The Sun Dog
Act 1, Scene 6
The room was very dark and in that regard it suited the temperament of the man who owned it perfectly. Only the flickering light of the fire cast any illumination into the gloomy study and only the slow furling of pages broke the overwhelming silence.
But both of these facts were very agreeable with the room's sole occupant. Indeed, they were just the way he preferred such things these days. In his youth he'd enjoyed bright lights, chattering voices and the comfort of company but now he only really sought solace in solitude.
Whether it was a natural result of his ageing, or because he had so seldom an opportunity to be alone these days, he didn't know. Nor did he care much. What mattered more was that it gave him a chance to contemplate, to find perspective and to organise his mind.
His thoughts today were not especially happy ones. For in the last decade or so, they had rarely been. He had thought, at the start of his political career, that things would be easier when he was Minister. He hadn't been long incumbent before he realised just quite how naive he'd been.
No matter what he'd done, things seemed to have spiralled further and further out of control for Tom Riddle in the seven years since. Seven years had seemed such a long time when he'd set out but with each major victory he'd managed, with every huge bound forward, his goal appeared so much further away.
And never had that seemed more the case than it had in the last week. He and his Ministry had been blind-sided by these Knights of Walpurgis. He had known dissent was ripe among the Purebloods and the other branches of staunch conservatives but he wouldn't have dreamed in a hundred years that it might have lead to a violent uprising.
But it wasn't Leyland Mulciber and his supporters that had undermined him as much as the vigilante that had stopped them. While he was certainly grateful for the intervention of the powerful wizard, it had proven that ultimately the Ministry was unprepared and unable to deal with the problem.
He stared down at the paper in his lap and read, for the hundredth time today, the enormous three page story that dripped with sycophantic praise for the 'masked hero'.
'The Sun Dog' they all called him now. Though why they'd chosen that particular name was a mystery.
Riddle snorted angrily and turned the page with an action so violent that the parchment tore. It wasn't as though it were the possibility of someone so powerful working beyond Ministry control that frustrated him so. No. It was that every newspaper universally glamorised his actions. They glossed over the men and women he'd killed in the process and focused entirely on the romantic image of an anonymous hero fighting to protect and redeem society.
He knew that this would only lead others to emulate it. Others without the magical power or presence to back up their actions. He was almost certain that it'd get people killed.
He sighed and turned to the next page of the paper, which wasn't much better. A whole page article on Harry Potter, with an enormous picture of him sleeping in a hospital bed in St. Mungos, the burns on his face and body clearly evident.
'When violent, blood thirsty dissidents descended upon a formal Ministry Party,' he read. 'Few stood up to be counted. However, this was not the case for one brave teenager who confronted a threat that several hundred adult wizards refused to. 'Harry Potter, aged sixteen, is unlike any boy you might meet in our world today. While in light of these events he might be described as brave, valiant or (as one witness insists) a hero, two days ago only one word would have been used to describe him: squib...'
Riddle threw the paper aside with disgust. He would describe Harry Potter with three different words: foolish, reckless and idiotic.
He let his head fall into his hands and massaged his greying temples. He knew full well that the article went on to describe how the Ministry had failed the boy from the day he was born to the moment he flung himself, fists flying, at a powerful, skilled wizard.
He knew because he'd read the article at least twenty times today trying to make sense of it.
And yet he couldn't. None of it made sense. From Leyland Mulciber's sudden attack to the wizard that had appeared and killed him the entire thing was a mystery to Tom Riddle. He had no idea what exactly had been the catalyst to spark such a violent uprising or who the mysterious figure was. Nor was he entirely sure whether he disagreed or agreed with the wizard's actions.
Further more, Riddle wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know. Perhaps it would just be better if he ignored the vigilante. But of course he couldn't. The public would expect an official response. In fact they'd certainly demand one.
With this knowledge in mind, he'd arranged a small meeting with the press tomorrow. Though just what he would say, he wasn't sure yet.
Slowly and with a weariness unlike any he'd ever known before, he rose from his seat, stooped to lift the paper from the floor and fed the paper to the fire. He watched, with a cathartic release, as the words were lost to the lick of the flames and felt his entire body deflate as they disappeared up the chimney.
He glanced around the room forlornly and his eyes fell upon the drawn curtains in the corner. Some weeks ago he'd drawn them as Magical Maintenance had been protesting some slight or other by enforcing perpetual sunlight on the Ministry and as such Riddle had left the curtains closed. Now however, he felt as though some sunlight would be exactly what he wanted.
He crossed the room in a flash, parted the thick material with as much vigour as he could manage and then peered out.
It was all that Riddle could do not to die of shock.
For there was a face in the window peering back at him. Indeed, not just a face, but an entire person crouched behind the glass. A figure draped in white robes, whose face was darkened by shadow despite the bright sunlight that poured through the window.
At first Riddle thought it might be the wizards in Magical Maintenance playing a practical joke, but then the figure indicated the window latch and Riddle felt genuine confusion well up inside him.
It couldn't be a person on the other side of the glass. It just couldn't be. He was buried underground in an office that was only accessible by a single door and the lone fireplace. The window was only a stretch of wall pretending to be a view, nothing more substantial than a portrait.
Then it all became apparent in a rush of comprehension— exactly like a portrait! And in portraits, there were subjects that moved, talked even. He was so tired that he'd momentarily let his imagination get carried away with itself. People at enchanted windows? Nonsense.
He'd almost convinced himself of this when the figure leaned forward and rapped it's knuckles against the glass with a sharp crack. Riddle gaped and the figure indicated the latch again.
Riddle tentatively reached out and grasped the handle, knowing full well that the enchanted window couldn't open. It was only an illusion after all. His hand shook as he unbolted it and tugged. To his undying surprise the window opened smoothly and The Sun Dog stepped into the room and looked around.
Riddle tried his hardest to keep his face stoic, but knew he was failing. His mind raced at a thousand miles an hour, part trying to come up with some sort of hypothesis, part still insisting that it was only an enchantment.
The Sun Dog seemed to have no such concerns as he walked to the middle of the room, still gazing around him. Riddle ignored him, momentarily overcome by his own curiosity, and reached through the open window. His fingers came up against the cold stone upon which the enchantment was affixed.
"Did you have a good Christmas, Minister?" asked The Sun Dog, his voice rich and clear, as it had been at the party.
The man seemed perfectly at ease as he walked to Riddle's desk and lifted the lone photograph from the table and glanced at it. His gloved hands held the frame delicately as he gazed into the picture.
"Not particularly," replied Riddle. He hadn't ever liked Christmas, not even as a child. "How about you?"
"Ah yes," said The Sun Dog. "I'd half forgotten you were an orphan."
It was a cryptic response perhaps, but Riddle understood at once. This man, this wizard, knew that the pleasure of Christmas was in the company, not the day itself. Instinctively Riddle knew his visitor was also an orphan.
Of course, it could have been simple observation and deduction to conclude that Riddle had spent Christmas alone. But something in the wizard's tone, in the way he'd constructed the words— Riddle just knew that there was an unspoken 'too' at the end of the sentence.
This intrigued Riddle, not because he felt any sense of bond with the man for their shared difficulties, for their shared experiences of empty festive days. But because this was an opportunity to get the measure of the man.
He turned to face his visitor, all thoughts of the enchanted window temporarily shelved.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" asked the Minister, staring at the back of the man's hood intently, half hoping that he might see straight through it if he tried hard enough.
"I need you to call the papers off," said The Sun Dog, replacing the photo on the desk. "The attention is limiting."
Riddle strained his ear to try and find some identifying tone in the man's voice. Some clue as to where the man was from, who he'd grown up around, who he might be. But the harder he listened, the more flawless the tones became.
Belatedly, Riddle realised that the man had charmed his voice not to reveal his identity. He'd never heard of such a spell, in fact, he suspected that it might well be an invention of the wizard. But in the face of such talents as he'd already displayed, such a trick was neither here nor there.
"Silencing the free press doesn't fall under my list of powers or privileges," replied Riddle, his tone light.
"Now Minister, don't tell me you don't have Barnabas Cuffe and half his competition's editors under your thumb," retorted The Sun Dog, still not turning to face Riddle. "It's practically a necessity of the position."
Tom Riddle couldn't help but laugh.
"I doubt anyone has ever claimed to have Barnabas Cuffe under their thumb, let alone actually have him there," he admitted.
Tom Riddle couldn't help but wish he had actually had the editor of the Daily Prophet on a short leash. It'd certainly make attaining a second term an enormous sight easier. The Sun Dog finally turned and Riddle felt a pair of eyes bore into his own, despite being magically concealed by his hood.
"So you won't help me?" asked The Sun Dog, a distinctly malevolent tone creeping into his otherwise emotionless voice.
Riddle gritted his jaw and flexed his fingers in preparation for the confrontation he felt that they were teetering on the brink of. Then he abruptly changed his mind and the topic.
It wouldn't do to fight before he knew more about the man.
"Did you see these?" he asked, indicating the stack of papers beside his chair. "They're calling you 'The Sun Dog'."
The Sun Dog too seemed to think better of duelling and shrugged in response.
"It's as good a name as any," he said, his voice once again betraying no emotion. "Wish I'd thought of it."
"Some were calling you something else for a while," continued Riddle, picking one of the papers at random and flicking through it.
"The White Griffin," suggested The Sun Dog.
"That's the one. Not quite as enigmatic is it?"
"Like I said," said wizard, shrugging. Riddle thought he might just detect a semblance of amusement creep into his tone. "Wish I'd thought of 'The Sun Dog'."
Riddle found himself laugh; a genuine laugh that sounded high-pitched compared to the polite, throaty chuckle that he usually adopted. He saw The Sun Dog tense momentarily, as though he might attack, then relax almost as quickly before turning away.
"Why are you doing this?" asked the Minister, changing the subject once again.
"Leyland Mulciber wasn't reason enough?" asked The Sun Dog, seeming to understand Riddle's cryptic question.
"Fair point," admitted Riddle. "But you were doing it before the ball."
The Sun Dog remained silent for a while, then spoke in a softer, more hesitant tone.
"I hadn't seen those stories in the papers," he said, at last.
Riddle felt a little thrill of victory flash through him. There hadn't been any mention in the papers of any previous sightings, but he knew that you didn't just turn up to a Ministry function with enchanted clothes on the off chance of a coup.
He carefully schooled his face as The Sun Dog turned to face him.
"Sometimes people just need protecting," he said.
"You didn't exactly protect Leyand Mulciber," countered Riddle quickly, feeling again as though he'd scored a point.
"Sometimes people just need killing," replied the wizard opposite, in such a dark tone that Riddle felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
The Minister frowned slightly. Had there been a threat in the man's words? Had it been aimed at him?
Riddle forced himself to chuckle, but the knowledge that it hadn't been a joke left an awful, sour taste in his mouth. Once again he had the feeling that the blank, shrouded face was staring into him, stripping away his flesh and boring into his very soul.
But he didn't look away. Instead his blood rose to the challenge and something deep inside him screamed for him to cast the first curse.
He pushed the feeling away viciously, cramming it down and crushing it beneath the façade he'd carefully schooled into reality.
"I'd honestly prefer it if you could keep the killing to a minimum in future," he said, attempting a grin but only managing a thin smile. "I do agree with what you're doing. I think your heart is in the right place. But you've got to understand that I can't be seen publicly endorsing it. I'm content to play a bit loose with the aurors, but if you keep killing, I'll be forced to stand against you."
The Sun Dog cocked his head and Riddle, not for the first time, furiously wished he could see the other man's face. Just for some insight into what he was thinking.
"Was that a threat?" asked the masked wizard eventually. "Because from where I'm standing, you're just not a very threatening man, Minister."
Riddle felt his face slip into a deep scowl and furiously fought it from his features. He considered the man before him for a long moment, partially sizing him up and partially taking the time to bite back the horde of verbal ripostes that had leapt to his tongue.
They stood for a moment in silence, but Riddle could see the same shapes forming in the man's posture that he had demonstrated when duelling Mulciber. Riddle knew that the wizard was seconds away from drawing his wand and the Minister slowly raised his hands in a placating manner.
"I'm not threatening you," he assured the faceless wizard in a calm voice. "I'm trying to help you. I'll do as much as I can to stop the press from prying too much, keep the aurors off your case. But I can't be seen to endorse a murderer."
The Sun Dog's transformation at these words was extraordinary. Despite not being able to see his face, Riddle could tell from his body language that he'd slipped effortlessly from confrontational to relaxed. Possibly even amusement.
He realised instantly that there hadn't ever been any danger of a duel, but that the wizard had been trying to push him. To discover something about him. Riddle suspected that the entire goal of The Sun Dog's appearance tonight was to test him in some way.
He wondered if the masked wizard had found what he'd come looking for.
"You've offered everything I could have ever asked for," replied The Sun Dog, in a gracious tone. "Unfortunately, I'm going to have to refuse your very generous offer."
Riddle was somewhat taken aback with this sudden turn of events.
"Excuse me?" he asked.
"Well it's a very enticing offer, I have to admit," said the wizard, moving back toward the window he'd entered from. "But I've a problem with it Minister."
"And what's that?"
The Sun Dog pulled the window open and set one foot on the sill before looking back.
"I'm not done killing," he said and lifted himself into the window.
Riddle reacted immediately; he whipped out a hand, seized the wizard's robes and hauled him back into the room.
"Don't you—" he began, but the next thing he knew he was cut off by thick ropes that coiled tightly around him.
He fell flat on his face, his arms bound to his sides. With astonishment he realised that The Sun Dog had been able to react, draw a wand and curse him in the time it had taken him to speak two words.
A little ripple of admiration ran through Tom Riddle, before he viciously crushed it.
He heard the hooded wizard draw closer, crouch beside him and felt the man's hot breath against the side of his face.
"It was nice catching up Tom," he whispered. "Sorry I've got to leave so quickly, but you know, places to be, people to kill."
Riddle rolled onto his back to see The Sun Dog cross the room in two strides and leap neatly up onto the window-sill, where he turned momentarily back to the Minister.
"Oh and Voldemort? I'm keeping an eye on you."
The white-robed man left without another word, passing through the window as if it were perfectly normal to step in and out of illusions. Perhaps for him it was.
Riddle broke the enchanted ropes holding him the moment the window had closed behind him and rose, stretching the soreness from his momentary confinement out of his muscles. He didn't even bother investigating the window again, whatever magic the mysterious wizard had used, it was probably beyond him without serious investigation.
As it happened, the man's parting words had almost forced everything else out of his head. The name that he'd given Riddle had sent a little thrill of fear through the Minister. There were only a handful of people who knew of the foolish moniker he'd given himself at Hogwarts and fewer still who'd dare speak it.
Tom could only think of one such man. Could The Sun Dog be Albus Dumbledore? He was certainly the only other wizard with the sort of talent that the man exuded. But Tom rejected this idea almost immediately. Dumbledore had certainly never liked him at Hogwarts and had treated him with suspicion even after his ascension to Minister. Indeed, he may have even known Tom's nickname, there were few things that occurred at Hogwarts that the Headmaster didn't know.
But no, Albus Dumbledore was a relic. Obsessed with his school and producing the next generation of wizards. Whatever feelings of mistrust he might have felt for his former student, would have been acted upon in a slow, carefully planned and deliberate manner. The intentions and actions were hasty and outright threats were certainly not Albus' style. Not to mention that The Sun Dog's movements and voice were of a young man.
So who could it be?
Tom Riddle returned to his armchair, his brow split by a frown and his brain whirring faster than it had in years with unanswerable questions.