Maybe still beyond help

It was a blessedly warm, cloudless day of summer. Tom Marvolo Riddle took care to renew all the security charms around the shop's 'crown jewel', then checked if his glamour still held, and at 1 PM sharp he locked the door of the BBR.

It was a complicated spell, Borgin Snr had complained several times about it (of course he had – nobody enjoys being locked out of their own shop) but considering how public security and Knockturn Alley rarely fit in the same sentence, not even the other owners could blame him for the slight overkill. As he was about to apparate from the street, his gaze fell on the new sign over the entrance: 'Borgin, Burke & Riddle's'. Next to the entrance, a sheet of parchment read, "Any attempt to steal the Stone will land you in one of the DMLE's holding cells, or if you work for the DMLE, you will be evenly distributed in all three of those cells." Fair warning, Tom grinned. Burke had wanted it to say something about vampires or banshees, but considering how some folks frequenting Knockturn had business relations with either or both of these species, it wouldn't have been as dissuasive. But none of these people would have been happy to disrupt an auror's coffee break.

After the warmth of London, the cool breeze of Godric's Hollow was like coming home. Even if it was a bit noisy, now that the boys were back from Hogwarts.

"Hi, Marvie!"

"Mom and I made goat cheese tart! You'll love it!"

"Welcome home. Come, lunch awaits!"

He looked around: one girl, one boy, one mother. Someone was missing. "Thank you, Kendra. Where's Albus?"

"Oh, there's some new boy visiting Bagshot, and Albus went to meet him," Kendra Dumbledore replied easily.

"He will join us by the time we're halfway into the dessert," Aberforth predicted.

"Was there anything new at the shop, Marvie?" Ariana asked. "That necklace with the contact curse on it is super cool!"

"No, nothing of the necklace's level, sorry to disappoint you, young lady. The only mentionable item is an old grimoire Cygnus Black has brought in – just to annoy your brothers' headmaster, if I heard him right." That got the enthusiastic reaction he had expected from the young witch.

"Professor Black deserves all the annoyance anyone can give him," Aberforth darkly stated, not noticing how his sister was bouncing with joy at the prospect of getting her hands on the Black grimoire. Really, she was just as hungry for knowledge as her oldest brother, and on par with him in magical strength even on a normal day. Who would have known in the '70s or '90s that the great Albus wasn't even the greatest Dumbledore?

"Start with your soup, all of you!" Kendra commanded.

"Yes, mom!" the two younger children replied in unison.

"Yes, mom," the adult wizard echoed absent-mindedly.

He had been thinking a lot about his past and his future. Was he immortal? He'd been here for eight years and had never felt remorse, and there was no other way a horcrux would fuse itself back to the soul it originates from. So, he must have still been anchored to the past (or future) despite his inability to create a second set. He couldn't kill – that was a set rule of his new chance at life: he couldn't even squish a mosquito when he had tried. Magic stronger than him had prevented him from stabbing a pig or from breaking the neck of a chicken. So miserably disabled, casting the Avada Kedavra and creating just one more horcrux was a distant dream. But he still had created those already in existence, had he not?

True to the younger boy's guess, Albus all but fell through the door when they were already at dessert. A blond boy was following him, roughly the same age.

"Sorry, mom! We got a little caught up... Gel, that's my mother, my brother Abe, my little sister Ariana... and Marvie was dad's friend and now he's tutoring Ari and he runs the shop I was talking about, and he's super smart and creative."

"Albus and his social skills," Aberforth murmured while the blond boy stepped in, ready to introduce himself since Albus was too distracted and forgot about that.

The next thing the old wizard remembered was coughing up his wine as he realized it was a very young Gellert Grindelwald standing in their doorway. Had he not killed this two-eye-coloured creep?! True, it had happened ninety-some years from now, but it had already happened... If Grindelwald was alive, so was everybody else he had killed in his life, except for those not even born yet. This couldn't bode well. Does a horcrux still hold if the murder victims are still around?

As was typical of her, Kendra wasn't overjoyed to have a stranger over for lunch, and even less so when the newcomer asked why Ariana was home-schooled.

"Because I don't get along with morons," the girl replied with a wide, all-teeth-showing smile before her mother could have as much as opened her mouth.

"Have you seen that house with no roof? That jerk of a Potter was taunting Abe about one of our goats, and Ari couldn't hold back her magic, and..."

"There was no reason to hold back!" the young witch protested. "He was lucky his shield held, or else he would have gotten what he deserves!"

"My honest compliments, young lady," said the newcomer.

"Hey, don't let her scare you. Normally she's just a witch with a temperament. Marvie, can we please go with you to the shop tomorrow? I promised to show Gel!"

"Yes, and I want to read the Black grimoire before the headmaster buys it back!" Ariana concurred.

"Wait, a Black grimoire?" yelped Albus.

"It was brought in today, you missed the news," Aberforth explained.

In all the noise four teenagers were making, 'Marvie' cast the reverse of an eavesdropping spell, and continued eating. The list of things he couldn't ignore despite the charms included Grindelwald asking about how the Stone of Resurrection had ended up on the Borgin, Burke & Riddle's main display shelf, and Albus telling some macabre story about a murder victim's fianceé hiring it for an hour and then an auror trying to replace it with a fake gem. What the Dumbledores were never told (for obvious reasons) was the Gaunt family, whose ring this gem had originally belonged to; neither did he mention having replaced it with a transfigured sugar cube. The 'young' shop assistant who had 'found' the treasure had bought himself into the antiques shop with the relic. At the time he had just been through his first round of disappointment over his inability to kill, so he hadn't thought of the possible long-term consequences of taking apart the object that would one day be his anchor to immortal life.

Young Gellert Grindelwald was a curious piece of work, and the aged wizard spent several nights wondering if helping one more adolescent through his bitterness and disappointment at life was included in the deal he had made when he had agreed to be an auxiliary father figure to his archnemesis. Eight whole years after said deal, Albus was a quite likable youngster, so if this endeavour was a success, why shouldn't he take this freshly expelled Durmstrang dropout under his wings, too? For now, he had offered his friendship and the to-be great dark wizard accepted.

Almost a week after Grindelwald's arrival (and two days after Phineas Nigellus Black buying back their family grimoire) Tom Marvolo Riddle was discussing financials with Kendra while all four teens were arguing in the back garden. Until now, he had been paying fifty galleons rent for his room and was teaching those interested in exchange for his meals. It had been a comfortable setup for the wizard whose main goal had been survival through fulfilling his side of a shadowy deal, but it had meant the world for young Ariana, and to her entire family by proxy. And who knew what else had changed?

"It's been a long time since I last heard about my family," the wizard told the Dumbledores' mother, "but there's this young girl named Merope I'm related to through some oddities of magic..."

"I understand, Marvie," Kendra sighed, clearly not eager to take in a squib when her own children were troublesome enough, but this man in front of her had taught Ariana how to control her magic, and they couldn't turn him down. Even if she couldn't imagine how her permanent guest had ended up with a baby girl, he didn't seem like a womanizer to her and there was no other idea she could come up with. "Eighty galleons per month, then, for both of you. She will be loved with us, and since Albus no longer needs you, you'll only be teaching Ari. It can't be too much for someone who owns one-third of the BBR."

The man was about to force a grateful smile on his face when they heard shouting from the kids' direction. There was a dark swirl of a shadow, blatant sign that Ariana was getting agitated, and Albus was yelling "Stop, you idiots!" and instinctively Tom Marvolo Riddle knew that the inevitable was happening. This confrontation had already happened, in what he knew as his own past, but the same instinct told him it was too soon, not the exact conflict that had occurred one life before. He cast a strong shield charm on himself and rushed outside, guided by the sound of Ariana shouting "Get away from him, you...!" followed by some obscenity referring to the male reproductive organ.

By the time he arrived, the blond boy was holding up a reddish-glowing shield charm with all his magic while Albus was trying to move a sweating, swearing Aberforth out of harm's way. The harm in question was Ariana, of course, her magic set lose on Albus's new friend, and she didn't look like she was letting him go anytime soon. The dark swirl was tearing at the sphere of Grindelwald's shield, the boy holding on to his wand with both hands and the tip giving off small puffs every time Ariana's power crashed on it. A quick glance at Aberforth confirmed that the newcomer had cast a Cruciatus at him, and judging by her reaction, he had done so with Ariana present.

"Ari, please, you're overreacting!" Albus pleaded with her.

"No, I'm not!" the dark swirl replied, then it retreated only to throw itself full-strength against the contact point between the thoughtless boy's wand tip and his shield. Both were putting their entire magic into their battle, but Ariana was experienced in her use of weaponized anger (how could she not be, with 'Marvie' teaching her from the tender age of six?) and eventually, the dark shadow of magic tore away Grindelwald's shield.

She collapsed, panting, in her human form again.

"You got away with it too easily," she gasped, eyes still glowing in a frightening shade of red.



"Are you OK?"

"Never been better," the girl replied, looking around the devastated garden, wondering if those millions of twigs scattered around had been their cherry tree a few minutes before. "You, Abe?"

"Fine," he lied.

"ARIANA!" Albus yelled. "What have you DONE to him?"

"Far less than what he deserves!" replied the witch.

"Well, he put his entire magic into the shield that Ari has blown away." The oldest wizard scratched his head. "He's lucky he's still alive."

"No, we are lucky he's still alive," Aberforth corrected him. "How is he? Al?"

With Albus's help, the blond stood up. He was shaken, he was crying.

As he tried to grab his dropped wand again, the angry jolts confirmed that they've seen it well: Ariana had stripped his entire magic off him.

"You turned me into a MUGGLE!" he bellowed.

"Good for you, they don't take muggles to Azkaban," Ariana flippantly replied.

"Well, technically, you're a squib," Albus said in an attempt of comfort.

"Ariana is right, you could be in much greater trouble if you still were magical."

"I don't care, I would die as a wizard rather than live as a muggle!"


"You know, you're actually a lot more adorable when you cannot torture my brother," Ariana smiled, as if it were her peace offering.

Seeing that there were no other dangers coming that day, the old wizard dropped his own shield, for the first time uncertain of what was going to happen now. One thing was obvious, however: Gellert Grindelwald would never become the greatest dark wizard of his age, because he wasn't even a wizard.

It was the last day of 1926. The family had come together in Godric's Hollow to celebrate Christmas, and old Tom Marvolo Riddle was sitting in his favourite rocking chair while Kendra and Merope were amicably arguing over the New Year's Eve menu. Ariana's son was deep in his notes for his NEWT exams, frequently asking either his older uncle or his honorary grandfather about complex transfiguration, while Merope's daughter teased him and kept distracting the diligent boy by transfiguring his schoolbooks. They were a match made wherever Heaven meets Hell, or so Kendra had frequently pointed out.

The old wizard smiled at the sight in front of him, his mind jumping back to the same unanswered questions that had been bogging his mind since his arrival. With so much precaution taken, he was certain he would never die. But was he immortal, then? Had he achieved his true goal? Was he safe from making the same mistakes twice? Was he safe from death?

He watched the tiny bells of blue fire dancing on the pine tree's icy branches, his head heavy with questions he couldn't ask. He wondered if a little sleep would help clear his mind.

He didn't realize what was happening, and even if he would have, it would have been too late to change anything.

A few minutes before midnight, on the day when he was not born, surrounded by his family, Tom Marvolo Riddle painlessly ceased to exist.