He slumped on the couch tiredly—the day's exhaustion and the adrenaline running through his veins after the intense duel, finally taking a toll on his body.
As much as Tom hated to admit the truth, his wife had been right. Her intuition about things going downhill drastically, had been right.
Ever since the signing of the treaty and his marriage to Harriet, the rebellious groups from both Light and Dark sects had been pretty active. They had refused to back down from fighting, but recently they had grown more outrageous in showing their displeasure over the turn of events.
The Light side was furious over Dumbledore's removal from the positions of Chief Warlock Of Wizengamot and Supreme Mugwump, after Harriet's abusive past and childhood had come to light. The Ministry could no longer trust Dumbledore over the fact that he knowingly left a child in an abusive household. On the other hand, the Dark groups didn't like the fact that Lord Voldemort married the Chosen One, the woman who had brought so much harm to him and his plans for the Wizarding World. They felt betrayed. All the more betrayed when Tom elected someone from a Grey family—Amelia Bones— over Lucius Malfoy, to become the new Minister of Magic.
Their life had been hectic, to say the least, since that day. From receiving life-threatening messages about his family and followers to cursed objects being sent their way, Tom had been managing it all. This time though, one of the rebellious groups, whose leader was Fenrir Greyback, had gone too far in their desire for retaliation. They had captured little children and kept them as hostages, in an attempt to spread terror among the peacefully living society. Both Tom and Harriet deemed their plan as unacceptable.
But Tom knew Greyback like the back of his hand. The werewolf had been one of his finest students, after all, so Tom was acutely aware of how dangerous he actually was.
That was the reason he hadn't let Harriet come to this mission. He was all the more thankful that she had understood his concern for her. They may not have been married too long, but there was definitely something between them, they haven't quite recognised yet. They respected each other immensely, cared for each other, something that came as a surprise to anyone who wasn't close to either.
Tom sighed, running a hand through his dishevelled and sweaty hair. His muscles ached badly. Shrugging off the long coat and leaving his Yew wand carefully on the bedside table, he moved towards the bathroom to freshen up.
As he cleaned the slight cut on his cheek and washed his face with the soothing hot water, a glimpse of something shiny and golden caught his eye in the mirror.
He straightened up immediately, tenderly pulling out the locket from where it was hidden safely beneath his shirt. He couldn't help but smile fondly at it.
Harriet had been very insistent on making him wear this locket before he left the manor to come here. She'd said something along the lines about the locket bringing good luck to her when Sirius gifted it to her on her fifteenth birthday. But she didn't tell him that the locket was charmed with the strongest protective spells. She'd been very sneaky into giving Tom something so important and valuable to her. No wonder the Sorting Hat wanted to place her in Slytherin.
Tom leaned against the wash-basin with a sigh. He didn't want to say it out loud, but he missed his wife a lot. And now, he completely understood his followers' eagerness to finish meetings and tasks, and go home early where someone was waiting for them.
From the time he'd spent with her, he'd grown accustomed to her presence around him. He liked to talk to her, teach her Dark and Parselmagic, debate with her about the new plans he wanted to implement in the Wizarding World, and whatnot. Hell, he even liked to taste whatever new dishes she was trying to make, and he daresay that his wife was a fantastic cook. He loved it when she would interrupt his meetings and scold him for forgetting his meals, or when she would quietly bring him tea and cookies when he was too engrossed in his work. He loved to watch her watch lost in her own little world whenever she would paint or sing, and how she would hum and sway while taking care of the manor's garden.
He didn't know when it all started, but he loved the new turn this marriage alliance had brought in his life. There was comfort in Harriet's presence, something so novel and familiar, that it would always help him forget his worries.
Tom stroked the locket lovingly. He missed her more than he thought was possible.
His thoughts were interrupted when there was a slight knock on his door. His demeanour changed entirely, his mind shifting to the current predicament they were facing.
He moved out of the bathroom and opened the bedroom door. As predicted, Lucius, Bellatrix and Bartu stood there with a grim look and equally exhausted.
"My Lord," they bowed. Tom internally cringed at the action. He now understood what his wife had meant.
"Please, come in. What are the reports?" Tom asked as he sat back on the couch, motioning them to take seats as well, "Have they said anything yet?"
"Nothing, my Lord. Not a word. They are too thick-skinned to let any information out," Lucius replied.
"All are crazy bastards just as Fenrir." There was an annoying tick in Barty's voice as he thought of the feral werewolf.
"Hey, there is nothing wrong in being a bit crazy." Tom smiled at Bella's words, but the frown on his face returned as she continued. "But those out there, they are monsters."
"What does that mean?" He asked the three of them.
"Fenrir kidnapped the kids to convert them to werewolf. He was looking for the right opportunity, the next full moon, two days from now. Thankfully, we got a hold of their location before he could do anything. Physically they are okay, but mentally they are terrified."
Tom cursed colourfully under his breath. Had they not been fast enough, Greyback would have ruined their innocent lives in a fit of retaliation.
"How are they all fairing now? Have they said anything yet?"
"They were pretty scared when we found them, seeing how they are all quite young," Lucius started, "But when they understood that we meant no harm to them, and that we were there to help them, they opened up pretty quickly. Told us what happened to them, where were they picked up from. They even said 'thank you' to you, my Lord, for coming to their aid."
Tom sighed in relief after hearing that. At least the kids were alright. His felt a new kind of emotion rising in his chest when he heard their thank-yous. He blamed all this on his wife, for making him such an emotional sap.
"There is one issue, though. Out of the ten children we've rescued, two of them do not have any homes or parents to go back to."
"No relatives either?"
"No, my Lord."
"They'll stay at the orphanage then. I won't allow any kid to roam around the streets, thinking no one will look after them. And all three of them will be under mine and Harriet's wardship, until we find a suitable and loving home for them. I'm sure my wife would agree to it." He announced the decision in finality, so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't notice his tongue' slip when he addressed Harriet as 'my wife' in a possessive way. But his followers did, and they passed knowing glances to each other. He was so busy that he totally missed the silent conversation going on between the three of them.
"My Lord?" Bellatrix spoke up trying to get his attention.
"You should go back home." It wasn't a suggestion. It was an order, and it did startle him. No one gave the Dark Lord, orders.
"The mission took longer than we thought, and knowing Harriet, I'm sure she must be incredibly worried about you and all of us. I think you should go home. Little flower trusted me with your safety. I'm just trying to do my job."
The Dark Lord was still getting used to the fact that Harriet and Bellatrix had bonded so well even after everything that had happened in the past between them. Harriet had been a great help with Bella's mental therapy, and was always there for her when the nightmares of dreaded Azkaban prison became too much. On the other hand, Bella saw Harriet as the daughter she never had, even calling her as her 'little flower' in a loving way.
Though he wouldn't admit it aloud ever, Tom was slightly jealous of their strong bond. He simply wished to spend more time with his wife.
"I can't. Greyback has escaped, his followers aren't telling us anything. There's work here." He was cut off by Lucius.
"Everything here will be sorted, my Lord. The children will return to their parents by tomorrow, and as for Greyback and his laggies, we'll have to make a proper plan to catch them. I'm sure, Minister Bones would help us into the issue."
"Lucius is right, my Lord. You don't have to worry about here. Besides, we'll bring the ones we've captured, to Britain, tomorrow. It's better if we keep them in the Malfoy Manor dungeons for now. That way, we could always keep an eye on them."
Tom looked at them in defeat. There was no way he could argue with them. The children and the captors would be brought back tomorrow and he'll have to wait until then. Besides, he couldn't wait to get back home. Bellatrix was right of course, Harriet must be going crazy seeing that they haven't been able to communicate much. Only a few letters here and there.
"Okay. I'll go," Tom said and started to pack his things, ignoring the smug and knowing grins on his followers' faces. He didn't want them to see how excited he was to meet his wife, or the slight blush slowly rising on his cheeks.
He heard the shuffling signalling their leave, but before could go, Tom stopped them, "Lucius?"
"Yes, my Lord?"
"None of you will address me as 'My Lord' from now." He looked sideways to see their reactions and chuckled at the shock written on their faces.
"What shall we call you then, my Lord...I mean," Lucius struggled.
"Did we do something wrong, my Lord?"
"Nothing to worry about, Barty. As for your answer, Lucius, you may call me Tom or Marvolo or Lord Slytherin. Anything, but not 'my Lord'."
They still didn't say anything. Tom rubbed a hand through his tired face before he turned to them, "You are my followers, my equals, not my devotees. I'm your leader, not your God. It was stupid of me to think of you all as inferiors, but I want to correct my mistakes."
"As you say, my...I mean Marvolo," Bellatrix spoke up first. It would take some time for them to get used to this new side of Tom, but it was a welcome change nonetheless. Again, Tom blamed his wife for turning him into a softie.
A sense of comfort filled his senses as soon as he stepped into his home. The manor's magic wrapped around him a welcoming gesture, and Tom shuddered in relief. He had been gone for too long, and the ease he felt on coming back was indescribable. Moreover, this one was his first long mission since his marriage. He hadn't been away from Harriet for more than a day, so she was bound to be worried.
Tom desperately wanted to see her reaction when he would surprise her with his sudden appearance.
He looked around his office; it looked as pristine as he liked to keep it. Everything was in its place unlike the mess he had left when he had heard the news of Fenrir's whereabouts. His wife must have cleaned it in here.
Tom started to walk towards the door. The wards might have alerted Harriet about his arrival, or she might have heard the floo being activated because the next thing he knew, was the door being thrown open and Harriet standing there with her wand pointed at him in a defensive pose.
Moments ticked by as he stared at her. As soon as she registered that it was really him standing in front of her, Harriet's wand arm dropped and she launched herself in the safety of his embrace.
Tom easily caught up with her, picking her off the ground. His arms encircled around her waist tightly, pulling her flush against him. He cradled her head in the crook of his neck and sighed in relief as he deeply breathed in her hair. The light scent of her lavender shampoo, brought him a sense of comfort which he never thought he needed.
He smiled when her fingers found their way in his hair, gently massaging and easing away the tension. He easily gave her access when she nuzzled him slightly, capturing his lips in a fierce kiss. Tom made a groaning noise in the back of his throat at the unexpected move. They had shared kisses before, slight pecks on the cheeks, lingering ones on the lips when none of them had much time. There were comforting ones on the forehead. But this one was different than all the others they had stolen in their passing moments. It was needy, it was desperate. It was a grateful one, thankful that he was finally home, all safe and harmless.
He let out a heavy breath as they parted. Rubbing his fingers on her cheeks, Tom observed how exhausted and drained she looked. There were bags under her eyes, worry lines edged on her forehead and her usually well-kept hair was falling out of the messy bun she'd tried to make.
"Are you okay?" she whispered, making Tom chuckle. Her eyes were brimming with tears that were on the verge of falling. The frown on her face deepened when she saw the cuts and bruises on his face.
"I should ask the same about you." He put feather-light kisses on her forehead in assurance, loving the feeling of having her in his arms again.
"Fenrir kidnapped and kept ten little children as hostages. The intention was to turn them into werewolves on the next full moon. We caught him and his followers before he could do any serious damage. But he got away. The bastard used his laggies as bait and ran away on the first chance he got."
"The kids?" As expected, his wife was more concerned about the children's safety. "Are they alright? Were they hurt? Where are they? Tom..." He could see her mind reeling with dangerous possibilities.
"Harriet, hush. It's okay. Everything's okay," he said soothingly, staring deeply into her eyes to make her believe his words. "They are all fine. Bellatrix, Lucius and Barty are there to take care of them. We have informed their parents, they'll all be here in the morning." He could feel the stress leaving her body.
"But? But what? Tom, what is it?"
"Two of them don't have any home or parents to go back to. They are orphans. I ordered Lucius to bring them to the orphanage, first thing in the morning. They'll live there as both our wards until someone adopts them. Is that okay with you?" He wanted to make sure that he hadn't overstepped his boundaries in assuming her decision.
"Why wouldn't I be okay with it. I'm more than happy." She couldn't contain her excitement at the thought of the little ones.
"Have you met them yet? How are they?"
"No, I haven't. I didn't get the chance. I thought we could meet them together when they come tomorrow. How does that sound?"
"I can't wait." Her smile was so contagious that even Tom grew excited at the prospect of meeting his new wards.
"We should take something for them. I'll bake some cookies for them we can go shopping tomorrow."
"I'm sure they would love it," Tom replied as he put the loose strand fallen from her bun, behind her ear in a loving way. He loved the slight blush that rose on her cheeks.
"I'm glad you're home," Harriet whispered as she laid her head on his chest, and pressed a small kiss right where his heart was beating.
"Me too, wife. Me too." There was only contentment when he stood with Harriet in his arms, gently swaying from side to side.