Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Also, Charles Dickens' classic tale of 'A Christmas Carol' is not mine, I am merely borrowing it for a spell.
Dolohov was dead as a door-nail. Every one of the Death Eaters knew that old Antonin had finally succumbed to his advanced age and hard living. Azkaban had taken its toll on the old man, indeed; when he keeled over with a wheezy gasp it sounded almost like relief. The body had been wrapped in black, and laid out for the other Death Eaters to pay their respects. Dolohov had been one of the first, the most loyal, to his Lord and master Voldemort.
Voldemort, aware of his old minion's death, did what any evil wizard might do at the sight of mortality: he looked over the body with glinting red eyes, shrugged, and turned away. Voldemort had nothing to worry about. As his followers rose and fell and died and then were born, Voldemort endured. He had made sure of that.
Oh! But Voldemort was the epitome of all that men had fought against. Never was there a more cold, callous, manipulative, dangerous and dictatorial soul as that of Voldemort. Feeling for others was beyond his capacity, and to the warped magical mind of the Dark Lord the world itself may as well have revolved about him. He was the insane genius, the ultimate fascist, an amoral Superman of which the Muggle philosophers would have been proud. His countenance brought a chill to all observers; Voldemort was winter and death in the personage of a white-skulled snake. His black heart pulsed with disease and hatred toward his fellow man, an infection that spread itself with words and deeds, with torture and curses.
Familiarities were forbidden with this darkest of wizards, Voldemort, who had never desired friend or lover. Even his closest followers did not dare to address him in equality, or to question his health and welfare. He had placed himself above all others, an unattainable pinnacle of ice that rained frost and logic eternal. Understanding and valuing only power, Voldemort was power's expert broker, collecting it and hoarding it close to his chest with a high laugh of hate.
So it happened that Lord Voldemort sat on a darkening Christmas Eve, quill in hand as he dictated long and specific orders to his Death Eaters, eyes narrowed in anticipation for his next war moves. The old Riddle House, appropriated as his headquarters, was damp and creaking with the chill of snow seeping in from outside. On that Eve, only Lord Voldemort's clerk remained, organising gift tributes, bribes from the Ministry of Magic, and files on Voldemort's Death Eaters. A mean fire barely glowed in the stove, coals flickering half-heartedly. Voldemort did not notice the state of the fire, just as he did not notice the cold rooms and cold weather and the fact that it was the night before Christmas.
With a snap and a bang, the door to Lord Voldemort's study burst open, bearing forth a snow-dusted Lucius Malfoy. One of the younger Death Eaters, and the one who gave the most financial support, Malfoy's appearance matched the snowy weather outside. His silken white-blonde hair was held back by a black ribbon, though some stray wisps of it flew around his pale, narrow face like spider's webs. Malfoy's nose and cheeks were reddened by the cold, giving him an unusually merry look.
Voldemort regarded Malfoy with some impatience. He noted the manic, glittering look in Lucius' grey eyes, and wondered what new disturbance would create such a look on his trusted deputy. With a wave of his white hand, Voldemort indicated for Lucius to get on with it, whatever news he bore his master.
'Good afternoon, my Lord,' Malfoy breathed, dipping to one knee in deference. 'I trust you are well.'
Voldemort's thin mouth twisted a little, unused to any form of concern from his Death Eaters. 'I am perfectly well.' The Dark Lord felt a little insulted; did he appear unwell? Who did Lucius think he was, inquiring after the immortal Lord Voldemort's health?
'And a Merry Christmas to you, sir,' Malfoy added, glancing up at Voldemort.
'Christmas! Humbug!' Voldemort said coldly and irritably. 'Merely an excuse for sappy weaklings to shirk their duty.'
'Surely, my Lord, even you must take a rest on Christmas,' Malfoy insisted with an uncharacteristic smile. 'After all, it is the only time of the year when even that old fool Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix take a break from their devious little schemes.'
'Precisely,' Voldemort replied testily, 'which is why I fail to understand how the rest of you can beg for Christmas to spend with your families. Your families! Without your servitude to me, you would all be dead. It is lucky I am so merciful.'
'Indeed, you are merciful, my Lord,' Lucius amended, sounding contrite. 'Your wisdom and beneficence are a model to us all.'
The clerk in the corner let out a snorting sound.
Voldemort dipped his quill in ink, shaking his head as he continued. 'If you possessed one ounce of foresight you might see that Christmas is the perfect time of the year to strike at Dumbledore. Instead you fritter away your time on gifts and feasts, cavorting with that wife of yours. Why you choose your wife over an opportunity to kill Muggle-lovers is a great weakness of your character, Lucius.'
'I love my wife!' Malfoy declared, sounding a little mad. 'I married her because I love her! And such a beautiful pure-blood witch she is, the perfect wife, and she even knows and loves the Dark Arts…pain is her pleasure…if only you might meet Narcissa, sir, you would see what I mean.'
'Try to stay off the spirits before visiting me,' Voldemort glared. 'And do get on with whatever business brought you here, before I am forced to teach you a lesson.'
Malfoy cleared his throat loudly. 'Well, my Lord, I came to invite you to our Christmas dinner. I think you will enjoy it, and Bellatrix and Rodolphus will be there, and there will be games...please, sir, do consider it. We would be honoured to have you.'
With a hiss, Voldemort's red eyes flared into glimmers of pure annoyance. 'Christmas! With you? I do not celebrate Christmas, nor will I ever. It is a ridiculous invention of a holiday that causes me no end of grief. It is enough that I must suffer my Death Eaters to be absent from their duties. I will not put up with frivolities at any time of the year, and especially not at Christmas. Now go, Lucius, before you regret your coming here.'
'Of course, my Lord,' Malfoy said with a tone of regret. He shrugged at the clerk. 'But Merry Christmas!' he added with a tip of his cane.
'And Happy New Year!' The door clinked shut.
'Bah,' Voldemort growled again. His hairless brows furrowed into a tempered scowl. The quill scratched along, undeterred by the holiday spirit. The Dark Lord continued to strategise, his mind twisting in circles and plans, weighing and measuring and thinking out his orders, until the sky outside dimmed to heavy black. Only a few waxy witch-candles flickered on, lit by the clerk who put the last of the ledgers on a shelf with a dusty bang.
Abruptly Voldemort rose from his large desk, summoning his black cloak and sweeping it over his shoulders. 'I have to go to Gringotts,' his high voice echoed across to the clerk. 'Await me here, and do not forget to feed Nagini.'
'Of course, sir,' the clerk replied, repressing a shudder at the thought of feeding Voldemort's great snake.
Once outside, Voldemort donned an invisibility cloak over his clothes, and Apparated into Diagon Alley. It would not do for anyone to see him; even on Christmas Eve the Aurors were still about. The snow was falling in London as well as Yorkshire, and Diagon Alley was blanketed in a sparkling white layer of crystal. The street was packed with people, laughing and singing, loaded down with packages of shopping. Voldemort stomped his way through the crowd, invisible to all, sour expression hidden from the world. He despised that all these Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers could walk through the streets freely. It would not always be so, Voldemort vowed. Someday people would bow to him when he walked through the street. Holding the thought close, rolling it over his mind like a salve, Voldemort walked through the glistening doors of Gringotts Bank.
He had his own private vault, guaranteed by the goblins who were not particular about whose money they kept. Past the guarded doors, Voldemort swung off his invisibility cloak, sending goblins flying to serve whatever financial whim he had that day.
'My statements and a withdrawal of three thousand Galleons,' Voldemort ordered to Thrag, his financial agent. The withered little goblin scurried away, leaving Voldemort standing in the large marble-floored room.
Two tittering goblins entered from a side door, each carrying a stack of yellow parchment. One nudged the other, eyeing Lord Voldemort. Cautiously they approached, causing Voldemort to peer down at their pointy ears and wiry white-haired heads. If he had had a nose to wrinkle, he would have.
'Excuse me, sir,' one of the goblins said cheerfully.
'May I introduce myself, Grum, and my colleague, Lart. We are the representatives of the Poverty Fund of Gringotts Bank, a charitable division dedicated to the aiding the welfare of the poor in every country in which –'
Grum was interrupted by Voldemort's spidery hand motioning up in a stop sign. 'I have no time for this.'
'But, sir, you are the Dark Lord, I thought with your vast resources you might—'
'If you do not cease pestering me, you will experience what my title of Dark Lord really entails,' Voldemort loomed down over the goblins, his eyes narrowed and glowing. Grum and Lart looked at each other regretfully, and scooted off as Thrag reappeared with a stack of papers and a sack of Galleons.
'Your requests, sir,' Thrag said, bowing to Voldemort.
'Very well.' Voldemort took his things and waved for Thrag to leave.
'Merry Christmas, sir!' Thrag ventured.
'Bah! Why does everyone insist on muttering those words, a bromide to make their miserable lives sound better? If I hear Merry Christmas one more time, it's the Killing Curse,' Voldemort grumbled. He whipped his Invisibility Cloak on and pushed through the doors of Gringotts.
The snow had gotten deeper in the streets of London. Swirls and eddies of flakes wrapped around glowing lamp-posts, creating a festive effect. Voldemort walked back down Diagon Alley, invisible again, yet even had he been unconcealed the passers-by would have drawn from fear instead of wishing him a happy holiday. Even the animals seemed to sense the Dark Lord's presence, owls and cats and other familiars shrinking away from his wave of mean, cold energy.
With a pop Voldemort was back at his headquarters, shaking the snow off his boots as he deposited his papers onto a table in his study. The clerk was still there, sorting through a stack of parchment.
Voldemort sighed dramatically. 'I suppose you'll be wanting tomorrow off, Weasley.'
'If it's not too much of inconvenience, sir,' Arthur Weasley replied.
'Of course it's an inconvenience!' Voldemort snapped. 'And I'm supposed to pay you for a day of not working, a day away from my most important plans!' He took a breath to calm himself. It would not do to accidentally curse his best clerk. 'Fine. Just come in early the next day. I expect you to be fully caught up.'
'Yes, sir, of course,' Weasley nodded. 'And thank you; my family will be very happy to have me home tomorrow.'
'Humbug,' muttered Voldemort. 'Now leave my sight before I change my mind.'
Arthur Weasley hastened out of the office, grabbing his coat and scarf from the rack.
With a grit of his sharp teeth, Voldemort gathered a stack of papers about theoretical variations on the Unforgivable Curses for some light reading before bed. With a sweep of his wand, he set the locks on his office and walked through the house to the residential wing, footsteps echoing in the grey damp of the manor. His way was lit only by the tip of his wand, casting long shadows in the doorways and halls.
Voldemort reached the locked door to his private quarters, once again bringing his wand to the lock. The heavy wooden door was decorated with a silver Dark Mark in the centre where the knocker should be, a skull gleaming in shadow, its serpent tongue issuing forth like a profane word.
With a perfunctory glance at his Mark, Voldemort suddenly stepped back in surprise. It was difficult to tell in the dark, but it rather looked like Antonin Dolohov's head sticking out of the door, not a Dark Mark. Voldemort's red eyes regarded it; yes, it was certainly an apparition of Dolohov, morose eyes staring out of hollowed sockets, mouth slightly open in what might have been misery. Voldemort blinked once. Just as suddenly, the Dark Mark was back in its proper place, and he wondered if he was imagining things. Starting to go crazy, perhaps.
Shaking his head, Voldemort waved his wand and the door swung open. Holding his light in front of him, the door swung shut and Voldemort could not help but look back at it, half-expecting to see the back of Dolohov's head. With a sense of relief he noted the door's perfect normality, smooth wood, black hinges. Light held in front of him, just enough to see, Voldemort walked through his rooms, enjoying the dark shadows that played around him. He had always loved the darkness.
Conjuring a small fire in his stone fireplace, the Dark Lord sat in his favourite armchair and prepared to read his papers. He had heated a cup of Nagini's snake-milk, which he sipped carefully from a wooden goblet. Voldemort was always happiest in his own company, basking in his own glory. It took so much effort to charm/torture his followers, and the solitary nightly routine gave the Dark Lord's psyche a soothing stroke of self-mastery.
The clammy solitude was interrupted as a loud clang echoed throughout the room, lacking source or apparent cause, startling Voldemort into spilling his snake-milk. With a garbled curse, the Dark Lord's wand was out and he glared around his room, crimson eyes taking in every shadowed detail. Nothing seemed out of place; the wards were still intact; no one could have entered his house.
Then, another clang. Voldemort could only stare as a ghostly apparition appeared through his door, floating and yet dragging itself at once, drawing closer. By its face, the apparition was clearly that of Antonin Dolohov, deceased Death Eater, former school-mate, and loyal follower. His eyes were black pits of despair, his ethereal body thin and hunched, mouth twisted into an anguish of self-regret. It was a loathsome sight to behold for any man, and Lord Voldemort was no exception.
'Dolohov?' Voldemort whispered. 'Is it you?'
The ghost nodded. 'It is I, who you knew as Antonin Dolohov, one of your own. And yet, behold the state I am in!' Dolohov gestured around him. Indeed, the ghost was bound by thick, clanging iron shackles, chains dangling and heavy. 'Woe is me, who did not understand!'
'What brought you to this state?' Voldemort asked in a small voice, cringing back, as deep inside he feared death and all its associations. It was a cruel reminder to see a formerly alive Death Eater, so bound, and obviously miserable.
'These chains I cast myself, link by link, and I brought upon myself this misery of afterlife through which I now suffer,' Dolohov's voice wavered into Voldemort's senses, bringing a sense of imminent despair. 'I went through my life torturing, killing, maiming, and hating, and now I suffer the consequences of my ill actions, my love of power. Every burden I bear as a spirit was of my own making in the corporeal world, an unfinished business of my soul who never learned happiness.'
Voldemort stared in disbelief. What was old Dolohov speaking of, his regret for having served his Lord and master, Voldemort? Such speech would never have stood, had Dolohov been alive.
'You regret following me?' Voldemort asked, voice cold and hard. His perturbation at this appearance was substantial; he did not see why spirit-form Dolohov would bother him to recant his loyalty to the Dark side.
Dolohov, for his part, lifted one hand and pointed directly at Voldemort. 'You will regret,' he said. 'You will regret. That is what I have come here to tell you. For I cannot be saved, but there remains in you a kernel of the soul you once possessed, a tiny fragment that has not been given over to greed and gain of power. You will learn, and then you might not end up as I have, a lonely and desolate ghost wandering the earth, unable to experience those bonds of happiness which might have restored me in life. You must learn, or you will become me, bound forever by self-made prison, a meagre and small spirit.' Dolohov's chains clanked menacingly.
Voldemort stepped back, startled. This could not be, for he had taken precautions against death, many of them, and his fail-safes had proven true in the past. He started to doubt he was seeing Dolohov at all; perhaps he had fallen asleep.
'You are not real,' Voldemort declared. 'I must have taken a bad sip of snake-milk. Or a chill has given me a headache. These things you speak of are not real.'
'But they are…' Dolohov's voice was starting to fade. 'Listen well, old master, for this is important. You will be visited by three spirits yet, tonight. The first will come when the clock strikes one. The second, when the clock strikes two. The third will come on the hour of three.'
'Don't be absurd. I have the power to vanquish any wayward spirit that deigns to visit me; in fact, after your unwanted appearance I will be strengthening the wards of this house against all visitors, flesh and spirit alike.'
'It will not matter,' Dolohov shook his head sadly. 'The visitors will come, and you will learn.' Dolohov's chains creaked and clinked as he moved away, fading into darkness.
Voldemort stared at the place on the wall behind where Dolohov's ghost had been. The Dark Lord was more unnerved than he would like to admit, unused to such strict instruction from the spirit world, and rather unwilling to embark on any further adventures with bossy apparitions. He rechecked the multiple wards on his door, sent a cleaning spell towards his spilled Nagini-milk, and felt a sudden rush of fatigue from the emotional toll of conversing with a disturbing ghost.
Unable to keep his snake-lidded eyes open for a moment longer, Voldemort's long, thin legs swiftly carried him across the room, to his curtained bed, which he fell upon in fully-dressed repose. The room faded to black as sleep descended for the Dark Lord.