Merry Christmas, Tom Riddle

This story is dedicated to Queen of the Badgers. Merry Christmas, and may Tom's nose always be small, pointy and adorable!

Tom Riddle enjoys a moment of peace and quiet during his first Christmas at Hogwarts. The characters belong to Rowling.

Bells jingled, fairies fluttered, the ghost were singing carols with whispering voices. Every corridor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was lined with ribbons in red, green and silver. It was Christmas.

The great hall itself was as an everlasting explosion of Christmas decorations of all kinds imaginable. This year the decorations were even more spectacular than they used to be since two of the teachers, the transfiguration teacher Dumbledore and the old defence teacher Merrythought, had challenged each other on who could do the most spectacular contribution. Most of the staff currently held Dumbledore's House Elf Christmas parade for the best issue so far, but a few members of the staff, most notable the potions master Slughorn, insisted that the truly unique dance performance Merrythought had had the Christmas tree to do, was a winner. Since the dinner had just started, everyone was looking forward to watch the two combatants spur each other to even higher deeds.

There were not many students left over Christmas. The times being what they were many wanted to spend this holiday with their families. Especially the Slytherins, by rule a family friendly bunch, were very rare over Christmas. Even so, a few of them had stayed to celebrate with their class mates. But one chair was empty.

Tom Riddle, a muggleborn first year, had despite some of the more pessimistic prophesies from older students, managed quite well his first term in Slytherin. He was polite and attentive, knowing to keep his head down, and he was intelligent enough to already have attracted some of the teachers' attention. This day, however, he was absent. A few of the students had noticed, but not many - he did not have that many friends after all. But two of the girls in his age were whispering with each other, giggling a lot and glancing at the empty chair. They were talking about his large eyes, about his pale skin and about that absolutely adorable, pointy little nose he had. But as the dinner went on and no Tom showed up, one of the girls at last went up to the head of her house and asked.

Professor Slughorn, a bit tipsy from the Christmas brandy, focused on the small girl by his chair. She stood attentive, obviously waiting for him to say something. He tried to remember what she had just said... she had asked something... A candleholder, transfigurated by Dumbledore to warm the mulled whine for the guests, distracted him and he had to start over again. The girl did not leave. She had asked about... a riddle! There it was. He beamed at her.

"Well, here is one for you then, miss. How did princess bat and prince charming bat live at the end of the story?" She sighed impatiently.

"Happily over the rafter, mister Slughorn, but I was asking for Tom Riddle in the first years. Have you seen him?"

"Aha, him," Slughorn said a bit put down, but he recovered magnificently. "I think he was down by the lake this morning, but I can't recall seeing him during the dinner." He frowned thoughtfully. "Actually, maybe we should send someone after him. He should not spend his Christmas alone when we have such a magnificent feast for him here."

No one really wanted to leave the feast, which by now was at its peak. In the end it was decided that one of the paintings should be sent after the missing boy. Slughorn was already having another brandy, laughing heartily at a joke Dippy the headmaster had cracked. The girl went back to her seat, and soon the girls' gossip was concerning someone else.

In the meanwhile a young boy with large eyes, pale skin and an absolutely adorable, pointy little nose was carefully putting down a mug of cinnamon tea on the small table to his left. There was a hint of saffron in it as well, making it smell Christmassy. Next to the mug was a small plate on which was a thin, slightly nibbled slice of plum pudding, a piece of chocolate, some dried fruits and an orange. The boy sat in a pile of quite old and stuffy, comfortable looking cushions, totally absorbed by a book. A small, brightly burning flame was hovering in the air on a comfortable distance from the book, giving a nice light to read in, but also sending flickering shadows to dance across the room.

The room - if that indeed it can be called -was small, not much larger than a cupboard. It was cramped with furniture. The cushions and table, a small sofa, a bookshelf, an old rug, a tapestry in green and silver on one wall and a large portrait of Salazar Slytherin himself on the other. It was cosy and comfortable. It was this boy's private little hideout, his own secret chamber. Hidden as it was behind a trick wall and a guarding suit of armour, in the middle of a rarely used hallway on the second floor, he very much doubted anyone but him knew about it. It certainly had been a mess of dust and old junk when he found it, about a month ago. But now it was wonderful. It was the room of his own he had always dreamt about in the orphany.

The portrait frame was for the moment empty, the old wizard attending a Christmas party in one of the larger baroque paintings on the third floor. The boy did not mind, he was too absorbed reading to care much about company. The book was large and heavy and displayed that certain worn impression that can only be acquired by being loved and read again and again for a long time - in this case probably over many generations. Its front displayed a once bright but now quite faded painting of a castle surrounded by many fantastic creatures, by heroes and heroines, and even a dragon that loomed behind one of the castle towers. As usual, when wizard paintings are concerned, its occupants moved around, gossiping and picking small fights with each other. It was not one of the magic textbooks he usually read during the school year. It was Christmas after all, and Tom felt he had the right to just for once do what he wanted instead of what he should. The book, which he had found in the library just a few days ago and immediately fallen in love with, was filled by wizard's fairy tales. Stories from ancient times that might or might not be true, and heroic deeds and brain stalking mysteries that were definitely true totally despite of whether or not they had actually taken place. This was the perfect book to loose oneself in for a while.

Sipping on his tea again Tom realized that it had gone cold. Absentmindedly he took out his wand from his pocket and muttered a warming charm. Since he still had his eyes nailed to the book, he missed the mug and shot the warm stream of air straight at the painting instead.

"What treachery is this, fiend? Prepare yourself for battle!" a voice cried, making the poor boy jump and stare wildly around. There was no one else in the room, but after a moment he realized that the portrait frame was no longer empty. A painting of a knight in full armour was pointing at him with his lance, his whiskers bobbing angrily.

"Who're you?" asked the confused boy. "This is Slytherin's portrait, you know. He wouldn't want you fooling around in it."

"That's knavery, good sir!" Exclaimed the knight (but he did quickly glance around in a nervous way). "Accusing Sir Cadogan of cowardliness! Why! I should ran you straight through!"

"That could be a bit hard, since you are a painting," Tom pointed out. "What are you doing here anyway?" The knight suddenly got an expression of utterly importance.

"Young man, I will inform you that I'm here on a quest of the most delicate nature. Ay, a rescue mission it is, and neither dangerous foes nor wicked magic will stand in the way of Sir Cadogan!" He had stood up in the stirrups as he spoke, and now he toppled over, landing with a crash in the lover part of the portrait. The rather fat pony he had been riding regarded him with a bored expression. Tom prodded him with his wand.

"Are you all right?" he asked, not really sure whether to be amused or annoyed over the interruption.

"Ay kind sir! Though a fiendish trap it was, my reflexes of steel did ward me from damage." The voice was hollow since the visor of the helmet had fallen down over his face due to the fall. Tom helped the knight to get it off.

"So, who're you out to rescue?" the boy asked once the painting was on his feet again.

"Ah, that I will tell you! A young boy it is, no older than yourself. Pale is his face, dark his eyes and his nose is small, that I'm told. He is new to this school and it is feared that he has gone lost or met with a terrible foe or such. Thus I rush to the rescue. And I ask you, my good man, is there any boy of that appearance that has been seen sneaking around this vicinity lately?" Tom scratched his little adorable nose, thinking.

"No. There has been no one at all here, and I did not see anyone in the corridor either. Most of the students are down in the great hall. Have you looked there?"

"Sir! No good would that do," the knight protested, "since the absence of the boy from that very place is what led the very head of his house, professor Slughorn, to recruit me for this honourable mission."

"So he is Slytherin then" Tom asked, suddenly more interested. "What is his name?"

"The tale that has been given to me is that he walks under the name Riddle, and that some know him as Tom."

"Tom Riddle?"

"Indeed sir!" The knight answered solemnly.

"Er... that would be me," Tom answered hesitantly. Sir Cadogan lit up.

"I thank my lord, for my mission is indeed a successful one. Now this unlucky knave can be brought back to the place where he rightfully belongs."

"Wait a minute," Tom protested. "Who do you call knave? Anyway, I don't want to go anywhere. I'm fine here, thank you very much." The knight gave him a worried look.

"Sir! I fear that your young brain has been affected by the darkest of magic. Indeed, your mouth is babbling words of the most witless nonsense. Let us without any further ado continue our quest and travel to the great hall."

"Why do mister Slughorn want me there anyway?" asked Tom. "Is he going to talk my ears off again about all his former students who are now in this or that great position?"

"I cannot tell, impatient sir! All I know is that your presence is requested."

"Well" snapped the boy. "You can tell them that I'm not coming. I have a perfectly good time on my own and don't want to spend it with anyone."

Suddenly the knight throw himself to the ground, moaning.

"My quest has failed. Woe over me. Watch me fall on my sword!"

Tom and the pony both watched with interest as the knight unsheathed his sword with a rash movement, threw it to the ground and then threw himself over it. It looked quite painfully since the handle hit him in the head.

"Well?" Tom asked after a little while. The knight stood up again, bringing his sword with him. He nodded to the boy.

"That was all, good sir. My quest has failed, I have fallen on my sword such as is stipulated by the etiquette, and now I think I will go to the third floor for the feast. Many fair maidens there to be rescued, if you catch my drift." He tried to get up on the pony, but the weight of his armour made it hard.

"I'm not sure I d,o" Tom admitted. "But thanks for looking for me anyway. If Slughorn ask, please tell him that I'm fine, really."

"So I will, young sir!" The knight, who had finally managed to sit up, said, radiating with dignity. "May I fall on my sword if that honourable quest is futile and your message is not delivered."

"That won't be necessary..." Tom began, but was interrupted by the knight who smacked his forehead with a loud, metallic bang.

"Sir, nearly did I forget, thus was the gravity of the dark magic I have had to battle. A note to be delivered in the event you would respond to my plead in the way you have done, is in my very possession. Let it thus be presented to thee!" And Sir Cadogan reached inside his armour and produced in a humorous way a note that was at least as large as himself. It was folded and neatly sealed with a lump of wax. The knight let go of the note witch hovered in mid frame. On it was written the words 'Tom Riddle' with neat handwriting and green ink.

"What does it say?" Tom asked, curious despite himself.

"Never, good sir, would it cross my mind to read what is meant for other eyes than mine. My quest ended in glory after all, I will now travel to the fair maidens. I bid you a merry Christmas, young sir!" And spurring his pony forward and out of the frame, the knight was gone. The note remained behind him.

"Hey! How do I read it?" Tom shouted, but the knight did not return. Cautiously he outstretched his hand and tried to touch the note. As usually is the case when you try to touch a picture, his hand hit nothing but the dry canvas. He frowned.

"Not much use I had of that lunatic," he muttered and withdraw his wand. As he prodded the note with it, it neatly unfolded, seemingly growing in size until it filled the whole portrait frame. Tom read it with growing uncertainty.

Dear Tom!

To be alone is a terrible fate for a person, but what many fail to identify is that there are many ways to be alone. You can be alone when you are without company, but for some persons it is far more easy to be alone among others. That kind of people hide in company inside themselves and let something else - a mask, an imaginary person - socialize. For those of that disposition it is of utter importance to let their true selves out sometimes. Not necessary to enjoy the presence of others, but definitely to enjoy the presence of themselves.

It is said that Christmas is a time for people to get together. If that indeed is the case, those who wish should be given the choice to spend this holiday with the too often neglected person inside them. However, Christmas could also be a chance for that person to actually enjoy the company of others as himself, rather then as someone else. As so often is the case, this is a choice that many people would be more then willing to make for others, but ultimately we have to make it ourselves.

I do hope that you forgive an old man for his ranting, and that the way you spend your evening is of your own choice rather than what others expects from you.

Merry Christmas
Yours truly
Albus Dumbledore