It began as whispers throughout the Ministry of Magic—Lord Slytherin is returning to England. The ambassador was a man of intrigue and mystery. Only the most venerable members of the Wizengamot remembered his early years. He was a boy born in seeming obscurity, and yet the most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever seen. He surpassed the great Albus Dumbledore, defeater of the Dark Lord Grindelwald, in his magical prowess and intellectual capacities. Some of his teachers whispered that perhaps he might be the second Merlin.
How, though, could a boy from a Muggle orphanage, having sprung from nowhere, be that devastatingly clever?
“I remember him,” Dowager Augusta Longbottom confided to her old friend Violet, who was partially deaf. “Tom Riddle Jr. was his name. Not that he uses the name ‘Tom’ now.”
“Ambassador Riddle,” Violet sighed, even though she had been married nearly four decades ago, quite late. In fact, those who still remembered her from before her wedding would refer to her as Old Maid Vi. “How handsome he was.”
“How handsome he is,” Augusta commented. She hadn’t seen him in nearly three decades, but even then, although he was reaching sixty or so, he barely looked a day over twenty-five according to the rumors.
“Handsomer than Neville?”
Augusta pursed her lips. Knowing the child and his annoying (though politically useful, she must admit to herself) habit of puttering off after Lady Haesel Potter, there very well could soon be an engagement announcement in the papers. Assuming, of course, that her grandson managed to convince Haesel that he was the proper choice.
Despite their status as magical godsiblings, she wasn’t assured of his ability to seal the deal, as it were. Haesel was, she couldn’t help but admit, powerful enough to resist such a long-established bond. She also had a stubborn streak a wizard-mile long. Sometimes she got ideas, of all the horrible notions! And with Haesel’s coming of age gala just two weeks away, it was nigh impossible to imagine Neville winning her over before she was officially ‘out’ to the rest of pureblood society, and therefore open to courting from other suitors. Of which, Augusta knew, there would be many.
Violet looked at Augusta, waiting for her answer.
Setting her teacup on its saucer, Augusta gazed wistfully out the window. “Yes,” she admitted. “Much handsomer than Neville or anyone else could ever hope to be.”
Violet hummed to herself. “They say his friends called him Marvolo, once upon a time, when the rumors started that he was the Heir of Slytherin.”
“Quite,” Augusta agreed, picking up a biscuit. She didn’t much fancy nibbling on it quite yet, so she set it on her saucer. “It was his grandfather’s name, or so they say. He was named for both sides of the family, rumor had it.”
“A Slytherin name, then.”
“Yes, Vi, a Slytherin name. Ambassador Riddle is Lord Slytherin after all.”
“And yet there’s no Lady Slytherin,” Violet sighed.
Now, that was the real tragedy. The most eligible bachelor in wizarding England, in wizarding Europe in fact, had never shown any interest in having a Lady Slytherin. Seemingly not even desiring a hostess to the little social gatherings he was forced to sponsor. For a while rumors abounded, as they had with Dumbledore all those years and years ago but, well, they came to nothing. The ambassador was simply reclusive. He never appeared in the society pages, did not come back to England, and simply trotted off to the continent to Merlin knew where and did Merlin knew what. Obviously, he was the ambassador to somewhere important, but his appointment had been so long ago now that no one remembered where he had been sent as emissary or who had even sent him. Still, they recalled that it was important. Nothing else would suit for Lord Slytherin. It was simply unthinkable!
“Perhaps—” Violet suggested, always the romantic.
“Hardly,” Augusta responded, picking up her biscuit once again. “He’s near seventy now.”
“He’s still young, though, for a wizard.” Violet tipped her head to the side and her frizzled hair fell floppily around her face.
Augusta rolled her eyes. “But who, Vi, who would cause him to come back to England if bonding really is on his mind?”
Before her friend could answer, though, a thought occurred to her. That slip of a girl: Haesel. She was powerful enough to attract even the most reclusive of bachelors. Not only was she the most powerful witch of her generation—and a wizarding generation lasted fifty years—surpassing even her mother, but it was also rumored that she was the most powerful pureblood witch in several centuries. She came from an impeccable background, was the eldest child (so she would know responsibility), and even Augusta would admit the girl was a pretty, little thing.
She frowned. As much as she disliked the thought of Neville bonding before he finished his schooling (she had always assumed that he would try for the girl, however poor the attempt might be), Augusta doubted Haesel would choose Neville. Why would she apart from childhood affection? Still, she wouldn’t like to lose such a coveted asset to her line prematurely. Perhaps Frank or Alice would manage to convince Haesel that joining the Potter family to the Longbottom family was the right choice. Merlin knew the girl spent a great deal of time at Longbottom Manor (although lately she had been rumored to visit Lady Rana Lestrange several times at Malfoy Manor, of all places), and at least Frank—unlike his son—had a proper head on his shoulders.
Narrowing her eyes in contemplation, Augusta casually dismissed the original line of thought. No, surely Lord Slytherin did not return to England simply to court a girl fifty years his junior. The thought was preposterous!
Augusta had been a young girl once. Yes, a name meant everything, but so did a young, handsome face. And Ambassador Riddle had just that, she realized with horror. Anyone who remembered did not care that his father had actually been a Muggle. He was Lord Slytherin, for Merlin’s sake! Even without the title, she knew he had purged his father’s non-Noble blood somehow; there had been a minor furor when he returned as Head Boy with dark eyes instead of the boring brown he had been born with.
She swallowed nervously, nearly choking on her biscuit. It surprised her, as she hadn’t even realized she’d been nibbling on it as she thought.
The conversation soon turned to other topics, but the haunting thought remained with Augusta. Somehow, she could not shake it.
In the North of England, a deceptively young looking man sat at a desk before a window, gazing out at the small town that slumbered peacefully in the late evening. Candles floated about his head, reflecting off his nearly black hair that had a strange, dark auburn shine to it. If he hadn’t appeared so human, with his far-too-knowledgeable eyes, a fanciful person might be tempted to say he was an angel: he was so handsome. With his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, a quill flicked between his fingers, as he was deep in thought.
A half-smile, private, nearly a smirk but more than that, graced his features, almost as if, despite himself, he was in love and had yet to fully realize it.
Coming to a decision, the man turned to a sheaf of parchment in front of him and, with a grace that bespoke years of practice, he signed his full name to the offer of courtship he had just penned—Tom Marvolo Riddle, Jr., Ambassador to the Lone Islands, Lord Slytherin. An eerily haunting smile turned up the left corner of his mouth as he did so.