It seemed like running was as much a constant in his life as pain and confusion were. The boy raced in terror to his only perceived place of safety, his child mind not quite up to the task just then of realizing the inherent fallacy, and flung himself inside, Vernon hot on his heels. The door slammed shut behind him, accidental magic also sealing it.
At the same time his magic tried its best to make the spot unattractive to his relatives, while also attempting to come up with a solution to what the boy actually wanted at that time. In seconds, with a faint sigh and a shower of silver sparkles, Harry Potter disappeared. From that point on, though pleased that the child could not be found, the Dursleys never could quite understand their unreasoning apprehension and unease about using the staircase, not making the connection between it and the cupboard of anathema.
The boy looked around in confusion. What he was doing in the middle of a street was not something he could comprehend. He did spy a boy of about his own age not far distant, walking away, but before he could even think to say or do anything his attention was taken up by a large, burly man headed toward him. He cringed, far too reminded of his uncle, and began scooting backward.
To no avail, of course, as the man came close enough to crouch down and start asking questions, those he could not answer, as he did not actually know his name. The large man looked somewhat upset by that and questioned him about his family. The boy merely shook his head. The man looked even more upset and eventually stood up, then reached down to offer a hand. The boy stared at him for a bit, then tentatively accepted it and allowed himself to be brought to his feet.
“Well, there’s naught else to do but take you to Mrs Cole,” the man said, then led him away.
Thankfully it was not a long walk. Mrs Cole was a vaguely plump lady with a careworn smile, and seemed to be in charge of a number of children. The boy realized with a start of fear that this must be one of those orphanages that Vernon was always threatening him with, and tried to pull away.
“Now then, boy, there’s no need to be afeared,” the man assured him. To Mrs Cole he said, “Found him on Durand. Boy doesn’t know his name, and naught about family.”
Mrs Cole looked the boy over carefully and nodded, shooting him a small smile. “Well,” she said, “I had a cousin long ago named Joshua, so that’ll do, and we’ll just use Durand for where you found him.” Then she looked back at the man and said, “We could use yours as his middle. . . ?”
The man nodded.
“Right,” she said, then crouched down in front of the boy. “Your name, child, will be Joshua Blake Durand, and I’ll be giving you a home here. There are plenty of children here and you’ll be just like them. If you’ll come with me I’ll show where you’ll be sleeping, get you some food, and introduce you to some of the other children.”
She seemed awfully nice, so he nodded, and transferred his hand from the man to hers.
“Thank you for bringing him here, constable,” Mrs Cole said quietly. “It tears my heart up to see children on the streets.”
“I know you’ll take care of the little fellow, ma’am. I best be off now, back to my patrol.” The man tipped his hat and lumbered away, and was soon out of sight.
“All right, Joshua, let’s get you situated, shall we?”
Life at the orphanage wasn’t anything like he might have expected based on his uncle’s threats. In fact, it was far nicer, though he had mild trouble with some of the other children, a number of whom were far more self-assured. The boy he had spied—assuming it was the same boy—lived there also, but rarely spoke to anyone. Some of the older boys liked to roughhouse and push the smaller ones around, and being terribly small, Joshua was often a target for them. None of them quite gave him the same feeling as Vernon, so he endured.
He was sitting in the ‘garden’ area out back one day when he was startled by a rustling noise. On seeing that it was a snake he was ready to flee, for the older boys had told awful stories about them biting people and poisoning them, when the creature stopped and hissed at him, freezing him in place.
“Human better not have a stick.”
He looked around wildly for the voice, but there was no one in sight. He turned his gaze back to the snake almost curiously. It was restlessly flicking its forked tongue about.
“Human is scared of me? Good.”
“Who—?” He went a little wild-eyed when he realized his voice did not sound right.
The snake reared up. “Human speaks snake? Human is wizard?”
Joshua was again confused—that much had not really changed about his life—and said, “What’s a wizard?”
The snake slithered closer and coiled up, only its head upright. “Wizards make magic. Normal humans not speak snake. Thus, you must be wizard. How many summers have you seen?”
“I don’t know,” he said a bit plaintively. “What is magic?”
The snake swayed for several moments, then replied, “Wizard should explain, hatchling.”
He stayed to talk to the snake for most of the day, only going away to eat, but all he really learned was about the normal life of the average snake, and that his new friend was not venomous. After that he spent a lot of time with the snake, at least until it got too cold for it. It left saying it would return when it was once again warm, for it found him to be a curiosity.
The year rolled by, the cold of winter coming to make all them shiver somewhat. They had warm bedding and clothing, but all of it was secondhand and not exactly in the best of shape. Mrs Cole spent a lot of time knitting when she was not otherwise occupied, much like the other few ladies who helped, even going so far as to unravel damaged knitwear and knit it anew.
When late spring arrived the snake returned, and Joshua was happy to see it again. Something strange had happened over the winter, something he could not explain, but it caused the older boys to dislike and start taunting him, and the girls simply stayed away. Perhaps now that the snake was back he would at least have someone to talk to.
He was explaining all of this when a third voice joined the conversation. “Snake speaker.”
Joshua cringed and started to burrow deeper into the hedge he was hiding within, but stopped when he saw who it was. That dark-haired, pale boy who almost never spoke to anyone was there, gazing at him and the snake intently.
“You speak to snakes, too,” the boy stated. “Interesting.”
And that was the beginning of his friendship with Tom Riddle. The snake declared that Tom must also be a wizard and capable of magic. Tom, unlike Joshua, was not afraid to stand up for himself. The infrequent times he did speak it was usually to be cutting and hurtful. Even though he did not possess the strength to physically push back, that did not deter him from speaking his mind to the older boys. It seemed that they had also caught Tom, at one point, doing something unexplainable, just as they had with Joshua. From then on Tom became his protector.
They spent a lot of time in out of the way places where the other boys tended not to go, talking with the snake (and others, when they deigned to appear) and discussing the idea of magic. Tom realized, after much diligent effort, that he could cause things to happen as he willed it, though the results did not always match his intent. Even so, it was a beginning, and he worked hard to refine this nebulous something they called magic. And he taught it to Joshua with extraordinary patience and care.
Soon enough the older boys would not come near either of them unless Mrs Cole or one of the other ladies was about, for every time they did something bad, something bad happened back, often acting as if they had no control over their actions, or something as simple as losing their balance and tripping whenever they got too close. As the years slowly flowed by they became more and more proficient at getting this magic to respond to their wills, and the snake was often there to encourage them. Joshua found it very difficult at first, but as time passed it became more and more simple for him, which pleased them both.
It was the snake who first brought up the subject of appearances. It had seen Mrs Cole more than once, though she never saw it, and it asked about the strange colours on her face. After having it explained that the woman was using cosmetics (something many ladies seemed to use had they the resources to, even if it was only for their lips), the snake wondered if magic could do the same. That brought about a whole new goal, and the boys practiced in their secret places, attempting to alter themselves beyond recognition.
Joshua decided he rather liked having pale hair and eyes, but of course that was not something he could ever show. For all they knew Mrs Cole would react very badly and throw them out, calling them freaks like the older boys used to before being cowed into leaving them alone.
Joshua disappeared one fine day in May right in front of Tom’s eyes. They had been practicing more grandiose ideas with magic, not having been indoctrinated in any way as to what the rules were or what should be impossible. Tom was at a complete loss for once, and actually frightened. No amount of magic brought Joshua back to him and eventually his attempts nearly ceased, and he became sullen and withdrawn again.
Around that time a strange man appeared at the orphanage and was led to him, a certain Mr Albus Dumbledore, who claimed to be a professor at a school for those gifted as Tom was. He wondered, even as the man was showing him magic (though why he was using that silly stick was beyond him), if Joshua would also end up at the same school.
Joshua ended up in a place he barely remembered—the cupboard under the stairs. The only thing that kept him from shrieking in anger and fear was the thought that Tom would be disappointed in him for showing his feelings so openly. Thus, he concentrated on breathing deeply and calming himself, and once he had, realized that all his experiments with Tom had given him the means to keep order. He just needed to believe in himself. He knew that Tom did, and he would not let his friend down. He would have to protect himself, now.
There was light coming through the vent so he knew it was daytime, though not when. It could have been morning given the quality of the light, but it might also be later and overcast. For the time being he pulled a rather bruised apple from his pocket and set about eating, waiting for some sign to give him a clue as to his circumstances.
He waited through the thudding sounds and vibrations of footsteps as they thundered down the stairs, through the smell of breakfast being cooked and the sounds of two males and one female speaking, and through the sound of Vernon and Dudley heading out of the house. Only then did Joshua emerge quietly, stealthily making his way to the kitchen he remembered, and using magic directly Petunia shrieked on noticing him. Her voice was cut off abruptly when his magic lashed out and her expression morphed to one of terror.
“Aunt,” he said, “I’m back.”
She fainted, somehow managing to miss knocking her head against the counter. The newspaper on the table told him it was 14 May 1991, which rather surprised him; it had been 1938 last time he had checked. Delving into his memories and remembering his panicked flight oh so long ago forced him to accept that his fervent wish had caused this anomaly. So it was magic. But that meant . . . Tom was all alone, back then.
He wondered, a slightly hysterical burble of laughter escaping his lips, just what had happened and what was to become of him now.
His aunt eventually woke up and gave him a frightened look, then rushed upstairs to begin cleaning out one of the rooms. Joshua trailed along behind her, curious, and smirked once he realized what she was up to. It came to his attention during the day that she skirted the cupboard fearfully every time she passed it, which meant it could remain a sanctuary for him in case of need, though he hoped it would not be necessary. Even so, he could store anything important in there, perhaps.
When Dudley arrived home it was clear he did not remember Joshua in the least. He planned to treat the other boy exactly as he and Tom had the ones at the orphanage, along with Vernon and Petunia; bad things would come back to bite them. He also realized very quickly that Dudley was incredibly spoiled. After giving things due consideration he used his magic to become aversive to them. The more they left him alone the better.
He spent his time exploring the neighborhood in disguise, haunting the library, and generally doing whatever he pleased. It was near the end of July that a strange letter arrived, labeled in green ink and addressed to Harry Potter; he supposed that must be his birth name. After all, it had no post mark or stamp, and he was the only one there with a suspect identity.
He thought, after reading it through, that it was a bit silly. After all, it was not as though he had access to an owl. That occasioned a chat with Petunia after the menfolk had departed, one to a job and one to be with his friends. Petunia was not at all open to the idea of answering questions, but her fear of what Joshua might do to her loosened her tongue nicely and caused her to retrieve a letter which had been left with him when he had originally been dropped off. She was also induced to hand over a sum of money; he wasn’t up to stealing from strangers.
Back in his room he pondered the wisdom of heading to London alone. He knew from his explorations that many children around his age took buses and trains alone, so his traveling that way should not look suspicious, but perhaps it would be better to wait a while to see if someone from this Hogwarts place would come to visit him after a lack of response.
In point of fact, several days later, someone did arrive, a giant of a man whose knocks at the door sounded like the rumble of thunder. He opened the door cautiously and was greeted with a very hearty, “Harry!”
Joshua paused, wondering just how it was possible for anyone to be that tall, then said, “Who are you?”
“Why, I’m Rubeus Hagrid, groundskeeper at Hogwarts. I’m here ter take yeh ter get yer supplies.”
Joshua nodded slightly. “I suppose I should ask my aunt for money.”
“Nah, Harry, don’t yeh worry ’bout that. Yer parents didn’t leave yeh with nothin’. We’ll take care of it when we get there.”
His eyes narrowed in thought even as he nodded. “In that case, I guess I’m ready. Oh, I need my letter. Why don’t you come in for a moment while I fetch it.” He stepped back to allow the man inside, then closed the door. As he turned to head for the stairs Petunia stepped through the kitchen door and stopped dead. Joshua arched a brow at her, causing her to turn right back around and leave.
A quick jaunt upstairs and he had the letter, and was back with Mr Hagrid (“Just Hagrid is fine.”) in no time, on his way by train to London. Unfortunately it was packed, so he did not bother to voice any of the myriad questions he had. He was slightly shocked when Hagrid pointed out the Leaky Cauldron and began to wonder about how magic could be shaped to handle that sort of concealment. Inside his gaze was quickly drawn to the back, where a number of people seemed to be both arriving from and exiting through, and headed that way while Hagrid was distracted by a man behind the bar.
He was standing in a tiny courtyard eyeing people who kept causing an arch to form in the brick wall when Hagrid caught up to him, looking slightly panicked. “Ah, there yeh are! Let’s be goin’, then. We’ll head ter Gringotts first,” the man said as he tapped the tip of his umbrella to one of the bricks. “I’ve got yer vault key handy so yeh can get some gold for yer things.”
He simply nodded again, and followed when Hagrid stepped through the arch and cut a swath through the crowds, listening intently to not only what the man was saying, but also to what was being said around him.
By the time he arrived back at Privet Drive he was loaded down with a trunk he could only manage because he used magic on it. Rather than purchasing only what was on his list he had spent a lot of time at Flourish & Blotts browsing the untidy stacks, picking out anything that looked interesting, and most especially books on history. Hagrid had, after all, informed him of his status in the wizarding world, which made him both curious and wary.
He was right to be. Aside from having finally learned what his birth date was, he was now in possession of the knowledge that wizarding folk (many of them, anyway) considered him to be some kind of hero, an icon for the Light. Joshua scoffed at that given that it went entirely contrary to his personality. Why on earth should he care about these people when he had been left to live with these—what had Hagrid called them?—muggles who thought nothing of hurting and starving him. He knew he was incredibly lucky that his magic had responded and taken him to a safe place for so many years, though he wished he understood why it had snatched him back. He missed Tom dearly.
Joshua stared out the window of his tiny bedroom and sighed heavily. He was going to have to fake it if he was going to survive. Maybe . . . Tom was still out there?
On the thirty-first of August he caught a train into London, then a cab to the general vicinity of the Leaky Cauldron, paying the driver with money he had gotten from Petunia. Once inside he rented a room for the night, being careful not to let the scar on his forehead show, and slept in relative peace. The next morning, after breakfast, he asked the owner about the best way to get to Kings Cross, and had the floo system explained to him, then promptly used it.
The train was a wondrous sight to see, but he left off gazing at it to board and find an empty compartment near the front, thinking it might be so that it would fill up from the back forward, thus giving him more time to himself. Most people chose a different compartment after looking in and seeing his stare, though he did hear one boy say, “What the hell is a firstie doing all the way up front?”
Some time after the train had begun moving a blond about his age swaggered in, leaving two hulking brutes outside the door. The blond eyed him up and down, then lifted his chin and said, “I am Draco Malfoy.”
Joshua eyed the boy in turn, immediately assuming that he was probably from a rich family, and would most likely end up in Slytherin. “Harry Potter.”
Draco smirked—rather badly, at that—and had a seat without bothering to ask. He gestured negligently toward the still open door. “They’re Crabbe and Goyle. So, what house do you think you’ll be in?”
He thought it was interesting that Draco assumed he already knew about things like that. Following on the heels of that was the question of whether people in general assumed he had grown up around wizards. “If the books I read are anything to go by, I suppose people would expect me to be in Gryffindor.”
Draco grimaced, though the expression fled his face quickly. “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to go there. A bunch of reckless people always rushing into things without bothering to think, I’ve heard. I’m certain I shall be in Slytherin.”
“With the cunning and ambitious?”
Draco nodded. “I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn’t be horrible,” he admitted rather reluctantly, “but I’d rather be in Slytherin. What about you? You didn’t say, only what you thought others would.”
Joshua shrugged. “I think Slytherin or maybe Ravenclaw would be best suited, but I don’t think that would be wise.”
“Why ever not?” Draco questioned indignantly.
“I think it might upset too many people for me to be in Slytherin, and they might pay even more attention to me. If I went into Gryffindor, even though I think I would hate it, they’d see only what they expected to see.”
The blond looked thoughtful at that. “You certainly sound like a Slytherin.” Draco stood up. “Be prepared for some taunting if you go Gryffindor, though. All in good fun, since I know better.” After a nod he slipped out the door and disappeared, his two hulking brutes shadowing him.
Joshua got up long enough to close the door, then sat back to contemplate. Draco might be a seeming snob, probably spoiled rotten like his cousin, but there was a chance he would be neutral, and a chance that at least one person would have some idea that he was not all he appeared to be. Time would tell.
He was interrupted again by a lady with a sweets trolley, but he only spent a small amount of money, not having any real idea how much was in his vault, thus not knowing how long it would serve his needs. It was just as well, as he had not thought to buy a sandwich for lunch before leaving the Leaky Cauldron. He used his magic to make his compartment unattractive to anyone else and got out a book, prepared to read for the remainder of the ride.
On arrival he stowed his book, tugged on a set of robes, and prepared to file off the train. He was displeased that students were told to leave their trunks on the train, but also could not see himself dragging it everywhere he went. Outside Hagrid was calling for the first years so he complied, keeping his head slightly down, and climbed into one of the boats awaiting them.
A short time later, after a spectacular view of the lit up castle, they arrived and were guided into a large room and told to wait. An elderly lady was there, who stayed long enough to give them some instructions, then left.
The children around him immediately erupted into excited chatter. He listened, but did not join in. Draco had his own little circle of friends and seemed to be explaining something. One boy looked almost terrified to be there, while another was looking around rather mournfully, as though something was missing. Eventually the lady—Professor McGonagall—returned, not long after a group of ghosts had floated through a wall and scared half the children, and led them across what looked to be an entrance hall and into a dining area. Four long tables stretched the length with one on a dais at the back, perpendicular to the others, and resting on a stool was a battered old hat. Which sang.
Joshua was more interested in the sky overhead and listening to the whispers of the children around him, but he paid more attention when the first name was called and the hat sorted the first child into a house. When his turn came he was mildly disgusted to see nearly everyone look excited at getting their first real view of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.
He was mentally prepared for the encounter, even not having any clue exactly how the hat worked, and sat down, feeling it slip over his head. He was then surprised when the hat spoke into his mind, though not that it was favoring Slytherin so quickly. “Not Slytherin,” he said forcefully.
‘Are you sure? You seem terribly suited for it.’
‘Not Slytherin,’ he repeated, this time in his thoughts. ‘I’ve heard such horrible things about it.’
‘Surely you don’t believe that rubbish! Slytherin would help you on the way to greatness, child.’
‘No, it won’t. It’ll turn three quarters of the wizarding world against me, so it matters very little how suited you think it is. Not Slytherin!’
The hat paused, rather in the way that Draco had. ‘I see. Well, better be . . .’ “Gryffindor!”
The Gryffindor table erupted into cheers and applause; he tried not to wince at the sound. Seated there he was appalled to find that people kept wanting to touch him, as though he was a good luck charm or talisman or something. It was all he could do not to snap at them for being so cavalier with his person.
He did notice there were an awful lot of redheads at the table. The one next to him looked like he had a stick up his ass, two more down the table were twins and had devilish smiles on their faces, and another one had just seated himself—the mournful-looking boy.
As the final first year was being sorted the redhead across from him asked, “Do you really have it?”
Joshua arched a brow. “I beg your pardon?”
“You know, the scar.” The boy looked entirely too excited about the idea.
He licked his lips, took a breath, and said, “Am I to understand that you wish to gawk at the enduring reminder of my parents’ deaths?”
“Ronald,” scolded the redhead next to Harry, “stop being so tactless!”
“What did I say?”
The girl seated next to Ronald looked ready to launch into a lecture, but an old man sitting at the center of the head table chose that moment to rise and speak, identifying himself as Headmaster Dumbledore, welcoming everyone to a new year and inviting them all to have dinner, at which point the tables suddenly burst with platters and bowls of food.
Joshua filled his plate and began to eat, letting his gaze slowly slide over the people at the head table, from Hagrid at one end—Dumbledore seemed to feel his eyes and looked up long enough to smile, his eyes twinkling in a manner Joshua found disturbing—to a man wearing a turban at the other. It was then that he felt a sharp slice of pain in his scar and barely managed not to wince.
Ollivander’s voice came back to him. “It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother—why, its brother gave you that scar.”
Why would his scar pain him on seeing one of the professors, and at that, the back of the man’s head?
The Gryffindor common room was an explosion of red and gold—tasteless in his opinion. It was just as tasteless as the self-proclaimed muggle-born confiding to him on the walk up that she had read all about him and his defeat of You Know Who. Apparently she was more than capable of hypocrisy. The redhead with a stick up his ass, Percy the prefect, brother to the other redheads, pompously explained where their dorms were, and Joshua immediately headed up the staircase, intent on a visit to the loo and some sleep after assuring himself that his trunk had been properly delivered. Ronald (“Call me Ron.”) dogged his steps like an overeager puppy.
The first week of school was both exciting and boring. He hid his disdain for wands, his disdain for Snape, and his disdain for Ronald’s whining about homework and his attempts to distract Joshua from completing his assignments. As always he said, “I intend to do well in school. Work comes before play.”
Amusingly, it always seemed to work out that Ronald goofed off while Joshua was working, and when Ronald was franticly trying to complete his assignments so close to their deadlines, it simply gave Joshua time to himself, to read one of the many books in the library or to explore the castle. He supposed it was unfair of him to slightly stretch his work out so as to time it perfectly, but it did afford him amusement and time away.
Seamus and Dean seemed to have become fast friends while Neville was like a ghost. The female first years always seemed to be huddled together and giggling, except for the tactless girl, who studied furiously every available moment, or read every book she could get her hands on.
The newspaper one morning told of a break-in at Gringotts, coincidentally the same vault Hagrid had fetched something from. People were talking about it, though; break-ins just did not happen at Gringotts. It did not seem to upset the headmaster, defeater of Dark Lord Grindelwald, but surely whatever it was that Hagrid had retrieved was now in the man’s possession. Hagrid had said it was Hogwarts business.
He tuned them all out and headed to class, to Defense. Quirrell was there in all his stuttering, turban-wrapped glory, causing him sharp slices of pain every time the man turned his back on the class. It made Joshua wonder if the man was somehow tied to Voldemort; why else would his scar hurt? But why only when the man faced away? He was beginning to dislike garlic, and he really, really liked garlic.
Time passed. Neville hid, Dean and Seamus did everything together, Lavender and Parvati giggled constantly, Ronald whined and insulted Hermione numerous times, Hermione lectured incessantly, and Joshua tried to avoid all of them as much as possible without looking like he was doing so.
When Christmas break rolled around he wondered why it was that wizards and witches celebrated a Christian holiday. Was it the influence of muggle-borns? Wizards had been around since long before Christ, had been burned as heretics, and yet they had Christmas trees littering the Great Hall? He was, in fact, surprised that there was a present for him.
It was anonymous, containing a silvery cloak and a note informing him that it had belonged to his father. The material was like silk between his fingers, but aside from the obvious quality and workmanship he could see nothing particularly special about it, so why the admonition to “use it well”? The mystery there was handily resolved once he put it on, and most of his body vanished from view.
After recovering from his shock he removed it and hastily tucked it away deep in his trunk, already worried about someone finding and/or stealing it. And if his father had lent it to someone, that someone must be an adult, and what adult was so irresponsible as to give a child something of that nature? He could go almost anywhere wearing it, spy on almost anyone, steal things without anyone seeing it happen, infiltrate the other houses, and quite possibly, enter the restricted section to read what required permission to read.
He smirked at that. However, common sense stepped in and cuffed him upside the head. What was to say whoever gave it to him did not have a way to see him regardless? Or track his movements? Perhaps some experimentation was in order.
The first thing he did was check his dorm room for any spare magic, concentrating fiercely on willing any of it to show, for his eyes to temporarily gain an extra ‘sense’. Aside from seeing faint auras around various things—he thought perhaps it was akin to magic having been dusted like powder from a moth’s wings over frequently handled objects—there was nothing in particular that greatly stood out. Well, his wand.
The common room was much the same, so he stepped out into the corridor and tried again. The guardian portrait glowed even more brightly than the other portraits in the vicinity, and he wondered if that was by virtue of her additional functions. He returned inside and checked over his holiday work, then grabbed his cloak. He realized, as he was exiting the guardian portrait, that there was a single portrait in the common room, some past Gryffindor or whatever, and it made him wonder. Was it there to report to the head of house in case of trouble? Did all the portraits report things, and if so, to whom? He decided to be wary of all of them.
With that in mind he waited to wear the cloak until he was in a bare area, then continued wandering and looking at things, pausing only long enough to concentrate on making his feet hit the floor silently, having quickly realized that invisibility was useless if people could still hear you moving about.
Several days later he could be found lurking in the library. It struck him as odd that the doors were not secured after hours, but he could find nothing odd about them, so he shrugged it off for the time being. The restricted section was tucked away at the back of the library with only a rope to define the entrance, allowing anyone to be able to see within. Truly, he could not understand why it was not closer to Pince’s desk.
He could discern no particular alarms on the rope itself, thus he entered, stepping over it. The books, however. . . . He was very careful handling those. And they were, each of them, quite interesting. Surely Tom had also availed himself of these treasures, somehow. He would keep pace with his friend, despite the chasm of years between them.