It was long past the end-of-work hour; the Auror's office was already half-empty. A few people yawned and meandered towards the Ministry of Magic's exit.
"Director, are you still not leaving?" Alphonse got up from his desk, feeling a little helpless from his boss's work enthusiasm. The tall man pulled at the neck of his tie, loosening it a little, and leaned over his boss' desk with a smile. "Joan, David, and the others are hosting a party tonight. Will you be in attendance?"
"I've still got loads of work, so I won't be going." Joan massaged the bridge of her nose. "When you've time, help me retrieve some of the files on Karkaroff when you leave."
She spent more than a month stripping this huge organisation of Death Eaters, digesting the information bit by bit, trying to unravel the cocoon of corruption wrapped tightly around it. But following every thread of information left her perpetually spinning around the outermost layer of the organisation; the only event that surprised her was probably the breakthrough with Karkaroff.
"Karkaroff? That D7234, no, that Death Eater member?" Alphonse remembered the name keenly; he stood up and turned around to perform the task immediately.
A stack of A4 papers, only less than 4 pages long, recorded Karkaroff's entire twenty years in an extremely concise summary.
Joan took the file and began flipping through it quickly.
Before Karkaroff turned seventeen, he was like any other ordinary wizard; so ordinary that he was almost boring. His grades were mediocre, his social skills were mediocre, and being selected to participate in the trip to Hogwarts was also dependent on his parents' connections. But after his trip to Hogwarts, what would appear before everyone was a nearly-perfect top student.
With some unknown means, after graduation, he was directly hired by Durmstrang as a teaching assistant.
Such a transformation was almost like he became a completely different person.
How very… Unusual.
Joan put down the file and met Alphonse's eyes as soon as she looked up.
"Captain, what's wrong?" Even though Joan had been promoted to Director, Alphonse was still too used to calling her Captain.
Joan didn't speak; she needed time to figure out her thoughts.
What happened to Karkaroff at Hogwarts? Who did he encounter? And what did it have to do with Harry?
"Alphonse… Among the people Karkaroff met at Hogwarts are any of them associated with Harry…"
The two looked at each other, and both found the answer in the other's shocked eyes.
Alphonse smiled almost reluctantly. "How could that be? Tom just graduated! Is he affiliated with the Death Eaters?"
Maybe it wasn't just about the Death Eaters anymore.
Joan felt as if her heart had been thrown from a cliff, the strong sense of weightless freefall feeling in the pit of her stomach making her pupils dilate.
Only she and Harry spoke face-to-face, only she remembered the subtle changes in Harry's expressions, and only she clearly remembered the problem Harry tried to avoid:
Who was the second Dark Lord?
Could this mean… Tom Riddle was trying to repeat the dark reign of the first Dark Lord?
Don't scare yourself! Maybe Harry really didn't know, maybe these speculations are born from thinking too much.
Joan slumped down in her chair.
If it's true, then Tom Riddle was terrifying.
But it's more likely something went wrong. Joan took a deep breath and straightened her spine, supporting her chin with her hands.
If Tom really was the so-called Dark Lord's second coming, according to Tom's temperament, even if he was to reveal his true colours to the whole world, Harry would always be the one kept in the dark; so how would Harry know?
Joan wiped away the cold sweat from her forehead and imperceptibly breathed a sigh of relief.
Could it be she truly thought wrong?
Because of Joan's dilemma, the Auror's office stayed illuminated all night.
The Pureblood families were revelling even more fanatically throughout the whole night.
"I see you've just decided to carelessly attend the Death Eater party like this." Malfoy, who was wearing a black cloak, tucked his conspicuous hair under his hood and looked at Tom Riddle, who was also dressed in black.
Nobody wore black better than Tom Riddle.
He was a child born to be favoured by the color. Black hair, black eyes, a black soul. He wore a pure black wizarding robe, as if he'd been dressed like this since an eternity ago and was unable to tolerate a second person imitating him.
"This is my party." The monster bred in the dark smiled.
The very few but powerful members of the Pureblood families found a common topic at this party - lineage and rights.
"You've always known how to grasp their weakness." Malfoy shook his head with a tsk and sighed. "They're obsessed with wanting to cooperate with you, even the Parkinson family's taken the initiative to show their willingness to follow you."
Malfoy swayed the glass of wine in his hands and sighed. "They've all become crazy."
"You're the craziest one of them all." Tom Riddle hid in the dark, grinning at his partner and followers, revealing a row of unusually sharp teeth before drinking all the liquor in his glass.
"Malfoy, have you found the house-elves I asked you to find?"
Abraxas flirtingly winked at the ladies who walked passed them, not forgetting to answer Tom's question. "Naturally. As long as you give enough money, the greedy elves would flood in."
"But then and again, Lord, what do you want those ugly elves for?"
The eyes of Slytherin's descendent instantly frosted over and the facial features that had gradually become firm with adulthood appeared extremely cold. "You shouldn't ask."
Then the young Devil laughed again; he narrowed his eyes and patted his subordinate on the shoulder, eyes still freezing cold. "I'm doing this for your own good."
Ugly magical creatures like house-elves were another one of the Devil's favourites.
They were ugly in appearance and easily driven by money; contrary to them, he was ingenious and had an excellent IQ, and was even excellent at making organisations and magical artefacts. However, there was nothing as powerful and practical as house-elf magic. Oh, they would make such great tools.
For him, they could arrange all the mysteries within the cave for him; for him, they could build a hidden tower supported by magic on the island; for him, they could create the perfect cage.
"Alright, for my own good." Malfoy was obviously dissatisfied with this answer but didn't object. "But Tom, what if those elves leak out news?"
"They won't be willing to reveal the source of their money to outsiders. They hate seeing others become rich." The Devil shrugged and smiled lightly. "Moreover, they won't have the chance."
When everything's ready, except for him and Nagini, all creatures who'd know about the existence of that place would be slaughtered.
As for the Dementors? They already have half a foot placed in the undead category.
By the time the gathering of Pureblood families ended and Tom returned to Godric Valley, it was late at night.
"You're back?" Harry, whose hair was still dripping, didn't turn his head, still immersed in his book; just by casually saying that made the chaotic aura surrounding the Slytherin fade away.
"Harry, I'm a little hungry. I only drank at the party," Tom stood by the door of the study as he complained solemnly.
He was deeply committed to transforming his expressions and moods to fit the role he played, especially when it came to performing as this kind of soft character.
"There's still some bread left on the table."
"Hm." The Slytherin's slipper slapped on the floor as he went downstairs to find the so-called bread.
The bread tasted terrible.
After a single bite, the Dark Lord threw the bread into the trash mercilessly.
The elves were extremely fast, their desire for money and wealth motivating them to approach completion ahead of schedule.
The Dementors who fled from Azkaban had already regarded the sea area as their carnival, where even the Inferi within the sea cave were expected to dance with them. Fish, leeches and even moss were unable to survive. As soon as the house-elves finished their work, his plan would be fully implemented.
Destabilise the wizarding world, and take control of the world.
"Are you ready to start?" Malfoy's desire for glory had been restrained for far too long.
He'd thought his Lord felt the same way.
"...No. There's no need for such early preparations," the Devil hesitated.
Malfoy frowned. "Lord, you said that the plan should proceed after the house-elves are done with their work."
"Shut up," Tom scolded irritably. He naturally could remember what he said!
He knew more than anyone else what would happen after this!
It meant that he and Harry would be completely torn apart, falling to a point of (1) irreconcilable adversaries; it meant that the atmosphere allowing people to soften themselves would be completely broken, forcing one to either resist or obey the other; it also meant that the temperature and light would gradually fade - no - instantly fade away.
He was suddenly a bit… Reluctant.
If so, should he postpone the plan?
But, only by initiating the plan would Harry Potter truly be Tom Riddle's alone.
"Why are we postponing the plan?" Malfoy couldn't understand his junior.
This plan had no earth-shaking effect; after all, it was only the first step.
They were well-prepared and had the winning ticket in their hands; even if they were to fail they wouldn't lose too much. In that case, what were they hesitating for?
"I just… Haven't thought it out yet."
"You've already been thinking for two, three years!" Malfoy rolled his eyes, also beginning to lose his words. "Who's the one who couldn't wait anymore? Now, who's the one calling for a time-out?!"
"Reason. What is the reason?" Abraxas was slightly frustrated. "Power? Appearance? ...Is it because of Potter?"
Seeing his Lord's abruptly displeased expression, Abraxas also calmed down.
He could almost immediately determine why Tom was doing this - Harry Potter.
"Apologies. I offended you." Malfoy took a deep breath before apologising, the two's relationship mode instantly switching from friends to master and slave.
Malfoy approached the door carefully; only after making sure no voices from outside could be heard inside did he let go of that humble facade.
This person was in the way.
(1) I absolutely love this idiom - '你死我活'. Its literal translation is 'you die I live' which I'm just LoViN'-