The Sugar Quill
Author: Melyanna  Story: Anagrams  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J. K. Rowling, who is far more talented than I.

Author’s Notes: This scene is the result of reading Arabella’s The Very Secret Diary, a read which I recommend to anyone who wants to know more about Tom Riddle and Ginny Weasley. She was gracious enough to allow me to use a name mentioned in that story, so Viane Folo appears here with her permission.

Thanks to Moey for beta reading this, and catching some really silly mistakes I'd made that I never would have seen.

I also owe a big favor to Angela and Tim, two military history buffs, who pointed me in the right direction as far as World War II events are concerned.

And last, but certainly not least, a huge box of Honeydukes is owed to Spartina, whose thoughts and comments on this scene, especially concerning the subtleties of Cornelius Fudge, were absolutely invaluable.

by Melyanna

December 24, 1940

It is Christmas Eve, and a glance around the Slytherin common room shows just how much this Muggle war is affecting us in the wizarding world. In order to silently support the war effort, the teachers told us that we could not have Christmas decorations as extensive as we had in years past. It is no matter, however, because a little magic here and there has turned the lavish green and silver decor into something quite festive and attractive. Nothing that can’t be set back with Finite Incantatem.

I do not know whose idea this gesture was—there are some things that are not told to the Head Boy, after all—but I suspect it was Dumbledore’s doing. This seems like his kind of action, integrating events of the Muggle world into our lives. It is certainly not the doing of Dippet, who seems to care nothing about the outside world, only the maintenance of this school. Yet we seem to talk about the Muggle war quite often. The school even observes blackout procedures, though half the school has no idea what precipitates the blackouts in the first place. Explaining about Muggle war technology would be a fruitless endeavor, at any rate. However, here in the Slytherin common room, there is no cause for dimming our lights, as much of the place lies beneath the lake.

Some of it, of course, cannot be helped. Even for the army of house elves in the Hogwarts kitchens, it has become difficult to procure great quantities of items such as sugar or butter—things we do not grow or make here on school grounds. As for the elves themselves, it is rumored that some of them have actually been sent to help with the armed forces, no doubt fixing things when the Muggles aren’t paying attention. If the rumor is true.

It seems an empty gesture, and since the decision was made I have heard many students complain about the lack of Christmas cheer. Though I would never say it, I wonder about the point of it as well. It is clearly a political move (after all, what difference does it make if we have our decorations?) yet I cannot make out who benefits from this. The best I can decipher is that Dumbledore is trying to remind the Muggle-borns of the conditions their parents live under, and to create some kind of empathy for them within us purebloods.

A large tree with silver ornaments stands in the corner of the common room, and beside it I sit in a comfortable armchair, one that is stately, soft, and covered in ornate green brocade. It is, for the most part, my chair, and from its position, tucked out of the way, I have an easy view of the entire room. I tend to watch the students more than I work on my assignments in here—there is so much to be learned from observation here, when there are no figures of authority standing directly over the students. Normally I would not spend much time in hiding, as this would seem, but as the study of people is not offered as a formal course at Hogwarts, I must do as I can.

On this evening, I have a book in my hand, The Art of Deception: A Study of Dark Wizards. It is required reading for Defense Against the Dark Arts, but I am more inclined to watch a group of third- and fourth-years seated around a table across the room. In years past, this room would have been deserted on Christmas Eve, but due to the war, most of the parents chose to have their children remain here at Hogwarts because it is safer from the Muggle flying contraptions. The precaution was apparently warranted; we heard only this morning that the parents of a Slytherin first-year and a Hufflepuff fifth-year were killed last night in Manchester. However, these children who are still in the common room seem oblivious to the outside world. Amazingly, they also seem to be working.

As time goes on, however, I realize that they are not working as hard as I had thought. “How much work can Dumbledore give us? He seems so nice in class,” a boy complains. But it cannot be the first time he has made this complaint. Dumbledore is willing to help students as much as he can, but he is a demanding teacher. It should be no surprise that he would give this amount of holiday work to the students who will be facing O. W. L. examinations the following year.

“Too nice,” says another.

“He’s dangerous.”

The irrationality of one of these children thinking of the kindly Transfiguration professor as dangerous is almost laughable. The statement surprises me as much as it surprises the children, and I look up from my book in curiosity. Young Tom Riddle, a boy who will likely be considered handsome in a few years, commands the attention of the group, though his gaze is fixed on his parchment. In the meantime, the others have stopped writing.

One of Tom’s friends, John Mason, replies in a steady, but not confident voice, “That’s silly, Riddle.”

Riddle takes his time in responding, the tactic of a negotiator who wants to appear in control of the situation. Yet in this case, he is in control, and I marvel at how tightly he holds the thestral’s reins. “Why?” he asks, looking up at last.

Mason does not answer, and Penelope Allan answers instead. “Tom, he looks like Father Christmas.”

“You mean he will in about fifty years,” Mason says.

This generates nervous laughter, laughter which Riddle seems not to notice. “Would you want to be Grindelwald now?”

Silence falls again. Rumor has it that Dumbledore has left over the holidays for Germany, hoping to face the dark wizard and defeat him. This is not the first time Dumbledore has spent the holidays in the Black Forest, and I suspect it will not be the last. Having seen our Transfiguration professor’s power, none of us want to be in Grindelwald’s shoes if the rumor is true. I wonder if Tom is audacious enough to express distaste of Dumbledore, or if perhaps he is going to speak up in defense of Grindelwald. But Max Keller speaks before Tom opens his mouth again. “Come off it, let’s not do any more work tonight. It’s Christmas!” he says. “Let’s play anagrams.”

A pretty third-year seconds the motion, and all of the children except for Tom put their books away. “Tom,” says Keller, “no more work.”

“I’ll stop when I’m good and ready to stop.” There is a hint of anger and impatience in his voice, and Tom looks up for a moment. It is enough to make Keller back down, his shoulders slouching somewhat as he physically leans away from his classmate. Riddle returns his gaze to his parchment. “Play your game. I don’t mind.”

The children take their wands out, unaware that I am no longer reading, watching them intently instead. Mason looks around. “Who first?”

The boy on the far side of Riddle, a fourth-year named Elphias Doge, clears his throat. “I’m game.” He taps the table with his wand and writes a word in the air. Cambridge shines in silver letters that rotate to let everyone see them.

A few minutes pass with only the fire and Riddle’s quill making noise. Doge’s challenge is a difficult one. Suddenly Allan gasps and says, “I know!” She flicks her wand at the letters, and they rearrange to form the words bred magic.

John Mason rolls his eyes. “What kind of anagram is that?”

Doge sticks his tongue out at Mason. “I’m from Cambridge, so it did breed magic. Got a better one?”

Mason thinks for a minute. “Sure.” In the air he writes Parliament, though I can barely read his handwriting.

Max Keller has the answer almost immediately. “Partial men,” he says, waving his wand to reorder the letters. “Sounds just like the goverment.”

The children laugh, and I smile. Keller’s father is an assistant to the Minister of Magic.

Keller writes Gringotts Bank in the air, and I return to my reading, only vaguely paying attention to them as they continue in their game. I only look up again when Penelope Allan says, “Grindelwald!”

My eyes dart up to see her green writing in the air, and even Riddle stops his writing. We seem to be breathing in unison, until Tom lifts his wand and moves the letters around to spell wild dangler, and resumes his writing. I stare at the letters curiously. I know that it is just a child’s game, but does Tom mean something by the way in which he rearranged them? Memories of third-year Divination lessons in which we read cards surface in my mind—the Hanging Man from the card deck is the symbol of sacrifice. Is Tom insinuating that Grindelwald is some kind of scapegoat?

I doubt the children make the same connection, though they stare at the letters intently.

It is plain, however, that Penelope is miffed that he has solved it so quickly. “Let’s see you do another,” she says, and writes Dumbledore.

Riddle’s reaction is immediate. With a wave of his wand, Dumbledore becomes mob deluder, which surprises and impresses my fellow Slytherins. It does not seem to occur to any of them that the anagram should have shocked them, and I am not so certain it should either. From older friends now working in the Ministry, I have heard that Dumbledore convinced the Minister of Magic that we wizards will be affected by the outcome of this Muggle war, whether good or bad. The professor is not deluding mobs yet, but it is not inconceivable that he could. Tom must have a phenomenal talent for reading people if he has gathered this information through nothing more than class.

“Good one,” says Mason, clearing his throat.

“Anagrams never lie.” I raise a brow at this, and Riddle catches my eye. “His name,” he says, pointing at me.

Keller turns around and sees me. I shrug at him to give permission, and he writes Cornelius Fudge with his wand. Riddle stares at it for a while, then gives a masterful flick of his wand. The letters move into new positions and spell out cold refuge in us. It is an odd anagram, as odd as Tom’s concoctions for Grindelwald and Dumbledore. Normally I would shake my head at him and give him a patronizing smile, but there is something unsettling in the way the letters of my name rearrange themselves. Do I find cold refuge—or do I give cold refuge? And what is cold refuge anyway?

Viane Folo, the pretty third-year who seems to have had a crush on Tom since the moment they arrived at Hogwarts, speaks up, breaking my train of thought. “Do my name, Tom,” she says.

Normally Riddle would be more than happy to ignore her, but for some reason tonight he humors her when she writes her name in elegant script. Again, he stares at the letters for only a moment before he rearranges them. Naïve fool, the letters now read. Most of the children laugh at this, except for Viane. She looks as if she is going to cry, and then she turns her attention to her hands. I think for a moment that something should be said, that I, as Head Boy, should reprimand Tom somehow for doing such a cruel and heartless thing, but then I decide that it is perhaps in Viane’s best interest that she know now that Tom will likely never reciprocate.

A few names later, Elphias Doge says, “Let’s see you do your name, Riddle.”

Tom hesitates before lifting his wand and writing his own name, Tom Marvolo Riddle, in large, red letters that seem to be scratched into the very air. He studies it intently, and takes much longer with this one than he did with the rest. Then, without the use of his wand, the letters rearrange and spell out four words.

I am Lord Voldemort.

The room is silent; even the fire seems to have stopped crackling.

Penelope Allan is the first to speak. “Voldemort? What kind of name is that?”

“French,” Riddle replies. “It means ‘one who escapes death.’”

It is suddenly cold, and a shudder traces up the back of my neck. While I run my hand down my neck, Keller laughs nervously and asks, “Forget escaping death, Voldemort, can you escape Dumbledore’s transfiguration assignment?”

The letters disappear. “That’s Lord Voldemort to you,” Riddle says.

Keller shifts uncomfortably under Riddle’s steady gaze. To the untrained observer, Tom would have looked impassive and perhaps unattentive, but even from this distance and in this light I can see something in his eyes, a coldness which seems strange in one so young. Again I begin to feel that intervention may be necessary—perhaps sending them to bed is in order—but then Penelope laughs genuinely. A few seconds later the light sound is mixed with Elphias Doge’s laughter, and the ice is broken, the others joining in. And Tom lets them laugh at him, which surprises me as much as the chess player who sacrifices his knight to save his queen. Yet Tom has maintained both knight and queen, for the laughter soon dies away under his gaze. One by one, the students at the table look away from Tom, almost as if in shame.

And then Tom returns to his writing.

With Tom’s attention removed from the group, the game is clearly over. Books and quills reappear at the table. I return to my reading, but when I reach the end of the page I realize that I have no idea what I have just read. I turn the page anyway, and I glance back up at Riddle. The boy meets my eyes, and for a while we simply stare at each other. There is something profoundly disconcerting about it, and I realize that Tom is not blinking. I look away, unable to watch his eyes anymore. Yet I am in awe of how well he has commanded everything in the room, down to diverting my own attention away from him.

I notice the warmth of the fire again, and I feel somewhat silly for having believed it got colder. Tom is absorbed with his work as he was before, and he seems to have forgotten about the anagrams. It is calm, and even the last anagram feels lighthearted and childlike in its arrogance.

Voldemort, I think as I turn another page in my book. What a ridiculous name.

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