Harry shows up with his all of his belongings bundled together in his arms. A threadbare grey blanket swaddling a spare set of clothes, a small, battered cardboard box, and a worn pair of shoes dangling by their laces. His glasses sit crooked on his face as he sets everything on top of his bed.
“Happy now, Riddle?” Harry asks wearily. He looks smaller in the cramped bedroom. Smaller than when they had sat side by side next to the water.
“Very much so,” replies Tom. “I’d be even happier if you told me the truth.”
Harry hangs his clothing up in the cupboard and deposits his shoes next to Tom’s. It’s a little sloppy, the clothes on the hangers. The shoes are sat crookedly, their laces undone. But as a whole it looks correct: their belongings next to each other.
“I haven’t lied,” Harry says, still evasive. He sits down on the bed opposite Tom.
“‘I hadn’t noticed’,” Tom repeats the words in a mockery of Harry’s sarcastic tone. “‘I’ve been a bit distracted by all your staring.’”
Harry shoots him a funny look, as though surprised Tom remembered. “So you haven’t been staring at me?”
Tom scowls, and Harry’s mouth twitches in suppressed mirth. “You, Evans, are the most frustrating, annoyingly dense person I have ever met.”
Shrugging, Harry rolls onto his back, staring at the ceiling. “Are you going to keep bothering me?”
“Yes,” Tom spits. Because Evans is interesting. Because Tom wants to know if his new roommate is like him—someone who the other children call ‘freak’. “And I will make you tell me if you don’t talk.”
Harry’s body tenses. He goes very still. And then Tom can see Harry’s hands flex and stiffen, not quite into fists, but nearly so. Maybe it’s the allusion to violence that sets him off. Maybe it’s simply Harry’s stubborn aversion to talking.
“How do you plan on doing that?” Harry asks, voice measured.
A thrill goes down Tom’s spine. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” he says.
“They say you’re a bully,” Harry counters, sitting up again. His eyes are wary now. Dark green like poison.
“And you let other people do your thinking for you?” Tom retorts, unimpressed.
Harry rolls his eyes, the line of his shoulders relaxing again as they exchange barbs. “You haven’t exactly been friendly. All the staring,” he adds pointedly, when Tom doesn’t respond right away.
“I like to know who I’m living with,” Tom says. “You don’t talk to anyone.”
“I’m talking to you,” says Harry.
Tom thinks this over. This is true, Harry has talked with him more than anyone else at Wool’s. And now they are roommates and Harry is still talking to him, albeit rudely. That soothes him, somewhat, that Harry acknowledges Tom is more important than the rest of the rabble.
“Are you going to hurt me?” Harry’s bluntness snaps Tom out of his preoccupations. Tom stares at him, as though staring will miraculously make the statement less ridiculous. What in God’s name is he supposed to say to that?
But is it ridiculous, really, when Tom knows he can hurt people if he wants to—Harry included? Some of the other children have gone telling on him, meaning Harry now knows that accidents befall those who disagree with Tom Riddle. But Harry doesn't seem afraid, and Tom is by far more interested in knowing why that is so than he is in tormenting Harry.
Harry sighs, running a hand through his tousled hair. “I just want an answer, Riddle.” The angry scar is there, a red lighting bolt etched into his forehead. Another aspect of Harry with a story behind it. Tom wonders if it ever hurts, if it ever burns. He wonders if Harry remembers getting it.
“I won’t,” Tom says defensively, not sure if he is lying or not. “I don’t have any reasons to.” Not yet.
“And me talking?” Harry presses, searching for—for what, Tom wasn’t sure. A truce of some kind? Harry isn’t scared of Tom, he’s made that quite clear. And Tom isn’t interested in hurting him, because there isn’t much point to it. He doesn’t want Harry as a subordinate, he wants Harry as… as an ally. Because Harry is like him. Tom had never imagined there could be someone like him, but the idea of it is suddenly intoxicating. All he can think about is how he can convince Harry to be more agreeable towards him, so that they can work together.
“We’ll get there,” Tom states evenly. “You’ll tell me what I want to know.”
Harry doesn’t answer, which is unsurprising. The smaller boy lies back down on the bed, pillowing his arms behind his head.
“They call me a freak,” Tom says calmly. “But I’m not, I know I’m not.” He watches Harry carefully for a response.
There is no movement, but Tom still has the sense that Harry is now listening attentively despite the contradictory expression on his face. Perhaps Harry feels it as well, feels the tenuous connection that's drawn Tom in. That sense of something greater lingering between them.
What’s wrong with you, Tom wants to ask. Is it what’s wrong with me, too. Can you do the things I can do?
“I know what it means to be called strange,” Tom continues gently, lowering his tone, drifting it away into a cadence he’d once heard used for storytelling. It sounds odd coming from his high, unbroken voice. “To be ignored by those who aren’t like us. I want to talk to you, Harry, because I feel like we’re the same, you and I. We’re not so different.”
“Maybe we’re alike,” Harry breathes, an admission against his own will and better instincts. “But we’re definitely not the same.”
Tom trails behind Harry like a constant, shadowy companion. For the most part, Harry bears it without complaint. He exchanges the boring pleasantries of a boring life—a ‘good morning’ upon waking, a ‘thank you’ when Tom holds a door for him, a 'good night' when the lights go out at the end of the day.
Notably, spending all his time examining Harry’s behaviour means that Tom also blends into the obscurity that Harry has wrapped around him. The other children maintain a wary distance, but no one seeks them out. Tom and Harry exist in their own detached pairing, the whispers of ‘freak’ following close behind.
There are times where Tom sees Harry gravitate towards him. It's like they are magnets. When they sit next to each other, Tom can lean one way and watch as Harry’s body matches the movement.
Out of a desire to keep his ability to converse with snakes a secret, Tom starts to avoid the snakes outside. Despite this effort, Tom seems to find Harry in those areas anyways. Lounging around in the same patches of grass that Tom's frequented with the garter snakes. If Harry knows anything about talking to snakes he keeps it to himself, much as he does with everything else. It gives Tom plenty of time to wonder.
Neither of them bring up the fire again, but in the sanctuary of their room Tom knocks things over without touching them and Harry says nothing. Weeks of this go by, however, and Tom is getting tired of waiting. Harry might be willing to make an exception in his solitude due to Tom’s relentless pursuit in disturbing it, but he remains obstinately close-mouthed.
“Come with me,” says Tom one morning, opening the doors of their shared cupboard to pull out a shirt.
Harry blinks and looks out the window. Daylight has just begun to creep through the curtains. “Where?”
“I’m going into London today.” Tom works his arms through the sleeves of his shirt and begins to meticulously do up the buttons. “You’re coming with me.”
“Why?” Harry asks, and Tom can already see him preparing to dig his heels in.
“Is my company really that deplorable?” Tom asks pointedly as he smooths his shirt down.
“Are you really incapable of going into London on your own?” Harry hits back, quirking his head to the side.
Tom sighs. “What will it take for us to be friends?” he asks bracingly. “I’ve tried to give you the space that you want. I’ve been polite...”
“You could start acting like less of a ponce to begin with,” Harry mutters, dropping his gaze. But he stands up, shoving his feet into his shoes as he does so. “‘Please’ is always nice.”
“Hm.” Tom sniffs, thinking it over. “Would you do me the favour of accompanying me into London,” he tries. It doesn’t come out sounding like a question.
“Why do you want us to be friends so badly?” Harry adds, like Tom hadn’t just done what he’d asked for.
Because you’re like me, Tom thinks. Because that makes you mine. But the thought is easier to conceptualize than it is to articulate for a nine year old boy. It is easy to have wants, to have cravings. Tom, who has spent his entire childhood convinced that he was alone in his uniqueness, is thrilled at the idea of companionship. He has not yet entirely embittered himself against the world.
“We could do great things together,” Tom says instead. “If you stopped resisting.”
“Things like murdering pets?” deadpans Harry, moving towards the cupboard. Tom steps aside, watching as Harry retrieves a shirt to wear. Harry hadn’t brought much with him when he’d moved in. Tom supposes any other shirts he’d had would have been burned up in the fire.
The shirt Harry tugs on is too big for him; it sits awkwardly on his skinny frame. The sleeves bunch up thickly around the elbows, and the torso hangs past where you’d expect it to normally stop.
“How old are you?” Tom asks, changing the subject again.
Harry glowers as he hurriedly tucks his shirt in. “I’m nine, like you are.”
Tom runs his gaze up and down Harry’s tiny, shirt-swaddled form dubiously. “You’re nine.”
“This jumper is just big,” Harry says sourly, rolling up his sleeves after he finishes dressing. “It’s not like we got to pick our second-hand clothing.” He brushes past Tom with deliberate carelessness, moving crossly towards the door. Then he wrenches the door open, shuffling through without looking back.
Tom, highly amused, follows behind him.
The weather outside borders on sweltering despite the fact that the sun has only been up for a short while. Tom and Harry pass through the brick-walled gate in silence, a small distance between them. The pavement feels steady and solid beneath their feet.
Harry walks with a quick, almost jumpy twitch in his step. Tom, by contrast, has the easy, confident gait of someone who knows where they're going. Tom likes wandering the streets without a set destination. Despite his impressive aspirations, Tom still finds comfort in the anonymity of being in a crowd. People don’t think much of little orphan boys, and there’s plenty of opportunity in that. Tom can sweet talk his way into a cone of ice cream if he wants to. It’s just a matter of finding the right target.
They pass by an empty lot next. Weeds and tall grass poke up around the edges of the barren concrete landscape. Tom watches with interest as a large beetle crawls along the stem of a dandelion. The beetle gleams blue and green in the bright summer light, which gives Tom an idea.
“We’re going to the zoo,” Tom says, like this has been the plan the entire time.
“Haven’t got any money,” Harry points out.
Tom shrugs, unconcerned. “I’ll get us in.”
The walk continues, the direction changing only slightly. The two boys make their way easily and without trouble, passing by glossy storefronts and harried customers. Tom’s determined, confident stride seems to give them some allowance of protection from nosy mothers and shopkeepers. If anyone asks, Tom will say that their mother has sent them out on a trip to the shops. This excuse works well enough when Tom is on his own, and he and Harry are similar enough in general terms of appearance that it ought to do the trick.
Harry trudges along, keeping pace with Tom’s longer legs. He doesn’t seem entirely enthused by the idea of the zoo.
“Have you been to the zoo before?” Tom asks politely.
“Once,” says Harry absently. His hands are stuffed into his trouser pockets. “I like the reptile house there.”
“Hmm.” Tom absorbs this new piece of information, thinking of the snake that had informed him of the fire that had brought Harry to Wool’s. Tom still wants the story behind the fire, the story he has strong suspicions of. But he wants Harry to confirm his intuition, wants the knowledge that Harry trusts him implicitly.
The summer heat seems to have driven a good number of families out—it looks to be a busy day at the zoo. Tom is pleased, because that makes the task of entering that much easier. Though it is not the proper time for a school field trip, there is a large group of children, perhaps from a daycare of some kind, gathered by the zoo gate. The children are noisy, chattering loudly amongst themselves as the adults attempt to maintain a semblance of order.
Tom sees Harry’s questioning glance out of the corner of his eye. Tom quirks his brow in response, then walks forwards. Harry catches on enough to fall into step next to him.
He and Harry cling to the very edge of the grouping of children, shuffling past the gate with their heads tucked down. The ticket taker, overwhelmed by the lines and the crowd, lets them by without any fuss.
They slip away just as easily as they’d slipped in, detaching themselves from the group of children, Tom’s heart beating a little faster in his chest at his success. Unthinkingly, he reaches out and grasps Harry’s hand, and then he’s dragging Harry through the crowd, careful not to lose hold of Harry's smaller hand. Stumbling slightly, Harry follows, disgruntled. Tom drags them off to the side where there is space to stand.
Harry yanks his hand back almost immediately. Tom frowns at that.
“I got us in,” says Tom, wondering if Harry will thank him. “Like I said I would.”
“Mhmm,” says Harry, his eyes wandering over the crowd.
“We can go look at the reptile house,” Tom adds generously. “And see the snakes.”
Still frowning, Tom takes Harry by the arm and leads him towards the reptile house. There are fewer children here, likely because they prefer the soft, warm-blooded creatures. Furry, well-known animals like bears and lions. Tom walks over to where a large boa constrictor sits behind a thick glass panel.
Both Harry and Tom move in closer to peer into the containment. The snake sits in large coils piled up atop a wide, flat rock. It appears to be sleeping.
“He was here last time, too,” says Harry. He readjusts the glasses on his face, a habitual motion.
Tom doesn’t respond, merely places a hand against the cool glass panel. The lights behind them are strong enough that Tom can see himself and Harry reflected in the clear surface—pale and insubstantial like phantoms. Harry is fixated on the snake, watching the slow motions of its body as it breathes quietly.
“Do you think he has a family somewhere?” Harry asks suddenly, looking up and therefore directly at Tom.
“I would suppose so.” Tom shrugs. Then he looks around, because there must be one of those signs with information on it. “There,” he points. “Bred in captivity.”
“Oh,” is all Harry says, then he goes quiet again.
They stand there for a few moments, Tom watching Harry watch the snake. Harry's nose is mere inches from the glass. Then the snake wakes up, lifting its head up minutely to examine its new visitors.
“Greetingss,” says Tom.
There is a pause that stretches on for long, long moments while the snake stares at them. Tom can hear the absence of sound that means Harry is holding his breath. The boa constrictor slowly slithers towards them. Its scales shimmer almost imperceptibly as it approaches the barrier. Once it reaches the glass it raises its head fully, looking from Tom to Harry in turn.
“Greetingss younglingss,” says the boa constrictor.
“Thiss iss Harry,” Tom says.
The snake bobs its head once in Harry’s direction, its tongue flickering. “I remember thiss one.”
That's right. Harry said he'd been here before, in the reptile house. Perhaps he'd even been talking to snakes. A quick look sideways reveals that Harry’s eyes are wider than usual. Tom can see Harry is struggling for composure, and he hopes that this means Harry will soon give in to him.
Tom tilts his head. “You’ve met?” he asks.
Harry shrugs as he jerks his gaze from the snake and back to Tom, attempting at nonchalance.
Tom can barely contain the accusations building inside of him; he has to stop himself from shaking Harry, from trying to force him to admit that he's special, too. He doesn’t understand why Harry is trying to deny this essential part of himself. We are better, Tom thinks proudly. We are something more.
"Will you please say something?" Tom asks, hopeful that the word ‘please’ will encourage a more agreeable response.
But Harry shrugs again, and this time Tom can't stop himself from grabbing Harry's arm and squeezing tight. Not enough to harm or bruise, but enough to intimidate. Tom wants to hear the truth, the truth that he knows with such certainty that he'd stake his life on it.
“Just say something, anything,” Tom whispers fiercely, his restraint falling away. “I know you can, I know you don’t want to. But, please, Harry, aren’t you tired of being alone?”
Harry flinches as though struck. His lips part slightly, like he wants to speak but isn’t able to. Like he is hovering on the edge of accepting the friendship that Tom is offering him. Harry wants to say no; he knows he ought to refuse. Tom is not all he seems to be, and Harry still thinks ‘predator’ when he looks into Tom’s eager, hungry eyes.
But Harry remains soft hearted in ways that Tom is not—he craves emotional connection in a way Tom doesn’t understand. And so he decides—
“I am ssorry they put you back in here,” Harry says to the snake, resigned, but he’s looking at Tom as he speaks, the soft hissing sounds pitched so that only Tom and the boa constrictor can hear them.
Something unfurls in Tom. A feeling like relief spreads through him at Harry’s acceptance. Tom straightens, smiling widely at Harry. “Very good,” he praises.
More children wander over, then, bringing their parents with them. So Tom and Harry bid farewell to the constrictor and move on to the next exhibit. Harry doesn’t say much more, but a triumphant half-smile lingers on Tom’s face for the rest of the day.