They’re at Districts. For the entire pre-season, Lucius has been cracking the metaphorical whip over their heads to make them learn doubles, and now they’re at Districts.
Guess who isn’t listed as a doubles pair on the roster.
Their captain is a troll. Harry knows this. He still waves the sheet in front of Lucius’ face anyway, like it’s a printing error and maybe if he tells the Current Nearest Authority Figure™, it’ll magically repair itself.
“Captain?” he asks, a little hysterical. “I think you made a mistake when you signed us up?”
Tom looks murderous.
“It wasn’t a mistake,” says Lucius. He doesn’t look like he’d just pulled a fast one over two of his most aggressive singles players—who were now, due to that hellish pre-season, possibly a working doubles pair.
“Lucius,” says Tom. It’s his I’m Exerting My Power As Your Vice-Captain™ voice.
“We can’t reveal all our cards yet,” is all their captain says. Which is ridiculous, Harry thinks, because at the start of this mess, Lucius was the one saying the best time to experiment was the beginning of the season.
“We should if they’re bad cards?” says Harry. “Please tell me you’re not going to make our first official match in Doubles 2 an important match.”
Lucius is silent for a moment. Then he says, “Are you saying you don’t want to play singles?”
Harry does want to play singles. It’s all he’s been asking for ever since Lucius had ordered him to play doubles with Tom. But also, he’s gotten the hang of being on the same side of the court as Tom, gotten comfortable with the idea that they do, in fact, complement each other, and he was kind of maybe looking forward to showing that.
“He’s saying,” Tom—bless his dickhead heart—says, “that we need experience.”
Which also isn’t wrong.
“In an official setting,” adds Harry.
Seeing the lack of Lucius’ reaction, Tom begins to glare. It’s a good thing they’re having this discussion in private. “And why wasn’t I made aware of this change?” he asks. “Again?”
“It was Madam Hooch’s call,” says Lucius. Again.
There’s nothing they can do. The roster’s submitted, their match is today, Harry is playing Singles 3 and Tom is on reserve. Doubles 2 is their name-in-a-hat winning draw of Regulus and Firenze, instead of the planned Riddle-and-Potter pair.
Tom is about as pliant as a rock. “I believe we had a discussion before about what constitutes as a poor leadership decision.”
Lucius’ eyes flicker to Harry. Harry distinctly feels like he shouldn’t be here for this conversation, but he’s miffed enough to stare right back. They had expectations. This roster change? Was not one of them, and that was just rude. He crosses his arms.
Finally, Lucius caves. “After due consideration,” he begins carefully, “Madam Hooch thought it…unwise for your first debut to be a doubles match. Especially with the team’s vice-captain.”
Harry blinks. “Why?” he blurts.
This time, Lucius’ eyes flicker to Tom, as if his vice-captain is now the one out of place. Tom stares right back, jaw clenching and unclenching, as if he would very much like to be gnawing on Lucius’ bones.
“Discussion,” Lucius says after a moment, “that we should have considered before, when it was raised as a point against your pairing.”
Slowly, Harry looks at Tom. It doesn’t click until he realizes Tom isn’t just pissed, but genuinely angry—the sort of anger that comes from deep down; an old anger that’s been festering for a while now, waiting for the wrong bite to bring it to the surface.
Especially with the team’s vice-captain. If he, omega rookie, gets paired with seasoned alpha vice-captain—
It would look bad. Probably. Reflect poorly on Hogwarts’ system that picked him as a Regular in the first place, when a weak little omega couldn’t win a match without pairing up with an alpha.
“Oh,” says Harry.
No one speaks.
Harry inhales. “I get it,” he says. “I…okay.”
The ground is very…grey. A nice grey. A clean, even layer of asphalt. If he has to rate it on a scale of one to ten, it’s probably a solid eight—clearly well maintained, dark like charcoal as if it was a recent addition. Harry would totally stare at it again. Would keep staring, because it’s better than seeing what kind of look his teammates have on their faces.
Tom turns to Lucius. “Go back to the team.”
For a moment, Lucius seems like he’ll refuse. But the moment passes, and he says, “Return before the match.”
Harry hears his footsteps fade away.
It takes a while before Tom speaks.
“That’s no longer my opinion,” he says. “You proved me wrong. You know that, don’t you?”
Yes. Yes, he does, but…
Does it really matter what Tom thinks, if this is the end result regardless? Harry doesn’t know exactly what he’s feeling, but he thinks it’s something like loss. Deception. Like something important has been yanked right out of his hands—or maybe, that he never had that something in the first place.
Harry breathes in, and then he breathes right back out. “I get it,” he says.
Tom steps closer. He takes Harry’s head in his hands and turns him around so their eyes lock—not alpha to omega, but Tom to Harry. In the distance, the sound of a tennis ball clanging against a wire fence is drowned out by cheers. It’s a sound they both know well.
“One game,” Tom says.
“It’s going to be more than that,” says Harry, because it will be. One game isn’t enough to prove anything.
Tom considers it. “Round three,” he finally says, “and we’ll alternate for the games past that.”
“You can’t guarantee—”
“Lucius knows my conditions for playing on the courts. He’ll make things interesting for me, and by interesting, I’ll mean you—as long as you’re up to Hogwarts standard.”
Harry reaches up and places his hands over Tom’s. Rather than extricating himself, he holds Tom’s hands in place instead. “You are a terrible vice-captain,” Harry informs him.
Tom smiles. He looks a little bit like one of those deep-sea angler fish with the creepy cavern of teeth—naturally menacing, and probably born in the seventh layer of Hell. It reminds Harry that Lucius holds the ‘captain’ title for a reason, and, as the rumor goes, it’s not because he has more skill.
It’d be in poor taste to have a player with a history for violent games be the face of a team, after all.
As if he knows what Harry’s thinking, Tom says, “You say the sweetest things.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
“Funny, it rather sounded like one.”
“Who lets him serve like that? As an omega?”
Tom turns his head so fast he snaps several others as casualties. Two players from the other team are watching from over the fence, each holding a can of soda. Tom’s glare could’ve shot bullets, and judging from his track record, they all would’ve hit, too.
“Leave it for the courts, Riddle,” says Lucius, but his eyes are also trained on the unwelcome commentators like they’re two particularly offensive mice. “You’ll get your turn…if the rest of the team doesn’t eat them alive, first.”
On reserve, the chances are absurdly low. Tom knows Lucius is only trying to placate him, and he makes a mental note to tell everyone else no mercy on the newbie team who couldn’t even make it past their second match last season. It would’ve been a great opportunity to practice doubles against them. Tom thinks Lucius has made a grave mistake, even if he can understand the rationale.
The point call rings out. Service ace, for the third time in a row. It soothes the ache somewhat to see Harry drain the light from his opponent’s eyes.
“Move us back to doubles,” demands Tom.
“It’s not time yet,” says Lucius.
Tom gnashes his teeth. “When.”
“I thought you preferred singles.”
“Choose your next words very carefully, because unlike you, I still happen to remember that week of nonstop beginner drills you had us running.” Tom pauses. “And those useless laps you had us run. For the entirety of practice.”
“You were disturbing the rest of the club,” says Lucius. “Besides, those drills paid off, didn’t they? You two get along better now.”
“If you mean we can go without losing six games to love to the demons, then yes.”
Lucius doesn’t smile, but it’s close. “Oh? What a humble thing to say, coming from you.”
Tom clenches his jaw as he watches Harry demolish his opposition. The other player hasn’t scored a single point yet, and it shows on his face. He’s just lucky Harry hasn’t broken his wrist, or his racket—their play styles could be remarkably similar, after all, if Tom was still playing like he was out for murder. But unlike Tom, Harry makes the choice to keep things relatively clean. And it’s not because he’s scared of Madam Hooch like the rest of his year mates.
Speak of the devil and the devil returns.
“Looking at the both of you, no one would think we’re winning,” says their coach, taking a seat beside Lucius. “Shouldn’t you be helping your fellow teammates warm up, Riddle?”
Tom stands up. “Suppose I will, seeing as this match won’t last for very long. Text me if something happens.”
“If something happens to Harry, you mean,” says Lucius.
Tom shoots him a withering look, but he’s not wrong.
Madam Hooch sighs. “Honestly, what am I going to do with you lot?”
Hooch inclines her head towards the court, where Harry is just scoring another brutal shot. His opponent looks traumatized.
“Aren’t I already?” she asks.
Even though it hadn’t taken much effort, Harry leaves the court sweaty and in dire need of some better scent blockers.
The set of patches he’s wearing now over his scent glands need replacing. He should’ve taken out the newer set, actually, since today is a tournament day instead of practice, but he hadn’t thought about it when he ran out of the house.
He thinks back to his tennis bag. Does he have a can? He usually does, but he also remembers running to the store last week to get more, and he can’t remember if he put one back in his bag—
Harry spins around. Regulus is behind him, holding out a stick of scent suppressant—deodorant on steroids, basically, but maybe that’s a poor joke given where they’re at.
Harry grins. “You’re a life saver,” he says. Though it’s clearly marked as for alphas, Harry knows this particular brand will work well enough for omegas—i.e., the Sensodyne of roll-on scent suppressants, it won’t make his skin itch. He has a hunch that that’s why Regulus uses it, but he’s not going to call him out on it.
They’re actually related, though the rest of the team doesn’t know that. Sirius, Harry’s godfather, is Regulus’ older brother. They have dinner together sometimes when Regulus’ parents are out. It usually coincides with movie night, and there’s chocolate-covered popcorn that’s totally not on Harry’s diet plan but he’s the one who makes them, so everyone lets it slide. Sirius would probably prefer it if Harry ate more sugary things.
Anyway, yeah. He and Regulus are practically family. It’s a thing.
“Any time,” Regulus says. “Do you need someone to go with you to…?”
“I’ll be fine,” says Harry. “If anyone tries to bully me, I’ll just beat them up, remember?”
Regulus smiles. It’s small, but sincere. “Alright. I’ve got a match in a few minutes, so I have to go meet back up with Firenze now, but text Tom if you need anything.”
Harry freezes. “Why—”
“He’s reserve today,” Regulus gently reminds him.
“…Right. Yeah. I knew that. I didn’t think you were implying anything else or, or anything—”
Regulus is laughing at him. He pats him on the shoulder and says, “I’m glad you two are getting along now. Come watch my match later?”
Harry frantically nods. “Definitely! Go, I’ll be over after I, um—”
“See you, then.”
Harry waves Regulus off.
It’s not like it’s dangerous, per se, to be up and around as an omega. This is a public place. Perfectly safe. But there are a lot of alphas hanging around by virtue of the sport being saturated with them—high school alphas, some having only presented a year or two ago, so there’s a lot of…poorly repressed pheromones floating about.
The chances of him getting teased are moderate. The chances of him being bullied are a little less, but still possible. Regulus is only looking out for him—and the rude alphas in question out there, because Harry packs a punch. Just ask anyone who’s ever had a match with him.
The walk to the bathrooms is fortunately uneventful.
He’s just exited when a group of alphas shove past him. Okay, rude, but whatever. Harry shoots them a dirty look and moves on. Or he would’ve, had one not reached back and grabbed his arm.
“Hey, short stuff, what’s with the look?”
“You tell me,” Harry says, jutting his chin. “Watch where you’re going.”
“I think you should watch who you’re talking to—”
The only warning sound is the brief smack of a tennis ball against a racket. The student gripping Harry’s arm narrowly dodges, losing his balance as he leans back. Harry twists and wrenches his arm free, shoving him back into his group of friends.
The tennis ball smacks against the concrete wall of the restrooms and returns to its owner.
Tom catches it.
“You forgot your jacket, Harry,” he says, before throwing a bundle of black at him.
Harry snatches it out of the air and immediately slips it on. “Thanks.”
“As for you all,” says Tom, turning to the group of students, “I do hope you’re not picking on my junior. It would be a shame if someone got hurt in the next round, wouldn’t it?”
The person he’s talking about is not Harry.
It’s only then that the students take note of Harry’s jersey, which has the Hogwarts Academy coat of arms emblazoned on its back. Above it, in bold golden text, reads POTTER, like a royal signature pointing out how they had royally fucked up.
Tom smiles. “See you in the evening, if you make it.”
Harry trots past him. “Coming? I don’t want to miss Regulus and Firenze’s match.”
They leave the other group stranded there, frozen next to the bathrooms.
“It won’t be much of one,” Tom says. “The other team’s doubles are so-so. Better than their singles, but neither Black nor Centurion should lose a game.”
Harry huffs. “You didn’t have to come get me, you know. I was fine on my own.”
Tom disagrees. “You need to be more subtle. Violence outside the courts will mar the Hogwarts name, and I’m not going to let you get us disqualified over a group of peacocks.”
“Lucy’s not going to like you insulting his pets like that.”
Tom smiles and doesn’t let him change the subject. “You have to hit them in ways they can’t prove. There’s a 75% chance they’ll forfeit this evening; just watch.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” complains Harry. “I don’t want them to surrender; I want to play.”
Tom hums. Their hands brush together. “If you don’t get to play, I’ll play with you instead.”
Harry squints. “A match.”
“A match,” Tom agrees.
“A singles match. One-on-one. One set match?”
“Why not? It’s only fair, seeing as I‘ll be taking your prey away from you.”
Harry sniffs, but he bumps their arms together anyway. “That’s creepy, but yes. That’s a deal. No take-backs.”
“We’ll use the school courts. I have the key.”
“Abusing your power?”
“Lucius owes us a favor for putting us out of Doubles 2.”
Harry thinks about that for all of five seconds. He wasn’t really averse to it in the first place, and probably would’ve even suggested jumping the fence if Tom hadn’t volunteered a more legal way in. Two Hogwarts regulars playing in a public court would garner attention, after all, and that means they wouldn’t be able to go all-out for fear of other teams collecting data on them.
They finish six games to four, in Tom’s favor.
Harry stretches, splayed out like a starfish on his side of the court. There’s a pleasant ache in his bones that he hadn’t gotten from his games prior in the day. He closes his eyes and thinks he could sleep here—here, completely at home on the courts.
Tom nudges him with his foot. “No naps. It’s already getting dark, and you still have to clean the court.”
Harry squints an eye open. “Only me?”
“I don’t remember agreeing to this,” he grumbles. Still, Harry gets up and grabs two brooms off to the side. He throws one over to Tom. “Don’t you have any pride as an upperclassman? Help out your junior.”
Tom eyes the broom and sneers. It’s a notable victory that he still bends down to pick it up. “I haven’t swept the courts since my first semester here.”
Harry snorts. He actually doesn’t mind cleaning up, seeing as he does it at home too, but it wouldn’t be good to clue Tom into that. He’d be taken advantage of faster than one of Regulus’ serves.
“Ah yes, Mr. Genius-First-Year-Regular,” he says. “I almost forgot who I was talking to. Well, you have an underclassman now. Be a good role model, won’t you?”
“So you’re only an underclassman when it benefits you.” Tom clicks his tongue. “Brat.”
They finish in record time after that. When Harry peeks over, Tom is looking up at the sky. It’s not quite dark enough for the stars to come out yet, but the orange of the sunset has dulled into the darker shades of dusk. It’s just enough for the street lamps to have turned on by the time they’ll get to the sidewalk.
However, the court lights are not automatic, and they hadn’t thought to turn them on before their match, either. It felt like just a minute ago that Harry could clearly see the maroon of Tom’s shirt—now it looks brown, or some murky hodge-podge that happens when too many colors are mixed together.
He adjusts his glasses. Well, no one ever said darkness fell slowly.
“I’ll walk you home,” Tom says.
It’s only because he’s an omega and Tom is an alpha—standard social norms dictate that if Tom gives a rat’s ass about Harry, he won’t let Harry walk the streets alone at night, won’t let Harry put himself in danger, will make sure he’s safe and will see him tomorrow. Harry knows this. Even when they were on poorer terms, Tom still walked him home.
It’s not because he likes him that he does it.
Part of Harry wishes he didn’t have to do these things, but the other part of him is glad, too. Tom can be a dick, but he’s not a piece of shit, and it’s because of things like this that Harry knows that. Things like Tom looking out for him, even if it’s for selfish reasons like interesting tennis matches or whatever.
So Harry says, “Sure,” even if he’s not so sure. They grab their bags and don’t bother to change out of their sweaty clothes.
“Wait,” Tom says.
Harry stops. Tom picks up his wrist and taps his scent blockers—even that brief touch makes Harry jolt; it’s like being ticklish, but without any of the tickly-feeling. There’s no laughter or squeal, just the sensation of something foreign against something intimate of his—like poking a tooth or a toe.
He fights past the weird feeling and focuses back onto his scent. By now, Regulus’ scent suppressants he’d put on earlier in the day had worn off, helped along by his sweat and physical exertion. The scent blockers are hardly working at all.
Harry winces. “I’ve been meaning to get a new set… Sorry about that.”
“Hm,” says Tom. And then, surprisingly, he says, “It happens.”
Usually only omegas wear patches, but particularly strong-smelling alphas take up the practice, too. Both wear it for public decency. The difference is, omegas need it for safety. Alphas, for respect.
Tom occasionally wears them on tournament days they know will run long. It’s a fact Harry only now remembers. Tom is usually so unshakable—it’s hard to imagine he needs to rely on something outside of the norm.
“Do you…?” he begins to ask, but stops when Tom shakes his head.
“Take a shower,” says Tom. Harry frowns; while that’ll certainly tone his scent down, it could attract trouble, too, by washing away the daily scents that serve to muffle it.
But Tom seems to have thought of that, too. “I can scent you afterwards.”
That. Is highly intimate, and. Harry pulls back his hand. “That’s—a little—”
“Too much?” he asks.
“Well—it’ll last for too long,” Harry quickly says. “Um. My…guardian. Is probably home from work right now, so it’d be a little awkward to explain…”
“Ah, Sirius, right?”
Harry blinks. He didn’t think that Tom would remember that. He’d only talked about his godfather in a few conversations, after all, and the majority of them were among the rest of the team. It’s not a detail that should’ve particularly stood out, and yet, here Tom is, remembering.
“Right,” Harry says.
Tom waves. “I’ll think of something. For now, though…” He sends a significant look towards Harry’s failing scent blockers.
“Shower,” says Harry. If Tom is pointing it out again, then he definitely smells strong enough to deserve a shower.
They head to the locker rooms, which Tom fortunately also has the keys for. While Harry heads for the back, Tom takes a seat on the benches, wordlessly announcing his intention to wait.
Harry normally doesn’t spend a lot of time in the school showers, but now it’s like he’s bathing with the hounds of hell on guard outside. He hops out when his paranoia gets the best of him—no shampoo, just scent blocking soap—and hopes that it’s good enough. The last thing he needs is Tom thinking he doesn’t know how to wash himself.
Tom is still sitting in the same spot he was originally, only this time, his jersey jacket has been taken out of his bag and is now folded up beside him. Harry can—if he takes a deep enough breath, he thinks he can smell it. Just the slightest hint behind the classic locker room stink. There—a scent uniquely Tom’s.
Tom holds it out to him. “This should be acceptable, yes?”
Harry swallows. “Thanks,” he says, and gingerly slips it on. He zips it up all the way to the top.
The sleeves fall over his fingertips. Tom purses his lips like he’s trying to hide a laugh.
Good enough indeed. When Tom turns to head for the door, Harry sneaks a deep whiff—purely to confirm his previous hypothesis, of course. It’s as he thought; this scent really is Tom’s, beneath the sweat and musk of daily wear.
…It’s not unlikable.
Harry had already texted Sirius when they were leaving the courts. Sirius hadn’t replied back, but it’s likely that he’s seen it already and is working on (some sort of) dinner.
They’re almost to Harry’s house. It stands out like a lighthouse compared to the rest of the neighborhood, which is rather wealthy by normal standards, but not Black family-levels. Black family-levels also mean a case of continuing paranoia, and in Sirius’ case, a six-foot tall red brick wall. There’s other security measures in place, of course, which involve cameras and alarms and all that, but the wall is the most visible one.
“That’s me up ahead,” says Harry, and he expects Tom to leave him at the gate as he did the last time he walked him home.
But when they get there, it’s completely dark inside. Like, pitch black sort of darkness. No lights come in through the windows, which Harry knows is because of the heavy curtains that he’d called squid ink black the first time he saw them.
Not even the porch lights are on. Harry hesitates. Sirius should be home, right? Maybe he’d flicked the wrong switch—motion sensor instead of just ‘on’.
Well, regardless, they’re here now. It’d be stupid to call Sirius just because he’s a little creeped out. Harry fits the key in the lock and turns, pushing the ornate gate open. At least it doesn’t squeak.
He expects…something, but all Tom does is glance at him before walking right in.
Harry blinks, and follows.
Tom ends up walking him all the way, past the gate and up the darkened walkway. Harry doesn’t want to think how automatically he does it, how Tom acts like it’s the natural thing to do and it’s not a bother, as long as it means knowing Harry is safe and sound.
It’s such a smooth action that Harry doesn’t even contemplate telling him he doesn’t have to until they’re halfway to the door.
Fortunately, the motion-sensor porch lights turn on, so they can finally see.
Harry stops. “Thanks,” he says.
Tom inclines his head. “You’re welcome.”
Harry’s about to give him his jacket back when the door opens, revealing a Sirius who definitely didn’t expect to see two people instead of one.
“Uh,” says Harry. The large jersey he’s wearing—even if it does look the same as his own from the front—feels overly hot and baggy now. He wants to shuck it off and throw it over the wall. Hide the evidence.
Instead, Harry settles for trying to make himself as small as possible.
Sirius is staring at him with that look that says he doesn’t understand what’s going on, but he has several outrageous theories to make up for it.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Harry quickly says. “Um, that is… Hi?”
Sirius snorts. “Welcome back, kiddo. Who’s your friend?”
Harry flounders. Fortunately, Tom is much better dealing with adults than he is. “You must be Sirius, Harry’s godfather. I’m the vice-captain of Hogwarts’ Boys Tennis Team, Tom Riddle.”
“…Right, you had a match today—”
“That I won,” says Harry.
Sirius grins. “Atta boy. You can tell me more about it later. Right, Riddle, was it?” He sweeps an eye over him, but Tom keeps smiling, completely unperturbed though Harry can guarantee neither of them were expecting a surprise inspection.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” says Tom. “Harry talks about you a lot.”
Those seem to be the key words, because Sirius puffs up like one of those stuffed blowfish plushies that Harry’s seen at the aquarium gift shop.
“S’that so?” says Sirius. “Pleasure to meet you too, then.”
They shake hands. Harry gapes, just a little.
“Thanks for walking him home.”
“Not a problem,” says Tom. “It’s only natural I look out for my underclassmen.”
“Ah, speaking of which, it is pretty late, isn’t it?” Sirius looks up. “You want a ride home?”
“Thank you for the offer, but it’s not a long walk.” Tom turns to Harry. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Harry. Make sure you get enough rest for morning practice.”
“Um,” says Harry. “Yeah, of course. See you…”
He stares until Tom goes out of sight. When Harry turns back around, he sees Sirius looking at him with an odd expression on his face, like he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Sirius chooses neither. Instead, he shoots Harry a sly look and ushers him into the house, citing dinner on the stove as the main reason. Harry’s gut says some massive misunderstanding had just taken place, but there’s no evidence. Sirius keeps his face perfectly blank, save for the small twitch he’d developed at the corner of his mouth.
“What?” Harry finally says again.
His godfather finally lets the grin loose. “How about you go change first? Dinner’s almost ready.”
Harry looks down at himself and flushes. He’d forgotten to give Tom back his jersey, and the scent of it sticks out like a sore thumb in an omega household. “Right, yeah, I’ll just go do that—”
“And then you can tell me all about your tryst in the locker rooms. Don’t worry, it won’t weird me out. I can give you some tips on—”
“My scent blockers stopped working!” Harry shrieks. “I’m not—we didn’t—I’m wearing my own clothes under this, you know!”
Sirius starts laughing. Harry thinks he might as well go die now. Maybe that’ll be enough to save him from the ensuing conversation.
“Well, what else was I supposed to assume? This is the first time you’ve brought a cute boy home, and I can barely smell you in that—”
Nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. He is not having this conversation. Harry starts running for his room, but not before shouting back a, “I’m not dating anyone!”
“Will you be soon?”
“No! Who has time to date with tennis practice?”
Who indeed has the time to date with tennis practice.
“Hello, cousin Regulus,” says Narcissa.
Regulus returns her greetings.
“I’m looking for Lucius. Is he here?”
“He’s speaking with Madam Hooch at the moment,” says Regulus. “They should be finished relatively soon, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“Not at all,” Narcissa says, and she does, in fact, move to sit down on one of the nearby benches.
Harry stares. He recalls Draco’s text: Oh, when I want to stay out late with my friends, father says no, but when Lucius goes out—
No way, right?
A tennis ball smacks hard against the ground. Harry instinctively brings his hand up to catch it; its trajectory would’ve narrowly missed his nose otherwise. On second thought, catching a tennis ball with his bare hands in a team of powerhouses is…not smart.
“Ow!” Harry drops the ball in favor of shaking his hand. It’s already looking a little red.
When he looks toward the direction it had come from, he finds Tom, staring at him.
“What gives?” Harry snaps.
“Laps, Potter,” says Tom. He motions to the crowd of club members beginning their run. Oops. That was…a little embarrassing, yes.
Harry winces. “Sorry, going!”
Tom tosses up another tennis ball. This time, Harry doesn’t stick around to catch it; he runs.
On the third lap around, he notices Lucius had finished talking to Madam Hooch and has now made his way over to Narcissa. They’re talking, obviously, but something about them feels—they’re standing rather close together, and—
Fred magically appears in front of him. George sandwiches him on the other side.
“So, Harry, a fine morning today, isn’t it?” asks George.
“Lovely enough for some gossip?” asks Fred.
“Why, right you are, George! How ever did you know?”
“Oh, I have my sources, Fred—”
“I know who you are,” says Harry. He points to the left, “That’s Fred,” he points to the right, “That’s George.”
“How do you always do that?” says George, a little bit of wonderment in his question.
“Well, anyway, I’d say that deserves the juiciest gossip in the club, wouldn’t you?”
“Why, it certainly does! Would you like the honors, my good brother?”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly.”
“Nonsense, you deserve all the best things in the world!”
“George, you know flattery gets you everywhere with me—”
They laugh. Harry, somewhat helpless, laughs along too. “Alright, I’ll bite. What is it?”
Fred and George duck their heads and lean in close. Full of mischief, they whisper, “Lucy’s got a girlfriend!”
“He took her out to dinner and asked her out then,” dishes Fred. “Which we, personally-”
“-think is a little backwards, but you know our captain,” says George.
“He gets a little tunnel vision when tennis season comes around.”
“Ah, poor Cissy’s problem now!”
“God bless.” They both simultaneously sniff and pretend to blow their noses.
All three of them turn the corner side-by-side, which is a little awkward, but at least they don’t trip.
“I can see it,” Harry muses. Narcissa is technically his cousin as well, but he’s not as close to her as he is with Regulus. “They look good next to each other.”
Fred and George stare at him. Then, Fred ruffles his hair.
Fred grins. “Hmm, and here we thought you didn’t pay attention to this kind of stuff!”
“Our little Harry. Not so little after all, is he?” says George, also grinning.
“I—just because I’m not dating anyone doesn’t mean—” he flounders. Stumbles on the phrasing. “I—just don’t personally—”
“Like anyone?” the twins ask in unison.
It’s a gross simplification, but it’s not wrong. Harry pauses, then bobs his head.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Tom’s tennis is beautiful.
It doesn’t have the flair of Lucius’ style, which is full of flashy moves and optical illusions. Nor is it full of the acrobatics and trick shots that litter the Weasley twins’ games. But out of all the Regulars, Harry likes Tom’s tennis the most.
He’s an all-rounder that plays like a counterpuncher, sniffing out his opponent’s weaknesses like a bloodhound and aiming the ball precisely where his opponents don’t want it to go. There’s grace and calculation in each and every one of his moves—even when Tom’s just doing basic drills, Harry finds it hard to look away.
Tom didn’t always play like this. When Harry was still in Hogwarts’ junior section, Tom’s style was aggressive and borderline violent. His opponents more often than not walked away with bruises, and the worst of them received concussions for underestimating the spin of the ball.
It was violent tennis that urged the player to put their safety over the match—ruthless, but no one could say Tom wasn’t a strong player. He’d played against captains during Nationals, ran them ragged, and won.
And then, in an affair Harry had only heard rumors about, one of Tom’s opponents nearly died.
What specifically happened was…sketchy, to say the least. Some said it was the racket, others said it was the ball. Another wild rumor said something about the fence collapsing. The general consensus was that there was a lot of blood, and Tom was put on probation. On his return, he ‘reformed’, adopting his current counterpuncher style that never aimed at his opponent’s body again.
Harry’s been told once or twice how similar their styles are—his and Tom’s original play. But despite his heavy shots and preference for overwhelming power, Harry keeps his games relatively clean.
He’s got more strength in an arm than some of the other alpha club members do in two. It’s enough that his opponents know that—enough that they know he isn’t one to be trifled with, regardless of his size or his secondary gender. He doesn’t need to take it a step further and harm them.
That’s the good thing about tennis—no contact between the two players: just a net, a ball, and two rackets.
Harry blinks. There’s the sound of the tennis ball bouncing once against the court, and then the racket swiping through the air—
“Pay attention, Potter!”
Harry swings. The fast ball cuts across the court and thwacks once inside the service box, makes an arc in the air, and bounces into the fence. Harry straightens.
“You should as well,” he says. “That’s fourteen points now.”
Justin doesn’t gape, but it’s a near thing. “That didn’t count! That was a return ball!”
“If you’re going to hit a ball at someone, you should be prepared for when it’s returned,” says Harry. He bends down and picks up another ball from the bucket at his feet. “Let’s keep going. You’re almost to twenty—”
Justin storms off the court.
Harry exhales and goes to retrieve the rest of the stray balls. Justin Finch-Fletchley acts perfectly cordial around the other club members, but when it comes to Harry—
Did he kick his tennis bag or something? Make a rude comment about his dog? Harry grumbles his grievances under his breath. God knows why Madam Hooch still pairs them up together for drills; whenever Justin cares to show up, it always ends in a variation of this.
One of the club members happens to pass by and offers to help him with his drills. Harry agrees—if only because it’s an older member who he knows is fairly capable.
When Madam Hooch passes by and asks where Justin is, Harry shrugs. “Water break, maybe?”
Hooch narrows her eyes. “Keep better track of your teammates.”
Then she turns to his drill partner and jerks her head toward the other courts. “You can go, Hopkins. I don’t expect you to keep up with Potter.”
Though he had offered to help, Hopkins looks relieved. Harry thanks him and waves goodbye as he leaves the court—then, it’s just him and Madam Hooch.
Needless to say, the coach of a powerhouse team like Hogwarts’ is naturally a powerhouse herself. Hooch grins as she picks up a ball.
Harry isn’t able to so much as glance in Tom’s direction for the rest of practice.
After practice doesn’t afford anymore leniency. Tom vanishes along with Lucius, probably to go over club-related matters before the full extent of tennis season chaos hits, and Harry is left feeling strangely bereft in the locker room. He hasn’t even gotten to return his jersey yet.
Harry tries to linger a little to see if Tom is just going to be a bit late, but he doesn’t show up. Upon that realization, he finishes changing with little fanfare. Fred and George unfortunately had to dash home—something about how Ginny needed their help on homework—but Regulus and Firenze are waiting for him outside the locker room. They invite him out for some evening milk tea.
“Mercury and Venus will soon be aligned,” says Firenze. “It’s the best time to forge meaningful relationships.”
Considering Justin never came back by the end of practice, Harry somewhat doubts that, but he wasn’t going to turn down a milk tea run. So instead, he asks, “Can I try braiding your hair, please?”
Regulus coughs into his fist. It sounds suspiciously like laughter.
Firenze smiles. “Certainly.”
Under Firenze’s instructions and Regulus’ helpful tips, Harry manages—something. It’s not bad for his first try. Firenze ties it off with the band he was using to keep it in a bun, and then pulls the braid over his shoulder so it falls down his front. Harry is exceptionally pleased. He wonders if Firenze has ever worn a flower crown before.
The idea comes from the incriminating text message Draco had sent him a couple weeks ago: Lucius, sitting like he’s posing for a photoshoot, wearing a flower crown with a beaming little Draco beside him. It’s cute. He’s pretty sure it was sent under the influence of alcohol—it had been the night of Blaise’s birthday—but Draco didn’t say anything the morning after, so Harry’s pretty sure he’s in the clear for keeping it.
“My family lives in the countryside,” Firenze replies. “There are many meadows there, and when my cousin visits, her favorite thing to do is to make everyone a flower crown.”
“You should take pictures next time,” suggests Harry.
“Perhaps we should take a trip of our own over the break,” says Regulus. “Make a picnic out of it.”
Firenze nods genially. “An exercise in team bonding.”
Harry hums. “Do any of the Regulars have allergies?”
“Pollen allergy?” asks Regulus. “No, I don’t think so. As far as food allergies go…ah, Lucius is allergic to nuts.”
Regulus nods along. “Yes. That’s why he never eats any of the chocolate he receives for Valentine’s Day.”
“Narcissa told me,” he adds. “Oh, he eats hers, of course, but it’s not worth the risk as far as strangers go.”
“Tom has a specific diet, doesn’t he?” asks Firenze. “He brings his meals from home.”
“I believe he has a mild lactose intolerance,” Regulus muses, “but I’m not quite sure. He hasn’t said anything about it, but that’s Tom for you.”
“Really?” Harry blurts out.
“I assume so. At the End of the Year party, there are always lactose intolerant options.” Regulus smiles. “Of course, there are also vegetarian dishes for Firenze.”
Harry hums thoughtfully and takes a sip of his milk tea, sitting back to listen to the conversation rather than take part. Even though he’s technically been a part of the team since the results of the pre-season’s ranking matches, there’s still a lot to learn about the other Regulars.
And Tom, lactose intolerant? It shouldn’t be as surprising as it is, but…well, it is. It certainly explains the black coffee and the lack of milk in his tea.
As they leave the shop and begin to part ways, Harry pauses.
“You know where Tom lives, right?”
Regulus nods. “In the same neighborhood as you, actually.”
“Could you point me in the right direction? I have something of his I need to return.”
Regulus blinks. “Of course, but…do you want me to come with you?”
Harry considers it, but he doesn’t really want to get into why he might have Tom’s jersey. By now, it smells like a mix of their scents, and though he knows Regulus probably wouldn’t pull a Sirius and tease him about it... It’d still make him uncomfortable, he decides.
“No, it’s alright,” he says. “Shouldn’t take too long.”
Bless Regulus’ understanding, because all he does is accept Harry’s answer at face value and give him some directions. It’s still light outside, so Harry bids Regulus farewell and pulls out his phone to guide him on his way.
Tom’s house is…big, to say the least. It’s two-story, much like Harry’s, but the slant of the roof is sharper and looks like something straight out of a Victorian novel. The security gate, on the other hand, is rather modern, and when Harry rings the doorbell, a voice answers him.
“My name is Harry Potter,” Harry replies. “Um, I’m here to see Tom. We’re on the same tennis team.”
There’s a pause, and then, the gates slowly open. Harry quickly makes his way up to the doorstep, where he waits again for a few seconds before someone opens the door.
It’s a servant. Perhaps the head butler; his head is nearly bald with thinning white hair, and his uniform is sharply pressed with an air of propriety. Harry can’t imagine him wearing anything less formal.
“Please come in,” he says. “Guests of the young master are always welcome.”
The Riddles are certainly an upright family; the air is devoid of any provocative or territorial scents, which—as Harry well knows—requires constant maintenance and vigilance on behalf of the household members. He and Sirius don’t take such cares, especially since no one else lives with them and they rarely have guests over. Maybe the Riddles do. Harry doesn’t know.
There are the usual trappings of wealth—a certain flair to the décor that Harry recognizes whenever he accompanies Sirius to an awkward family reunion, or even whenever he goes to visit Draco. But unlike the Malfoy fashioning, and more akin to the Blacks, the atmosphere of the house is rather dark. All the curtains are drawn closed, and even the wood finish reminds Harry of the coffee Tom totes around in his thermos every day.
Every piece of furniture must cost a fortune; the chandelier, he expects, might even be passed down like some sort of family heirloom.
However, as luxurious as the house is, there are no personal items as far as he can see. The walls are devoid of family photos—rather, there are landscape paintings centered on every wall, and even where there are desks, the tabletops are bare of any paper or sentimental artifact.
It’s beautiful—too much for Harry’s tastes, but beautiful.
And, he thinks, very lonely.
The servant moves off to the side. Quietly, a figure descends the staircase.
“You are a friend of my son?”
For a moment, Harry is struck dumb. There before him is the spitting image of Tom, aged twenty years or so older. The resemblance is so uncanny that Harry almost thinks he’s teleported forward in time—everything, even down to the perfectly coiffed hair swept to the side, is the same.
But they don’t share a voice, and they don’t share a scent, and that’s what snaps Harry out of it.
“Yes—uh, sir,” he manages, barely.
There’s only one person this could be: Tom’s father, the Tom Riddle Sr.
Harry stares. Riddle Sr. keeps one hand on the railing as he descends, but not, it seems, because he needs to. The way his fingers slide against the wood reminds Harry of how one might stroke a cat, indulgent in the sensation.
Another difference: Riddle Sr.’s eyes are brown, not blue.
“A pleasure to meet you then, Mr. Potter. I am Tom’s father—” he pauses, observing him in a way Harry finds distinctly familiar, “—as you must’ve already gleaned.”
Harry nods. He doesn’t really know what to say.
“My son does not often receive visitors,” Riddle Sr. continues. “Would you care for some tea?”
It seems rather rude to say no.
They adjourn to the sitting room. Riddle Sr. takes a seat, so Harry sets his tennis bag down and sits across from him. Before he can hardly blink, there’s a plate of biscuits and a tea set placed on the table. Harry stares.
“So,” Riddle Sr. says, raising his cup to his mouth, “What year of Hogwarts did you say you were in?”
“Um.” He didn’t say, actually. “Fifth.”
“Two years younger than Tom, are you? Not too large of a gap.”
“I’m lucky to have him as my upperclassman,” Harry quickly says. “He’s…very knowledgeable. Learned a lot from him.”
Riddle Sr. stares. “Have you now?” Harry’s halfway through a nod when he says, “Hm. Surprising.”
Harry chokes. It’s a good thing he hasn’t had any tea yet.
“I do know my son. He is not the most…pleasant of company,” says Riddle Sr. A faint sneer appears on his face. “But that is no fault of his. You are the son of Lily and James Potter?”
The subject change throws him off, but Harry does manage a, “Yes, I am.”
“Hm, my condolences.”
Harry shifts. It’s a little odd to hear those words so many years later, but as had been reflex all those years ago, he says, “Thank you.”
“Your guardian now is…?”
Ah. So he’s that type. Unsurprising, if he’s also acquaintances with Abraxas Malfoy. Now that he knows what Tom’s father is all about, Harry eases. Marginally.
“My godfather,” he says, matching Riddle Sr.’s stare for the first time this evening. “Sirius Black.”
Riddle Sr. is not so without manners that he shows a noticeable shift at the mention of the Black name, but the edge to his gaze does withdraw a little. However, much to Harry’s surprise, his next remark is, “Not Walburga, then. That’s just as well.”
At a loss of what to do next, Harry picks up a biscuit and nibbles it. He immediately fights the urge to grab the whole plate and smuggle it home in his tennis bag.
“Pardon me, sir, but…‘not Walburga’?”
It’s a statement Harry much relates to—Sirius’ mum is probably one of the most unpleasant women he’s ever had the displeasure to meet—but she’s old money, certainly, and usually respected among like-circles purely for that.
“Do you disagree, Mr. Potter?”
It sounds like a trick question. Harry eats another biscuit to save himself from replying.
Riddle Sr. chuckles. It’s a throaty sound, like it doesn’t happen often. “Then you can synthesize your own answer. I can assure you, at least, that whatever reason you come up with won’t be incorrect.”
The conversation pauses as tea is drunk and treats are had.
Finally, Riddle Sr. says, “My son is currently out right now, but he shouldn’t be long. Until he returns, I'll keep you company."
It's not even a question—like father like son, indeed. Harry grins a little despite himself.
At first, the small talk is somewhat awkward, but the longer the conversation goes, the more he realizes that Riddle Sr. isn't all too bad of a person. Mostly, he reminds him of Tom, with similar levels of dry wit and a marked interest in shenanigans where someone gets hurt.
Tom's father is nearly finished telling him about the time when a ten-year-old Tom staged a coup at the local tennis club when the front door bangs open.
Harry startles; Riddle Sr., on the other hand, lazily turns toward the parlor entrance and says, "Ah. It appears my son is home."
The butler who had welcomed Harry earlier doesn't even get the chance to announce Tom's arrival. Tom blows in like a storm, expression murderous and footsteps heavy with a thunderbolt's grace. It's so different than Harry's usual idea of an angry Tom that he has to do a double take.
"Welcome back," Riddle Sr. says, completely unperturbed.
Tom glares. If this is what their father-son relationship is usually like, Harry's surprised that Tom's father hasn't turned to stone yet.
Harry, who has long learned that awkward silence is by far the worst way to deal with Tom's moods, chimes in as well.
"Welcome back, Tom!"
It seems like a good idea at the time.
Tom squints at him. It's not a glare, per se; but his eyebrows furrow and some of the tension in his shoulders ease. He looks back and forth between his father and Harry, as if he can't decide whether the meeting is a miracle or a disaster.
Riddle Sr. continues. "I was just telling Harry about your time at the Little Hangleton Tennis Club—"
Tom, it appears, settles on disaster. He immediately sets his own tennis bag down and takes a seat right beside Harry. After pouring himself some tea, he looks his father in the eye and says, in a fine veneer of pleasantry, "Leave."
Riddle Sr. looks amused. "Oh? You aren't going to thank me for entertaining your friend? You left him waiting for quite a while, you know. He probably would've gone home otherwise."
Tom crosses his legs. "You and I have a very different definition of 'entertaining', old man."
"Hmm," Riddle Sr. says. He picks up a biscuit. Tom glares at him the entire time he spends eating it.
Harry thinks he's missing something, here.
But the moment passes, and Riddle Sr. stands. "Since you like them so much, I'll have someone bring a bag of these for you to take home, Harry. Send my regards to Mr. Black for me."
"Oh, um, sure, thank you. It was nice meeting you?" Harry glances at Tom out of the corner of his eye. He doesn't look any more pleased than he was before, but at least it hasn't gotten worse.
As if he knows what he's thinking, Riddle Sr. gives a small huff of amusement. "The pleasure was mine, I assure you. I'll leave you two to your business. Pardon my son's rudeness, in advance."
And just like that, Harry's left alone with Tom.
"He didn't say anything strange to you, did he?" Tom asks, now that they're alone.
"No," Harry says, thinking back. "Not really. Your dad's…nice."
Tom looks incredulous, and mildly constipated.
Harry laughs. "Well when you're expecting a Walburga Black and you get a Tom Riddle—"
Tom closes his eyes and squeezes the bridge of his nose. "Please don't compare me to him—actually, either of them."
Harry laughs again.
"Your great-aunt's a menace, but my father is—unpredictable."
"You…don't get along?" Harry asks, cautious.
Tom considers the question. Before he answers it, though, he stands up and extends a hand to Harry. "Come. I'll show you my room. It's not as frightening as the rest of the house, I assure you."
It isn't. Not really. While the picture frames are still absent, there is a bit more life here now that Harry's in Tom's personal quarters. He can recognize a few of the books he's seen Tom reading during break, and there's a shelf that looks reserved for all of Tom's trophies and awards.
The bed looks like it came out of a furniture magazine, but there's an adorable python plush lying on one of the pillows. Harry can't help but stare. It's so out of place, but it belongs there. Snakes are Tom's favorite animal.
Tom sets their tennis bags down at the foot of his bed. He motions, wordlessly allowing Harry full reign of his room. After a good hour of minding his posture and speech down below, Harry welcomes it. He takes full advantage of the offer and takes a seat on Tom's bed, crossing his legs. Then he picks up the python plush and sets it in his lap.
Tom gives him a look, then sighs. "…Are you laughing at me."
"It's cute," Harry assures. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." It's also very soft, and he can't help but cuddle it to his chest.
Tom huffs a laugh this time. He looks around before finally settling on the other side of the bed, lying down with his head on a pillow. Harry tries really hard not to stare. It's the first time he's seen him so relaxed.
"My father and I don't get along," Tom agrees, continuing their conversation from downstairs. "I was told during the first few years of my life, I lived with my mother. I don't remember her; I was too young when she died. After, I was put in an orphanage. I don't know who told him, but he found me there."
Harry hums. He places the plush toy between them, and after a moment, gingerly lies down as well, turning on his side to face Tom.
"He took me in," Tom says. "It would've reflected poorly on him, perhaps, if he didn't. Not long after, there was a fire in the manor we were originally living in. My grandmother—his mother—and the rest of the family died. We were the only two left. That's when we moved here."
Harry nudges closer. Tom tangles their hands together, lets them fall back on the plushie's soft fur.
"I think he resents me for being the other survivor," Tom reveals. His expression is deceptively nonchalant. "Maybe he thinks I was the one who started the fire—that I was bad luck. My grandmother certainly thought so when he first brought me back. She was a superstitious woman—absolutely horrid, like your great-aunt."
"Thank you for telling me," Harry says. He pauses. "Maybe it was just because I was a guest, but…he certainly didn't seem to hate you when he was talking to me." Riddle Sr. had sounded a bit like a proud parent, actually, as he detailed his son's misadventures.
Tom shrugs. "I did say he was unpredictable. Some days it doesn't seem like he can stand the sight of me at all—perhaps today was a good day, for him."
Harry doesn't think he has a right to comment on that any further, so he makes a vague sound of agreement and squeezes Tom's hand.
Their position right now…is a little inappropriate, actually. Harry, choosing to sit on Tom's bed, lying down—the only thing stopping his scent from getting everywhere is his suppressants, but he can certainly smell Tom. It's too intimate; not to mention touching here, but even just being in the place where Tom spends several hours a day in, where he doesn't care to manage his scent for polite company.
"Why did you stop by?" Tom asks, finally breaking the silence.
The reason seems so insignificant now. Harry flushes. "Oh, I came to return your jersey. I didn't have the chance to during practice, so…"
"Ah yes, I'd nearly forgotten about that. Thank you."
Neither of them move.
"I'm—I'm really glad we're friends now."
Tom sighs a little. Harry acutely feels the warmth of his palm, the width of his fingers laced with his. With every breath he takes, his senses are full of Tom—almost like he's scenting him, is how saturated the room is. It's a closeness he's never felt before: not between family, but between…something else. Something 'other'.
"I'm glad, too," Tom says. "You're a very forgiving person, Harry."
"Nn—? Oh, that. It's—well, I'm used to it, really. It's—that's sports, sometimes."
"Still," Tom insists. He turns to face Harry properly. "You shouldn't have to put up with that. And I—it was remiss of me to treat you that way."
"Yeah, well, I put you in your place, didn’t I?" Harry jokes. He reaches over with his other hand and taps Tom's nose. "Really, I'm glad we're okay now. And…I hope I can get along with everyone else, too."
Tom makes a sound at the back of his throat, but it's too soft to figure out whether it's in agreement or not.
Harry closes his eyes. Tom's bed is very soft.
"Let's play together."
"No," says Tom. "But at Regionals. Nationals. The finals—and—"
"And?" Harry breathes.
Oh. Harry swallows. He squeezes Tom's hand tight, hears the word but doesn't know what to say.
So he repeats it.
"Always," Harry confirms.
He can see it, distantly—a new court, a new racket, maybe an umpire, but the same Tom. Perhaps they're older, perhaps not; they'll surely play many more games in the future, and this could be any one of them. But each time, every time, whether Tom is across the court or beside him, he thinks the feeling of it won't change.
And he thinks, that feeling, he wants to protect it. He thinks, that feeling, I want it to grow. To learn more about Tom, to learn more about himself, to learn of all the things they could do together—wouldn't that be nice, he thinks, and I want that.
It's kind of like playing tennis, for the very first time.
"Yeah," Harry says. "Let's play together always."