A/N October 1942: Conscription age in Britain is lowered to 18.
It was Friday evening, and Tom was unusually quiet, even for him. Alastor knew right away he was out of his depth with whatever was troubling his friend, but determined to make an effort to help, anyway.
But that first Friday Tom said nothing much, and just poked around the chess pieces on the board.
Tom spent most of the following week on his own, not really seeking out Alastors company. The other boy wasn't happy with it, but realized that Toms withdrawn behaviour probably had nothing to do with him. He did talk to Pomona, however.
"Give him time," the Hufflepuff advised him, "next Friday, maybe ask him if you can help."
Tom, meanwhile, thought he was going crazy. He heard voices. That couldn't be good, could it? What was more – the voice spoke Parseltongue, but not at him. It called for its 'Master' and sounded very confused.
Hiding from Grindelwalds recruiters, who were no doubt going to press him for an answer despite Tom having told them he needed time, meant he often took detours to less trafficked parts of the castle, where the voice was more clear.
He'd been deep in thought about what to do. They had made him take an oath not to tell his father about their conversation. There had been little choice but to take it. He still couldn't believe they'd been stupid enough to only include his father and professor Slughorn in the oath, without realizing he could easily circumvent that by telling someone other than those two. If that was the general quality of this Grindelwalds followers – and Tom remembered the attack on him a few years ago, where he had managed to outrun them until his father and uncle could get him to safety – then either the man seriously needed to set stricter qualifications, or he wasn't much of a wizard himself.
And considering how seriously his father took the threat Grindelwald presented, his father who was a powerful wizard, Tom doubted the latter was the case.
He had no intention of joining Grindelwald. He was also not eager to let his father know what happened. Professor Dumbledore already tended to see darkness in him, and Tom wasn't sure how he'd react.
There was that voice again. Absentmindedly frowning, Tom started following it.
He'd found out the names of the seventh years. The Ravenclaw duo he knew vaguely, and knew they had some sort of family ties on the mainland. Jacob Franks had a German mother or grandmother, and Robert Panthaars family had moved to Britain just before Robert had been born. The Slytherin he of course knew – Ares Black, from a junior branch of the Black family. No doubt he was the one providing most information on Tom.
Now – what to do? Outright refusal would earn him enemies, and within Hogwarts. On the other hand...on the other hand, these three were obviously aiding the enemy in time of war. They were seventh years, not children. They had taken quite a risk in approaching him. This meant that the strain on his relationship with the Headmaster appeared far greater than it really was.
There was no real sensible solution. If he got those three arrested, other supporters would go underground. He liked his enemies where he could see them. On the other hand, he couldn't put off a decision forever, and he was sure his father would not allow him to enter their ranks as a spy. To be honest, Tom wasn't very interested in that, either. Nor did he want to join Grindelwald. Oh, the man might have interesting magic at his disposal, but Tom wasn't too keen on anyone who had already attempted to kill him.
"Alastor is worried, you know."
Without Tom noticing, Pomona had caught up to him.
He had tried to tell Alastor, he really had. But Alastors Gryffindor nature would have seen him running for an adult, alerting pretty much everyone. He sighed.
"Is it that serious?" the girl frowned.
"Three older students follow Grindelwald," Tom said, "They asked me to join. I...am reflecting on my options."
What he appreciated about Pomona was that one could tell her the most outrageous things, and she'd still take a few moments to consider a reply. She never jumped to conclusions.
"I take it you are not interested in joining," she said, "or you would not tell me this."
"No. They made me take an oath not to tell Professor Slughorn or Professor Dumbledore."
Pomona frowned. "Why do Dark Lords have such inept followers?" she asked idly.
"As opposed to Light Lords?" Tom asked in brief amusement, "There are those on either side who have more brawn than brains."
"True." the girl acknowledged. "What are you going to do, Tom?"
"I cannot hold them off forever. There really is no other choice than to let the authorities know and have them arrested. The problem is that I doubt they are the only ones, and if they get arrested, it will drive the others underground."
Pomona shrugged. "They can always get names from them," she said, "they will, undoubtedly, thoroughly interrogate them."
She smiled slightly. "You have another reason to hesitate."
When the boy next to her stayed silent, she continued. "You do not have full trust in your father."
Tom raised his eyes to the ceiling and sighed again. "He does tend to jump to conclusions," he said, "I am unsure how he will react."
"The delay in letting him know only increases that problem," Pomona said, "today is Friday. Why don't you let me go to Professor Slughorn on your behalf to tell him, while you tell Alastor? Impress upon him the need for caution in how to proceed. Do tell him though, Tom. He worries."
Tom nodded, and headed to meet up with Alastor.
Professor Slughorn listened intently, his face grave. "I will take it up, discreetly, with professor Dumbledore and some trusted Aurors. We will give Tom a bit longer to talk to Alastor, and then all of us will sit down and discuss how to proceed."
Then he sighed. "It is true Tom doesn't quite trust professor Dumbledore yet, to be reasonable and balanced in his reactions. Rightly so, perhaps..."
"Tom doesn't trust much anyway," Pomona said, and very vaguely Horace was reminded of Filius Flitwick, who could also show such surprising insights at such a young age, "He prefers to feel in control. I think he only allowed me to do as I suggested because he already felt out of control and didn't know what to do."
"And you are his own age," the professor said, "Adults are harder for Tom to trust than someone his own age. He does best around people like yourself, and Mr Flitwick, and Ms McGonagall, who are not prone to emotional outbursts...well, not around Tom, anyway," he amended, remembering some of Minerva McGonagalls spellwork when someone upset her. Still, while terrifying when angered, it took quite a bit to get her to that point.
Pomona looked pensive. "Does Professor Dumbledore love Tom?" she asked, "or does he see the darkness in Tom as an enemy that needs to be fought?"
Slughorn grimaced. "Both, I think, child. However, we are moving into territory that is rather private to both of them. Professor Dumbledore wants what is best for Tom, but he can have some very fixed ideas on what is best. I am convinced he loves Tom. Tom himself is not the easiest person around..."
Pomona nodded. "Yes. He doesn't seem to understand a lot about emotions, and how humans work, I think. I just think he doesn't need constant reminding that he's falling short, there. I have noticed that the more inadequate he feels there, the more distant and cold he becomes. Overdone kindness and friendliness does the same thing...it has to be a challenge to find the exact right tone with him."
Horace smiled to himself. Tom had the good fortune to draw to himself some people who had the personality to befriend him. The calm demeanor of Filius and Pomona, the no-nonsense approach of Minerva McGonagall and John Shephard, though both had now left Hogwarts, mean that Tom didn't feel pressured by them nor threatened. They encouraged, but did not push. Even Pomona, at her relatively tender age, seemed to have gotten the measure of Tom to some degree.
That, Horace mused, what was Tom needed. People who recognized the damage that had been done to him, and the resulting darkness within him, but refused to define him by it.
He sighed again. Here they were, worrying about Tom, when three of their elder students actually HAD taken a path leading to darkness. A path that Tom was rejecting. He would have to press the point with Albus – that Tom taking so long to let them know what happened was due to insecurity, not doubt about what he would decide, and even if that had been the case, Tom had rejected the offer. That he had chosen a life with his father and friends over the offer of power.
For now, at least.
Alastor listened to the story equally grave, determined to stick to the promise he'd made to Tom to remain calm and collected.
They had discussed the situation only briefly when Professor Slughorn and Pomona showed up, and they all went to Professor Dumbledore's office. When they arrived, Alastors father and his partner were there, in official Auror uniform.
"I asked them to come," professor Slughorn explained, "Tom and I will explain the situation, and then we will probably need to inform the Headmaster."
Professor Dumbledore was obviously disappointed that Tom had not come to him, but the fact that Tom could still not talk to either professor, due to his oath, mollified him somewhat. Alastor and Pomona shared a glance; Professor Slughorn was expressing how proud he was of Tom for not giving in to peer pressure and coming to them, and professor Dumbledore had to agree that Tom had been put in a difficult situation.
Tom ignored both professors, and explained to Alastor and Pomona his concern that the arrest of those three would drive other supporters underground. It amused his friends that he told them, when he could just as easily have told the Aurors.
"We are in a situation of war. It may not seem like much of a war in our world, where it has less effect on our day-to-day lives, but the Muggle world is very much at war and we are not neutral in this. Those boys may well have committed treason, and as such we must arrest them and investigate if that is indeed the case. It's possible they have other accomplices in the castle. We will certainly try to get the names. I will get the warrants, and then with those we will go to the Headmaster."
Alastors father smiled at Tom. "You're a strong man, Tom. You are working towards a goal and you didn't let intimidation by students far older than you take that from you."
He turned to the professors. "I'm sure the arrest of three students will be a blow to the teachers, but don't lose heart. You've got a fine group of young people here; just look at these three as an example."
He clasped his sons shoulder in passing before the two Flooed back to the Ministry to arrange the paperwork.
Silence reigned in the room for a tense half-minute. Then Pomona spoke up. "Do you think someone can find a way to release Tom from that oath..?"
The arrests had hit the school hard. If convicted, the three could face life in Azkaban. The atmosphere was quiet, down, a little depressed. Alastor and Sam conspired to lighten the mood a little. Pomona tried to curb the excesses of their plans. Tom took to reading up on Muggle recent history to learn more about the current conflict.
Now if he could just stop hearing that irritating voice all the time.