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Not a Good Man, But a Great One

Chapter Text

October 31st, 1981

The Potter Cottage, Godric’s Hollow

 

There is a place called Godric’s Hollow where James Potter and Lily Potter died. Lord Voldemort entered their home on October 31st and murdered them in cold blood before turning his wand on their one-year-old son, Harry James Potter. 

 

Harry Potter stands up in his crib, the memory of green lights dancing behind his eyes. He is crying because the lights hurt his eyes and he wants his mother. There are ancient magicks in the air, lingering and heavy with the recent loss of Lily Potter’s life. But there are magicks older than murder and older than death. There is life and love in those pairs of brilliant green eyes, those two eyes empty and those two eyes full. There is a half-blood boy who is loved by his parents.

 

Tom Riddle looks down the length of his yew wand at the orphan in front of him and draws upon every ounce of hate he possesses. The pull of emotion is mechanical, effortless. Hate rises to the surface and gasps for breath—

 

Avada kedavra.”

 

The jet of green light glances off of Harry Potter’s forehead and strikes Lord Voldemort in the heart, tearing his damaged soul in two. The agony is unimaginable. You will not read this in any ancient tomes, or ask this of any ghosts that haunt the earth, but you will now know that the death of the deathless feels like an eternity spent alone.

 

Two inky-black wraiths linger in the air, so close together as to be nearly indistinguishable from each other. Not even a millisecond of time has passed since the Killing Curse was uttered. Harry’s forehead is bleeding and Tom Riddle’s body has burned to ashes. Of the three beings in the room, only one is breathing.

 

The large wraith shakes itself as though in horror, hovering above the body of the woman who gave her life to save her son. It escapes past the window into the chill October air, never looking back. The suffocating darkness in the room begins to fade.

 

Now left alone, the small scrap of soul that has detached itself from the whole slips across the open air. Faster than a blink, it flees straight through the lightning-shaped opening in Harry Potter’s head, searching for that feeling of wholeness and completeness. The infant is knocked back onto its bottom. The soul piece latches on greedily, a parasite twisting the up against the innocent. It relishes in the feeling of possession and belonging. The boy belongs to it, and it belongs to the boy.

 

But being attached to Harry Potter’s soul is not enough.

 

The scrap of soul squirms, absorbing and feeling as it acclimates to its new host. It is not used to feeling. The whole of it that used to be does not remember feeling. There is a little boy flying on a toy broomstick there is a little boy eating a birthday cake there is a little boy laughing and smiling there is a little boy playing with a shaggy black dog there is a little boy staring at brilliant green eyes there is a little boy who is loved there is a family—

 

The soul piece wants. It wants so badly to be Harry Potter. It wants to wind back the hours and the days and the months and relive the memories of the boy-who-lived forever.

 

There is movement and noise and people, but the Horcrux is heavily focused on itself. It diverts all extra magical and mental energy to its own thought processes. The boy’s soul is strong, but malleable. The scrap of soul feeds easily on the power source lingering in the boy, in the boy’s connection to his dead mother. Her body is cooling, but her magic lingers.

 

Eventually, the physical form of the boy, Harry, is gathered into a swaddling bundle dampened with tears and lifted away. The night air is cool and brisk against the scar tissue on the forehead, but the rest of the body is warm, held close in an embrace.

 

Tom Riddle never had a family. With time, he convinced himself he didn’t need one. With the creation of the diary horcrux, he had decided his own destiny. He had known with the certainty of his own existence that he would never want or need to feel whole again.

 

The bundle of the boy is placed into a poorly-Transfigured wicker basket, and then they are once again moving at a good pace through the world around them.

 

The sky is lit with millions of stars. The moon is high and there are few clouds to cover it. The frenzied thoughts of the soul scrap go quiet. It is pensive now. Reminiscing. It is reminded of nights spent in the Astronomy tower. Nights spent at its once and only home.

 

Was it possible to call Hogwarts home, to love it even with the absence of the people in it? Home was a foreign concept applied to the only place where Tom Riddle had felt like he finally belonged. Hogwarts was his birthright. Magic was his, and the magic that belonged to him could never be taken away. This was the fact he knew to be true above any other.

 

Deeply and truly, there are magicks older than death and older than time.

 

All across Britain, wizards and witches alike take up the cry: “To Harry Potter—the boy-who-lived!” They have long waited for these golden years of peace that James, Lily, and Harry will never get to see.

 

But before there was time, there was light. There was beginning.

 

Harry Potter’s mutilated soul reaches across the expanse of fifty-four years and screams.

 


 

December 31st, 1926

Wool’s Orphanage, London

 

Merope Gaunt delivers her newborn child into poverty and obscurity. The boy enters the world the same way his mother departs it: alone.

 

This part of the story always remains the same, untouched by the hands of time, unmoved by fate herself. Tom Riddle was only ever destined for greatness, and this greatness would never include family.

 

Tom Marvolo Riddle is left with nothing but his father’s name and the cold bite of the winter air in place of the warm touch of his mother.

 


 

October 31st, 1927

???????, London

 

Nearly a year later, a wicker basket appears on a front step. The woman who opens the door retrieves a parchment letter and a small, raven-haired infant.

 

The letter begins something like this:

 

Dear Mrs. Petunia Dursley nee Evans,

I am afraid I bear terrible news of your sister and her husband…

Chapter Text

April 1936

 

Tom Riddle is nine years old and he can talk to snakes. Not only does he talk to snakes, but the snakes talk back. Tom can tell the snakes to eavesdrop and to bite and to slither away.

 

He hasn’t yet told any snakes to go about biting, but he figures it’s only a matter of time until he does. The other children (others and others and others) waver between fear and hatred of him. Sooner or later it will become necessary.

 

At some level, Tom is aware that the other orphans harbour a dislike for him because he is difficult and different.

 

He is unapologetic. He seeks to be who he is.

 

And so he must be one of two things, for there exist only two sides in the minds of children: good and evil. Since they don’t like him, they of course assume the latter.

 

Good and evil are such vague, abstract concepts. Who defines them? Not in the simple sense of committing a crime or enacting a betrayal, but in the grand, overarching complexity of life, who cast the final judgement? The children at Wool’s would tell you it was God’s word. Tom would tell you that a man could only define his own actions by his own judgement, and did this one fact not hold the same for everybody?

 

It was merely the judiciousness of many against the prudence of few. Tom lives and breathes by his own perceptions. How can he do otherwise, when he is constantly shunned and outcast by his inferiors?

 

Tom doesn’t pretend to be evil. Most of the time he pretends to be good. Neither much appeals to him more than the other. Tom reads fairy tales with his brow creased in resentment. He watches games of make believe unfold in the hearts of the other orphans.

 

That is not to say that Tom doesn’t have imagination or dreams of his own. But his dreams stay in his head. The head is really the source of all dreams, isn’t it? That’s where it counts the most, to have such thoughts. To nurture them in the place where they can someday become reality.

 

So nine-year-old Tom spends a lot of time pretending to sleep in his cot, visions of grandeur dancing across his eyelids. There are some dreams that only the truly downtrodden can hope to imagine.

 

But Tom knows differently, he knows that while the things in fairy tales will never come true for the other children, some of them may come true for him. Conversing with snakes is a rather blunt example of evidence, but it works.

 

A little piece of fairy tale resides in him, somewhere, making him special.

 

Sometimes he imagines racing down the streets. His companions, the snakes, follow at his heels. His destination changes as the scenarios he imagines rewrite themselves. He could rule over a lot of people. Everyone he knows is afraid of snakes. Mrs. Cole, in particular, hates them.

 

They’d all have to listen to him, if he was powerful enough. He could wear fine clothes and have people call him Lord. He could point fingers and have people bow down to him. And if they didn’t, if they didn’t

 


 

One spring day in the middle of April, Tom finds himself sitting outside in the grass and talking to a snake. The grass is not quite damp, not quite dry. The morning dew has yet to vanish entirely. Tom can feel the tickle of each blade of grass against his bare forearms. His shirtsleeves are rolled up just past the elbow. The snake he is talking to is a plain garter snake; it boasts no particular intelligence or notable markings.

 

All of the snakes he has encountered call him ‘speaker’. The snakes tell him they have tales of other speakers, myths and legends of those who converse with them, but Tom is the only one they have ever met personally.

 

Tom thinks that he must be the last speaker to walk the earth. When he speaks to snakes, he is speaking on behalf of all of mankind. It is the imaginary stuff of men who belong madhouses. But Tom, brilliant and special, knows it must be more.

 

There wasss a great fire. Many flamesss and ssscreamsss. I hear thisss. I hear of ashesss.

 

Tom considers the snake for a moment. “Wasss it a dwelling of importance?

 

There were great screamsss,” the snake repeats. Tom resists the urge to snap at it. The network of snakes that bring him news aren’t greatly intelligent. Things that snakes find interesting differ widely from what Tom finds valuable. Rarely does he come across the right sort of snake, the type that is capable of complex instructions. This snake, this ordinary garter snake, raises its head slightly, as though to better gauge Tom’s reaction.

 

The dwelling isss gone,” the snake finally says. “The hatchlingsss are dead or fled. The guardian isss dead.

 

A house fire, then. He strokes a finger down the head and neck of the snake. It seems to enjoy the sensation of being petted. Tom marks the event as wholly uninteresting, and returns to his own internal musings. The cool spring breeze ruffles at his hair like a cat licking itself. There is no one else in his immediate vicinity.

 

The other children had long since decided to give Tom a wide berth whenever they went outside. He thinks that the berth isn’t nearly wide enough. He can still hear them. Not their whispers, no—that kind of behaviour he already dealt with long ago. But there’s something in the air around the children when Tom looks their way. It is more than simple dislike. An adult would have described it as terror.

 

But Tom can smile and play a role as well as any full grown man. Unfortunately, this type of behaviour isn’t endearing in a young boy. This isn’t the type of behaviour potential parents want to see—it’s disturbing, the way Tom Riddle acts. It’s abnormal.

 

The snake eventually lowers its head back into the grass, and Tom dismisses it with a goodbye. Tom stands up and brushes himself clean of any lingering dirt. He walks back inside, the snake following the line of his small shoulders as he moves with the grace and poise of a boy twice his age. It is nearly supper time, and it wouldn’t do to be late. The children he encounters on his way in drop their gazes as he approaches. Tom ignores them.

 

Tom hates the orphanage. He feels as though he’s being pushed down, shoved down into a place he doesn’t want to be. He longs to break free.

 


 

Tom rolls a glass marble between his thumb and forefinger. There’s a small cloth bag with a drawstring in Tom’s other hand. He is lying on his back, staring at the ceiling of the room he shares with Billy Stubbs. His roommate spends an awful lot of time trying to sneak off and hide in other people’s rooms. Tom plans to do something about that, eventually. It would be nicer to have his own room.

 

The glass is warm against the pads of his fingers. With a sharp twist of his hand, he flicks the marble into the air. Tom watches the trajectory of the glass as speeds up, peaks, then begins its descent.

 

Then, like pulling a lever down in his head, the marble slows. The air around it becomes molasses, thick and heavy. The marble parks itself in midair like a stalled vehicle. Tom crooks his finger at it; the marble begins to rotate in place.

 

He keeps it there, watching it slowly spin on an invisible axis. The sunlight glints off the surface, catching the colours and setting them on fire. The marble is burning with intensity, with potential.

 

This is power. This is only the beginning of what he wants to do, of who he plans to become.

 

The marble spins and spins—he imagines it shattering. The glass smashing itself into a thousand tiny shards where it floats in the air. He wishes it with all the force he can muster. He wants the glass crushed, he wants to see the shower of glass sand on his bedding as he demolishes the marble. Wants to feel the marble disintegrate under the weight of his will.

 

Nothing happens, and the glass drops to the floor with a hard cracking sound.

 

Upon retrieval, the glass marble reveals a chipped, imperfect surface. Scarred from its impact on the floor, it is now duller, less vibrant than it had been. Tom scowls at the ceiling, falling back down onto the bed.

 

He knows he is special. He is only waiting for the chance to prove it. The chance will come and he will be ready for it. Tom has learned not to wait for parents, for saviours. There is no one to protect you from your own weakness except yourself.

 


 

There was an accidental fire at another orphanage. That was the story passed around at breakfast, from mouth to ear, a ripple across the ocean. Flames of gossip spreading across the crowd. The hushed whisper that reached Tom’s ears as a new group of brats were led into the dining hall.

 

Tom is annoyed. There was barely enough to go around as it was. Not to mention there was going to be another upheaval to the orphanage power structure with these new additions. Although, he thinks to himself as he looks appraisingly over the short little line of boys, these additions did not look to be much of a threat. One of them—the shortest, scruffiest looking one—wears a rather mullish look on his face. Dull, worn down.

 

The new boys slide obediently into the chairs pointed out to them, docile like sheep, and Tom allows himself to relax. No trouble, he thinks. No trouble at all.

 

Their matron asks their oldest boy to welcome the new young ones. Tom watches with satisfaction as the older boy’s eyes flicker to Tom in apprehension. But Tom nods imperiously, and the boy proceeds with introductions.

 

Tom exudes charisma and power, even seated on an unbalanced wooden stool. There should be no doubt as to who holds the strings of the orphanage, the threads of its fate clenched tight in his fist. Tom even offers the runt of the litter a reassuring smile. The dark-haired boy stares back at him, emerald-green eyes glassy in the poor lighting of the dining hall.

 

The other new orphans give the smallest boy a bubble of space, their eyes shifting this way and that under the weight of the attention from the matron and her helpers. Whether this is the result of dislike is not immediately apparent. Tom doesn’t like the familiarity of that gap, that gap which resembles the gap between himself and the children of Wool’s.

 

This is irritating. He, Tom, should be acknowledged; this is his territory and all the children will fall in line behind him and him alone. The introduction of these new, unknown children was disconcerting. Tom didn’t like these unprecedented additions to his environment. The unpredictable left room for error, it left him feeling exposed.

 

Tom catches the eye of the youngest boy again. Green eyes blink balefully back at Tom for merely a moment before the child drops his gaze to the table. This submissive action makes Tom’s lip curl, though he is not sure why. The sense of strangeness tugs on his consciousness like a demanding child, and Tom shakes the thought away.

 


 

Days pass into weeks, and none of the new additions cause trouble. They are a group of weaklings, Tom thinks disgustedly. A witless lot of brats who do nothing but take up space and resources. A few of them wake repeatedly from nightmares, their cries echoing down the halls of the living spaces. They flinch at matches and avoid the oil lamps. They never sit close to the fireplace. They are shadowy shapes made of ashes rather than human flesh and bone.

 

The smallest boy, Harry Evans, keeps mostly to himself. He does not speak to anyone except Mrs. Cole and her helpers. He does not cry, does not complain. It is never his voice that Tom hears wailing into the night. But Evans wears dark circles under his eyes. He has a pallid complexion and prominent cheekbones that look odd for a boy so young. Tom takes to watching him, and whenever Evans catches the gaze he jerks away as though stung, as though he can’t bear anything more substantial than a glance.

 

What Tom doesn’t know is that Harry Evans is someone who has learned how to survive. Harry has seen the cruelty the world offers the luckless, and he has warped himself to bear it. Harry Evans recognizes bullies and predators, and so he knows when to keep his head down. He wants nothing more than to be ordinary and unnoticed. Attention has only ever wrought him pain.

 

Tom sees a strange, dark-haired boy who avoids people so violently that the rest of Wool’s orphans have difficulties remembering his name. Evans blends into walls and sinks into solitude. He is bland and forgettable. It’s a wonder anyone even remembers to feed him. Tom sees Harry Evans and his instincts scream danger.

 

All this, and Tom has not yet exchanged a single word with the boy.

 

Careful prodding of the children from the other orphanage reveals nothing but reluctance. All of their previous caretakers were dead. A number of the other children who had lived with them were dead. No one wanted to say anything beyond that, as though their tongues were held hostage. Tom cajoles and threatens in equal measures, but his efforts are for naught. He grows frustrated at this lack of information, but there are no other avenues to pursue. No avenues other than Harry himself.

 

Tom stares at Harry during mealtimes, trying to puzzle him out. Harry alternates between looking and not-looking. Periodically checking to see if he still held Tom’s attention, perhaps.

 

The puzzle grows like a hedge maze in Tom’s mind: wild and unkempt, full of obscure secrets. At the center of the maze lies the answer, the explanation behind the mask. Because children—normal children, ordinary children—do not act like Evans acts.

 

Tom has long since separated people into two categories: himself, and then others (who were not like him). This clear division had been the pedestal upon which Tom had rested his laurels. He was different, he was special.

 

Now forced to confront the fact that perhaps he was no longer the only one in his own category, Tom was shaken, though he wouldn’t admit that. He couldn’t place the similarities, exactly. But he could recognize that hint of likeness. It was fine, Tom told himself. All would, as was often said, come to light eventually.

 


 

May 1936

 

This year’s trip to the seaside is a bore. Tom would rather spend his time running the streets of London, finding and learning interesting things. The other children skip rocks across the water, collect a multitude of seashells, and make large, misshapen mounds out of sand.

 

“Hello Harry,” Tom says kindly.

 

The boy looks up with his curious green eyes. Evans is seated on a large chunk of rock facing the sea. His dark hair, typically in disarray, is finally at home amongst the wild nautical winds.

 

“May I join you?” Tom adds, when Harry doesn’t respond.

 

Harry shuffles over on the rock, leaving plenty of space for Tom to settle next to him. They stay like that, listening to the bird calls and the shrieking of children playing by the water’s edge.

 

Tom wants a reaction, a response. He is reluctant to break the silence, to give over that final shred of control. He had made a few subtle overtures over the course of the week, trying to lure Evans into conversation. None of it had worked, and Tom had forced himself to admit he would have to grudgingly utilize a more direct approach.

 

“The other children avoid you.”

 

That elicits a reaction. Finally, Harry turns his head, his mouth pressed in a thin line. Tom drinks in those bright green eyes, entranced.

 

Harry licks his lips. “Do they?”

 

“They do,” said Tom.

 

“I hadn’t noticed,” Harry says blandly. “I’ve been a bit distracted by all your staring.”

 

Tom’s hands clench, but he refrains from scowling. He won’t allow Harry to get a rise out of him that easily. “What happened at the other orphanage?” he demands. “No one says anything.”

 

Harry fixes him with a rather unnerving stare for a child. Not many children have the proper experience to back the kind of force a look like that requires. “There was a fire,” Harry says, like Tom is slow, then resumes looking away.

 

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

 

Silence. Tom wants to strangle Evans, he really does. The two boys sit there, the sea lapping gently against the edge of the rock.

 

The breeze picks up after a while, dropping the temperature slightly. Harry pulls up his legs, wrapping his jumper-clad arms around his knobby knees. He reminds Tom of a feral cat, what with his wild hair and his skinny, lanky form that seems to curl in on itself.

 

“I’ll find out eventually,” Tom tries.

 

The other boy smiles at that. He looks younger when he does so, more peaceful. The wind ruffles Harry’s bangs across his forehead, just enough so Tom can see the small, jagged scar hiding there.

 

“Will you?” Harry asks challengingly.

 

Tom feels his conviction settle deep in his gut. “I will,” he breathes darkly, and it’s a promise.

 


 

Upon returning from the seaside, Tom strangled Billy Stubbs’ pet rabbit and hung it from the rafters.

 

Its body dangled from the rope knotted loosely around its neck, blood trickling through its fur and onto the floor below. The rabbit’s eyes were a gory pulp, somehow crushed within their respective eye sockets. Those round, wide eyes had once been glossy and clear, like marbles. Now they were lifeless.

 

Tom’s hands and fingernails are neatly trimmed and spotless, not a single hint of blood lingering on them. He’d scrubbed them raw in the lavatory and watched the dried flecks of red spiral down the drain. Tom doesn’t fully grasp the concept of not rushing into things. His mind sees the path between his desires and reality; it bridges the gap without too much thought to the consequences. He’s still too young, full of petulance and brimming with confidence.

 

No one says a word about who might have committed the crime. No one wants to think about it. Billy is too afraid to even cry in Tom’s presence.

 

Mrs. Cole drinks heavily that night, and the next day Tom gets a new roommate.

Chapter Text

June 1936

 

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 all at once and 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 were roommates and Harry was 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 was he supposed to say to that?

 

But was it ridiculous, really, when Tom knew he could hurt people if he wanted to—Harry included? Some of the others had gone telling on him, according to Harry. He would know that accidents befell those who disagreed with Tom.

 

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 Evans as… as an ally. Because Harry Evans is like him. Tom had never imagined there could be someone like him.

 

“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 carefully for a response.

 

There is no movement, but Tom has the sense that Harry is now listening attentively, despite the contradictory expression on his face. Perhaps Harry feels it too, that tenuous connection that draws Tom in. That sense of something greater lingering.

 

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 voice, drifting 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.”

 


 

July 1936

 

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.

 

Notably, spending all his time examining Harry’s behaviour means that Tom also blends more 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, like they are magnets. When they sit next to each other and Tom leans one way, Harry’s own body matches the movement. Tom avoids the snakes outside out of a desire to keep the secret from Harry, but he seems to find Harry in those areas anyways. If Harry knows anything about snakes, he keeps it to himself, much as he does with everything else.

 

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. But Tom is getting tired of waiting. Harry might have been willing to make an exception in his solitude for Tom, only in the face of Tom’s relentless pursuit, 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 he is going. He likes wandering the streets without a set destination. Despite his impressive aspirations, Tom finds there’s comfort in the anonymity of 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.  In fact, it gives him 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, he 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 once more of the snake that had informed Tom of the fire that had brought Harry to Wool’s. That fire had brought Harry to him. He still wants the story behind it, the story he has strong suspicions of. But he wants Harry to confirm it, wants the knowledge that Harry trusts him implicitly.

 

It is not the proper time for a school field trip, but there is a large group of children, perhaps a daycare of some kind, gathered by the zoo gate when Tom and Harry arrive. The children are noisy, chattering loudly amongst themselves as the adults attempt to maintain a semblance of order. The summer heat seems to have driven a good number of families out as well. It looks to be a busy day at the zoo. Tom is pleased, because that makes the task of entering that much easier.

 

He catches Harry’s quick, questioning glance out of the corner of his eye. Tom quirks his brow in response, but Harry catches on enough to fall into step next to Tom. He and Harry cling to the very edge of the grouping, 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 as he grasps Harry’s hand. He’s dragging the boy through the crowd, careful not to lose his hold of the smaller hand. Harry follows, disgruntled. Tom drags them off to the side where there is a small 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.”

 

“Okay.”

 

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 both he and Harry reflected on 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 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, the smaller boy’s nose 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. Next to him, Tom can hear Harry holding his breath. The boa constrictor slowly slithers towards them. Its scales shimmer almost imperceptibly as it approaches the barrier. 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 was right. Harry said he had been here before. Harry’s eyes are wider than usual, and Tom can see he is struggling for composure.

 

Tom tilts his head as he regards Harry. “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 it, 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.

 

“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. He is afraid of this, of admitting. He is hovering on the edge of accepting the friendship that Tom is offering him. He 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 at 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.

 

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.

 

Chapter Text

 

September - October 1936

 

The rest of summer goes by quickly. The warm weather turns dreary and damp, leaving Harry and Tom indoors more often than not. Tom doesn’t mind the rain much, but water tends to damage their already limited clothing options, and Mrs. Cole hates the dirt and muck that gets tracked inside.

 

September slips them into the beginning of the school year, and so Tom passes the time as much as he can with classes, trying to alleviate his constant boredom. And, when school inevitably begins to drag, he shifts his focus to Harry instead. Harry is a quick study, but his educational rankings leave something to be desired.

 

The two of them huddle over books and sheets of paper together as Tom goes over the material with him. Harry is obstinate at times, but Tom cajoles and wheedles until he gets what he wants. The teachers remark on what a good influence Tom is, and Tom smiles neatly in return.

 

The world is both smaller and bigger with Harry in it. Tom finds he cares less about the other orphans, that he has little incentive to waste his time terrorizing them for his own entertainment. For one, Harry doesn’t like it. For another, it’s time Tom can spend on more interesting projects, like trying to pulverize glass marbles in the privacy of their room. Harry never engages in these activities—merely watches, riveted, as Tom practices the impossible. Tom enjoys the audience, the opportunity to show off without fear of being shunted off to an asylum.

 

The unobtrusive company Harry provides is calming, Tom decides, and congratulates himself on the decision to make Harry his roommate. It’s easier to think when Harry is in the room with him, it’s easier to do things like shut the cupboard door simply by looking at it.

 

And so the month of September flies by, melting into October without much fuss. Harry’s birthday falls on the end of October—on Halloween. But this isn’t the correct date, according to Harry.

 

They are seated on Harry’s bed as Harry retrieves his shoddy cardboard box from the cupboard. Tom’s caught glimpses of the inside a few times, but he hadn’t thought Harry would take to kindly to any snooping, so he’d left it alone.

 

“Halloween was when they found me,” Harry explains, lifting up the lid of the box. “Outside on the doorstep.” He pulls out a faded blue child’s blanket with a clear ‘H’ embroidered in the corner, holding it up for Tom’s inspection. Tom gently traces a finger over the crimson letter, then gestures for Harry to continue, but Harry tucks the blanket away into a cardboard box and says nothing further.

 

“My mother died giving birth to me,” Tom says plainly into the silence. “Mrs. Cole said that she named me after my father, but no relatives came looking for her or me.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Harry says genuinely. “Maybe your other relatives didn’t know your mother was pregnant?”

 

“It’s fine.” Tom waves the concern off briskly. “I am certain I will find the truth someday.”

 

“Did your mother leave you anything to remember her by?” Harry asks softly.

 

“No,” Tom says flatly, and his tone does not invite further discussion on the topic. He carefully toes off his shoes and lies back on the bed. After a moment, Harry follows suit. Their arms are pressed against each other, only slightly. Tom can hear Harry’s gentle breathing. Sometimes, after too much exertion, Harry’s lungs kick up a protest in the form of wheezing. Tom attributes it to smoke damage from the fire.

 

“Do you think we’re related?” asks Harry.

 

Pause. “Why do you think that?”

 

“Because we can both—you know,” Harry says evasively. “And you think we’re the same, anyways.”

 

“Because we are the same, and that’s obvious.” Tom crosses his arms and stares petulantly at the ceiling, thinking it over. “That has nothing to do with being related, and it’s not why we’ll stay together.”

 

Harry goes quiet for so long that Tom begins to wonder if the smaller boy has fallen asleep. But Harry is prone to long periods of silence when it suits him, so Tom doesn’t think it so strange anymore. Tom talks enough for the both of them, and Harry usually responds when Tom asks him questions. It’s familiar, this new companionship, like they had a good measure of each other even before Tom had forced his way into Harry’s life. Even if Harry is too kind, too soft, Tom finds he doesn’t mind it too much. He is sharp enough for the both of them.

 

“Tom?”

 

“Yes?” Tom asks patiently.

 

Harry hesitates before he speaks again: “Do you think our parents were like us?”

 

Tom smiles. He likes hearing Harry say ‘us’ aloud—it’s proof that Harry also groups the two of them together. The question, however, requires a bit of thought before answering. “If my mother was like us, she wouldn’t have died,” Tom says confidently, rolling onto his side so he can look at Harry properly. “So if either of my parents were, it must have been my father.”

 

“That makes sense,” Harry says. His green eyes are staring blankly at the ceiling, caught up in some distant contemplation.

 

“It is a shame that you don’t know more about your parents,” Tom says sympathetically. “But I will help you find that out someday, too. A birthday present from me to you.” Him and Harry are both abandoned boys. Even if Tom never finds his father or Harry’s parents, they'll still survive.

 

Harry squirms slightly on the bed, bumping elbows with Tom in the process. “Okay, Tom.”

 

“We’ll be safe if we stay together,” Tom promises. “And I will never leave you behind.”

 


 

December 31st, 1936

 

Tom wakes up to Harry leaning over his bed, the smaller boy’s hands shaking his arm. “Happy birthday, Tom,” Harry says, too loudly.

 

“Good morning to you, too,” Tom grumbles, but he allows Harry to tug him into a sitting position.

 

Harry’s smiling face comes into focus as Tom rubs the sleep from his eyes. Tom yanks his thin grey blanket up in an attempt to preserve any lingering warmth from escaping. He can’t remember ever being woken up to a ‘happy birthday’ before; he’s torn between being annoyed at the rude awakening and being ridiculously pleased that Harry cares enough to do it.

 

“How does it feel to be ten years old?” asks Harry.

 

“It feels like it doesn’t make sense that you’re older than me,” Tom replies, grabbing Harry’s hand and tugging at it until Harry sits down next to him.

 

“But I am older,” Harry says smugly, knocking his shoulder into Tom’s.

 

“October 31st isn’t your real birthday,” Tom retorts.

 

“But I was definitely born before December 31st,” Harry says. “Because that’s at the very end of the year. And when they found me I was already a fairly big baby, so my birthday is definitely before yours.”

 

“You’re irritating,” says Tom. “You only ever have a lot to say when you want to bother me.”

 

Harry only smiles at him. It’s maddening.

 

“Do I get a present?” Tom asks huffily. “Or did you wake me up simply to rub it in that you’re older than I am.”

 

“Maybe,” Harry says. “Did you expect a present?”

 

Tom shoots him a withering look. “One day I will decide that your antagonistic tendencies are not as amusing as you think they are, and then you will be in a world of trouble.”

 

“Fine,” relents Harry. “I do have a present for you. But I’ll give it to you later tonight.”

 

“Hmm.” Tom pulls himself out of bed and gets dressed, his curiosity now sufficiently piqued.

 

There isn’t much to be done by way of presents at Wool’s, where everything they received was secondhand someway or another. Sometimes there would be candy or a piece of dessert for a birthday child. Tom has never gotten a proper present before, a present that hadn’t belonged to someone else before it reached his hands, and he’s more excited than he’s willing to admit.

 


 

The day passes by too slowly for Tom’s liking. The matron and her helpers are too fussed about New Year’s Eve to bother much with the petty bickerings between the children. Harry stays close by Tom’s side all day, hovering around him with a calm, neutral expression, perhaps sensing that Tom would prefer to spend his birthday just the two of them, away from the humdrum and the monotony of the rest.

 

It’s balanced, the way he and Harry interact with each other, the pull of give and take between them. Harry might prove annoying at times, but Tom never wants to send him away or be rid of him. There’s a fine line that Harry treads: the dichotomy between his quiet, unassuming public demeanour and the sarcastic, sharper version he reserves only for Tom. There’s also the way that Harry tends to wander off into daydreams if Tom doesn’t keep him firmly engaged in the present.

 

Speaking of ‘present’, Tom is more ready for evening to fall so he can receive his.

 

“Soon,” Harry says placatingly as they walk in for supper, picking up on Tom’s impatience.

 

Harry must have deliberately held onto this gift as a means to rein Tom in for the day. Clever of him, Tom thinks. He knows Tom won’t risk getting into trouble and missing out on whatever Harry has planned.

 

During dinner Tom picks at his food, but he does make an effort to finish everything after Harry kicks him under the table. He watches as Harry polishes off his own meal quickly, plate tidy and clean, but does not take seconds.

 

Mrs. Cole bids them all a joyous new year as they file out of the dining room. The chattering children disperse into their own groupings, wandering out to the drawing room or the library. Tom heads directly to their room, Harry keeping pace beside him.

 

Tom closes the door with a neat click, wishing not for the first time that there was a lock in place.

 

Harry is already moving towards Tom’s bed, kicking off his scruffy shoes before he flops gracelessly onto his back. His hand pats the space next to him, intending for Tom to join him.

 

“Alright,” Tom says expectantly, sliding into place next to Harry on the bed.

 

“I’m going to tell you what happened on the day of the fire,” Harry says, voice so low that Tom has to strain to hear him, even though they're next to each other.

 

Tom can’t help the thrill that goes through him, knowing now that Harry trusts him. Trusts him enough to reveal what he’d insisted on keeping secret for so long. Trying not to look too eager, Tom rolls onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow, the better to watch Harry’s expressions as he talks.

 

“There were bullies,” Harry begins haltingly. “They liked to pick on me and some of the others.”

 

This does not surprise Tom, although he doesn’t say so. Harry’s typically quiet disposition likely makes him an appealing target. Additionally, Harry’s small stature makes him look even younger than he is. Despite Harry’s excellent ability to fade into the background at Wool’s, somehow Tom doubts this was the case at the orphanage Harry came from.

 

“The matron let it happen. The helpers, too. People fought each other for things all the time and no one said a word as long as it was done out of sight. I spent a lot of time looking for places to hide where no one would find me.” Then Harry grimaces, as though he’s swallowed something particularly bitter.

 

Tom understands that it must be hard for Harry to say these things, to admit this weakness. Another commonality between these two boys is their joint inability to admit they’ve been hurt. The last thing Tom wants to do is to abandon the inflated sense of ego that has kept him sane for so many years. Harry, on the other hand, is used to feeling like a burden, like a waste of space, and he will do anything to keep his emotions in check if it means going unnoticed.

 

“It was like a game,” Harry continues, voice going flat and dull. “If they could catch me before I managed to hide or get away.” Unconsciously, Harry wraps his arms around himself, his eyes going distant.

 

“They’re brutes,” Tom says soothingly. “And they will never make anything of themselves in this life, Harry.”

 

“I hope that’s true,” Harry says absently. Then, with more feeling, “They would corner me and hit me. They told me I was a freak.”

 

Tom’s own breathing goes funny. He can hear the catches in Harry’s throat as the story spills out, spooling into the cool winter air between them. There’s a tightness in Tom’s chest. He doesn’t like the idea of Harry getting hurt. Harry is his friend, and he is going to be protected by Tom. The bullies must have been bad, Tom thinks, because he knows Harry is only giving him the truncated version of the reality he must have suffered before he came to Wool’s.

 

“But then things changed,” Harry says quickly. He turns to face Tom, face screwed up slightly as he thinks hard on his words. “They weren’t able to catch me, because things started to happen around me—things that stopped them. They would trip over air when they were trying to grab me, or I could hide somewhere and their eyes would slide right over me, like I wasn’t there. One time, when they were chasing me, I ended up on the roof. I don’t know how I got there, and it was hours before someone found me and let me back inside. They said I disappeared. They still said I was a freak, but I didn’t care, because it kept me safe.”

 

Harry is breathless now, having ejected more words in one go than Tom has heard over the course of the entire week.

 

“And the fire?” Tom hears himself asking.

 

“The fire was me.” Harry’s face is ashen, darkness falling across his features as though someone had snuffed out all the lights in the room. “The bullies, they—“ Harry chokes over the words and Tom startles, suddenly concerned and unsure what to do, but Harry swallows thickly and continues, “—they tied me up and gagged me and locked me in a storage cupboard. They dumped bleach on me. And then they said they were going to leave me there until I died.”

 

“I’ll kill them,” Tom spits viciously, half-sitting up as though he’s been called to action immediately. “Are they here? At Wool’s? I’ll kill them, Harry.”

 

“They’re already dead,” Harry says shrilly, and he sounds so terrified that Tom stops mid-motion to look back down at him, shocked. “I set the cupboard on fire and it burned everything. And the bullies, they were trapped in the room with me, I could hear them trying to open the door but it was locked. I couldn’t stop it, even though I tried, I tried to stop it, I kept on yelling and trying to get out, but there was still so much screaming, Tom, and I could smell the burning—”

 

Harry is visibly shaking from head to toe, his skin waxen and sweaty. Tom has read books about people who’ve gone into shock, but he’s never seen anything like it before. Panic crawls down Tom’s throat and knots in his gut as Harry begins to hyperventilate, and his limbs feel heavy as he tries to command his brain to think, to do something.

 

“Harry,” Tom babbles urgently, reaching to grasp the smaller boy’s shoulders. “Harry, it’s alright. It’s fine, you’re not trapped there anymore, you got out.”

 

Harry is still trembling, great silent sobs wracking his body. His hands cling to Tom, individual fingers vice-like where they hold Tom’s forearms tightly. Tom is half-hunched over, his heart thrumming wildly as he slowly releases his grip on Harry’s shoulders, sliding his hands down till he is holding Harry’s biceps. It is an awkward, distance embrace of sorts.

 

“I could smell the burning as they died,” rasps Harry, his wide eyes fixing themselves onto Tom, and Tom cannot look away. “I threw up in there, because of the bleach fumes. I was coughing so badly it hurt to breathe, and I couldn’t see a single thing because they’d blindfolded me.”

 

Harry’s words regain some of their strength as his breathing begins to even out. His tone takes on a touch of awe as he goes on, “But the flames never touched me, and they never touched the cupboard. I know I passed out at some point, because I don’t know when the fire stopped burning. When they found me they said it was a miracle I survived. They thought I’d crawled into the cupboard to escape the fire. They said that bleach probably wasn’t flammable and it was what protected me.”

 

Tom sees the inconsistency in the narrative and feels compelled to point out: “But what about the ropes? Or whatever it was that they used to tie you up.”

 

“There wasn’t anything there when I woke up.”

 

So Harry had vanished the ropes, somehow. Harry had set an entire building on fire, burned it nearly to the ground, and had then gone on to free himself of numerous restraints. Tom is both jealous and impressed at the magnitude of what Harry had accomplished.

 

“They deserved it,” says Tom. “Burning alive. They weren’t going to stop and they didn’t deserve to live. You don’t feel guilty, do you?”

 

Harry doesn’t argue back, so Tom repeats, “They deserved it.” He’s hovering in front of Harry, kneeling on the bed next to Harry’s waist. “Sometimes you have to use force to get what you want—that’s the way the world is. If you don’t take what you want, if you’re weak, people will hurt you. So you have to be better than them, you have to be smarter and more powerful. I’m glad you’re here, Harry, and that means I’m glad they’re all dead.”

 

Tom searches Harry’s face for understanding. “Aren’t you glad to be here?” he asks haltingly. Dangerously.

 

“Yes,” Harry says, then flinches, pulling his arms back across his chest.

 

“Good,” Tom says, pleased, stretching back to resume his horizontal position next to Harry. “Don’t worry about things like that anymore. They won’t happen again, because I won’t let it happen. And even if someone tried, they’d have to get through the both of us.”

 

Harry doesn't respond to this. But after a while, Harry whispers “Happy birthday, Tom,” one more time, finally signaling the end of the conversation.

Chapter Text

January - March 1937

 

Things are different for a while. There’s a constant chasm that exists around Harry, a vast expanse of space that one must cross to reach him. But Tom is nothing if not persistent, and Harry never refuses Tom’s demands for company, even if said company is quiet and unassuming.

 

The sharing of such a personal experience has added a new layer to their relationship. To Tom, it verifies what his instincts had told him about Harry, about them being alike. To Harry, it cements the connection he has chosen to allow, the allowance of trust he has given to Tom.

 

The new year brings Tom feelings of confidence and power. Tom is now more convinced than ever that his fate, tied with Harry’s, will lift them out of their obscurity and poverty.

 

The tensions from before fade away as the winter holidays end, and Tom and Harry resume their studies. The two of them fall back into their easy rhythm of existing together, with Tom leading the way and Harry maintaining his careful distance behind.

 

Harry doesn’t like attention. In fact, Tom would suspect that Harry loathes it. But it’s alright, it works, because Tom adores it, he soaks up praise like he was born for it. And it’s better that Tom doesn’t have to share his successes; it means Harry knows his place—a place that exists slightly lower and to the left of Tom.

 

It’s all but easy to relax in Harry’s presence. Tom knows, instinctively, that Harry both practices and values loyalty. And loyalty is always useful when wielded by the right person. So Tom feels no vulnerability around Harry, only a brimming desire to see Harry reach his full potential.

 

The month of March heralds a season of flowers and rebirth. It is a rare sunny day that sees Tom practicing with (stolen) marbles in their room as Harry watches him.

 

“Do you want to try?” Tom asks into the silence, the first time he’s ever done so. Harry is unpredictable; Tom has to watch his moods carefully, choosing specifically when to poke and prod for a response. But Tom thinks that enough time has now passed since his birthday, since Harry had sealed their friendship by sharing his most closeted secrets with Tom.

 

Harry looks uncomfortable, cheeks flushing faintly as he turns his head, shifting his gaze to the window. “I’m alright,” he mumbles.

 

“Come on,” Tom says soothingly. “It’ll be good to practice, won’t it? For the future.”

 

“I dunno, Tom. It seems dangerous.”

 

Tom stands up from where he’d been seated at the desk. He walks swiftly over to where Harry, sitting on his own bed, is facing the window.

 

“Everything is dangerous— the world is dangerous. You want to be able to protect yourself properly, Harry. So you can hurt people when you need to,” Tom finishes seriously, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder. He watches Harry’s face intently, then adds, “So you can keep us safe.”

 

Harry’s jaw clenches and unclenches. He says, “Can’t I just watch you, Tom? You’re already really good at it.”

 

Tom can’t help but puff up slightly, though he is well aware that Harry is trying to flatter his way out of Tom’s request. “You can do these things, too,” Tom argues. “You’re different like me— special. So we ought to do these things together.” Harry likes when they do things together, Tom knows. Harry likes being asked for his opinion and likes being praised. He likes it when Tom values him as a person, as a friend.

 

“I don’t want to be special,” Harry admits.

 

“Think of it like lessons,” Tom says instead. “Like when we do maths problems or study history. Just think of it like that.”

 

Reluctance radiates from Harry, and doubt colours his gaze as he twists around towards Tom.

 

“You don’t want any other accidents,” says Tom, gentle as you please, his expression calm and his tone understanding.

 

Guilt flickers across Harry’s face, and Tom would feel the same way if not for the fact that he knows this is a necessity. Harry will learn this because Tom wants him to, because Tom doesn’t plan on moving forward without the security of Harry by his side.

 

“Yes?” Tom asks leadingly, sensing the crack in Harry’s resistance.

 

“Fine,” Harry says, sounding angry. “Fine, Tom.”

 

Tom says nothing more, not wanting to push his luck, but leads Harry over to the desk with the marbles. If not today, then someday—Harry will thank him for this.

 


 

May 1937

 

Late spring finds Harry and Tom back at the seaside. Tom itches to go exploring—he’d forgone last year in favour of sitting with Harry on the rocks. There were numerous nooks and crannies along the cliffs nearby, perhaps ones that would lead to caves. Harry, on the other hand, wants to skip rocks across the waters, and so Tom is willing to indulge him for a while in exchange for a promise to wander off afterwards.

 

“It’s been a year,” Tom muses, inhaling the salty air. “Can you believe it?”

 

“A lot has changed,” agrees Harry, squinting against the sunlight as he looks for the best direction in which to aim his flat stone. The wind rushes by around him, pushing Harry’s unkempt hair into further levels of disaster.

 

Tom kicks at the sand beneath his feet, restless. “We’ve been friends for a year.”

 

“We have.” Harry launches his rock; it skips seven times before it dies an uninspired death. “Bugger,” he swears.

 

“Try harder,” Tom suggests.

 

Harry rolls his eyes at him. “What do you think I’m doing?”

 

“Try,” Tom repeats, emphasizing the words, “again.”

 

Sighing, Harry casts his gaze back to the shore, searching for a new stone. Tom waits patiently as Harry shuffles about, fussing over his options. Eventually, Harry picks one out, holding it out for Tom to see, his expression sardonic. It’s a boring, grey rock that appears to be relatively flat.

 

“Looks like a fine choice to me,” Tom says pretentiously, crossing his arms in his best imitation of a schoolteacher.

 

That earns Tom a half-smile.

 

Harry rolls his shoulders, stone held loosely in his hand. “Here goes nothing,” Harry says, and tosses the rock with a flick of his wrist, his brow furrowed in concentration.

 

The two of them watch as the stone leaps across the water: once, twice, three times—

 

“Wow,” breathes Harry, as the rock finally sinks down a good distance away.

 

Tom says smugly, “See what you can accomplish when you set your mind to it?”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Harry waves his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I think you enjoy being right too much.”

 

“As opposed to… not enjoying it?” Tom asks, sniffing. Even though he understands how Harry thinks, it doesn’t actually help explain why Harry thinks the way he does.

 

“As opposed to being less smug about it,” Harry retorts.

 

Tom narrows his eyes at Harry. “Let’s go exploring now; I want to see the cliffs,” he says, and walks off without further ado.

 

“One day I will decide that I’m only going to follow after you if you ask me to, and you’re going to walk off like an idiot by yourself,” Harry says nonchalantly from behind Tom.

 

“You’re an idiot if you think you’re not going to follow me.”

 

Harry’s caught up to him by that point, having quickened his stride to keep pace with Tom’s longer legs. “Witty response, Riddle,” he says, like he isn’t impressed.

 

Tom raises an eyebrow at him. “Mature attitude, Evans.”

 

Harry’s trying to keep a neutral expression on his face as he turns to face Tom, but he loses his composure at the sight of Tom’s too-serious expression, dissolving into choked laughter. It’s infectious, Harry’s laughter, to the point where Tom has to bite down on the inside of his cheek to keep his own snort reined in. Even so, Tom can’t quite help the way the corner of his mouth quirks up.

 

The sand beneath their feet fades to stone and gravel as they continue their trek. They can both see the village faintly off in the distance. Harry starts to wander this way and that, tracing patterns into the ground with the toes of his shoes. The trails of disturbed gravel look like snakes. Harry continues ahead, though he never strays more than a few paces away from Tom. 

 

“There are some caves that way,” Harry says, pointing back down towards the shore, where a few small caves are dotted along the cliff faces across from them. His sleeves slip down as he does so, the too-large cuffs unrolling themselves down his forearms.

 

Tom gives the caves the briefest of glances. “They look boring.”

 

“Do you find anything at all interesting?” asks Harry, affecting curiosity. “Other than yourself, of course.”

 

“I find you plenty interesting when you’re not deliberately annoying me,” Tom replies in turn, watching as Harry attempts to shove the sleeves of his shirt back up over his elbows. “That’s why we’re friends. Now, let’s go this way.”

 

The rocks grow distinctly sharper and more dangerous as Tom leads them uphill. Harry is forced to watch his steps lest he slip and bang his knees up on the uneven ground. Any signs of greenery have long since faded away; there is only the cold stone jutting out towards the sea. Tom has to grasp Harry’s arm once or twice to keep him from slipping, and eventually finds himself walking side by side with Harry as they navigate the territory.

 

“Look,” Tom says, pointing. A short distance away, the cliff appears to drop off into nothingness. Tom bounds forward a few steps, excited.

 

“Maybe we should head back, Tom,” Harry says reluctantly. He’s stopped in place a few metres back. “We don’t have any way of checking the time.”

 

“Don’t be such a coward,” Tom says absently, his pace picking up again. After a pause, Harry scrambles to follow, cursing under his breath. If Harry were to look, he would see that Tom is smirking.

 

“I’m not,” Harry says stubbornly.

 

Tom creeps right up to the edge. “A long way down,” he comments casually, peering at the dark rocks and churning waters below. The breeze is much stronger up here—Tom can feel his hair tousling itself in the wind. “Come here and see, Harry.”

 

The cliff they stand upon drops off so steeply that Tom can clearly see the crumble of boulders that must have fallen away from the precipice as gravity dragged them down. The waters are more violent here; they thrash wildly against the outcrops.

 

“There’s an opening down there,” Harry says. He’s shivering slightly in the cold though he’s trying to hide it.

 

Tom squats down, carefully positioning himself so he can crane his head over the edge of the cliff. “That’s not too far down. We can climb down on those jagged parts that stick out.”

 

Harry shoots him a disbelieving look. “You’re not seriously going to climb down there?”

 

“Why not? I’ll be able to catch us if we fall, I’m sure of it,” Tom says confidently. “I want to see that cave. I bet no one’s ever been in there before; it’s too hard to get to.”

 

“No one will have gone in there because it’s suicide,” retorts Harry. “Tom, even you won’t be able to save us if we fall onto those rocks below.”

 

“I can,” Tom insists, straightening back up and moving over towards Harry. “And we’ll be able to do it because we’re not heavy enough to disturb the rock formation. A full grown man would likely knock the footholds loose.”

 

“Tom,” Harry says, “please; let’s just go back to the group.”

 

“I’m going,” Tom says commandingly, shucking off his jacket. “And either you will come with me, or you won’t. I want to see the cave down there.”

 

Tom briskly folds and tosses his jacket onto a rock, then rolls up his own shirtsleeves. Then, very slowly, he reapproaches the ledge. The waters below seem further away, somehow, now that he’s made his decision to descend. Tom checks his laces are tied securely, then sits himself delicately on the brim. Looking over his shoulder, he sees Harry watching him with a tense expression. Tom smirks, then slips over the edge.

 

But it’s not fun and games all the way down, and Tom finds his endurance being tested as he clings to the treacherous, slippery crevices in the rock face. When he looks up he can see Harry’s worried, bespectacled face regarding him in frightened silence.

 

Tom keeps going, steadily making his way down to one of the large boulders at the bottom of the bluff. The waves sound louder the closer he gets to them.

 

“Tom, you’re a lunatic!” Harry yells. “Come back here. We can do something else!”

 

“Not a chance, Evans,” Tom calls back wickedly. “How about you come and join me.” Tom can practically hear Harry mentally debating the merits of descending after him, but Tom’s nearly there, now. It’s liberating, to be this close to the wild chaos of the open sea, to scramble his way down the cliff face. He knows that it is the sheer force of his will that keeps him stubbornly tethered to the rocks, his fingers gripping almost painfully against the jagged stones.

 

Some tiny pebbles and debris crumble in the peripherals of his vision. They fall past his head into the sea below. Tom looks up to see Harry has finally conceded to joining in on Tom’s adventure. Tom descends nimbly down the remainder of the cliff, landing lightly on a high outcrop of rock. It feels sturdy beneath his feet, sturdy enough that Tom feels confident in focusing his attention on Harry instead of himself.

 

“This is the stupidest thing you’ve ever made me do,” Harry says through gritted teeth. “We could die doing this.”

 

“Don’t be so morbid,” Tom drawls. “As if I would let you die.”

 

Harry’s climb down is much faster than Tom’s; perhaps he’s less afraid knowing that Tom waits below, prepared to try and catch him should he fall. Or maybe he’s just reckless once he sets his mind to a task, much like Tom does. Tom wonders if Harry feels the rush of accomplishments the same way: that exultant feeling of power drawn out of success. Eventually, Harry draws close enough to sea level that Tom scoots backwards, making room on the rock for Harry to join him.

 

“What if I knock into you?” Harry asks, eyeing the space between them as he bites his lip.

 

“Then I’ll catch you,” says Tom plainly. “Now, hurry up.”

 

“Reassuring,” Harry snarks, but he swallows nervously as he readjusts his hold on the cliff. He takes a deep breath to steady himself, then leaps over.

 

Tom grasps his arm before he has a chance to wobble too badly. As soon as he’s certain Harry is steady enough to stand on his own, he returns his attention to the cave. The water between them and the cave is calmer, likely because it is protected from the currents by the numerous rocks jutting up around them.

 

“I think we’ll have to swim,” muses Tom.

 

Harry’s glare could boil ice water. “I hate you,” he says, though his tone lacks any real venom.

 

“We’ll dry off soon enough in this weather,” Tom says, and starts to roll up the cuffs of his trousers. Harry’s already followed him this far; he knows he doesn’t need to work at any further convincing. He waits patiently for Harry to follow suit, then slides down the side of the boulder and dives into the cool sea.

 

The strong scent of salt fills Tom’s senses as he swims over to the cave entrance. The opening is small compared to the sheer vastness of the cliff. Tom clambers back onto land and takes in his surroundings. The cave is larger than he expected; its crevice-like entrance is misleading. Tom suppresses a shiver—whether it is from being soaked by saltwater or from the triumph of his discovery, he’s not quite sure.

 

Harry emerges shortly after, gasping slightly as he crawls up and onto the cavern floor. He stands up and glances around. “It’s bigger than I expected in here,” Harry admits, pushing his damp hair out of his eyes. “I wonder if we’re the first ones in here. Hard to see very much, though.”

 

The cave walls glimmer slightly where the sunlight reflects off of the water, but most of the area is drenched in darkness. If only there was a way to conjure some light, Tom thinks. If only he had some large stick to craft into a torch. Tom reaches out to drag his fingertips along the side of the cave, feeling the rough texture of the natural stone. Then he turns to face Harry. “Do you have anything on you?” he asks. “I want to see if I can light something up.”

 

“Um, maybe,” Harry fumbles with his pockets, but his hands come up empty. “If I did, it probably fell out into the water when we went swimming.”

 

“Hmph.” Tom looks back at the swirling darkness just ahead of them. “Let’s find some rocks, then.”

 

He and Harry gather up some smooth, water-worn pebbles. They’re about the size of marbles. Harry dumps his findings into Tom’s hands, and Tom closes his hands around the stones, concentrating. He lets his eyes close, lets the silence seep through his ears and into his body. Tom feels for the something inside of him, the bit that makes him special. It’s like the click of a little key in a lock, a strange inner sensation that Tom has trained himself to seek out.

 

The pebbles in his hands begin to glow. Faintly, at first, then stronger as Tom shoves the connection further, flooding his hands with power. Tom can sense the light through his shut eyelids, and he feels giddy, ecstatic at the intuitive thought patterns racing through his mind.

 

“Tom,” says Harry. “Tom.”

 

Tom’s eyes snap open. The stones in his hands are now positively incandescent. The cave around them shimmers wetly as Tom lifts his hands upwards and uncovers the blazing light. He laughs jubilantly, whirling around to face Harry.

 

“Look,” Tom says, his hands held out. “Look!”

 

Harry’s gaze is somewhat reverential, not a speck of jealousy visible on his face. “That’s amazing, Tom,” he says honestly.

 

Tom beams at him, smug and thrilled all at once. “Come on,” he says, imperious and self-important as he stalks further into the depths of the cave. As always, Harry follows him.

Chapter Text

June 1937 - June 1938

 

Twelve months go by. Nothing monumental changes—not in the orphanage, not between Harry and Tom. It is as though the world is growing used to them; it has adapted to fit the two of them in its overarching narrative. Tom and Harry study and banter and practice in relative peace. Harry levitates bits and bobs in the privacy of their room. Tom leaves glowing pebbles in their cupboard and under Harry’s bed.

 

And on nights where Harry wakes, silent and shaking (not screaming, never screaming, not even after the darkest of nightmares), Tom is there to watch over him and promise to keep him safe.

 

“I won’t let anyone hurt you,” Tom says, his hands on Harry’s shoulders, his face fierce and glowering even in the moonlight, and Harry allows himself to believe it.

 

Tom talks a lot about the future, about his plans and schemes. How he’s going to earn himself a higher education, how he and Harry will move out of Wool’s and find their own place together. Harry doesn’t contradict him, content to let Tom dictate the course of their future.

 

Stubborn and adamant that he will make his place in the world, Tom grows and expands, only beginning to fill the mold that he’s created for himself. Harry’s aspirations seem to center around being Tom’s support rather than carving out his own space, because Tom makes space for him, makes space for Harry with his questions and his demands for Harry’s attention. Harry will be useful and valuable if he stays by Tom’s side. He’ll be cared for and protected.

 

Tom and Harry lay outside in the backyard, a snake draped across both of their chests. Harry drags his fingers over the snake’s body, his green eyes distant as they watch the clouds pass overhead.

 

“Have you been having nightmares still?” asks Tom. It’s hard to tell, sometimes. Tom isn’t a heavy sleeper by any means, but Harry is so stubbornly insistent on not being a burden that Tom doesn’t always wake up in time.

 

“They’re not so bad lately,” Harry says ambiguously.

 

“Do you… want to talk about them? People say talking about things is supposed to make you feel better.”

 

Harry suppresses a noise; it comes out like a sudden, odd exhale.

 

“If you want to talk about them, you can talk about them with me,” Tom adds. “Because I won’t tell anyone else. I’ll keep your secrets, Harry.”

 

“I know you would, Tom,” Harry says, but he sounds weary. “It’s nothing, really.”

 

“It’s not nothing if you have nightmares about it.”

 

“It’s stupid. It doesn’t matter,” insists Harry. “They’re just nightmares. They’ll go away eventually.”

 

Tom isn’t deterred at all; he’s used to Harry’s specific brand of obstinance. “Are they about the fire?”

 

Harry twitches. “No,” he says, but Tom can tell he’s lying. Or half-lying, at the least. Harry is so frustrating—trying to get Harry to open up is like attempting to pry open a giant oyster armed with a toothpick.

 

They lapse into silence as Tom tries to plan his next avenue of attack. He doesn’t like that Harry has nightmares. He wants Harry to be well-rested and whole. Harry is already smaller than other boys their age; the dark circles under his eyes make him look sickly beneath the wrong kind of light. A wild urge to fix Harry rears its head inside of Tom every time Harry says ‘I’m fine’ (when he very clearly is not).

 

“After Wool’s,” Harry begins suddenly, “what’s going to happen?”

 

“What do you even mean by that?” Tom says, irritated. “I talk about what’s going to happen all the time.” He turns to Harry. Blinding streams of sunlight glint off of Harry’s glasses; Tom has to avoid looking directly at his face for too long.

 

“I mean—there’s a lot of things to worry about,” Harry babbles, “Wool’s has food and beds and clothes.”

 

Tom sighs. “I told you, Harry. I’ll take care of us. I’m going to graduate with top marks and they’ll send me to a better school. And you’ll come with me, of course. Those rich simpletons do like their charity, and I intend to take full advantage of that. And then, once we’re properly settled, it’ll be like a fresh start. I’ll get a good job; I can make proper connections and work my way up.”

 

Harry strokes his hand down the snake’s head again. “Do you think they’d take me at a better school?”

 

“They will,” Tom says confidently. “I’ll make them see that they need to. You just need to keep your marks up in the meantime. We’ll keep studying together like we have been.”

 

“And if they don’t?” mumbles Harry.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Harry coughs, embarrassed. “If they won’t take me.”

 

“I told you; I’ll convince them they need to,” Tom says crossly. “We’ll lie, if that’s what it takes. We’ll tell them we’re brothers and that they’re not allowed to separate us. And Mrs. Cole will listen to what I tell her, because she’ll be glad to be rid of me. She’ll be sorry if she doesn’t.”

 

“You wouldn’t hurt her, would you?”

 

“If she tried to keep us apart, I would,” Tom promises. “I’m going to be better than all of them, Harry. You’ll see.”

 

The snake curled on their chests decides in that moment to slither away. Harry and Tom watch its tail disappear into the grass. Harry doesn’t see the world the way Tom does—a vast array of opportunities, a cornucopia for the taking. There is nothing unreachable, not to Tom. Everything exists in the realm of possibility. He and Harry can talk to snakes. They can do things no others can do. Ever since Tom has been old enough to know better he’s craved prestigious accolades. As a child he’d vowed to raise himself to higher echelons. He will learn everything; he will do what he must. These are the cornerstones of his entire being and he will see them into reality.

 

Two birthdays go by, and then winter passes eventually into yet another summer. They are both eleven years old now. Tom is sure that, of all things, he and Harry will last forever.

 


 

July 1938

 

“Boys? You've got a visitor.” Mrs. Cole is at the door, sounding distracted. “This is Mr. Dumberton—sorry, Dunderbore. He's come to tell you—well, I'll let him do it.”

 

Tom and Harry both stand curiously as the stranger makes his way into the room.

 

“How do you do, gentlemen?” the man says, dressed in a plum suit that looks surreal in the small, dingy bedroom. His long hair, tied back with a lively purple ribbon, is a bright auburn. “I am Professor Dumbledore.” He holds out his hand.

 

There is an indeterminate pause in which neither child speaks. Then Harry steps forward to shake the hand offered to them, and Tom mimics the action on automatic, wary.

 

The man, Professor Dumbledore, smiles at them both, and gestures for them to sit down. Harry nudges Tom and they both go, by silent agreement, to sit upon Tom’s bed together. Dumbledore retrieves the single wooden chair in the room to use for himself and clasps his hands together, still smiling.

 

Was this man here to take them away? Tom exchanges a hesitant look with Harry, unsure as to what he should do. The mystery of this professor unnerves him. Tom is used to knowing everything that goes on inside of Wool’s, and this impromptu meeting sparks embers of uncertainty that Tom would prefer to extinguish.

 

“I’m Harry, and this is Tom,” says Harry finally, his tone unfailingly polite. “It’s nice to meet you, sir. Is there something we can help you with?”

 

Dumbledore gives them both an assessing look that Tom dislikes immediately. “I work at a school called Hogwarts. I have come to offer you both a place at my school—your new school, if you would like to come.”

 

“What kind of school is it?” Tom asks suspiciously. While Tom’s academic rankings are notable, Harry has not yet risen to a level that surpasses the expanses of mediocrity into the illustrious bracket of the ambitious. Mrs. Cole once said that the two of them are thick as thieves, although Tom feels privately that she thinks ‘thieves’ is more accurate a term than she will ever outright state. Perhaps it has been made clear they are not meant to be separated. Tom would sooner refuse to go anywhere, prestigious school or no, than to let Harry vanish from his sight.

 

“Hogwarts is a school for people with special abilities. It is a school of magic.”

 

“Magic?” Harry bursts out, awed.

 

Magic, Tom thinks. Admittedly, the word has occurred to him once or twice. Harry has even used it a few times, despite Tom’s scoffing, derisive remarks that magic was only in fairytales for small children. Magic had been a label reserved for parlour tricks and make-believe. Now, though, Tom can see the appeal of it. The concept of magic is vast enough to include a great number of things; it speaks to endless possibilities and unfathomable power.

 

“It’s magic, what we can do?” Tom asks, attempting to disguise his eagerness. He’s not sure if he manages it, what with the strange twinkle he sees alight in Dumbledore’s eyes.

 

“What is it that you can do?”

 

“A lot of things,” says Tom, just as Harry says, “Tom does a lot of things.” They look at each other.

 

“We can make things move,” offers Tom, eyes fixed on Harry. “Without touching them.”

 

Harry bobs his head in confirmation. Then, “We can talk to snakes,” says Harry. “Is that normal for people with magic?”

 

“It is unusual,” Dumbledore says, his curiosity audible as he continues, “but not unheard of. There have been wizards with such an ability dating back to the founding of Hogwarts itself.”

 

“Is that what we are, then? Wizards,” Tom tries the word out as he redirects his gaze to Dumbledore. The word sits nicely on his tongue: wizard. He and Harry are wizards.

 

“Yes. Hogwarts is a school for both young witches and wizards. You will learn how to control your magic there.”

 

Tom has questions. “Are you a wizard, too? And where is this school? How do we get there? And what about the costs and the school supplies? We haven’t got any money.”

 

Harry coughs delicately, and Tom has the sense to pretend to look abashed. “Sorry,” Tom says contritely, shifting himself awkwardly in place, “it’s only that this is all rather sudden, and a lot to take in.”

 

Smiling, Dumbledore waves a hand, as though to indicate that Tom’s outburst is already forgotten. “I do imagine this must be quite surprising, and even thrilling, for two young boys such as yourself. To answer your questions, Tom: yes, I am a wizard. I teach the subject of Transfiguration at Hogwarts. Transfiguration involves the changing of one object into another.

 

“There is a fund at Hogwarts for those who require assistance to buy books and robes. You might have to buy some of your spellbooks and so on secondhand, but rest assured that this will have no impact on the quality of your education. We have a number of students at Hogwarts who arrive with secondhand things, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

 

“Hogwarts itself is located in Scotland. You will travel there by train from King’s Cross Station on September 1st, via the Hogwarts Express. I have instructions and tickets for you both—I assume you will both be accepting your invitations?”

 

“Of course we are,” says Tom. He reaches over to grab Harry’s hand with a quick squeeze. This is the right thing for them to be doing, he can feel it. A new world is revealing itself to them—a world where Tom can achieve his full potential without the hindrances of his upbringing. “What sorts of magic can you do, then?” Tom demands. “I want to see.”

 

“If you are accepting your place at Hogwarts, then you will address me as 'Professor' or 'sir.'”

 

Tom bristles slightly, but replies evenly, “Yes, sir.”

 

Dumbledore reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket and withdraws a long stick of wood. It’s been crafted with care, that much is clear. The wood is carved and polished; it is well-looked after by its owner. The boys watch the wizard as he gestures with the wand, their faces attentive and covetous, respectively. Tom wants a wand of his own.

 

A large, glass orb materializes in the air beneath the wand, dropping into Dumbledore’s waiting palm. Dumbledore holds it out and Harry takes it in hand, inspecting it. Tom looks at his round, distorted reflection in the glossy, perfect glass. He will do that at Hogwarts, and he will do greater things, too.

 

“Will that suffice?” Dumbledore asks casually.

 

Harry nods for the both of them, still clutching the orb with both hands.

 

“You will also need to purchase your school supplies at Diagon Alley. I can accompany you both—”

 

“No, we’ll be alright on our own—sir,” Tom adds belatedly.

 

Surprisingly, Dumbledore doesn’t push the matter of accompaniment, merely gives them directions to a place called the Leaky Cauldron where a brick wall will lead them into the Wizarding world. From there, they will purchase items off a list of equipment that Dumbledore will give them. Harry gets up to retrieve a pen and notepad, jotting down the instructions in his messy, disordered cursive.

 

“You will be able to see it, although Muggles around you—non-magical people, that is—will not. Ask for Tom the barman—easy enough to remember, as he shares your name—”

 

Tom scrunches his face in distaste.

 

Dumbledore adds, his voice curious, “You dislike the name 'Tom'?”

 

"There are a lot of Toms,” Tom says carefully. Then, "Was my father a wizard? He was called Tom Riddle too, they've told me."

 

“I’m afraid I do not know of any Tom Riddle,” Dumbledore says regretfully.

 

Tom falls silent, thinking that over. His father had to be a wizard—he’d told Harry so. It makes no sense otherwise. Although he supposes there may be ways for witches and wizards to die that magic cannot fix. He’ll have to do his due diligence to find the answer.

 

Seemingly satisfied at Tom’s non-response, Dumbledore then retrieves two envelopes along with a velvet pouch from his plum-coloured jacket. He offers it to the two boys—Tom snatches his letter up immediately, removing the thick wax seal after a quick inspection, unfolding the thick, crisp paper that confirms his acceptance to Hogwarts. There is also a list of necessary equipment, and the aforementioned train ticket that lists Platform 9 and ¾ as the location of departure.

 

Harry takes his envelope slowly thereafter, his eyes falling on the elegant address scrawled across the front. The name that rests above ‘Wool’s Orphanage’ is both familiar and unfamiliar.

 

“Harry Potter?” reads Harry aloud, and Tom’s attention snaps away from where he’d begun to peer inside the pouch. Inside rests a generous amount of unfamiliar currency: notably some large, shiny golden coins.

 

“Yes, Harry,” says Dumbledore. “Your matron, Mrs. Cole, informed me that you had been given your mother’s maiden name when you were taken in. However, Hogwarts’ Book of Admittance registers the name that was given to the child when they were born.”

 

“So my father’s family are Potters?” asks Harry.

 

“It would seem that is the case,” Dumbledore says cheerfully.

 

Harry glances doubtfully at the letter. “Do they know about me?”

 

“I do not think so,” says Dumbledore. “If you wish to meet them, I can arrange to contact the Potter family.”

 

“I—” Harry nearly looks at Tom, but seems to think better of it. Tom feels his lungs constrict as Harry says, “I’ll think about it.”

 

“Very well.” Dumbledore gives Harry a piercing, appraising look. “If you wish to maintain your mother’s surname for the duration of your studies, that can also be arranged.”

 

“There was a letter,” Harry says suddenly. “It was with me when they found me.”

 

This is news to Tom. Tom shifts his gaze to stare accusingly at Harry, but Harry still isn’t looking at him. Tom had thought that there were no secrets left between them, but apparently this is not the case. Dumbledore, watching the two boys carefully, does not miss this reaction in Tom, and he worries on it, though the worry never shows on his face.

 

“It has your name on it,” continues Harry quietly. “‘Albus Dumbledore.’”

 

“Does it?” Dumbledore sounds quite calm. “May I see it, my boy?”

 

Harry nods quickly, and moves to the cupboard. It opens with a faint creak, and Tom watches as Harry pulls his jacket partially out, rummaging inside it until he retrieves a thick, folded letter. It looks like parchment. Tom can see dark ink visible through its back side. Harry clutches the paper in a shaking hand, like he is afraid it will fly away from him. Then he unfolds it, so carefully that Tom finds himself impatient with the desire to know what it contains. Hesitantly, Harry holds it out to the professor.

 

Dumbledore takes the letter, looking it over with his half-moon glasses, his face perfectly impassive. “Most curious,” he finally says, when he has finished. The professor hands the document back to Harry, who refolds the paper with the same care as before. “That is indeed my handwriting and my signature. Although I must regretfully inform you that I am neither the Headmaster of Hogwarts nor the Supreme Mugwump of the Wizengamot.”

 

“But did you write it, sir?” Harry asks, voice tiny.

 

“I’m afraid that this letter was not penned by the wizard standing before you,” Dumbledore says regretfully.

 

Harry appears crestfallen, his young shoulders slumping. “And my surname?” asks Harry, as though to be sure. “It really is Potter?”

 

“Your name, as it appears in the Book of Admittance, does indeed say ‘Harry Potter’.”

 

“And mine?” Tom interjects, a strange sensation twisting inside of him.

 

“You are as written on your admission letter: Tom Riddle.”

 

Jealousy burns hot in his veins, thundering in his ears. Tom knows he is special, as special as Harry. Just because this Professor Dumbledore doesn’t know anything, Tom thinks angrily, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to know. He will find the answers he wants, no matter what it takes to do so.

 

“And there are no magical families by the name of Riddle?” Tom presses demandingly.

 

“Not that I know of. I am sorry, Tom. Perhaps at Hogwarts, I can help you find any remaining family members—”

 

“I can do it myself,” Tom cuts in sharply. “I’m used to doing things myself.” Then, guiltily, he feels Harry’s gaze land on the side of his head. He is used to doing things with Harry, now. But he’s not about to say that. Harry has family. Harry has a family of wizards who are apparently well-known enough that they could want to seek him out.

 

Dumbledore smiles genially, then offers his hand once more, shaking firmly with Tom, and then Harry. “Very well, then. Good bye then, Harry, Tom. I shall see you both at Hogwarts.”

 

Then Harry and Tom are alone in their room once again. The only evidence of their visitor is the large glass orb sat on the bed.

 

“I’m sorry, Tom,” Harry says softly.

 

“Shut up,” snarls Tom, confused as to why it suddenly feels like he’s had his lungs ripped out of his chest. “Just shut up, Potter.”

 

Harry goes quiet.

 

“Get out.”

 

Harry leaves.

Chapter Text

August 1938

 

Tom grows unbearably distant over the course of mere days. He treats Harry as little more than background decoration and makes no mention of the trip they have yet to make to Diagon Alley. Harry still follows Tom around, quiet and guilt-ridden. But Tom doesn’t talk to him, doesn’t look at him if he can avoid it. Harry wants to plead with Tom so they can go back to the way things were before. He doesn’t want a family of strangers right now, he wants the comfort and familiarity that Tom provides. But he’s not sure how to approach Tom—Tom, who lives in extremes and is unforgiving in the face of the things he abhors.

 

So neither of them speak, and Harry feels himself slowly crumbling to pieces from within.

 

It’s odd, how Tom had wormed his way into Harry’s life, taking up space in places that Harry hadn’t known existed, curling up in them. Tom occasionally flashed danger on the edges of Harry’s awareness like a soft, distant siren blaring warnings. But Tom is safe, Tom means companionship and a steady presence to keep Harry from tumbling endlessly into the chasms of his own mind.

 

Harry hadn’t realized just how much of his life had begun to revolve around Tom until Tom had ceased to acknowledge him. Like Tom was a planet and Harry was the little moon orbiting him, and Tom had suddenly turned off all his gravitational pull, and now Harry was drifting off into space with no one to hold him.

 

Tom grounds Harry. Without Tom, Harry can’t help but feel like he’s disconnected from the rest of the world around him. Tom talks to him, asks him questions, keeps Harry firmly in the present. The rest of the world, Harry thinks, would simply go on as though Harry Evans didn’t exist if it wasn’t for Tom. For there were bullies that had picked on him, adults who had willfully ignored him, and other children who had always turned away. But Tom sees him and likes him for who he is. Harry misses being needed.

 

The glass orb that Professor Dumbledore had conjured sits at the bottom of their cupboard, untouched. For a while Harry had worried that Tom would smash it out of anger. But Tom hadn’t—he’d gone cold instead. It hurts in the brief moments where Harry notices the way Tom looks at him. There’s a lingering harshness in the lines of Tom’s brow, in the sneering curl of his lips.

 

Harry misses being friends. Though Tom never tells him to go away (not since that first, horrible day—the first time Tom had ever told Harry to go away), Harry can’t help but feel like Tom is only keeping him around out of obligation.

 

Tom promised, whispers a voice in his head. Tom promised to help you find your parents. He promised to keep you safe.

 

Tom had promised Harry a good number of things. Harry wonders if he should count on any of them now that they aren’t speaking to each other.

 

Despite the fact that Tom ignores him during the day, Harry still prefers the waking hours to the sleeping ones. When evening arrives, when Harry slides reluctantly under his bed covers, his thoughts twist themselves into nightmares. He’d never told Tom about his nightmares. Just like he’d never told Tom about his letter. But Harry hadn’t thought that letter would come to mean anything—it was an old, worn memento of a fantasy, of a family he had never dreamed he would have.

 

When Harry dreams, it is Tom’s cold, unfeeling face that he sees. When Harry dreams, it is Tom who is slamming him into the cupboard, locking it shut with a cruel, vengeful motion, trapping Harry inside.

 

When Harry dreams, he can hear Tom screaming as the world outside the cupboard burns.

 

But Tom had once promised he would never leave Harry behind, and this promise is what Harry clings to when he wakes, sweating and shaking all over, wishing silently that Tom would cross the room to comfort him.

 


 

August 11th, 1938

 

“We’re going to Diagon Alley,” Tom says, the first proper words he’s spoken to Harry in days. His tone is perfunctory, devoid of inflection. He could have been simply talking about the weather. Tom is already dressed, his outfit pressed and as wrinkle-free as he can manage without the use of an iron.

 

“Alright,” Harry says, feeling small. He gets up and dresses quickly, doing his best to smooth the crinkles in his shirt as he tucks it in. Harry then empties his rucksack of school books and slings it over his shoulder. 

 

Tom is staring blandly out the window, only coming to attention when Harry clears his throat.

 

“Do you have the coin pouch?” Harry asks meekly.

 

“Yes,” says Tom. “Now, let’s go.”

 

The order is so painfully familiar that Harry has to bite down on the inside of his cheek lest he do or say something embarrassing. He barely remembers to grab his equipment list and the sheet of instructions they’d gotten from Professor Dumbledore before following Tom out the door.

 

Tom walks briskly in the direction of Charing Cross Road. Harry has to trot slightly in order to keep up, and he hopes that his shoelaces don’t come undone, because he’s not sure that Tom would stop to wait for him. Harry knows better than to ask if Tom knows where he’s going, but he keeps the sheet of paper clutched in his hand, just in case Tom asks for directions.

 

They walk and they walk and they walk for what seems like ages in the oppressive summer heat. Harry can feel sweat gathering on his brow and on the back of his neck.

 

Eventually, however, they arrive at a shady, worn-looking bar that sits between a bookshop and a record store. A cauldron-shaped sign reads ‘The Leaky Cauldron’ in stylized but legible letters. There is a second floor that appears to be reserved for staying guests. Overall, it looks rather plain to be the entrance to something as grand as a hidden wizard shopping district. Harry is wary of entering—it must be strange, for two young boys to be seen entering a bar—but Tom forges ahead, chin up and eyes determined, as though he already belongs here.

 

The inside of the bar much reflects its outward appearance. There is a wizened old man in the shadowy corner smoking a pipe, and a pair of older women wearing rather large hats sitting on barstools by the barman. Harry thinks he can even see a stuffed vulture perched on one of the hat brims.

 

A menu floating above the barkeep boasts ‘Leaky House Soup’ as today’s daily special, at a cost of three Sickles.

 

“Hello sir,” Tom says boldly, marching straight up to the bar counter. “Are you the barman? Professor Dumbledore said I ought to speak to you about getting to Diagon Alley.”

 

“Why yes, I am,” says Tom the barman. He looks to be in his thirties, but is already prematurely balding. “Are you two young lads off to get your things for Hogwarts?”

 

“Yes,” Harry says, flashing Tom a quick, hesitant look. He knows Tom hates to ask for help, and prolonging the conversation in the hopes that the barman would hurry up and get to the point would only result in a worsening of Tom’s mood. “Professor Dumbledore told us that you would be able to help us get into Diagon Alley.”

 

“That’s right,” says the barman, kindly. “This way then. It must be your first year at Hogwarts.” He squints at them as he rounds the side of the bar to approach them. “Muggleborns, I take it?”

 

Harry doesn’t know what the word means; it sounds familiar, but he can’t remember where he might have heard it. He notices the barkeep is dressed in dark black robes, much like the other bar patrons. Apparently wizards and witches had different attire, too.

 

“Not quite,” says Tom. “We just need to get to Diagon Alley, please.”

 

The barman leads them through a back exit into a small, narrow courtyard facing a large brick wall. It’s a bit crowded with the three of them standing together. There is also an oddly clean-looking rubbish bin sitting right up against the wall.

 

“Now,” says the barman, “to enter Diagon Alley, you need to tap a special brick with your wand. Three up and two across from here.” The man draws out his wand and gestures at the rubbish bin, counting out the bricks as he speaks. He taps the final brick with a simple motion, and then the wall comes alive.

 

The bricks move of their own accord, shuffling and turning as they adjust themselves to create a large opening in the wall. Harry watches, awed, as Diagon Alley finally reveals itself to them.

 

Tom is moving forwards, mesmerized, leaving Harry to thank the barman before he hurries to catch up.

 

The district is bustling with people, mostly parents with their children, all of them carrying bags of things with shop names Harry has never heard of. He can see Tom’s neatly kept black hair a few paces ahead, and so he moves to walk beside him, worried that he’ll lose Tom in the crowd.

 

“It’s incredible,” Harry breathes, forgetting momentarily that Tom’s still mad with him.

 

Tom doesn’t answer, but his dark eyes are taking in the tall, slanted buildings that rise up and in at odd, sharp angles. There are street vendors shouting about all sorts of wares—jewellery and strange foods. And everything is so colourful, greens and purples and golds and pinks. It’s suddenly difficult to imagine Tom fitting in here; his Tom, who looks clean-cut in his dark grey jacket and crisp white shirt.

 

“We’re going to get wands first,” Tom says eventually, after they’ve drank their fill of the crowds in. His tone is calmer, more gentle than it had been this morning. Harry finds himself relaxing slightly, hopeful.

 

“Okay,” Harry agrees readily.

 

Tom walks off again, this time at a sedate pace, and Harry trails next to him, trying to keep a firm awareness of exactly where Tom is at all times despite the fantastical distractions surrounding them. There are even real owls in the skies above, despite the fact that it’s broad daylight out. Harry can make out the hooting if he concentrates past the noise of the crowds.

 

Eventually they reach their destination—an ancient shop called Ollivanders. The sign attached to this shop states that Ollivanders has been around since 382 B.C.. There’s a pair of redheaded boys bustling out the doors with their parents; Tom and Harry stand aside to make way for the entrance to clear. Tom looks as excited as Harry has ever seen him, though he’s trying hard to mask the emotion.

 

They enter the shop. It’s rather dusty for such an important-sounding place, and there are long, skinny boxes piled all over the floors and tables in tall, precarious stacks. The boxes must have wands in them, Harry realizes belatedly.

 

Tom strolls up to tap on the bell at the counter.

 

“Just a moment!”

 

An old man totters into view. His face is lined and withered, but he, too, seems kindly. White hair sticks up from his head in all directions like frizzy wires. The man claps his hands together upon seeing him and Tom. Harry assumes this man must be Ollivander.

 

“Excellent, excellent. First time at Hogwarts, I take it?” He squints at them. “Brothers? Cousins?”

 

“Not quite,” Tom says, in the same lilting tone as before.

 

“Well, let’s get you lads measured up.” Ollivander pulls out two bundled tape measures which shoot out of his hand at an alarming speed.

 

Harry can’t help but jerk backwards. The tape measure follows him, though, stretching this way and that as it measures all parts of his body in their different dimensions. A look at Harry's left reveals an equally disturbed expression on Tom’s face. Harry’s attempts to squirm don’t do much. If anything, the way the tape measure pauses to point its end at his face conveys a sense of… displeasure? Harry doesn’t want to think too much about that.

 

“Interesting, interesting.” Ollivander putters about his shop, looking through the stacks of boxes as he mutters to himself. “Very interesting.” The tape measures finish their work and roll themselves back up, settling themselves on the dusty countertop.

 

“Do you make us a wand using the measurements?” Harry asks curiously, trying not to glance too obviously at the piles of wand boxes all around the store.

 

“Oh, no, no, no. The wand chooses the wizard, my boy. I daresay I couldn't make you a custom wand if I tried.” Ollivander is shaking his head as he comes back into view, his arms laden with boxes.

 

“So how does it work?” Tom asks, impatience creeping into his voice.

 

“The wand chooses the wizard,” Ollivander repeats, and drops the packages in his arms unceremoniously on the counter. “Now, who wants to try first?”

 

Tom steps back up to the counter. “I’ll go first.”

 

Ollivander shuffles through the boxes and pulls one out, opening the lid, and handing the wand inside to Tom. “Give that one a try.”

 

Tom grasps it greedily, but barely manages to raise his arm before Ollivander snatches it away.

 

“No, not that one. Here, try this—” He hands Tom a different wand. This one looks longer and more curved than its predecessor.

 

Another attempt at waving the wand awkwardly is halted as Ollivander grabs it away and hands Tom another new wand. Tom goes through seven more wands in similar fashion, the crease between his brows deepening at each new failure. Harry’s beginning to worry that Tom might just explode the entire shop if this process continues. Some of the wands do things—they knock things over or explode violently. But apparently those acts of magic are not what Ollivander is looking for, because those wands are taken away as well. Tom is doing his best not to look angry, but Harry sees the mask starting to slip.

 

“Hmm.” Ollivander stops to look at Tom for a brief moment. “I do wonder…” Then he wanders off to the back of his shop once more, muttering continuously in an undertone.

 

Harry isn’t holding his breath when Ollivander returns with a new wand in hand, which he presents to Tom with a flourish. “This one.”

 

Tom grasps it, and then Harry can feel the change in the air around them. The wand glows brightly, brighter than any stone Tom had ever lit up. Silver sparks shoot out from the tip of the wand, and once again Harry gets an impression of feeling from the object—the wand is celebrating. Tom is celebrating, too. His face is rapturous, and he looks more powerful than Harry has ever seen him. The wand chooses the wizard, Harry thinks. And this one has chosen Tom Riddle.

 

“Thirteen and a half inches, yew with a phoenix feather core,” says Ollivander, sounding satisfied.

 

“I’ll take it,” Tom says in a reverent tone.

 

“Wonderful,” says Ollivander. Then, to Harry, “Now for you, young man.” With a wave of his own wand, Ollivander clears the countertop of boxes. “I do think I have a better feel of what to look for, now.”

 

He disappears again and then returns, more quickly, with new boxes of wands for Harry to try. Harry repeats the process—wave a wand, have Ollivander take it away. Now that he knows what to look for, Harry finds himself glancing over the boxes with a heightened sense of awareness. Some of the wands, he can tell, don’t like him.

 

Harry goes through a good number of wands, more than Tom had. He’s starting to feel nervous, but there were so many wands in the shop that surely one of them was meant for him? Tom is still examining his own wand with interest, though his gaze does occasionally drift over to Harry.

 

“I think,” says Ollivander, looking between the two of them. “I see the issue.”

 

Tom looks up. “Issue?” he asks, voice flat.

 

But Ollivander raises his wand with a flick, and another box comes zooming towards them. “This one, I think, will do the trick.”

 

Harry catches the box in both hands and lifts the lid. The wand inside is made of holly. As soon as his fingers brush against the polished wood, Harry knows this is his wand. His hand closes around its handle as golden sparks swirl and dance into the air. Happiness bubbles up inside him—a light, heady feeling. Tom had told him so many times that he was special, but seeing this, his wand, is real in a way that no words could have been. Harry is meant to go to Hogwarts, too. He has a wand, like Tom, and he is earning his place at Hogwarts just as much as Tom is.

 

“Eleven inches,” says Ollivander. “Holly and phoenix feather. Very unusual, very unusual indeed.”

 

“Unusual?” Tom asks, eyeing Harry’s wand. “How so?”

 

“It just so happens that the phoenix—whose tail feather resides in your wand—gave one other feather, just one.” Ollivander looks meaningfully at Tom, who is still clutching his own wand in his left hand. “Your wands are twin wands—brother wands.”

 

“Brother wands,” Tom says softly, his eyes falling onto Harry. “What does that mean?”

 

“Very curious,” Ollivander says absently. “Phoenixes themselves are some of the most independent and detached creatures in the world, and their allegiance is hardwon. For two such wands to choose two wizards such as yourselves… I do think you will go on to do great things.”

 

“So it’s very rare?” asks Harry.

 

“Phoenix feather core is the rarest type,” Ollivander says seriously, and his gaze grows intent as he looks directly upon Harry. The temperature in the room seems to cool by several degrees. “For only the most unique owners, as the wands themselves are capable of the greatest range of magic. Terrible, in some cases, but great.”

 

Harry can’t help but shiver at the words. Even Tom, standing just to the left of Harry, goes still as a statue.

 

“So that will be seven Galleons apiece,” Ollivander continues, as though he hadn’t just delivered a rather uncomfortable mood upon the shop.

 

Tom withdraws the pouch that Professor Dumbledore had given them. He undoes the drawstrings and fishes around inside for a while. Harry can hear the clinking sounds of coins knocking against each other. Finally, Tom pulls out fourteen large gold coins and stacks them on the counter. “Will that do?”

 

“Yes, thank you.” Ollivander stows the money into a half-rusted, ancient-looking register.

 

Tom catches Harry’s gaze and jerks his chin towards the exit. A knot in Harry’s chest unfurls itself at the acknowledgment. “Let’s go, Harry.”

 

The two of them stow their wands away and leave the shop together.

Chapter Text

“Pass me the list,” Tom says, holding his hand out.

 

They are back outside, standing in Diagon Alley amongst the witches and wizards. Harry retrieves the list of equipment from his trouser pocket and gives it to Tom, who looks over the items with a serious expression. There’s a new air about Tom as he moves; it borders on arrogance. Harry shifts his weight nervously from side to side as he waits for Tom to speak. But Tom’s tone is even, almost friendly as he speaks to Harry—

 

“We can save money if we use the same textbooks,” Tom comments. “We could get one set of new ones instead of used.”

 

“Okay,” Harry says, bewildered by this sudden change in Tom’s attitude.

 

“The rest of this—wizards robes, brass scales, cauldron, potions ingredients—I think we’ll need to get our own set. But we’ll see how much these things cost secondhand compared to brand new before we buy them.”

 

“That sounds smart,” Harry allows slowly.

 

“I’ll have to see what the classes are like before I decide—you will find out, won’t you? What the classes entail. Perhaps some of these other things can be shared as well.”

 

“Yes,” Harry says eagerly. “I can do that.”

 

“Good.” Tom folds the list up and hands it back to Harry. “Let’s get our robes.”

 

Tom’s hair, combed and tidy, shines under the warm August sun. His shoes shine too, as much as an orphan with no real wealth can get them to shine. Tom takes immense pride in his appearance and, by extension, Harry’s appearance. Harry guilty pats at his own hair in an attempt to smooth it over as he follows Tom to the secondhand robe shop. Tom wants to fit in with the wizards around them; he wants his wand and his robes. Tom doesn’t like to be perceived as anything less than perfect, and Harry struggles with his own self-image enough that he feels like he’s always lacking.

 

The sign above this shop reads, in tidy, handwritten letters, ‘Nettle’s Renewed Robes’. It is much cleaner than The Leaky Cauldron and Ollivanders: the glass windows are glossy and the door is a deep, polished forest green.

 

A bell tinkles as Tom pushes the door open, holding it aside so Harry can follow in behind him. The inside of the shop is just as tidy as the outside, if a bit plain. The walls are a flat cream colour, with little decoration other than a giant mirror for trying on clothes. There are also two medium-sized change rooms with large navy curtains visible at the back of the shop. A witch standing behind a counter is fiddling with a large bolt of shimmering cloth patterned with stars.

 

“Hello there,” says the woman at the counter. She is wearing a stately set of black robes that are tied round the waist with a bold, pink sash. Her glasses, clear of smudges, reflect the soft golden lamps hanging from the ceiling. “The two of you in for your school robes? My name’s Hannah, by the way,” she adds.

 

“Yes, we’re starting at Hogwarts in September,” Tom says briskly.

 

Hannah dumps her bolt of cloth on the counter and steps forward to size them up, crossing her arms and pursing her lips. Her knowing gaze drifts from Tom to Harry, and Harry resists the urge to wiggle under the scrutiny. “I have just the thing,” she says, after a dreadfully long pause. “Give me a moment to go and grab ‘em.”

 

“What a relief,” Harry whispers to Tom, as soon as she’s out of sight. “I was worried we’d have to go through the tape measure again.”

 

Tom snorts, and Harry smiles at the sound. “I would think that’s the least of our worries today,” Tom replies.

 

Then Hannah returns, dozens of cloth bundles draped over her arms and shoulders, like she’s a living coat rack rather than a shopkeeper. “Robes, trousers, shirts,” she rattles off the items. “Scarves and hats. And cloaks, of course.”

 

“That sounds like a lot,” Harry says worriedly. “We don’t need all that, do we?”

 

Hannah tsks at him as she gestures them over to the change rooms. “Of course you need all that, why else would I be suggesting it?”

 

“The school list states three plain robes, one hat, one pair of gloves, and one cloak,” Tom says pointedly.

 

Hannah levels Tom with a stern stare. “Listen, you’re both quite clearly Muggleborn or Muggle-raised from the looks of you,” she states bluntly to Tom. “You’ll want to fit in, am I correct? These’ll be Sickles on the Galleon anyhow, ‘cause they’re secondhand, so I’m not trying to cheat you if that’s what you’re worried about.”

 

Tom narrows his eyes. “Just because you say you’re willing to give us a good deal—that doesn’t mean we actually need all of that.” 

 

“Three robes each,” Hannah separates out a bunch of dark, black formless shapes of cloth and drops them into Harry’s surprised arms. She hands the rest of the clothing off to Tom. “There are Self-Adjusting Charms that last for at least two years. The charms were implemented when they were resold to this shop, so they’re practically brand new. Lengths will automatically extend as you need them to. Same goes for the cloaks, shirts, and trousers.”

 

“Do new robes not have these charms on them?” Harry asks, confused.

 

“They don’t, because typically it’ll interfere with the other charms built into the material—ones for Self-Cleaning or Anti-Summoning, things like that. Those charms won’t extend along with the materials as they expand, so it breaks the magic on the whole thing.”

 

“Self-Cleaning sounds important,” Harry says. “Don’t we need that?”

 

“You’re going to Hogwarts—there’ll be House-Elves to do that cleaning for you. Fancy clothing manufacturers just build the extra charms in to complicate the magic so you can’t Self-Adjust them. Then you need to go back every time you have a growth spurt, you see?”

 

“Alright,” says Tom decisively. “I’ll try some on. Harry, why don’t you ask some of those questions you had? Since Hannah seems so knowledgeable.”

 

Harry nods his head, and Tom vanishes into the changing room with his small mountain of clothing.

 

“What can I help you with, Harry?” Hannah asks gently.

 

“Ah—” Harry fumbles for the parchment list that he needs. “Just some questions about classes, and what all the equipment is used for.”

 

“First years on a budget, huh?” Hannah says empathetically. She pats Harry on the shoulder. “If you’re shopping secondhand for the rest, you can probably get a better deal on the Potions ingredients if you purchase in bulk rather than the premade sets since there’s two of you. And if you’re careful in class and don’t waste ingredients, you can get away with buying a bit less than what’s listed on the premade sets anyways. You only need to pay a small fee to use the school owls at Hogwarts, so you can owl-order more later on if you need it. Just make sure to grab a brochure from the potions shop while you’re there.

 

“Buy the crystal phials, not glass—they’re more expensive, but they will hold up better in the long run. Same with the dragonhide gloves. Your hands will thank you later, and the right pair of sturdy gloves will serve you over the course of your entire Hogwarts education.

 

“Buy the used cauldrons from a thrift shop, not the potions shop—you’ll get a better price. Check the bottom for cracks and make sure the thickness is up to standard—most of them have standards printed and stamped on the bottom to prevent fraud. Cauldrons are notoriously dangerous to clean, so only do so as instructed by your professor. Don’t want to end up losing a limb!

 

“Brass scales are much the same as cauldrons—you can likely find a more decent one if you go for the dirtiest-looking ones first. It’s more important that it weighs accurately; you can always clean the scales yourselves. Most Purebloods rely on House-Elves to do their cleaning for them—but they’ll get rid of perfectly good equipment just because they think it’s too much of a hassle to maintain. But back to the point, which is to make sure to test the accuracy of the scale before you buy.”

 

“Hold on,” Harry says wildly, overwhelmed, “and let me write all of this down.”

 

Hannah laughs at him, but not unkindly. She patiently repeats everything as Harry scribbles down notes on the back of his equipment list.

 

“Telescopes are a bit tricky secondhand,” Hannah continues. “There’s a lot of bits and bobs to them that can go wrong under the care of a reckless owner, leaving you with incorrect or inaccurate readings in class. You can bring them to the shop they were originally sold at and get them professionally re-adjusted for a fee.”

 

“Okay,” Harry says. He’s running out of space on the page now. “Anything else?”

 

“Pick up a copy of ‘Hogwarts: A History’. It’s not on your booklist, but it’ll give you a lot of background information you’ll need before you go to Hogwarts.”

 

Harry scrawls the name of the book at the bottom of the page. “‘Hogwarts: A History’,” he repeats. “Excellent.”

 

“And that’s all, I think. I’m usually here anyways, so if you have more questions you can come and ask me.”

 

“Thank you,” Harry says gratefully. “We might come do that.”

 

As if on cue, Tom chooses that moment to come swooshing out of the changing room. “These ones I’ll take,” he says, handing Hannah a small pile of clothing. Harry notes that Tom has also shed his own jacket, which is now draped over his shoulder. He’d probably been listening in the entire time.

 

“Guess I’ll go change,” Harry says reluctantly.

 

“I’ll just start to pack these up first, then.” Hannah says, gathering up Tom’s things.

 

“No hurry,” says Tom, now idly looking through a stack of brochures sitting on the shop counter.

 

Harry picks up the clothes Hannah had picked for him and walks over to the changing rooms. The room is decently-sized, and there is a floor-length mirror along with a large stool. He pulls the curtain shut behind him, setting the clothes onto the stool.

 

Just outside, he can hear Hannah explaining to Tom about how she will be magically charming name tags to appear on the clothing, and then discussing the prices.

 

Harry sorts through the clothes quickly, picking out ones that look as though they’ll fit. He’s just pulled on a shirt and a pair of trousers when he hears Tom calling him.

 

“Let’s see the fit, Harry.”

 

Embarrassed, Harry straightens his shirt and shuffles out of the change room. Tom scrutinizes Harry with a quick up-down glance then says, “You can pick better than that,” and pushes his way past Harry to sift through the options still sitting on the stool.

 

Harry walks back over only for Tom to pull the curtain shut behind him. “You’re too used to wearing clothes that don’t fit you properly,” Tom says in a low murmur, holding out a different shirt for Harry to try on. “If these are going to last two years, you’ll want something that starts off already fitting you.” Tom sorts through the rest of Harry’s pile in brisk movements, seemingly able to discern the sizes at a glance. Once done, Tom gathers up all the rejects and drapes them over his arm. He then gestures at the remaining articles he’s left on the stool. “Try those on. If they all seem to fit, we’ll get them.”

 

And then Tom pushes his way back through the navy curtains, leaving Harry feeling disoriented all over again. But he tries the rest on in quick order—nothing is too tight or too small, and since Harry doesn’t trust himself to tell what falls under Tom’s idea of ‘fitting’, he decides to just take everything. Three robes, two shirts, one pair of trousers, a thick winter cloak, and a pointed hat.

 

“How was it?” Hannah asks upon seeing him. Tom’s purchases are nicely wrapped into brown packages tied with twine on the countertop next to her.

 

“It all fits,” answers Harry, lifting up the bundle his arms.

 

“Good!” Hannah says, accepting the clothes from him. “Now, what name do we want on these?” She sets the things on the counter, raising her wand in anticipation.

 

“Harry?”

 

“Last name?” asks Hannah, wand still held aloft.

 

“Evans,” says Harry, firmly. Tom, standing at the counter, is watching him with an intensity that Harry can feel all the way down to his toes. Acutely aware of the fact that they’re still in public, Harry doesn’t expect any kind of comment or gesture from Tom in response to his declaration of loyalty, but he can tell Tom understands what it means.

 

Hannah waves her wand in a complex motion over the pile, presumably applying the name to the clothing. Then the clothes lift into the air and begin to fold themselves neatly. Paper and twine appear from behind the counter, swirling and wrapping themselves around the purchases.

 

“Six galleons, nine sickles, and fourteen knuts,” says Hannah.

 

Tom quietly counts out the coins and deposits them on the table. The price isn’t bad at all, Harry thinks, compared to the cost of a new wand. It’s less than what he would have expected, given how much their wands cost. Although, the shopkeeper seems nice enough that she must have given them an additional discount on top of the regular prices. And perhaps wands were just expensive items owing to their importance. It would make sense for wands to be very expensive if they were needed to do magic, and required strange things such as phoenix feathers to make them.

 

“How much is wizard money compared to pounds?” asks Harry.

 

“I think… it’s maybe one galleon to about twenty pence? It changes sometimes,” Hannah says.

 

“Twenty pence?” Tom repeats incredulously, as though unable to help himself. “A single galleon is worth twenty pence ?”

 

“Don’t yell at me about it,” Hannah says defensively, “I don’t set the rates.”

 

Tom doesn’t say anything more, but he does glance back down at the pouch in his hand, eyes slightly wide.

 

Harry, knowing what kind of information Tom probably wants, asks, “How does one earn wizard money here? What kind of jobs are there?”

 

“Depends who you are. A lot of the wealthier lot—Purebloods and the like, come from old families sitting on large vaults. Then you’ve got people like me working the shops. Most of the shops here are family-business and such. Then you have the Ministry of Magic, which is full of very important people who keep the cogs of government turnin’.” Here Hannah rolls her eyes to convey a strong sense of distaste. Then she continues, “Although, some of them in the departments are decent people, you just never see them at the head of the table, you know? And then you have researchers, who become experts in their respective fields. Their work leads to the patented creation of new spells, potions, or other products. You have professors or scholars who teach classes or produce textbooks. Some people work at Gringotts, which is the bank here. Although you’d have to be made of pretty stern stuff to work with goblins.”

 

“Goblins,” Harry repeats, awed. “That sounds wicked.”

 

“Don’t go thinking like that,” Hannah says seriously. “They’re not friendly, and they’d sooner kill you for offending them. Wizards and goblins don’t get along so well on account of both sides being—pardon my language—complete, bloody bastards.”

 

“Interesting,” says Tom. “Are there books you recommend on that as well? Or will it be covered in our schoolbooks.”

 

“Oh, trust me, Professor Binns is going to beat that topic to death when you take History of Magic. If you’re truly interested in the subject, you’ll be better off buying copies of the assignments and the exams off older students and doing your own self-study. Binns doesn’t know the difference, so no harm done.”

 

Harry, having pulled out his other sheet of paper, the one with directions to Diagon Alley written on one side, is now taking notes again. “Is there any other information you think we should know for our classes, Miss Hannah?”

 

“I’d recommend you try to stay out of Slytherin, which is one of the dormitory houses at Hogwarts,” she says, after a pause. Hannah taps her wand on the pile of packages, which shrink down to about a third of their previous size. She then tucks all their packages into a paper bag, which she hands off to Tom. “They don’t tolerate Muggleborns or Muggle-raised very well there. You can read more about the houses in ‘Hogwarts: A History’.”

 

“Not Slytherin,” Harry mumbles. “How do you spell that?”

 

Hannah spells it out and Harry jots it down. Next to him, Tom is subtly raising and lowering the bag of clothing in his hand, testing its weight. There’s a small furrow between his brows as he stares at it.

 

“The charms will wear off in about three hours or so,” Hannah says, watching him. “Then they’ll expand back to their normal size and weight.”

 

“Excellent,” says Tom, his tone a bit more stilted than strictly required. He tucks the paper bag into his rucksack. “Perhaps we ought to be on our way, then. Thank you for your assistance.”

 

“Thanks for helping us and everything,” Harry adds on.

 

“Of course.” Hannah smiles warmly at them. “Feel free to drop by again, or send me an owl if you have more questions.”

 

“Definitely,” says Harry, nodding. He then sees that Tom is already halfway to the door, apparently having decided they’ve overstayed their welcome. “Have a good day,” Harry adds hastily, packing away his papers.

 

Outside the shop Tom pauses just to the left of the storefront, out of sight of the windows. Harry approaches hesitantly. “Everything alright, Tom?” he asks, kicking at the gravel scattered across the cobblestone path.

 

Tom is looking at him with that stare again; his eyes are like pools of the starry night sky, dark and endless. “Everything’s fine,” Tom says quietly. “Harry Evans.”

 

Harry smiles tentatively in response, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Hogwarts will be good,” Harry assures him. “We’re going to belong there and do great things. Together, like Ollivander said.”

 

“It will,” Tom says warmly, and this authoritative proclamation is both familiar and reassuring to Harry, who can practically feel the fear and stress of the last week or so melting away. Tom understands now, he knows that Harry has no plans to leave him. Being a Potter doesn’t need to change anything between them; Harry is willing to forgo his heritage if it means proving to Tom that he prizes their friendship above all else.

 

“Where to next?” Harry asks, trying to swallow down the sudden emotions bubbling up inside of him.

 

“Bookshop,” says Tom breezily. “I think we’re going to need a copy of ‘Hogwarts: A History’.”

Chapter Text

The best bookshop, according to the wizarding family Harry stops along the way to ask for directions, is called ‘Flourish and Blotts’. It’s located on the opposite side of Diagon Alley, which means he and Tom have to make their way past all the other tempting storefronts before they arrive at their destination.

 

One shop in particular, Quality Quidditch Supplies, showcases broomsticks in its large display window. Harry wants to stop to look, but Tom is of a single mind when it involves learning new things, and continues along to Flourish and Blotts with only a quick glance at the huddle of children around the latest broom model—a Cleansweep Three, according to the golden script etched on the handle. Harry vows to drag Tom in at a later point. Surely even Tom, who didn’t much care for sports, could see the value of being able to fly.

 

Flourish and Blotts is extremely busy for a bookshop. There are already a good number of people standing around outside when Tom and Harry arrive, and so they have to take care not to get separated or pushed about as they enter. There’s a considerable jostle to get to the back of the shop—Harry can see a small crowd is gathered there already.

 

Harry gazes about the rest of the shop curiously. Bookcases stretch across all the vertical surfaces from floor to ceiling, all of them filled with hundreds upon hundreds of colourful books. There are books flying through the air and zooming all over the shop as the harried shop workers attempt to gather up customer purchases. It must be rather stressful to work here during the month before classes start, Harry thinks.

 

Finally, Harry’s eyes fall upon a large, brightly-coloured sign. Strangely, the picture of the woman in the poster is moving—she is smiling and waving at him from her little hand-drawn frame. According to the sign, a famous author, Bathilda Bagshot, is doing a book signing today.

 

“She’s the author of our history text,” Tom explains to Harry. “It would seem that this book is new.”

 

“So should we look for ‘Hogwarts: A History’ first?” asks Harry. “Since the shop seems so busy and we don’t really need a signature, do we?”

 

Tom pauses, seems to weigh the value of meeting a public figure against his desire to learn more about the wizarding world. Harry waits patiently as Tom thinks it over, standing as close to Tom as possible so as to not get knocked over by someone’s errant elbow. After a minute passes, Tom says, “I think we’ll simply get our books and leave. I’m sure we’ll have other opportunities later on, and it won’t do to go about befriending people before we know more about how things are done.”

 

So Tom flags down a shop worker, his presence commanding even as an eleven-year-old boy in a crowded shop. Tom tells the young, pimply wizard who wears a name tag reading ‘Robert’ that they’ll need a full set of first-year Hogwarts books and a copy of ‘Hogwarts: A History’.

 

“You’re in luck,” says Robert. “Just sold the second last copy not a moment earlier. Everyone else’ll have to wait for owl order.” A particularly large book flies towards them at a rapid speed, but Robert leaps up and catches it with a groan. He pants for a moment, the book having knocked the wind out of him. “Lots of exercise working in a place like this,” Robert jokes as he hands the book to Harry. “Pick up great reflexes for Quidditch.”

 

The rest of the books are gathered in short order, and Robert packages them up much the same way Miss Hannah had: crisp brown paper, lots of twine, and Charms to shrink and lighten everything. Harry tucks the new package into his own rucksack since Tom’s is already full of clothing.

 

Tom pays for the books as Harry thanks Robert for helping them, and then they both escape the bustle of the shop in favour of the open air in Diagon Alley.

 

“We’re going to need to buy trunks to store everything,” Harry says, realizing. “Or else how will we bring all this to King’s Cross? And how will we manage to fit an entire cauldron into one?”

 

“I’m sure wizards have a way of doing these things,” Tom answers reassuringly. “We can go back and ask that shop girl next time we’re here, if you like.”

 

“Oh.” Harry pauses. “Are we headed back to Wool’s now, then?”

 

“I want to read some of these books before we buy anything else,” Tom says. “And I want to see if I can convince Mrs. Cole to give us some money for supplies. Twenty pence a Galleon,” he adds in a mutter.

 

“Alright,” says Harry agreeably. “Should we find out where the rest of the shops are before we leave? It might save us some time when we come back.”

 

“Good idea,” Tom comments, pleased. “I thought I saw the Apothecary on our way over here. It would be prudent to make a note of where the rest of the shops are.”

 

So the two of them circle back the way they had come, eyes drifting across the colourful shop signs as they go: Eeylops Owl Emporium, Sugarplum's Sweets Shop, and, of course, Quality Quidditch Supplies. Harry’s attention is captured by the amazing displays, most of which prominently feature lots of magic. At least, from Harry’s perspective it appears to be a lot of magic. Perhaps the citizens of Diagon Alley are used to it, but to Harry and Tom all of it is new.

 

“Look,” Harry says, gesturing. “There’s an ice cream shop.” The colourful banner hanging across the top of the shop declares itself to be Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.

 

Tom purses his lips in thought, likely trying to decide if it’s worth pushing their budget to sample some magical delicacy. “We can go see the prices,” he allows. “And see if it’s affordable.”

 

Face brightening, Harry takes Tom’s hand and pulls him towards the shop. Tom permits himself to be pulled across the street and into the parlour, where the scent of dairy goodness immediately assaults Harry’s nostrils. The cooler atmosphere of the parlour compared to the August heat outside is very noticeable. The shop has checkered floors and a long counter filled with various ice cream options. There’s an older man scooping up the orders as the young girl at the register rings people up.

 

A couple paces away, two small children are enjoying a large, pink-brown confection covered in toppings. Harry’s mouth is already watering at the sight, and he hopes fervently that the ice cream isn’t too expensive in Tom’s opinion, because his heart is a tad set on trying something now.

 

“The ice cream looks very good,” Harry says carefully, glancing up at Tom.

 

Tom is staring up at the chalkboard of prices, calculations running in his head as he works out the value in pounds for each option. “Why don’t you grab us a seat,” Tom says absently, handing Harry his rucksack and jacket.

 

Grinning, Harry takes both items finds a small table to sit at. He sets both of their bags carefully on a chair and watches as Tom approaches the register to place their order. The young girl is nowhere to be seen now. Maybe she’d gone to the back for a moment, Harry thinks idly. The old man is taking Tom’s order, smiling with such friendliness that the corners of his eyes have clearly visible crinkles. Tom gesticulates up at the menu, his expression contrite. He’s still talking as he motions over his shoulder at where Harry is sitting. Harry, who recognizes what Tom is doing, waves shyly at them both, shrinking his shoulders down slightly.

 

Moments later Tom is sliding onto the seat next to Harry, looking pleased with himself. He must have gotten them quite the discount, thinks Harry.

 

“What flavour did you get?” Harry asks curiously.

 

“Chocolate and raspberry.”

 

“Toppings?”

 

Tom’s resulting grin is positively dazzling, and Harry can’t help but grin back. “Of course,” Tom says.

 

Shortly after that the shop girl brings over a large bowl of ice cream covered in chocolate sauce, chopped nuts, and little red sprinkles. “Enjoy!” she says cheerily. There are two red plastic spoons sticking up on either side of the mountainous dessert. Harry can feel his eyes widen as he stares.

 

Tom, for his part, looks extraordinarily smug as he picks up his spoon. They’d had little opportunity for something as expensive as a proper sundae at Wool’s, and so Harry plans to enjoy this treat with all the thrill of multiple holidays rolled into one. Harry snatches the other spoon up and scoops up some ice cream to try. The first thing Harry registers as the ice cream enters his mouth is that flavour is incredible—it tastes like actual chocolate and raspberry, not just flavouring. The little red sprinkles burst on his tongue with a strange fizzing sensation. Even the chocolate syrup taste different somehow. It’s milky and not too sweet, like magic had made that aspect of ice cream better as well.

 

“This is amazing,” Harry mumbles numbly around his half-melted mouthful.

 

“Much better than the carts by Wool’s,” Tom agrees steadily, eyeing their sundae speculatively. 

 

Although Tom doesn’t usually have much of a taste for sweet things, they both make quick work of the sundae, scooping up every last piece of chopped nuts and licking their spoons clean.

 

“This is the best day ever,” says Harry cheerfully, once they’re finished. It’s funny, almost, given the horrible, depressive mood with which Harry had begun his day.

 

Next to Harry, Tom looks relaxed as he reclines slightly in his chair, legs crossed, pose elegant. Harry admires the way Tom looks so self-assured, how he’s always carrying himself with an effortless sort of charisma, the type that convinces old shopkeepers to give them deeply discounted ice cream.

 

“It has been,” Tom agrees again.

 

“I’m excited to learn about magic,” Harry continues. “Like how Professor Dumbledore conjured that orb out of thin air.”

 

Tom’s face goes a little funny at that, and Harry realizes that Tom doesn’t like Professor Dumbledore much. Perhaps out of an association with the other, less palatable events that had occurred that day. Harry feels guilty, then, that their first encounter with the magical world will always be tainted by bad memories involving the surname ‘Potter’.

 

“Sure,” says Tom, his face smoothing back over just as quickly as it had gone sour. “I’d like to learn how to do that.”

 

“We’ve got a lot of reading to do before term,” Harry adds worriedly. Tom reads faster than he does, a skill honed by years of practice at school. Harry had not been much inclined to reading at his previous orphanage—he’d been mostly occupied with trying to escape the notice of the bullies, who did not much like it when Harry performed better than them in school rankings. His studies with Tom over the past two years have helped him improve greatly, but Harry still lacks the confidence to tackle more complex books on his own.

 

“It’ll be alright,” Tom says. “I’m sure none of the other students will work as hard as we will. We’ll certainly come out on top in the end.” Tom sounds so certain that Harry does feel some of his apprehension fade away. If Tom believes they can succeed, then they will. Even if Harry can’t quite find the confidence to, Tom has enough confidence for the both of them.

 

Sometimes Harry wonders if Tom ever gets bored of having to repeat lessons over with Harry, but Tom seems to enjoy it. He explains things simply and practically, giving examples as he gently corrects Harry’s work. Tom doesn’t mind teaching, Harry thinks, because it solidifies Tom’s position as the smarter person. Which is fine by Harry, who is willing to work hard to get good marks but has no strong desire toward grand ambitions like Tom does.

 

“We should head back now.” Tom stands up, hands automatically moving to smooth his shirt. Harry mimics him then grabs his bag, pulling it over his shoulder. They bid adieu to the shop owner—whose name is actually Florean Fortescue, says Tom—and exit to Diagon Alley.

 

“Hopefully the charms on the packages last,” Harry says worriedly. If their purchases were to expand within their bags, he and Tom would be in a great deal of trouble.

 

“It’s not been three hours yet,” Tom tells him. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back in time.”

 

Despite Tom’s reassurance, their walk back through Diagon Alley definitely carries an air of urgency. Tom keeps firm hold on Harry’s hand as they navigate quickly back to the brick wall where they had originally entered earlier that morning. Withdrawing his wand, Tom carefully counts spaces on the wall and taps, watching hungrily as the bricks creak and shift to accommodate their departure.

 

The Leaky Cauldron is busier now; the early dinner crowd is making its way in. Tom and Harry pass through silent and unnoticed, and then they are back in London—the non-magical side of it, at any rate. Harry lets Tom pull him along until the familiar entrance of Wool’s comes into view once more.

 

It’s nearly time for their supper, so he and Tom run up to their room, dumping the contents of their bags onto their beds in a rush so they can make their way down for dinner with the others. Although he’d eaten half of a large sundae only a while ago, Harry finds that he’s still very hungry, and polishes his plate in record time. All of the walking around and the general excitement of the day must have eaten up a lot of energy, he thinks.

 

Tom is as collected as always, eating at his usual pace, so that this time Harry is the one waiting for Tom to finish so they can escape to their room. Harry shuffles in his seat, filled with renewed excitement at the idea of unpacking their school books. The pictures in the books moved, like a theatre screen, and it was all incredibly impressive. Harry thought that even if the books turned out to be boring, he’d want to read them all anyways just for the pictures.

 

Finally, Tom finishes his plate and they both excuse themselves. Harry is half-jogging towards their room, giddy, with Tom a pace or two behind him.

 

Once their door is firmly shut, they both go to where the packages of books lay on Harry’s bed. The packages had clearly regrown themselves at some point during dinner, as they now take up a good portion of the bed. Tom reaches for the recommendation they’d gotten from Miss Hannah at the robe shop—Hogwarts: A History—and starts to tear the wrapping off. Harry shoves the rest of the packages aside so he and Tom can both sit on the bed, heads bent over together as Tom reveals the cover.

 

“Isn’t it amazing,” whispers Harry, “that the pictures move like that?”

 

Tom makes a noise of affirmation, his fingers tracing over the title of the book. Below the title is a picture of what Harry presumes to be Hogwarts: it is a grand, sprawling castle with a great number of towers. Everything around it looks just as incredible. There are lolling grassy hills and a large glassy lake. The clouds in the background of the picture move as though they are being blown about by particularly a windy day.

 

“That’s where we’ll be going,” Tom says, a touch of awe in his voice.

 

“A great big castle,” Harry muses. “I wonder if we will still bunk together.”

 

“Probably,” Tom says. “It’s easier to keep the rooms tidy that way, if everyone sleeps in the same spots.”

 

Tom flips ahead to the table of contents, which Harry thinks is rather long, even for a history book. They both scan the list of topics, looking for what seems to be the most interesting. There’s a chapter on Hogwarts’ four founders, one on its previous headmasters and headmistresses, and even one titled ‘The Chamber of Secrets’.

 

After a moment, Tom flips directly to the introduction and starts to read aloud in a soft, measured tone.

 

“Considered widely to be one of the greatest magical institutions in the world, Hogwarts’ illustrious history dates back as far as the 10th century. Located in the Highlands of Scotland, Hogwarts is a testimony to the power of unity in magic across Wizarding Britain. For generations, our children, and our children’s children, have been blessed to attend a school with such rich dedication to our culture and society. Founded by four of our most prominent historical figures, Hogwarts remains, to this day, a source of pride and joy for many witches and wizards, who regard memories of this treasured place with great fondness.

 

“The intention of this book is to bring forth those aspects of fondness, shedding light on the home where many have spent their happiest years of adolescence. Hogwarts truly has produced some of the finest witches and wizards the world has ever seen. From its inception until present day, Hogwarts’ stands as evidence that, on even the darkest of days, there will always remain one safe haven in Great Britain.”

 

Tom pauses mid-passage as the two of them allow the words to soak in.

 

“It sounds perfect,” Harry says honestly. He hadn’t ever thought he would consider calling somewhere ‘home’, but Hogwarts invokes a peculiar feeling of hope inside of him. A siren call that, perhaps, this would be the place he finally belonged in.

 

“It does,” Tom agrees. He turns back to the table of contents, seeking out the chapter on dormitories. After locating the page number, Tom thumbs back through the book. “Let’s see what those dormitory houses are like.”

 

Before that, however, they end up reading about the four founders of Hogwarts: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. Harry likes the story of Hogwarts’ creation; it reminds him of a fairytale. Four great friends coming together to create something magical. And Godric Gryffindor is the perfect hero for a book: courageous and determined. Tom goes on to list the traits prized by the founders: bravery, hard work, knowledge, and ambition.

 

Tom has plenty of ambition, thinks Harry. But Miss Hannah had warned them against Slytherin, saying it wasn’t a good place for Muggleborn and Muggle-raised children. He can tell Tom is conflicted given the way he’s frowning down at the page, as though he’s been presented with a particularly vexing problem.

 

“It doesn’t say how we get put into a house,” Harry says eventually, when it becomes apparent that Tom isn’t willing to move beyond the page they’re looking at. “Miss Hannah said that we should avoid it, so I wonder if we’ll get to choose.”

 

“Maybe,” Tom says, his face scrunching up in annoyance. “If that’s the case, we’ll have to make sure to pick the same house. Slytherin doesn’t sound that bad,” he adds. “Perhaps the shop girl just had a bad experience there. Cunning, resourcefulness, and ambition all sound like excellent traits to have. And their house animal is a snake, which suits us.”

 

Harry shrugs his shoulders in lieu of a response, not wanting to contradict Tom when they’ve only made up recently.

 

“We’ll have to finish the book before making a permanent choice,” decides Tom, sitting back as the crease between his brows smooths out. “Perhaps Ravenclaw would be another good option.”

 

“Alright,” Harry says reasonably. “We’ll finish the book.”

 

They read until late in the night, Tom dumping his glowing pebbles into Harry’s hands so they can see as they lie under the covers, learning about their new world of magic.

Chapter Text

August 14th, 1938

 

It only takes two days for Tom to finish reading ‘Hogwarts: A History’. Tom spends every available moment holed up in their room, his nose held close to a book.

 

Every so often he’ll pause to share an interesting fact or ask Harry what he thinks about something, just so Harry doesn’t feel excluded or as though Tom is ignoring him again. It’s nice that Tom remembers to include him, and the gesture doesn’t go unnoticed.

 

Harry knows that Tom really likes to be good at things, that he’ll devote as much attention as required to conquer a complicated maths problem. So Harry can’t say he’s surprised when Tom says they’ll be heading back to Diagon Alley to pick up the rest of their things that weekend.

 

Tom has Harry tap the brick to let them into Diagon Alley this time. Then they both move aside and pull on the robes that Tom had suggested they bring with them. Admittedly, Harry feels much better once they’re able to blend in with the crowd around them. Diagon Alley is just as busy on a weekend, with witches and wizards moving from shop to shop like particularly dedicated honey bees. 

 

Following Miss Hannah’s advice, they purchase their cauldrons, brass scales, and telescopes at a thrift shop, but purchase their potions ingredients, crystal phials, and dragonhide gloves at the Apothecary. Harry likes the look and feel of the gloves, mainly because they glimmer faintly as he tilts them back and forth. It’s a little piece of magic that he can wear.

 

Their last stop of the day is to buy trunks. Miss Hannah hadn’t given them any advice on trunks, likely because she’d talked about so many other things that it had slipped her mind. The result is that Tom and Harry pay a visit to a trunk specialty shop before realizing that the prices there are too expensive for them. So they revisit the thrift shop of earlier instead, and Tom spends nearly half an hour haggling with the owner, his best smile plastered across his face as he charms and cajoles the price lower and lower.

 

Eventually, he and Tom are the proud new owners of two gently-used magical trunks. The trunks, according to the thrift shop owner, are spelled to be magically larger on the inside, which explains how they are supposed to be able to fit an entire cauldron inside of them.

 

Tom loads all their other shrunken purchases inside the trunks and passes one off to Harry. The trunks have little wheels on the bottom that roll smoothly as it moves along. Harry grips the handle of his trunk, his magical trunk, and feels exhilarated all over again. He’s never owned so many nice things before. Tom hasn't either, but Tom does a better job of acting like he’s always had expensive items, like he was made to have them.

 

They wheel their trunks back to Wool’s, gratified and cheerful with the day’s work. Tom even has a bit of a skip to his step as he smiles at Harry.

 

That smile doesn’t last long, however, because Mrs. Cole is there to greet them at the door.

 

Earlier that morning, Tom said he had convinced her to give them some extra pocket money for supplies, but Harry now has doubts as to the straightforwardness of such a conversation.

 

“That Mr. Dunderbore is here again,” Mrs. Cole says instead, squinting at the both of them. “You’re still going to that school, aren’t you? He’s waiting in your room for you both.”

 

“Yes,” Tom says crossly. “We are. Now let us in.”

 

Mrs. Cole lets them by, still eyeing them suspiciously.

 

Tom tugs at his trunk petulantly as they approach their room, reluctant to enter. Harry nudges Tom gently with his shoulder in an attempt to reassure him. Grumpily, Tom kicks their door open and drags his trunk through the threshold.

 

Professor Dumbledore is waiting inside for them, seated once again on the wooden chair he’d occupied last time he’d been here. He’s wearing a bright red suit this time, and smiles upon seeing the two boys entering the room.

 

“Hello again, Harry, Tom,” Professor Dumbledore greets them.

 

“Hello Professor Dumbledore,” says Harry, yanking his trunk over towards his bed.

 

“Hello sir,” Tom says shortly, propping his trunk up against the foot of his own bed as he glowers.

 

“I see you have gathered your supplies for the school year,” Professor Dumbledore comments.

 

“Yes,” Harry begins hesitantly. “We have everything on the list you gave us, sir.”

 

“That is wonderful,” Professor Dumbledore says. “But I’m afraid I have not stopped by to only catch up on your shopping habits, as interesting as they may be.”

 

“Is there something the matter, sir?” Tom asks. “With our acceptance to Hogwarts?”

 

“Oh, not at all.” Professor Dumbledore chuckles, shaking his head. “Distracted as I am, I’d forgotten that you were unlikely to possess the means to contact me should you need to. I am here, as I had mentioned in passing before, to ascertain young Harry’s decision to his surname.”

 

Harry nods his head rapidly, feeling Tom’s gaze touch the side of his head. “That’s right, sir. I’ve made my decision.”

 

“And?”

 

“I’d like to keep my mother’s surname, please,” says Harry. “If that’s alright.”

 

“Of course, why would it not be?” Professor Dumbledore smiles again. “Be assured that when you reach Hogwarts, your name will be updated as such on our registry.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Tom interjects stiffly. “Will that be all?”

 

Professor Dumbledore turns to Tom, his eyes twinkling though his expression is thoughtful. “I should think so, Tom.”

 

“Bit excessive for a house call,” Tom remarks calmly.

 

“Forgive me, then. I do enjoy spending time with my students and often forget they lead lives much more interesting than mine.” Professor Dumbledore winks at Harry, who feels awkward at being singled out. “I am also here to deliver a reminder that magic is not permitted for underaged wizards outside of school. Accidental magic notwithstanding, of course.” Here he looks again at Harry then at Tom, his gaze lingering on the latter for but a moment too long to be natural.

 

“That’s good to know, sir. And it’s nice to see you,” Harry says politely, breaking the silence. “Tom and I have been reading our textbooks to prepare for classes. Transfiguration looks very interesting.”

 

Tom kicks repeatedly at the bottom of his trunk, a quiet thunk thunk noise that echoes noticeably in the small room.

 

“I’m quite glad to hear that. But I shan’t intrude on your hospitality any longer.” Professor Dumbledore rises from the chair, offering his hand mildly.

 

Harry shakes hands then looks at Tom, who looks like he wants to cross his arms and stomp his feet rather than shake the professor’s hand. After a brief second passes, Tom deigns to grasp Professor Dumbledore’s hand and give it a firm shake.

 

“See you at Hogwarts, sir,” says Tom.

 

Professor Dumbledore inclines his head. “See you at Hogwarts, Tom.” And then the professor takes his leave without further ado.

 

“He’s annoying,” Tom states unnecessarily. “I don’t like him.”

 

Harry coughs and chooses not to comment, instead moving to lift his trunk onto his bed. He pulls his wand out from where he’d had it tucked into his back pocket, aiming the tip at the trunk lock. A gentle tap of the wand makes the lock click open. The owner of the thrift shop had helped Tom and Harry key themselves into the trunks—Tom had also insisted that they both be able to open each other’s, because they were sharing textbooks, and Harry had readily agreed.

 

The trunk is unnervingly deep as Harry peers down at its depths. He can see the items they’d purchased today sitting in their respective places, exactly where he’d placed them before. Apparently the floor of the trunk had a built in Sticking Charm that prevented your items from rolling about. Harry nudges at his set of brass scales curiously, then lifts up one side of his trunk, keeping his eyes fixed on the scales. Despite the angle, the scales merely tilt up along with the trunk, its base rooted firmly in place. Interesting.

 

Then he looks over at Tom, just to see what the other boy is doing. Tom, predictably, has kicked off his shoes and is reading through another one of their textbooks. His trunk, untouched, is still sitting at the foot of his bed. Tom flips a page idly, then looks up as he senses Harry’s gaze, quirking his brow in question.

 

“Just going to put my things away,” says Harry.

 

Tom nods and goes back to reading.

 

Satisfied that Tom isn’t irritated about Harry’s sudden fixation, Harry starts to rearrange his things in the trunk to make more room. Then he retrieves his new clothes from where he’d stashed them under his bed. Everything other than the robe he’d worn today is still wrapped up, the red stamp of Hannah Nettle’s shop visible on the top of each item’s original packaging.

 

Carefully, Harry unwraps his clothing and tucks the items neatly away into a drawer of his trunk. Once that is completed, Harry moves to the cupboard and pulls out all his clothes from there as well, folding them up and adding them to the rest of his wardrobe in the trunk.

 

Task completed, Harry regards his trunk in satisfaction for a long moment before he relocks it. Then he moves over to the desk where ‘Hogwarts: A History’ is, and picks up the book, carrying it with him over to Tom’s bed. Tom shifts over automatically, making space for Harry as Harry toes off his shoes and crawls up next to him. They sit side by side with their backs pressed against the wall and their shoulders and elbows nearly touching, reading quietly until it is time for supper.

 


 

September 1st, 1938

 

Harry wakes well before the sun does, feeling well rested despite the early hour. He’s been sleeping without nightmares nearly every night since he and Tom had their first visit to Diagon Alley. Both his and Tom’s trunks have been packed for nearly a week now in anticipation of today.

 

“Tom?” Harry whispers, swinging his legs out over the side of his bed. Usually Tom is awake before he is. Tom says he’s a light sleeper; he’s always awake whenever Harry has a nightmare.

 

Tom makes a noise that’s not quite a verbal acknowledgement, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. Then he blinks a few times as his dark eyes focus on Harry. “You’re up early for once.”

 

“It’s Hogwarts day,” Harry exclaims. “We’re going to Hogwarts today. We need to be early.”

 

“We are,” Tom agrees, pleased. “This day is the real beginning of the rest of our lives.”

 

“I can’t wait to learn more magic,” adds Harry. 

 

“We’ll get to practicing as soon as we can,” Tom promises. “I’ve been looking at the exercises in the textbooks and I’m fairly sure we can attempt some of them ourselves, even without a professor supervising.”

 

Harry frowns slightly. “What if it’s dangerous, Tom? Our wands are more powerful than what we can do on our own.”

 

“It will be fine,” Tom huffs. “It’s not as though they monitor children performing accidental magic for dangerous situations. So it must be reasonably safe to practice magic on our own. How else would you be able to study for exams?”

 

“But they ought to teach us first,” Harry protests.

 

“That’s what the textbooks are for,” Tom says coolly. “If it reassures you, I’ll learn a spell first and then teach it to you.”

 

“Well, alright,” Harry says, since he can tell that Tom isn’t going to change his mind. “But you’ll be careful.”

 

“You can watch to make sure,” allows Tom. “And if anything does go wrong, which I’m sure it won’t, then you can go find a professor.”

 

The two of them dress for the day, Tom fussing over their hair and their shirt collars. Harry manages to convince his hair into a style that approaches neat and tidy. Then he carefully cleans the lenses of his glasses.

 

Tom closes the lid of his trunk, locking it. “Ready?” he asks.

 

“Ready,” Harry affirms.

 

Tom waits at the entrance as Harry bids farewell to Mrs. Cole. He can’t say he’ll miss Wool’s, but it seems appropriate to go through the motions since they will, presumably, be returning in the summer. A few of the other orphans have gathered in the hall as well, despite the early hour, eyeing Tom and Harry with equal amounts of suspicion and jealousy. But Tom has always been high above the rest, thinks Harry, so they shouldn’t be so surprised that he’s off to a private boarding school.

 

“Good bye,” Harry says to them anyways. “We’ll be back in the summer.”

 

Amy Benson is the only one to wave back, and her polite gesture is only half hearted. Perhaps they’re all glad he and Tom will be gone for the school year. Harry decides it doesn’t matter much, because he doesn’t care what they think and he won’t miss any of them. He’s going to go learn magic with Tom at Hogwarts.

 

Harry tugs his trunk out through the entrance to where Tom is standing.

 

“You won’t really miss this place, will you?” Tom asks curiously.

 

“I don’t think so,” admits Harry. “But we’ll be back here in the summer, won’t we?”

 

Tom shrugs and starts walking. “Perhaps.”

 

Harry thinks about that. He can’t quite see how Tom plans to figure out other living arrangements for them, but he doesn’t doubt that Tom would be able to do so if he set his mind to it. Still, summer is a long ways from now, so there’s no need to worry too much about it.

 

The Underground is not too far off from Wool’s, but navigating the streets with their bulky trunks does make the journey slower than usual. Harry drinks in the sight of London around them—he’s not sure when he’ll be able to do so again. The noises and the smells and the people; he wants to capture the memories of the mundane world he is about to leave behind.

 

“So,” says Harry, after a few minutes have gone by. “Are we going to try for Slytherin?” Upon reading about the Chamber of Secrets, Tom had been more convinced that it was the house to be in. Harry thought it odd, really, that Tom would want to join a house full of ‘Purebloods’ who, according to Hogwarts: A History, have been attempting to rid the school of Muggleborns since its founding. But Tom has never been one to shy away from a challenge, Harry knows. And there is the appeal of ambition, of becoming more, which suits Tom more than Harry cares to admit.

 

“I certainly want to try,” Tom says, and Harry resists the urge to sigh outwardly. This means, of course, that Harry is expected to try with him. Tom is stubborn; Harry doubts he’ll be able to so much as put a dent in Tom’s decision before they arrive at school.

 

“We’ll be fine as long as we’re together,” Harry says, echoing the sentiment of words that Tom has said to him a thousand times before.

 

Tom turns and looks at him then, and Harry can see fondness creeping into his edges of his expression. “Absolutely.”

 

Thus heartened, Harry tugs at this trunk with renewed vigour.

 

The London Underground is only vaguely familiar to Harry, who has only ridden it once or twice before. From one train to another, Harry thinks to himself. One Muggle train and one magical one. There are posters and advertisements plastered all over the walls as he and Tom pay the fare and make their way up a long escalator. It takes Tom a moment to reorient them in the direction of the correct platform, but they find it with time to spare. The air is heavier here, somehow. Thick with a mix of smog and cigarette smoke.

 

“One train platform found, one more to go,” Harry muses.

 

“Platform 9 and ¾,” Tom says incredulously. “You’d think if they were to put one in between at all, that they would put it in the middle.”

 

They both find a bench to sit upon and wait patiently for the train to arrive. When the train pulls up, Harry can’t help but wonder if the Hogwarts Express will look the same, or if magical trains somehow look different.

 

Predictably, Tom refuses to let their trunks out of their sight, waving off the train attendant who approaches them. So they pull their trunks along with them as they board the train, settling into a half-empty compartment together. Tom pulls out another book to read during the trip, and Harry divides his time between watching the other passengers and responding to Tom’s occasional commentary.

 

The train ride is both too long and not long enough. Harry feels nervous as they arrive at King’s Cross. Professor Dumbledore had said there would be a barrier between Platforms 9 and 10 that they would have to walk through in order to reach the Hogwarts Express, and Harry can’t help but imagine a horrible scenario where he can’t pass through the barrier because he’s not worthy enough to go to Hogwarts. Tom would tell him that he’s being stupid, that he has a wand and his name on the registry and of course he’s going to Hogwarts.

 

They descend a little too quickly, Harry’s trunk landing on the ground with a too-loud thunk. They navigate once more through a flow of passengers at the station, seeking the magical brick wall which will lead them to their destination. Harry notes the time as they pass a large clock—nearly 10 AM, meaning they ought to be on time even if they manage to get lost. It’s much brighter inside King’s Cross—the ceiling is made almost entirely of skylights that allow all of the natural daylight in.

 

Tom walks them over to a map, which he stares at for a brief moment. Harry follows his gaze, eyes drifting over all the thick, bold lines that represent train paths. He spots Platform 9 a moment after Tom does.

 

“It’s this way,” says Tom, reaching out to tug at Harry’s arm.

 

“Should we put our robes on first?” Harry asks, allowing himself to be guided along.

 

Tom falters mid-step, then continues on. “It might make us look strange to the others,” he says decisively. “Perhaps we ought to wait until we reach the platform.”

 

This idea seems sound until they get closer to Platform 9. Harry spots a family of three dressed in wizards robes: two parents and their young daughter. The girl, who looks about the same age as Harry and Tom, has a large owl in a cage stacked on top of her trunk, which sits atop a trolley. The plain brown owl hoots angrily at anyone who gets too close to the family, garnering many odd looks.

 

“Shut up, Peppi!” says the girl. Her glossy black hair is pulled up into pigtails that are tied with pastel-pink hair ribbons. The parents briefly chastise the girl for her rude language before returning to their own conversation.

 

The owl, Peppi, looks balefully back at its owner, ruffling its feathers indignantly. The girl crosses her arms and stares right back at it, unbothered. 

 

“I wonder how much an owl costs,” Harry muses as they pass by the girl and her parents, giving the owl a wide berth as they do so.

 

“I’ll find out,” Tom says distractedly. Then he nudges Harry with his elbow. “There, look, I think that must be it.”

 

Indeed, Harry can see, a few paces away, a large sign indicating ‘Platform 9’ sticking out from the wall above them. They wheel their trunks over, past the sign until they can see the next sign over which reads ‘Platform 10’.

 

“Alright,” says Tom, stopping in place and turning a slow pivot. “This wall appears to be the midway point, so we ought to try that next one over there.”

 

They approach the solid wall together, though Harry’s nerve from this morning is beginning to fail him. The barrier appears to be nothing other than a plain brick wall. There’s an uncomfortable ball of anxiety sitting inside Harry’s stomach as he stares at the unremarkable surface.

 

Tom gazes at the wall, face expressionless. “It certainly looks like a solid wall, not unlike the one at the Leaky Cauldron.”

 

“Professor Dumbledore said we ought to just run into it,” Harry says unnecessarily.

 

“He did,” says Tom.

 

They stand there for another beat. It is only then that Harry realizes Tom is also nervous, and trying very hard not to show it.

 

Harry swallows the lump in his throat. “Tom,” he says, letting some of the apprehension seep into his tone, “you’ll walk through the barrier with me, right? I don’t think I want to do it by myself.”

 

Tom’s back straightens. “Of course I will.” He holds his hand out, and Harry grasps it securely. “On three?” asks Tom.

 

Harry nods firmly in response. “On three.”

 

They count down together: “One, two, three—”

Chapter Text

The first thing Harry registers upon passing through the barrier to Platform 9 and ¾ is that the Hogwarts Express is beautiful. The massive steam train is painted a glossy black and red, with a multitude of cars that stretch for a very long while down the tracks.

 

Tom, still clutching Harry’s hand, squeezes it once before releasing it. “Let’s put our robes on,” says Tom, though Harry notes his voice is pitched different than usual. They walk away from the barrier until they reach the next wall over, then stop in front of it.

 

Harry sets his trunk down properly on the ground and retrieves his wand from inside his jacket. He then sheds his jacket, opening his trunk up to dump the jacket inside and retrieve his school robes. The robes don’t feel heavy despite its sturdy material; it settles comfortably on Harry’s arms and shoulders as he tugs it on. Next to him, Tom is doing the same thing.

 

“We look like proper wizards now,” says Harry. He pulls out his hat and cloak next, wedging them underneath his arm. The next thing he retrieves from his trunk is his rucksack, followed by the two sandwiches he’d packed for him and Tom before departing Wool’s. Harry locks his trunk and stows his wand into an outer pocket. Then he opens his rucksack and dumps his hat and robes inside. He tucks the sandwiches on top of the clothing before closing his bag up.

 

When he looks back up, Tom is grinning at him. He has his cloak draped around his shoulders and one of their textbooks wedged under his arm. “And we’re not in Muggle London anymore, either. Which means we can do magic.”

 

Harry glances around at the people on the platform. “Maybe once we’re inside a compartment,” he allows. “I don’t want us to get in trouble if an adult sees us.”

 

“Of course,” Tom says agreeably, locking his trunk back up.

 

The two of them pull their trunks down the length of the platform as they take in the sight of the train. There are a number of older students standing around in clumps, their robes bearing the insignias of their Hogwarts houses. Harry sees that the students who are grouped together in little huddles typically wear the same badges: a pride of Gryffindors or a nest of Slytherins. That’ll be him and Tom next year, he thinks to himself. The two of them wearing the same patches on their robes and the same house colours. One older boy, a Ravenclaw, is even wearing a fancy navy-blue cloak with bronze trimmings.

 

Tom gazes enviously at the cloak for a moment before he turns back to Harry. “Shall we get on the train?”

 

“Sure,” Harry says. “Let’s find an empty compartment before they’re all taken.”

 

He and Tom hand their trunks off to a train attendant. The attendant checks their tickets, which Tom produces fastidiously from his robes, and ushers them inside. Harry, feeling slightly bereft at the sudden absence of trunk he’d been dragging around all day, quietly follows Tom up and onto the train.

 

The interior of the train much looks like any other train in London, save for the fact that the people walking about in it are clearly not made up of the usual crowd of Londoners. There are more students with their colour-trimmed robes and house patches here, chattering as they walk down the length of the train, searching for their friends or for compartments to sit in.

 

Tom and Harry pass through multiple cars before they manage to find an empty compartment. Harry shuts the door behind them as they settle in. They’re in a compartment on the left side, meaning they can look out the window at the remaining people on the platform. There are quite a lot of tearful parents bidding their disgruntled, embarrassed children farewell for the school year.

 

“Seems like there’s a great number of students here,” Harry comments idly. “I wonder how many will be in our year.” He carefully places his bag in the empty space above the seat, then sits down.

 

“If there’s more than usual, then perhaps there’ll be smaller dorm rooms,” says Tom, who now has his feet propped up along the entire seat bench where he is sat across from Harry. His textbook has been placed on the seat bench Harry is currently occupying.

 

“Let’s hope it’s not alphabetical in that case,” Harry says worriedly. Perhaps he should have stuck with the surname ‘Potter’ despite the troubles it had caused them. Harry can’t bear to think of an entire school year spent without Tom, without sharing a room with Tom, let alone trying to get through his nightmares without Tom to help him.

 

Tom frowns, this possibility obviously not having occurred to him until now. Then he says, quite forcefully, “If that does happen, then I’ll switch with someone else.”

 

Harry tries to let this reassure him. “Okay, Tom.”

 

“Really,” Tom insists. “Don’t worry about that now. Let’s just enjoy the train ride.”

 

“Okay,” says Harry again, injecting some levity into his voice as he does so. “Why don’t you try some magic, like you wanted to?”

 

“Hmm. Alright.” Tom pulls out his yew wand and eyes it for a moment. Then he swings his legs back onto the floor so he can sit up properly.

 

“You can do it,” encourages Harry.

 

Tom sniffs, mildly offended. “I know. Just give me a moment to think of a spell.”

 

Harry is grinning, however, too excited to even poke fun at Tom’s arrogance.

 

“I’ll need something small to aim at,” Tom says eventually.

 

Harry checks through his bag and his pockets, but only comes up with his wand, his sandwiches, and his train ticket. “Will this do?” Harry asks, holding up the little purple ticket.

 

“Sure,” says Tom. “Set it down on the seat. This shouldn’t hurt it.”

 

So Harry does so, and Tom points his wand carefully at the ticket. “Swish and flick,” Tom mutters, practicing the motion. He repeats the movement a few times, then inhales deeply. “Wingardium Leviosa,” Tom incants as he waves his wand.

 

There’s a second of pause, then the ticket jerks upwards a few times in an aborted motion—once, twice, then all at once—as it rises to meet the height at which Tom’s wand is now pointed.

 

“Wicked,” says Harry, impressed.

 

They both watch as Tom urges the little slip of paper higher and higher until it hits the ceiling. It falters upon impact and then falls down to the floor. Harry picks it up and examines it. It looks the same as it had before.

 

Tom’s face is flushed with pleasure. “You saw that,” he says proudly. “I did it.”

 

“You did,” Harry echoes. “Is that from our Standard Spells textbook?”

 

“Yes,” says Tom, sounding very content. He lounges back onto the bench seat, then adds, “It’s supposed to be one of the first spells we learn.”

 

Harry nods his head, now wishing that he’d thought to bring one of their textbooks with him for the train ride to Hogwarts. While he had finished his reading of Hogwarts: A History, he’d only had time to skim the introductions and table of contents of their other textbooks. Perhaps Tom would let him borrow his book once he was done with it.

 

Then Harry suddenly hears a loud whistle coming from somewhere outside.

 

“The train must be leaving,” Harry comments. He can see the same teary-eyed family members from earlier still waving from the platform. “It feels strange to be leaving London.”

 

“Good riddance,” says Tom. “There’ll be clean air at Hogwarts, like at the seaside.”

 

“That’s true,” Harry allows. “There’s the Quidditch pitch and the Great Lake.”

 

The train is pulling away from the station, now. The backdrop of King’s Cross Station slowly disappears from view. Harry shifts over to the window so he has a better angle at which to see. He’d thought leaving London for the first time would feel… different, somehow. But it doesn’t, it mostly feels strange, like Harry’s mind has not quite caught up to where his body is.

 

“D’you want me to read aloud?”

 

Startled, Harry looks back at Tom. “Sure, Tom. Thanks.”

 

Tom’s rhythmic narration fills the compartment as Harry watches the scenery through the window begin to rush by, pavement and concrete blurring into grass and blue-grey skies. The peaceful atmosphere does not last long, however, as it is interrupted by someone rapping insistently on the door. Harry jumps and Tom cuts off mid-sentence, scowling.

 

A pair of identical girls with long, dark-brown hair are standing on the other side of the glass.

 

Harry stands up and goes to let them in.

 

“Hello,” says the girl on the left. “Mind if we sit with you?”

 

“I’m Annalise Greengrass,” says the other, sounding a bit more apologetic about their intrusion. “And this is Adelaide.”

 

Annalise is shorter than her sister by half an inch or so, and her features are slightly rounder whereas Adelaide’s are more accentuated. Both girls have wide, hazel eyes and rich, tan-coloured skin. They also speak in clear, upper-class accents that Harry can’t place the source of. They’re dressed in robes as well, but also wearing wool dresses underneath. Their stockings are very clean and white, and their black mary-janes are slick and glossy.

 

“We don’t mind, do we?” Harry says quickly, looking at Tom. He’s hopeful that Tom will want to make some friends before they arrive, just so they’ll have some friendly faces when they start their classes. The girls are pretty—in a sort of elegant way, like dolls—and perhaps are of a wealthy sort that Tom would like to befriend for the sake of ladder climbing.

 

“Have a seat,” Tom says generously, gesturing at the space across from him.

 

Harry takes that as his cue and moves to sit next to Tom. “I’m Harry and this is Tom,” he says to the girls.

 

Adelaide purses her lips, clearly thinking something over, and then she slides into the window seat. Annalise is carrying a black leather bag with her. She stands on tiptoe to toss it into the overhead before settling in next to her sister.

 

“Which families are you from?” Adelaide asks curiously.

 

Tom bares his teeth in an easy grin. “We’re both orphans,” Tom says.

 

Mildly horrified, Annalise makes an awful noise like a hiss and elbows her sister sharply. “I’m sorry,” she says contritely.

 

Unbothered by her sister’s reaction, Adelaide shrugs. “You look like you might have been someone we would have known, is all.” Harry wonders, fleetingly, if the two girls know the Potter family. Then he squashes down on that thought ruthlessly, banishing it to the back of his mind. He doesn’t want to think about that right now.

 

“Harry Evans,” says Harry formally, then gestures at Tom. “And he’s Tom Riddle.”

 

“Pleased to meet you,” Adelaide says politely.

 

“Pleased,” echoes Annalise, not half a second later.

 

Tom is very still, studying the twins with a look of contemplation on his face. “What house do you think you’ll be in?” Tom asks them, sounding genuinely curious.

 

“Slytherin,” says Adelaide, at the same time as Annalise, who instead says, “Ravenclaw.” The girls glance at each other and sigh simultaneously. Adelaide runs a hand through her hair and then tosses the length of it over her shoulder. It’s a motion that Harry’s seen older girls and women do, and it looks strange on a girl as young as Adelaide.

 

“And yourselves?” asks Annalise in return.

 

“Slytherin,” answers Tom confidently, as though there’s no other possibility he could have considered.

 

Adelaide looks impressed. “That is ambitious of you, Riddle.” Harry’s mind fills in the context of her reply—she’s assuming he and Tom are both Muggleborn.

 

“Me too,” Harry says belatedly. “Slytherin.”

 

“Maybe we’ll be housemates, then,” Adelaide says seriously. “Although, both our parents were in Ravenclaw,” she gestures at herself and Annalise.

 

“Perhaps,” Tom allows. Then, “Have you started on any of the reading yet?”

 

Adelaide perks up. “I have,” she says pompously, leaning back and placing her hands on her hips despite the fact that she’s sitting down. It a little silly, Harry thinks again, as though she’s trying to be an adult when she’s not. Adelaide continues, “I’ve read through nearly half the assigned texts.”

 

“I’ve read all of them except one,” Tom says, his tone even more smug, “which I plan to finish before we reach Hogwarts.”

 

Offended, Adelaide stares at Tom in clear frustration. Annalise snorts at her sister, a high-pitched, ungainly sound that bubbles up and out despite her attempt to rein it in. Harry makes eye-contact with Annalise, whose gaze flickers briefly from Adelaide to Tom before they return to Harry. Harry has the feeling they’ve got a lot in common.

 

There’s a new knock at the door. Harry’s halfway through thinking that any new additions would likely not survive the currently heated atmosphere of their compartment before he realizes that it’s an elderly woman with a food trolley.

 

The older witch, wizened and hunchbacked, slides open the door of their compartment. “Anything from the trolley?” she asks in a sweet voice.

 

Annalise immediately begins to search in her robes for money. “Yes, please,” she starts, “I have some coins here somewhere—” She pats at her pockets hurriedly. Then she withdraws a small handful of Sickles and Knuts, which she promptly dumps into the trolley lady’s wrinkled hands. “Ah, here we are. Four Chocolate Frogs, a large box of Bertie’s Every Flavour Beans, and as many pieces of Drooble’s as this can buy. Please,” she adds again as an afterthought.

 

The trolley witch picks out Annalise’s purchases and hands them over. “There you are, dear.”

 

“Thank you!” Annalise beams and waves as the elderly witch departs. Then, now addressing the compartment, “Chocolate Frogs all around, I should think.” She tosses two of them at Tom and Harry, who catch the boxed sweets easily. The carton is purple and shaped like a pentagon. The name of the factory that makes them is called ‘Honeydukes’.

 

Harry watches, equal parts horrified and fascinated, as Adelaide takes her Chocolate Frog and begins to tear off the wrappings. The frog inside actually starts squirming, like it’s trying to escape, but Adelaide takes firm hold of it and bites off one of its limbs. Although the frog goes limp after losing its leg, Adelaide continues to methodically chomp off all of its legs one at a time.

 

“You’ve got to eat it before it jumps away,” Annalise says mildly, now shy again as she speaks to Harry and Tom.

 

Tom unwraps his own chocolate swiftly and takes a large bite of the head before the frog even has a chance to move out of the box. “It’s just chocolate,” Tom says unthinkingly, examining the rest of the sweet in his hand with a scrutinizing glare.

 

Adelaide shakes her head, expression haughty. “There wouldn’t be a real frog inside. That would be disgusting.”

 

The rest of the ride continues much the same, with Tom and Adelaide subtly attempting to slight each other while Harry and Annalise are left to try and run distractions. Eventually the compartment settles down, leaving Harry to nibble at one of the sandwiches he’d packed while Tom reads The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1.

 

Sunlight fades into darkness as evening falls upon them, and eventually there are Prefects making their way down the cars, rapping lightly on the doors and telling people to get changed.

 

Tom, who Harry sees is now on the final chapter of his book, lifts his gaze up briefly to look out into the corridor. “How long till we get there? Did someone say?”

 

“I’m not sure,” says Annalise. “But we must be close.”

 

“Grab the bag, ‘Lise,” says Adelaide.

 

Annalise clambers up and off her seat to reach for their large leather bag. Opening it up, she pulls out two black winter cloaks, passing one to Adelaide. Both girls pull their cloaks on in a perfect, synchronized motion.

 

“We’ve got to go find our brother before we arrive,” Annalise says apologetically. “But we’ll see you later on?”

 

“I’m sure,” says Tom cordially. “It was nice to meet you both.”

 

“Thanks for the chocolate,” Harry adds.

 

The girls bid them farewell as they exit the compartment to the corridor. Tom straightened up again after they disappeared from sight, his pleasant expression morphing back into one of neutrality. “What do you think?” he asks Harry.

 

“They were nice girls,” Harry says cautiously. “I think they’d be good friends to have. They know a lot about being magical and don’t seem like they mind sharing information.”

 

“That is useful,” Tom agrees. “I do think that taller one will end up in Ravenclaw. She doesn’t seem like a Slytherin to me.”

 

“Guess we’ll be finding out soon enough.”

 

Tom nods curtly, looking to the window. “I think we must be nearing Hogsmeade.” He retrieves his hat from his cloak pocket and tugs it on. “You should get dressed, too.”

 

“Right.” Harry stands and reaches up for his bag. His cloak and hat are still bunched up inside, along with the extra sandwich he’d packed that Tom had refused. Harry pulls his hat and cloak on, then presents himself to Tom for inspection.

 

“Hold on,” says Tom, standing as well. He eyes Harry with a discerning gaze, then reaches out to adjust the fall of the cloak along Harry’s shoulders.

 

“The hat covers my hair, at least,” Harry jokes.

 

Tom snorts at him. “You’re fine.”

 

Taking a nervous breath, Harry rolls his shoulders. “I wonder how we’ll get up to the castle from the village.”

 

“By bus, perhaps?” Tom muses thoughtfully. “Although, that would be a strange way to reach a magical school.”

 

Harry doesn’t have long to ponder it, however, because then they’re arriving at Hogsmeade Station, and there are Prefects yelling for students to get off the train. Tom and Harry clamber off together, unsure of where to go. A number of Prefects are holding lanterns as they shout for students of a certain house to follow them.

 

Tom grasps Harry firmly by the arm as they try not to get pulled into the flow of students. Then, Harry hears someone calling for first years.

 

“First-years over here, please! Right this way, all first-year Hogwarts students!” A tall, heavy-built adult man holding a large lantern is waving from a half-dozen paces away. He has a thick beard and deep set eyes that are nearly pitch black.

 

Harry and Tom walk over and join the group of children huddled around him.

 

The man stares down at them. “That everyone?” he asks, when it’s apparent that the rest of the students have all cleared away. “Alright, nobody move. I’m going to do a head count.” The group of children fidget as the head count is performed. Once it is completed the man nods curtly, signifying that everyone is where they are supposed to be. “I’m Leroy, Keeper of Keys and Grounds here at Hogwarts. We will be taking the boats up to the castle. Follow me.”

 

Then Leroy stalks off, leaving the bewildered children to follow him. Harry can make out the heads of the Greengrass sisters walking side by side, perhaps a dozen people ahead of him and Tom. The group of first-years continue down a slippery, narrow path that leads into a thick copse of trees. The lantern bobbing high ahead of them is the only thing that assures Harry that they are on the right trail.

 

No one is speaking, perhaps because they are too afraid to break the silence of the darkness around them. Tom, still lightly holding Harry’s arm, stares out at the trees surrounding them, apprehensive.

 

Then, quite suddenly, they round a corner, and the trees around them vanish. Many gasps are heard as the great castle comes into view. Hogwarts stands proudly atop a tall, steep cliff that looks out over a wide black lake. It looks exactly like the pictures, except even more impressive up close. The bright, starry night sky glitters off of the windows in the towers and turrets. Harry wishes there was a way to capture this moment, here, into a moving photograph. He would have liked to keep this memory for the rest of his life.

 

“Four to a boat,” says Leroy commandingly, and the children scramble to obey him, laying claim to the small fleet of boats parked on the shore of the lake.

 

Tom and Harry quickly find a boat for themselves, and two other young boys stumble in after them. One of them is blond and round-faced, but the other is thin and sallow, a dark mop of hair upon his head. Neither speak, so Harry ignores them in favour of gazing back at the castle on the other side of the lake.

 

“Ready?” shouts Leroy, his hoarse voice carrying clearly across the din. “We’re setting off now, hold onto your hats— FORWARD!” And the boats begin to move, sailing them closer to the great castle that lies ahead, waiting for them.

Chapter Text

Albus Dumbledore is waiting in the Entrance Hall for this year’s new students to arrive. His chosen robes for tonight, a resplendent navy blue, shimmer in the firelight. This will be the first time he has been assigned to greet the new students before they enter the Great Hall. In particular, he is very curious about the two young boys he had visited not three weeks earlier. Tom Riddle and Harry Potter: a strange pair that reminds him only too closely of his own misguided youth.

 

When he had visited Wool’s Orphanage for the first time, he had engaged the matron, Mrs. Cole, in conversation about the two children in her care. She’d spoken of how a previous orphanage had gone up in flames, how some of the children and nearly all the caretakers had perished in the process.

 

Gentle application of surface-level Legilimency had revealed further information—she believed that the boy, Harry Evans, was responsible for it somehow. They had found the boy locked in a cupboard following the incident, and he was completely unscathed by the flames. She had noticed how the other children avoided Harry, that they were quietly fearful of him. She noted that Harry and the other boy, Tom Riddle, were strange, solemn children that were constantly wrapped up in each other. She observed that Riddle, in particular, had been a very problematic child up until Harry Evans had arrived at Wool’s.

 

In the month following that arrival, Tom had been persistently seen at Harry’s side, even though Harry had not exchanged more than a few words with him. Mrs. Cole had testified that Tom had arranged for an unfortunate accident regarding another child’s pet rabbit, resulting in the two boys sharing a room. There was no evidence of the crime belonging to Tom, but the matron suspected it was so. But that had been, most curiously, the last major incident regarding Tom Riddle for the past two years. It was as though Tom, after having gotten what he wanted—the desired companionship of Harry Evans—he had felt no need to further terrorize those around him.

 

Meeting the two boys had only served to further the unease that Albus felt. Harry and Tom were clearly very used to each other, a relationship of give-and-take having been established. Harry is polite and agreeable where Tom is not. Harry asks questions where Tom does not wish to. And Tom, young and ambitious, views Harry as his own. Albus worries at these ambitions, of who Tom Riddle will grow to be even with Harry Evans to temper him.

 

Leroy Hamilton shuffles into view, wrenching Albus from his thoughts. There are a number of familiar faces this year, children of prominent families ready to begin their Hogwarts education. Albus can discern the distinct features of the Blacks, the Prewetts, the Greengrasses. It is a generation that will grow up primed to shape the wizarding world, should they decide to do so.

 

“First-year students,” says Leroy loudly. “This is Professor Dumbledore.”

 

“Thank you, Leroy. And hello first years.” Albus steps forwards, arms wide in welcome. “I am Professor Dumbledore, and I teach Transfiguration here at Hogwarts. Please follow me for a moment longer, and we will see you all into the Great Hall shortly.”

 

The children follow him into a small, separate chamber. Flaming torches arranged around the walls serve to light the area well enough. Albus seeks out the faces of Harry and Tom in the group, then spots them at the rear. They are, as expected, standing next to each other.

 

However, Albus does not have long to linger on them. He has a duty to uphold. Clearing his throat, he begins to speak. “As I am sure you are all eager to hear, the start-of-term banquet will be served very soon. However, there is a matter of business to attend to before you take your seats. You will be sorted into your houses, where you will spend the entirety of your Hogwarts education. This ceremony, an honoured tradition, will determine those who will become like family to you during your time at Hogwarts.

 

“There are four distinct houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff. Each house has its fine traits, and each house has produced equally fine witches and wizards. During your time at Hogwarts, you will be awarded house points for your successes and, conversely, lose house points in the event of misbehaviours.” Here Albus pauses, intent upon watching the reactions of the first-years surrounding him. Tom appears to be bored, but Harry is paying rapt attention. “At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup. I wish you all the best of luck in attaining it, for it is a great honour.

 

“Now, the ceremony will begin shortly. Please wait quietly until I return,” concludes Albus.

 

He departs for the Great Hall’s rear entrance, where Armando Dippet is holding court at the High Table, prepared to announce the arrival of Hogwarts’ newest students to the inhabitants of the Great Hall. The Headmaster’s solemn brown eyes wander over the scores of students for a moment before falling upon Albus. They have grown closer, these past few years. The typically reserved Headmaster has learned to trust and even rely upon Albus’ counsel, and they are now what Albus could tentatively term as ‘friends’ instead of merely colleagues.

 

“Are the students ready, Albus?” asks Armando.

 

Albus inclines his head. “As ready as they can be, I suspect.”

 

“Excellent.” Armando stands, drawing himself up to his full, regal height as he addresses the Great Hall. “Students, please prepare yourselves to welcome the latest additions to our prestigious school.”

 

Returning to the chamber he’d left only minutes earlier, Albus peers carefully at the assembled young faces. None of the children look particularly guilty, so Albus assumes that they must have been relatively behaved in his absence. Once again, he seeks out Harry and Tom in the group. They appear much the same as before; Harry is alert and attentive while Tom is calm and undaunted.

 

“Please form a line, single file, and we shall enter the Great Hall.”

 

Albus leads the group of first-years into the Great Hall, walking them under the velvety night sky projected across the ceiling. Many of the children ooh and ahh as they take in the majesty of the architecture. Albus leads the line of students up towards the High Table, where he stops and withdraws his wand. With a single motion, he conjures a small, four-legged stool, which lands gently upon the floor.

 

Headmaster Dippet has the Sorting Hat in his hands, and passes the magical artifact to Albus, who places it upon the stool. Stretching itself as though awakening from a nap, the hat moves in a slow, lazy motion. Then the space above the hat’s brim opens up, yawning wide, so that the hat can deliver its yearly song.

 

Albus listens patiently for it to conclude, and claps along with the rest of the hall as the hat bows in every direction, pleased with itself. He notes some of the children in the group of first-years are now tittering to each other. Summoning the scroll of parchment from his seat at the head table, Albus moves to stand next to the stool. Not too close so as to hear anything said, but near enough to assist a child should anything go awry.

 

“When I call your name, please place the hat upon your head to be Sorted.” Albus consults his list of names, then calls out, “Avery, Lawrence.”

 

A skinny child with dark brown hair and bright blue eyes shoulders past a few others and approaches the stool. He lifts the hat up, sits down, places it upon his head—

 

“SLYTHERIN!” shouts the hat.

 

The green and silver table erupts into cheers as Avery, Lawrence stumbles over to them, sliding into a seat with a pleased smile.

 

“Black, Alphard.”

 

The hat barely touches the boy’s head before it declares, “SLYTHERIN!”

 

“Bones, Eva.”

 

A pause, nearly a minute long, during which the girl beneath the hat fidgets uncomfortably, and then— “RAVENCLAW!”

 

Thus the list continues, with Albus marking off the names of the children as they are Sorted. None of the first-years last longer than two minutes under the hat, but Albus feels a sense of apprehension as he finally says, “Evans, Harry.”

 

Harry jerks with a start where he stands in the middle of the huddle, his shoulder close to Tom’s where they are next to each other. Faltering, Harry exchanges a look with Tom. Poor Harry’s nerves are visible on his face. Tom gives Harry a significant look in return, and squeezes Harry’s forearm briefly but reassuringly.

 

So Harry steps forward, then, his gaze now fixed nervously on the Sorting Hat. He climbs onto the stool and drops the hat over his head, which falls well past the curious scar on his forehead and obstructs his eyes.

 

There is a period of time that stretches on and on as the hat maintains its silence. It is, Albus assumes, engaged in conversation with the young boy beneath its brim.

 

Harry remains under the hat for long minutes, his small hands gripping the edge of the stool hard enough for his knuckles to whiten. The Great Hall is waiting for him, its breath held.

 

Then, just as Albus is beginning to worry, the hat shouts in its loud, commanding voice: “GRYFFINDOR!”

 

Young Harry slides shakily off of the stool, dropping the hat back onto the seat. He stands there for a half-moment, as though in shock. Then, at last, he wobbles his way over to the Gryffindor table.

 

A hat-stall, thinks Albus, surprised. And a Gryffindor to boot.

 

But what is more peculiar yet is the pale face of Tom Riddle, who is in the crowd of students who have yet to be sorted. Tom, his face and body frozen in place, is staring mute horror at where the Sorting Hat rests upon the stool Albus had conjured.

 

If there was ever a boy made for Slytherin, it was Tom. Albus knows this, knows Tom as the most ambitious young boy he’s seen since he’d met Gellert all those years ago. Albus knows the signs, the characteristics, the behaviours. He feels every bit of the weight of his mistakes when he thinks of the relationship between the two first-year boys. Albus sees how Tom is torn between the two things he desires the most: his ambitions and a boy named Harry Potter.

 

At the Gryffindor table, Harry sits with his housemates, some of whom greet him with exceeding kindness upon seeing how anxious the young boy who has joined their table is. But Harry is facing front, his face full of guilt, his green eyes catching and sticking to the dark, smooth head of hair that belongs to Tom Riddle.

 

Albus knows he cannot linger. The sorting must go on. 

 

So Albus calls the next student—“Fairbourne, Felicity!”—but another part of him is already quietly counting down the names until he reaches ‘Riddle, Tom’.

Chapter Text

Tom and Harry are standing together in the crowd as Dumbledore calls out: “Evans, Harry.”

 

Jumping, Harry whirls to look at Tom, anxiety in his eyes. Tom grabs Harry’s arm to steady him, squeezing once in reassurance. You’ll be fine, Tom thinks at Harry, and then he tries to convey the sentiment of this thought through their locked gaze.

 

Harry seems to understand. He inhales deeply and pulls away, walking straight up to where the Sorting Hat sits on the stool. Though his steps are not confident, Harry doesn’t hesitate as he approaches the front of the hall. Tom watches as Harry takes the hat in hand, looking up quickly at Tom as he does so. And then Harry is sitting upon the stool and lowering the hat onto his head. The hat is too large, slipping past Harry’s browline and over his glasses.

 

It is annoying that Tom can no longer see Harry’s face, can no longer offer the comfort of a direct glance or a quick smile. But it will be quick, he thinks, and the hat will announce Harry’s house—Slytherin—soon enough.

 

But the hat says nothing, and continues to say nothing for long, long moments.

 

Tom starts to worry. He can see Harry is tense from the way his hands are holding the stool beneath him. His feet are still, too—Tom knows Harry is a lively sort of person, constantly moving and shifting about. The stillness is indicative of something having gone wrong.

 

But Harry remains under the hat, mostly still save the occasional nervous twitch or jerk. Tom knows that Harry is afraid he is not good enough for the things Tom that is, that he’s not enough for Hogwarts. Tom knows that this is not true, and that he will, eventually, be able to convince Harry of his own power and worth. But Harry, still sat upon the stool, is likely traumatized by his fear of inadequacy, and Tom is powerless to do anything about it from where he stands.

 

Agonized against his will, Tom cannot look away, his desperate eyes fixed upon the figure beneath the hat.

 

Then, after what feels like an eternity, the hat speaks, its announcement loud and assured.

 

“GRYFFINDOR!”

 

The envisioned future Tom had held deep in his heart shatters.

 

There is another pause before Harry slips down from the stool. He’s in shock, Tom thinks numbly. Harry is in shock and he, Tom, is also in shock.

 

Harry places the hat back onto the stool, looking out at the crowd for a brief moment. His eyes touch upon Tom in the crowd, and his face changes to something indescribable.

 

Stricken, Tom watches as Harry shuffles towards the Gryffindor table.

 

Tom wants to turn around, to see Harry sit down, but his body his frozen. He can only remain as he is, staring blankly at the Sorting Hat that rests upon the stool.

 

Dumbledore starts calling out more names, and slowly the group around Tom begins to thin out.

 

Something is stuck in Tom’s throat. He manages to swallow it down, dislodging it with herculean effort. There are only a few letters left before ‘Riddle, Tom’ will be announced and, for the first time in his life, Tom doesn’t know what to do.

 

Of all the scenarios he had imagined, this had not been one of them. Tom had been so utterly sure that he and Harry would go into Slytherin together. Or, barring Harry’s acceptance to Slytherin, they would go into Ravenclaw. Tom had been prepared to argue with whoever he needed to that he and Harry belonged in the same house together.

 

Tom had not been prepared for Gryffindor. He had not been prepared—

 

Harry’s tranquil nature borders on gentle, he doesn’t seek trouble out, he doesn’t like it, it doesn’t make sense. Harry doesn’t belong in Gryffindor, thinks Tom.

 

But Harry once set an entire orphanage on fire, a voice in Tom’s head reminds him. And Harry hadn’t been afraid of Tom, when they’d first met, despite how the children at Wool’s had labelled Tom a bully. Harry had lived through years of abuse and ridicule that had been heaped upon him by bullies, but he hadn’t flinched away from Tom.

 

He even followed you down the side of a steep cliff and into a darkened cave, the voice adds. That takes bravery.

 

There must be a way around this, thinks Tom. Whatever mistake that’s been made can be fixed, and Harry can still go to Slytherin with him and wear silver and green colours. Or Harry can transfer out of Gryffindor, somehow—

 

“Parkinson, Catherine,” says Dumbledore.

 

Tom’s hands are shaking. It takes considerable effort to still them. Tom doesn’t want to appear weak in front of the whole school—he will approach the stool and don the hat with a confident, collected demeanour.

 

“Riddle, Tom.”

 

Given how few children are left, Tom has a clear path all the way up to the hat. He doesn’t like how apprehensive he feels, but he walks at a normal pace, snatching the hat from its resting place before turning around to face the crowd. There are a lot of thoughts swirling quickly in his head, their movements ringing. There is a strange, uncomfortable churning in his stomach.

 

Harry is there at the Gryffindor table, looking extraordinarily guilty. Tom isn’t angry with him, he knows that Harry would not have chosen to go somewhere they hadn’t planned on. However, Tom may be mad at this stupid talking hat for ruining his plans.

 

Unsure of what to expect, Tom places the hat upon his head and waits to see what happens.

 

Most interesting indeed. Surprisingly difficult, yes.

 

The voice—the hat’s voice—echoes in Tom’s head. It sounds nearly like his own stream of consciousness, only more distant and most definitely foreign.

 

Why did you put Harry into Gryffindor? Tom thinks at it angrily.

 

Tom gets the impression that the hat is offended at being asked. The hat says, I put children where they are supposed to go. The why is neither here nor there.

 

Can I convince you to change his house? Tom asks desperately, switching tactics. How does this sorting business work? Can I offer you a future favour of some kind, if you do this for me?

 

My decision is final, the hat booms into the recesses of Tom’s mind. And no Headmaster or Professor can override my Sorting.

 

A huge pit has opened up inside of him; a gaping, hungry abyss. Tom swallows, trying to fill up the space, but that doesn’t seem to work. Everything feels horrible and wrong; reality around him has fractured into little shards that are spiralling into him like knives. If what the hat says is true, then Harry is in Gryffindor, permanently, and Tom will not be able reach him if he goes into Slytherin.

 

This thought is unbearable.

 

Harry is integral to him, to his life. Tom needs Harry, for reasons that he cannot yet manage to describe. Maybe he needs Harry to fill the empty space that has unfurled inside of him, the hole that aches endlessly the more he thinks about it.

 

The hat continues, ignoring Tom’s mental turmoil: Now, where to put you? Plenty of ambition and plenty of room for courage, I see… but such a desire to prove yourself… mmm… you would do great things in Slytherin, oh yes...

 

No, thinks Tom, so forcefully and suddenly that it surprises them both.

 

No? says the hat. Slytherin will help you with your goals… it will nurse your talents…

 

No, Tom thinks again, firmly this time. I will not go there without Harry.

 

Are you sure? The path to you wish to take will be much harder this way.

 

I’m not afraid of a challenge, Tom tells it. 

 

Tom gets another weird impression from the hat. This time it comes across as an amused chuckle. A work ethic like that could see you in Hufflepuff.

 

Momentary horror washes over Tom at the thought of going into Hufflepuff, a house that was known for taking all the rest because no one else would have them.

 

The hat chuckles again. Don’t worry, I will not be sending you there. You would eat those children alive.

 

Tom tries to relax, but he’s irritated now. He wants this to be done with—he no longer wants to sit here on this stool, pinned by fear and indecision. He will achieve all that he wants to, regardless of what this hat has to say.

 

Last chance, says the hat, perhaps sensing his impatience. Slytherin will assuredly help you achieve the greatness you desire.

 

There is nothing I cannot accomplish. Tom’s resolve is iron clad. I don’t need a house to get what I want.

 

Well then, the hat says. With daring and determination like that, it better be—

 

“GRYFFINDOR!”

 

This last word is called out to entire Great Hall. 

 

As he steps down from the stool, Tom takes savage pleasure in the flabbergasted look on Dumbledore’s face.

 

In another world, this would never have happened. Even though Tom Riddle has always possessed daring and nerve, always been prepared to push the very boundaries of magic to do his will, all of that has never outweighed his ambition. His drive has always stemmed, in part, from that endless ambition; Tom Riddle has never shied away from those spells labelled Dark, or from ancient, complicated rituals that promised dire consequences upon failing.

 

But what this Tom Riddle has that others did not is simple enough: a reason to be brave, to be willing to make a true sacrifice in the face of something other than himself.

 

This Tom Riddle has Harry Potter—someone he wants to protect, someone for whom he is willing to compromise for. And this sacrifice, this decision to put another’s well being before his own success and convenience, is the bravery that the Sorting Hat sees in Tom Marvolo Riddle. For Tom has always been selfish, and to give up something as vast and impressive as a house known for its ambition, to reject something that is so very close to the core of his existence? That requires a level of bravery sufficient enough to send him to where he longs to go: Gryffindor.

 

Tom saunters down to the Gryffindor table with such confidence that when he moves to sit next to Harry, the girl—one of the Greengrass sisters, a part of Tom notes absently—on Harry’s left automatically slides to make space for Tom to sit.

 

Harry is speechless, his eyes wide.

 

“I told you,” Tom says, letting none of the overwhelming relief show in his voice. “I said I would make sure we get to room together.” His heart beats rapidly in his chest as he turns back towards the front, and he can’t help but think—what has he done?

 

They sit through the last few students in relative silence, save for the raucous cheers of their new house every time they gain a new member, and then the Headmaster is standing up once again to readdress the crowd. Tom listens numbly to the brief speech, his mind still caught in a looping hiccup of confusion.

 

“Wonderful. I welcome you all to Hogwarts, to a fruitful and prosperous new year. I shall not keep you from your meals any longer—thank you and enjoy.”

 

As the Headmaster reseats himself, food begins to appear upon the table. Tom has never seen such an excess of dishes at once—plate after plate of roasted chops of all kinds, bowls of mashed potatoes, piles of steaks, plates of sausages, and strips of fatty bacon. There are piles of dinner rolls, platters of little cheeses, and a spread of sliced fruits.

 

Hesitating for only a moment, Tom mindlessly loads his plate with a bit of everything, and then watches Harry slowly begin to do the same. Once his plate is satisfactorily full, Tom tries some of it. The food is rich and flavourful. Everything tastes delicious, so the only real question left is to decide what he prefers to eat. The amount of choice is mildly overwhelming to Tom, who is used to whatever cheap pickings Wool’s had gotten with their budget of charity donations. 

 

Gazing out at the other tables, he sees that the other tables are similarly crowded with dishes. Tom can’t imagine getting used to seeing this much food on a daily basis. Perhaps only the first meal at Hogwarts is this grand? 

 

Tom clears his plate in due time, then stops to look around the people. The older students further up the Gryffindor table are a noisy bunch, laughing and talking with each other. Comparatively, the green and silver table is more subdued, their backs stiff and their motions refined. There’s a strange, transparent figure standing at the Slytherin table too. Tom realizes belatedly that it’s a ghost. The ghost, whoever they are, is an intimidating man in regal, blood-splattered clothing. Distracted by this apparition, Tom doesn’t realize Harry is trying to get his attention until he registers someone whacking lightly on his arm.

 

“Tom,” says Harry. “Tom.”

 

“Yes?” Tom responds, turning his head back. It is hard to focus when everything around him seems so surreal.

 

“The dessert is here.”

 

Indeed, there is a new selection of items on the table. There are cakes and pies and tarts galore. Ice cream bars, doughnuts, and cups of jello are also littered across the surface. If these portions remain consistent, Harry will actually gain some height and weight here. Tom serves himself a slice of cranberry pie and digs in. Harry has a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a few small treacle tarts on his own plate. The Greengrass girl on Tom’s other side—Annalise, he observes—has a pile containing bits and pieces of everything stacked upon her plate.

 

Tom's eyes search for the matching head of brown hair at another table. He eventually spots Adelaide Greengrass sitting with the Ravenclaw contingent. She is sitting next to an older, taller boy of similar physical appearance that Tom assumes is the older brother spoken of earlier.

 

“Are you identical twins?” Tom asks Annalise, unthinking.

 

Annalise bobs her head as her mouth is occupied with a bite of chocolate cake. She swallows, then says, “We are. Adelaide is eight minutes younger than I am.” Her large brown eyes stare mournfully at where her sister and brother are seated. “But I suppose we’re not that similar, after all.”

 

“It’s alright,” Harry attempts to reassure her. “We will still have some classes with the Ravenclaw students, won’t we?”

 

“I—yes. We will.” Annalise offers a shaky smile. “It will work out in the end, I am sure.”

 

A pale, red-haired boy sat across from them interjects himself into the conversation, saying, “Ah, house doesn’t matter that much! All my older brothers are in different houses, too.”

 

Annalise eyes him skeptically for a moment.

 

“I’m Septimus,” the boy adds belatedly. “Septimus Weasley.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Harry says. “I’m Harry Evans.”

 

“Annalise Greengrass,” adds Annalise, though she doesn’t sound too pleased to do so.

 

Tom nearly rolls his eyes, but says, “Tom Riddle,” to the table. He might have wanted to mock the unnecessary introductions (Dumbledore had already announced their all names to the entire school), but he hadn’t been paying much attention to anything else following Harry’s sorting, so it would have been hypocritical to complain about the pleasantries.

 

“My brother’s a Prefect this year,” Septimus adds. “So he’ll be showing us to the dorms. Did you know, Gryffindors get to bunk up in a tower?”

 

“Fascinating.” Tom drags his gaze back to his pie, which is only half-finished. He had already read about the dorms in Hogwarts: A History. He knew that the Slytherin dorms were located in the dungeon basement, just underneath the Great Lake.

 

Dessert wraps up in short order, and the Headmaster rises once again, calling the room to order with a sharp cracking sound that emerges from his wand. The plates of sweets vanish, eliciting some groans from the students.

 

“There are a few start-of-term notices I must deliver before we send you all off to bed. No magic is permitted in the corridors, whether it is during classroom hours or not.” Here the Headmaster pauses to sternly gaze upon the student body. “Quidditch trials will take place in the second week of term, as overseen by Madam Whittle. Lastly, first-years should note that the Forbidden Forest is, as rightly named, forbidden to all students. Now, Prefects, if you would please escort your charges to their dormitories, I would be much obliged. Good night to you all, and I shall see you again in the morning.”

 

“Headmaster Dippet isn’t much for lengthy speeches,” Septimus comments, standing up and brushing his robes of crumbs.

 

“Gryffindors, this way!” A few older students positioned at the head of their table are gesturing. Tom can see the shiny Prefect badges pinned to the front of their robes.

 

“Septimus!” calls another red-headed boy, likely Septimus’ brother. “You and your friends come with me.”

 

“Let’s go,” Septimus says, scrambling off of the bench. “I’m looking forward to sleeping off all of this food.”

 

Tom, Harry, and Annalise all rise together, following Septimus as he walks towards his brother.

 

“My name is Nathaniel,” says the Weasley. “I’m a fifth-year Gryffindor Prefect. If you have questions you can feel free to come ask me, or ask Septimus to ask me if you can’t find me.”

 

Harry and Annalise both respond in the affirmative, and then they are all following Nathaniel and the other prefects through the castle, passing down hallways until they reach an open area full of staircases. Tom, having been making automatic mental notes of the path they’d taken, looks around at the multitude of random staircases leading this way and that. The entire design looks inconvenient and inconsistent, and not at all a thing to build in a school full of young, easily confused children.

 

“Now you have you be careful,” one of the other prefects is saying to them, “because the stairs will move sometimes, even if you’re standing on them.”

 

“Great,” Harry mutters under his breath, peering suspiciously at the set of stairs in front of them. Then, at a normal volume, “Is there a map of some kind? So we don’t get lost?”

 

“Map?” Nathaniel shakes his head. “There’s no map of Hogwarts. It changes all the time. You just have to get used to where everything is generally, and usually Hogwarts will help you get to where you need to be.”

 

That, thinks Tom, is the most ridiculous advice he has ever heard in his life.

 

“Or,” adds Nathaniel thoughtfully, “you can ask a portrait for directions.”

 

Tom eyes the portraits on the walls. The people in them are moving, just like the photographs in their textbooks. But while the photos of people in their books did not talk back, it would seem that the people in these portraits do. Indeed, the portraits are examining the student group with interest, and some of them are talking amongst themselves. A few portrait people are even walking into other frames, leaving their own paintings empty.

 

“This way,” says Nathaniel, and he leads them up the staircase. “See that portrait there? The lady in the pink dress?” He points to a woman in a frame across from them. “That’s the Fat Lady. She’s the guardian of our dormitory. You can see her from whichever staircase you enter this area from, so you should be able to get to it eventually, even if you don’t remember the exact route.”

 

Harry’s face reflects some of Tom’s incredulity as they go up yet another staircase. They do not appear to be getting any closer to said Fat Lady despite the fact that they are, ostensibly, moving upwards.

 

“Almost there,” Nathaniel says, though Tom has no idea how he’s supposed to be able to tell that.

 

Then, somehow, they find themselves in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait. She is very large, as her name would suggest, and is wearing a violently pink silk ballgown. Her hair is done up in a massive clump of loose curls that tumble down her chest and shoulders.

 

“Password?” asks the Fat Lady, batting her lashes at them in an exaggerated fashion and swishing her skirts dramatically as she poses.

 

“Babbling baboons,” says one of female prefects, as though nothing is amiss. Perhaps the outlandish behaviour of the portrait was just normal?

 

The Fat Lady’s portrait swings aside, revealing a round entrance that leads to the room within.

 

“Remember the password for later,” the female prefect then says to the group. “It changes every week, and the new password will be posted in the common room. Otherwise you’ll be locked out until someone comes along to help you.”

 

The Gryffindor Common Room reflects much of its house member’s personalities. There are a rash of vivid red decorations strung about the place, and a collection of plush armchairs by a roaring fireplace. There are a few desks and tables for study, and a large bookcase full of thick tomes that Tom itches to look through. Harry is rubbing at his eyes, blinking slowly as he tries to take in their surroundings.

 

“This way,” Nathaniel says. “Boys dorms are on through this door, girls through the other.” He and another two male prefects stomp up a long, spiral staircase located at the back of the common room, and the rest of the male students follow. The first-years are brought to the very top of the spiral, likely the highest point in the tower. Nathaniel gestures them into the room, covering a yawn that threatens to emerge from his mouth.

 

“There you are. Pick your beds and be down by eight sharp tomorrow, so we can escort you to breakfast to pick up your class schedules.”

 

Tom eyes the selection of large, four-poster beds and their red velvet curtain hangings. He can see their trunks resting on the floor. He and Harry drag their trunks over to the two beds furthest from the door, leaving Septimus to claim the bed on Harry’s right, and the other two Gryffindor boys to claim the beds on Tom’s left.

 

They change into their pyjamas sluggishly, then trudge into the bathroom to wash up. Tom is beginning to feel the toll from the chaos of the day as he brushes his teeth and scrubs at his face with a washcloth. Harry isn’t faring much better; he looks about to fall asleep standing up.

 

Eventually, however, all five boys collapse into bed. The beds here are the comfiest Tom has ever been in; the mattress is very comfortable and the blankets are soft but heavy. Tom crawls under the covers and shuts his eyes, telling his mind to quiet itself and resolving to find some time to talk to Harry privately tomorrow.

Chapter Text

September 2nd, 1938

 

Tom wakes before anyone else in their dormitory does. It isn’t yet bright outside, but most of the other boys have their bed hangings pulled shut, so Tom doubts any of them will be stirring anytime soon. The atmosphere of their room is fairly warm, but not unbearably so. There is no fireplace anywhere here, however, so Tom assumes that the room must be kept in such a state using magic.

 

Sliding out of his bed, Tom pads past the window to where Harry is, shuffling a velvet curtain aside and peeking his head in. Harry, of course, is still fast asleep. His body is curled up underneath the covers, as though he’s trying to take up as little space as possible. Tom grabs Harry’s glasses off of the bedside table and moves closer.

 

Reaching out, Tom places a hand on Harry’s shoulder and shakes once. Harry shifts, rolling onto his back, but doesn’t wake up.

 

“Harry,” whispers Tom. “Harry, wake up.”

 

Harry blinks. His green eyes focus in on Tom. “Tom?” he asks, voice thick with sleep. He rubs at his face, then takes his glasses as Tom hands them to him. It takes Harry a moment to regain full awareness of what’s around him. Tom allows Harry some time to ascertain where he is, and then a little more time to mentally review what had happened last night. “Is it time for breakfast?” Harry finally questions, giving Tom a confused look.

 

“No, not yet.” Tom turns around and pulls the bed curtains shut behind him.

 

“Oh.” Harry peels his covers back and shuffles over so Tom can slip into place next to him. This anticipatory movement pleases Tom, who crawls onto the bed to lie down. Their bodies lay parallel, as though they are still at Wool’s.

 

While most of the bed is comfortably warm, Tom’s feet reach the cold spots below that Harry hadn’t touched. Grimacing, Tom pulls the covers back on top of both of them and rolls onto his side, propping his head on his left elbow so he can see Harry properly.

 

“Are you mad?” Harry asks quietly. “About Gryffindor.”

 

“No,” says Tom. “I’m not mad.”

 

They lay there and watch each other for a short while. Harry seems less apprehensive, but still anxious, as his eyes wander across Tom’s face. Tom wonders if Harry had nightmares last night. The idea of not knowing bothers him.

 

“I spent a lot of time talking to the hat,” begins Harry. “It said I had a lot of good traits in me, but that I shouldn’t go into Slytherin.”

 

“Shouldn’t?”

 

Harry drops his gaze, shrugging one shoulder. “It told me I should go into Gryffindor. I tried to argue with it, I promise.”

 

“I believe you,” says Tom, and he means it.

 

“I didn’t think it would let you go into Gryffindor,” Harry admits quietly. “I thought we would end up in separate houses.”

 

Tom sniffs. “I wouldn’t have let that happen.”

 

Smiling now, Harry nudges Tom’s leg with his foot. “I know, I know.”

 

“I’m very brave,” Tom continues, rather offended at the placating tone Harry is using. “And chivalrous and all that.”

 

“Sure you are, Tom.”

 

Tom narrows his eyes. “I suppose those are your traits, though. You do like your stories with heroes in them.”

 

“That makes us both heroes, then, doesn’t it?” Harry asks. “We’re in the house of lions.”

 

“I still think snakes are a better choice,” says Tom ostentatiously. “But lions are king of the jungle, which isn’t too bad.”

 

Harry doesn’t respond right away; instead he shifts to lie on his back. Then he says, “What do you think classes will be like, Tom? Do you really think we’ll have classes with Adelaide? I don’t think either of them expected to be split up.”

 

“I’m sure we’ll have some classes together,” Tom says. “If there’s about ten students in each house per year, then it only makes sense to have some of the more complex and important classes with another house.”

 

“Annalise feels really bad,” Harry continues. “And I think she felt worse when you came over to join us. Like if she had tried harder, she could have gone to Ravenclaw, too.”

 

“Maybe she could have,” Tom comments.

 

Harry turns back over just to shoot Tom a look. “Don’t say that to her,” warns Harry. “You’ll make it worse.”

 

“I’m not an idiot,” Tom says, annoyed. “I wouldn’t.”

 

Harry huffs a sigh, then runs his free hand through his sleep-mussed hair. “I’m nervous for classes,” he admits.

 

“Don’t be,” Tom says. “You’ll do just fine. How often do I have to say this to convince you?”

 

That makes Harry fall silent. Eventually, Tom rolls onto his back and stares up at the bed canopy. They lay there until Tom can hear someone moving about on the other side of the curtain. Harry sits up and shifts his curtain aside with a free hand to see who it is.

 

Septimus is standing in front of his own bed, looking surprised to see them. “Oh,” he says. “Good morning. I didn’t think anyone else would be up yet.” His eyes touch upon Tom, who has also sat up and is visible over Harry’s shoulder.

 

Tom doesn’t care what Septimus thinks about them, but he does nurse a vague hope that the red-headed boy sees he and Harry are already good friends, and that they don’t require a third one.

 

“Good morning,” Harry says. “D’you happen to have the time?”

 

“It’s quarter to seven,” Septimus answers. Then he adds needlessly, “I thought I’d be the first up, since I’m used to waking up early at home.”

 

“Well,” says Harry, after a pause, “looks like we’re all the early morning type.”

 

“I’m going to go and brush my teeth,” Tom interjects, getting up from the bed. He pads across the floor to the bathroom, leaving Harry to make small talk with the Weasley boy.

 

By the time Tom returns, Harry and Septimus have changed into their school robes, and the other two boys are now awake. Tom notes that the school robes now have red trim, and there is a Gryffindor badge pinned on the left breast. Checking his trunk, Tom sees that his own robes have been similarly altered. The robes must have changed on their own, he decides, because the idea of someone going through his trunk to alter his dress robes is simply unfathomable.

 

“Hello,” says one of the boys. “I’m Leonard Morden. Leo for short.” Leo, dark skinned and taller than Tom, has also pulled on his school uniform. The clothes are neatly pressed, wrinkle-free and crisp lines easily visible, but also clearly secondhand given the soft signs of wear Tom can see along the hems.

 

“Tom Riddle,” Tom says in response, moving towards his trunk to grab his own school robes.

 

Their final roommate is perhaps only an inch shorter than Tom, with light blond hair and overly large ears that stick out noticeably. “Eldon MacMillan,” he introduces himself, self-important. Tom has no doubts that this boy comes from money—he recognizes the type without even needing to see the shiny loafers.

 

“We should head down soon,” Tom says to the room at large, wanting to waste no time in establishing himself as the leader. “Septimus’ brother will be waiting for us.”

 

“That’s your brother?” Eldon eyes Septimus skeptically. “The prefect?”

 

“Yes,” Septimus says testily as he fusses with his belt. “He got his badge this summer.”

 

MacMillan doesn’t say anything more, but he seems to ooze his opinion with his expression anyways, a silent opinion that boils down to ‘well, they have to pick someone, I suppose’.

 

Tom resists the urge to roll his eyes at the poor power play and opens up his trunk, looking through the textbooks. If they’re supposed to get their schedules at breakfast, Tom supposes that means they’ll have time to return to grab the correct books that they’ll need for their classes. Still, Tom packs his dragonhide gloves and two random books into his bag in the hopes that he can save a trip later on.

 

A few moments later, Septimus and Harry emerge from the bathroom. Tom can tell just by looking that Harry’s made a new attempt to fix his hair.

 

“Pack your bag?” Tom asks him.

 

“What did you pack?” Harry asks, confused. “We don’t have our schedules yet.”

 

“The gloves, and I just put two books in anyways, just a guess,” explains Tom.

 

“That’s smart,” Septimus muses, and goes to open up his own trunk. It’s a nice, fairly-expensive model as far as Tom can tell. It does look gently-used, but he suspects that it’s family-owned given the coat-of-arms on the front. Septimus grabs a few of his own things and stuffs them into a bag.

 

“Shall we head down?” Tom asks, once Septimus and Harry are done. If the Weasley boy is going to insist on hanging about, he’ll at least be a better addition than MacMillan.

 

“We should wait for the others,” Harry says nervously.

 

Septimus scrunches his face up, thinking. “Wait for Morden, at least,” he agrees at last. Then he checks his watch. “We still have some time.”

 

Morden appears shortly thereafter. He eyes the three of them for a half-second, then goes to pop open his own trunk, rifling through it. Tom watches as Morden retrieves a few books—one of them is, notably, a Hemingway paperback—and puts them into his bookbag.

 

“Just waiting on MacMillan,” Septimus says into the silence.

 

The boy in question emerges after a few long minutes. He looks surprised to see everyone is still standing about in the dorm room.

 

“Hurry up,” says Tom, impatient. “We don’t want to be late.”

 

The five boys climb down the stairs to the common room. The first-year girls are there as well, waiting. Annalise is there too, of course. Her hair is styled into large, wavy curls that are held back from her face with a thick black headband. She doesn’t wave at them, but she does make eye-contact and smile.

 

At the front of the room, Nathaniel is standing next to a female prefect with long, dirty blonde hair that is tied up with a bright red hair ribbon.

 

“Hello first years,” says the girl prefect. “Now that you’re all here, we’ll do some proper introductions. I’m Genie Jones, fifth-year Prefect, and this is Nate Weasley, also a fifth-year Prefect. Your Head Boy and Head Girl for this year are Abraxas Malfoy and Marigold Goshawk, from Slytherin and Ravenclaw respectively. Our Head of House is Albus Dumbledore, who is also our Transfiguration Professor.

 

“If you have any problems or questions, you should be coming to us in the following order: Nate and myself first, then any of the upper-year Gryffindor prefects, then the Head Boy or Girl, and then Professor Dumbledore last. If you feel a problem requires further, more serious attention, then you may tell a prefect, and they can arrange for a message to be passed along to our Headmaster. But keep in mind, he will be very displeased if you waste his time. Headmaster Dippet takes the tradition and prestige of Hogwarts very seriously, and those who disrespect him or Hogwarts will quickly find themselves in a world of trouble.”

 

One of the first-year girls raises her hand.

 

“Yes?” Genie points at her. “What’s your name?”

 

“Francisca Valle,” says the girl in a slight accent. Her dark hair is woven into a long, thick braid that nearly reaches her waist. “Where are the upper-year prefects? Should they not be here to do their own introductions?”

 

“The upper-year prefects assist our Head of House in basic administrative duties as well as with patrols,” Nathaniel—Nate?—answers. “Right now they are down in the Great Hall with the student schedules.”

 

“Any other questions before I move on?” asks Genie. No one interrupts or raises their hand, so she continues, “Curfew is at ten, and no exceptions will be made. Those caught out after hours will be deducted house points and assigned detention. Repeated offenses will result in further punishments. There is no dueling, spellcasting, or any general mischief permitted in the hallways between classes. Failure to adhere to this will also result in lost points and detentions.

 

“Quidditch team tryouts are for second-year and above only. You will have flying lessons with Madam Whittle starting in your second week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, after your last class period. If you have one, you are permitted to bring your own broomstick. Astronomy lessons will be held at midnight in the Astronomy tower. You will be escorted there and back by either Professor Mauboisan or one of the prefects.” Genie pauses again to see if anyone else has a question.

 

“Lastly, as part of House Gryffindor, you are all expected to uphold the standards valued by our founder, Godric Gryffindor: courage, determination, chivalry, and strength of heart. His portrait is located on the seventh-floor landing of the Grand Staircase, which is the structure filled with moving staircases that you encountered on your way to this common room. You will be escorted to all of your classes this week by prefects that have spare periods to do so. If there is no prefect available, you will be escorted by a Professor. In your second week, you will be expected to find your classes on your own, so I recommend you make friends with your fellow dormmates.

 

“In closing, I welcome you all to Hogwarts on behalf of the staff and administration,” Genie finishes. “And I do hope you have a very enjoyable first year here at Hogwarts.”

 

A few of the first-years begin to clap, and soon the rest join in. Tom smacks his hands together lightly a few times so he doesn’t stand out.

 

“Very good,” Nathaniel says, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Now Genie and I will lead you all to the Great Hall. Single file please, boys in one line and girls in the other.”

 

The students arrange themselves, Tom taking the lead with Harry just behind him, and soon they are on their way through the round portrait hole once more. Nathaniel and Genie help them navigate the Grand Staircase, which, according to Genie, has a total of a hundred and forty-two staircases.

 

“You’ll spend a good deal of time here when you need to change floors,” Genie comments. “So you’ll pick up the best routes fairly quickly. That one there,” she points, “has a vanishing step that’s halfway up. You can tell it’s that one because the rug is missing after the middle point.”

 

And so the journey continues, with Genie occasionally making a recommendation or sharing an important fact as they move along at a decent pace. Eventually, they find themselves once again in front of the large doors that lead into the Great Hall.

 

Genie stops them before they enter, checking her pocket watch before turning to address the group. “When we enter the hall we will be headed to our table, which is the one on the leftmost side, as noted last night. The table order changes once yearly, depending on who won the House Cup the previous year. You will notice that Slytherin is to our right, followed by Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. If we lose to Slytherin or Ravenclaw this year, we shall lose our position.”

 

“So keep your grades up,” Nathaniel says cheerfully. “And don’t cause too much trouble where the teachers can see you.”

 

Genie rolls her eyes at him. “We’ll be entering the Great Hall now. Once you receive your schedules, you are required to stay for breakfast until half past so we can lead you back to your dorms for your textbooks, and then to your first class, which begins at nine sharp. Any other questions for now?”

 

All the students shake their heads.

 

“Let’s go, then.” Genie walks forward and pushes her hand against the door, which slowly begins to creak quietly open of its own accord. The Great Hall looks just as majestic in the daylight, with the ceiling reflecting the azure, cloudless skies above them.

 

Nathaniel and Genie lead them to the Gryffindor table, where Dumbledore and the older prefects are waiting for them, schedules at the ready. There are only a few others at the table, probably the second- to seventh-years, all of whom have their schedules already in hand and are waiting for the food to appear.

 

“First-year boys?” says one of the older prefects. “I have your schedules here.”

 

Tom and the others approach, still in their neat little line with Tom at the front. Their schedules are listed on a folded piece of parchment in newsprint lettering. Tom looks it over quickly, scanning the classes. The schedule doesn’t list whether they share a class with another house or not, unfortunately.


[image of Tom Riddle's Hogwarts schedule]

 

“Wednesday is so long,” complains Septimus. “We’re going to be busy all day, and then we still have to have Astronomy in the evening?”

 

“Astronomy is at midnight,” Nathaniel says reasonably. “So you’ll still have most of the evening off after dinner.”

 

Harry pulls on Tom’s arm to grab his attention, and then they go to sit down for breakfast. Septimus trails after them, his face still buried in his schedule. Once seated, Tom takes Harry’s schedule and looks it over, just to be sure that theirs match.

 

“Ours are the same?” asks Harry.

 

“Yes,” says Tom. “We have Potions first, and then Charms. If lunch is around noon, then each class must be 90 minutes or so.”

 

Annalise comes over to join them, peering over Tom’s shoulder briefly to view his schedule before sitting down next to him. “Usually Gryffindor has their joint classes with Slytherin,” she tells them. “And Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff.”

 

“Where’d you learn that from?” Septimus demands, obviously concerned that his status as the first-year student with the knowledgeable older sibling was about to be taken from him.

 

“One of the girls in my dorm told me,” Annalise answers evasively.

 

Breakfast appears on the table, and the offerings are just as plentiful as they had been previously, albeit slightly less given that a morning meal was generally a smaller one. The group fills their plates with helpings of sausage, toast, and scrambled egg.

 

“Which books did you bring, Tom?” asks Harry.

 

“I got only Charms,” Tom admits. “But we’ll have to go back for our cauldrons and such anyways.”

 

“It was a good effort to be prepared,” Septimus says placatingly. “Imagine if we could have avoided going back at all.”

 

After breakfast wraps up, the fifth-year prefects walk them back to their dormitory to pick up their things. The staircases don’t seem to make any more sense even though this is their third time traversing them.

 

“What about our cauldrons?” asks a dark-haired girl. Tom thinks she might be the girl from King’s Cross, the one with the stupidly loud owl, but he can’t be sure. “Are we supposed to just carry them all the way to the Potions classroom?”

 

“We will help you Charm your cauldrons and scales for transport to the Potions classroom,” says Genie. “And then you will leave them in the storage cupboard there between classes.”

 

“What if we want to use them outside of classes?” MacMillan asks. “To practice for exams, or some such.”

 

“You can go sign them out with Professor Slughorn,” Nathaniel says. “This is just a safety precaution to ensure your cauldrons are properly cleaned, and that there is no opportunity for them to be tampered with.”

 

“Not that anyone would tamper with your cauldron,” Genie says hastily, shooting Nathaniel a look. “But it’s better if you don’t have to manage your own cauldrons until you’re older, when you know how to care for them properly.”

 

The first-years trudge back up the stairs to their rooms and retrieve their belongings. In order to make carrying everything feasible, they have to put their brass scales inside of their cauldron. Harry packs their Potions textbook into his bag, which he slings over his shoulder, and then awkwardly picks up his cauldron with both hands, which are now free.

 

Tom doesn’t pick up his cauldron right away. He walks over to the door and opens it, kicking the door stop down.

 

“Good catch,” Septimus says. He’s tall enough that he can see over the scales piled into his cauldron. “Wouldn’t want to fall down the stairs because we were trying to get the door open.”

 

“Thanks, Riddle,” says Morden, and nods his head once before he walks past Tom and out the door.

 

MacMillan lifts his own cauldron and heads through the doorway without saying anything.

 

“That’s everyone,” says Septimus cheerily. “Time for our first Potions class at Hogwarts!”

 

Tom and Harry exchange an excited glance. While Potions wouldn’t have been Tom’s first choice, he’s still eager to see what a class of magic is like. Would they get to brew potions right away? Or would the professor have them cover theory first?

 

Tom knows that children raised by magical relatives will likely have an advantage of familiarity with their school subjects, or perhaps some of them will have even had tutors, but he also knows that most children their age are lazy and abhor learning. So Tom has already read the entire Potions textbook once, and he’s looked over the first chapter twice.

 

Therefore as Tom strides down the stairs, cauldron in hand, he feels confident that he will be able to adapt to whatever happens.

Chapter Text

Once they are downstairs in the Gryffindor Common Room, Tom sees that both fifth-year prefects are gone. Tom looks around quickly for Genie or Nathaniel, but they both appear to have gone for classes of their own. There is a new prefect standing by the empty fireplace. She does a quick count of the people standing around—ten first-year students—and then clears her throat to get their attention.

 

“Nathaniel and Eugenia have History of Magic, so I’m going to be the one to escort you all to the Potions classroom,” says the prefect. She has curly brown hair, freckles, and a long, pointed nose. “My name is Louisa Laine, sixth-year, and I play as Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. We’ve got ten minutes to get to class, so everyone fall in line and don’t dawdle!”

 

The Potions classroom is located on the very bottom floor of Hogwarts, in the dungeons. There are torches along the walls that light up as they walk past. Prefect Laine walks at a brisk pace, meaning they have to keep up lest they fall behind and lose sight of her.

 

“If you lot don’t walk faster, you’re never going to make it to your classes on time,” she shouts over her shoulder.

 

They’ve only just reached the dungeons when they run into their Slytherin counterparts. Tom recognizes the two boys who had been sorted first last night: Lawrence Avery and Alphard Black. The Slytherin prefect is a sallow-faced boy with beady eyes. He sneers at Louisa, who waves sarcastically at him in return.

 

The first-years of both houses continue down the hall until they reach their destination. Professor Slughorn—short, pudgy, and already in possession of a receding hairline—is standing just outside the door.

 

“Why, hello!” their professor booms jovially, his moustache twitching. “Welcome, welcome to your first Potions class! I am Professor Slughorn. This must be very exciting for you all, yes. Do come in and find a seat—two to a table, if you please.”

 

Tom takes in the sight of Professor Slughorn’s lavish velvet jacket, and the polished gold buttons of his waistcoat. But Tom doesn’t have long to linger on his professor’s expensive tastes, because then they are being ushered into the classroom.

 

The classroom that seems to quite literally be a dungeon, only with tables and chairs in it.

 

The entire room is rather unreasonably cluttered. There are rows of empty crystal phials across the shelves, jars of potions ingredients in large, glass cabinets, and stacks of scrolls piled in the farmost corner. There is another long row of low cabinets along the opposite wall, and a large double door that ostensibly leads to where their cauldrons will be stored. Candles hang from the ceiling in metal bowls that dangle precariously above their seating arrangements. Tom and Harry grab a seat together in the front row. Leo moves to sit with one of the other girls in their year, leaving Septimus to pair off with Annalise in a bid to escape being left with MacMillan. Neither Annalise nor Septimus look very pleased with their arrangement.

 

There’s a large blackboard at the front of the classroom, but nothing is written on it just yet, so Tom pulls out his quill and parchment, setting them neatly on the desk. Harry does the same, and then places their Potions textbook on the table between them.

 

“Always nice to see you two, Miss Laine, Mr. Carrow.” Professor Slughorn is beaming at the two prefects, who both look extremely uncomfortable to be standing within two metres of each other. “We missed you at my end-of-term gathering last year, Miss Laine! You must find some time to attend my dinners this year; Mr. Carrow enjoys them, doesn’t he?”

 

“I do, sir,” Carrow says, sounding like he’d rather peel his fingernails off one by one than admit to ‘missing’ Prefect Laine. Then he adds, in a more respectful tone, “They’re very social. I enjoy meeting many of your former students.”

 

“I’m just very busy with Quidditch practices, sir!” Louisa says, deliberately not looking at Carrow as she does so. There is a bright, fixed smile on her face.

 

Professor Slughorn shakes his head, forlorn. “Of course, of course. You Gryffindors do take your Quidditch very seriously, though I suppose I must say it pays off! However, I cannot claim to be glad to hear that myself. Perhaps this year my house will best yours in the race for the Quidditch cup, eh?” He winks at her.

 

“Maybe so, sir,” Louisa responds, smirking. “I think we’ve got a stellar team, though.”

 

“Well, I best not keep you both any longer. I shall be sending some invitations along shortly, please do keep an eye and ear out,” Professor Slughorn says teasingly. “And do tell your sister hello for me, Miss Laine. She’s been working at the Ministry, has she not? As an Unspeakable, of all things! Very exciting, very excellent pupil of mine...”

 

“Yes, sir,” Louisa says quickly. “I’ll be sure to do so.”

 

“Good day to you both then!”

 

Both prefects nod and bid a hasty farewell, exiting the classroom rapidly and immediately parting ways as they do so.

 

Looking pleased with himself, Professor Slughorn turns back to the classroom of students, as though he had entirely forgotten that they were there. Which, Tom suspects, he might have actually done.

 

“Welcome!” Professor Slughorn says, clasping his hands together as he moves to the front of the class. Pulling his wand from his robes, he gestures at the blackboard, where words begin to appear in a precise, handwritten script. “First-year Potions on a Monday morning! Why, I remember my first class back in the day—I was a Slytherin, you know—in this very classroom. Wonderful, wonderful memories.” The professor smiles at them all. “But of course, you don’t want to hear an old man blather on about his youth. We are here to discuss my favourite subject, which is, in my opinion, one of the most important classes here at Hogwarts! Potions has been taught here since its very inception, and has remained, at its core, one of the fundamentals of a proper Hogwarts education.”

 

Here Professor Slughorn pauses to observe them, his face now unusually serious. “Make no mistake, while potion-making does not involve a lot of complex wandwork, it does require a keen, creative mind. Not all pupils of mine will find themselves with a talent for potioneering, though I will of course be doing my best to bring you all up to snuff on the subject! Over the course of this year, we will be covering many basics of potion-making. Most importantly: the preparation of potions ingredients, the intricacies of timing, the proper cauldron stirring techniques, and the types of bottling procedures.”

 

Tom jots down notes as Harry flips to the table of contents in their text, where the topics Professor Slughorn has named are listed.

 

“After learning these skills, we will be focusing our efforts on six main potions that make up the Hogwarts first-year curriculum,” Professor Slughorn adds, waving his wand once more. The names of the potions appear on the blackboard—Tom writes them down as well. “As you can see, these potions make up the first section of your textbook! Fret not, for you will be well prepared by the time I ask you to brew any of these. But I do wonder… can anyone tell me what a successfully brewed Cure for Boils looks like?”

 

Tom raises his hand.

 

“Yes...?” Professor Slughorn asks leadingly, pointing at Tom.

 

“Riddle, sir. Tom Riddle. A successfully brewed Cure for Boils will have pink smoke rising from the cauldron.”

 

“Wonderful! Absolutely correct, Mr. Riddle. One point to Gryffindor.” Professor Slughorn beams. “I don’t suppose you could also tell me what warning is given prior to brewing this potion?”

 

“It states that an incorrect brew may have the side effect of causing boils rather than curing them,” Tom says confidently.

 

“Correct once again! Take another well-earned point for Gryffindor, Mr. Riddle. Now,” Professor Slughorn continues, refocusing on the class at large, “I will perform roll call, and then we shall discuss how to prepare ingredients according to the instructions in your textbook.”

 

The rest of the class passes uneventfully, with Professor Slughorn delivering a detailed lecture on terminology in regards to ingredient preparation, such as the difference between crushing and mincing. They are assigned six inches on the various uses of a silver knife in potion making, due next Monday morning.

 

Some of the Slytherins stare at Tom as they pack up their things. Tom isn’t sure what to make of it, because most of their faces seem to be permanently fixed in a state of unfriendliness regardless of who they are looking at. He is, unfortunately, not close enough to try and discern their thoughts at a glance. Perhaps they are just threatened that he is smarter than they are.

 

Another prefect, this time a sixth-year male Ravenclaw, shows up to escort them to their Charms class. They pass back through the Grand Staircase, parting ways with the Slytherins, who are being led to their Herbology class by a fifth-year Slytherin prefect.

 

The Charms classroom is located on the third floor. They pass down a long corridor of rooms with labelled classroom numbers until they reach Classroom 2E, where their prefect drops them off. The door is wide open, so they all decide to go inside.

 

This classroom more closely resembles a lecture hall, with long rows of tables and bench seating that face two large blackboards. Together, the ten first-year Gryffindor students barely manage to fill the first two rows of seats. There is plenty of space for them to spread out their belongings, which everyone is eager to take advantage of. Large, tall windows on either side of the classroom allow plenty of sunlight to flood into the room. There is also a heavy oaken desk with an empty navy chair at the front of the room. Since the professor has yet to arrive, people begin to start up conversations with each other.

 

Septimus eyes the Charms textbook that Tom retrieves from his bag. “Are you both sharing all your books?” Septimus asks in a quiet murmur.

 

“Yes,” Tom answers, suspicious. “I thought it would be a waste of money for us to have two copies of the same thing. I’m going to research if there are ways to copy books, and if there isn’t, I will try to come up with one myself.”

 

“You’re a very quick reader,” Septimus agrees easily. “So I bet you could do it. I’ve got all my older brothers’ books.” He yanks out his own Charms book and proudly opens up the cover, revealing four names that have been scratched off and replaced. “This one would have gone back further, but Jon spilled bubotuber pus all over it during his turn, so we had to start over.”

 

“That’s funny,” says Harry, leaning over to look. “So how many names do some of your books have?”

 

“I’m kid number seven,” Septimus says, rolling his eyes. “Hence my name. But I think only the History of Magic book was closest to having all seven of us in it—it’s the only textbook that hadn’t changed in over three decades, according to mum—but now we’ve got this new one by that Bagshot woman, so I get to be first!”

 

“That’s nice,” Harry comments affably.

 

Their professor sweeps into the classroom just then. She is a tall, graceful woman with long silvery hair that is pinned up into an equally graceful chignon. She settles at the teacher’s desk, dropping a large stack of tomes onto the glossy wooden surface. Clearing her throat loudly, she gazes patiently at them until they all settle down. Her face, only faintly lined, is radiant in the brightly lit room. 

 

“Hello students, my name is Professor Yeung, and I will be your Charms instructor this year,” she says, her voice crisp and clear even as it echoes in the large classroom. She steps around the desk to stand before them, her heeled boots clicking against the stone floors. “Charms is the most multifaceted subject you will encounter at Hogwarts, and therefore one of the classes most steeped in theory.” Some of the students groan upon hearing this, and her smile grows wider.

 

“However,” she continues, “I firmly believe that it is this very variety that makes it such an enjoyable subject. No two charms are exactly the same, but many of them will fall under the same laws and categories. It is my job to ensure you have a solid understanding of the types of charms, how they work, and why they work. Following this, we will see our knowledge put into practice in the form of practical application. Does everyone have a copy of the required textbook?”

 

Nods all around. Professor Yeung sweeps across the first row, watching as a few students scramble to pull their books belatedly from their bags. She pauses briefly in front of Harry and Tom. It’s not long enough to be noticeable to anyone else, but it’s long enough that Tom notices. She says nothing further as she resumes her walk, so Tom can only watch as she circles back to her post at the front of the room.

 

The rest of Charms class is filled with Professor Yeung’s lecture on the characteristics of basic charmswork. She doesn’t assign them any written homework, but she does assign them readings. Tom, who’s already read everything, makes a note of it anyways, just in case someone asks him about it.

 

Both Genie and Nathaniel are waiting outside for them to escort them to lunch.

 

“Looks as though you’re all stuck with us,” Nathaniel says cheerfully. “At least for lunch periods. The professors have been told to let Genie and I out a few minutes early so we can come grab you lot. I, personally, am of the opinion that the older prefects are passing off their duties to us simply so they can snatch up all of the good food before we get there.”

 

Genie snorts. “All I ever see you eat are roast beef sandwiches, Nate.”

 

Nathaniel pulls an exaggerated face at her. “Then let’s hurry before all my roast beef sandwiches are gone!”

 

Lunch is just as compelling as their lessons. Tom doesn’t think he’ll grow tired of simply seeing massive amounts of food appear on the tables. He does wonder what happens to the leftovers; it’s something else to research about Hogwarts, when he finds the opportunity to do so.

 

“Are we allowed to take any food with us?” Annalise asks Genie.

 

Genie nods and says, “You can take whatever you like. Just be careful not to leave a mess anywhere, or else the House-Elves will have to clean it up.”

 

Annalise eagerly grabs two apples and an orange from the table and jams them into her bag. “Excellent.”

 

Some of the other first-years titter with laughter, but Tom notes that a few of them end up sneaking food into their bags. Harry also grabs some fruit and tucks them into his rucksack.

 

Tom returns to eating, but the peace of the meal is disrupted as a large, brown owl swoops down from the ceiling towards their table, hooting loudly all the while. It skids slightly into a plate of rolls, sending the rolls cascading all across the surface, and stops right in front of the rude girl with pigtails from the train station.

 

“Peppi,” the girl says, “you git! You’ve knocked all the rolls over!” She bends down to gather a few of the rolls up, which she places into a small pile on the table.

 

The owl shakes itself off, holding out its left leg to her. She huffs, then removes the letter quickly, tucking it into the pocket of her robes. Then she and the owl stare antagonistically at each other for a while as the rest of the table watches them in fascination.

 

“You can have the rolls,” she finally tells it. “Since they fell on the floor, no one else is going to eat them.”

 

HOOT!” The owl snatches up two rolls with its claws and soars away, narrowly missing the exit as it does so.

 

“Your owl’s an idiot,” says MacMillan.

 

“At least my owl doesn’t state the obvious, MacMillan!” the girl shouts back.

 

MacMillan goes purple as everyone around him valiantly tries not to laugh. Even Tom smirks down at his plate. Then Genie tells everyone to mind their business, and reminds them that owls are only supposed to come in the mornings. Eventually, the table resettles.

 

Harry finishes eating first and pulls out his schedule to look at again. “We have Defense Against the Dark Arts next,” he says. “And then Herbology.”

 

“That’s my favourite class: Defense,” Nathaniel comments idly. He does indeed have a roast beef sandwich on his plate. Tom wonders if Nathaniel actually has any other friends, or if he’s only sitting with them out of a mix of duty towards his little brother and his prefect status. “Professor Merrythought teaches it. I wouldn’t have learned half as much stuff as I know now if it wasn’t for her.”

 

Following lunch, they are escorted to the third floor, where they enter Classroom 3C. Professor Merrythought is another witch with greying hair. She is much less strict, however, and seems content to let the course of her lecture drift off on tangents whenever something interesting occurs to her. The class is very intriguing, though, and Tom takes lots of notes on the spells he wants to try.

 

The day ends with Herbology (with the Hufflepuffs), which goes about as well as one would expect from young children who have been cooped up in classrooms all day. Professor Beery seems more preoccupied with delivering his passionate lecture with as many exciting hand gestures as possible, although Tom still has a hard time believing that plants can be that interesting.

 

Professor Beery escorts them to dinner, and by that point most everyone is too exhausted to cause any trouble.

 

However, it is at dinner that Adelaide finally makes an appearance, running over to her sister and enveloping her into a tight embrace. The two girls talk together in low voices for a few moments before Adelaide returns to the Ravenclaw table.

 

Annalise is holding a letter in hand as she takes her seat across from Tom and Harry, who are already eating. The plates of food seem to appear whenever you sit down, meaning that dinner is a set course for everyone. A balanced plate of food appears before Annalise; it is filled with green beans, mushrooms, and a lean pork steak. A smaller plate containing a dinner roll and a pat of butter appears slightly to her left.

 

Tom eyes Annalise’s letter with mild curiosity. “Letter from home?” he asks.

 

“Yes,” Annalise answers, seeming to snap out of a daze as she puts the parchment away.

 

“How’s Adelaide doing in Ravenclaw?” questions Harry.

 

“She’s fine.” Annalise blinks, then adds, “Our brother is looking after her.” Then she adds again, as though to further explain herself, “He has late class on Mondays, which is why he’s not here right now. Sixth- and seventh-year schedules are different, which is why dinner goes for over two hours.”

 

Indeed, the table is less crowded than it had been at lunch, and is mostly occupied by lower years. Tom looks over to the Slytherin table again—the students there are sitting in little groupings. But there is a clear hierarchy to it, he notices, and if he watches them long enough he can see the evidence with his own eyes. There are the hesitant motions of deference and the little twitches of a dropped gaze that give it away.

 

Tom can’t help but feel a small, sharp pang inside of him when he thinks of that sea of silver and green. He’s pushed the thought down almost all day, banished it to the back of his mind, but it’s hard to ignore what could have been when all he has to do is glance over at it. Slytherin would have seen him swiftly along the path to the greatness that he craved. He can sense the power that passes through the hands of the students there, the ones with the shiny shoes and the arrogant smirks. If Tom had gone to Slytherin, he would have been the best of them all.

 

A sudden noise startles Tom back to reality. Harry is laughing at something Septimus is saying. Tom doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but he doesn’t even have half a second to be annoyed at Septimus because now Harry is looking at Tom and smiling so widely that his face must hurt.

 

Tom had told Harry that he wasn’t angry, and he isn’t, he isn’t. He wishes he could stop thinking about it, because it only makes him feel worse, and he doesn’t want that.

 

So Tom smiles back, firmly pressing down on any persistent thoughts that threaten to upset his current, contented mood. He’s made his decision, and he will stand by it no matter what. Tomorrow they will have class with Dumbledore, and Tom will show him that he’s just as much a Gryffindor as any of the students at his table.

Chapter Text

September 3rd, 1938

 

Tom is beginning to find their schedule stifling. They are escorted to and from their Tuesday morning classes, and whenever they aren’t in class they are in the company of their classmates. He hates the lack of privacy, and the fact that he has to be polite and make conversation with the others.

 

At Wool’s, everyone else had known to leave him and Harry be. Tom commanded Harry’s attention whenever he felt like it, and Harry was always eager and available to listen to what he had to say. With all of these new people around, Tom feels like he’s competing for attention, and not only is he competing, he is losing.

 

Harry still sits with him and walks beside him and talks to him, but it’s not the same. While Tom knows that nothing deep down has changed, things have become distinctly more burdensome. Socializing is a chore that Tom no longer has the energy for. What he really wants is to go to the library, but that means he has to ask either Genie or Nathaniel where it is. And, given their current proximity, others would ask if they could come along. And then Tom would have to say yes, not only because Harry would want them to come along, but because Tom wouldn’t be able to say no to them without seeming rude.

 

Lunch reveals the same spread of food as yesterday; Tom eats without giving it too much thought. Harry is reviewing their schedule again, chattering to Annalise, who is sitting across from him. The name printed across the top—Harry J. Evans—stands out to Tom. Some time after their trip to Diagon Alley, but before their arrival at Hogwarts, Harry had explained to Tom how his name had come to be.

 


 

“The letter was addressed to my mother’s sister,” Harry said nervously. He was fiddling with the buttons on his shirt as he spoke. “There was no mention of my father’s surname, and since my mother’s surname was Evans, that was what they used for me.”

 

“And your father?” Tom had asked. “What was his name?”

 

Harry hesitated. Tom noticed this, and he tried not to let the hesitation anger him. Harry had told the shop girl that his name was ‘Evans’, and he was going to tell Dumbledore that he wanted to be known as ‘Evans’ during roll call. Harry had chosen Tom, and Tom would have to remember that lest he let his temper get away with him.

 

“His name was James,” Harry said finally. “So that’s my middle name.”

 

“Harry James,” Tom repeated, deliberately leaving off the surname.

 

“Yeah,” said Harry, still looking down at his shirt buttons. Then he added, “It said the same thing on my Hogwarts letter. Harry James. So I wonder if that’s the middle name my parents gave me.”

 

Tom did not point out that Harry could probably ask Dumbledore and find out the answer. If Harry was named after his father, it would be easy enough to find a ‘James Potter’ in whatever registries wizards had for their citizens. Tom would do the research himself, and then, after deciding what he thought about it, he would bring his findings to Harry.

 

“Do you think your middle name was from your father’s side?” Harry said, after a moment had passed. “It sounds properly magical.”

 

“Maybe,” Tom replied, puffing up slightly. “I’ll find out and see at Hogwarts, won’t I?”

 

“Tom Marvolo Riddle,” said Harry, sounding out the syllables. “I guess we’ll see.”

 


 

Tom has worked himself up into a proper strop by the end of lunch, just before they’re scheduled to walk to their Transfiguration class.

 

It takes a good deal of effort to tame his growing restlessness into an image of conscientiousness. Harry picks up on this, of course, and likely attributes it to Tom’s dislike of their Transfiguration professor. If Harry wants to believe that, then Tom will let him. Soon this week will be over, and then they can finally find themselves some privacy without Weasley or Greengrass looking over their shoulders.

 

“I’m excited for Transfiguration,” Septimus is saying. “Everyone always says Professor Dumbledore is one of the best professors at Hogwarts.”

 

Tom wonders if he can get away with tripping Septimus in the middle of this corridor without anyone noticing.

 

The Transfiguration classroom is located on the first floor, in Classroom 1. It’s a bit arrogant, Tom thinks, to occupy the very first classroom on the first floor. The large glass orb that Dumbledore had conjured during their very first meeting is still sitting in their cupboard back at Wool’s. Harry had considered bringing it, Tom knows, because Harry likes to collect things of sentimental value.

 

The door of the classroom is open, so all ten first-year Gryffindors file into the room for their first lesson with their Head of House. Dumbledore is standing by at a large blackboard with many things already written upon it. Tom recognizes the Transfiguration alphabet, which is used to calculate and construct basic Transfiguration spells.

 

The desks are in groupings of two, so Tom urges a surprised Harry into a pair of seats in the front row.

 

Dumbledore is welcoming the students as they all settle in. Today he is dressed in bright red robes with gold rope trimming along the edges. His blue eyes skim across Tom and Harry briefly, and then he turns his attention to class as a whole.

 

“I assume that, by this point in the week, you are all quite thoroughly sick of roll call,” says Dumbledore, and some of the students laugh in response. “So I will invite each of you to introduce yourselves to the class at large, in the hopes that we may get to know each other a little better. Please tell everyone your name, a bit about yourself, and what you hope to learn at Hogwarts. Let’s start with the left side and go on from there.”

 

The girl with the pigtails and the owl stands up. “I’m Samantha Chang,” she says. “My parents are both Hogwarts alumni. I’m excited to learn how to make things I want using magic.”

 

“Pleasure to have you here, Miss Chang,” says Dumbledore.

 

There are two more students after Chang, and then it’s Tom’s turn to speak. “Tom Riddle,” he says politely. “I was raised in an orphanage in London. I enjoy reading and I’m very eager to learn as much about magic as I possibly can.”

 

“Very nice, Mr. Riddle.” Dumbledore speaks with the same warm tone he’d used with the other students, much to Tom’s annoyance. He would have liked having a reason to dislike Dumbledore more publicly, but it seems that Dumbledore plans to treat him like any other student.

 

Harry goes next. “Er—I’m Harry Evans,” he starts nervously. “I grew up in an orphanage, too. Tom and I live at the same one. I’d like to learn about how to use magic to improve things.”

 

“A wonderful goal to have, Mr. Evans.”

 

The rest of Transfiguration goes by passes slowly. The introductions take up a good chunk of time, and by the end of it Tom is overly familiar with all the names and faces of all the students in their year. Dumbledore concludes their time with a brief overview of the topics he plans to cover over the course of the year. The students begin to pack their things, eager to head back to their dorm rooms.

 

“Mr. Evans,” says Dumbledore. “If you wouldn’t mind remaining behind for a few moments, I should like to speak with you about a question you had earlier. I shall escort you to Gryffindor Tower afterwards myself, should you require it.”

 

Confused, Harry nods.

 

“Sir, I can wait for Harry,” Tom says loudly. “I know how to find the tower, so I can walk Harry back after.”

 

“That would be most kind of you to do so, Mr. Riddle. You may wait outside the classroom, if you like.”

 

Disgruntled, Tom stuffs his book into his bag and walks out of the room. He tells Nathaniel, who is waiting to take them all back to their dorms, that he’s staying behind for Harry, and not to worry about them getting lost.

 

Tom waits impatiently in the corridor for Harry to reappear. It feels like ages have already gone by; Tom wishes he had a watch to check the time. Eventually, Harry exits the classroom. Tom waits to make sure that Dumbledore isn’t with him, and then starts off in the direction of the Gryffindor Tower, Harry following at his side.

 

“What did he want?” asks Tom.

 

“He wanted to see my letter,” Harry says awkwardly. “The one he said he hadn’t written. And he wanted to make sure I didn’t show it to anyone else, and I said that I hadn’t.”

 

Tom frowns. He still hasn’t seen the letter, mostly because he’d been too angry after finding out about it to ask for it, and after all the excitement of Diagon Alley and their new school books, it had slipped his mind. “I suppose you said you’d give it to him.” He doesn’t wait for Harry to answer before he adds, “That’s alright. No avoiding that; it’s got his name on it, and he’s our professor.”

 

“Yes,” Harry nods, relieved. “I told him I would bring it to class on Thursday.”

 

“I’d like to look at it before then,” Tom says. “If that’s alright, of course.”

 

“You can look,” Harry says quickly. “I don’t mind. I think Professor Dumbledore assumes I’ve already shown you, anyways.”

 

That decided, they continue through the hallways until they reach the Fat Lady. Harry says the password, and they climb through the hole into the common room. Tom is surprised to see that Adelaide is sitting at a table with her sister. Septimus spots him and Harry immediately, and moves his cloak and bag off of the chairs next to him. It looks like he’d been saving them a space to sit.

 

“Hello,” says Harry, taking his customary seat across from Annalise. Tom sits on Harry’s left, meaning he’s now across from Adelaide.

 

“Hello, Evans, Riddle.” Adelaide nods her head in greeting.

 

“Adelaide was just telling us about how Ravenclaw also lives up in a tower,” says Septimus. “And they have Herbology with the Slytherins and Potions with the Hufflepuffs.

 

“Are people from other houses allowed to be in other common rooms?” Tom asks suspiciously.

 

“‘Lise and I are siblings,” Adelaide says crossly. “So I asked Professor Dumbledore and he said it was fine with him, as long as I only come in with an escort and not on my own.”

 

“Professor Dumbledore is very nice,” Annalise agrees.

 

Tom pulls out his Herbology textbook and opens it up to the pages they’d been assigned to read today. He can feel Harry watching him do it, and he knows that Harry knows that he’s already read this page before. But Tom’s had enough of socializing with his housemates for today, and he’s going to use the assignment as an excuse to ignore them at least until dinner time.

 


 

It is not until late evening that Tom and Harry are able to curl up in Tom’s bed, the bed curtains pulled shut as the rest of their roommates are fast asleep. Harry pulls out his letter and hands it over to Tom for inspection.

 

 

 Dear Mrs. Petunia Dursley nee Evans,

 

I am afraid I bear terrible news of your sister and her husband. It is with great sadness that I must inform you that your sister Lily and her husband James sacrificed their lives to protect their young son, Harry, when their home in Godric’s Hollow was attacked last night.

 

As you may know, Wizarding Britain has been at war with a terrible dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort. He has targeted the families of many Muggles and Muggleborns, and believes that the only way forward is to extinguish those who he considers lesser than himself. It is this ambition that led him to attack Lily and James, with the intent upon killing them and their child.

 

The boy still lives, Petunia. Your sister has placed magical protection on her son, your nephew, that will last as long as he remains in a home with his blood relatives. As his only remaining kin, I would ask that you take in Harry and treat him as your own. Until his seventeenth birthday he will be considered a child, and therefore safe under the protection your sister has created for him. Without this protection, both he and yourself will be targets for those who support Voldemort and his associates.

 

I implore you to understand the situation at hand, and to exercise the capacity for empathy which I know you possess.

 

Yours,

 

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

 

Headmaster of Hogwarts,

Supreme Mugwump,

and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot.

 

 

“What do you think?” asks Harry, once Tom is finished.

 

“I wonder if we can look up this Lord Voldemort in the library,” Tom says. “And see if he’s still around. It doesn’t seem to me like these wizards are in the middle of a war.”

 

“I can ask where the library is,” offers Harry. “I think I heard Genie say she would show us sometime, though.” Harry thinks for a moment then adds hesitantly, voicing a thought he’s likely been carrying with him for a while now, “Tom, do you think this Voldemort is still out there, trying to find me? This letter doesn’t say whether or not he’s dead.”

 

“He won’t find you,” Tom says assuredly. “Hogwarts is supposed to be the safest place in all of Great Britain.”

 

Harry doesn’t answer. He merely refolds the letter and puts it back into the box of belongings he had brought with him from Wool’s.

 

Tom watches this carefully, then says, “And we’ll research spells in the library, too, to protect ourselves. I’ll find the most powerful spells and learn them all, which I was going to do anyways.” Harry is still quiet, so Tom adds, “And I’m going to see if we can stay at Hogwarts during the summer, Harry. So don’t worry about any of this; I’ll take care of it.”

 


 

September 4th, 1938

 

Their second Potions class goes just about the same as the first. Professor Slughorn asks questions, Tom answers them, and Professor Slughorn awards Tom points, much to the chagrin of the Slytherins. Harry watches the proceedings with interest, Tom notes, but doesn’t interject at any point, even if he knows the answer.

 

Professor Slughorn then retrieves a large box full of various vegetables, telling them that their job today is to practice preparing the vegetables as though they are potions ingredients, and that they will be graded on their ability to demonstrate a practical understanding of the terminology.

 

“As long as you’re giving it your best effort, I won’t be deducting marks for sloppy chopping!” Professor Slughorn says encouragingly. “Everyone will have time to improve by the time we brew our first potion. Although, I do expect those who struggle with today’s instructions to come see me about practicing outside of classroom hours.” He waves his wand, revealing a set of instructions for each type of vegetable on the blackboard.

 

Tom and Harry make quick work of their selection of greens. An unpeeled carrot, a handful of peas, and a tomato quickly become sliced, mashed, and juiced respectively. Professor Slughorn comes by to inspect their work.

 

“Excellent job, boys. Very good, although I can’t say I would have expected less!” He beams at Tom, who drops his gaze bashfully.

 

“Thank you, sir,” says Tom.

 

“You’ll come see me after class, won’t you, Mr. Riddle? Just a quick question I wanted to ask you…”

 

“Of course, sir.”

 

“Good, very good.” Professor Slughorn nods and moves on to the next table.

 

“I’ll wait for you,” says Harry, once Professor Slughorn is out of earshot. “What do you think he wants?”

 

“I don’t know,” Tom admits. “We’ll have to see, won’t we?”

 

Class ends, and Tom takes his time packing up his things. Professor Slughorn waits for the rest of the students to leave, then moves from behind his desk to approach Tom.

 

“You may have overheard my conversation with Prefects Laine and Carrow on Monday,” Professor Slughorn begins without preamble, “but I do plan to host a little something special for select students—private invitation only, you know—to come by my quarters for a start-of-year celebration.”

 

“That sounds wonderful, Professor,” Tom says. He’s fairly sure he knows what’s coming next, and he knows what he plans to say.

 

“Now, I know it’s only your first week, but I would much enjoy if you were to be able to attend!”

 

“I would very much love to. But, sir, perhaps this is too forward of me, but…” Tom deliberately trails off, affecting embarrassment.

 

“Oh?” Professor Slughorn asks. “You can go ahead and ask me, Mr. Riddle. I promise I would not think any less of you, whatever it is!”

 

“Well, seeing as I don’t know very many people yet, I would feel better if there was another familiar face there with me—aside from you, of course.” Tom contorts his expression into one of absolute innocence, and looks back up at Professor Slughorn. “Would it be alright if Harry came with me?”

 

Professor Slughorn looks thoughtful. “That would be your desk partner? Mr. Evans?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“You were both hatstalls, weren’t you? And Albus tells me you two boys came from the same orphanage?”

 

Tom fills in the context of ‘hatstall’ in his head, and files the term away for later research. “Yes, sir. We grew up together.”

 

“Then I would be very pleased to host you both,” Professor Slughorn says happily.

 

“Thank you, sir.” Tom flashes Professor Slughorn his best, brightest smile. “We look forward to it.”

 

“Excellent, excellent,” says Professor Slughorn. “Now you best be on your way, wouldn’t want to keep you—or myself—from your schoolwork!”

 

Tom nods and takes his leave, scooping up his bag and exiting the classroom. He immediately spots Harry, who is leaning against the wall where he’s been waiting for Tom.

 

“Professor Slughorn’s invited me to a dinner party this Saturday evening,” Tom says immediately. “And we’re going to go to it.”

 

Harry has the most incredulous look on his face. Tom almost feels insulted purely because he’s the one on the receiving end of it. “If he invited you,” Harry begins, like he’s talking to a particularly obstinate toddler, “why am I going? I mean, I know why you want me to go,” he corrects hastily. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to just show up uninvited.”

 

“It’ll be fine,” Tom says, because he’s sure it will be. Things always work out when he wants them to. “Professor Slughorn said it would be fine if you came with me.”

 

“I don’t want to go to a dinner party,” Harry says, but his tone is resigned. “You know all those older Slytherins will be there—Slughorn’s always talking about them. And MacMillan might be there. I heard him talking about how Professor Slughorn and his father are friends.” For a moment, Harry seems hopeful that the mere mention of MacMillan’’s name will incite a sudden desire to abandon the idea of Professor Slughorn’s party.

 

“Which is why it’s important to go,” Tom points out. “Because if we don’t, then the likes of MacMillan are going to be cozying up to Professor Slughorn and stealing all of his connections.”

 

“Connections don’t work like that, Tom. You can’t steal them, they’re intangible.”

 

Tom ignores him and starts walking towards the corridor that will take them to the Herbology greenhouses. Harry snickers, and then goes to follow.

Chapter Text

That afternoon, the Gryffindor first years have their first flying lesson with Madam Whittle and the Slytherins. Harry and Tom both marvel at the Quidditch Pitch, which is vast and green, and its huge spectator stands. Neither boys have ever seen anything like it. There are three tall posts on either end of the field, and each post has its own metal hoop stacked on top.

 

Madam Whittle is waiting in the field for them, with a considerable selection of broomsticks resting in two long lines that are facing each other. She is wearing a pair of high-waisted black trousers, black riding boots, and a crisp white shirt. Her hair is shoulder length, black, and mostly pinned back by a pair of goggles that rest on her head.

 

“Hello, hello,” says Madam Whittle. “Prefects, thank you for escorting the students. Louisa, I expect you to actually be booking the pitch with me directly, unlike your predecessor. Anyone who shows up unannounced will be kicked out; I don’t care who their parents are.”

 

Louisa grins at her. “Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Now,” Madam Whittle says, turning to address the first years. “Everyone please find yourselves a broomstick. Do not pick them up until I say so. If you have brought your own broomstick, you may join a row and set it on the floor in front of you.”

 

There is a brief shuffle as they all scramble to find a place to stand. Harry and Tom end up standing across from each other. MacMillan and the Chang girl are the only Gryffindors that have their own broomsticks.. Nearly half of the Slytherins have their own, and a majority of them seem to be fairly expensive models.

 

“Broomsticks are dangerous,” says Madam Whittle, as she begins to walk down the line of broomsticks. She’s taking the time to look carefully at each student as she passes.

 

Some of the students who don’t have their own brooms look slightly nervous under her scrutiny.

 

Madam Whittle begins to gather up the leftover broomsticks as she continues speaking, this time in a lighter tone. “They are also very useful and very fun. That said, no one here is required to take an exam on their flying ability. I’m not here to grade you on how fast you can go, or how quickly you can turn.”

 

She pulls out a miniature broomstick from her robes, which she sets down upon the grass and enlarges with her wand. Tom notes that it’s the latest model of broomstick—the one he’d caught Harry ogling at when they’d gone to Diagon Alley.

 

“I’m now going to demonstrate the proper way to call and mount a broomstick,” says Madam Whittle. “Now, I am ambidextrous when I play Quidditch, meaning I use can both hands. Most of you probably have a dominant hand; this will typically be the hand that you use for writing. For the sake of this demonstration, I’ll be using my right hand, which is usually more common. Afterwards, should anyone require a second demonstration with the left hand, I will then do so.”

 

Their flying instructor holds out her gloved hand above the broomstick and says, in a clear voice that carries across to all the students, “Up!

 

The Cleansweep leaps upwards quickly, smacking into her palm just as her fingers clamp down around it. A few of the Gryffindors clap, drawing eye rolls from the Slytherin contingent.

 

“As you can see,” says Madam Whittle, “the broom will respond to your call. Now, let’s what happens when your call is less than ideal.” She sets the broom back down upon the field, and then says, more quietly, “Up.

 

This time, the broom wobbles once, and then rolls over in place.

 

“Confidence is key,” says their instructor. “You must call the broom, and then be prepared to catch it. Quick reflexes aren’t everyone’s forte, but if you call the broom properly, then you should be able to grasp it. If you find that it still isn’t working, then try again with your other hand.”

 

Her gaze sweeps across the two rows of students again. “Does anyone have any questions so far?”

 

Most of the students seem impatient to get on the brooms. The Slytherins, in particular, are shifting from foot to foot. Tom looks over at Harry, who is watching their instructor with his full attention.

 

“Does anyone require a second demonstration?”

 

No one says anything.

 

“Alright.” Madam Whittle walks back to where she had started at the beginning of her lecture. “No one is to mount their broomstick. I repeat: no one is allowed to mount their broom. On my say so, you will all attempt to call your broom to your hand, and I’ll be walking around to assist you as need be. You are permitted to place your broom back down and try calling it again, if you wish. Do not drop the broom; place it nicely down on the ground. Once everyone has successfully called their broom at least once, then we’ll move on to proper grasping and mounting techniques.”

 

Tom looks down at his broomstick. It is clearly an older model, given that it belongs to the school. The bristles look slightly worn, and a few of them are bent and uneven. He holds his right hand out over the broom, waiting for their instructor to give the signal.

 

“One, two, three!” calls Madam Whittle.

 

There is a commotion as all twenty students attempt to call their brooms at once. Many of the brooms remain on the ground for a few moments as students shout “Up!” over and over.

 

Up!” says Harry, and the broom leaps immediately into his hand.

 

Tom takes a breath. “Up!” he says, feeling a little stupid as he does so. The broom jerks towards him, but doesn’t fully leave the ground. “Up!” he repeats, firmly this time, and the broom leaps towards him. Tom catches it, pleased.

 

“Nice!” Septimus says to Tom. He looks very excited with the broom in his own hand. “I guess you’ve not ridden a broom before?”

 

“No,” says Tom. “Have you?”

 

“Not a lot,” Septimus says. “My older brothers moved out with theirs already. Nate doesn’t have one, and Jon won’t let me near his because he says I’ll break it.”

 

“Very good!” Madam Whittle says loudly, interrupting everyone. “I think everyone seems to have gotten their broom up at least once. Everyone please keep your brooms held in your dominant hand, and watch me carefully.” She then swings her left leg over the broom, her right hand gripping the handle as she does so. “See the grip?” she asks, nodding down at her hands. “You don’t want it too close to the end, or too far down the handle.”

 

Madam Whittle holds the position for a few more moments before dismounting. “Alright, now you will all still be staying on the ground. No one is to have both feet off the floor just yet. I want to see everyone mount their brooms, and I will look over your grips and postures.”

 

Some of the Slytherins are muttering at this point, but everyone does as they are told, mounting their brooms and holding still for inspection. Madam Whittle passes by each student, tutting and correcting as she goes along. Tom gets told his hand is too far down, and even MacMillan gets a minor correction as to the angle he’s standing at.

 

“Okay,” says Madam Whittle. “Now that everyone is suitably positioned, we will move on to the next step, which is kicking off from the ground.” She stops then, as though to see if anyone is foolish enough to try it without her permission. “Broomsticks are very sensitive; they will respond to body movements very easily. You will keep your posture as I have shown you, and then you will kick off hard from the ground, as though you are intending to jump up a bit into the air. You will then hover above the ground, not more than a foot or so, and then you will land by leaning forwards, aiming back down.”

 

Her fierce stare scans the rows of students again. “To repeat: you will kick off, hover for a bit, and then lean forward to return to the ground. Am I understood?”

 

A chorus of “Yes, Madam,” is heard all around.

 

“Very well. On my count: one, two, three!

 

Only about half the students manage to make it off the ground properly right away. Harry and Septimus both manage it on the first go. Tom kicks up a second time, and then finally finds himself up in the air. He hastily corrects his posture, then lands back down on the ground as instructed. Annalise, who is next to him, fails a third time, looking mildly distraught.

 

“You need to be more confident,” Harry tells her. “The broom is there to help you get off the ground. You just need to trust it.”

 

Annalise makes a face, her left hand white-knuckled around the broomstick handle.

 

“If you hold it any harder, it’s going to break,” Septimus tells her.

 

That makes Annalise look up, just to glare at him. She replants her feet firmly on the ground, and then kicks off. This time she manages it; she hovers for a few seconds, surprise on her face. Then she comes to her senses and returns to the ground, stumbling slightly as she does so.

 

“Nice job, just be more careful with the landing,” says Madam Whittle, who is now approaching them. “Anyone here need any help?”

 

“No,” says Tom. “We’ve all got it.”

 

“We’re good,” Septimus adds on. “Thank you.”

 

Once assured that no one is about to impale themselves on a broomstick, Madam Whittle allows them all to fly at a low altitude. Most of the Slytherins zoom off immediately in their little groups, leaving the Gryffindors to keep to their own half of the pitch.

 

Harry takes to the air like a natural, flying figure eights around Septimus and Annalise. There’s a bright smile on his face as he leans this way and that to complete the turns. Tom, hovering casually in the air, watches as Harry effortlessly loops around and around their classmates.

 

“This is fun!” Harry says, grinning. “This is my new favourite class.”

 

“You should try out for Quidditch next year,” says Septimus. “My brother Jon was on the Ravenclaw team, as a Beater. Sometimes I got to come here and watch him play at games.”

 

“Maybe.” Harry looks doubtfully over at the Slytherins with their shiny, newer brooms. “I don’t know much about Quidditch, anyways.”

 

“I can tell you later,” Septimus says excitedly. “Quidditch is the best sport ever. I have this book, ‘The Noble Sport of Warlocks’, that talks all about it.”

 

Annalise sniffs, looking offended at the title of the book, but doesn’t say anything. She’s still hovering in place on her broom, as though afraid that if she set her feet back down upon the ground, she would not be able to kick back into the air.

 

“Tom, isn’t flying great?” asks Harry, swooping over to pull up next to Tom. His hair, now windswept, looks even more frazzled than usual.

 

“It’s alright,” Tom replies neutrally. “You’re very good at it, though.”

 

Harry smiles faintly, looking a little embarrassed. “Thanks, Tom.”

 


 

By the time they file into the Great Hall for dinner, Harry’s hair has reached new levels of total disaster. Madam Whittle had made the rest of them who were merely hovering around start to move, and Annalise had ended up colliding with Harry mid-flight, sending them both tumbling to the ground. No one was hurt, because they hadn’t been very far up at all, but seeing as the Quidditch field had been freshly mowed last week, there were still dried blades of grass all over the place. Harry, who had landed underneath Annalise, had taken the brunt of the grass, and was still mostly covered in it.

 

“You’ve still got grass in your hair,” says Annalise guiltily, reaching up to swat a few pieces away.

 

Harry reaches up to ruffle his hair. “How’s that?”

 

“Better,” says Septimus.

 

After dinner, they head back to their Common Room with Nathaniel and Genie. Tom overhears Harry asking Nathaniel where the library is as they pass through the portrait hole.

 

“I can take you there tomorrow,” says Nathaniel. “After dinner.”

 

Harry glances over at Tom, then says, “That’s okay, I don’t need to go there right away. Maybe you can just write the directions down, and then I can figure it out later?”

 

“Sure,” says Nathaniel, shrugging. “Just give me a moment.”

 

Tom wanders over to what is now their usual table, placing his bag on the tabletop. The rest of the little group Harry’s collected comes to join him. Annalise sets her satchel neatly on the chair across from Tom. Septimus glances at the space next to Tom, as though considering it, but ends up sitting next to Annalise anyways.

 

“I can’t believe we have to stay up until midnight today,” Annalise says to Tom. “And then we still have morning classes tomorrow!”

 

“It does seem ridiculous,” Tom concedes. “They ought to have it at the end of the week, so we can have the weekend for sleeping.”

 

“I’ll be glad once we don’t have to take it anymore,” Septimus says. “Nathaniel says he’s rubbish at star charts, so I bet I will be, too.”

 

Harry walks over just then, list of directions in hand. He sits down on Tom’s right hand side, placing the parchment on the table and shoving it over for Tom to look at.

 

“What’s that?” Septimus asks.

 

“It’s just directions to the library,” says Harry.

 

Tom hopes no one asks about going together, and his wish is granted when Septimus says, “Eh, it’s too early to be thinking about researching things now! We haven’t even started using our wands properly yet.”

 

Annalise is already ignoring them in favour of pulling her Charms textbook out, clearly intent on getting some work done before their Astronomy class.

 

So Tom folds the parchment of directions up neatly and hands it back to Harry, who twists his body to put it away. As Harry moves, Tom can see there’s still grass in his hair.

 

“Hold still,” says Tom imperiously, once Harry’s settled back into his chair. Harry goes still, eyes fixating on Tom’s face, and then Tom reaches out to brush some of Harry’s bangs out of the way. He’s barely touched anything when suddenly there’s a sharp, stabbing pain in his hand.

 

Harry reacts as well, jerking backwards in his seat, his eyes wide as he says, “Ouch!”

 

Both Annalise and Septimus are looking at them oddly, now. “Are you alright, Harry?” asks Annalise.

 

“Sorry,” Tom starts, thinking quickly, “I— I just knocked my hand into you, didn’t I?”

 

“Erm,” says Harry, sounding confused as he rubs at his forehead. “It’s alright, Tom.” He rubs a bit more at his forehead, where Tom knows the strange red scar rests underneath the fringe. “I’m fine,” Harry adds, this time to Annalise. “Just a bump.”

 


 

Tom barely pays attention to Septimus and Harry’s following conversation on Quidditch, and only absently takes notes on Professor Mauboisan’s Astronomy lecture later that evening. He keeps thinking about the strange pain in his hand when he’d touched Harry’s scar. Even the memory of it makes his hand twinge slightly. Tom can’t remember if he’s ever touched Harry’s forehead there before, but he doesn’t think he has. Harry must be wondering about it as well, because Tom will occasionally look over to see Harry staring back at him. 

 

By silent agreement, neither of them say anything further until they’re back in their dorm. Tom deliberately lags behind in the bathroom, taking his time washing up. Harry notices a bit late, but manages to linger behind anyways. Septimus shoots them both an odd look, but says nothing else as he bids them good night, likely too tired to bother trying to puzzle it out.

 

“What was that?” asks Harry, once they’ve ascertained that all the other boys have gone.

 

It’s two hours past midnight now, but Tom feels wide awake. “I don’t know,” he admits.

 

Harry turns to face the mirror, lifting his fringe of hair to reveal the angry red lightning shape etched into his forehead. “Do you think it’s magic?”

 

“I don’t know,” Tom repeats, frustrated. He stalks over to stand next to Harry. Tom can see his own reflection; his face is twisted in annoyance. “Maybe we should try it again,” he suggests hesitantly.

 

They continue to watch each other for a few moments, both of them reluctant. Tom has no particular desire to inflict pain on himself or on Harry.

 

“I guess,” Harry starts, “we need to be sure.”

 

“Right,” says Tom. “It wasn’t even that bad. It didn’t hurt that much.”

 

“Right,” repeats Harry. Then he takes a deep breath, turning to face Tom. He then goes to hold his hair out of the way again, swallowing nervously. “Okay,” Harry says. “Give it a go, then.”

 

Tom stretches an arm up slowly, extending a finger. His hand hovers just in front of Harry, who is now staring cross-eyed at it. Though he’s nearly touching now, nothing has happened. Perhaps Tom is only imagining the tingle of something in the air between them, a feeling almost like magic.

 

“Alright,” says Tom, fighting the urge to bite down on his lower lip. “Here we go.”

 

As soon as his finger presses against skin, the acute, razor-like pain returns, and Tom jerks his hand away on pure reflex. It feels… wrong. Like he shouldn’t ought to be doing it.

 

Harry, wincing, prods gently at his forehead. “It doesn’t hurt afterwards, it only hurts while you’re touching it.”

 

Tom frowns. He wonders if it’s just him, or if someone else nudging Harry’s scar would produce the same effect. However, he doesn’t exactly trust anyone else enough to allow them to try, which sets them in the middle of a dilemma. Again, Tom curses his lack of knowledge. He needs to learn things, and learn them quickly. There is too much going on here, in this new, strange world of magic. Finding his bearings is vital; he can’t afford to dither around talking about Quidditch, of all things.

 

“We’ll have to research,” Tom says grimly.

 

At first, Harry doesn’t respond; he’s clearly thinking hard on the problem, just as Tom is. “Do you think it’s some kind of magical illness? Genie said that if we had trouble to ask to be taken to the Hospital Wing, that they have potions and things there.”

 

Unwillingly, Tom’s thoughts are dragged backwards in time, to when he had speculated on the cause of his mother’s death. He had assumed that his father had been magical. Tom is a common name, one he despises, but it seemed there are wizarding Toms as well, so it’s not completely out of the question for his father to have been a wizard. His mother, however, had died after giving birth. Tom doesn’t know her name, or even exactly what she had looked like. Mrs. Cole had only told him his mother had said that he looked like his father.

 

Perhaps his mother could have been a witch, too, then. Unless there was some obscure magical Riddle family that Dumbledore has not heard of. Tom frowns harder, knowing that Harry is waiting for some kind of response. He can’t think clearly at the moment. There are too many variables at play. If his mother had been a witch, then where was her family? Why had they not come looking for her, if they had magic to do so? Had she been taken ill by some magic disease? Did Harry have something similar?

 

“Tom?” asks Harry. “Maybe we should go to bed.”

 

“Yes,” Tom says, still lost in thought. “Let’s do that.”

 

Exhaustion seems to hit all at once; the thought of sleeping drags down on Tom's consciousness like a heavy weight. Tom follows Harry back into their dorm, and then they crawl into their respective beds. Though his mind is still churning, Tom feels everything inside of him begin to calm as he drifts off to sleep at last.

Chapter Text

September 7th, 1938

 

Tom wakes up feeling refreshed despite his lack of sleep. Last night’s discovery has returned him to his focus. He’d been too caught up in the boring pleasantries of the lax Gryffindor lifestyle, too distracted by ‘making friends’. While he’s already begun to prove to all the professors that he’s different, that he’s special and important and smarter than the rest, he still must do better. It is not enough to satisfy the weak expectations set by the students and the faculty. Tom has high standards for himself, and he will achieve them.

 

“We’ll visit the library after classes today,” Tom tells Harry. Their roommates are preparing for the day, so they’re likely not paying too much attention to Tom and Harry’s conversation.

 

Harry merely nods in response, but his gaze is firm and his expression is determined. It reassures Tom to know that Harry will take this seriously and prioritize it over socializing. Harry is friendly to almost everyone; Tom has no idea how he manages it.

 

As far as socializing goes, Tom plans to single out the rich and influential, and then insinuate himself into their circle of acquaintances. The Greengrass girls seem to be a good start; the family is apparently both wealthy and powerful in Wizarding Britain. Septimus Weasley seems useful enough as a sidekick, he’s certainly well-connected, if a bit dull. MacMillan would have been a better choice if he wasn’t so annoying.

 

“I have to give Professor Dumbledore the letter today, too,” Harry adds. They have double Transfiguration as their last period today.

 

Tom keeps himself calm at the thought of three hours spent under Dumbledore’s twinkling gaze. “That’s fine,” Tom adds. “I will wait for you, and then we’ll go to the library.” It will give them an excuse to stay behind again, away from the prying eyes of their classmates.

 

But, just in case, Tom tells Septimus during breakfast that he and Harry need to sign out an additional copy of their Standard Spells text later on today. Septimus doesn’t question it, he merely tells them that he’ll save them seats later at dinner.

 

“The owls are here!” says Chang loudly.

 

Tom and Harry both look up as the usual swarm of owls makes its way into the Great Hall. One of the owls swoops down towards Annalise, who seems anxious at being singled out as the recipient. The owls holds a scrawny leg out, shaking it. Annalise unties the letter quickly, and then the owl flies off again.

 

“Your parents again?” asks Septimus. He’s in the middle of scooping piles of scrambled eggs onto his plate.

 

“Yes,” Annalise says. “I’ll read it later.” She tucks the letter away, then smooths her skirt down.

 

“Have you been able to talk much to your sister?” asks Harry. “You’ll at least have the weekend to see each other, right?”

 

Annalise smiles at Harry. “That’s the plan.”

 

Another owl delivers a copy of the Daily Prophet to MacMillan. He tips the owl with a knut, then sets the paper upon the table and goes back to eating. Harry is eyeing the paper curiously, and MacMillan must notice because he says, “My parents got me a subscription. They say it’s important for me to be up to date on recent events.”

 

“That’s a very sensible decision,” Harry agrees. “Do you mind if I have a look once you’re done?”

 

MacMillan seems surprised at the compliment. “Of course,” he says, now flustered. “I’ll pass it to you at dinner, how’s that?”

 

“That’s perfect, thank you,” says Harry, and returns his attention to eating his bangers and mash.

 

The day’s classes are expectedly typical. Tom answers multiple questions in class, endearing himself to the professors with his polite, conscientious attitude. He reels the behaviour in slightly for Dumbledore’s class, wary that Dumbledore will find a reason, however small, to scrutinize Tom’s actions. But no such thing happens that Tom can discern. Dumbledore seems content to treat Tom as though he’s any other student. It’s irritating, because Tom can’t shake the feeling that Dumbledore is watching and waiting for Tom to slip up.

 

Harry stays behind after class to deliver his letter into Dumbledore’s hands. It only takes a minute, and then Harry rejoins Tom outside in the corridor. They walk for a moment before Tom asks, “Did he say anything else?”

 

“No,” says Harry. “He just said thank you, and that he’d be returning it to me once he’d finished looking into it.”

 

Tom considers this. “Do you think he’ll tell you if he finds anything out?”

 

“I dunno. I can try and ask him.” Harry shrugs.

 

“Alright,” Tom says, shelving the topic away for later. “Let’s have that sheet Nathaniel wrote out.”

 

Harry digs the parchment out, and then passes it to Tom. Tom looks it over. The library is on the first floor, meaning it’s not too far from where they currently are.

 

“I think we should be able to find it very easily,” says Tom. “Great big library like that can’t be hard to find.”

 

He ends up being right, of course. They find the library after navigating only a few corridors. There’s even a few signs leading up to it, ones that were likely put out to direct new students. Tom and Harry pass through the large, ornate doors—were all the doors to important places in this castle just naturally big?—into a huge room.

 

There are tall glass windows set high up into the walls, and multiple unlit chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The library reminds Tom of Flourish and Blotts; the bookshelves extend up and up, past where one would expect to be a regular height for books to sit. Quite a few empty tables are scattered here and there, and there are clear markers that are posted at the corners of certain shelves for each section of the library.

 

A librarian is seated at the information desk. She eyes them as they walk in, but she doesn’t greet them. So Tom and Harry wander further down, past her table, reorienting themselves in the new environment. There are hardly any students in here; Tom spots a pair of Ravenclaws ensconced in a far corner, their heads buried in some books. And there’s a Slytherin girl, too, asleep with her head resting on one of the tables.

 

“What are we looking for?” asks Harry, eventually.

 

“I just want to see what the sections are first,” Tom tells him. “Then we’ll ask the librarian where ‘The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1’ is, just so we have it to show Septimus. And then we’ll have to make a list of topics to read about, and narrow it down from there.”

 

Tom notes that there’s a section for each of their school subjects, along with a few others like Divination and Arithmancy. He knows from his readings that those are both elective classes they can choose to take in their third year. There are, however, additional sections on subjects like Healing, Warding, and Wizarding Mythology. He briefly wonders if wizards make a habit of studying Greek or Roman myths, but then they finally reach what appears to be the back of the library, and Tom finds himself distracted.

 

“‘The Restricted Section’,” Tom reads aloud.

 

“Nathaniel said we can only go in if we have written permission from a professor,” Harry says.

 

Well, that shouldn’t be too hard to manage. Tom figures the main issue will be his young age, but eventually he ought to be able to convince someone, likely Slughorn, to write him a pass.

 

“Something for later, then,” Tom says. He turns around, walking back towards the front desk.

 

The librarian looks up as they approach. Her light brown hair is pulled back severely into a high ponytail, which only accentuates her plump features further.

 

“Excuse me, I was wondering if you had some book recommendations for Muggleborns to read,” Tom says. “Specifically to help them acclimate to wizarding culture.”

 

“Bit early for reading,” says the librarian, gazing at him and Harry curiously. “Usually it’s just the Ravenclaws in here at this time of year. But I can give you a few good ones to start you off.” She stands up, straightening her clothes. Then she walks slowly around the desk, looking up at the bookshelves around them as she draws her wand out. “How many books are we thinking?”

 

“As many as you think are necessary,” Tom says firmly. “We want to know everything there is to know.”

 

“Very well.” The librarian waves her wand in a practiced motion, pauses, then repeats it again. She does this a number of times, and Tom notices that there are now books floating slowly towards them.

 

“Do the books ever hit people?” Harry asks, probably thinking of the madness that had happened at Flourish and Blotts.

 

The librarian shakes her head. “Not me or anyone,” she says, “and certainly not in my library.”

 

The books pile themselves neatly onto the counter as she continues to wave her wand in a final, swooping motion. A final book comes drifting over towards them; the librarian yanks it out of the air and sets it on top of the pile.

 

“Anything else?” she asks.

 

“Ah, one copy of ‘The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1’ please, if you have it,” says Harry.

 

With another wave of her wand, the librarian summons one more book to add to their pile. “Class texts are restricted to a two-day loan period only.”

 

“That’s fine,” Harry says. “We won’t need it that long.”

 

She peers at them, then says, “You’ll need to decide whose name you’ll be putting which books under.”

 

“Doesn’t matter who,” Tom says. “Unless there’s some kind of limit on how many we can have.”

 

“No limit. Three weeks per regular book, and then you must return or renew, depending on if there’s a waitlist,” says the librarian. She divides the stack into two equal piles. “Half each, fair?”

 

“Sounds good,” Harry tells her.

 

“Name and house, then, if you please.”

 

Tom and Harry finish signing the books out, then find a quiet nook to settle into for reading. Spreading the books across the surface of the table, the two of them look over the titles. Some of the books look informative, but boring. A few others sound interesting: ‘The Complete Wizarding Guide to International Travels’ and ‘Fifty Tips and Tricks to Blending in With Muggles’. Tom supposes that they are expected to read the Wizarding perspective on Muggle culture, and then fill in the rest of the context themselves.

 

“What do you think?” Harry asks quietly, mindful of the library setting despite the fact that it’s practically empty.

 

“They look like a reasonable place to start,” says Tom. “I expect it’ll take us a few weeks to get through all these. Then I want to see if we can read up on more specific things, like the topics in your letter, and also how to get better at magic more quickly.”

 

“On top of homework,” Harry says glumly, but then he perks up. “But at least we won’t have to be escorted everywhere next week. I want to explore the castle.”

 

“We can do that,” says Tom. He’s curious about what secrets the castle has tucked away in its corridors—not to mention the fabled ‘Chamber of Secrets’ that has an entire chapter dedicated to it in Hogwarts: a A History. “I bet a place like this has all sorts of interesting things lying around.”

 


 

Tom works on his new self-assigned readings both throughout dinner and after it. What’s most irritating about the books the librarian had selected is that nearly all of them are written by witches and wizards of magical heritage. One of the books even goes as far as to compare Muggles to animals, which does seem to explain the Pureblood’s negative perception of Muggleborns. It’s a wonder any of the magical people here even know to cross the street without getting hit by a vehicle.

 

“That’s a lot of extra reading,” says Septimus, as Tom places some of his new books on their usual study table.

 

“I like to get ahead.” Tom offers Septimus a wide, fake smile.

 

Harry, who has pulled out their new Charms assignment to work on, also looks up at their roommate. “Tom’s very smart,” Harry says loyally. “He always got top marks when we were at our old school—ah, Muggle school. He helps me catch up on my studies when I need it.”

 

This comment strikes Tom differently. It’s not that he isn’t used to Harry saying nice things about him—really, it’s a regular occurrence—but it’s more that now Harry is saying these nice things about him to other people. Tom, when he interacts with their teachers and their classmates, is wearing a mask. Harry, however, has only ever cycled between his usual cheerful self and the numb, dull boy that had tried to put Tom off when they’d first met.

 

But Harry is happier as Tom’s friend; they are better off together. This much Tom knows to be true. Harry lacks the drive to see himself to his full potential, but Tom will help him reach it. And Harry will be someone that Tom can trust to have his back, because Harry knows him, and Harry is always anticipating the things Tom wants and needs.

 

It is because of this understanding that Tom sees their situation in a new light. Because Harry, who can be very blunt and, honestly, rather snarky when he wants to be, is putting on a front. Not a complicated one, no, but Tom knows Harry, he recognizes the little shifts and tells that Harry has. He can tell when Harry is acting differently.

 

So it’s a bit odd to only now realize what Harry’s been doing. While Tom’s been occupied with impressing everyone and learning as much as he can, Harry has been setting the stage for them both, keeping himself quietly at Tom’s side while building the tedious social relationships that Tom hates managing.

 

Tom would have alienated nearly all their roommates on the first day without Harry to temper him. Tom knows that he could have charmed everyone later on to make up for it, but the point remains that Harry has been doing a good deal of the pandering for him, normalizing Tom’s anti-social behaviour and endearing him to their Gryffindor classmates.

 

So Tom shoots Harry a smile—a quick, real one—and then goes back to reading.




 

“Thank Merlin that it’s only one more day until the weekend,” says Septimus, stretching his arms out. “We’ll finally get some sleep. I think waking up this morning nearly killed me.”

 

The five of them are lounging around in their dorm, about to go to bed. Harry is sitting cross-legged on his own bed, with Tom leaning against one of the bedposts. The two of them are facing Septimus, who has laid himself out, spread-eagled, on top of his covers.

 

“Back at home,” MacMillan interjects from his spot across the room, “I had to wake up at six every morning for my tutor lessons. This is nothing, really.”

 

“It’s nice that you’re used to it already,” Harry says politely. Personally, Tom would like to just strangle MacMillan and be done with it. Maybe some of the books in the library will have creative, untraceable hexes in them.

 

Morden, who has been quietly reading their Transfiguration textbook in his own bed, suddenly starts to move, reaching for his curtains. “I’m going to go to bed, if that’s alright with you all.”

 

“Yeah, sure,” says Septimus. “We’ll keep it down.”

 

They all watch as Morden pulls his bed hangings shut.

 

“Fun bloke,” MacMillan mutters under his breath. “Guess I’ll head to bed as well.”

 

Septimus goes to bed shortly after that, leaving Tom and Harry in the dark. Tom pulls the curtains around his bed shut, then goes to flop down on top of Harry’s bed. Harry is holding the copy of the Daily Prophet that he’d gotten from MacMillan. That, too, Tom realizes, is another thing that Harry’s done. Tom wouldn’t be surprised if Harry continued to convince MacMillan to fork over his newspapers, just so Tom could read them without having to pay for it or ask for it.

 

Harry, who has now set the paper aside, has a patient expression on his face as he waits for Tom to say whatever it is he’s come by to say.

 

“On Saturday,” Tom says quietly, without preamble, “at Professor Slughorn’s party. I want us to make a very good impression on everyone there.”

 

Harry nods seriously. “I know.”

 

“And,” Tom adds, “I’m going to talk to Dumbledore at the end of the year, to see if we can stay here over the summer. But that will take some work, so it’ll be best if the rest of the staff like us. It’ll be harder for him to argue against it.”

 

“Do students ever stay over the summer?” asks Harry.

 

“I don’t think so,” Tom admits. “From what I’ve read, it seems that only the caretaker and some of the faculty stay on. But they will have to make an exception for us, I’ll make sure of it.”

 

“I’d like to stay here,” Harry says. “Especially if it could just be us two, and we could practice magic.”

 

Tom feels warm with gratification at Harry’s words. “Yes, it would. Just like at Wool’s.”

 

“What do you want me to do at Professor Slughorn’s party?” asks Harry, after a moment has passed.

 

“Whatever you think is best,” Tom says, off-handedly. “I trust you.”

 

Harry seems happy to hear that. “I wonder if Nathaniel and Genie will be there.”

 

“Maybe.” Tom shrugs, indifferent. “They are prefects, so perhaps Professor Slughorn will want them there.”

 

“I wonder what kind of people we’ll meet,” Harry says. “Do you think there will be lots of adults? Professor Slughorn always talks about the Quidditch players he knows—”

 

Tom lets Harry talk about Quidditch until he starts to doze off, and then Tom bids Harry goodnight. While Harry is fast asleep, Tom lies awake in his own bed, still thinking.

 

Now that he’s gotten used to the newness of Hogwarts, Tom is finally ready to adjust the plans he’d once made at Wool’s, before he’d found out that he and Harry were wizards. There are a good number of issues he wants to deal with before the end of the school year. To cement his place in Gryffindor, if not Hogwarts, as the best student. To look into his heritage and find out the truth about where his magic had come from. To find out what kinds of powerful magic exist, and which ones he can start to learn immediately. To research the cause of the strange pain that occurs when he touches Harry’s scar, and to find out what exactly the letter Harry had loaned to Dumbledore means.

Chapter Text

Albus Dumbledore’s office is quiet and uncluttered. There are a few orderly stacks of parchment rolls upon his desk—student assignments that are waiting to be graded. The stacks are organized by house and by year. A space usually reserved for first-year student essays is empty, as their first written assignment is not due until next week. Albus looks forward to seeing not only what this year’s bright minds have to offer, but also what he can do to help them improve.

 

The fireplace off to his left burns brightly in the small room; it would be easy to relax in the warm, cozy atmosphere. Albus himself sits at his desk chair, hands steepled beneath his chin as he gazes indirectly at the flames.

 

The letter that young Harry had delivered after Transfiguration this afternoon now rests calmly on Albus’ desk. Spell after spell Albus had cast upon it, seeking the answers that refuse to be uncovered. The handwriting is his; the embedded magical signature verifies its authenticity. He does not doubt that the letter was penned by Albus Dumbledore.

 

It begs the question, then, if he had not written the letter, then what Albus Dumbledore had?

 

Albus recalls the most recent Potter graduate of Hogwarts: Fleamont, who has a wife but no known sons or daughters. There are certainly Potter-surnamed Muggles that exist, but Albus does not much believe in coincidences, not anymore.

 

After gently probing some of his fellow colleagues for information, Albus has begun to piece together the picture that is Harry Potter and Tom Riddle. Two young boys, allied together before they had even been sorted, and all the more inseparable afterwards. Harry is mild with his temper, and kind with his demeanour. Tom, conversely, displays a high-level of restraint that none of the other professors seem to realize. Only Albus, with the experience of his own failures, recognizes in Tom those dangerous traits that appear benign. Albus sees anti-social as antipathy, and ambition as aggression.

 

Mostly, Albus worries. This world—their world—teeters on a precarious edge. He knows he does not have the strength to lead them over it; he has fallen to the vice of power before, and he no longer trusts himself to resist its call. What he can do, however, is shape the generation that will see the landscape of Wizarding Britain change—whether the change is for the better remains to be seen.

 

The strange letter now in his possession merely solidifies Albus’ ominous feeling that the tenuous peace holding their society afloat is about to snap.

 

“Time travel?” Albus asks into the silence of his office. “An alternative universe?”

 

The crackling fire provides no answer.

 

“Lord Voldemort,” says Albus, trying the name aloud. Nothing happens, which is not unexpected—names are not spells, although this name admittedly feels taboo enough to be one. Flight from death. Voldemort is not the first dark wizard to fear death, and he certainly will not be the last.

 

There is not much to be done at this time. Albus lacks both information and the means to seek it. A letter such as this is infinite in meaning, and he would be foolish to treat it as prophecy. He must keep watch and wait for the signs to make themselves known, lest he act too rashly. He will not forget the anxious hunger in Tom Riddle’s eyes, or the stories of terror that the orphanage matron had told to Albus in quiet, measured tones.

 

Suddenly, the bell above his fireplace tinkles, signalling an incoming Floo call.

 

Albus stands and moves to kneel in front of the fireplace, waving his wand to open the connection and watching the flames to see whose face will appear.

 

“Albus, how are you?” Nicholas Flamel appears, his features flickering in the chaos of the fire that is projecting his image.

 

“Well as I can be,” Albus replies conversationally. “What can I help you with today, Nicholas?”

 

“I’ve looked over the notes you sent me, dear friend. I believe you are on the right track—many uses of dragon’s blood have fallen out of use in recent decades, and you are correct to search for even the most obscure of myths in an effort to uncover them all. I have procured some books that I believe will aid you in your research.”

 

“I greatly appreciate that, thank you.”

 

“I’ll have them along by owl post as soon as I receive them,” Nicholas continues. “I must say, Albus, I am immensely pleased by your return to research! I’ve always known you’ve had such potential for greatness, ever since we first met. You were such an ambitious, precocious child, and I knew you would go on to do truly incredible things.”

 

Albus smiles, but the emotion behind it is bittersweet. “I would not do half as well without your support, Nicholas.”

 

“Ah, don’t be absurd! I’ll leave you to your work now, but I shall eagerly await your updates. I predict this shall see publication before the end of this school term!”

 

Nicholas bids Albus farewell, and then closes the Floo connection.

 

Silence reigns in the office once more, save for the occasional crackle of the fireplace. Albus returns to his chair and sits down, revisiting his thoughts from earlier. This Saturday marks the first Slug Club meeting of the year; Albus knows that Horace has invited both Harry and Tom to attend.

 

Horace fawns over Tom, despite the fact that is only the first week of classes. He’d even gone as far as to ask Albus about the boy’s backstory, which Albus had reluctantly provided. But Tom is a brilliant boy, according to Horace, and is destined to go places. Albus does not doubt that Tom would agree with this sentiment.

 

Tom Riddle, the boy who should have gone into Slytherin. The mere existence of a boy such as Tom in Gryffindor House sets Albus ill at ease. But the Sorting Hat has stood untested for centuries—it would be madness to assume a single boy could alter the core of Hogwarts so deeply. Whatever traits of Godric’s that Tom possesses, they must be buried very deeply indeed.

 

So far, Tom does not display any outward signs of violence or aggression, but Albus does believe at least some of his behaviour is influenced by the presence of Harry. What Albus would like to do is to earn Harry’s trust, to find out just how much Harry knows about Tom, and to learn the story behind the fiery death of Harry’s old orphanage. But how to do that when Harry is attached at the hip to Tom, Albus does not know just yet.

 

Tom’s attendance at the Slug Club could have been the perfect opportunity, but that avenue, too, has been foiled by the bond Tom and Harry seem to share. Albus knows too well how easy it is for Harry to fall prey to Tom’s promises of companionship, for Harry to be lured in by the praise and affection that Albus has no doubt Tom bestows upon him. Albus knows this from experience, and thus he cannot, in good conscience, allow Harry’s fate to mirror his own.

 

So Albus will do what he wished someone had done for him; he will guide Harry, he will protect him and shield him from the heartbreak borne from the darkness that lives inside a tainted soul.

Chapter Text

September 9th, 1938

 

Harry wakes on Saturday morning feeling both excited and nervous. Today is their first official full day of Hogwarts without classes—they will finally have time to go wandering around the castle. He and Tom also have to return the copy of Standard Spells they had borrowed from the library, and then attend Slughorn’s dinner party later in the evening.

 

The rest of their dormmates are still asleep, so Harry tiptoes over to Tom’s bed and tugs the curtains aside slightly. Tom is awake, of course, and already reading a book.

 

“Good morning,” says Tom, putting the book aside. “Isn’t it still early?”

 

“Busy day today,” Harry says. “Lots to do.”

 

That makes Tom smile. “Quite right.”

 

“Do you think the rest will mind if we leave without them?” Harry asks, moving to kneel on Tom’s bed. “Or should we wait for them to wake up.” He’s fairly sure he already knows Tom’s answer, but the confirmation will make him feel a bit better about going to breakfast without their classmates.

 

“They’ll be fine without us,” says Tom, pushing back his comforter so he can swing his legs over the side of the bed.

 

The Great Hall is mostly empty given the early hour on a Saturday. Most students are taking advantage of the school year’s first weekend to sleep in. Tom and Harry have plenty of seats to choose from. As they sit down, a few plates of breakfast foods appear before them. Tom pours some orange juice into a goblet for Harry, and then pours a second one for himself. Harry decides upon oatmeal with fresh fruit and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

 

Looking up at the staff table, Harry sees that it’s mostly empty as well. Perhaps some of the teachers go home to their spouses over the weekends. However, Professor Dumbledore and Professor Slughorn are both seated together and immersed in conversation with each other.

 

As though sensing Harry’s gaze, Professor Dumbledore looks up and over at the Gryffindor table. He smiles slightly at Harry before his attention is once again directed to something that Professor Slughorn is telling him.

 

“I’m going to sign out some more books later,” Tom is saying. “And give back the one I finished reading.” He pauses, then adds, “Unless you want to read it, of course.”

 

Harry tries to recall the title of the book Tom had been reading. “Was it the compilation of articles on the Sacred Twenty-Eight?”

 

“Yes,” says Tom. “There was an anonymously-published directory that lists the twenty-eight families that are considered to be pureblooded.”

 

“Oh,” Harry says. He stops to eat a scoop of his oatmeal, chewing thoughtfully for a moment. “Was there anything interesting?”

 

“Greengrass, Weasley and MacMillan are all on it. But Potter is not.”

 

Harry isn’t sure if Tom expects him to respond to that. “What does being on the list mean?” he finally asks.

 

“It means they come from pedigree,” Tom says in a monotone. “They’re all families of some influence.”

 

What Harry gathers from this comment is that Tom means to befriend as many of the names on the list as possible. “Can I see the list?” asks Harry.

 

Tom hands the book over to him without comment. Harry flips until he finds the directory, and then scans the list of surnames. “I suppose most of these will be at the party tonight,” he says.

 

“I should think so,” says Tom, who is now already back to reading a thick book titled ‘The Philosophy of the Mundane: Why the Muggles Prefer Not to Know’. “Professor Slughorn seems very popular amongst the students.”

 

That was one way of putting it, Harry supposes. Professor Slughorn is very… enthusiastic about making friends with his students. He certainly has his favourites, and Tom is on his way to becoming one of them. While Harry is sure that the ‘Slug Club’ will open many doors for Tom in the future, he does wonder how the rest of the student body, the ones left on the outside, will view such nepotism.

 

After breakfast they head to the library as planned, where Tom drops off the book on the Sacred Twenty-Eight, and Harry hands back ‘The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1’. Tom then proceeds to sign out ‘An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe’ and ‘Magical Moral Perspective’.

 

“Should I expect you again in a few days?” asks Madam Fieldwake. She does not sound judgemental; she’s merely stating her question as a fact.

 

“Probably,” Harry says. “Thank you for helping us so much.”

 

“Not a problem.” She waves it off. 

 

Tom and Harry spend the rest of the morning walking about the castle and familiarizing themselves with the grounds. They don’t see any of their classmates until lunchtime, where they are greeted by the sight of Adelaide at the Gryffindor table. Harry looks around for the older Greengrass brother, but he doesn’t seem to be at the Ravenclaw table today.

 

“Hello,” says Harry, taking a seat next to her. “Nice to see you here, Adelaide.”

 

“Hello,” says Adelaide. “I heard you all had quite the time flying the other day.”

 

“It was an educational experience,” says Annalise, exchanging a humorous look with Harry.

 

“Anyway,” says Adelaide pleasantly. “Professor Slughorn has invited Annalise and I to a start-of-year party tonight, so we won’t be here for dinner.”

 

“Oh?” asks Tom. “He’s invited Harry and I as well.”

 

There is a pause.

 

“So we’ll all be there together,” Annalise says lightly.

 

At that moment, Harry wishes he hadn’t chosen to sit between the Adelaide and Tom, because they are now both visibly annoyed at each other. 

 

“Well,” says Septimus cheerfully, breaking the awkward tension, “since I haven’t been invited to any fancy parties, I think I’ll just have extra dessert tonight.” Harry worries that Septimus is upset at having to spend dinner without them, but Septimus actually seems as though he doesn’t mind being left out.

 

As though reading Harry’s mind, Septimus catches Harry’s gaze and adds, “My brother Jon went to a bunch of them. He said it’s usually just a bunch of stuffy people trying to get one over each other, but it’s really excellent for once you’re job hunting.”

 

“Reassuring,” Adelaide says, deadpan. “We’ve only got, what, seven more years to go?”

 


 

Seeing as neither of them have dress robes to change into, Tom and Harry wait downstairs for Annalise to descend from the girls’ dorms so that they can escort her to Professor Slughorn’s party.

 

When Annalise finally does arrive, she is wearing a pretty light grey wool dress with a high collar. There are tiny little gold buttons that run down the front of it, too. Her hair is styled in loose curls that are held in place by two pearl-studded barrettes.

 

“You look nice,” Harry says politely.

 

“Thank you, Harry,” says Annalise. “Adelaide said she’d meet us there, so we don’t need to fetch her.”

 

“Let’s be on our way, then,” Tom says briskly. “I’m sure Professor Slughorn won’t mind if we’re early.”

 

The hallways are mostly empty now, as many students have already gone up to dinner in the Great Hall. As they grow closer to the dungeons, Harry wishes he’d thought to wear a jumper under his robes, because it’s much cooler down in this part of the castle, especially now that evening has fallen.

 

Tom leads the three of them straight up to Professor Slughorn’s rooms, where a shiny bronze plaque on the door proclaims itself to be guarding the rooms of Professor Horace Slughorn. Tom knocks perfunctorily on the door three times, then takes half a step back to wait.

 

The door swings open, revealing Professor Slughorn’s jovial smile.

 

“Hello! Mr Riddle, Mr Evans, Miss Greengrass.” He squints at Annalise for a moment. “I would have assumed you would have arrived with your sister.”

 

“Adelaide insisted we not trouble ourselves to go out of our way to escort her,” Annalise says.

 

“Very kind of her, yes,” Professor Slughorn beams down at them for a moment, then starts suddenly. “How rude of me, please do come in and make yourselves comfortable!”

 

Professor Slughorn retreats from the door, making room for them to pass through the threshold. “I had just received an owl from your mother this morning, Miss Greengrass. Utterly delightful, I must say…”

 

Annalise nods quickly. “I’ll be sure to send her your best, Professor Slughorn.”

 

The inside of Professor Slughorn’s private rooms are just as lavish as the man’s sense of style. The space could only be described as opulent; from its velvet curtains to its polished silver baubles, the entire area reeks of wealth and affluence.

 

“You have very nice quarters, Professor,” says Tom.

 

“Thank you, Mr Riddle.” Professor Slughorn leads them over to a large round table, where there are already a few students seated. “I suppose some introductions are in order. Here we have Mr Avery and Mr Black! Both in your year, of course. I’ve taught all their older cousins, all wonderful students. And here we have Miss Parkinson and Miss Diggory.”

 

Of the four students introduced, Avery and Black merely incline their heads (mostly in Annalise’s direction), Parkinson waves, and Diggory offers a friendly smile.

 

It seems that Tom isn’t the only one intent on collecting a majority of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, Harry thinks. Professor Slughorn certainly seems pleased with the little group he’s gathered tonight.

 

“Professor?” asks Harry. “Will students in other grades be attending tonight?”

 

“Oh, no, not tonight, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t be able to fit everyone here!”

 

Tom seems disappointed, thought Harry doesn’t think anyone else will be able to pick up on it. They move to take their seats—Harry on Tom’s right side, and Annalise on the left. On Harry’s other side is Diane Diggory, first-year Hufflepuff.

 

They all sit awkwardly together for a few moments, and then thankfully there is another knock at the door. Adelaide enters the room with a Ravenclaw boy.

 

“Miss Greengrass and Mr Nott,” Professor Slughorn says, and then repeats his earlier round of introductions.

 

Adelaide sits next to her sister, and the Nott boy seats himself as well.

 

Then, as apparently the group has been rounded off, dinner is served. Professor Slughorn begins to systematically question his way around the table—asking about famous relatives and then inquiring on the closeness of said relations. By the time he finally reaches Tom, Professor Slughorn is a little too much into his wine goblet.

 

“Mr Riddle! Such a fine young student, very knowledgeable, very impressive indeed. I have excellent, wonderful hopes for you, and I know your other professors do as well. Why, even dear Albus told me he thinks you have great potential.”

 

Tom raises a brow. “Really, professor? I wasn’t under the impression that Professor Dumbledore had taken much notice of me at all.”

 

“Nonsense. I’m sure he thinks very well of you indeed, Mr Riddle. We professors have a good eye for talent, see? Charmaine says you’re an absolute wonder at Charms theory already! I can only wait with bated breath for once we begin the practical aspects of coursework, Mr Riddle.”

 

“You’re too kind, sir,” Tom demurs.

 

Professor Slughorn waves it off. “Ah, it’s nothing but the truth.” He hums happily for a moment, before shifting his eyes over to Harry. “And Mr Evans! Why, Madam Whittle tells me you have quite the talent on the broomstick! Might I be seeing you on the Gryffindor team next year? A good number of their team will be graduating this year, I think.”

 

Harry flounders at being suddenly put on the spot. “Erm, I might do that, professor. I hadn’t given it much thought, really.”

 

“I’ll have to introduce you to some good friends of mine, all professional Quidditch players, you know. On the national teams! It never hurts to have hobbies and interests outside of school, it certainly does not. Well-rounded students are just as appealing as scholarly ones! I would think that an energetic young lad such as yourself would excel at playing the role of Seeker, perhaps?”

 

“That does sound nice,” Harry says nervously.

 

“I would be sure to bring it up to Miss Laine, Mr Evans. Make sure she knows you are very interested in the role… Though she might be a little suspicious if she hears I’ve been urging you to apply! Goodness knows we have a bit of a fun rivalry going on between Slytherin and Gryffindor during games. Bit out of hand at times, but it’s all in good fun, yes, all in good fun.”

 

The rest of the dinner is uneventful, although Harry does learn that the Greengrass family is heavily involved in the magical healing industry of Wizarding Britain. Harry hopes that the rest of the ‘Slug Club’ dinners are less stilted, seeing as none of the students from the other houses seem overly interested in making friends, and Professor Slughorn’s constant brown nosing makes it difficult to have any individual conversations.

 

Diane chatters animatedly about her father’s work at the Ministry, and this endears her to Professor Slughorn, who somehow narrows the topic down to the specifics of flying carpet trading in Eastern France.

 

“Why, would you look at the time!” Professor Slughorn exclaims. “I’ve kept you all too long—though it has been quite the evening, if I must say so myself.”

 

“Thank you for having us, professor,” says Alphard Black stiffly. “It’s been a pleasure.”

 

The two Slytherin boys walk off together, leaving the rest of them to part ways. Professor Slughorn offers to escort Diane, as she is the only Hufflepuff, back to her dormitory, so everyone is ushered out into the hallway as he locks his door.

 

“Good night everyone!” Professor Slughorn says to them all, and then walks off with Miss Diggory at his side.

 

Nott is still hanging around, waiting for Catherine Parkinson and Adelaide. Annalise hugs her sister goodbye quickly, and then watches as the group of Ravenclaws walk off together.

 

The remaining three of them, Harry, Tom and Annalise, start walking up towards Gryffindor Tower, mindful of the now-approaching curfew. Since evening has fallen, all of the hallways on the ground floor are now lit by candles. The dungeons are chillier than they had been when they’d arrived for dinner; Harry rubs his hands together in an attempt to preserve the feeling in his fingers.

 

“That was enlightening, if uneventful,” says Tom into the quiet of the hallway. “I suppose it’ll be more exciting once we get to meet the older students, or Professor Slughorn’s famous friends.”

 

“Or when Harry plays Quidditch,” Annalise says with a smile.

 

Harry flushes. “That won’t be until next year, if I could even make the team without a broomstick.”

 

“I’d bet that you fly better than everyone in our year, Harry. Don’t be so modest. There are school brooms for those who don’t have their own.”

 

“He’ll be at a disadvantage, though,” Tom comments. “All those Slytherins had newer racing models.”

 

“Harry can manage,” Annalise says. “He’s a great flier.”

 

Tom’s jaw twitches, but only Harry sees it. Annalise is staring straight ahead at the darkened corridor, as though trying to remember which way to go.

 

“I know that,” says Tom, irritably. “We’ll have to find a way to get Harry a better broom, is all I meant.”

 

They reach a T-shaped intersection and Tom turns them left, hardly breaking stride as he does so. Harry keeps quiet and follows, not particularly wanting to further the conversation now that Tom’s annoyed.

 

We will,” says Annalise, sounding pleased. “Adelaide is more coordinated than I am, so maybe she can convince our parents to get her a broomstick, and then we can loan it to Harry for games.”

 

Harry feels like he ought to say something at this point. “You really don’t need to do that, Annalise. I wouldn’t want you to pay for a broom if I don’t even end up needing it—”

 

“Of course you’ll need it,” Tom and Annalise say simultaneously, and then they both glance at each other.

 

So Harry goes back to being quiet and minding his own business (though technically what they’re discussing is his business) all the way until they reach the portrait of the Fat Lady. Harry says the password, and then they all climb through the hole into the common room.

 

There are still a few students lingering in at study tables by the windows, but the area is mostly quiet and empty.

 

“Good night,” Tom says to Annalise, a clear dismissal.

 

She sniffs at him, but retreats up the steps to the girls’ dorms, her grey wool dress swishing around her legs as she goes.

 

Tom drags Harry up the opposite set of stairs to their dorm room, where the rest of their roommates are lounging around in various states of sleepwear. Harry pulls his robes off and sets them down on top of his bed before turning to look at Tom. Tom is rifling through his trunk for something, an expression of consternation on his face.

 

After a second of searching, Tom pulls one of his library books out and tucks it under his arm. He closes and locks his trunk before straightening up and looking over at Harry.

 

“Let’s go,” Tom says, and then turns on his heel and walks back out of the room.

 

Bemused, Harry hurriedly picks up his jumper from where he’d left it draped on his bed. He only catches up with Tom midway down the spiral staircase.

 

“I want to show you some things in the book I’ve been reading,” Tom says.

 

“Okay,” says Harry. “What is it?”

 

“It’s a ‘Legislative Guide to the Proper Use of Magic’,” says Tom. “I wanted to see if what Dumbledore said about doing magic outside of school was true.”

 

The Common Room is mostly deserted now. It would seem a majority of the students have either gone to bed, or are hanging about in their dorms. Tom and Harry grab two of the coveted armchairs by the fireplace, settling in. Tom opens the thick book on his lap to a page he had bookmarked.

 

“So what does it say?” asks Harry, fighting back a yawn as he leans forward on his elbows.

 

“There’s something called the Trace that lets the Ministry track if there’s any magic performed in the same areas as underaged magical children.” Tom gestures down at the appropriate passage in the book. “The Trace is supposed to automatically break once you turn seventeen.”

 

Harry thinks on that. “But what about in places like Diagon Alley? Where there’s magic everywhere? How do they tell where the magic is coming from?”

 

“They can’t,” Tom says flatly. “I don’t think it would work properly for children like Septimus or Annalise, either, since they’re raised in wizarding homes.”

 

“So that means they can do magic at home?” prompts Harry.

 

“If there’s a parent present to take the blame for the magic, I would assume so.” Tom frowns down at the page. “It’s a rather unfair advantage, really. But we can practice spells now that we’re at Hogwarts, and then we can just do theory during the summer.”

 

“That’s smart,” Harry says, nodding.

 

Tom turns to the next page, then adds, “And we could go to Diagon Alley and practice there, just so long as no one sees us.”

 

Harry is unable to suppress his yawn this time. “That’s really smart, Tom. That way we can stay ahead of everyone else.” By ‘we’, Harry really means just Tom, but he knows Tom doesn’t like it when he tries to say he’s not as smart.

 

“Exactly.” Tom seems pleased as he shuts the book. “I think we should head to bed now.”

 

“Okay, Tom.” Harry yawns again, rubbing tiredly at his face with his left hand.

 

Tom stands quickly and walks over to nudge Harry out of the armchair. Harry lets himself be prodded into an upright position and herded towards the staircase. He notes that the fireplace is nearly burned out, and that the clock on the mantle reads well past midnight. But Tom’s hand remains resting against the small of Harry’s back, even as they sleepily trod up the steps to their dorm.

Chapter Text

September - October 1938

 

Harry finds himself settling into the routine of Hogwarts more easily than he’d expected. The second week of classes are easy enough, because Tom already has the layout of their schedule memorized. Though Harry does think he’d be able to find their classrooms on his own if necessary, he knows that Tom likes being the knowledgeable one who’s walking them places.

 

On Thursday afternoon, Prefect Laine invites them all to watch the Quidditch tryouts for the Gryffindor team.

 

“We only need one new Chaser this year,” says Louisa, eyeing Harry carefully. “But next year half the roster will be gone, and then we’ll be needing some fresh meat.” Harry wonders if Professor Slughorn has been talking him up, but Louisa doesn’t expand any further, so perhaps he’s not meant to know.

 

Watching the Quidditch tryouts is fun. Even Tom attends, though he has his library books with him again. Harry and Septimus cheer their housemates on as they zip around the pitch, and eventually a fourth-year girl named Penny Johnson is chosen to join the team.

 

“So you’re trying out next year, right?” Septimus asks Harry, as they all walk back to their common room.

 

“I—maybe,” Harry says, confused. “Why does everyone seem to think that?”

 

“Harry,” says Septimus, “you fly better than I do, and I’ve been on a broom before.”

 

“You’d be a very good addition to the team,” Tom says confidently, not about to be outdone. “I’m sure Prefect Laine will see that. And I hardly think she’s the type to play favourites, so any positions will be earned on pure talent.”

 

“Well,” Harry says, shrugging. “It’s not until next year.”

 

“But you have to train,” says Septimus. “I can owl my brother and see if he has any tips, and there are books on the special kinds of Seeking methods that professionals use to find the Snitch—”

 

As the month progresses, Tom continues with his mission to read the entire Hogwarts library in his first year while Harry befriends more of the other students. Harry cheerfully greets Diane Diggory in Herbology class, and waves at a surprised Catherine Parkinson in the hallways. The Slytherins, though, he leaves alone, because he’s not sure what to make of them, and he has the feeling that Tom wants to be the one to handle them.

 

Professor Slughorn still goes out of his way to dote on Tom, to no one’s surprise. But Tom is so good at being humble and polite about it that Harry doesn’t think anyone would pin any of the blame on Tom when they could instead simply attribute the wrongdoing to Slughorn’s usual favouritism.

 

But Professor Dumbledore, however, treats all his students equally, including Tom. Perhaps due to the fact that he is their Head of House, he is kind and patient with all of the first-years in their class, and provides plenty of encouragement. Harry finds he enjoys the calm atmosphere of the Transfiguration classroom over their other, more demanding classes. Because while Transfiguration is tricky and important, Harry is more motivated to do well in the class because of Professor Dumbledore’s teaching style.

 

What is strange is how Professor Dumbledore acts as though the strange letter that Harry had given him is merely a distant memory.

 

Sometimes, though, Harry will catch Professor Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes during class, or during meals, and he has to wonder if it has any meaning. Surprisingly, Tom also seems to have forgotten about the letter for now, as he is too intent upon his readings, which is something he deems as necessary for ‘catching up’ to his counterparts in the magical world.

 

So Harry and Tom continue to adjust. Harry catches his thoughts drifting off even less now that there are so many people around to talk to. Back when it had been just him and Tom at Wool’s, it had been easier to let his mind wander off on tangents. There had been times when Tom and Harry would simply laze about in comfortable silence, either in their room, or outside on the grass in the backyard of the orphanage. Harry could close his eyes and drift away to that distant part of himself that often seemed so out of touch with the rest, the little part that only Tom ever seemed to be able to ground.

 

But nowadays they mostly sit in their little study group: him, Tom, Septimus, and Annalise. Occasionally Adelaide will join them, but she seems to prefer spending most of her time in the Ravenclaw tower. It is probably for the best, seeing as Tom still doesn’t like her; he claims he can barely tolerate their current company as it is. Harry just thinks that Tom is being dramatic. Tom probably wouldn’t admit to being fond of anyone except Harry, even if he was being held at gunpoint.

 

As they begin practical lessons, Harry finds himself constantly in a good mood. He has Tom, he has his new friends, and he is learning how to do real magic. Tom, who had already been practicing spells in his spare time, has no trouble with anything, and so he instead spends all his class time trying to get Harry up to the same level. This has the added benefit of assisting Septimus and Annalise, who are usually nearby and watching as Tom gives Harry advice. But it only takes a few days until Tom is starting to help them as well, adjusting their wand movements and correcting their pronunciations.

 

The professors, of course, award Tom plenty of house points both for getting his spells right and for helping his classmates out. And Charms class is particularly fun now that they’ve moved past a lot of the theory.

 

One particular class finds them in Charms with Professor Yeung, who has a pile of small pots sitting on her desk.

 

“Today,” says Professor Yeung, “we will be practicing the Fire-Making Charm. As you know, the purpose of the spell is to create fire with the intention to harm an object. I will be passing out fire-proof containers containing marshmallows, and you will practice by aiming your wand only at the marshmallow inside, and then casting the spell. Anyone who did not hand in their homework during the previous class is not permitted to practice the spell until they complete the assignment.”

 

There’s an excited murmur that passes through the room; everyone is excited to cast the fire spell. Tom had wanted to practice it beforehand, too, but Harry had put his foot down, saying he wasn’t about to let Tom accidentally burn their entire common room down, no matter how sure Tom was that he wouldn’t be doing such a thing.

 

Harry and Tom each get their own porcelain pot with a marshmallow inside of it. Professor Yeung reassures them all that each pot has special charms on it to prevent it from getting too hot, so they should be able to touch the pot if necessary. Then she demonstrates the wand movement and the incantation for everyone a final time.

 

“Given your current, burgeoning levels of magical strength, I expect you to put forth slight power into the spell. The goal is for a roasted marshmallow, not a pile of goo.”

 

The class is set loose after that, and the word ‘Incendio!’ soon fills the air.

 

Tom scorches his on the first try; it does look a little too burnt around the edges, but it fulfills Professor Yeung’s requirements. She awards Tom a point to Gryffindor anyways, simply for being able to cast it at all, and then hands him a new marshmallow to try again.

 

Harry is still struggling with his. Most of the other students are as well.

 

“Not to worry,” says Professor Yeung to the class, “it’s a complicated spell that takes getting used to.”

 

Incendio!” says Tom. This time his marshmallow chars like it’s supposed to.

 

“Nice,” Harry tells him. “Looks like you got it this time.”

 

“Here,” says Tom, shuffling over along the bench towards Harry. “I’ll show you.” He reaches out with his own wand and does the wand movement slowly, so Harry can see it clearly.

 

Harry tries again. “Incendio!” Then he frowns at the marshmallow, which remains as white and unblemished as ever.

 

“Hmm,” says Tom. “Your pronunciation is fine, so it must still be the movements. How about we both cast it together, and you copy what I do.”

 

“Okay.”

 

So both he and Tom aim their wands at Harry’s marshmallow, and Harry mimics Tom’s motions. “Incendio!

 

The marshmallow promptly bursts—no, explodes into flames, cracking the pot.

 

Annalise shrieks, knocking her pot into Septimus, who yelps in shock.

 

Professor Yeung charges over and wandlessly smothers the flames with a fluid wave of her hand. “What,” she says, sharply, “did you two do?” She looks from Tom to Harry, not angry, but definitely not at all pleased. “Did I not say to keep your spells to a low level of power? You shouldn’t even be capable of such a thing at this stage!”

 

“I don’t know,” Harry says, anxious. “Tom was just showing me the spell and then—” Harry’s not sure how to describe exactly what just happened without sounding at fault, so he instead adds, “I swear we weren’t trying to put a lot of power into it, Professor.”

 

Professor Yeung stares calmly at Harry, who squirms under the intensity of her gaze. Harry almost wishes she would yell at him instead, because the way she’s looking at him with a knowing, disappointed look in her eye makes him feel worse.

 

“Marshmallows do not simply burst into flames, Mr Evans,” she says, her voice still level. “You would not be the first student to get accidentally carried away in my classroom, and I doubt you will be the last, but I do not tolerate such excuses. Charms can be just as dangerous as hexes if you are not careful enough.”

 

“I think it was my fault,” Tom says, after a pause. “I got too excited to show Harry how to cast it. I’m very sorry, Professor Yeung, and it won’t happen again.”

 

Harry blinks. Professor Yeung turns to look curiously at Tom.

 

"Very well," she says slowly, not entirely convinced. "One point from Gryffindor for reckless behaviour, no matter how well-intentioned. Here is a new marshmallow, Mr Evans. Please exercise caution in trying again."

 

The next time Harry casts the spell it works properly, and neither Tom nor Professor Yeung says anything further on the subject for the rest of the class.

 



Wandlore,” Tom says later that evening, apropos of nothing. He sets a book down upon the table with a thump.

 

Tom had taken them both directly to the library after dinner, leaving Harry at a study table before he’d gone off searching single-mindedly through the shelves. Harry, resigned to cluelessness until Tom came back with whatever he had gone looking for, had begun working on their latest potions assignment in Tom’s absence.

 

“There’s hardly anything on it in the library,” Tom continues, frustrated. “They’ll cover it in our sixth year, but only barely. It is a trade passed from master to apprentice, meaning there is little public knowledge available. Perhaps we’ll have to write to Ollivander and see if he knows anything else.”

 

It takes Harry a while to make the correct mental leaps to catch up with Tom’s line of thinking. “Is this about what happened in Charms class?”

 

“Yes,” Tom says tersely. “I think it has to do with our wands.”

 

Harry looks at his own holly wand, which is resting upon the table. He’d not given much thought to the fact that their wands shared the same core since they’d started classes. That discovery, however, had been what had finally led Tom to forgive him for the whole business with the secret letter. Tom thinks they are destined to do incredible things together, and he’s so sure of it that Harry can only hope that Tom is right, because Harry wouldn’t be able to handle disappointing him otherwise.

 

“We’ll have to find somewhere to practice without Annalise or Septimus around,” Tom says, sitting down next to Harry. “To see if we can do it again.”

 

“Tom,” says Harry worriedly. “What if we catch something on fire? We don’t know how to put things out yet.”

 

Tom shoots Harry a patient look. “I’ll practice that, too, don’t worry about it.”

 

“Well, alright,” Harry says, casting a dubious gaze over at his wand.

 

“I also haven’t found anything about the wizard in your letter,” Tom says in a low voice. “There’s no known families by that name, let alone any lords. Nothing in the recent editions of the Daily Prophet, and nothing in articles from 1927, either.”

 

“Maybe… maybe someone just made it all up?” Harry asks hopefully. “Maybe it’s just a very good forgery of some kind.”

 

“Professor Dumbledore seemed very convinced it was real,” Tom says, thinking aloud. “Unless he was only pretending? But he’d have no real reason to do that unless the letter was his to begin with, and in that case it’s not a forgery at all.” Tom grimaces down at the book on the table. “This is just going in circles—we’ve nothing to go on until we get better at magic.” He sounds annoyed at this, and Harry doesn’t blame him.

 

“I think we should just wait for Professor Dumbledore to give the letter back,” Harry says. “He’ll know more than us, and I think he’ll tell me if he learns anything.”

 

“We’ll see,” Tom says, dismissively. “But back to the wands. We will write a letter to Ollivander and see if he can tell us anything more, and if not, who else we could possibly contact.”

 

“Okay,” Harry agrees.

 

Tom goes back to his reading, then, so Harry assumes the conversation is done for the time being.

 

Harry tries to refocus on his Potions homework, but he finds himself too distracted to jot down another two magical attributes of newt’s eye. It’s unfair that his past has to be so complicated and confusing. Harry doesn’t want to be the cause of all this trouble, he doesn’t want to be special. It should be Tom, really, with the mysterious letter and the wizarding heritage.

 

And Tom could have gone to Slytherin, if it hadn’t been for Harry. He would have gone to the house where the cunning and the ambitious lived. The worst part of it all is that Harry can picture it. He can see Tom as one of those tall, aristocratic boys that stalks the hallways. Tom is clever and well-spoken—he has all the makings of what people probably expect the son of a notable family to be like.

 

“Harry,” says Tom. “Is something wrong?”

 

Looking up, Harry can see that Tom’s stopped reading to stare at him. Harry realizes he’s been just sitting here with his quill in hand, doing nothing.

 

“No,” Harry says. “Just—just thinking on what to write next.”

 

“Do you want me to look at it?”

 

“It’s alright,” Harry says hastily, tucking his essay away. “I think I’ll finish it later.”

 

To distract himself properly, Harry pulls out a fresh piece of parchment and begins to draft the letter to Ollivander.

 


 

Soon enough, Halloween is upon them. Harry’d nearly forgotten all about the day, what with all the things that had been going on, so it comes as a surprise when Tom brings it up casually at breakfast.

 

“It’s Harry’s birthday today,” Tom says, serving himself a helping of toast and jam.

 

“Oh!” says Annalise, dismayed. Her hands, wrapped around an orange, go still. “Happy birthday Harry! Why didn’t you say something sooner? We haven’t gotten you any presents!”

 

“Erm—” says Harry. Truthfully, it hadn’t occurred to him that anyone other than Tom would be getting him a present. “It’s not a big deal, really. It’s Halloween today.”

 

“Well, who cares about Halloween,” says Septimus. “It’s your birthday! You know what we should do, we should skive off History of Magic last period and do something fun. We’ll have to be back in time for dinner, though. Nathaniel says they do a nice big feast for Halloween.”

 

“Do you think Professor Binns will notice?” Annalise asks. “Four of us is a lot to go missing.” Surprisingly, she turns to look at Tom and says, insistently, “We could get caught.”

 

“Binns wouldn’t even notice if the entire class went missing,” Septimus argues. “We could head out for a walk on the grounds, maybe? The weather’s not too bad, if a bit chilly.” And then he, too, glances over at Tom.

 

Tom adopts a thoughtful look. “It wouldn’t do to get caught, so leaving the castle might be a wise choice. We could go down by the Black Lake; it’d be less likely for people to be there at that time. What do you think, Harry?”

 

“Ah, that could be nice,” Harry says, dithering.

 

“Then it’s settled,” Tom says, pleased. “We’ll go together, after Defense class. Make sure to fetch your cloaks and coats during lunch.”

 

“Good,” says Septimus, returning to his breakfast.

 

“I’ll owl-order you some chocolates from Honeydukes,” Annalise says to Harry. “A gift from Adelaide and I.”

 

“It’s alright, really,” says Harry, uncomfortable. “I don’t really have the money to get you anything in return.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course we’re going to get you presents. Right, Septimus?” Annalise jabs her elbow to the left, making Septimus choke on his orange juice.

 

Blimey,” Septimus says, coughing. “I’m going to get Harry a gift! There’s no need for violence.”

 

So after Defense class the four of them linger behind their classmates. Tom goes over to tell Morden where they’ll be and why, leaving Harry, Septimus, and Annalise to pack up their things and wait in the hallway. MacMillan eyes them oddly as he passes the three of them, but he doesn’t say anything. Harry hopes that he’s got enough goodwill with MacMillan for the boy not to tell on them, because that would be rather disastrous.

 

“Second month of classes,” Septimus says, glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder, “and we’re already skiving off! I don’t think any of my brothers have ever done that before.”

 

“Good for you,” says Annalise absently, but Harry notes that she’s watching the other end of the corridor carefully.

 

Tom returns shortly after that, his cloak draped around his shoulders. “Well,” says Tom, a jaunty smile on his face. “What’s school without a bit of breaking the rules?”

 

They proceed down the hall just outside the Defense classroom. Harry pulls his own cloak on quickly. The rain has held itself back today, and the grounds are mostly dry. They all head down the Viaduct, towards the courtyard at the end of it, where red and orange leaves are scattered across the stone floor.

 

Septimus continues to look backwards every so often, which only serves to make Harry feel more nervous about the entire thing. But Tom seems unperturbed as he strides down the grassy hill that leads to the Black Lake.

 

“What will we do once we get there?” asks Annalise.

 

“Harry has a great talent for skipping rocks,” says Tom. “But I’m sure we can think of other things as well.”

 

The air is colder by the lake, but the waters are fairly calm. Harry pulls his scarf tighter around his neck in an attempt to prevent any of the chill from seeping in.

 

“It’s cold,” says Annalise bitterly.

 

Focillo,” Tom says promptly, aiming his wand at her.

 

Annalise squeaks, nearly dropping her bag. Tom raises his eyebrows at her. “Better?” he asks.

 

She scowls. “Yes, thank you.”

 

Tom casts it on Harry and Septimus as well, then returns his wand to his robes. Harry feels warmer almost immediately. Tom walks right up to the edge of the lake, looking out at the mountains surrounding them.

 

“What about you, Tom?” asks Harry, moving to stand next to him.

 

“I’m fine,” Tom says absently, but the tips of his nose and ears are pink. “Let’s skip some rocks.”

 

It takes them a while to find enough rocks of the proper size. Tom has to cast the Severing Charm on the ones that are too bumpy, turning them into thick, flat shapes.

 

“You’ll have to show us that spell later,” Septimus says as he tosses a rock across the lake. The stone skips once before it sinks unceremoniously into the water. “It’ll be dead useful when mum gets me to help with her gardening over the summer.”

 

“It’s in ‘The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1’,” Tom says. “We’ll be learning it eventually in class.” He flips a large stone over in his hand a few times, still looking out at the water.

 

“But it’ll be nice to learn it early, won’t it?” Harry says gently.

 

Tom glances over at Harry. “That’s true. I suppose we can cover it after dinner, if you like.”

 

“Sounds great. Thanks, Tom.” Septimus tries another stone; this one manages two skips. “I’m really rubbish at this,” he says mournfully.

 

“It’s in the wrist motion,” says Annalise. She flicks her own stone, and then watches as it skims across the water, touching six times before it sinks. “You have to hold the right angle.”

 

“I am,” Septimus protests. “I’m holding it like you are and everything.”

 

“Let me show you,” Annalise says, and steps over to correct him.

 

Harry skips his own rock a total of thirteen times. It disappears into the water with a barely visible plop. He can feel that Tom is watching him. Harry scoops up another one and tries again—but this time he only manages a total of seven skips.

 

“Are you going to toss?” Harry asks Tom.

 

Tom, his face now flushed pink from the cold, shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he says. “I’m just thinking.”

 

“About?” Harry prompts curiously.

 

“How we’re both celebrating our birthdays at Hogwarts this year.”

 

That brings a smile to Harry’s lips. “It’s really nice, isn’t it? Nothing at all like birthdays at Wool’s.” The contentment of the past two months washes over Harry again. Hogwarts is already his favourite place in the entire world; he couldn’t imagine a better birthday than the one he’s having right here, right now.

 

“The first here of many,” Tom says, his words like a promise.

Chapter Text

November 1938

 

The beginning of November marks the first Quidditch match of the season. Harry and Septimus talk endlessly all afternoon about who is playing (Gryffindor and Ravenclaw), what the teams are like (Gryffindor has a solid line-up of Chasers, but Ravenclaw’s Seeker is better than theirs), and where the best place to sit is (near the middle, but closer to the Ravenclaw end, so they can see the goals).

 

Tom is as disinterested in the sport as ever, though he does make an effort to wear his Gryffindor hat and scarf to the game. Some of the other Gryffindor students have handmade signs with them, though, and set about waving them enthusiastically in the air as they all wait for the game to start.

 

Their group has only just found seats when Adelaide walks over to them.

 

“Where’s Sebastian?” asks Annalise.

 

“He said he’d be studying in the library,” Adelaide answers. Then, to the group, she adds, “Our brother. He’s got his OWLs this year.”

 

“Nasty business, OWLs,” Septimus says somberly. “Not looking forward to those.”

 

“Your housemates won’t be bothered that you’re fraternizing with the enemy?” Tom says to Adelaide.

 

Adelaide rolls her eyes, smoothing her skirt out as she seats herself. “If they take it that seriously, then I’ll be sure to tell them they ought to have better things to do with their time. It’s just a Quidditch game.”

 

“Look,” says Septimus, “the players are coming out!”

 

Harry turns his attention towards the pitch, where the two Quidditch teams are filing out onto the pitch, brooms in hand. All of them are clad in standard Quidditch gear: helmet, goggles, gloves, and guards for their shins, arms, and legs.

 

From the announcer’s box, Genie Jones clears her throat. “Hello, Hogwarts! Welcome to the first Quidditch match of the season, played between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. This year’s team Captains are both new to their Captaincy. We have Louisa Laine for Gryffindor, and Adrian Valle for Ravenclaw!”

 

Madam Whittle, standing in the center of the pitch, has the large trunk of Quidditch balls resting at her feet. Both teams approach her, positioning themselves around the trunk.

 

“Mount your brooms!” Madam Whittle calls, her voice amplified so that the entire pitch can hear her.

 

The students clamber on their broomsticks, their expressions eager.

 

Then Madam Whittle kicks open the trunk, a motion which is accompanied by a sharp blow of her whistle, releasing the Bludgers, the Quaffle, and the Golden Snitch into the air. The Snitch disappears almost immediately—Harry barely has time to catch a glimpse of the golden sparkle under the overcast autumn sun before it’s gone.

 

The players are now in the air and moving the Quaffle and the Bludgers around the pitch. So much is happening at once that it takes Harry a while to adjust to the constant action. Genie is still providing commentary, though how she can keep track of all the gameplay is beyond what Harry can understand.

 

“It’s so fast,” Harry says aloud, without thinking.

 

“And the brooms only get better every year,” Septimus says. “There’s always a new Nimbus or a new Cleansweep, because they’re always competing with each other.”

 

“Laine scores for Gryffindor!” Genie calls out. “Ten to zero for Gryffindor!”

 

The Quaffle falls back into Ravenclaw possession, and Harry watches as it moves up the field, only for one of the Ravenclaw Chasers to drop it when she gets hit in the arm with a Bludger.

 

“Pucey takes a hit to the arm from a Bludger! Nice hit from Isaac, there. Not looking very good for Ravenclaw so far, gentlefolks. Pucey is their best Chaser and—oh, there’s another Gryffindor goal by Laine! Twenty to zero, Gryffindor still leading the way.”

 

The Ravenclaw Chaser, Pucey, is hovering in the air, clutching her arm. Her face is clearly screwed up in pain.

 

“Won’t they call a time-out?” Harry asks worriedly. “I think her arm is broken.”

 

“If she leaves the pitch now, Ravenclaw’ll be down a player,” Septimus says. “She’s just got to stick it out for now.”

 

Harry watches as Pucey pulls out her wand with her left hand, aiming it carefully at her right arm. There’s a faint glow, and then a splint complete with white bandages appears, wrapping itself tightly around her injury.

 

“Pucey’s patched herself up,” reports Genie, sounding impressed. “Good for her! Seems like she plans on seeing the game through till the bitter end.”

 

The game continues for another twenty minutes, with Gryffindor continuing to score points against the Ravenclaw Keeper. They’re up seventy to ten when Pucey narrowly avoids getting hit by another Bludger.

 

“This is insane,” Tom says.

 

Looking over, Harry can see Tom’s actually put away his book, and is currently paying rapt attention to the Quidditch match. He’s bent forward, leaning on his elbows, his eyes narrowed as he surveys the pitch.

 

“You’re not incorrect,” says Adelaide, “but what makes you say so?”

 

“How do people not die playing this game?” Tom demands. “They don’t even pull the injured players off the field. And those Bludgers move on their own, even when no one is hitting them!”

 

“Well,” says Septimus. “Nothing really bad happens in Hogwarts Quidditch matches. Sometimes players do get really badly hurt in professional games, but no one’s died in years.”

 

Tom stares at him.

 

“It’s nothing magic can’t fix,” Septimus adds hastily.

 

“Looks like Roper’s spotted the Snitch,” Genie shouts excitedly, sending the crowd into a frenzy. “He’s spotted the Snitch!”

 

The Ravenclaw Seeker, Roper, is zooming towards the Gryffindor side of the pitch. Harry’s searching gaze finds the Snitch, which is hovering low by the bottom of one of the goalposts.

 

“Where is it?” Septimus asks wildly. “I don’t see it!”

 

“Down there,” Harry says, pointing, “by the left goalpost.”

 

Genie calls another ten points to Gryffindor as Penny Johnson scores, but the Gryffindor Seeker is not even halfway across the pitch towards where the Snitch is

 

One of the Gryffindor Beaters whacks a Bludger in Roper’s direction, just as Roper nearly slams into the Gryffindor goalpost in an attempt to catch the Snitch. Roper swerves at the last moment, avoiding the post—unfortunately, this means he ends up catching the full force of the Bludger on the tailend of his broomstick. It sends him spiralling down into the stands, where he falls off his broom and lands in a heap on the ground.

 

The crowd waits with bated breath.

 

“Did he catch it?” Annalise asks, sounding worried.

 

Then, slowly, Roper rolls himself onto his knees, panting. One of his shin guards has fallen off, and his helmet is twisted slightly. But he manages to extend his left arm, waving it around in the air.

 

“Roper’s caught the Snitch! One-hundred and fifty points to Ravenclaw—Ravenclaw wins!” Genie announces, and the Ravenclaws begin to shout in celebration and triumph.

 

“Wow!” says Septimus. “I’m not even mad we lost—that was brilliant.”

 

Harry is torn between being exhilarated and being appalled. Despite the fact that they’d only been watching, Quidditch had looked like fun. Dangerous, certainly, but fun all the same. 

 

The walk back inside involves a detailed discussion of all the major plays, complete with exaggerated hand gestures. Annalise and Septimus get into a minor argument over who the best players are.

 

“Nathaniel says when we win, usually there’s a party in the common room after,” Septimus says.

 

“Well, we didn’t win,” Annalise says, miffed. “So maybe next time. It was very well done for Ravenclaw, though,” Annalise concedes. “We’ll be hard pressed to win the Quidditch Cup or the House Cup if Roper keeps that up.”

 

A hundred and fifty points,” Tom says suddenly, irritated. “Even I won’t have earned that many points by the time the holidays are here.”

 

“Oh, cheer up, Tom,” says Septimus, patting Tom on the arm. “It’s not like everyone doesn’t know by now that you’re the smartest in our year. Quidditch glory is just different, that’s all.”

 

Tom suddenly looks over at Harry. “You don’t still plan to play after seeing all that, do you?” he asks.

 

“I dunno,” Harry says. “I’d like to try. I’m sure they wouldn’t let students play if it was that dangerous, right?” There’s a thrill to being on a broomstick that just isn’t comparable to anything else. Unless Harry makes the team, there’d be no real reason for him to have a broomstick at all, which would mean that he wouldn’t get to fly anymore.

 

“You would think so,” Adelaide says smartly. “But there’s broken bones, sprains, and concussions. Magic won’t fix the pain or the trauma.”

 

Harry can’t help but grimace at that, and out of the corner of his eye he sees that Tom catches his expression.

 

“Oh, stop scaring him off,” Septimus says. “It’s Quidditch, so there’s bound to be some injuries. Besides, Harry’s really excellent on a broomstick, you just haven’t seen him—”

 

“Even professional players get injured, Weasley,” Adelaide says.

 

“Let’s not worry about this until next year,” Harry interjects. “We don’t even know if I’ll make the team or not.”

 

Annalise looks as though she wants to argue, but a sharp look from Tom cuts her off. “If Harry doesn’t want to,” Tom says flatly, “then he doesn’t have to.”

 

That puts a halt to the conversation, and Harry finds he feels surprisingly relieved about not having to think about it any longer.

 


 

The following week finds Professor Dumbledore taking down the names of students who will be remaining over the holidays. Tom and Harry both put their names down alongside some of the older Gryffindor students. They’re the only two students in their year to do so, which Tom is extraordinarily gratified about. Clearly, Tom plans to make good use of the mostly-empty school to practice more spells. Harry can’t help but worry about the potential dangers of that, but there’s not much he can do to talk Tom out of it at the moment.

 

As Harry had jotted his name down on the list, he’d watched Professor Dumbledore’s face very carefully. But their Head of House had merely smiled gently at Harry, and made no mention of the letter which he had yet to return. Harry hadn't wanted to press the matter further, so it appeared the mystery would continue for a while longer.

 

Another, more pressing matter is the slew of exams they’re due to take in the week before all the students leave. Annalise alternates between fretting obsessively and avoiding her schoolwork entirely, a state of affairs which irritates Tom to no end.

 

Septimus, of all people, draws up an outline of all the topics they need to cover for each subject. He shows it to them at breakfast, though he’s visibly a little nervous about it. There’s a separate list for each class they have, followed by bullet points underneath each heading of all the spells and concepts they need to know.

 

“This is really helpful,” Annalise says grudgingly as she looks it over. Then she adds, biting down lightly on her lower lip, “Do you think we’ll have to know all ten attributes of ghosts from the text?”

 

“I think Professor Merrythought might have mentioned it, yeah,” says Septimus, rubbing at the back of his neck. “But anyway, I figure if we divide everything up, we can summarize the topics more easily. Sort of like splitting up chores, right?”

 

Tom, leaning over to see as well, hums in approval. “That’s very good, Septimus,” he says.

 

Septimus brightens. “Yeah? And I thought, well, only if you wanted to, but you could maybe look them all over, Tom? Once we’ve finished up, I mean. Since you’re doing the best in class and all.”

 

“Of course,” Tom says, smiling. “Feel free to spread it around after to our housemates and such, if you like.”

 

Harry smiles, too, because he’s happy everyone is finally getting along the way he knew they would. What Tom still calls their ‘study group’ is now like a real group of friends. Even if Tom is only playing nice and using the situation to his advantage, it’s more than Harry could have originally hoped for.

 

Where Tom sees talents and connections, Harry sees people and friends. But Harry knows that as long as Annalise and Septimus look to Tom first, as long as they acknowledge that Harry and Tom are not only separate from the group, but also more important, then things will continue to be perfectly fine.

 

“Post is here,” Annalise says, looking up at the ceiling. She scans the owls for a moment, and then her shoulders relax as none of them approach her.

 

However, a tawny owl does swoop down to land in front of Harry. It shakes its leg out, displaying a small roll of parchment.

 

“Must be from Ollivander,” Harry says, untying the piece of string holding the scroll in place.

 

“Oh?” asks Septimus, though he’s paying more attention to his bacon than he is to Harry. “What’d you write to him about?”

 

“Just a question about wandlore,” Harry says quickly. “It came up as a subject in, ah, Tom’s extra readings, and I was curious.” That makes a plausible enough excuse that’s close to the truth, he thinks.

 

“Must be a very interesting profession,” Annalise comments idly. “I wonder how long you have to train to become a wandmaker.”

 

“Suppose that’s a question for next time,” Tom says breezily.

 

Harry unrolls the message and reads it, then passes it over to Tom.

 

[Dear Mr. Potter,  The event you describe is most curious. There have been myths regarding the power of twin cores, but little is recorded as concrete history. I would suggest, as a starting point, that you research the history of the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is located in America.  Best, Garrick Ollivander]

 

“More research,” Tom says quietly to Harry.

 

“It can wait till the holidays, can’t it?” Harry asks. He lets some of his worry seep into his tone, hoping that Tom will pick up on it and relent.

 

But Tom jerks his head in a negative, his mouth pressed in a firm line, and goes back to eating breakfast.

 

A peculiar tension hovers during the day’s classes. Tom is even uncharacteristically silent during class, raising his hand less and offering less help to Harry than usual. Harry doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t know exactly how to fix it. He tries to distract Tom more often throughout the day in an attempt to wear Tom out before bedtime, but Tom seems capable of pushing himself past the normal limits of exhaustion in eleven-year-olds. 

 

Tom opts to skip out on lunch, choosing instead to go for a walk around the grounds in the snow. Harry goes with him, glad that he’d started the habit of keeping extra food in his bag. He snacks on an apple while he watches Tom stomp around, brooding.

 

“Everything is irritating me,” Tom says eventually. “There’s too many things we need to know and don’t. I’m spending all my time listening to our classmates complain about their exams. Maybe if they spent more time studying, instead of talking about Quidditch and playing Gobstones, then they’d be able to do their spells properly.”

 

“It’s only our first year here,” Harry says mildly. “We don’t need to know everything right away.”

 

“Things were easier when it was just us,” Tom continues, as though Harry hadn’t spoken. “We work best when it’s you and I together, like with burning the marshmallow.”

 

Harry doesn’t respond, because the answer he wants to give is not the one that Tom wants to hear. He likes having friends—he likes Annalise and Septimus and Adelaide.

 

“No one else understands,” Tom says. “They all take magic for granted.”

 

“They’re used to it,” Harry agrees hesitantly.

 

Tom whirls to face him, expression serious. “We’ll show them, though. That you don’t need a name and a certain kind of blood to be the best. And, someday, they’ll have to listen to what we tell them to do, because we’ll be incharge.”

 

“What will we do?” Harry asks. “Will we join the Ministry?”

 

“Maybe.” Tom frowns and resumes his pacing. “Professor Slughorn certainly has a lot of contacts there; it would likely be easy to get jobs there after we graduate. But the same could be said for anyone else in his little club, so there’s probably a better path for us to get what we want.”

 

Harry tries to think of something to say to that, but evidently Tom doesn’t expect him to say anything, because he just keeps on talking.

 

“Also, I think the scar and the wands are all related,” Tom says, looking Harry in the eyes. “I’m sure it’s more evidence that you and I were supposed to find each other. Our magic is meant to work together.”

 

“But what about the pain?” asks Harry, confused. “What do you think that means?”

 

Tom shrugs. “Perhaps it’s just a side effect. I haven’t read anything that suggests that a scar, even a magically cursed scar, ought to react that way to someone touching it.”

 

“Oh,” says Harry. “I wonder if there’s anyone we can ask. The matron, maybe?”

 

“No,” says Tom. “We keep this to ourselves, unless something else changes. It’s not hurting us actively, so there’s no reason to go about telling people until we figure it out for ourselves. Think of it as an advantage, Harry. We can do things that people aren’t expecting of us.”

 

Harry finishes his apple, clutching the core awkwardly in his hand. He doesn’t feel particularly powerful or special, he just feels like a regular person with a strange, mysterious past. Sometimes, Harry feels like all he does is wait for Tom to explain things to him.

 

“Let’s go back inside,” Tom says. “It’s almost time for class.”

 

So Harry follows Tom to Herbology, trying to disregard the bad feeling settling into his stomach.

 


 

The end of the month brings a pleasant, but not entirely shocking surprise. Professor Slughorn invites them to a holiday party, something he calls ‘a little festive gathering of friends’, all the while dropping hints that there will be any number of influential witches and wizards in attendance. Tom stays behind after class to try and get more names out of Professor Slughorn. He must be rather successful, too, because he spends the rest of the evening looking people up.

 

“Shouldn’t you be studying, Tom?” asks Annalise. “Our fall exams are less than a week away.”

 

Tom has yesterday’s morning edition of the Daily Prophet in hand. One of the headlines on the back page reads: DUMBLEDORE DISCOVERS: TWELVE USES OF DRAGON’S BLOOD.

 

Harry squints at the article. One of the uses of dragon's blood is, apparently, as a top-notch oven-cleaner. The article covers each of the twelve uses, and then goes on to proclaim Professor Dumbledore’s work as one of the most important magical discoveries in over a half century. 

 

“I think I’m well-prepared,” says Tom. “I’d rather research Professor Slughorn’s guests. What do you know about Joscelind Wadcock?”

 

“She’s a Chaser for Puddlemere United,” Annalise says immediately, glancing back up from her study notes. “Did you know, she has the record for the highest number of goals in a season?”

 

Septimus snorts. “One of my brothers used to have a poster of her up in his room. Had a huge crush on her, he did.”

 

“Hmm.” Tom turns the page of his newspaper. There’s a slowness to the motion of it. Harry focuses on Tom’s face, on the slopes and planes that he knows so well. The curl of Tom’s hair and the shape of his jaw.

 

He looks tired, Harry realizes. Not noticeably so, for Tom wouldn’t ever allow himself to show weakness in front of others, but there are faint shadows under his eyes, a tightness around the edges of his expression.

 

Harry fiddles guiltily with the corner of the study guide they’d prepared together as a group. He wishes he could do something more to help, but Tom’s only ever irritable and stubborn when Harry tries to get him to slow down.

 

But it’s only until the holidays, Harry tells himself. And then he and Tom will have two weeks alone together to rest up without the stress of classes to bog them down.

 

“Tom,” says Annalise, hesitantly. “Can you please explain to me about the mice to snuffboxes transfiguration? I just want to make sure mine won’t grow whiskers again.”

 

“Sure,” Tom says, pleasant expression fixed on his face as he tears his attention away from his newspaper. “Why don’t you show me how you cast it.”

 

So Tom goes through the motions with her, and then makes a few suggestions on how to improve. Harry and Septimus both pause their own studying in order to watch as Annalise practices the wand movements and the incantation. Without any mice on hand, however, it’s hard to tell whether or not she would actually be successful.

 

“Oh, I just don’t know,” Annalise says, miserably. “Maybe I should go see Professor Dumbledore for help.”

 

“I don’t see why you’re so worked up about it,” Septimus tells her. “You’re pretty good at Transfiguration, usually. I don’t think a few whiskers are that big of a deal.”

 

“I know,” Annalise says. “But I need to do well. These are our first exams—the marks are important!” She twists at her hair nervously with her hands. “I just want to make sure that I’m not forgetting anything important.”

 

“You will do well,” Harry says, trying to reassure her. “We’ve been studying all this time and everything. It’ll be good, Annalise, and we’re all going to do really well.”

 

“I hope so,” says Annalise, her voice still doubtful.

 

“It’ll be fine,” Tom says, irritableness creeping into his tone. “We did not write up that entire study guide for nothing. I’ve looked it all over, it’s all correct, and all you need to do is memorize the concepts and the answers.”

 

“I—” Annalise swallows a gulp of air, struggling for composure. Then she exhales loudly and says, “Okay. I—I think I’ll head to bed, now.” And then she stands quickly, throwing her things into her bag and vanishing up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

 

“She’s going to drive us mad if she keeps that up,” Septimus says. “All that worrying over nothing. Let’s hope she’s better once end-of-year exams come along.”

 

Harry looks at the stairwell, thinking hard. “We haven’t seen Adelaide in a while,” Harry says finally. “Do you think she’s stressed, too? Should we check on her?”

 

“I highly doubt that Adelaide is the type to become a gibbering mess about exams,” Tom says, which is probably the nicest thing Harry’s ever heard him say about her.

 

Septimus catches Harry’s gaze, shrugs, and goes back to his own studying. 

Chapter Text

Louisa Laine comes over to their study table a few days later, coughing once to get their attention. It's only Septimus, Harry, and Tom sitting together, as Annalise is studying with her sister in the library, which she’s been doing more often lately.

 

“Hello, Louisa,” Harry says to her. “How are you?”

 

“I’m good, thanks,” says Louisa, nodding. Then she proceeds directly to her point: “Professor Slughorn told me he was inviting you lot to his party?”

 

“That’s right,” Tom says cautiously. “Has there been some change in the time?”

 

She considers them for a moment. “Did he tell you you’re allowed to bring a date?”

 

“Erm, no,” says Harry. “Aren’t we… a bit young for that?”

 

Louisa laughs at him. “Well, yes, obviously. But it doesn’t mean you can’t bring a friend.” She casts a look between him, Tom, and Septimus. “If I were you,” she adds knowingly, this time directly to Tom, “I’d find a way to use that. Anyhow, good luck with your exams! Keep your chins up, I promise they’re not as bad as they seem.”

 

And then she walks back over to the fireplace, where some of her friends are sat together. Tom’s eyes follow her progress thoughtfully. “She’s smart,” he says. “That was unexpected.” He seems impressed.

 

“Well,” Harry says, “you can come with us, Septimus, if you like.”

 

“I dunno,” Septimus says. “I mean, it’d be neat to meet whoever Professor Slughorn invites. But I don’t think I’m much for a fancy party, you know? I wouldn’t know what to do.”

 

“I don’t know much better,” Harry admits. “But it’d be more fun if you came with us.” He’s already expecting Tom to cart him around all night. Tom will be talking to Professor Slughorn’s more influential friends while Harry stands idly by, so having Septimus around will be an improvement on what Harry pictures as a fairly boring evening.

 

“But if people are expecting dates to these things,” protests Septimus, “shouldn’t we be going in pairs? It’ll look odd if you and Tom show up with just me.”

 

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Tom drawls. “Harry and I will escort the Greengrasses. So then you can invite whoever you like, and we’ll consider you both to be our extras.”

 

Harry doesn’t think that Tom really cares about going with the Greengrass sisters. It’s likely that Tom wants to do it because it will be both convenient and impressive. If anyone is to be considered Tom’s extra, it’ll probably be him, Harry, who had only been originally invited to the Slug Club at Tom’s request. 

 

Septimus blanches. “Who am I supposed to invite?”

 

“If you want suggestions,” Tom says flippantly, “then I would say start with Eva Bones, from Ravenclaw. She’s from a notable family that seems well-connected to the Ministry. Being in Ravenclaw likely means she’s pragmatic enough to recognize the benefits of the offer, and also be inclined to return the favour later on. And she’s pleasant enough to be around, from what I’ve gathered.”

 

“That’s—I don’t even know her!”

 

“Exactly.” Tom nods. “Makes it less awkward, I should think. If she’s friendly, then all the better. If not, then it’s simply a favour to call upon later on.”

 

Septimus shifts uncomfortably. “Do you think she’d want to go, though? With me?”

 

“I’m sure she would,” Tom tells him. “I’ll even be the one to ask her, if you like.”

 

That seems to relax Septimus entirely; the tension drains straight out of his shoulders. “Would you? That’d be great, Tom, thanks.”

 

“Of course,” Tom says, smiling. “It’s always nice to make new friends.”

 

Unfortunately, Tom’s holiday party schemes do not end up going exactly according to plan. How something a simple as a holiday party could lead to all this trouble, Harry has no clue, although he supposes that their upcoming exams might have something to do with the stressful atmosphere.

 

“Adelaide is going with Nott,” Annalise explains uncomfortably during breakfast the next day. “An event like this means our parents expect us to have a... proper escort. From a Pureblood family, preferably.”

 

“Right,” says Septimus, shaking his head. “You can all just forget about it, then. I don't really need to go.”

 

It seems that Tom is not about to let that happen, however.

 

Tom narrows his eyes at Annalise, and then says, “But Septimus can escort you, can't he? Harry and I will simply attend on our own. Would that be acceptable to your parents?”

 

“My family’s full of blood traitors,” Septimus says. “Not sure how they’d take that.”

 

“I can try,” Annalise says, after a long pause. “I will write them later today.” Evidently, even attending with Septimus is preferable to finding another person to escort her.

 

“You do that, then,” Tom says curtly.

 


 

The response that Annalise gets from her parents during dinner does not seem very positive, because she furrows her brow as she reads it, her lips pursed in a deep frown. Harry’s noticed that she and Adelaide seem to alternate receiving letters from their parents.

 

“Well?” Tom demands. “What did they say?”

 

“Nothing,” she snaps automatically, and then scowls at the page. “It’s fine. I will go with Septimus, and then we can all attend as a group.”

 

“Good,” says Tom.

 

Harry wonders why, exactly, Tom is so intent upon them all going together, but the answer is not immediately apparent to him.

 

Escorts now settled, the topic turns inevitably back to exams as they return to their common room. Annalise frequently complains about being unable to remember things, but rebuffs any offers made to help test her recall. Harry props his chin up on his hands and mostly listens to the conversation.

 

They’re at their usual table when Tom’s explaining something to the group again, gesturing with his wand as he does so. The motions are sharper, more irate than usual. Harry fiddles with the pages of his notes again, wishing that their exams were over and everyone could go back to the way they’d been on his birthday.

 

“But Tom,” says Annalise. “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, it’s not my fault, you’re just not explaining it properly—”

 

“Then maybe you should try being smarter, instead,” Tom snaps, finally fed up. “Because it’s certainly not my fault.”

 

Annalise flinches as though struck, her warm brown eyes filling with tears. She turns her head to the side, staring at the wall, blinking furiously as she attempts to remain stoic.

 

“Tom—” says Harry.

 

“No, Harry,” Tom says sharply. “No. I’ve wasted enough time and effort with all of this exams nonsense, when we all know that I could have passed them a month ago, if I wanted to. I have more important things to do.”

 

“Like what?” Septimus demands, angry on Annalise’s behalf. “You’ve got no right to talk to her like that, Tom. What’s wrong with you?”

 

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” says Tom. “But what’s the purpose of trying to help you when you can’t even follow simple instructions!” He stands abruptly, slamming the cover of his book shut. “Harry, let’s go. We can come back when she admits she’s wrong.”

 

Septimus turns to look at Harry, who blanches in response. “Sorry,” says Harry, hoping that Septimus understands. Then he looks at Annalise, who is sat still as a statue, her cheeks wet with tears.

 

“You,” says Annalise through gritted teeth, “are a right bastard, Tom Riddle.” Her face is flushed red as she speaks, and her lower lip trembles, like the words are foreign to her.

 

Tom smiles nastily. “A bastard that’s better at magic than you are, Greengrass. Don’t you forget that.”

 

“Come on, Tom,” Harry says roughly, reaching over to tug on Tom’s arm. “Not in the common room.”

 

Septimus gives Harry a doubtful look, but says nothing as Harry leads Tom away from the table and out of the common room. Once outside the door, Tom takes a sharp turn and stalks off in a different direction. Harry, who had been planning on taking them to the library, hurries to catch up.

 

“They’re useless,” Tom says, seething. “They’ve no ambition and no intelligence. I might as well be speaking to a group of infants.” His strides are long and fast; Harry struggles to keep pace with him.

 

“Not everyone can be as smart as you, Tom,” Harry tries. “I think they’re really trying their best, especially Annalise. She’s just not very confident, is all.”

 

“I don’t care,” says Tom.

 

“Tom,” Harry says, unsure. “I ask you for help all the time, too.”

 

“That’s different,” Tom tells him. He’s still walking faster than Harry is, his quick steps almost violent in nature. “You’re different. You’re like me. When I tell you something, you do it properly.”

 

“But you’ve been helping me this entire time. Even when we were just at Wool’s,” Harry insists. He takes a deep breath, then continues, “I need your help just as much as they do, Tom. I’m not any better at magic or anything, it’s just that you’re used to helping me.”

 

“You’re different,” Tom repeats, turning to look directly at Harry. “You’re mine.”

 

Harry sucks in another breath without even meaning to.

 

Reaching over to grab Harry’s hand, Tom drags them both down another corridor. Harry has no idea where they’re going, but he can see from the windows that it’s already very dark outside. It can’t be that close to curfew yet, he thinks. But the fact that he doesn’t know where they are makes him feel uneasy.

 

“Tom,” Harry protests, stumbling along as Tom pulls them around a corner. “I’m not different—I’m hardly smarter than Annalise is. You’re only saying I’m as smart as you are, and telling me how to do things, but I’m really not special or anything.” Shame floods into his stomach at the admission, but Harry steels himself against it. Tom has to see that their friends are just as worthy of help and attention as Harry is.

 

“Stop that,” Tom says angrily. “Stop saying that. It’s not true.”

 

“But—”

 

“No, Harry.” Tom’s stopped in the middle of the corridor to put himself in front of Harry. His hands grip Harry’s arms tightly as he gives Harry a firm shake. “I couldn't care less whether the rest of them fail their exams or not, so long as you do well on them. Do you understand me?”

 

Harry doesn’t answer right away. He’s been made motionless under Tom’s fierce gaze. Tom’s dark eyes bore into Harry’s, commanding Harry’s attention and demanding that he submit.

 

“Do you understand?” Tom repeats. “I don’t care about them, Harry. They don’t matter. They have their uses, but I’m not above ridding us of them if I want to or need to.”

 

Harry feels terrible. His throat is closing up and his heart hurts. He knows that he only has one argument left available to him, now. “Annalise and Septimus are useful, though,” Harry says mechanically. “Like you said before, they’re both from important families. So you have to be nice, Tom, even if you don’t want to, or else they’ll won’t want to help us in the future.” 

 

“I know that,” Tom snaps. Then he seems to register Harry’s expression, because he relents and adds, “I just wish I didn’t have to pretend, that’s all.”

 

“I understand,” Harry says, and he does. He does understand, even though the entire notion of it makes him sad.

 

Tom’s expression goes soft, then. His grip on Harry’s arms has slackened, and the set of his shoulders is now less intense than it had been mere moments ago.

 

“Harry,” says Tom gently. “You are very important to me. I would never pretend to be nice around you, and I would never want to be rid of you. You are the one person whom I trust implicitly, and I greatly appreciate all the things that you do for me.”

 

Tom’s misreading the situation, but he’s doing it in such a way that Harry wants to cry out of frustration—because Tom cares about him, and that makes Harry feel good, even though the rest of it is not very good at all. Harry clears his throat once, twice. It’s suddenly very hard to speak. “I know that, Tom,” he finally says.

 

It does not help that Tom’s kind words soothe the worst fears that Harry has: that he’s not doing enough to help Tom out, that he’s not measuring up to all the things Tom wants out of him. Because Harry is torn between his desire to do right by his friends and his desire for Tom’s approval, all of which makes everything inside of him feel messed up and confused.

 

“Good,” says Tom, his tone still soft and low. He reaches up and carefully smooths some of Harry’s bangs away from his face, revealing the lightning bolt scar. “I want you to remember what I just said the next time something like this happens.” 

 

Harry doesn’t want there to be a next time. Taking a last low, shuddery breath, Harry jerks his head away to look at their surroundings. “Where are we?” he asks.

 

“Fifth floor,” Tom says easily, his entire demeanour now calm and composed. “There was an abandoned classroom here that looked interesting the last time we went exploring. I think it would be perfect for us to practice spells in.”

 

“But it’s got to be close to curfew now,” Harry says worriedly. “We should really be going back.”

 

“I suppose.” Tom gazes thoughtfully out at the burning candles that light the hallway. “We’ll just come back here during the holidays, after our exams.”

 


 

During breakfast the next morning, Tom and Harry approach Septimus and Annalise at the Gryffindor table. Harry’s apprehensive about what’s going to happen, but he’s hopeful that Tom will be able to patch things up between the group.

 

Septimus looks wary, but he shifts over to make room for Harry to sit next to him. Tom, still standing, is watching Annalise, who is studiously ignoring all of them at once. Her eyes look a little red, as though she’d been crying all night.

 

“Annalise,” says Tom. “I would like to apologize.”

 

Harry watches as Septimus starts to serve himself breakfast, though his hand twitches slightly as he reaches for a piece of toast. While Septimus doesn’t seem mad at Tom or Harry, he also doesn’t seem inclined to intervene, which is probably for the best.

 

Annalise says nothing in response to Tom’s words, but she does lift her gaze up to where Tom’s perfectly repentant face is gazing at her.

 

“I think, with all the stress of exams, my patience has been tested rather much lately,” Tom continues. “And so I snapped at you last night without thinking of the consequences. None of that, of course, excuses my poor behaviour. Therefore, I would like to apologize for upsetting you. I hope you accept my apology, and that we can remain friends.”

 

“I—” Annalise says, flustered. She blinks at Tom for a moment, her eyes slightly wide, seemingly surprised by the apology. “Well, yes. Alright, Tom. I accept.” Septimus coughs, then, and Annalise shoots him a glare. But she then adds, “And I’d like to apologize in return for being ungrateful to you, when I know you were only trying to help me.”

 

Tom smiles. “All is forgiven, then.” And then he moves to sit down next to Annalise.

 

Septimus lets out a loud sigh of relief, and Harry agrees whole-heartedly with the sentiment of it.

 

Things remain somewhat tense for the rest of the week, but Tom is effortlessly behaved as he returns to the role of tutor—providing explanations and advice to everyone as they countdown the days till their exams. Harry notices with relief that Tom has cut back on the hours he spends reading books outside of their class texts, and that the tired look Tom had been carrying around has at last begun to fade away. In other developments, Annalise begins to spend more time with her sister, which Harry thinks might be because Adelaide is better equipped to handle Annalise’s nervous breakdowns.

 

The actual week of exams passes in a blur. Harry finds himself possessed of more knowledge than he’d realized he’d retained, scribbling furiously on parchment as he tries to capture as much information as possible on the page for each question asked. The lessons Tom had given him seem clearer in his mind than anything else—Tom seeps into all of Harry’s thoughts, like a tinted lens covering everything all the time.

 

The results of their exams are not to be released until the last day before winter break begins, meaning the students will have their marks to take home with them for the holidays. Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party is scheduled for the following Saturday, meaning that many students will be returning via Floo to attend.

 

The day of their results finds all of Gryffindor awake bright and early, as everyone is eager to check the list of rankings that’s been posted up in their common room. Individual marks will be handed out to students as they leave Hogwarts for the holidays, but the top ten ranked students for each year are to be pinned to the large announcement board mounted on the wall.

 

Tom drags a barely-awake Harry downstairs, even though they’re both in their pyjamas. There’s a crowd of upper-years around the board, so he and Tom have to wait for some space to clear before they can approach the lists.

 

At the top of the first-year ranking is, unsurprisingly, the name Tom Riddle.

 

Tom is followed by Alphard Black in second, and then Adelaide in third. Harry glances further down, and is surprised to find his own name written under tenth place.

 

“Seventy-fifth percentile,” Tom says thoughtfully. “Next time we’ll have to do better.”

 

“We?” asks Harry. Tom’s already top of the class, so Harry’s not sure how Tom thinks he can improve.

 

“I’ll have to teach you better, obviously,” Tom replies, nudging Harry back towards the stairs so they can return to their dorm.

 

Harry pauses. “Right,” he says.

 

The two of them climb up the steps to their room, their footsteps in sync. A few other students come clambering down to check the lists, so Harry’s forced to move up and in front of Tom in order to avoid crashing into them.

 

“Plenty of time until the year-end exams,” Tom says cheerfully.

 

“You’re a menace,” Harry tells him, slowing now so that Tom can pull up beside him. “I ought to return all your library books without telling you.”

 

“You wouldn’t,” Tom says, though he does glance over at Harry to observe his reaction.

 

Harry merely offers Tom a smile, and goes to grab his day clothes out of his trunk.

Chapter Text

December 1938

 

Hogwarts is quiet during the holidays. The hallways have grown colder due to the absence of students in them, and Harry finds himself more relaxed with only Tom around. There’s less pressure to be watchful, to keep an eye out for the little nuances in their classmates’ behaviours. There’s less of a need to try and anticipate the things he ought to be saying and thinking and doing.

 

Tom seems more himself, too, much to Harry’s relief. He’s less restrained when there is only Harry around—the distant, pleasant expression Tom has worn so often since they came to Hogwarts has faded away in time for the holidays. The familiarity of Tom’s unfiltered personality is welcomed by Harry, who had only been allowed snatches of it during the busyness of the school term.

 

Their typical snarky banter has also resurfaced in the space left behind by their classmates. Tom rolls his eyes and makes droll, biting comments, to which Harry responds delightedly with as much sarcasm as he pleases. And he can tell Tom is enjoying himself, too, because he smiles more—his real smile, the one that Harry likes to think is reserved for only when it’s just the two of them.

 

Overall, it’s nice to be practically alone at Hogwarts together. It lets Harry look forward to the possibility of entire summers spent here at the castle, soaking up the sun and enjoying the magical atmosphere.

 

Aside from relaxing, Harry also spends a lot of time catching up on the extra readings that Tom’s been doing. While he doesn’t have enough time to read everything, Tom knows well enough what to pick out and shove in Harry’s direction. So Harry reads up on wizarding culture, on the various departments located in the Ministry, on the underage wizarding laws. All of it is actually very interesting, much to Harry’s surprise, even if some of the books are a little difficult for him to read. Tom has even placed bookmarks in all the most important chapters and passages, so Harry can get straight to the main points without having to struggle through the rest.

 

He and Tom also spend a lot of time in the common room, reading side by side. It’s a pleasant activity that lets Harry feel like he’s being useful, that he’s doing his share by learning enough to keep up with Tom’s constant streams of speculation and discussion. If Harry knows more, then he can help Tom talk through his ideas properly, instead of Tom having to stop and explain things to him all the time. Tom already essentially tutors Harry through some of their classwork, and Harry would hate to fall behind on anything else.

 

When they’d gotten their marks, Tom had gone over them in great detail. Of course, while Tom was good at everything, it seemed Harry’s strengths lay in Defense Against the Dark Arts and, shockingly, Potions. Harry hadn’t expected to be very talented at anything specific, let alone in a class where Tom was the clear favourite, but Harry’s Potions marks were nearly as good as Tom’s were. And, best of all, Professor Merrythought had written down that Harry had an aptitude for Defense! So Harry is feeling fairly good about being a proper wizard, and is even hopeful that someday he won’t need to ask for help at all.

 

With Christmas looming near, Harry finds himself with a new problem, albeit a less stressful one. The issue is, Harry badly wants to be able to get gifts for Tom, and for Annalise and Septimus, but he’s not sure how to do so. His plan has been to ask Professor Dumbledore for help or advice, but he’s not sure how to accomplish that without Tom around. 

 

However, the perfect opportunity presents itself when Professor Dumbledore approaches the Gryffindor table during breakfast one day, coughing delicately to get their attention. While most of the professors have gone home for the holidays, Professor Dumbledore has remained at the castle, and been present during most of the meals. 

 

“Mr Evans,” Professor Dumbledore says. “If you would be so kind as to stop by my office after breakfast, I believe I have an item I need to return to you.” Their Head of House is wearing the same navy blue robes from the day of their Sorting. Under the bright morning sun that shines down from the enchanted ceiling, the fabric is brilliantly luminescent. 

 

“Yes, sir,” Harry says politely, blinking to clear the sudden spots in his vision.

 

“Very good.” And then Professor Dumbledore inclines his head at both Harry and Tom before departing once more.

 

As Professor Dumbledore reseats himself at the staff table, Harry turns to look at Tom. “You don’t mind, do you?” 

 

“Of course not,” Tom says. “I want to know what he has to say about the letter. I’ll see you back in the common room once you’re done.” 

 

So, after finishing his eggs, Harry bids Tom a temporary farewell and heads to Professor Dumbledore’s office. He gets lost along the way, and has to ask a portrait for directions, but eventually he finds himself in the correct place and knocks on the door that lists Albus Dumbledore, Head of House Gryffindor and Transfiguration Professor.

 

The door opens of its own accord, revealing Professor Dumbledore standing behind his desk. The square-shaped room isn’t overly spacious, but everything is nicely organized, making the room look larger than it is. Harry glances around at the tall bookcases and neat stacks of parchment. The scholarly look of the tidy room reminds Harry unexpectedly of Tom.

 

“Hello, Mr Evans. Welcome to my office,” Professor Dumbledore says, smiling. “Won’t you please have a seat?”

 

Harry settles into the comfy maroon chair in front of the large desk, and waits politely for Professor Dumbledore to speak. He wonders, idly, if this office was the very place that Professor Dumbledore had first written about his discovery on dragon’s blood.

 

“I have run a number of spells on your letter,” Professor Dumbledore says. He pulls one of the drawers in his desk open, retrieving Harry’s letter from it. “Unfortunately, I have no further information to share with you. Truly such a fantastical mystery I have not seen in many years, Mr Evans.”

 

“But you’re sure it wasn’t you who wrote it, sir?” Harry asks doubtfully. It’s difficult to believe that Professor Dumbledore would be unable to find any insights. If Professor Dumbledore couldn’t find anything, what hope could he and Tom have?

 

“While this was penned by a Professor Dumbledore, I can assure you that it was not my hand which wrote this letter.” Professor Dumbledore then offers the letter out to Harry.

 

“Oh,” Harry says, taking the letter back. “Should I be worried, professor? Of this… Lord Voldemort person coming after me?”

 

Professor Dumbledore shakes his head. “I have heard of no such person, lord or otherwise. But I will assure you that you are most safe and protected behind these walls, Mr Evans.”

 

“I know that, sir,” Harry says. ‘Hogwarts: A History’ had called Hogwarts the safest place in Wizarding Britain, and Harry whole-heartedly believes it. He can think of no place where he feels safer than he does at Hogwarts. “It’s just, well, I think Tom was a little worried, and it’d reassure him to know that you think it’s not an issue.”

 

“That is very considerate of you, Harry.” Professor Dumbledore’s eyes twinkle for a moment. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask me?”

 

“Well,” Harry begins slowly. “I was wondering, sir, if you had any ideas on how I could make presents for my friends using magic? If it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could show me a Transfiguration spell, something like that.”

 

“Ah,” Professor Dumbledore says, leaning forward. “You do justice to Hufflepuff, Mr Evans, with your loyalty.”

 

Harry doesn’t think it’s particularly loyal to want to have presents for your friends on Christmas, but he figures it’s probably rude to say so to his Head of House.

 

“Thank you, sir,” Harry says.

 

“Firstly, however, I should like to extend my congratulations to you on such a wonderful scholarly placement this term.” Professor Dumbledore smiles, and Harry feels almost guilty, because the only reason he’d done so well was because Tom had helped him.

 

“Secondly,” Professor Dumbledore continues, “I am pleased to inform you that I have just the spell to help you…”

 


 

“So, what did he say?” Tom asks immediately upon seeing Harry enter the common room.

 

“He doesn’t know anything,” Harry says honestly. He plants himself down in the armchair opposite Tom’s. Another benefit of the empty school is they can sit where they like. Tom is perched imperiously in his own armchair, a small stack of notes on the table next to him.

 

“Or so he says,” Tom replies darkly. Then he looks over at the roaring fireplace. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he had found something, and had simply chosen not to tell us because he thinks we’re too young for it.”

 

Harry shrugs. He doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other, but he does think that Professor Dumbledore is more trustworthy than Tom makes him out to be.

 

“Either way, it’s as I suspected. We’ll just have to keep seeking answers on our own.”

 

“Yeah,” Harry says, and he’s a little disheartened to realize that, though he’s not sure why. It’s always been him and Tom doing the important things together, because Tom is the one person Harry can rely upon to help him no matter what. Even when Tom had been mad at him, they’d still gone to Diagon Alley together. And Tom had forgiven him, too, which Harry hadn’t quite felt he deserved, but he’d been infinitely glad that it had happened, because he couldn’t imagine going to Hogwarts without Tom to support him.

 

“Anyhow,” Tom says, sitting up. “I’ve got some articles I really think you should read. There is a dark wizard out there, only by the name of Gellert Grindelwald.”

 

“Oh?” Harry asks, now curious. “Do you think he calls himself Lord Voldemort, too?”

 

“I don’t think so. He wants to dominate all the Muggles, turning them into a subservient social class. There’s no talk about anything to do with Muggleborns. It’s about those who have magic and those who don’t. He has a base called Nurmengard Castle that’s located in Austria.” Tom pulls a few worn-looking articles out of his bag, which he passes over to Harry. “He was abroad in America over a decade ago, too.”

 

Harry flips the papers open to look at the headlines. “Ten years is a long time.”

 

“He’s not very good at what he does, is he?” Tom says flippantly. ‘Though I suppose trying to take over the world requires a bit more effort than most endeavours.”

 

“I suppose,” Harry echoes.

 

“If it’s just him to worry about, I think we’re safe,” Tom decides. “We’re not Muggles, and if anyone does come looking at Wool’s, we’ll have plenty of proof that we’re wizards.”

 

“That reminds me,” Harry says. “Professor Dumbledore said that he doesn’t think that Lord Voldemort is an issue. So I think we’re likely safe from him, as well. Though I guess,” he adds reluctantly, “he might have said so just because he thinks we’re too young to handle it, like you said.”

 

Tom nods. “I don’t think we can rely on Professor Dumbledore for anything, Harry. Even if he does mean well, as an adult responsible for our safety, he’s likely not to tell us anything.”

 

“You’re right,” Harry says somberly. “Not for the important things.” While the adults here at Hogwarts are nicer, kinder, more lenient than the ones from Harry’s old orphanage, Harry knows better than to wait for adults to help him when he really needs it.

 

Harry folds the articles back up and places them into his bag. “Anything else?” he asks.

 

“We should go use that classroom on the fifth floor after dinner,” Tom says. “So I can finally test my theory.”

 

So that evening finds Harry and Tom replicating the marshmallow incident in the unused classroom. The classroom has a musty smell to it, but is mostly clear of dust and dirt. Tom and Harry set their things onto one of the many student desks and then get to work. It doesn’t take long for them to confirm Tom’s suspicions as fact.

 

As they watch the baked squash they’d taken from dinner burn to a charred lump upon the stone floor, Tom reaches over to grab Harry’s elbow. 

 

“See,” Tom says, greedily watching the fire. “It’s more powerful when we do it together.” 

 

Harry looks down at the wand in his hand. He can feel it humming slightly, the pulse of magic within it buzzing against Harry’s fingertips. But there’s a chill moving slowly down his spine, coating it in ice. Harry doesn’t like looking at the fire too long. It reminds him of other things. 

 

“Yeah,” Harry says absently, forcing himself to stare at the wall, where his and Tom’s shadows are clearly visible. He can easily tell which one is which, because Tom is taller and his hair lies flat. 

 

Eventually, Tom puts the fire out with his wand (“Aguamenti.”) and runs them both through a few more spells. The Levitation Charm makes the lump of burnt squash smack into the ceiling, and the Softening Charm turns its consistency to that of a melted marshmallow. 

 

“I wish we could practice more offensive spells, too,” Tom says, looking thoughtful as he examines their handiwork. “More hexes and curses and the like. All we do in Professor Merrythought’s class are defensive spells. I don’t think shooting some colourful sparks from our wands is going to be a very strong deterrent to anyone with half a brain.” 

 

“We’ll get an opportunity eventually,” Harry says. 

 

“I’d like to be sure I’m doing it right, though,” Tom insists, starting to pace the room. “Imagine if we ran into some bullies in the corridors? It would be tantamount to idiocy to cast an offensive spell for the first time in that kind of scenario. If we’re going to be the best at magic, then we need to practice everything, not just defense.” Clearly, Tom has given a lot of thought to his argument. “We can start with some simple ones, like Diffindo. It’s not covered until next year, but I’m confident we’ll be able to do it.” 

 

“Well, okay,” Harry says. There is no way for them to practice any offensive spells on people outside of class, so it probably will be fairly safe if they only practice on objects here in this classroom. 

 

“Besides,” Tom adds, stopping in front of Harry. “They’ll be useful in the Muggle world too, once we’re allowed to do magic there. I’ve been reading about all kinds of useful spells—we won’t have to worry about finding a place to live or anything. Wizards can make things like tents bigger on the inside, too. Or we could find a house, bewitch the Muggles to move out, and make the entire thing disappear from sight.” 

 

“But only when we’ve gotten rid of the Trace,” Harry says carefully. He’s not sure what to think of Tom’s idea, because it’s not exactly honest, but having a place of their own does appeal to him. Perhaps someday they could have a place that felt like Hogwarts.

 

Tom frowns. “Well, yes. It would be nice if we could do that now, because then we wouldn’t have to go back to Wool’s at all. Perhaps I’ll approach Genie or Nathaniel after break, just to see if they know anything about any students remaining over the summer. That way I don’t have to ask Professor Dumbledore first.” 

 

Harry doesn’t much want to go back to Wool’s anymore, either. Before they’d left for Hogwarts, Harry couldn’t have imagined ever having a place he wanted to call home. But Hogwarts, with its comfortable beds, warm fireplaces, and cheerful inhabitants, is what Harry imagines a home ought to feel like.

 

“I hope we do get to stay.” Harry sighs, glancing around at the classroom they are in. Even in this cold, unused room, Harry feels a certain level of fondness towards the stone walls and their tarnished candle holders. Hogwarts has its own magic within its walls, and Harry thinks he can feel it well enough to know that when he leaves, its absence will be noticeable.

 

“If we don’t,” Tom says, his expression serious. “Then I’ll take care of us, Harry. Like I always have.” And Harry knows, with more sureness than he’s ever felt, that he believes in Tom’s promise.

 


 

Annalise and Septimus show up in the Gryffindor Common Room a half hour before they are all due for Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party. 

 

“Professor Dumbledore said we could use his Floo and then come here, because he knew we were planning to attend together,” Annalise is saying. Her dress is a bright, shimmering red, and there are matching red ribbons in her hair. She’s also wearing a pair of white silk gloves that glow faintly with reflected firelight. 

 

Septimus, on the other hand, is wearing a plain set of dark navy robes, and his hair is slicked back into a style Harry’s never seen him wearing before. Septimus is also holding himself more stiffly than usual, like he’s unused to being dressed so formally.

 

Harry takes a moment to mentally thank Miss Hannah for convincing him and Tom to purchase more clothes. As it is, what Harry is currently wearing still comes across as more casual than formal, but it’s still much nicer than what he usually wear to class. 

 

“Kind of neat that Professor Dumbledore knows we’re friends,” Septimus says. 

 

“Neat,” Harry echoes. Then he adds, “Will Professor Dumbledore be at the party tonight?” 

 

“I think he mentioned stopping by,” Annalise says. She’s fussing nervously with the lines of her dress as she talks, as though distracted. “But not for very long. I suspect Professor Slughorn may try to keep him, though. Everyone’s been talking about his publication on the twelve uses of dragon’s blood.” 

 

Tom sniffs. “That’s nice for him.” 

 

“I’ve got presents for you both, as well,” Annalise says to Harry. “They’re in my purse, so remind me if I forget later.” 

 

“My mum says she’ll be sending something along when it’s closer to Christmas,” Septimus adds, not wanting to be left out. “So you can keep an eye out for an owl.” 

 

Harry smiles. “That sounds really nice, thank you.” 

 

“By the way,” Annalise adds. “Adelaide and I told our parents about the fall term rankings. I think they might be more understanding about us all being friends, now.” 

 

“Excellent,” Tom says. “Will your mother be attending tonight? I know Professor Slughorn mentioned her before.” 

 

“No, she won’t be.” Annalise shakes her head quickly. “She was... one of Professor Slughorn’s favourites. He was her Potions professor from her OWL year until she graduated, so they keep in touch. But our mother, well, she’s only a housewife. Professor Slughorn likes that she’s well-connected, but all she really has is her social standing.” Then Annalise winces, as though worried she’d said too much. 

 

“All good,” Septimus says, snorting. “Who’d want their mother attending something like this, anyways? Great way to get embarrassed, if you ask me.” 

 

“Our brother is coming, however,” Annalise says. “So I suppose you’ll finally be introduced properly. Just make sure to make it brief, and don’t talk about any of the things we do together.”

 

“Well, alright,” Septimus says. “Any particular reason, or is he just a nosy git?”

 

“He’s a nosy git,” Annalise says, then laughs nervously. “I mean, he’s alright. But I don’t want him to go telling my parents. I don’t think they know how much time we spend studying together.”

 

“Who do they think they spend all your time with, then?” Tom asks rhetorically. “Yourself?”

 

“I’ve told them about Septimus,” Annalise says uncomfortably. “And I mentioned Diggory and Chang, because their families are also pureblooded, even though they’re not old families. But—Adelaide and I, our parents—they’re really not that bad! I just want some time for them to warm up to the idea, is all.”

 

“It’s fine,” Harry reassures her. “They’ll come around soon enough, right?”

 

“I’d think so,” Annalise says, though she sounds unsure.

 

“We should head down soon,” Septimus says, checking his watch. “My dad said we ought to be at least ten minutes early. That way people see you first when they come in. No one else really knows us, so at least we’ll look like we’re a decent enough sort to be early, if not important enough to get away with being late.”

 

So the four of them fall into line, with Tom and Harry in the front, and Septimus and Annalise walking together just behind them. Harry adjusts his robes a bit more, and then makes a last minute attempt to flatten his hair. Tom had tried to help him, but it seemed Harry’s hair had a mind of its own, holiday party or no. 

 

“You look fine,” Tom murmurs under his breath, so that only Harry can hear. In the background, Septimus is asking Annalise about her family’s plans for Christmas. 

 

“Thanks,” Harry says, though he doesn’t really believe it. He tries to tug at his robes again, but is stopped by Tom’s hand grasping onto his wrist.

 

“Relax,” Tom says gently. “It’s the holidays, Harry. We’re going to have a good time.”

 

So Harry takes a deep breath, tries to smile, and refocuses on walking forward, comforted by the pressure of Tom’s hand holding onto him.