Disclaimer: The opening quote in the summary is by Malcolm Muggeridge. The chapter title Karma Police is a song title by Radiohead. St. Paul's name was taken from the biblical story of his conversion on the Road to Damascus. The animal magic history was based upon the mythological studies of D.J. Conway.

Author's Notes: Many thanks to Wynne, Arabella, Freelancer and Faelaern (all my amazing betas) and to MagicalTimes for brit-picking. Also thanks to Gangstersteph and Ruxi for the fanart.

The Broken Victory

It isn't much. A little black leather, a brass buckle, some worn pages smeared.

My smears. My words, my thoughts, my voice, my story. My life, before me.

What does it hold? A version. An account, faithfully kept all these years, yet it is hardly truer than the memories themselves. Truth can become more factual with age, when emotions ease and a distant perspective takes hold.

But that is not what this is.

I close it softly, the wind gusting through helping to flip the pages to its end. The windows are stuck askew, leaving me to wonder if any windows besides the ones at Hogwarts work. Not that it matters. The decrepit steam-train rattles forward in worn yet determined chugs through the surrounding Transylvanian forests, and the fresh air cuts the stench of burnt chips and the conductor's mint and whiskey-laced sweat. The fact that the train moves at all is a miracle, but it has remained in business long enough to be of use to me, and that is all that matters.

I place the diary beside me on the seat, feeling the wind whip right through me. Alongside my past are myacquisitions for the future, boxes of odd shapes brimming with horrific and hard-won wonders. The nervous energy those treasures exude is contagious and I relish it, fingering the paper casing with anticipation. Next to the great, throbbing power in the bags and air, the old book seems worn and pitiful.

Well, it is over, really. And none know better than I the account of Tom Marvolo Riddle.

I direct the diary outward, letting the wind and my wand carry it out the window. When I need it, it will come back. For now, it is...

Chapter 1: Happy Christmas, and Other Oxymorons

"...Nothing, really." I spoke softly, answering the overheard question to myself. "That's what it's like to be an orphan on Christmas." Honestly, how dim-witted were the couples that came to purchase a family? The ones who held my undetected attention now, a small, balding soprano and an aging smoker, were forcing their inane questions on little Jiminy. Jiminy was too focused on the fact that someone was finally paying attention to him to care that they behaved as if they were at a kennel, making sure he could fetch and was paper-trained. I would have kicked my own shins before I ever acted so subserviently. Jiminy, however, was positively preening in his worn suit, proudly doing turns on request to show off the hand-me-downs. The hopeful hunger in his eyes made me shift my gaze, embarrassment welling higher inside me the longer I watched. I was glad no one was looking at me with interest. I was.

Instead, I stared at the tree, half-decorated garishly and situated in a prime location at the center of the room. In one hand I still held an ornament which had to be placed on the sparse branches. It was tradition at the orphanage Christmas party that all the children parade about and hang up ornaments on Christmas Eve. All of it was done for adults who seemed to think that the most creative idea in the world was to adopt on this holiday. I had dubbed it orphan season, like rabbit season. Yes, I know, I was bursting with creativity.

"Marvolo, what are you doing?" It was, of course, the headmistress of the orphanage twittering beside me. Turning, I found Mrs. Blunt, dressed prudishly in a prim long dress and wide belt, with wafts of hair uncharacteristically falling out of her strict bun. However, the overall effect was still severe enough to tighten my stomach. While it probably lacked in current fashion, her appearance more than fit her dismal personality. However, right then she was far more festive than I'd ever seen her before. Her hollow cheeks were red and she seemed pleased with yet harried by the event so far. Decidedly she was puffed up on self-congratulations, though I'd heard someone say something of whiskey-laced eggnog.

Automatically, I responded to her address. She, her husband, and her son often called me Marvolo, never Tom. There were too many of us apparently, so it was easier for them to call us by our middle names or our last names. I didn't mind much at that point. What was in a name, truly?

Eyeing her with forced politeness, I replied. "Bearing good tidings and cheer?"

From the way her small eyes narrowed, I supposed that I had gotten the line wrong. "You have been standing there for twenty minutes not putting your decoration on the tree, and with that terrible smirk!" Mrs. Blunt replied angrily, though on her face she kept a plastic smile to display to her guests. Her voice merely dropped, turning more hissing in its disdain.

Glancing down, I examined the ornament in my hand. It was a small golden ball, decidedly smaller than Madam Blunt's mouth. Once I hung it up there on a branch it would get lost in the cluttered crowd anyway. Still, I didn't see anything productive to be gained by arguing with the woman, so I strolled over and carefully placed the ball on the tip of a branch. Without smiling, I immediately backed up and felt her manicured hand fall upon my frayed shirt.

"Riddle, what are we going to do with you? You absolutely refuse to make any effort to participate in the events we hold here. Don't you know you're not getting any younger? This is the best season. Members of the British Council have even been invited!" Her voice rose to propagate that statement, dropping off then to continue, "there are so many people here, good people, charitable, who are willing to take children in, even ones like you, and still you make no effort to socialize!" Mrs. Blunt seemed caught between her anger and frustration.

Lovely woman, wasn't she? I'd have gladly bet a thousand pounds that she didn't even know my age. All she knew was that I was a half-life. Maybe she thought we aged differently than humans, like dogs. Most likely, she just didn't even think about it. I shouldn't give her the credit of thought.

"I forgot that I was in season. Where is the auction block again?" She might have been too tipsy to comprehend it, or perhaps she never really listened when I spoke, but either way my comment went ignored. Instead, she steered me toward a group of chattering adults. Two of them stopped conversing and stared at me, and then began whispering frantically. Looking at the man, I felt nervous for some reason, and began subconsciously fingering the cross on a chain that hung around my neck. It was real silver, probably worth more than my life at one point, though by now it was so chipped and marred it was of no interest to any but me. In sneaking into the office to see my files years ago, I had found out that my father had left it to me before I was born. Still, it wasn't overtly special. Almost all the children at the orphanage wore some kind of religious symbol, but I hadn't really the faith. To be honest, I didn't know why I kept wearing it, but I felt strange without it on. Plus, it was an excellent thing to play with to calm my nerves.

The woman, dressed in an oddly fashioned purple dress and cloak, eyed me and made a wild gesture to her associate as Mrs. Blunt was guiding me aside. Even without being much aware of current society, I found her appearance strange. She smiled, not unkindly, and motioned for Mrs. Blunt to stop. Mrs. Blunt, her eyes wide with shock, stepped aside and crossed her arms, clearly saying that I had better be on my best behavior, or else.

"Hello dear, what's your name?" the woman asked in a tone that didn't fully belie her sharp eyes. Red lips stretched wide across her face, far tighter than her flowing gown. One of her hands clutched the arm of her associate. The man merely stood at her side, watching with keen eyes and occasionally stroking his dark beard. He had the solid bearing of famous military generals I'd seen pictures of in books, ones whose surety came from strength of mind as well as muscle.

After quickly looking them over I replied, "Tom Marvolo Riddle." Always give your full name, I had been told. The more names you had, the more impressive a prospect you sounded. As I answered, the tone of my voice sounded oddly familiar.

"And how old are you?"

"Almost eleven." Stand taller, and look proud. I'd also been told children were supposed to try and impress the adults. I found myself doing it, but didn't have time to dwell on it. I was quickly realizing that I had morphed into Jiminy in my behavior

She nodded quickly, accepting my responses but eagerly chiming in with new replies such as, "my, Tom, you're certainly tall for your age." Her focus upon me was disconcerting, and I'd yet to learn to hold my tongue.

"Really? That's a relief. I always thought I was just surrounded by leprechauns." Recall that feeling of eyes burning into you? Who do you suppose was doing that to me at that moment? Ignoring the glare, I added, "I - I mean, thank you." My ruse didn't work. The couple looked perplexed for a moment, and then the man pulled the woman aside. Both turned their backs to me and resumed whispering. As if I had never existed.

Chest clutching a bit I turned and saw Mrs. Blunt looking furious and embarrassed. In her low hiss she spat, "Riddle, get out of my sight. We'll deal with you later."

Lovely. I was on the verge of returning to being my usual festive self when she blocked my way again, saying, "No, Mr. Blunt will see you in his office."

"Now?" I asked, trying to hide my surprise. It was an unusual command; they never did business or dealt with the children during a party. Every other year I was in trouble I had been sent to see them the next morning.

Mrs. Blunt swayed. She tried to fix a steady, stern look at me, but ended up glaring at a plant. In a voice more croaky than disdainful she said, "of course now, Marv - Marvlo - Marvavolo - oh, just go!" Well, I'd rarely been called smart - and then, it was often suspiciously too smart - but I didn't need to be told twice to leave. I all but ran to the other end of the orphanage, my footsteps creaking on the broken floor, slipping where rain and snow had come through the cracked roof. The orphanage had been converted from an abandoned farmhouse long ago, refurbished with brick and left to decay from neglect. Still, it had an interesting structure to it with many nooks and crannies, and overall it was worn but functional. The Blunts' quarters were downstairs, as was the kitchen, hall, dining room and study. Mr. Blunt's office was hidden in a corner, away from the noise of the children who slept upstairs.

I wondered why he was here, locked away in his office on the night of the party. As I stood in front of the thick wooden door as I had countless times before, I felt oddly nervous. Perhaps it was an after-effect of seeing the man with the keen eyes a moment ago, or the built-up nerves caused by a wearing night. Either way, there wasn't a chance I'd show any Blunt such emotion if I could resist. Steeling myself, I forced a calm smile onto my face and knocked, listening to the echoing rattle. It took him forever to answer, his slow steps trickling through audibly. I remained still, listening to the heavy thuds crossing the floor inside, and the creaky chain being lifted before the door swung open.

Mr. Blunt...how to describe him? He didn't appear overtly mean, maybe a bit hardened around the eyes. Rather, he was a tired looking man in his middle-years, with thinning black hair and a beard. His clothing hung oddly around his disproportionate form, which was thin in some parts, portly in others. It seemed that his naturally skinny frame was in constant combat with the unhealthy eating and drinking habits he never seemed to have the will to curb. Whenever he stared at me I noticed that his face was a mixture of white and red, and when he wasn't giving in to bouts of hysteria, he had a look of quiet pity and regret. His clothes were nice but old, in blandly drab colors, nothing at all like Mrs. Blunt or their son Trevor. Only a pair of snappy wing-tipped shoes separated him from the dull atmosphere of his study.

Tonight was no different as I stared at him. Mr. Blunt smiled at me, once he made sure his wife was not around. Waving me in, careful to avoid any actual physical contact with me, he said in a broken voice, "Hello, Marvolo. Take a seat." I did so, feeling smaller than moments ago. He sometimes caused that to happen.

The room was somehow simultaneously cluttered and yet it felt empty, like all of the rooms at the orphanage. It was a mixture of dull grey and dark brown wood, with faded furniture that at least matched. A calendar hung on the wall, but other than that and a small window overlooking a desolate landscape, the walls were bare. The fireplace was unlit, without even any wood present to collect dust. A solemn candle sat dripping in the corner of the desk next to a pile of papers, giving off a pathetic light. The contrast between this room and the festive party down the hall was astounding. Call me morbid, but I preferred this room. It was more real. I breathed a sigh of relief once the door shut and most of the scratchy carols droning from the victrola were muffled.

I took a seat on a hard wooden chair, fingering my chain. Mr. Blunt saw me and blanched, and quickly I dropped my hand. I knew that this bothered him, and I had no desire to make him suffer. Mr. Blunt didn't seem to hate me, and I was quick to capitalize on that fact whenever I could by seeming to act as he wished me to. And, well... it was simply nice to have someone who didn't seem to detest me all the time. No matter what, though, the emotion radiating from his was still decidedly far from warm. I could see he felt pity for me, accompanied by an obvious fear. He said over and over again that I was cursed since birth, having demon blood in me. I didn't really know what that meant, though I wouldn't ask even if I could. In any event, I was not supposed to show any signs of abnormality, inhumanity, or unchristian behavior. I didn't know how playing with a cross was abnormal, but then, I hardly needed another lecture about how I was going to burn in hell.

Mr. Blunt sat at his desk, staring somewhere above my head. "Marvolo, what did Mrs. Blunt and I repeatedly say to you this afternoon?"

Like I had listened. I had no reason to, for it was the same thing they had been telling me repeatedly for years. By rote I replied, "No funny business. Nothing out of the ordinary is to happen, especially today."

Mr. Blunt nodded, re-emphasizing, "Especially not today. Today is special for everyone, not just the children hoping to be adopted."

I nodded. "Right. It's also the birth of your Lord."

"Of everyone's Lord, Marvolo."

"Right. That's what I meant."

Mr. Blunt sighed heavily. I did the same, more in frustration over not understanding what I was doing wrong. I was repeating everything I had been told, but he still looked disapproving. I hated it when I tried my hardest and still didn't get something right. Clamping my jaw shut, I waited for him to take the lead in the conversation again.

"Marvolo, you especially must try hard to stay on the right path. I don't know what else we can do for you. We promised that, if you could go a whole year without unfit acts of ...a particular nature...you could get a gift this year. It works for all the other children. You almost made it this year. Why do you refuse -"

I cut him off. "I haven't done anything like that! Honestly, not since last October! Nothing has blown up, nobody levitated, and Mrs. Blunt didn't even grow anything abnormal. I never consciously try to do those things, they just happen, but nothing has happened this year, I swear!" Indeed, at times in my private thoughts I had wished ill fortune on several, but nothing had ever come of it for months. In a way, I was almost regretful that was so, since it barely seemed to cut down on Mrs. Blunt's and several of the children's blatant and active dislike of me.

I think that was louder and longer than I had spoken at one time in a long while. Mr. Blunt looked at me curiously, and I chastised myself. I normally had good self-control, but I had panicked, and now he would question me again to no avail. Strange things simply tended to happen around me, and I couldn't explain them. It only reinforced everyone's opinion that I was a demon, and even I was starting to wonder. The bizarre things seemed to have stopped, but now...

The dull color of Blunt's eyes was fastened to my face, his voice having that faint forcefulness it always did when he sensed a crack in me to pry open. "Marvolo, then how can you explain the demon kind that are inhabiting our common room right now?"

Demon kind? "I - I don't know what you mean, sir. What demon kind?" I wasn't even fully certain how to tell I was demonic myself. I hadn't green blood - though some had checked - or any such thing. I also had no explanation for any of the weird occurrences that happened around me, though I longed to understand and control them. My heart pounded in an odd burst of desire, hoping something he said would help me comprehend how I was to define 'demonic.'

Mr. Blunt turned red. He had more patience than his wife, but even he had his limits if he felt someone was lying. "Don't lie to me, you - you -" He fumed, and I was ready for an onslaught of accusatory terms, but Blunt refrained himself. He merely said, "I try so hard. Mrs. Blunt, she said you were a lost cause, but I couldn't believe it. You were a child, and showed such promise." His eyes softened into a look of sad pity, a harsher gaze to me than one filled with hate. "When I think about your father..." His voice drifted off, the words carrying such weight they settled low in my chest after entering my ears.

I froze. In a whisper I said, "Don't talk about my father."

I don't think he heard me. "If he knew that you were born - born as you are - well, it would have been his greatest fear fulfilled, I'm sure. Lord knows the things that supposedly happened, for you to have been brought here under...shall we say, less than desirable circumstances? Yet despite any rumors, I took you in." He leaned back in his chair, eyes again leaving my face as he continued, "I supposed, putting you away here, that you stood a chance to be normal. There was a possibility that you might choose a different life. I have tried to give you a chance, away from those who whispered you a demon at birth. Now, with these people out there, I just don't know. I don't know how they found you, but I'm sure that if you didn't want to be found, you wouldn't have been. It seems that you've made your choice."

Needless to say, I felt very confused. And I didn't normally get confused. My stomach twisted, as if I was going to cry from frustration. I tried to calm myself, but I knew my voice shook. "Mr. Blunt, I don't understand. I don't know what is wrong with me, but I swear, I didn't do anything!" It was far easier to defend myself when I was covering something, but right then I hadn't that advantage.

My words didn't fall on deaf ears. Mr. Blunt stood up slowly, and crossed over to me. I flinched as he stooped down to my level, saying very seriously, "Marvolo, are you telling me the truth? Do you really have no idea what is going on?"

I saw no reason to lie, and anyway, Mr. Blunt was not in a violent mood. The only time he used violence was when he became hysterical and then lashed out, and those times were rare. At least I would not have to hear the excuse that he was enforcing moral discipline, so the beating would still coincide with his religious ideals. Such sanctimony was worse than any physical pain. I had personally never bought his brand of morality as anything more than an excuse, but then, I had never needed religion.

"I am telling the truth."

Mr. Blunt nodded seriously, almost breaking into a smile. He seemed very relieved, a feeling I shared with him right then. Certainly, Blunt was flawed, but he was the best to me of the lot, and for some reason his opinion mattered. That he had faith in me, however little, was the only encouragement I'd ever received in my life.

He motioned for the door. "Very well, Marvolo, I believe you. I'll take care of this. They won't bother you again."

I slid shakily off of my seat and followed him to the party. It was dwindling down, and many of the younger children had gone to bed. The adults who'd made adoptions had left with the intent to finalize their deals the next day. Only a dozen or so were left, including Mrs. Blunt, Trevor, and the two adults who had spoken with me. They had been ostracized to the corner of the room, where Mrs. Blunt was glaring at them.

Mr. Blunt, to his credit, walked right up to them. He was a meek man to my knowledge, but when given the chance to preach he seemed to expand, inflating for a short while with something he found full of substance. Right now he ignored his wife's simpering, crossing over to stand below eye-level of the keen-eyed man. A silence fell over the room as the two squared off.

The man spoke. His voice was strong, containing a bit of whimsy as well in his guttural accent, as if amused by Blunt's behavior. "Yes?"

Mr. Blunt paused, and then said, "I'd rather not do this in front of company." His tone was stiff, seeming even more so when juxtaposed with the other man's lightness.

"Do what?" was the flippant response.

Blunt's mouth immediately opened, and then closed, as if he were constantly reconsidering his immediate responses. He finally settled on, "Make a scene. However, I'm not willing to give you much time, either, regardless of the surroundings. The choice has been made, and not in your favor, I'm happy to say." His voice gained a bit more confidence there, to where he could finish quicker than before by saying coldly, "So if you'd please just leave, and never return, I won't have to resort to anything."

The man's eyes narrowed, in a manner not threatening but irritated. "And what precisely could you resort to?" Scorn dripped down from his eyes and out his mouth with those words.

Before anything else could be said, the woman stepped in. "Perhaps this isn't the best of times for this. We'll come back later."

Blunt's form stiffened more than his voice at that, and a touch of panic crept into his defiant words. "No, you will not." Under the other man's gaze, Blunt wilted slightly, his tone turning more wheedling as he gestured towards me. "It won't be necessary. He can give you nothing. He has no idea what he is doing!" Then, as if alighted by those words, he added, "And if it's not his fault, then it is your doing. And I will not condone it. Leave now."

The woman was about to speak again when the man interrupted. Smiling oddly, he seemed to speak in response to Blunt, but his gaze was now entirely focused upon me. "Oh, he has nothing, you say? A pity. Well, we'll just be going then, except -" At that moment, a small snake flew out of his robes and landed on the floor, where it scurried away. Mrs. Blunt screamed and everyone began stampeding, more in reaction to her screech than probably actually seeing the ridiculously small creature. His face a blotched maroon, Mr. Blunt turned back to the man as he was jostled by his wife. I heard him begin to speak. "What the hell do you think you are doing? Get your unholy trinkets out..."

And then I heard a voice over the din.

It was low, with an odd speech impediment. I glanced quickly about, but found no speaker anywhere. With the mayhem surrounding me I tried to ignore it, and yet the sound continued, somehow forcing my gaze to follow it to the floor.

When I looked down I saw the little snake, who was hiding behind an overturned chair. His tongue was flicking in and out, and his little black orbs looked as surprised by my acknowledgment of him as I was of his. Again he hissed, a hiss even I had never heard before. One that I knew was filled with caution and curiosity, for it told me so with words I could understand.

I did not back away, though I certainly didn't approach it yet. I may have webbed a person's hand or two, but animals did not normally speak to me. Reason told me that it couldn't be the snake. His mouth forming words was a trick of the lights, and the words I heard were due to damage done to my ears by the screeching of the guests. I may have been abnormal, but I wasn't psychotic... I didn't think. Thoughts sprang up and overlapped in my mind to try and reason this event away, but were quickly overridden by my curiosity and childish excitement. When his glistening eyes focused on mine with a diligent stare, it seemed undeniable on a level far deeper than human rationale. Again I heard...

"Excsssiting party."

I tore my gaze away, my heart pounding. No one seemed to be watching me. Perhaps it was a trick of the devil people, as Blunt called them. Maybe they wished to lure me in as one of their own. Yet it didn't feel like a ruse; in fact, it felt more natural than any attempt at conversing I had ever done. I couldn't resist answering. "You can't understand me, can you?"

The snake nodded. "Yesss, I can." Unnoticed by others behind the chair, his caution seemed to lessen.

He appeared far too calm, and outwardly I tried adopted his attitude. "Wonderful. Of course you can." However, I'd not yet gained enough control to resist adding, "Can you talk to anyone else?"

The snake shook its head.

I felt a rise of smugness at that. It was quickly depleted, though, as reason seized me finally. "Of course you can't. I'm the lucky one who's going crazy." But it didn't feel like I was going crazy, much as it should. As I said, it seemed... natural. Right, almost. Like it was a part of me, an ability that had always been there, lurking and looking for a way out.

I suddenly realized that a circle was surrounding me. I looked up to see both the Blunts and the odd couple staring at me pointedly, though with different intents. The Blunts looked horrified, the couple merely intrigued.

Mr. Blunt, pale and sweating, whispered, "Marvolo, what are you doing?" He began to deflate before me, his assured stance wilting. Whatever substance had filled him for this short time was gone, and he now looked as if I had yanked it painfully out of him. The faint residue that remained seemed tinged with an anger or desperation. He let his wife push ahead of him so her disgusted, frightened gaze was in the forefront.

I didn't know why the truth came out, but it did, in a triumphantly defiant tone. "Speaking with the snake." I said it loud and strong, though the only things within my vision's range right then to hear it were the devil couple, the Blunts, and the snake. Immediately after, though, I felt nervous and unsure, looking at Mr. Blunt to see his reaction.

Trevor snorted, but Mrs. Blunt grabbed him furiously, looking terrified. Mr. Blunt said in blatant refusal, "No, no, you can't be, that's - that's -"

He looked helpless, as the other man said, "Oh, he can, Blunt. There isn't a way any one of us could make him do that."

Mr. Blunt merely whispered, "It's a trick, it has to be." I could see he was grasping for some reason to hide behind.

"I'm afraid not." The man's words were cutting in their indifference to Blunt, and then he turned to me. His smart eyes gleamed in excitement mingled with some indefinable emotion. "Have you done this sort of thing before?" he asked this calmly, his voice controlling whatever excitement his eyes seemed to show. Still, he was decidedly warmer to me now, perhaps to further nettle the Blunts. He even knelt before me, matching my eye level.

I shook my head fervently in response. "No, not on purpose, and never talking with a - a snake!" It sounded ludicrous, and at the same time, anything but that. The same confusion applied to what came out of me next as I stared at the tall man in dark robes. With a suddenly quiet intensity I said, "But I want to." The desire in my voice was amazing to my ears. It was a hungry hope. Never had the thrilling prospect of learning intrigued me as much, for this touched on an area inside that had always been forbidden to me.

I was half-frightened and guilty, knowing this was the sort of demon actions the Blunts warned me of. Another part of me mirrored the odd man's face, a smile infused with a burning curiosity.

A gargled sound escaped behind me, and I turned to find Blunt looking pleadingly at me. He held his hands up, refusing to meet the other man's eyes as he said, "Marvolo, you don't know what you are saying -"

The man stood and brushed himself off. "Oh, I'd say he does, Blunt. It seems he's had a change of heart, now that he's been given a proper choice." The man then turned back to me and smiled a neutral smile, his eyes flashing with something he obviously didn't intend to share. All he said was, "I'll be seeing you again, Parselmouth." With that, he and the woman swept out of the room without a backward glance. My gaze followed them, transfixed and tunneling my vision to their backs until the heavy door creaked shut.

Slowly, I became aware that I was now left alone with the Blunts and the small snake on the floor. They seemed stupefied, and now that we were alone I felt uncomfortable as well. Every sense of mine felt heightened as I was suddenly, painfully, self-conscious before them. My thin chest rose and fell, my breath sounding heavy to my ears. My mind was reeling, the unfamiliar explosion of emotion inside making my dizzy confusion worse. I forced myself to meet their gazes, but I didn't know how to break the silence.

Apparently, though, they did.

Mrs. Blunt, eyes blazing, pointed at me and screeched, "I told you! I want him out of this place, immediately! He'll infect all the others! Demon! Check his blood now, it's probably green!" She said this hysterically while backing away, holding Trevor tightly in her arms.

Mr. Blunt looked deadened, as if something had been lost. "Go upstairs, Tom." I stood, stunned. That was the first time he had called me that. It sounded strange. I stared at him hard, trying to get him to look at me, but he refused. I had no desire to see the disgust on the other faces in that room, so I turned and left, carrying the small snake in my arms. Alone I climbed up the creaking, splintered staircase in silence, straining to but hearing nothing below.