1:30 pm, Friday, March 9, 1945
Caractacus Burke was not a nice man. He wasn’t pleasant to look at, or talk to, and he certainly didn’t have a lovely little wife and family like his little brother Herbert. But Caractacus did have one thing, he knew, with astounding accuracy, how much anything could be worth. Nervous little light wizards trying to get rid of some questionable family heirlooms? Caractacus knew very well just how much each and every cursed jewelry box, odeur de mort scented candle, haunted curio or boggart infested suitcase could be sold for. And what’s more, he knew how to put fear into the hearts of mortals.
“So you want to keep these wares?” Caractacus sneered, “You’re confident of your ability to hide them from the Auror department are you?”
“What? No I—”
“If you don’t want to sell them, you shouldn’t have come in here. This is a place of business.”
“I do want to—”
“I’ve no idea what you could mean by showing off what appears to be semi-legal merchandise to whoever you seem to meet—”
“Take them! Six sickles is the perfect price, thank you so much Mister Burke!” The white-faced milksop scooped up his silver and tumbled out the shop door.
Caractacus spent most of his time dealing with characters like this, poor idiots who had no idea what they had, and what they had was very often worth very little. However some people-
The shop bell chimed, drawing Caractacus’ attention.
“Ah! Miss Smith! Back again for more curiosities are you?”
Hepzibah Smith was nearly the same age as Caractacus Burke, but he knew that the self-proclaimed ‘Connoisseur of all things Hogwarts’ was a vain, priggish woman, and would drag out any future exchanges as reprimand for his impropriety.
“Ah, Burke. It’s you.” Her smile fell comically.
“’Tis my shop.” He grinned at her now, showing off his tea-stained and crooked teeth.
She stared at his mouth for a moment, and when she looked up she pouted, “I had been hoping to see dear Tom today! It has been too long since he came to my home for some appraisals.”
Caractacus determinedly avoided looking towards the door to the back of the shop, where he knew Tom was busy with the week’s accounting. Tom had only just visited with Hepzibah last Thursday to flirt away her treasures at ridiculously low rates. Tom was magnificent at this, but Caractacus was more impressed with his singular composure in letting Hepzibah paw at him for the chance at her treasures.
“I am sorry, Miss Smith, but dear Tom has gone home for the day already. He finished his work early, you know how efficient he is.”
“Well!” she huffed, and for a moment she looked like she was going to throw some sort of tantrum, she quickly recovered and plastered an insincere smile on her face, “Tell him that I stopped by, I’m sure he will be just sick that he missed my visit!”
“Ta!” shouted Caractacus as the door slammed closed behind her.
Tom Riddle handled the books now. He hadn’t when he had started the summer before his seventh year. That summer he hardly looked a wizard at first, coming into work from war-torn Muggle London looking like a dusty street urchin. He magicked himself better clothes once within the shop, but transfiguration like that didn’t last forever. But Tom made commission working at Borgin and Burkes, and it was hardly three weeks before he had earned enough to look the part of a pureblood heir, working at the antique shop for the thrill of history alone. Intelligent, personable, and the very picture of what a fine young man should be, Tom made for an excellent employee.
Yes, Caractacus knew very well how much things were worth, and having Tom Riddle on staff was practically priceless. In the two years of his employ, even with Tom being in school for most of one of them, the shop had done better than it had in years, very nearly earning as much money as they had before the first round of laws against ‘dark magical artifacts.’
Tom looked up from his calculations as Burke walked into the back office. The room was mostly dark, save for the gas lamp on the desk, but it was well organized, just like the front room of the shop and the storage space beyond the second door. Just like how things should be.
“Yes Caractacus?” Tom asked before going back to his maths. He was almost done with the week. This pay period would be one of his biggest yet. He smiled to himself with that thought, he had not realized how much benefit he would get from working here. Learning about the dark arts, curse breaking, and history he had figured, but the commission! He couldn’t have envisioned a better way to kill two birds with one stone.
“I just avoided you another ogling session from the likes of one Hepzibah Smith,” Caractacus said gleefully.
Tom gripped the quill tighter, before looking up, “Oh? Was that her that was just in then?”
Caractacus grinned, “Oh yes, going on about how dear Tom hadn’t been around in near forever—”
“I was just there last week!” Tom nearly shouted, but then he laughed “Thank you for sending her away, she responds better when I come by ‘because I was thinking about you, my dear Miss Smith’” Tom said, exaggerating his own genial way of speaking to customers.
Caractacus waved him off, “I’d rather you not put on your song and dance with her in my shop anyway.” He gestured towards the accounts, “You’re welcome to beg off once you’ve done with that, I’ll owl your wage transfer to Gringotts tonight.”
Tom thanked him and went back to work as Caractacus went back out the front.
Not too long later he heard the bell again, and then the muffled voice of Orion Black saying, “Is Tom here? I’m sorry Mister Burke but it is extremely urgent—”
“He’s in the back young master Black. He’s about done wi—”
“Oh, thank you Mister Burke!” Orion shouted behind him, as he was already on the other side of the door and panting right next to Tom. He put one hand heavily on the desk and held the other against the pain in his side.
Orion looked up at him from the floor, "You wouldn’t believe... the news... milord!" Orion practically shouted between deep breaths.
Orion Black was normally very cheerful, overly affectionate, and sometimes nervous. The young heir of The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black was, as a rule, never discomposed, bar some of his most ardent, lovestruck exclamations of the beauty and virtue of cousin Walburga. Tom withheld a shudder, the close familial ties between pureblooded families was something he would never understand. Taking pity on poor Orion, Tom demanded, "Come on, out with it Orion. I can’t imagine what would have you in such a state."
Orion nodded and in a swift motion leaned in towards Tom’s chair, grabbed the lapels on his robe and exclaimed, "Dumbledore has been defeated by Grindelwald! The news broke just this hour!" Orion was so overcome with his excitement to tell Tom that he completely forgot how much he hated to be touched, especially without having given Orion leave. Orion looked into Tom’s eyes, bouncing back and forth between them. He was delighted to have brought such important news to his leader.
Tom, taken aback by this news and overwhelmed with disbelief did not even notice Orion in his face and touching his person. He looked back at Orion for a moment, shocked stupid, before a sweeping giddiness overtook him and he, completely without his normal sense, said, "What?"
Orion, breathless with excitement now at the uncommonly insipid response by his leader, immediately let go of Tom’s lapels and stepped back. He instantly began to bounce on his heels as he continued, "He went to the continent to duel Grindelwald, they say,” Orion gestured, incomprehensibly, Northward towards the shopfront into Diagon Alley, “because he launched that attack on Dover and violated British soil with his dark campaign, you know how they like to phrase the crimes of Grindelwald, and he was defeated! By Grindelwald! Near Cologne I think it was, though why there I have not heard, it was a special emergency bulletin on the WWN, although I’m sure there was something of value there, there must have been, of course, for it to be the place they met--"
"What do you mean defeated. Is he dead or not?" Tom interrupted, eyes shining as he contemplated this extraordinary news. If Dumbledore were dead that would mean he would no longer be able to scornfully look down on Tom or reveal Tom’s greatest secrets, though Salazar knows how Dumbledore always seemed to know what he was up to.
"Well he is either quite dead or practically dead, there is not much to be had about the battle, it happened just today! But the language they used was 'defeated' so distinctly no coming back from it, it seems, though I’m sure we will hear mo--"
"Orion.” Tom interjected, placing his hand over the mouth of the chattering young man. Orion cut himself off and gazed up into Tom’s eyes. “We need to act swiftly. We need to fully understand the ramifications of this situation, and then move to make political action immediately based on what we can learn.” Tom began to pace as he spoke, then suddenly brought his hand into a fist before him, “We will no longer work from the shadows! This is a beautiful opportunity to bring back the old ways that Dumbledore so despised. Without him, we will be able to shape the future of the entirety of Wizarding Britain!” At this final proclamation, Tom made a sweeping gesture around him, and while under normal circumstances he would have looked rather silly making grand gestures and standing pompously in a small dark office, Orion was predilected to see him as looking very grand, indeed, and did not notice.
Tom had, for a long time, resigned himself to biding his time becoming the most powerful wizard in history, before he would storm the ministry and take it from the weak, undeserving fools who had no understanding of the true nature of magic. It was well planned, and his followers were to aid and finance him in his mission. Around continental Europe, then to India, China, and Japan, Africa, Americas, wherever there was power to be had. He would become truly mighty, with no one holding him back. But now, why wait? He had been waiting until he had more power than Dumbledore, specifically. To defeat the Light upon his return he would need to be assuredly stronger than their leader. But if what Orion spoke of was true, then there was no leader, and without someone standing in Tom’s way, there would be no reason to postpone the inevitable. In fact, they could do it legitimately! He could change the very face of British magic, without any cause for something like a civil war, no magical blood spilled whatsoever! Or, Tom considered, fairly little, all things considered. He was certain there would be some casualties either way, but this direction would sit better with some of his more delicate, aristocratic followers, like Orion and Abraxas.
Tom turned towards Orion, “We must go to the Ministry at once, we need to see how the Minister and the Wizengamont are reacting to this news and place ourselves at the center. This changes everything, all our plans must be adjusted with Dumbledore gone." Tom furrowed his brow. If Dumbledore was defeated and Grindelwald was victorious, that would certainly become problematic. Grindelwald was all “For the Greater Good,” whatever that meant, and was seemingly attempting to destroy the International Statute of Secrecy to get it. Tom had just gotten out of a gods-forsaken muggle war zone. Wool’s Orphanage was in South London, and from what saw of Muggle London (after he had fully moved into the London Wizarding District) during the summer of 1944 with the V-1 rocket attacks, he knew better than to underestimate the destruction Muggles were capable of. He had also been more than grateful to be safe at Hogwarts during the entirety of the Blitz, which had not gained him any favors from the loathsome muggle children at Wool’s when he had returned during the summer. Tom shook himself from those pleasant memories and continued, looking up at Orion, “And we must also know how the wizarding public is feeling, do they understand the threat Grindelwald poses with no Dumbledore to defend them?”
Orion looked taken aback for a moment by the sudden seriousness that had followed the frantic eagerness of his lord, but he quickly realized Tom was quite correct: Grindelwald would not simply stop at Dumbledore. This matter was very serious, Grindelwald’s army had torn through Dover only days ago, and while the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee had been able to place the blame on the German muggle Luftwaffe (some type of flying Muggle fighting force, Orion didn’t understand how that could be possible without brooms), creating imaginary battles in a muggle war would surely not work forever.
"You have your band?" Tom asked Orion, reading his wand.
"Of- of course, yes. Here it is." Orion held up his left wrist, showing a finely tooled black leather band with a silver buckle made from a snake coiled around a sword. The sword fit into the notches and kept the band in place. Tom had commissioned Mulciber to make them last summer, utilizing resources from his family’s workshop, and had later added particular enchantments of Tom’s own design. Orion was quite pleased with it, it always made him feel contented and like he belonged whenever he looked at it. Tom placed the tip of wand on the tiny silver snake and hissed a spell at it. Orion shivered from the startling combination of the sibilant parseltongue casting and the icy coolness of the band on his skin.
With a protean charm, all his Knights would feel it, and, with the layers of geomancy enchantments embedded within them, his followers that could come would be arriving shortly.
Several pops broadcasted the near-immediate arrival of Abraxas Malfoy, William Mulciber, and Geraint Rosier, with Rastaban Lestrange following a moment later. After nearly half a minute, a swoosh marked the stately arrival of Erwan Avery, and a dissatisfying loud crack announced Roderick MacNair.
Caractacus Burke shouted through the door at Tom, "I take it this ruckus means you're clocking out, eh Tom?"
Tom, glancing towards the office door, shouted, "You’d best check the radio, Caractacus, something monumental has happened!" Turning towards his followers he noted the missing Rowle, Nott, and Dolohov.
Tom turned and addressed his followers, who were attempting to look respectful while simultaneously struggling not to fall over each other in the small office, "I trust you have all heard the news?" Abraxas and Erwan nodded slightly, Orion, looked both excited and smug, William responded quietly, “Yes,” and Roderick practically bounced with excitement as he nodded happily, only Geraint responded in the negative, looking at his fellows confusedly, "I have been in the laboratory all morning, what is this news milord?"
Roderick looked about to speak when Tom cut him off with a harsh glare, "Dumbledore has been defeated by Grindelwald.” Geraint just looked at him openmouthed, “We must gather more information about this so-called 'defeat', as well as the public opinion on the matter.”
Tom looked at those assembled, “I am going to the Ministry, I have to schedule an appointment with Minister Moon’s office and I will try to narrow down who are the key players at this point. I have not been keeping up with current politics as I should have. You will all also be vigilant in identifying who has power now, or who is vying for it.” Tom looked at them sternly then. “Abraxas and Orion will go with me to the Ministry, we need to know how the Wizengamont council members and Ministry departments are going to respond in the wake of this.” Abraxas nodded, his father had been at a Wizengamont meeting scheduled for today, it had surely descended into chaos. Orion looked at Tom excitedly, a trip to the Ministry meant he could talk to Lucretia and Uncle Regulus and Aunt Lycoris and cousin Pollux in the Wizengamont and cousins Cedrella and Charis and if he was very, very lucky, he could catch Cassiopeia.
Tom ignored Orion’s overt cheerfulness and went on, “Roderick, you will stay in the alley, I need you to keep tally on people’s opinions, in Knockturn, but especially in Diagon. You know how to listen in without being noticed. Are they more sad or terrified? We need to know if they understand how this effects the war. I am hoping for terrified, that will be easier to turn towards our goals.” Roderick nodded, then pulled out a brown worn leather notebook where he started to make a four-quadrant layout where he would enchant his quill to record conversations.
“Erwan?" Tom asked, turning towards the one whom he considered his closest…friend.
"I will come to the ministry with you, my Lord. I can speak to some of my mother’s friends, some of them, as you know, are high up in the ranks of the Ministry." Erwan said smugly towards the others. Orion did not notice and pleased at the thought of visiting at the Ministry, said, "I will be talking to my family! Is there anything you want us to say in particular? Only," Orion paused, suddenly uncomfortable, “We meet for dinner at Grandfather's behest every Saturday, so I will see them all tomorrow. It would be helpful if I had some, more specific reason, for talking to them today? I don’t want to seem to eager about the fate of Dumbledore you see.” Orion looked down sheepishly, worried for questioning Tom’s instructions.
Tom considered for a moment, “For Lucretia and your younger cousins, you can tell them we will be having a political organizing party tonight. Not a celebration, but some sort of action committee, or some such language. What do you think?” Tom turned towards his other followers at this point.
Erwan nodded, “It would be useful, and would allow for early support of whatever moves we decide to make. We can tell them about our individual projects,” he nodded towards William and Geraint, “and about whatever decisions you will make going forward.”
Tom considered, then said, “Abraxas?”
Abraxas stepped forward slightly and straightened, “I agree, a formal gathering of likeminded young Dark wizards will be politically advantageous, especially if you wish to oppose Grindelwald at any point. If we do not act early, they might be swayed towards him and oppose British self-governance.” Abraxas turned away slightly, brow furrowed, “Many of our fellow dark wizards care more about the destruction of muggles than they do about ensuring our continued magical legacy.”
Abraxas had been one such wizard, quite a long time ago. His year group at Hogwarts were significantly older than Tom, and Abraxas had been quite caught up in sneering down derisively at poor, orphan, Mudblood Tom Riddle with his Slytherin classmates. Tom Riddle had proven his magical might not long after his arrival, and Abraxas had quickly changed his tune.
Tom nodded, acceding that point. “Tonight. At Seven?” He asked, looking for confirmation that they would be available.
“Nott should be able to host us! He just finished those renovations,” Orion suggested happily. Edward Nott was the de facto head of his family, as his father was very old and feeble. As a result, his home and family resources were often available for the use of the group. Edward even seemed glad to be exploited in this way, as it brought people around the estate rather frequently. The estate was large and lonely, and though Edward was a quiet young man who was best suited towards research, he appreciated the company very much. As long as it wasn’t destructive.
Tom nodded, glad that was sorted for now. Nott could prepare the party part, and Orion was sure to help him. "Good. And for your older family, you can remind them of our plans for Alban Eiler."
"Moving on then. William?"
William Mulciber looked up at him from where he had been looking at leather cuff, "The alley as well, I think? I will need to go visit Wiseacre’s and see if this news has made an impact on our supply of defense products, and deal with the aftermath and order more raw materials if it has. I will keep an ear open for what people are thinking." He turned towards Roderick, “Would you want to meet up at the Leakey at four-thirty? I’d like to get your input on some prototype ideas, and maybe see if you can guess at what people might be likely to want for self-defense in the future based on what they’re talking about today.” Roderick nodded, and jotted down something on the top of his open notebook.
"Rosier?" Tom asked, looking at the young man who had been messing about in the storage shelving, and was currently quite enthralled by a terrarium filled with a dark black, assuredly dangerous, magical orchid that was sporting big blooms despite the office’s complete and utter lack of sunlight.
Geraint looked up, slightly startled, before replying, "Hogsmeade? I can go to McBloom & McMuck’s and pick up Morticians Patented Poisoned Poison-Plant Fertilizer and gauge the attitude in town.” Geraint considered the orchid he was holding, “Maybe go to Hogwarts to see Professor Beery and Pomona. Can I have this?" He waved the terrarium at Tom.
Tom, rolled his eyes and said, “Ask Caractacus on your way out.” He caught Geraint’s eye "Do you have a reasonable excuse to be there? It would not do to seem like you’re irreverent in your prying on the day of Dumbledore’s death."
Rosier shrugged, but his eyes gleamed with poorly concealed eagerness, "There is always new methods in hedgewizardry to be discussed.” He abandoned his attempt to hide his excitement as he exclaimed, “I can advance my Instant Heinous Hedge (The portable hedgewizard defense innovation of the century TM) cultivation project with their input, perhaps!"
Tom just looked at him. Geraint Rosier was a strange mix of a wizard, a magically powerful, wealthy, dark wizard who was fanatical about herbology. "Yes, okay, Rastaban, the Prophet I imagine?"
"Does anyone know the whereabouts of Nott, Dolohov and Rowle?"
Abraxas replied, "Edward is probably at the ministry, the Wizengamont was scheduled to meet before this all came out, my father went in this morning."
Erwan spoke up after Abraxas was finished, "Dolohov is probably with his family, they've been very worried about Grindelwald and his war. With this news, I'd be surprised if they hadn't called a 'spotkanie.'" Erwan was relatively close with Antonin Dołohow. After his family had arrived in England during the middle of he and Tom’s second year at Hogwarts, the boy had been violently angry and hadn’t had more than basic English conversation skills. However, Tom had seen how magically gifted he was, how quick he picked up spells, and how much he knew before arriving, and Erwan had followed suit when Tom had offered friendship. He had been to the family home on several occasions, and besides being filled with more relatives than he could imagine ever having, the home was warm and cozy and Pani Dołohow was always plying him with food. Even though Erwan had very little Polish language skill, he was still very well aware of the fact that the family would grow cold and angry at Grindelwald’s mentioning, and even though they were a family of dark wizards, the hated the self-proclaimed Dark Lord with a passion.
Tom nodded, Edward Nott was a Wizengamont council member, and couldn’t just leave a session. Antonin Dołohow’s family had numerous ties to the International Confederation of Wizards as well as the exiled Polish Wizarding Government. It was practically assured that Antonin needed to be involved at home. Tom queried, "Rowle will be at the Aurory then?"
"Most likely," replied William Mulciber. He and Malcolm Rowle worked together developing wizarding battle equipment sometimes, and he was fairly sure Malcolm was scheduled working days all weekend. It made it hard to meet up, to be honest, but Malcolm would soon be promoted from a Junior Auror to Auror Constable, and with all that work on his plate, William was happy that he was able to help out with the development as much as he did.
"Good." Tom said, glad that he knew the whole of where his most trusted would be.
He abruptly straightened and leveled a viscous glare at each of them in turn, "You are not to appear gleeful at the fall of Dumbledore, you are to make inroads with as many neutral and, yes, blood-traitor and muggle-related witches and wizards as possible without being horrifically obvious, so Roderick, do not even try." Roderick MacNair, who had looked aghast at the idea of ‘making inroads with blood-traitors,’ relaxed at these words. "Anyone you know in our extended circle that has dark leanings or favorably views old magics, invite to the political gathering tonight. Send out some letters while you’re out, make sure everyone knows by five.” Tom was counting out his points on his fingers as he talked, ensuring he didn’t forget anything, “Everything we had planned regarding a distant-future hostile takeover needs to be reworked, without Dumbledore our rise may now be possible not only swiftly, but practically legitimately."
Erwan and Abraxas shared a glance, before Erwan stepped forward and asked timidly, "Do you mean to step out as a noble heir, my Lord?"
Tom looked up from his counting, and nodded, "I will be going to Gringotts, and intend to be recognized as the Heir of Slytherin using their inheritance magics.” Tom knew that it would be beyond impossible to make a case for himself as a political entity who supported both dark and old magics if he appeared to be some unknown, albeit magically gifted, mudblood. With a name like Slytherin attached to his, he would be admired and respected, and his goals would be that much easier to reach. Dumbledore would have brought up the connection of Slytherin to Slytherin’s famed basilisk to the petrifications, and would have told everyone about the crazed, worthless Gaunts and the foul Wool’s Orphanage. Dumbledore would have him appear weak and would have turned his noble heritage into something to be ashamed. Dumbledore would have—
Tom shook off that notion, Dumbledore was most likely dead and was not a threat to Tom’s future any longer, it did not do to dwell on what would have gone wrong if he were. He addressed his followers again, "Be especially vigilant about how Britain intends to respond to the national security threat of Grindelwald and his army." He sneered, "I know many had their hearts set on Dumbledore scaring him away indefinitely, but we must know what, if anything at all, the ministry has in mind for national defense." It was most likely putting more Aurors on patrol or some other feeble action. As if Grindelwald would care about having to slaughter slightly more Aurors.
He stopped and turned to them, "If you can, try to arrive earlier than seven at Nott’s, we should debrief what we learn this afternoon before we talk to everyone else.” Tom then grabbed his workbag and pushed in his desk chair. The group recognized his cue that their talk was over and started to move out.
Roderick MacNair and William Mulciber headed through the shop, then out into the alley, getting lost quickly in the throng of shoppers.
Geraint started to walk out with Lestrange but waved him on as he stopped at the counter to exchange gold for the terrarium with Caractacus.
Abraxas nodded again to Tom and disaperated with a soft pop.
Tom motioned to Erwan and Orion, and they followed him to the shop front floo.
Caractacus looked up at Tom once he finished with Geraint’s purchase, and grinned wickedly, "Very interesting news, Tom. I see you and your little minions are quick in responding to it."
"It is a national security threat Caractacus. We must think and act swiftly, lest we fall to pressures from outside our nation’s borders." Tom said, and Caractacus smirked at his neutral response.
Tom ignored him and waved Erwan and Orion ahead of him through the floo, before he turned back to Caractacus and stated, "I will see you on Monday." As he spoke, he simultaneously transfigured his robes, adding tiny embellishments and making them look more expensive.
"Aye, best of luck Tom." Caractacus said, laughingly at Tom’s actions.
And with that, Tom flooed through to the ministry.