Tom reappeared at last atop the manor's grand staircase, dressed in fine muggle clothing worn under a dragon skin robe that brought out the color of his already striking eyes. The cut of the fabric was more than flattering, clinging to his figure in all the right places, and rippled imperiously behind him as he descended the stairs. From his walnut crown to the Lordship ring on his hand to the custom boots on his feet he looked, in every aspect necessary, like a proper Pureblood Lord.
"Sorry for keeping you waiting, Severus," he said as he reached the bottom of the staircase with the dull thump of shod feet against carpet. "With everything that has happened since this morning the matter, I'm at loath to admit, had slipped my mind until only a few minutes ago. I became so embroiled in getting up in arms with the effort to protect Junior that I failed to write him back in an appropriately timely manner. With no real idea of how long it may take us to resolve things at the Ministry, I thought it was best that I took the time to pen a brief response to my son before we left. To stop him from worrying if nothing else."
"It's understandable," Snape replied as the brunet closed the last few feet of distance between them. "You're ready to leave?"
"I am," he said, "Though if you could first explain to me what it is that we'll be doing, precisely, so that I know to act accordingly when we arrive?"
"I'm going to take you to London through a method of magical transport known as Apparition—expect to find the experience uncomfortable. We'll enter through the visitor's entrance and once in the atrium will have to check in at the security desk where they'll measure your…wand?"
Tom offered a seemingly self-conscious smile. "My magic and yours aren't the same. It's weaker, in many ways. Diffused, as I understand it, throughout my entire body rather than being concentrated in a solid core. I'm left unable to properly operate a wand." Remembering the incident which had occurred with the bedside lamp when Junior had been showing him his wand, Tom shook his head. "Perhaps that's for the best, all things considered." When he held up his hand, the jointed claw gleamed in the foyer's artificial light. "I'll just have to present this and explain myself; I suspect I'll be doing quite a lot of that tonight."
There was little doubt of that considering what they were going to the Ministry to do. Lords didn't suddenly reappear after centuries and register with the Wizengamot without notice. Especially not when the Lord in question was the head of a line like Lefay. "After we've been let through the security desk we'll want to head to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement on Level 2 so that you can register yourself with the Wizengamot."
"I should suspect a hullabaloo?"
"To put things mildly." When the other man smiled the corners of his eyes creased. Snape promptly averted his gaze to the far wall behind Tom. "If you're prepared to set out?"
Tom nodded and reached around him to open the front door. "Oh yes. No point in delaying any further; I'm in a proper state now and have my emotions properly under control, so you've no need to be concerned I'll hurt anyone even if we do run into Dumbledore." With the way his voice chilled Snape doubted that was true. He followed the other outside and down the steps of the porch. Once on they were on the grass, Tom turned back to him. "Shall we?"
The sooner the matter could be done and over with the better; a sentiment which seemed to be shared between them. Snape held out his arm. "Hold onto me; do not lose your grip." The last thing he needed was to spend all night searching for the aristocrat after he'd ended up Merlin only knew where—potentially splinched.
Tom offered another too attractive smile as he stepped forward and wrapped warm hands around the raven's forearm. He smelled like sweet hay, clean air and fire. "Tight enough?"
Snape twisted on the spot, and their surroundings vanished in a blur of color. The familiar sensation of apparition closed in around them, and a moment later he was treated to the sight of Riddle, looking quite shocked and rather green, careening into the side of the cherry red phone booth they'd appeared beside. His back and shoulders made contact with a clang of metal and glass.
"Bloody hell!" He cursed hoarsely, reaching up to push stray strands of dark hair out of his face. "I never thought I'd say this in a million years, but I prefer the Knight Bus!"
Snape allowed himself a brief snort of amusement before he opened the door of the phone booth and stepped inside. "Come on."
"Have a call to make? You'd have been welcome to use the phone back at the manor."
"Riddle, this is the visitor's entrance."
"A phone booth?" He'd been to St. Mungo's so the concept of the entrance to a magical building being hidden behind the veneer of something basic, muggle and usually rundown wasn't new to him. But at least with Purge and Dowse Ltd the means of entry, once one got over the shock of having to address a mannequin as if it were a secretary behind a receiving desk, had made sense. "The guest entrance to the headquarters of Britain's magical government is a phone booth?"
Rather than answer, Snape seized the aristocrat by the front of his shirt and hauled him inside. "New to this world or not, acting like a child will not give the impression you're hoping for. And it won't be of any help against Dumbledore."
"No need to act like I need time to 'sober up'." Even with a feral edge his grin still managed to look warm, and if anything that made it all the more terrifying. "Growing up in high society gives you the ability to switch your face as easily as putting on a mask—pulling on whatever best suits your ends in that moment. Having been a Slytherin, I'm sure you've some experience with the same?"
Snape grunted, much to the others amusement, and dialed 6244 into the keypad.
"'Magic'." Tom muttered from behind him, mirth coloring his voice. "Original. I bet this was the work of Gryffindors."
As much trouble as he was, maybe the man wasn't all bad.
No sooner had the automated voice coolly informed them "Welcome to the Ministry of Magic, please state your name and business", did he hear a thump from just behind him, causing the booth to shake, followed by a brief period of desperate scrabbling at the now stuck door. When he turned to investigate the source of the noise he found Tom wedged into the far corner, wide eyed and looking on the verge of passing out from fear. A moment of confusion was swiftly followed by a quiet curse: for a man suffering from severe gynophobia having an invisible woman suddenly start talking to you while you were trapped in a phone booth was probably the equivalent of a waking nightmare.
And they used the same recording in the lifts as well. Which, at this time of day, were likely to be crowded. …It was a good thing he always had his potion kit on him because Riddle was going to need a Calming Draught.
Pulling the appropriate bottle free and uncorking it Snape held it out to the quivering brunet with a sigh. "It's a recording. Drink this and pull yourself together; I'll put a Silencing Charm around you while I finish phoning us in."
It seemed to take the other man a moment to process what he'd said, but once he had he reached out a shaking hand to take the bottle and knocked the contents back in one. After silencing the area around him Snape turned back to the phone.
"Severus Snape, Potion's Master. Here to escort Tom Riddle who is here to register his status with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's Wizengamot Administrative Services."
"Thank you," the recording said, "Visitors, please take the badges and attach them to the front of your robes."
With a loud clatter, the coin slot of the phone was filled with a pair of square silver badges. Snape picked both up and handed the one marked 'Tom Riddle, Administrative Registration' over to the other man. Although he was still a bit pale in the face, Tom had managed to pull himself together admirably well and fastened it to the lapels of his robes.
"Visitors to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the atrium."
The floor beneath them shuddered and a moment later the phone booth began to sink below the ground. Soon enough, they'd been swallowed up in darkness.
"Riddle," Snape said over the rattle of the moving booth after he'd removed the Silencing Charm. The other turned his head to look at him, eyes stained black by the shadows. "The Ministry's lifts use the same recording as the visitor's entrance and at this time of day are quite crowded. You need to remain calm; attempt to keep in mind that your phobia is by definition an irrational fear. No one in the Ministry of Magic is going to harm you."
"I know it's an irrational fear, Severus." Tom's voice was almost drowned out by the clattering booth; a chink of light appeared and began slowly climbing up their bodies. "But that doesn't make it any less crippling."
"The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day."
Tom sent the phone a final nervous glance before following Snape out of the booth and into the Ministry itself.
He'd seen Diagon Alley with its quirky shapes and bright colors, Gringotts with its marble and precious metals, the Goblin City with its towering spires encrusted in precious gems, and St. Mungo's with its bizarre array of illnesses and maladies—but the atrium of the Ministry was truly something else. The floor was made up of dark polished wood and the domed ceiling was stained midnight blue, adorned with countless ever moving golden symbols. The walls to either side were paneled in the same wood as the floors and inset with gilded fireplaces: short queues of witches and wizards had formed in front of some of them, waiting to use the Floo network to depart. In the center of the hall, towering high above the surging crowds of workers and visitors, was a golden statue. Tallest of all the cast figures was a wizard holding his wand straight in the air, and grouped around him, with the last three staring up adoringly, were a witch, a centaur, a house elf and a goblin.
A beautiful lie. He glared at the fountain as they passed it. Tom had read enough to know the truth about interspecies relations within the Wizarding world: non-humans were looked down on and their lot got worse with every year. Coins of all colors glittered in the water at the fountain's foot.
"The Fountain of Magical Brethren." Snape explained when he saw him looking. "The proceeds are all donated to St. Mungo's."
A set of golden gates at the hall's far end concealed multiple lifts, all of which seemed to be running at their maximum capacity. The pair squeezed between workers holding towers of parchment and beaten boxes and headed for a desk marked 'security'
It was immediately clear from the tone of voice with which the man in peacock blue robes who sat behind the desk spoke that he was of the belief he wasn't paid enough to do his job. The visit took much longer than it should have on account of an increasingly more annoyed Tom having to explain precisely what a focus was approaching on five times. Once it was all over and they finally made it into the lifts, the brunet was too peeved to be anything more than vaguely skittish of the half-awake witch who'd been stuffed in along with them.
"Level 2, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters and Wizengamot Administration Services."
The corridor into which they stepped was lined in doors. Windows were embedded every ten or so feet along the walls, spilling puddles of sunlight onto the floor while being utterly heedless both of the fact that it was currently night and that they were underground. Determining he was better off not questioning the matter, Tom didn't mention it and followed his dour escort to the proper door.
The office of the Wizengamot Administrative Services looked so much like that of a typical muggle registrar that the effect was almost jarring. A frazzled looking man with his arms full of books and files appeared from behind one of the shelves forming the small library records which made up the back half of the room. He approached the desk which separated them.
"Welcome of the office of the Wizengamot Administrative Services. As the filing branch of both the Wizengamot and the DMLE at large we handle most things pertaining to legal registration and officiated documents." The load in his arms hit the top of the desk with a thud and wheezed a small puff of dust. "What can I help you with tonight, gentlemen?"
Without prompting Tom stepped forward, shifting his expression into a business-like façade with such speed and smoothness that he had the Potion's Master behind him rather reluctantly impressed. "Good evening. I'd hope to delay doing this a bit longer so that certain health issues could be better put to order but external forces have forced my hand. I'm here to register my status within the Wizengamot's House of Lords."
Though worn down from too much work a glimmer of interest flashed in the other's brown eyes. He straightened up. "This doesn't happen often but it's not entirely unheard of either. There's a procedure for it, at least." A wave of his wand called over a small stack of papers which settled on the desk in front of them; from beneath the desk he produced a small box. "Sign, please."
Opening the box revealed a sleek black quill without an inkwell anywhere to be found; his suspicions as to what it might have been were confirmed when it wrote in red ink and caused a sharp burning sensation to flare against the back of his hand. Wincing and with the skin of the affected area red and tender by the time he was through Tom set the Blood Quill back in its box and pushed the stack of papers across the desk.
"Alright," the wizard said, picking up the stack and rifling through them. "Now we have to just–" at that point he caught sight of the name he'd signed with and dropped the box with the quill into it back onto the desk. Pale in the face and with fearful eyes he opened his mouth to speak but failed to. When he tried again he managed to choke out "I-I'm going to need to s-see your Lordship ring."
Flashing a smile which was really more of a smirk, Tom held up his hand, the white-gold dragon standing out in stark relief. "If that's all?"
The man behind the desk looked on the brink of losing his feet. "A blood test will be necessary to verify–"
"Already done at Gringotts; it was filed months ago. Now that you've a reason to think to look I'm certain you'll have no trouble finding it?"
"None, Sir. I'm sure I w-won't. Your registration should be completed by the end of the week; an owl will be sent with confirmation. You'll be able to join the Wizengamot when they begin their next session this coming year, Lord Riddle-Lefay."
Tom nodded and stepped away from the desk. "Thank you." He said. "I'll be awaiting that owl eagerly." As he exited the room again he couldn't help but notice the large beetle crawling around on the room's ceiling if only for the blinding green color of its shell. "We should stop by the Head of the DMLE's office as well; if Dumbledore really is going to attempt to go through with filing a complaint about the precedent of a 'muggle' being the Magical Guardian of a wizarding child they'll be in the best position to immediately shut him down."
Snape watched Tom's expression contort into a brief grimace before he sighed and said, "I can handle it, provided I'm not left alone and she remains on the other side of the room from me." The Potion's Master had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. "But first I have a question for you, Severus. I intend to send my son's Transfiguration Professor a sternly worded letter in the morning post tomorrow—precisely how does one go about the creation of a Howler?"