea screamed as Abraxas spit pumpkin juice all over her, D.D. dropped her fork, she and Abraxas stared at Tom in disbelief.

"You two O.K.?" Tom asked as he helped himself to another fork load of lasagna.

Abraxas wiped his chin with his robes and coughed, "What... where..."

Tom put down his fork and handed Abraxas a napkin, "I don't live at the orphanage anymore. I've got a house; well actually, I'm told it's a manor. It's in Little Hangleton." Tom said matter-of-factly.

"You're joking," Abraxas breathed.

"Not in the least." Tom said as he picked up his fork and began to scoop more lasagna. "Damn!" Tom swore.

"What?" Abraxas asked.

"My lasagna is gone." Tom said in resignation and sighed.

The lasagna was indeed gone, so were all the other dinner entree dishes. Replacing all the main dishes were smaller plates full of cookies and crackers, pies and cakes, fruit cocktails and even some cheese wedges. Tom frowned at the desserts. Abraxas grabbed a whole French silk pie as a younger student reached for it.

Abraxas handed the whole thing to Tom, "Here shovel this into your mouth."

The younger student cried, "Hey!"

Abraxas looked at the child fiercely and mocked, "Have some cheese with that whine."

The younger student sullenly reached for some cherry cobbler.

Abraxas turned back to Tom, "So let me get this right; last year and all the years prior, you were a poor orphan boy with faded and holey robes living at an orphanage struggling to make an ink bottle last because you couldn't afford more. Now, you're a wealthy, manor owning orphan with exquisite robes."

"I'm not an orphan." Tom corrected.

D.D. dropped her spoon in her strawberry ice cream. Abraxas was apparently too stunned to speak by the look on his face.

"Explain," was all Abraxas could piece together.

"In the hall," Tom said. "Besides, it would seem the feast is at its end." As Tom spoke the desserts vanished and the headmaster stood up.

The headmaster spoke loudly; his voice echoed off the walls, "It is time to bid you all goodnight. But I wish you all an excellent year." Then he sat down.

The noise level of the whole hall rose swiftly as students and staff rose as one and filed out of the hall. D.D. jumped up, "First year Slytherins, come here!" She waved at a young boy, who looked scared out of his wits.

Abraxas pulled Tom close and whispered, "What's the password?"

"Onomatopoeia," Tom answered.

"What is that?" Abraxas puzzled.

Tom responded without thinking, "A noun derived from Greek, onomatopolla; onoma, name... poiein, to make. In English, onomatopoeia is the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it, as in the hiss of a snake.

"How do you know that; where do you learn half the stuff you know?" Abraxas asked in wonder.

"Mmph," Tom shrugged.

"Tom, when you first joined House Slytherin, we joked you were too poor to be one. Now, we joke you're too smart." Abraxas gave a quick laugh. "But I still like you." He walked towards the door.

"Tom, Tom Riddle," a voice called behind Tom.

Tom turned to face Professor Dumbledore. The professor stood a bit taller than Tom and looked very calm, his voice was smooth and his eyes looked into Tom's with a sureness that made Tom uncomfortable, "May I speak to you for a moment?"

"Yes, Sir," Tom replied in complete deference.

Professor Dumbledore looked about as the students filed out of the hall. He briefly made eye contact with Tom and with a smile and a hand gestured implied, he would wait until the hall was clear. This happened simultaneously too fast and too slow for Tom. Tom was nervous about speaking to the professor so he wanted the hall never to empty, but he also wanted to go finish telling Abraxas about his past few days, which made him want to finish this conversation quickly.

When the hall cleared, Professor Dumbledore asked, "Shall we sit?"

Tom sat down at the Slytherin house table, but the professor did not. He looked at Tom, "May I sit?"

"Yes," Tom responded in a questioning voice.

"Thank-you!" The teacher said in delight. Professor Dumbledore grinned and looked down the table. "I don't think a Gryffindor has sat at the Slytherin table in," he looked at the enchanted ceiling in thought, "I suppose since Salazar Slytherin left." He shrugged. Then he looked at Tom and spoke with a very serious tone, "I'm very honored."

In Tom's silence, the teacher continued, "You know it was an argument between Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor that sent Salazar Slytherin away."

Tom knew the story and in an effort to show his complete grasp of the topic he commented, "And Lorac, the divination teacher."

Professor Dumbledore smiled and looked pleasantly surprised, "Yes, do you know what they argued about?"

Tom nodded, "Mudbloods –"

Tom stopped at the teacher's look of disgust. Tom knew mudblood was a horrible word of degradation, used to mock wizards born to muggles, but the word had just come out.

Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat, then gave Tom a funny look, "Yes, what Slytherin called mudbloods. For he thought those not born of wizard families could not be trusted –"

"– They killed wizards off indiscriminately!" Tom yelled as he stood up.

His teacher looked at him calmly, "Thus his Noble Cause was born." The professor said sorrowfully. Then he nodded and spoke normally, "Well, I should of expected you to know the whole story. You who tried to read the whole library in your first year." The professor chuckled. "Come, sit down."

Tom sat back down, feeling rather embarrassed he had yelled, he avoided eye contact.

Professor Dumbledore looked on, seemingly amused, "Reading, which is one of the things I'd like to discuss with you. Professor Slughorn made mention that your books have yet to arrive, I wonder if you'll be O.K. to do your transfiguration work without the text."

"Yes!" Tom answered waving his hand. "It's all taken care of."

"Good..." Professor Dumbledore half-heartedly responded, his eyes on Tom's hand. They stayed transfixed on the gold ring, "That's a very nice ring, Tom. When did you get it? I've never noticed it before."

"It's a –" Tom paused in panic, he could not tell the truth about the ring. "It's a family heirloom." Tom said.

Professor Dumbledore kept inspecting the ring and his voice carried a great deal of disbelief, "I didn't realize orphans had family heirlooms."

"I'm not –" Tom stopped again. He definitely could not tell Professor Dumbledore he was not an orphan. Angela had told him to keep all this secret, who would believe the story of the painting. Tom barely believed the past few days and he had lived them.

"Yes?" The professor prodded.

"I'm not sure how it came about that the orphanage held it, but now it's mine." Tom lied.

The face on Professor Dumbledore was not one of trust and he asked rather meekly, as though he knew the response, "May I see it?"

Tom pulled his hand back instinctively and spoke rather forcibly, "I'm rather protective of it."

"I can see." The professor commented. "I suppose it is one more thing you wish to keep secret."

Tom's questioning look prompted the teacher to continue, "Like the duel on the train. Magic like that is rare, and one who could do it, may wish to conceal it. It can be a fabulous boon though, if honed and practiced like charms. It can be powerful if studied like transfiguration. There are some who believe you're gifted with this talent, but say you hide it. That may be, I don't know. I know I have it and if you wish to find out if you do as well; please come ask me for help." Then Professor Dumbledore smiled at Tom.

The teacher rested his elbows on the table, steepled his fingers and began tapping his index fingers mindlessly on his lips. Tom knew the man was thinking hard to choose his next words carefully.

"Tom," he began. "You are a marvelous student, a benefit to House Slytherin. They will be cheering your name for years I've no doubt. You will be the great wizard you so desire to be." The teacher paused. "I would like to help you and if you need my help, you need only ask." Then he stood up and left the Great Hall.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

COMMON ROOM CONFESSIONS

As the professor left the Great Hall, Tom stood up. With a quick glance around the hall he envisioned the day his father had left this school. Tom imagined all the students awestruck as Lorac made her prediction and lightning seared across the enchanted ceiling. Then she left the school with her love, Tom's father; the two would never return. That was the tentative stalemate reached between Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin, one left and they never spoke again. The disagreement never settled, though Salazar Slytherin had sworn he would return and rescue Godric Gryffindor from his mistake.

Tom came out of his thoughts when someone tugged at his robe's hem. Tom looked down and saw a small house elf at his feet. The elf stood just shy of a meter in height and had almond shaped eyes as green as emeralds. A white towel was wrapped about it like a toga. Beside the elf was a mop and bucket. It looked at Tom patiently and spoke softly, "The feast is ended, Sir. Is you needing something?"

"No." Tom stated and he walked towards the door.

Tom stepped into the grand entrance hall and a voice came from the oil painting beside the door, "Always one step behind, aren't you?"

Tom spun on the portrait of a black dog sitting amongst a group of dandelions, "Do you ever say anything helpful?"

"I'm a dog, not a philosopher." The portrait scoffed.

Without another word Tom walked away, towards the staircase that led down to the lower levels of the castle. He walked quickly down the steps and past Professor Slughorn's office. The walls of the corridor were all bare stone and only a candle bracket every few meters gave any illumination. Tom passed various classrooms and a few tapestries then went down another flight of steps.

At the landing, Tom turned and walked off the main corridor towards the Slytherin common room. Across from a candle bracket, a serpent was emblazoned into the wall. The eyes of the serpent watched Tom and it hissed in parseltongue, "Password?"

Tom smiled at the image; he knew only he could hear it speak. He swore a few people did not believe him when he told them it did. Even though only Slytherin House members could see the serpent. That was proved every time another house's members walked by without commenting on it. Additionally, enough Slytherins had tested other house's members by asking them to find the snake and offering rewards to anyone successful. It was as normal to believe that water was wet, as for a Slytherin to believe no one but a Slytherin could see the snake. Tom's revelation that the snake spoke was a bit tough to prove, even if you could see the eyes move, the tongue flick or the tail wiggle.

"Onomatopoeia," Tom answered.

The bricks around the snake separated and revealed the entrance to the Slytherin common room. Tom stepped though the opening and into the large room beyond, behind him the wall sealed itself. The Slytherin common room or Slytherin Hall as the Slytherins called it, was large and well furnished with well-cushioned armchairs and soft couches. One wall had been converted into a bookcase, which contained many of the most commonly needed texts and quite a few books from the restricted section of the library. Across from the bookcase was a large fireplace, which was cast in green blocks and trimmed with silver. This matched the tile flooring which was also green and silver, though large sections were covered in thick carpets of green.

At the far end of Slytherin Hall were three flights of stairs, or more correctly thought Tom, one wide stairway that split into two when the center gave way to another open area, which was referred to as the fifth year study. The stairs continued to the private chambers of the students. The fifth year study was smaller than Slytherin Hall, but still very splendid. It had its own fireplace and many tables and chairs, plus a continuation of the full wall bookcase.

With all these marvelous amenities, it seemed little wonder to Tom that he enjoyed being here as opposed to the orphanage. Still, none of the books were being used, no one sat in the soft couches or grand armchairs; all of the furniture was pushed up and stacked against the bookcase. Tom thought that weird only for a moment. All of House Slytherin stood around the edges of the room, Tom quickly noticed fifty people staring at three women in the center facing the rest. Tom knew this could mean only one thing: court.

Kalisa Donnas stepped forward and called out, "Slytherins, bear witness!"

Tom's eyes widened as he thought: wow, this is formal court.

All the Slytherins present immediately stopped jostling or whispering and gave Kalisa their full attention.

Kalisa hooked her brown hair behind her ears and looked around before speaking again, "Florence Carr has called Andrea Towson to the Dueling Court to settle a matter of personal interest and asks that all those present bear witness and uphold the decision of these proceedings." Kalisa finished and waited a moment before speaking again.

Many people looked around and questioned each other quietly. Tom wished he was in the crowd and began to edge towards it. He knew that whatever this matter was, it was serious. Florence was calling all of House Slytherin to witness and uphold the decision, instead of the two just dueling and the winner settling the dispute by telling the loser how they wanted things to be. Tom had only seen this twice before and both duels had been vicious, in one both duelers had simultaneously used memory charms on each other and, after the smoke had cleared, neither could remember the original matter they had wanted to settle.

Tom stepped into the crowd as many of the people eyed him curiously and gave him a wide berth. Abraxas stepped up and whispered, "This is great, Tom. You must be so excited."

Tom's confused look was not sufficient to get more from Abraxas, maybe because Abraxas's eyes were glued to the three girls in the center of the room. Tom voiced his question, "Why?"

"Why?" Abraxas snorted. "They're dueling over you."

Tom choked on his breath, "What!"

"Yeah," Abraxas smiled.

Kalisa spoke again, "D.D., the dueling carpet."

D.D. stood at the landing of the wide staircase; she levitated a wide black roll in front of her. At Kalisa's command, she flicked her wand and the carpet fell to the ground and unrolled across Slytherin Hall. The carpet unrolled to reveal an intricate woven pattern of entwined serpents, two large snakes of silver and green. The snake tails where one combatant of the duel would stand, wound to the center of the carpet where the heads bared their fangs. In the center a large "S" was embroidered into the carpet in a metallic silver. A matching pair of snakeheads baring fangs lay on the other side of the centerpiece, their bodies entwined down to the tails where the second combatant would stand.

As the last of the carpet unrolled, Kalisa stepped into the centerpiece and looked at Florence, "Florence Carr, do you still challenge Andrea Towson?"

Florence snapped her head at Andrea, her bright green eyes alive with malice, "I do!" She snarled.

Kalisa pointed to the end of the carpet by her younger sister, D.D., "Then take your position."

Florence walked down the carpet with her wand in hand. Kalisa then turned to Andrea Towson, "Andrea Towson, you are challenged in the Dueling Court. Stand and defend yourself or submit."

Andrea pulled her long blond hair back and spoke calmly, "I will defend myself."

Kalisa nodded, "Then take your position." She pointed to the far end of the mat.

Andrea reached her position and drew her wand; she threw her long blond hair over her shoulder and smiled maliciously. Kalisa nodded to both of them and spoke to the crowd of Slytherins, "Fellow Slytherins the Dueling Court is in session. Bear witness and uphold the decision. Only the strong can rule."

Kalisa stepped off the dueling carpet and turned to face the two women, "Bow to each other in respect for your adversaries honor and let this matter be settled."

The two women barely nodded.

"Begin!" Kalisa yelled.

Florence immediately stepped to her right and pointed her wand, "Stupefy!"

Andrea quickly dropped to one knee and flicked her wand, "Impedimenta!"

Both spells shot wide of their intended target.

Florence and Andrea, both used memory charms and the spells struck each other mid-carpet, exploding into a million flashing crackles of light.

Andrea followed her memory charm with, "Expelliarmus!"

But before Florence's wand could leap from her hand she created a shield, "Protego!" And the disarming spell fizzled.

The shield faded as Florence sent a stunner at Andrea, "Stupefy!"

With Andrea on the defensive, Florence pelted her with stunners and stinging hexes. Nothing broke through Andrea's shield, though.

Tom was impressed with the display as Florence's stunners illuminated Andrea's face in vermillion, each one breaking across the shield emanating from Andrea's wand.

In the short break it took Florence to take in breath, Andrea dispelled her shield and jumped forward, "Silencio!"

The silencing charm caught Florence mid-stunner and her voice croaked in her throat.

Andrea flicked her wrist and slashed with her wand, "Laceros!" And a small gash opened on Florence's right cheek.

Andrea mocked her mute opponent, "Well now, we can't have that now can we. You look lopsided." And she sneered. "Maybe another scar to match… a nice set, yes?" She slashed her wand again, "Laceros!" As another gash opened on Florence's left cheek.

Florence's hand shot to her face to grab the cut and anger flashed in her eyes. Andrea's eyes gloated and she jabbed her wand out, "Kike!" Florence collapsed holding her stomach, while Andrea laughed.

Tom knew this duel was over; Andrea would just toy with Florence now.

Andrea's laughter stopped and she spoke cruelly at Florence, "He's not even your man and I never even noticed him before his display today; other than to see if he'd give me the answers to my homework." Then she smiled maliciously, "But just because I can and to hurt you, I'll take him."

Florence sat up and without warning the carpet beneath Andrea's feet snapped up tossing her into the wall behind her. Florence slowly stood up, clenching her stomach and with blood trickling down both cheeks onto her robes. She stared at the motionless body crumpled against the wall then raised her wand. With a quick slash of Florence's wand, Andrea's head rolled as if it were hit.

"Enough!" Kalisa yelled. "The duel is over!" She said finally.

Kalisa stepped into the center of the dueling carpet and faced Florence, "Slytherins, bear witness; Florence Carr has defeated Andrea Towson in the fair combat of the Dueling Court."

Tom stepped towards the front of the crowd to better see, but Florence held her head down. Florence's head bobbed up and down and tears mingled with the blood that was dripping to the floor. Tom thought it odd that Florence made no sound when it registered; she was still silenced. He flicked his wrist to reveal his wand as he stepped beside Florence, who slowly looked up at him.

"Finite!" Tom said. The white flash released her.

Sobs came out of Florence's mouth and Tom saw the deep gouges in her cheeks. Florence's robes now wet with her blood and tears clung to her body, while her hair tangled to her collar. Kalisa leaned close to Florence and whispered, "Come on, the shaman should be able to heal you."

Florence gave a brief nod and shuffled towards the door guided by Kalisa's arm. Tom felt a yearning in his chest to do something to assist Florence, but he did not know what. Faced with this inability to decide how he could help the situation, he stood idly while Kalisa escorted Florence away. Abraxas stepped up to him and put his arm around Tom, "Ah, to be in love."

Around Tom a flurry of activity commenced. D.D. rolled up the dueling carpet, while others levitated the furniture back into place. People walked by giving Tom sly winks and knowing smiles. Two girls passed behind him and he overheard one say, "All over him!" They kept walking. Abraxas stood beside Tom and looked down at the blood drops and tears, nodding his head.

Abraxas cleared his throat, "What a day, huh?" Then he flashed his best smile at Tom. "First you sealed up the head boy; then you stunned his git of a younger brother; now two women duel over you." Abraxas whistled.

Tom's mind was completely blank.

"All that's left is for you to tell me about the summer excursion to Knockturn Alley."

Something clinked in Tom's mind, "I can do better."

"Ha!" Abraxas laughed. "How?"

"Come on!" Tom said. "I want to introduce you to my new friend." And he began to walk toward the stairs.

"Tom?" Abraxas questioned.

"Come on!" Tom called back.

Abraxas followed him up the stairs and into their dorm room. The private bedchambers were more luxurious than that of Slytherin Hall. The door was solid oak and had a silver doorknob with a serpent etching in it. A large carpet ran down the center of the room, which led to four high-backed leather armchairs evenly spaced in a semi-circle around a tall fireplace. Four large beds were against the walls, two on each side. Beside each bed was a tall wardrobe closet and a small chest, each made of oak to match the door. Above the fireplace was a large mantelpiece, upon which rested various school texts and various other items.

Tom walked to the first bed on his right and pulled back the curtains, then he did the same to the next. After he was certain both beds were empty he crossed the room to his and Abraxas's beds.

"Tom!" Abraxas called. "No one is here; now, tell me what's going on."

Tom pulled back the curtains, "Just making sure!" He said finally satisfied. "This is a big deal."

"What's a big deal?" Abraxas asked.

Tom did not answer he stepped to his school trunk and hissed softly, "Salazar?"

A muted voice responded, "About time!"

Abraxas was staring at Tom; Tom knew Abraxas could not hear the snake locked inside. Tom got a crazy idea, he knelt down close to the lock on the trunk and whispered to the snake, "When I open the trunk, jump out and scare my friend."

Abraxas looked at Tom and stepped closer, "Did you say something?"

Tom looked up from his crouched position, "No... I... I just can't –"

"What are you doing?" Abraxas asked impatiently.

"Unghh!" Tom grunted. "Help me open this."

Abraxas looked at Tom, "I thought you wanted me to meet someone?"

"I do!" Tom said. "But I need to open this first."

"Move!" Abraxas sighed. "Geez, you'd think carrying all those books would develop a little bit of strength."

Tom stepped back as Abraxas, crouched and yanked the latch open, "Eeyaa –"

But that is as far as Abraxas got as the seven meter snake, Salazar, pounced on him, knocking him down and winding him.

Tom laughed.

Abraxas whimpered and stuttered as the snake coiled over him.

"Abraxas, meet Salazar!" Tom smiled.

"Mmph," was all Abraxas whimpered, staring into the serpent's eyes.

"Hello!" Salazar hissed, flicking his tongue on Abraxas's nose.

"He's saying hello," Tom informed Abraxas.

"Mmph," Abraxas whimpered, in a slightly higher pitch than the last time.

Salazar turned his head to Tom, "Your friend is rather rude."

"He's been called worse." Tom hissed back.

Salazar turned back to Abraxas and flicked his tongue on the boy's nose.

Abraxas stammered, "H-h-hi Sala-Salazar."

Salazar hissed, "Has he always had a speech impediment?"

Tom laughed, "No, he developed it about two seconds ago."

Abraxas lay on the floor and finally calming down pat Salazar's head like he was a dog. Salazar's eyes half closed with the attention. "Tom," Abraxas said inspecting the snake, "He looks just like the one on Slytherin Hall's entrance."

"Yeah," Tom said. "It's based on him, or his species anyways."

Abraxas's eyes grew wide, "A real Slytherin serpent."

Salazar nodded.

Abraxas's eyes grew wider, "He knows English!"

Tom laughed, "Most snakes do, well smart ones anyways. And this, is one of the smartest; he's highly educated."

Salazar held his head up looking very proud at the compliment.

Abraxas stood up as Salazar slid off of him, "Where did you buy him? Isn't owning one illegal?"

"You can't buy a friend; you can only meet one. So, I don't own him, he owns himself." Tom answered.

Abraxas gave Tom a sideways glance, "O.K. so, where did you meet your friend?"

Tom walked past Abraxas to the fireplace and pointed his fingers at the logs resting on the hearth, which immediately roared with flames. Then he gestured to one of the large armchairs, "It's a long story, so you might want to sit down."

Abraxas's face was slack in shock; he stared at the now crackling fire, "How –"

Tom finished, "Yes, it's all part of the story. Now, come on and sit."

Abraxas came and sat; Salazar followed him. When Abraxas sat down in the chair, Tom sat in the one beside him and stared blankly into the flames. He began his story from the early morning conversation with Angela and brought it through to the arrival at King's Cross. Abraxas did not articulate anything very well until Tom told him about the precarious story of his father and the curse that had sealed him into the painting.

"I knew something was up!" Abraxas said.

"What?" Tom shot back taken by surprise.

"Well," Abraxas hesitated. "Only pureblood wizards can be Slytherins. So, I always knew you were lying about your father. Of course, I had assumed he was in Azkaban for something embarrassing, not that he cursed himself into being a squib. Though that's a bit embarrassing, really."

Tom showed Abraxas the special book and let him call out a few titles. Abraxas promised to learn all the cantrips, but Tom was more pressed to have him read Salazar Slytherin's life story. Abraxas said he had little interest in that, but when Tom told him how gruesome it was he did say he would look at it. The ring and the key also held little interest for Abraxas, though he promptly hit Tom up for ten galleons upon hearing how wealthy Tom was. Tom handed him, his whole coin sack saying he would send Andromeda for more in a few days.

Undoubtedly, Abraxas's favorite part was the duel between Tom and Dylan coming out of Knockturn Alley. Abraxas asked so many questions that Tom was about to draw diagrams for him. Salazar fell asleep between the two boys; he was coiled up and basking in the warmth of the fire. Tom assumed Salazar had got bored of the details just as he was, since they both had already lived through it. Tom eventually got to the end of the story and sat back in his chair.

Abraxas stared into the flames of the fireplace and spoke without glancing at Tom, "So, how much fire whiskey did you drink?"

Tom's head snapped at Abraxas, "What?" He yelled. "You think I'm lying to you?" He accused.

Abraxas looked at him, "Well…" he quailed at Tom's furious stare. "It's a bit much Tom." Then he shrugged.

Tom snatched the book from Abraxas's hands.

Abraxas pursed his lips, "Look at it from my perspective, Tom –"

"I can't believe you don't believe me!" Tom shouted in anger, jumping up from his chair.

"Tom!" Abraxas yelled over him. "Let me speak, please!"

"What!" Tom snarled.

Abraxas looked into the fireplace again and spoke slowly; obviously choosing his words carefully, "Four years now, I've watched you struggle to fit in, Tom. No family, no money, no home. You've worked tirelessly to out do everyone, to be the best at everything. Now, all of a sudden, you show me a book, a key, a ring and a snake as the supporting evidence that you are Salazar Slytherin's sole descendant; having met him personally, after freeing him from a millennia of imprisonment and you are now incredibly wealthy and the owner of a beautiful manor." Abraxas stared into Tom's eyes, "Does that about sum it up?"

Tom matched Abraxas's stare, "You forgot the wand, the broom, the robes –"

"Tom…" Abraxas exhaled.

They looked at each other and Tom realized it was a rather weak amount of evidence to support his claims, but it was all he had. Then something clicked in his head, "The chamber!" Tom said victoriously.

"The what?" Abraxas asked.

"I have irrefutable proof." Tom spoke more to himself.

"Well good. I'd hate to think you a liar." Abraxas acknowledged. "Where is it?"

"I don't know…" Tom mused, while his thoughts drifted on how to enter the chamber on the second floor of the castle.

"So… you don't have it." Abraxas deadpanned.

"Let's go see," Tom said, as he walked towards the door of their room.

"Where?" Abraxas asked.

"The Chamber of Secrets." Tom said, as he opened the door.

Abraxas stopped walking, "Tom… no one knows if that legend is even true. Let alone know where it is."

"I do." Tom informed Abraxas. "My father told me."

Tom kept walking out the door and down the steps. He could hear Abraxas behind him. Slytherin Hall was its usual self, with all the furniture in the correct spot. Students sat about talking and swapping stories of their past summer. Tom saw D.D. talking to eight students, he knew they were first years, because in the few seconds of hearing her speak she had said, "house secret," twice. Tom smiled as she pointed him out to the three boys by her.

"Tom," she called, "come here and meet –"

"We can't!" Abraxas told her. "Important stuff; you're doing fine." He followed Tom to the exit.

Tom hissed at the door, "Open!" It did. Then he stepped into the dungeon hallway.

"You know," Abraxas breathed behind Tom, "everything in parseltongue sounds the same. How can you tell onomatopoeia, from I'd like chips and a drink with that?"

Tom laughed, "You can't." Then he smirked, "But I can."

Tom kept a brisk pace up into the entrance hall, where he almost trampled over Kalisa; who was walking rather slowly and seemed rather preoccupied.

"Woah!" Tom exclaimed stopping short at the top stair.

Abraxas did not stop so fast and he bumped into Tom, pushing him into Kalisa.

Kalisa held Tom steady as he tried to fall away from her and failed terribly, "Yes Tom, I'm sure you're a marvelous kisser," she joked. "But I've no desire to meet Florence on the dueling carpet." Then she shook her head. "How is Andrea?"

"Who cares?" Abraxas asked sarcastically.

Tom thought that comment was a bit harsh, but he had to admit he really was not overly concerned. Kalisa seemed rather unfazed by it as well, even though Tom thought the two were friends.

"Well to the victor go the spoils, right?" Kalisa shrugged. "I suppose she's not too bad or she would of shown up in the shaman's office. Which is where I suppose you two are going, huh?"

Before Tom could speak, Abraxas agreed.

"Good Luck, I doubt she'll see you. She talked to me through the curtain and said she looked hideous, as if!" Kalisa rolled her eyes. "I know the shaman can fix anything. So she'll be pretty as ever in no time." Kalisa smiled quickly at them both and walked past Tom and Abraxas then down the steps.

Abraxas watched Kalisa walk down the steps. When she was no longer visible he turned to Tom, "So, where are we going?"

"The second floor girl's bathroom." Tom replied, looking up the grand staircase of the entrance hall.

Abraxas did not look happy about this, but he seemed prepared to follow. He gave a quick glance around the entrance hall, as if surveying his surroundings for the first time and finally looked at Tom with a shrug, "Well, let's go."

Tom led the way up the broad stone staircase, passing living portraits of various wizards and witches. Some portraits eyed them curiously, but most paid them no mind as they passed. Up the stairs they went silently; reaching the second floor landing, Tom paused briefly. Tom glanced down the corridor then led the way to the girl's bathroom at the end.

This hallway was very short and the walls were unadorned, without any portraits or tapestries. Only a small closet full of janitorial supplies and the lavatory lay in the direction Tom led. He stopped in front of the bathroom door and knocked softly.

"Really, Tom!" Abraxas sighed. "No one is about now, let's just go in."

Tom slowly pushed in the door and called softly, "Hello?"

After waiting a moment, he pushed his head in and asked, "Is anyone in here?"

When no response came, Tom walked in followed closely by Abraxas. It seemed a fairly ordinary bathroom, by all accounts. One wall held some stalls with the commodes and the other had sinks with mirrors. The far wall was plain with only two windows and a torch bracket. Tom looked around for the mural, his father had spoke of. He exhaled sharply as he contemplated its absence.

"What?" Abraxas asked.

"My father said there was a mural." Tom frowned.

"Well, I don't see it." Abraxas commented.

"Maybe they painted over it, when they remodeled the bathroom?" Tom asked rhetorically. "Check the stalls, for anything."

Abraxas walked to the first stall and opened it. Tom went to the sinks and looked behind the mirrors and under the sinks. Abraxas finished his task before Tom did and he came up behind Tom to inform him, "Nothing, you sure this is the right room?"

"Yes!" Tom sighed crawling from underneath the last sink. "And I know why you didn't find anything."

"Why?" Abraxas asked.

"Because I did!" Tom grinned from the floor.

As Abraxas crouched down to see what Tom had found, Tom drew his wand out, with a flick of his wrist.

"Where?" Abraxas questioned as he squinted to see.

"Right here," Tom said pointing his wand.

"I don't see it." Abraxas replied.

Tom pointed his wand at the wall and traced a line, "See that?"

"No… hold on," Abraxas mumbled as he pulled his own wand out. "Lumos!"

The tip of Abraxas's wand cast a bright light against the wall. "I still don't see it." He said.

"It looks like this." Tom said tracing his wand tip on the pipe coming from the wall. "It's only part of it though –"

"That I see," Abraxas stated firmly. "Nothing on the wall, though…"

"See wha–" but Tom stopped as he realized what Abraxas saw. Where Tom had traced his wand on the pipe was now an etching of a snake. "Oh, this is silly." Tom said, as he came out from under the sink. "Look out Abraxas."

Tom stood upright and brushed his robes off, "I'm just going to open the doorway, stand back."

Abraxas stepped away.

Tom hissed in parseltongue, "Open!"

Abraxas made a breathy sound as the sink shuddered and slid back into the wall, taking with it the mirror. In place of the sink was now a tunnel that led down into pitch-black darkness.

"I knew it was here!" Tom cheered.

Tom and Abraxas looked at the hole silently for a moment. Tom was not sure what to say exactly so he brought his wand forward and stepped to the edge of the opening, "Well, let's go."

Abraxas did not respond, he just pointed his wand's light into the hole and looked at Tom with uncertainty written all over his face.

"Lumos!" Tom said, and his wand tip shot out a bright beam of white light.

Tom stepped into the doorway, followed by Abraxas and the two began to walk. It was a steep decline, almost too steep to walk and the fact that it was wet did not help. At some points Tom slid as much as walked down the circular tunnel. It seemed as if the tunnel had been bored out of solid rock by a drill. It was perfectly straight in direction and perfectly round in shape. Tom and Abraxas walked in silence, their wands lit the tunnel before them.

After sometime, the tunnel leveled out and opened into a large cavern with a sandy floor. Stalagmites and stalactites were all they could see about them; the only sound was the dripping water. The air was moist and stale, with a heavy dampness that told Tom no fresh air ever came down there. The pair continued to walk forward on what seemed to be a path.

Not traveling very far from the tunnel, Tom's wand light caught something that sparked in the darkness. He assumed this was what he was here for and as it seemed to be where the path was headed, Tom began to walk faster and kept his light on the object. Closer to the object, Tom realized there were actually four sparkly something's and when he got even closer, he knew they were eyes.

They were not real eyes, but gems embedded into sculptures to represent eyes; the eyes of snakes. Tom stood before a stonewall with two pillars, half cast in the wall, half protruding out. Wrapped around each pillar was a stone sculpted snake coiling to the top. The snakeheads pointed towards a stone archway between the tall pillars. Tom smiled as he noticed the uncanny resemblance the arch had with the one back at the manor.

"Open!" Tom hissed loudly.

The stone archway opened into two doors that slid inwards to reveal a room beyond.

"Unbelievable!" Abraxas whispered.

Tom smiled as the room beyond the archway began to come into focus, illuminated by large torches that hung in brackets on tall columns. The chamber was very long and two rows of columns ran its length to the far wall. On the far wall was a stone-carved face at least thirty meters in height. It had eyes of red gems that twinkled in the flickering torchlight. Tom knew the face well. It was his own and Salazar Slytherin's.

In the chamber proper, Tom could see beyond the columns was another thirty or so meters to a far wall, where more torches hung. These torches ignited as Tom walked past them. Abraxas, followed closely behind Tom, his breath loud and he kept swinging his head about to investigate everything around him. When Tom had crossed the hall, he stood in front of the stone-carved face.

"Well Abraxas, this is your irrefutable proof." Then Tom smiled at his friend, who now stood beside him. "But I want to go one step further. So, let me show you the monster in the Chamber of Secrets."

Abraxas stared at the image on the wall, "It's you!" was all he could say.

Tom smirked at Abraxas, before turning to the stone face and hissing and spitting in parseltongue spoke to the face, "Salazar Slytherin, your heir has come to finish your noble work. Give me your secret."

A deep rumbling greeted these words and Tom smiled wide as the face of Salazar Slytherin stretched forward at the mouth. Slowly, the jaw opened to expose teeth and beyond that an opening, which contained a coiled snake fast asleep.

"Wow!" Abraxas half laughed in disbelief.

Tom smiled at the coiled serpent; its scaly skin was jet-black and shimmering in the torchlight. Completely motionless, it lay unaware of the events transpiring around it.

"Is it dead?" Abraxas asked.

"No." Tom responded without removing his eyes. "It is hibernating in an enchanted sleep awaiting its master's call to arise and cleanse the school of the unworthy who roam the halls."

Tom stepped closer to the serpent and hissed, "Awake!"

The black serpent's eyes stayed closed and it raised its large head to flick its tongue at the two humans before it. Hot breath blew on Tom's face as it hissed, "Who calls me?"

Without flinching Tom hissed, "It is I, Slytherin's heir, who has come to awaken you."

The large black snake lowered its head to Tom's feet and hissed, "I am ready Master. Command me."

Tom rubbed his fingers on the creature's head, his pale fingers looked white as snow against the black serpent's skin. He hissed, "Not yet, you must wait until the time is ready, I will return."

"Yes, Master." The basilisk hissed, retracting into the maw of Salazar Slytherin's statue.

The mouth began to close and conceal the great beast. Tom watched as the stone face returned to its original position. When the jaws sealed shut, Tom turned to Abraxas. Abraxas was on one knee with his head down staring at Tom's feet.

"It is safe Abraxas." Tom stated calmly. "The basilisk is awaiting my return."

When Abraxas spoke it was directed to the stone floor, "I do not bow to the monster, Sir. I bow to the heir of Slytherin."

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

THE HEIR REVEALED

The past three weeks of classes had been rather boring and it reflected in the common room, Slytherin Hall was quiet. Tom sat in front of the large fireplace within the fifth year study. He stared idly at the flames as they ate away at a large log. Tom had never given any thought to why this was called the fifth year study, but it was painfully obvious now that he had thought of it. Every fifth year Slytherin was in the study, doing work or reading, all in preparation for the upcoming O.W.L.'s. It seemed that most of the seventh year students were there as well.

Tom was not working, he had no need to as he had read all his textbooks cover to cover and could quote them at will. His homework, while seeming to tax all his peers, was child's play to him and was done as fast as he could write. All he did in the study was help Abraxas to understand how to transfigure a badger into a bonsai tree. Which in Tom's opinion, Abraxas was making more difficult than it needed to be. Every time Abraxas attempted the spell his badger stood up on its hind legs and attempted Tai Chi or maybe it was Yoga, Tom was not sure.

Abraxas was in the middle of another attempt and Tom was watching as the badger stood up and turned green.

"Yes!" Tom cheered.

But that was a mistake as Abraxas lost concentration and the badger fell back onto all four legs with leaves growing out its ears. Abraxas slammed his book shut and yelled, "I quit!"

Salazar perked up from his warm carpet by Tom's feet and hissed, "Good, can I try? I'll transfigure it into dinner."

"No!" Tom hissed.

Abraxas looked at Tom, "What did he say?"

Tom smiled, "He wants chips and a drink with that."

Salazar hissed, "Ugh! Chips give me gas."

Tom ignored him and he knew Abraxas could not hear him, so he just kept talking to Abraxas, "Shall I fix him?"

"Yes," Abraxas sighed. "This sucks, I wish I was smart like you."

Tom did not respond, he just pushed his wand into the badger's side and watched it turn brown and defoliate.

An angry voice from the wide steps leading into Slytherin Hall cut through the air, "Is that the stolen badger every prefect in the school has been tearing the transfiguration department apart to find?"

Abraxas and Tom both turned their heads to see Kalisa standing there, her robes covered in dust. A dust bunny clung to her hair, which usually was very neat, but now looked frazzled. A long blond highlight fell into her eyes and she blew it out of her face in anger, "Do you realize that every one of us has been on hands and knees searching for that thing?"

"It's not stolen," Abraxas said. "I borrowed it."

Kalisa's soft brown eyes flashed in anger as her brow furrowed, "Tell that to Professor Dumbledore, who I might add, is hotter than that badger."

Abraxas pressed his lips together and muttered, "I'll return it."

Kalisa arched an eyebrow at him, "When?"

"Before –"

But the rest of Abraxas's words were drowned out by someone shouting, "Malfoy!"

Abraxas stood up and walked to the steps to look over Slytherin Hall.

"Malfoy, I'm calling you!" The male voice yelled.

Tom walked to stand beside Abraxas, looking over Slytherin Hall, he saw a small group of students congregated by the large fireplace, looking up at Abraxas. Erik Rich, with his shaggy, long black hair stood beside Brent Moore, an average height, but slightly overweight sixth year, who shaved his head. Behind the two, stood Anna with long, brown wavy hair, her hand on Erik's shoulder. In a chair, looking at Abraxas was a large, black boy named Steve Lewis, a seventh year student in heavy training for the Wizard Dueling Championship.

Erik smiled, "Good, both of you; Malfoy, we have a matter to settle. I'm calling you to task in the Dueling Court."

The atmosphere in the room suddenly grew very tense. Kalisa went down the steps to Erik. Across Slytherin Hall, students froze and watched the scene unfold. Abraxas stood beside Tom at the top of the wide stairs watching, as Kalisa attempted to speak with Erik.

Though Kalisa spoke softly, Erik yelled and gesticulated wildly, "No! He lies and I'm invoking my right, no my duty, to inform all Slytherins to the truth and squash his silly rumor."

Kalisa spoke softly to Erik, but he just shook his head and waved his hands. Finally, he shouted, "Then let us see if your trust is well placed."

Kalisa turned to Erik's friend, Brent who shrugged at her and stepped back. She spoke to Erik again and he snarled, "Then we'll take it to the Dueling Court."

Kalisa sighed in resignation, "Abraxas!" She spun to face Abraxas. "Erik claims that you're spreading rumors, which claim that you know the heir of Slytherin and have traveled to The Chamber of Secrets, is this true?"

Tom's eyes bulged as he stared at Abraxas and whispered, "You told?"

Abraxas answered Tom barely, "Of course!" Then he yelled, "It is true, I know the heir and have seen the legendary chamber and its monster."

"Lies!" Erik shouted. "Defend your claims."

"To death!" Abraxas replied.

Kalisa turned to the growing group of students amid Slytherin Hall and yelled, "Prepare the hall for court!"

With amazing speed, the furniture and tables were levitated into neat stacks against the bookcase wall, opposite the fireplace. More students came into the common room as word of court spread. Kalisa stood in the center of the cleared room and called to Tom, "Tom, the dueling carpet, if you would."

Tom ran down the steps and with a flick of his wrist revealed his wand. At a point from his wand, the closet door sprung open, after a quick jerk of the wand, the large, black dueling carpet jumped from the closet to hover before Tom's knees. Tom gave Abraxas a quick glance as he flicked his wand to unroll the carpet across the floor of Slytherin Hall.

Kalisa called both Erik and Abraxas to the center of the room. Then she looked at the growing congregation of witnesses. Tom saw the nervousness in her eyes and he knew why it was present; Abraxas would lose. In the sea of faces Tom saw D.D. bullying her way towards him. When D.D. arrived she whispered, "Tom, what's going on?"

Tom did not remove his eyes from Abraxas, "Erik called Abraxas to court for saying I'm Slytherin's heir."

D.D. gasped.

Erik yelled, "It's ridiculous to believe that Malfoy is the great Slytherin's heir!" Then he pointed at Abraxas, "I call him to court not for judgement, but for punishment."

Many of the spectators gasped, but Tom leaned towards D.D., "He's claiming to be –"

"No!" D.D. snapped. "He said you were!"

"Oh!" Tom relaxed.

D.D. looked at Tom, "Help him."

"When I'm needed." Tom responded lightly.

Abraxas's voice rang through Slytherin Hall, "I am not Slytherin's heir, Tom is!"

One voice laughed out loud in the stunned silence. Steve Lewis shook his head and chuckled, "The poor orphan." Between the giggles he added, "That's stupid."

Over Steve's snickering Erik yelled at Tom, while pointing, "You!" He turned to Kalisa, "I withdraw my claim against Malfoy. I challenge the mudblood orphan, Riddle. I deny his claim to Slytherin's blood and demand he defend himself in the Dueling Court."

Kalisa looked over at Tom, "Tom Riddle, attend."

Tom walked to stand in front of Kalisa. Kalisa, Erik and Tom all stood on the dueling carpet, in the large embroidered "S". On both sides of the centerpiece were serpents with their fangs showing. The snake tails coiling down to the carpet ends, where the two combatants would stand.

Kalisa spoke loudly, "Slytherins, bear witness!" Kalisa paused and looked around. "Erik Rich has called Tom Riddle to the Dueling Court to settle the matter of Tom Riddle's claim of Slytherin's lineage and asks that all those present bear witness and uphold the decision of these proceedings."

Kalisa paused again, then whispered, "You were a bit premature with the dueling carpet, Tom."

Erik eyed Tom, "He's a bit premature with a lot of things."

Tom shrugged, "Sorry!"

"You will be, mudblood." Erik growled.

Tom's body grew tense at the insult, he trembled in anger.

Kalisa sniffed, "Erik Rich, do you still challenge Tom Riddle?"

Erik sneered, "I do!"

Kalisa pointed at one end of the carpet, "Then take your position." She then turned to Tom, "Tom Riddle you are challenged in the Dueling Court, stand and defend yourself or submit."

Tom looked at Kalisa very pointedly, "I defend myself with my life and demand Erik Rich name a second."

Gasps came from around the room. In the crowd around Tom, people whispered in shock. Tom knew why they were surprised; he had accepted Erik's challenge and added his own, by saying he defended with his life and demanding Erik to appoint a second. It meant he intended to not only defeat Erik, but to kill him and a second wizard must be ready to assume Erik's place.

Erik looked to his group of friends, "I choose Steve Lewis."

Kalisa looked at Steve, "Steve Lewis, you have been chosen to second Erik Rich in the Dueling Court; will you accept?"

Steve laughed, "Can I be first?" with obvious interest.

Kalisa responded formally, "Steve Lewis, second to Erik Rich, take your position." Kalisa turned to face Tom, "Tom Riddle, choose a second."

"I need no second," Tom stated, "My claim dies with me."

"Then take your position." Kalisa instructed.

Tom walked slowly to his end of the dueling carpet formulating a plan to defeat Erik quickly and quell Steve's desire to duel. Tom knew it had to be quick and flashy; impressive. When Tom reached his end of the carpet, he turned to face Erik.

Kalisa nodded to both of them, then spoke to the ever-growing crowd, "Slytherins, the Dueling Court is in session, bear witness and uphold the decision. Only the strong can rule."

Kalisa stepped off the carpet and spoke loudly, "Bow to each other in respect for your opponent's honor and –" She lost her thoughts. "Tom, where is your wand?"

"I need no wand, nor shall I bow for he has no honor." Tom growled through clenched teeth. His hands balled up into tight fists at his side as anger boiled in him; anger at Erik's words, his disbelief; anger.

Behind Erik, the large Steve Lewis laughed at Tom's words, this increased Tom's anger. The crowd was silent and eager, anxious to see the duel unfold. Kalisa spoke hesitantly, in her voice was a question that made it sound feeble, "Let this matter be settled." After a large step backwards she yelled, "Begin!"

Tom threw his hand out creating a bright flash of light, which blinded Erik, causing him to shield his eyes.

A blind Erik lashed out with his wand and yelled, "Stupefy!" But nothing happened.

Tom's fingers, which pointed at Erik, had reduced the shaggy haired boy's wand to a burning stick, unable of casting anything, other than the dim light of the flames that consumed it.

Erik yelped in surprise and dropped the worthless thing to the dueling carpet. As the stub of a wand hit the floor, Erik came crashing down behind it.

Steve Lewis threw Erik aside and pointed his wand at Tom, "Kike!" But the kick of an invisible boot only grazed Tom's thigh, causing Tom to drop down onto one knee.

Tom's wand flew from his sleeve to his hand and he whipped it to point at the large boy, "Birc!"

Steve's whole body jerked as the magic whip struck his chest, tearing through his robes and leaving a dark red line of blood.

Tom kept his offensive attack rolling with another hit, "Kike!"

Steve fell to both knees as an invisible boot crushed the air out of him. In a quick motion, Tom knew came from years of training, Steve's wand flashed out a small protective shield.

Tom stood upright and yelled at Steve, "I'm no orphan!"

Steve coming up to his feet pointed his wand at Tom and shot a vermillion stunner, "Stupefy!"

With a bare flick of Tom's wand the vermillion blast fizzled mid-air. Tom took a step closer to Steve and shouted, "I'm not stupid!"

Steve pointed his wand at Tom and shot a blue flash, "Impedimenta!"

The impediment jinx, meant to freeze Tom, stopped and hovered above the embroidered "S" of the dueling carpet, then vanished.

Tom took another step towards Steve, "I'm no mudblood!"

Steve's fear shone in his eyes, sweat glistening on his face, his dueling trained instincts kicked in again, "Protego!" He created his small shield.

"I am –" Tom stepped forward. "Slytherin's heir!" and his eyes came down menacingly on Steve and his protective barrier. "Now, bow to your master!"

Tom's wand snapped out to point at Steve.

Steve's shield shattered into tiny pieces as Steve himself fell to his knees and dropped his wand. Steve's body snapped straight and his eyes rolled back to expose only the whites, "Behold, he is come! Slytherin's heir has revealed himself to his own. Let all who support his Noble Cause, call him Master and all who oppose, fear even his name. The Dark Lord arrives!" Steve then collapsed to his hands and knees, gasping for air and sobbing. He looked up to Tom and strained to speak, "Master."

Tom looked down at Steve, "Slytherins, bear witness!"

All around Tom, the crowd stood frozen amazed at the last few minutes of dueling, which they had just witnessed. It was Abraxas that moved into Tom's vision, he came before Tom and fell to his knees proclaiming, "Master! Let me serve the Noble Cause of Slytherin."

Tom soon noticed many more about him on their knees, facing him and as those left standing saw what was happening, they also kneeled. Tom looked around Slytherin Hall with an indescribable feeling in his chest, not quite joy or awe, but something like the two mixed with a bit of vindication.

Tom's voice came out firmer than he expected, "Unless any others wish to challenge me, I believe court is adjourned." Tom waited a moment, "Slytherins, bear witness and uphold the decision of the court."

People slowly began to stand up, but they all looked at Tom expectantly. Abraxas pressed up beside Tom and whispered, "Are you going to say something?"

Tom looked about the group, thinking about what he should say, nothing seemed appropriate and finally he said, "All of you, Slytherins; none of you understands the Noble Cause, but I will teach you." Tom paused in thought, "First, none of you is to divulge the secrets of our house, like the serpent on our secret entrance. Our secrets are for Slytherins only. You will not let anyone know the heir has returned. You will not associate with the mudbloods, for they are not worthy of the arcane secrets of magic, they are our enemy." Tom stepped over to Steve Lewis, "Arise, warrior! For you have work to do for the cause."

"Yes?" Steve questioned.

"Yes, you and your –" Tom eyed Erik, "He's not your first, but he chose an excellent second." Tom mumbled. "Clean Slytherin Hall!"

Steve set to work immediately, rolling up the carpet with a flick of his wand. Erik without a wand was not much help, but he tried.

"Would the heir like a beverage?" A soft voice spoke from behind Tom.

Tom turned around to see Florence's green eyes staring into his. She quickly turned her head down, but held a silver tray upon which rested two butterbeers. Tom bent down to look at her face, "You can still look at me, Florence." Tom told her.

"It's my face, Sir, I know I'm ugly now –"

"Ugly?" Tom questioned.

"My face is scarred and hideous." She said to the floor. "I was beautiful, but now I'm not."

Tom grabbed Florence's chin and pulled it to him. "So much to teach." Tom spoke under his breath. Florence's scars from her duel with Andrea shone as long slashes across her cheek. The scar tissue was a dark line across each cheek. "You'll always be beautiful, Florence." Tom informed her. "Never confuse pretty with beautiful; you can't see beautiful, but you know it when you feel it."

Florence smiled briefly as she pulled her chin out of Tom's hand and resumed to look at the floor.

Tom pulled her chin back up, "Since it is so important to you, you can be both." Tom touched his wand to her scar, "Caro!"

A flash of yellow bloomed over Florence's face and her scars vanished. "Abraxas, fetch the lady a mirror." Tom instructed, looking into Florence's eyes.

Abraxas pointed his wand at the mantle above the main fireplace of Slytherin Hall, "Accio mirror!" And a small hand mirror jumped from its roost to Abraxas's hand.

Abraxas deftly caught the handle and offered it to Tom. Tom took the small silver bound looking glass and showed Florence, her own pretty face. The shock she received from seeing her face whole and unblemished was such that Florence forgot the silver tray laden with butterbeer. Florence dropped the tray and put her fingers to her face, feeling the once again smooth skin.

Before Tom even noticed the falling tray, Abraxas's spell caught it, "Flotien!" and the tray slowed to a stop, hovering just above the floor.

Florence's eyes left the mirror to look at the tray, "Oh, no! I'm sorry I – I –"

Tom stopped her stammering, "Relax, we Slytherins are always there to cover each other. Right, Abraxas?"

"Right!" Abraxas agreed firmly. He levitated the tray up and grabbed a bottle off of it. With a tap of his wand, "Laxare!" The top came off and he offered it to Tom.

Tom took the bottle and acknowledged Abraxas with a nod of thanks. "Which is why I must return to teaching Abraxas his Transfiguration." Then Tom began walking to the stairs leading to the fifth year study.

"Tom!" Florence yelled tailing him quickly.

"Ye –"

But Florence grabbed his head firmly and kissed him, hard on the lips. Tom was so stunned he did not know what to do. Florence must have felt his awkwardness; she promptly released him and looked bashfully away, "Thank-you."

Tom stood frozen in shock, as Florence played with her robes nervously. Her voice came out timidly, "Sorry, I –"

"No," Tom said. "That was nice."

A group of girls behind Florence began to giggle and swarm around her. Kalisa and D.D. in the forefront of the pack.

"Abraxas, let's go." Tom said still looking at Florence.

Abraxas walked past Florence and looking at her face told her, "You look marvelous."

Florence smiled, "Thank-you."

D.D. and Kalisa came up beside Florence and one of the Donnas spoke, "You got nothing on me!" All three laughed.

As Abraxas followed Tom up the steps to the fifth year study, Tom heard him chuckle, "Only one of the Donnas would think she compared to the heir's girl."

Tom did not say anything, but he thought it a bit crazy to think Florence was his girl. He brushed it off as he entered the study and saw the stolen badger running about the table frantic, as Salazar coiled about him.

"Salazar!" Tom yelled.

The large snake froze above the terrified rodent. "What?" He hissed. At Tom's glare, he released the badger and began mumbling to himself. The words of the serpent were drowned out by Abraxas's.

"Damn!" Abraxas swore. "Only a minute more and I'd of been transfiguration free for the night."

Tom looked at Abraxas balefully, "And what would you have done in the morning, when Professor Dumbledore realizes you still can't accomplish the spell?"

"Tell him I need a badger to practice with…" Abraxas offered.

Tom took his seat in front of the fire as Abraxas sat at the table and drew his wand. After giving the badger a hard scowl, he pointed at the animal with his wand. The creature promptly stood on its hind legs and spread its front paws out. The tiny claws turned a bright green and the whiskers of its nose became brown sticks. His ears grew stalks of leafy limbs as his fur turned to bark. Just as Tom was going to congratulate Abraxas, his attention was drawn to the steps.

"I don't care!" A blonde girl yelled as she entered the study.

Tom watched as Andrea Towson practically ran into the table, she was so focused on him. Abraxas stood up from his chair and yelled, "Stop!"

She did, but she looked around him to Tom, "Fix me!" She cried.

Abraxas spoke formally, "Andrea Towson, you should not be talking to Tom Riddle. Florence Carr has forbade you from it, after defeating you in a trial of the Dueling Court."

Kalisa and D.D. came up behind Andrea, Kalisa spoke to Andrea, "Andrea, you are not allowed contact with Tom." Then she spoke past Abraxas, "Sorry Sir, we'll handle this."

Tom knew that he was not supposed to speak with Andrea, but he knew also that her slash scar had truly disturbed her. The bright pink tissue ran from her left eye down across her nose to the right edge of her mouth. It was jagged and rough and ruined her otherwise pretty face.

Kalisa spoke again, "Andrea, please before Florence –"

But it was too late, Florence came up the stairs, her eyes lit up with anger. Florence's long hair framed her face, her lips pressed tightly together as she surveyed the scene about her. Andrea knew her time was up and in desperation she cried, "Please! If you are truly Slytherin's heir, fix me, Riddle!"

Anger flared up in Tom at her questioning his lineage and surprisingly at being called Riddle. Tom stood up fast and spoke firmly, "I am, I could; you will never call me that filthy muggle name again. Leave!"

Andrea collapsed, "Make me beautiful again –" she sobbed.

Kalisa and D.D. bent to pick up the sobbing girl. Florence stood behind the sisters, looking at Andrea with contempt. The two half carried Andrea out of the study as she cried and pleaded for Tom to fix her. As they made it up the flight of stairs leading to the girl's dormitories, Andrea's voice faded away. Florence's angry stare went from Andrea to Abraxas. Abraxas quickly made an escape claiming, "I need… something; that's… somewhere… else, yeah." He left at a run.

"Tom," Florence spoke walking towards him. "I can't stop you from restoring her beauty too."

Tom watched Florence walk towards him, he was mesmerized by her bright green eyes. "I can't make her beautiful again, because she never was."

Florence kept walking towards Tom and she stopped only when she was pressed against the arm of Tom's chair. Her dark hair hung down into his eyes as he looked up at her. "May I sit with you?"

"Yes," Tom smiled at her.

Florence spun around and slid back over the tall arms of the chair falling into his lap. "Am I squashing you?" She asked coyly.

Tom was too surprised to speak and he just looked into Florence's eyes without blinking. He was vaguely aware of her body moving and adjusting to a more comfortable position. He never broke the eye contact until Florence rested her head against his chest and sighed, "I'm glad you didn't help her."

At Tom's feet Salazar hissed, "Time to go!" and he slithered away.


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