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Haunted

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It was a cool, early March night in 1943. Spring term had long since begun, so one would think that the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry would be calm and settled into their routines. Instead, terror had struck again. 

For the second time that year, a Muggleborn student had been found Petrified in a corridor.

The students pondered the reason for the attacks, who could be behind them, and what might happen if the culprit were not quickly apprehended. Everyone spoke in hushed tones over breakfast, not wanting to create any disturbance. 

Well, almost everyone.

The Slytherins were unusually relaxed, and some even seemed to gloat. They were notorious for hating anyone who wasn’t Pureblood, and weren’t afraid to show it. Even now.

Alera Vega, a fifth-year Slytherin, seemed especially at ease. Though her hatred of all things Muggle ran deep, she remained mostly silent that morning and was careful not to say anything that might arouse suspicion. She’d had nothing to do with the attacks, but she also kept a secret that she knew would incriminate her if it ever came out: she didn’t only hate Muggles; she possessed a sharp hatred for most of humanity. She was happy to hear that an annoying student had been harmed.

Alera had a few friends, but mostly kept to herself. She never went out of her way to act like she cared about people unless she felt it necessary.

Instead of joining in the hushed conversations around her, she sat back, quietly ate her eggs and bacon, and observed the students around her.

Her best friend Lucretia Black and her boyfriend Ignatius Prewett sat nearby, debating who might be responsible for the attack. Alphard Black and his sister Walburga expressed annoyance that students from the other House tables kept shooting glances their way. Alera had noticed this as well, but chose to ignore it and focus on her fellow Slytherins instead. 

Abraxas Malfoy and his girlfriend Amanda Burke were plotting ways to antagonize anyone who dared accuse them of culpability. Alphard and Walburga ignored their friends’ childish antics, as they often did.

As Alera’s eyes traveled down the row of students, she noticed that Tom Riddle, a fellow fifth-year, looked unusually deep in thought. She knew he was a very focused individual, but he was usually quite friendly around others. Alera found Tom’s behavior peculiar, since he wasn’t even attempting to socialize.

As everyone filed out of the Great Hall to attend their morning classes, Alera felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and saw Tom looking at her quizically. She raised her eyebrows in response.

“Why were you watching me at breakfast?” he asked.

“Uh...what?” she replied. She knew she had looked at him a few times, but didn’t think that qualified as watching.

“You kept stealing glances at me and I want to know why.” 

Alera shrugged. “I thought you seemed...unusually quiet. You’re normally very social at mealtimes, so it seemed a bit weird.”

He stepped in front of her, blocking her from walking any further.

“Weird how?” he asked, his dark eyes boring into hers.

“It...it’s nothing,” she stammered, suddenly uncomfortable. She stared pointedly away from Tom. “I’m going to be late for class.”

She stepped aside and started walking again, but Tom was in front of her in an instant.

“Not if you tell me why you were observing me,” he prodded with a smirk.

Alera pressed her lips together. “I just thought your behavior was a little unusual, that’s all. It didn’t mean anything.  Now, if you’ll excuse me....” She stepped aside again and continued walking, but stopped again when Tom gripped her shoulder.

“Why are you so anxious to get away from me?” he demanded. “We both have double Potions now, in case you’ve forgotten.”

She sighed. “Right.”

*   *   * 

Alera deliberately ignored Tom for the entire class period—which wasn’t that hard, seeing as they had different partners for their in-class assignment. Tom usually worked with Abraxas, and Alera usually worked with Lucretia, and today was no different. Alera was tempted to tell her friend how Tom had irritated her on the way to class, but thought it best to keep silent. She didn’t want him to overhear and take that as another invitation to start harassing her.

After Potions ended, Alera collected her things and walked briskly out of the classroom. She was still a bit annoyed by Tom’s behavior, and wanted to take a walk to clear her head. Unfortunately, she had two more classes before lunch, so she had to wait.

Tom caught up with her again on the way to the Great Hall.

“It wasn’t nothing,” he declared, before she could say a word. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

She shook her head and let out a humorless chuckle, realizing he had her cornered. “I was curious because you don’t usually keep to yourself at mealtimes. It made me wonder.”

“Wonder what.”  

He sounded like a bomb waiting to explode, which only cemented in her mind that he was acting strangely.

“People don’t realize how much they give away with their body language,” she informed him. “I pay attention to this shit, and you stood out this morning.”

“I pay attention to this as well, you know. There’s no need to condescend to me.”

“What the hell, Tom? I’m not talking down to you!”

“So get to your point.” 

“You’re normally very sociable, but you didn’t want to talk to anyone this morning. And considering the circumstances—honestly, it made me wonder if you know something no one else does.”

Tom cocked his head to the side and stroked his chin. He regarded her in this pose briefly, before a smirk crept onto his handsome face. “I’m highly impressed by your powers of observation,” he praised.

Alera stood up straighter, eyes widened. She couldn’t help smirking back. “What do you know?” she demanded eagerly.

“You seem excited by the prospect of me knowing something about the tragedy, rather than recoiling in fear and running to a professor.” Tom smiled. “I find this highly amusing.” 

“And you seem highly evasive today,” she drawled, alarmed that she had unknowingly let her guard slip and now doing her best to cover it up. “What are you hiding?” 

“Who says I’m hiding anything? For all you know, I’d recently had a serious argument with someone and needed time to think about it alone. Am I not allowed to be thoughtful about my personal life, simply because someone else is hurt?” 

“Come on, really?”

He only smirked and walked into the Great Hall, leaving Alera to wonder.

*   *   *

The tension within the school slowly dissipated until one afternoon in late May, when yet another Muggleborn student was found Petrified in a corridor. However, it wasn’t the Petrification alone that shook the Hogwarts occupants to the core. The girl’s Petrified body was found below a message written in blood: 

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir beware.

Few students had heard of the legend that was The Chamber of Secrets, but the professors knew what the message meant.

Salazar Slytherin, one of the four founders of Hogwarts, had fought bitterly with his three cohorts because he’d only wanted Pureblood students admitted. He threatened revenge when the others thwarted him. Legend told that Slytherin had built a hidden chamber in the castle, dubbed The Chamber of Secrets, which housed a vicious monster. The beast could only be summoned by Slytherin’s heir when he arrived as a Hogwarts student. Together, Slytherin’s heir and the monster would be able to rid Hogwarts of all the students who were not Purebloods.

Of course, this tale had never actually been proven true, but the professors knew at once that the story was no legend. They hastily removed the blood from the wall, and subsequently toned down the seriousness of the issue so as not to upset the students. The younger children paid their instructors rapt attention, truly believing that the Chamber was only a tall tale. It surely must have been a prank!

Many older students were skeptical, but kept their suspicions to themselves.

*   *   *

Alera’s instincts told her to watch Tom more closely after the May attack. Unfortunately for her, he was also highly observant and didn’t miss a beat. They weren’t even friends. She had no good reason to suddenly start caring about his behavior. 

He followed her to the library one afternoon, intent on getting the truth out of her. She was so absorbed in her essay that she didn’t realize Tom was standing right behind her.

She was about to get up to find another book when she heard someone clearing their throat loudly. She exhaled in frustration when she saw who was standing there.

“Tom, what are you doing?” she sighed in exasperation.

“Alera, you are constantly watching me and critiquing my behavior. I can see it in your facial expressions. Tell me why.”

She was alarmed that Tom was still onto her, but downplayed it by rolling her eyes at him. “Tom, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but you need to stop flattering yourself,” she scolded. “I’m not paying any extra attention to you, as I have no reason to do so.”

“Flattering myself?” he demanded. “I’m simply noting your behavior toward me as of late; and I find it unsettling, given the recent unfortunate events.”

“Fine, then. I find your behavior unsettling...given the recent unfortunate events,” she shot back. 

His eyes narrowed. “What are you implying?” he responded, lowering his voice. 

Alera lowered her voice as well, and almost seemed to sneer. “I wonder if you’re really as innocent as you make yourself out to be,” she ventured.

“It appears you couldn’t care less either way.”

“Why should I?” Alera asked, as if this were a no-brainer. “I don’t care about the students who were attacked.”

“Now, tell me,” Tom chuckled, “does anyone else know your heart is this cold? I sincerely doubt it.”

“I might say the same of you,” she challenged. “Not that it matters.”

Tom regarded her with a hard stare. She returned the gesture. Neither of them even blinked. It was a battle of wills until Tom broke the silence.

“I’m tired of your word games, Alera. Stop watching me so closely, or I’ll make sure you’ll regret it.”

“You just keep telling yourself that. You don’t scare me.”

“Continue trying my patience, and I guarantee that will change.”

Alera rolled her eyes again and turned back to her homework. She was tired of Tom’s bravado and seemingly empty threats. Something told her that he truly meant what he’d said, but she doubted that he actually could scare her—hardly anything ever scared her, anyway. She knew he was still standing behind her, but chose to ignore him. She wanted nothing more to do with him.

I need to keep an eye on this one, Tom thought, then briskly walked away.

He couldn’t believe the girl’s nerve. He could never have imagined having such an unusual exchange with anyone. He was also boiling with anger—since he was a small boy, if he’d wanted to inspire fear in anyone’s heart, he could easily do so. 

Except for Alera.

He knew from a very early age that he was different from his peers. Special. Superior. He was unusually intelligent, for one, and had set himself apart from the other children at Wool’s Orphanage with his ferocious self-sufficiency and persuasiveness. And even after Professor Dumbledore had visited him at the orphanage to tell him he was a wizard, he knew that he was meant to be a special wizard.

He had been at the top of his class since his first year at Hogwarts and had won the hearts of almost all of his professors. He earned his reputation of being perhaps the most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever seen. By the end of his third year, he had learned complicated spells and developed abilities that most students would never be able to master without advanced training.

All of Tom’s professors knew that he was a genius and loved watching him grow academically. He used this admiration to his advantage. He played the part of a warm, hardworking student, and fit in beautifully with everyone. It also didn’t hurt that he was devastatingly handsome. Having surpassed the awkward preteen stage quite rapidly, he now appeared a few years older than sixteen. Girls were always staring at him, and many boys envied him and the respect he commanded. He acted like none of it mattered to him, in order to project an image of modesty. It worked beautifully, as his exemplary behavior had earned him a Prefect badge at the start of his fifth year.

No one knew that he possessed a violent imagination and often entertained thoughts of wielding complete control over others he deemed inferior. His façade fooled everyone—with the exception of his too-sharp Transfiguration professor, Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore tried, several times, to warn the other professors that Tom was dangerous, but he convinced no one. Though Tom hated that Dumbledore could see through him, the professor lacked the influence or evidence to change the minds of his colleagues and pupils. Tom had them all under his thumb.

Except for Alera.

From his brief interactions with her, Tom suddenly realized that he’d never met anyone whose personality so closely resembled his own. This both fascinated and infuriated him.  Like Tom, she was exceedingly bright, hardworking, attractive, and self-reliant. A fair amount of professors liked her. However, many students were also afraid of her, or at least cautious around her, so as not to ignite her explosive temper. She never seemed truly afraid. Unusually guarded, she did not put her emotions on display, so her friends often wondered what she was thinking and feeling. 

Many students tried to project fearlessness out of insecurity and low self-esteem, but it was obvious to Tom that Alera couldn’t have cared less what other students thought of her. He figured that she already had her own plans, which were likely solitary and had little bearing on her relationships with others. Because of this, she didn’t feel the need to hide her darkness as much as Tom felt the need to hide his. She didn’t have nearly as much to lose as he. She probably didn’t want most people to know how cutthroat she truly was, but she didn’t seem to have a problem revealing bits and pieces of her true personality to a select few. The episode in the library had shown him that. 

If Tom didn’t know any better, he would have thought she approved of his potential involvement in the attacks on Muggleborns. He was, in fact, more involved than Alera could ever have guessed, but she didn’t need to know that. He made up his mind to watch her closely and find out exactly how much the two of them had in common—she could be of great use to him and his quest for power, as long as he could convince her that she could benefit as well. He wasn’t sure if she actually would benefit from being a part of his plan, but somehow the idea of her reaping a reward didn’t bother him. He figured he could only gain from finding out more about this girl, and decided to learn as much about her as possible.

Chapter Text

Tom felt lucky that he and Alera shared almost every class, as he could easily observe her without anyone noticing. He also found reasons to be in the Slytherin common room more often than he normally would, where he could keep an eye on Alera and learn more about how she interacted with people outside the classroom. He knew he couldn’t be around her at every opportunity, though, since she would surely pick up on his attention. She already wasn’t his biggest fan. He needed to tread carefully here. He figured that as long as he could watch her from a measurable distance in the common room, she would have no reason to suspect that she was the reason he was there in the first place.

It seemed to work.

He quickly figured out when she would likely be in the common room throughout the day, during which he would often bring a book and sit down a fair distance from her. Sometimes he would read, and sometimes he would watch or listen to her while pretending to read. 

After a few weeks, he felt that he had her figured out more than anyone else ever would.

Meanwhile, Alera remained oblivious to Tom’s scrutiny. She still couldn’t stand him, and made a point to act like he wasn’t there when she knew he was. OWLs were approaching, anyway, so she had no time to waste on the attention of a pompous boy. Tom quickly faded to the back of her mind.

*   *   * 

Tom may have lost Alera’s attention, but he was far from idle. He’d recently come across the term Horcrux in a book, and discovered it to be an object in which a person could conceal a piece of their soul—after splitting the soul through murder. Being intelligent enough that he didn’t need to study too hard in class, he began researching the art in earnest. He devoted his free time to studying disciplines outside the Hogwarts curriculum, eager to soak up as much knowledge as possible.After weeks of investigation, he felt confident in his ability to complete the task. When the appropriate time came, of course. Smug was an understatement.

The only downside was having to contain his excitement in public—especially given everyone’s stress over the Petrified students. 

It’s such a shame, he thought, that I have to wear a mask of subdued regret to match everyone else’s dreary mood, when I feel on top of the world.

It was a small price to pay for godliness.

*   *   *

A few weeks passed, and the lull about the school came to a screeching halt. Most students had forced the Chamber of Secrets issue to the back of their minds, so they were shocked when another student was found Petrified in the library. The Hogwarts nurse had been working tirelessly to prepare a Mandrake draught that would cure the Petrified students—but unfortunately, the draught took several tedious months to complete, and everyone was still anxiously waiting. Remaining calm was becoming increasingly difficult. Students and staff alike were constantly badgering the nurse to finish preparing the draught; but with no assistance, she could only do so much. 

Fear gripped the school as the professors struggled in vain to find a way to protect the students. The tension could be felt everywhere. No one seemed to even smile anymore. Students became suspicious of each other, and the other three Houses seemed to hate Slytherin even more than usual. The Slytherins obviously didn’t care; but they still worried that they could be implicated for the attacks, simply by being Slytherins. They knew masses always needed a scapegoat in times of trouble. And scapegoats at Hogwarts often wore green and silver.

Just when everyone thought that morale couldn’t possibly sink any lower, it plunged.

In mid-June, only days before the end of the school year, a Muggleborn student died in a bathroom. Everyone thought she was Petrified at first, not wanting to believe the truth until Headmaster Dippet confirmed the gruesome news.

Myrtle Warren had never been popular. She had been the object of many students’ taunts, but no one had seemed to want her dead. The news of her death forced the staff to consider closing Hogwarts for good. They held out hope, however, waiting for both the completion of the Mandrake draught and any new leads in their fruitless investigation. 

The Slytherins had mixed feelings about Myrtle’s death. Though they viewed the Muggleborn girl as inferior, they didn’t necessarily entertain thoughts of her demise. Alera was an exception, as she often wished people dead simply for walking too slowly in front of her. Myrtle’s mere existence had aggravated Alera; she had viewed the overly-sensitive Ravenclaw as nothing but a waste of space. She wisely kept her glee to herself.

*   *   *

The day after Myrtle’s death, bumbling third-year Rubeus Hagrid was implicated in the crimes against Muggleborn students. The half-giant, who lived in special quarters to accommodate his size, was notorious for consorting with dangerous magical creatures. This fact alone cast immediate suspicion on Hagrid, but no one could prove anything until Headmaster Dippet received a tip that Hagrid was secretly raising an Acromantula in his room.

Alera was not surprised to learn this, but she was shocked upon hearing that the tip had come from none other than Tom Riddle.

She didn’t want to start another confrontation with him, but was also itching to find out the details of how Tom had tipped off Headmaster Dippet. Had he been observing Hagrid secretly? Or was he somehow involved in the attacks, and now he'd found the perfect target for everyone’s suspicions? His behavior seemed too coincidental.

She passed Tom in the library that afternoon. He was scanning a nearby bookshelf, and gave her a small smile when he saw her looking at him.

“How’d you get Hagrid?” she asked softly, trying to keep the smirk off her face. “Were you stalking him?”

“The unfortunate fellow was not that hard to figure out,” Tom replied, returning her sneer. “At least, not for me. I’d heard rumors of Hagrid’s vicious pet spider and discovered it when he was out of the room.”

“So you...snuck into his room and just so happened to find a monstrous creature in there?” 

“Well, yes. Not until I was certain, but it seemed someone needed to look into the matter. Dippet was running in circles until I pointed him in the right direction. In fact, he just granted me a Special Award for Services to the School because of it. Have no fear. Hogwarts will remain open because of my superior sleuthing skills.” He was positively gloating now.

“He what?” Alera squeaked. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Well, congratulations....” she trailed off, hesitant to say what was really on her mind. Tom detected her unease. His grin vanished.

“You don’t really mean that,” he drawled, stepping closer to her.

“I—”

“Just try to deny it. Lie to my face, yet again! I dare you.” His voice was soft, but his eyes were on fire. And his face was now inches from hers.

Alera inclined her head defiantly and replied, “You really don’t know how to take a compliment, do you.” Though her heart was pounding, she masked it by shaking her head with a huff, before whipping around and strutting away.

“Nice deflection, dear. It didn’t work,” Tom snapped, but his words had no effect. Alera kept walking. And Tom couldn’t just reach out and grab her in the middle of the library—nearby students were already glaring at him for raising his voice. He stood rooted to the spot, seething with pure adrenaline as he watched Alera walk away. 

*   *   *

The altercation in the library was the last contact Tom had with Alera for the remainder of their fifth year. Alera now knew for sure that something about her classmate was off, but she wasn’t sure if she still wanted to understand it completely. He knew that she suspected him of less-than-pure character, which he obviously hadn’t wanted anyone to discover. As she was also morally ambiguous, to say the least, she wasn’t sure if he was the type of person she wanted to be around or not. She chose the latter. She didn’t feel the need to rally people around her the way Tom did. She kept away from him to the point of even leaving the common room if she saw him there, and told no one she was doing this. She finished out the school year on tenterhooks.

Tom was also on edge. He fought with himself over his desire to get to know Alera and the urge to kill her for her ability to read him as well as she could. He needed to silence her. He couldn’t take a chance on anyone knowing his true nature—without him choosing to reveal it, of course. Along that vein, he had already begun making plans to gain immense power in the Wizarding world, and had recently begun grooming a few of his Housemates to take his orders. They considered themselves his closest friends and thus felt important, but they were only playing into his manipulations.

Tom had no friends.

He only associated with those who served his interests. He had deliberately excluded Alera from this venture because he’d previously had no contact with her beyond occasional greetings, and now he wasn’t quite sure what to do about her. Until recently, he had simply viewed her as a pretty Housemate who kept to herself; so he saw no reason to pay attention to her, much less indoctrinate her into his cause. Now, though, he wondered if excluding her from his plans might be a detriment to him. She was clearly powerful in her own right—though he had the highest grades in the fifth year, she was right behind him. And he guessed that her reputation was the only reason she hadn’t been made a Prefect. She was a solitary creature who always put herself first, and she didn’t care who knew it. His brief interactions with her thusfar had planted seeds in his mind that she may not be that different from him, but he’d never actually met someone he could relate to so profoundly. And he never thought he would even be interested in such a concept.

The more he thought about her, however, the more intrigued he became. How had she been able to see him so clearly, from knowing so little about him? And given her comments about her distaste for others, how cold wasshe? She couldn’t possibly be as malicious as he. Or could she? And why did he suddenly want to know so badly? A powerful image briefly flashed through his mind: dragging her into a secluded location and demanding answers, and then raping her as punishment if she was untruthful. 

Why did he suddenly think about that? Where had that idea come from? He shifted uncomfortably as he realized that he had absentmindedly allowed his hand to glide down toward his groin and he had begun stroking himself over his pants. What was that about? He’d never cared about her physical appeal, but he couldn’t deny that she was beautiful. Very beautiful.

What would it be like tono. He scolded himself and noticed with horror that it took effort to move his hand away from his organ.

This girl had to be punished. He couldn’t let her get away with this.

*   *   *

Alera calmed down significantly when she returned to London for the summer. She’d passed her OWLs with exemplary scores and was happy to be free of academic worries for a while. She could lock herself in her room with a book for a few hours every day—when she had no social obligations. 

The Vegas were friendly with the Blacks and the Malfoys, and had raised their children in close proximity. For as far back as Alera could remember, summers were always busy with dinner parties, lunches, weddings, and other such events. Such was the lifestyle of close-knit Pureblood families.

Busyness aside, Alera chose not to tell her parents about her run-ins with Tom; she didn’t want to even think about the irritating young man. She had no idea where he lived, but hoped it was somewhere far from London to eliminate the chances of running into him. She had more pressing concerns anyway: relaxing and trying to convince her parents that she wasn’t cut out for an endless stream of social gatherings. She craved solitude and didn’t have enough of it at home. Her parents kept ushering her from one party to the next, all the while telling her to mind her attitude so as not to detract from her chances of finding a suitable husband. Alera didn’t want to think about such matters, however. She wasn’t even sure she’d want to marry and have children, even though she understood her parents’ motivations. All her friends knew the importance of keeping their bloodlines pure and passing on their genes; Alera simply didn’t know if she wanted to be a part of that. She could barely stand her family’s social schedule; so how on Earth would she handle small children tagging after her, requiring all her energy for years? The thought made her shudder.

Though she did enjoy spending time with her friends, she sometimes rejected their invitations in favor of reading books behind her closed bedroom door. She wasn’t interested in gossiping over the latest juicy news, or obsessing over who might marry whom once everyone graduated from Hogwarts. She simply wanted to be alone to recharge, and block out the noise telling her to behave differently.

Part of the reason her parents wanted her to socialize more was for etiquette practice—whether or not any young men expressed interest in her. Since other adults had privately complained to the Vegas about their daughter’s attitude, they now worried that Alera might sully the family’s reputation. The girl wasn’t explicitly rude without provocation, but it was clear that she didn’t give a damn what others thought of her. (Truthfully, she just didn’t give a damn about others.) She had a razor of a tongue and had been known to send younger children crying to their parents if they annoyed her enough. Members of her family’s social circle were offended that Alera found them so insignificant as to not even pretend to care about their feelings.

The Vegas weren’t quite as strict as some of the other upper-crust Pureblood families; but they weren’t laid back, either. Occasionally allowing Alera to skip a party due to “not feeling well” was about as far as they went, and their comrades' distaste for their daughter only reinforced their decision to leave her at home every so often. This was also why Alera didn’t get together with her friends as often as everyone else in the group.

Alera’s parents had mixed feelings about her introversion, hence oscillating back and forth between urgently dragging her to parties and allowing her to skip them. Lucretia and Amanda seemed to understand her the best, being closer with her than the others, but Abraxas and Alphard found it strange that she rejected so many invitations to go out with the group...even going so far as to ignore their owls sometimes. Nevertheless, she was always welcome into the group when she chose to engage.

Regardless of everyone’s thoughts on Alera’s behavior, they had all grown accustomed to her quirks by this time. They didn’t see her reserved nature that summer as especially memorable. She went through the motions as usual, not giving much thought to the future.

*   *   * 

Unlike Alera, Tom had an eventful summer. Though he was forced to return to the orphanage where he’d lived his whole life before being admitted to Hogwarts—which he revealed to no one—he had made some shocking discoveries about his lineage that year. He now had some unfinished business to complete before returning to Hogwarts.

He had already discovered that his late mother had descended from the great Salazar Slytherin, which filled him with immense pride—and relief—after obsessing over his heritage and researching his relatives at Hogwarts with a fervor. He’d initially assumed his father had been the magical parent, but was later forced to accept the opposite. There were no records of a Riddle family anywhere. Finding his mother’s lineage had almost healed that wound, but not quite. She had still died after giving birth to him, and magical folk surely shouldn’t die! Regardless of her ancestry, she had been weak to succumb. He would not do the same. He was better than that. 

Late in August, Tom tracked down his uncle Morfin Gaunt to learn more about his mother’s family. And oh, the look on the man’s face when Tom walked through the door of his hovel. Morfin assumed that Tom was his father! Until he spoke to Morfin in Parseltongue, of course. That was a treat. Morfin told Tom that he looked “mighty like that Muggle” his mother had married, and informed Tom of the Riddles’ whereabouts. Tom was astounded.

His father was still alive. The man had deserted his wife and unborn child. Tom didn’t know the reason for his father’s abandonment, but suspected it involved his mother’s magic.

As if he needed another reason to despise Muggles.

Tom immediately decided to rectify the situation—both for revenge, and to prevent anyone from ever discovering that he possessed the very ancestry he so despised. He didn’t feel like a Muggle. He was Wizarding royalty! He was the most talented student at Hogwarts. This was an outrage! He wanted nothing to do with Muggles. He felt a pulsing need to stamp out this stain on his ancestry immediately...especially after hearing his bedraggled uncle’s story. Tom knew at once that Morfin would take the fall for Tom’s retribution.

After Stupefying his uncle, Tom used Morfin’s wand to murder his father and grandparents. As they sat in their posh living room inside their sprawling mansion. Where Tom should have grown up, instead of that filthy Muggle orphanage. The rage he felt upon seeing Riddle House was incomparable. It was a manor house fit for a king—a Wizarding king, nonetheless. Those repulsive Muggles had not deserved it. They had defiled the house simply by living in it. Not that Tom really wanted to live there now, with the knowledge of the Riddles’ behavior.

This rage spurred him to return to Morfin’s house quickly, where he placed a Memory Modification charm on his uncle to frame him for the murders. Morfin was quickly carted off to Azkaban, screaming about how proud he was to have annihilated the Riddles. Justice was done. Tom returned to the orphanage feeling more calm than he’d been in a long while.

Having ample time to himself from now until the end of the summer, he reflected on his life thusfar. A Halfblood orphan with Slytherin lineage was unheard of. He still cringed at the thought of his Muggle ancestry, but the shudder was quickly replaced with a triumphant grin. 

He had just culled his Muggle family in revenge for their abandonment. He had created a Horcrux in his first attempt at achieving immortality, his biggest goal in life—he’d stolen Morfin’s ring, a family heirloom, and was now wearing it as it carried a piece of his soul through the murder of his worthless relatives. Though he enjoyed commanding power and admiration, those were mere tools necessary to help him get his way. He wanted freedom to act as he wished with impunity—which he could not do without power. As an immortal wizard with aspirations to split his soul even further, he realized that gaining power would be the best way for him to achieve his goals. How powerful could he become? What were the limits on magical ability? He could surely push them farther than anyone ever had. And considering his charisma’s affect on almost everyone at Hogwarts, he likely had a shot at building an army there. Maybe he would one day become a professor, and use his authority to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic!

Truthfully, he wanted to be left alone to research magic in peace for eternity, but he knew that goal to be unrealistic. He needed others to do his bidding. Some of his classmates were already doing just that, but now it was time to test their loyalty and convince them to carry out even more complex tasks. He would form an organization devoted to promoting blood purity in the Wizarding world, promising his followers power and glory if they obeyed him. He cared about blood status as well, but he was more interested in having enough power to do whatever he wanted, and using any means to achieve that. All he had to do was convince his followers that he shared their goals, spitting their fanatical beliefs back at them, and they would be kissing the hem of his robes in no time.

He could hardly wait.

Chapter Text

Near the beginning of the new school year, Tom asked Professor Slughorn, the Potions instructor, a question which would set the course of his life forever.

After a Slug Club dinner party, in which Slughorn’s favorite students gathered every so often for a meal, Tom stayed behind and asked his professor about his new favorite subject: Horcruxes.

Unbeknownst to Slughorn, Tom had already created his first Horcrux; but he knew he needed to play the part of the innocent, inquisitive student in order to glean any more information from his favorite professor. The purpose of his question wasn’t to learn about Horcruxes; he’d done that already: he wanted to know if it were possible to split the soul into multiple pieces. Seven, to be exact. The most powerful magical number.

Slughorn had been flabbergasted. But yes, he told Tom, it was more than likely possible to split the soul more than once.

As Head of Slytherin House, Slughorn had quickly grown fond of Tom from the start of his schooling—so, of course, even though the boy had come to his office with a question on a banned subject, he couldn’t help but assuage his student’s curiosity. Tom had convinced him that his interest in the subject merely came from a desire to understand all aspects of the magical arts; when really, he wanted to cheat death and become immortal, no matter the cost.

Slughorn had played right into his hands. Tom now possessed all the knowledge he needed to secure his immortality. Having already created one Horcrux, and with plans for several more, he felt unstoppable.

*   *   * 

Alera was not part of the Slug Club. Given her reputation, her intelligence was irrelevant; she had not earned a Prefect badge or a seat at Slughorn’s dinner table. She didn’t mind. She didn’t value either of those status symbols the way Tom did. She did, however, find secret relief in Slug Club meetings because she didn’t have to worry about Tom being closeby during dinner. 

She noticed with alarm that she now tensed up whenever Tom was near. Though she couldn’t quite pinpoint why, she almost felt like a small animal hiding from a predator. This mentality went against her very nature, and so confused her wildly—she didn’t explicitly fear him, but she also didn’t want to attract his attention. He made her uneasy. As she’d told Tom several months before, she had a keen eye for reading people, but she’d never paid him mind until recently. Why was he suddenly setting off alarm bells in her head? Had he changed, or had he always been a person to avoid...and she only noticed this now because of his sudden inquisitiveness? She didn’t even want to know at this point. She simply wanted to eschew his scrutiny at all costs.

Tom had ceased bullying her like he’d done during fifth year; but she still felt his eyes on her every so often, trying to pick her apart. This bothered her more than overt aggression. He had occasionally spent time with her group of friends over the years, but not enough to be considered part of the group—not until now, that is. Whether he was only doing it to irritate her or he had other motivations, his closeness made her distance herself from her friends. She disguised her apprehension with her need for alone time, which her peers accepted.

Alera was correct to be nervous about Tom’s close proximity. He was developing quite an unusual interest in her, spawning from their bizarre interactions in the spring. Brilliant boy that he was, he had begun teaching himself Legilimency and was now using unsuspecting students for practice. Alera had quickly become one of his favorite targets. She was also the most challenging, as he had to work to maintain eye contact with her. She averted her eyes any time she saw him looking at her. He hadn’t been able to discern much from her whirring thoughts thusfar, but what he had seen only increased his curiosity: like he’d suspected, she didn’t seem to care much about other people and was only out for herself. Outside of immortality, her ambitions appeared in line with his.

Tom figured he could use the girl. There was no telling whether he could convince her to cooperate and do as he asked, what with her being as independent as he. The challenge excited him. Though relatively impatient to set his plans into motion, he knew he had to charm Alera first if he had any hope of collecting her. That would take time—probably a year, at least—but he could wait. He already had enough henchmen to focus on for the moment.

He called his group the Knights of Walpurgis. Their goals were purifying Wizarding society and rewarding those who assisted them. Tom had rounded up a gang of Slytherins from Pureblood families and promised them power and glory in the new world they would create, where Purebloods would reign supreme. In addition, he had also fashioned himself a new name, Lord Voldemort, which would surely command respect and fear throughout the Wizarding world for all eternity. During meetings, his classmates-turned-followers addressed him as “My Lord” or endured torture from Tom’s wand.

Tom forbade his followers from disclosing their activities to anyone. Some of the Knights were friends with Alera, and secretly wondered why he wasn’t even attempting to recruit her, but he didn’t feel the need to explain himself. He knew that the sweetest rewards often came from the greatest struggles, and bringing her into the fold one day would be worth all the time spent grooming her.

Alera would not make things easy, however. Tom’s conventional methods of charming and manipulating people did not work on her. She viewed his flattery as an insult to her intelligence, and his threats were met with more threats. Usually with a snarled “fuck you” at the end.

The most neutral interactions he could manage with her were quietly handing her potions ingredients when he’d gotten to Slughorn’s cabinet before she had. He began retrieving enough supplies for both of them during each class, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it or not. She certainly enjoyed not having to wait in line, even if only a minute, and often sat close to the supply cabinet so she could grab her ingredients before anyone else. She knew it was petty, but she didn’t care. Sitting near the cabinet was one of her more subtle methods of exerting dominance over the group. But now, Tom insisted on sitting in that area, too. She knew exactly what he was doing and hated him for it.

She also despised having simple tasks completed for her, just so that someone else could feel helpful. She didn’t want or need help. She didn’t need to be nurtured or coddled like an insecure child. And Tom had clearly figured this out. By taking her usual seat, he was daring her to sit near him, just to see which power play she’d succumb to first: allowing herself to endure his presence, or allowing him to help her, since she couldn’t refuse his offer of potions ingredients without making a scene.

He had to bite back triumphant laughter when Slughorn saw him handing her supplies one morning, and smiled adoringly at the pair. “Oh, Tom, how sweet of you!” he praised. “Are you helping Alera with her potion today?”

“Thank you, sir,” Tom replied smoothly, grinning at Alera while he spoke to the professor standing behind her. “I don’t believe she requires assistance; she’s certainly talented enough to complete the assignment on her own—she just gets a bit impatient and likes to get a head start whenever possible. I’m merely making her life a little easier.”

“Ahh, I see! Always the picture of politeness, aren’t you! You make me proud, m’boy. Five points to Slytherin!”

Alera’s jaw dropped. Her upper lip twitched in fury as she snarled up at Tom. She wanted to throw a Draught of Living Death onto his smug, stupid face and watch it crumble.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she snapped at him on the way out of the classroom an hour later. “You’re not really trying to help me. You know I am perfectly capable of retrieving my supplies on my own, whether I have to wait in line or not; you’re just being an arsehole. And now you’ve brought fucking Slughorn into it?! This is bullshit, Tom! Stop. Now.”

“If you insist,” Tom sighed, feigning surrender. He’d get her later. 

He stopped trying to take her seat in class and retrieving extra supplies for her, allowing her to return to her old routines—other than occasionally passing her in line and staring her down with a wicked smirk. She only glared back. She didn’t want to give him any more satisfaction than she already had.

*   *   * 

As the school year progressed, Tom and his Knights grew more sophisticated. They met in the Forbidden Forest every month to discuss various ways to improve the Wizarding world according to Pureblood values, and how to indoctrinate the masses. During one of these meetings, Tom renamed his group the Death Eaters, as a reflection of his desire to conquer death. None of Tom’s followers knew his reason for changing the group’s name, but they didn’t object. Death Eater sounded more formidable than Knight anyway.

Since more Slytherins were joining the ranks, Tom decided to make each new recruit pass an initiation before being allowed in. They were limited in that they were still only students, but the goal was less to create carnage and more to send a message to dissenters. A boy named Mulciber killed an enemy student’s pet owl after a fight. Another named Avery destroyed a classmate’s Transfiguration homework after hearing that she despised the concept of Pureblood supremacy. Victims often suspected the Death Eaters of their crimes, but there was never enough evidence to convict the perpetrators. Tom had trained them well.

*   *   * 

The sixth-years often received career guidance toward the end of the year, as professors had encouraged them to begin thinking about employment the year before and wanted to follow up with them. Several branches of the Ministry were interested in Tom, who had no desire to work there. Conversely, Alera was interested in joining the Ministry—specifically as an Unspeakable or an Obliviator—and yet no one in those departments wanted to hire her. Her academics were superb, but her reputation preceded her. She wasn’t terribly concerned about her lack of prospects, coming from a wealthy family who seemed more concerned with her ability to find a wealthy Pureblood husband than a job, so she figured she’d continue studying at school and then see where life took her after graduation.

Tom told Slughorn he would consider applying to a few Ministry positions—partly to appease his enthusiastic professor, and partly out of curiosity. He knew he wouldn’t want to stay at the Ministry permanently, having more important plans with his Death Eaters; but he couldn’t deny the appeal of observing his country’s power structure from the inside, to learn how best to exploit it. Perhaps he would work there briefly and then plant a few Death Eaters there so he could continue to work behind the scenes. 

His true plans were to remain at Hogwarts as a professor, and later Headmaster, in order to influence more students to his way of thinking while he built up his army. He adored Hogwarts more than he ever loved—or at least felt attached to—any human being, with an uncharacteristically sentimental attachment to the edifice. The ancient school provided an endless source of knowledge that set his adrenaline pumping and made him thirst for more. He would stop at nothing until he’d discovered all of the castle’s secrets. 

*   *   *

Alera began feeling slightly alienated from her friends that summer. No one was overtly hostile to her, and everyone still invited her to their gatherings with the usual frequency, but something was off. There were a few times when she traveled to the Malfoys’ or the Blacks’ house, only to find everyone dramtically ending their conversations when she walked in. She thought she’d heard the phrase Dark Lord during one of these episodes, but her friends insisted that she’d misheard them. And immediately began an entirely new discussion.

As the girls were getting older, their parents were increasing the pressure on them to find suitable husbands. The girls discussed the subject more and more as summer dragged on, and the conversation peaked in late August at the Black home. Lucretia shared with the other girls that she and Ignatius would marry, as would Abraxas and Amanda, so they no longer had to worry about searching for partners. Their parents were immensely proud.

Walburga and Alphard would likely have to marry their own relatives at this rate, as no one outside the Black family had expressed interest in them. Alera found this concept disgusting, but begrudgingly accepted the practice of incest as part of Pureblood high society—as long as she didn’t have to partake. She remained silent as her friends discussed potential partners and wedding plans, until Lucretia nudged Alera playfully.

“You’ve been oddly quiet all afternoon,” she remarked. “Anyone you fancy?” 

“Not at the moment.”

“Well, Tom Riddle seems to like you.”

Alera cringed. “I highly doubt that.”

“Oh, come on. How can you not see it?”

“He doesn’t like me, Lucretia! He’s a bully who likes harassing and intimidating people! That’s not affection. He couldn’t be romantic if he tried.”

“Do you want him to try?” Amanda teased.

“Absolutely not! I wish that dolt would stay away from me!” 

“All right, all right...” Amanda scooted away from Alera ever so slightly.

“Honestly, Alera, I’m not just teasing you,” Lucretia insisted. “Even though we don’t know much about his family, he’s obviously Pureblood or he wouldn’t understand the importance of maintaining blood purity. And he’s...powerful. Influential. You two have quite a bit in common. Maybe he’s just annoying you right now; but if he expresses sincere interest, you’d be a fool to reject him.”

“I agree!” announced Walburga. “You’d make quite a suitable match. And think of what your parents would say if you turned him down.”

“I haven’t told my parents about him,” Alera mumbled quietly. She shifted nervously as her stomach fluttered. In revulsion, of course. Nothing more.

“What?!” Lucretia blurted. “Why ever not?”

“Like I said: he’s a bully. I really, really don’t think he likes me. He wouldn’t be acting like such a prat otherwise. And anyway, don’t like him. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Alera, you know how important it is to marry well,” Walburga stated proudly. “Compatibility is an added bonus that many of us won’t have. And he’s—well, he’s extremely handsome, too. You’re lucky.” 

Alera wanted to slap the other girls. She had no feelings for Tom whatsoever, other than contempt. None. She couldn’t stand the thought of marrying, especially while so young—and especially someone like him. What in the world were her friends thinking? How was she lucky to have the attention of a bully? Pureblood or not, attractive or not, she wanted nothing to do with Tom Riddle.

“Where does he even go every summer?” asked Amanda.

“His parents are dead, so he’s probably at some orphanage,” Lucretia mused. “Maybe it’s one of those awful Muggle ones and they don’t let the kids out too much. Filthy people, they are. I hope we can burn them all to the ground.”

“You think that’s why he doesn’t spend any time with us over the summer?”

“More than likely,” said Walburga.

“Thank Merlin,” murmured Alera.

“Alera! Come on!” scolded Amanda. “If your parents knew that you—”

“Stop bringing my parents into this! I’ll date who I want, when I want! And can we stop talking about Tom? I can’t stand him. This is getting irritating.” 

Her friends begrudgingly accepted that she wasn’t moving an inch on the issue, and turned the discussion to other matters. 

*   *   *

Alera wanted to tell her parents about Tom, and yet she didn’t. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had no romantic feelings for the boy; and hoped that if she complained to her parents about his behavior, they would validate her concerns and encourage her to stay away from him.

But what if they didn’t? What if they shared her friends’ opinions and encouraged her to be more receptive to his attention, in whatever form it took? She may not have feared him, but she was slightly fearful about not knowing his intentions toward her. If she at least knew what she was dealing with, then she could formulate a plan to protect herself. But she had nothing to go on. She still thought it best to stay away from him.

*   *   *

Lucretia was correct that Tom spent his summers at a Muggle orphanage, but he was allowed to come and go on his own. He could socialize with his comrades if he chose to—but he was naturally reclusive and saw summers as a break from pretending to care about his classmates. Though he detested the orphanage, and being around Muggles, he liked that he could shut his bedroom door all day and no one would bother him.

As Tom had no visitors at the orphanage, he had plenty of time to think about the dramatic events of his sixth year at Hogwarts. His Death Eaters were growing in numbers, and word was spreading to adults who wanted to join him. The Blacks and the Malfoys all but worshipped him now, and gave him an open invitation into their homes. He would definitely take them up on their offers once he’d completed his education.

He smiled as he thought of returning to Hogwarts. He’d recently received an owl congratulating him because he’d been made Head Boy for his final year—this meant he’d have even more power at the school. More people would respect him and even fear him. It was a perfect arrangement. 

Tom was also pleased that his most loyal followers were intermingling. He would more than likely attend the Prewett and Malfoy weddings the following summer, and later recruit their children when they were of age. That would be far off into the future, however, and who knew what lay ahead for the up-and-coming Dark Lord? He was certainly succeeding in expanding his army—with the exception of a particular girl who continued evading him whenever possible.

He was shocked to discover that, despite how much Alera riled him up, he was beginning to think about her often, and as more than an experiment and potential recruit. He wondered what she was doing. Where did she live? What did she think about on a regular basis? How much did she truly care about others? Did she love and respect the people close to her—or, like him, was it just an act of self-preservation? How was she able to read people so well? Did she have a boyfriend? Had she ever had a boyfriend? He didn’t think he had seen her date anyone before. He realized, to his dismay, that he couldn’t stand the thought of her dating anyone.

The more the summer dragged on, the more he craved the answers to these questions. He had to confront a startling realization as August drew to a close.

He wanted her. 

He wanted her badly. He may never have loved, but he certainly desired. He could no longer deny how much the girl was affecting him; and he decided that he would have her, whether she went with him willingly or not. He had his ways. And he would inflict lasting damage on anyone who tried to keep her from him.

Chapter Text

The morning of September 1, 1944 began like every other start of term, with all the students hastily gathering on Platform 9¾ to await the Hogwarts Express. Alera was talking to Lucretia and Ignatius as they boarded the train, and didn’t notice the new Head Boy eyeing her up from a distance. He stared at the back of her head until a tap on his shoulder jerked him back to the present. 

“What’s going on, mate?” asked Alphard.

“What?” Tom narrowed his eyes.

“You’re staring off into space. What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing.” 

“Well, you looked quite deep in thought—”

“I said nothing.

The other boy’s eyes widened. “Um, okay. I’ll—I guess I’ll leave you alone, then.”

Tom sat by himself on the train, brooding all the way back to Hogwarts.

*   *   * 

Alera heard that Tom had been named Head Boy when she and her Housemates had returned to the Slytherin dungeons after the feast. She hadn’t thought of him much over the summer, other than that one conversation with her friends, but this news quickly reminded her that she was not safe at home in London anymore. Tom was, once again, in close proximity. A bolt of nervousness shot through her when she heard his name. She assumed that, now having his own room, he would spend less time inside the Slytherin dungeons, so she wouldn’t have to work so hard to avoid him. And she hoped he didn’t know how uncomfortable she felt around him. He would definitely use that to his advantage.

He sat opposite her at breakfast one morning during the first week of term, just to see how she would react to his presence. Though her heart was in her throat, she kept her face blank and her head down until he finally spoke to her near the end of the meal.

“You must find that cereal quite fascinating,” he teased.

She looked up at him in disbelief. “What is your problem?” she snapped.

“My, my, aren’t we moody this morning!” he exclaimed in a sickly-sweet tone of false anger. “I’ve never seen you pointedly stare at your food like that. I found it amusing.”

“Why are you watching me when I’m eating?!”

“Noticing a classmate who’s always near me is not the same as watching, sweetheart,” he drawled, purposely using her own argument against her. “And besides, spotting you isn’t that difficult. You don’t exactly blend in.”

She slammed her spoon down on the table and scowled at him with pure malice, narrowing her eyes and firmly pressing her lips together. Her nostrils flared as she began breathing a bit more loudly than what was considered polite. The few Slytherins sitting nearby suddenly stopped what they were doing and gawked nervously at their enraged Housemate. 

He had her.

He’d already figured out enough about her to know that she could never move undetected in a crowd, no matter how hard she tried. She didn’t actually wantto blend in, but she knew that had to try. Just like he did. Tom obviously realized that she was not as successful at this venture as he. He would make sure she knew he had the upper hand. 

She continued glowering at him until he finally smirked and returned to his own breakfast. 

She finished her meal in a hurry and left the Great Hall as soon as possible. She knew that Tom was in her first class of the day, but she didn’t want to give him any more opportunities to torment her. As always, though, he picked up on her distress signals. He followed her at a distance until they were a few feet from the Potions classroom, noticing that she had relaxed considerably since she thought she had gotten away from him. He reached out and firmly squeezed her shoulder just before she walked into the classroom. She gasped and whirled around. He simply stared her down, expressionless.

“Tom, stop this!” she spat. “Stop harassing me, or I will—” 

“Or what? What are you going to do?” he challenged, stepping in close to her. “Who will ever believe that I am harassing you? Making you angry with everyday conversation is not harassment just because you can’t handle normal pleasantries. Especially with the popular, charming, newly-minted Head Boy. So rude!” He was now smirking victoriously, eyes wide.

“You can’t possibly—” 

He chuckled at her astounded expression and stepped even closer, talking over her again. “Remember,” he taunted softly, so that no one else could hear, “I’m the model student, and you’re the little firecracker who keeps scaring everyone. Who would ever believe you?” 

“Dumbledore,” she sneered, lifting her chin and staring him down for good measure.

Murderous rage flashed across Tom’s face.

Alera was torn between anxiety and triumph. “Leave. Me. Alone,” she growled, and stormed into the classroom.

She was unnerved by Tom’s continued interest in being near her, and his refusal to respect her boundaries. She also didn’t understand why he couldn’t take a hint. She had made it abundantly clear that she was not interested in speaking with him—and besides, there were so many other students who admired him and wanted to associate with him. Why couldn’t he bugger off and go bother them instead? They would actually enjoy the attention.

She angrily stalked back to her dormitory after mulling on these thoughts all day long, and sat down on her bed with a loud huff.

From that day forward, Alera always made sure to sit far away from Tom in class. He attempted to make small talk with her on occasion after he’d taunted her in the Great Hall, and was angry that she wasn’t the least bit interested. The more aggravated she became, the more determined he was to win her over. He’d find her “by chance” in the library every so often, and attempt to strike up a conversation about a topic he knew she found interesting. She always responded with short, clipped answers that made it clear she didn’t want to interact with him. His arrogance had completely turned her off. 

Tom was enraged that, other than Dumbledore, Alera was the one person he couldn’t wrap around his finger—and she was the one he wanted the most. It was oddly ironic. Didn’t she know how popular he was? Didn’t she realize that she should be flattered that out of all the boys at Hogwarts, the devastatingly handsome Head Boy was the one pursuing her? Didn’t she know how many girls would kill for his affections? He unsuccessfully tried alluding to the fact that she was missing out by rebuffing him, but she didn’t care. And he hated that she didn’t care.

And he hated that he wanted her to care.

He tried to put her out of his mind while focusing on his more important goals—academic excellence, learning as much as he could about magic, and continuing to build a following at Hogwarts so that he could he could have more minions at his disposal. Despite these ambitions and successes, Alera was always lingering in his mind. He packed his schedule tightly, keeping himself inhumanly busy just to try and avoid thinking about her, but it was no use. She always found a way back into his thoughts. By the middle of October, he realized he needed to do something about it. Watching her and attempting to befriend her clearly weren’t working, so he decided to leave her alone for a while and then try a new approach to take her completely by surprise.

The number of Death Eaters was growing larger anyway, and he needed to focus on that. He had manipulated enough of his classmates that they felt honored to be the ones he chose to obey his orders. Though most of Tom’s instructions involved swearing undying loyalty to him and his desire to restructure the Wizarding World according to Salazar Slytherin’s wishes, one order seemed peculiar: they were still forbidden from mentioning their activities to Alera. If he ever revealed his plans to her, he wanted it to be special. Shewas special. And he didn’t want to risk bringing her in too soon, lest his intense determination and fanaticism put her off even further. He needed to woo her in more ways than one. 

Would he incriminate himself by telling her about his organization’s activities, or would she be excited and ask to join him? She was clearly no angel, but what if she would turn him in just to get back at him for tormenting her, even if she supported his goals? He found himself wanting to tell her all about his plans, and also speaking to her candidly—something he had never done before with anyone—which would reveal his true nature. Would she respond in kind? Would he scare her? Offend her? Or might she grow eager at the prospect of discovering their obscure similarities and stand by him? He wanted her to stand by him. The thought of possessing her sent a surge of adrenaline through his body. He wanted her to join his ranks, but he had a hard time picturing her as one of his minions. What would her role be? And why was he so determined to bring her close to him? He needed to know, but now was not the time. She wasn’t ready for him yet, either. All would be revealed at the proper moment.

*   *   * 

Summer turned to autumn, and students began discussing the Winter Ball. Though the gala wasn’t until the week before Christmas and Halloween had just passed, the ball was still a hot topic among the older students. Many had purchased outfits before the start of term, and some were anxiously awaiting dressrobes that would soon arrive by owl. Alera had already bought a dress; however, she felt a bit awkward as she listened to her female friends talking excitedly about the boys who had asked them to the ball. Though Alera was not attracted to anyone, she hoped to attend the ball with a male friend. The event seemed a fun experience.

She and a few friends decided to go to Hogsmeade a few weeks after Halloween. It was unusually warm for mid-November, and the girls wanted to take advantage of the weather. After walking around for about ten minutes, they settled into The Three Broomsticks for a few drinks.  

They began discussing a brutal Transfiguration exam that was fast approaching. Amanda and Alera, who were sitting next to each other, decided to compare notes for the essay portion of the test when they returned to their dormitory. The two began planning a study session when Lucretia looked over Alera’s shoulder and noticed the Head Boy sitting a few tables away. He was alone, and his eyes were fixated on their table. Lucretia quickly figured out that he was looking at Alera, and with more than just passing interest. She couldn’t keep this to herself. 

“Alera,” she said softly. Her friend didn’t respond. 

Lucretia lightly touched her arm. “Alera,” she said, a little louder.

She looked up. “Yeah?” 

Lucretia lowered her voice and whispered, “Tom Riddle is staring at you.” 

Alera scowled and turned around. Lucretia had been right; Tom was looking directly at her. Her eyes narrowed, and he smiled slyly. She rolled her eyes and turned back to her friends.

“He can stare all he wants,” she replied with a huff.

“Alera!” Amanda exclaimed. “Most girls would kill to have him admire them, and you just brush it off?!”

“Are you serious?” Walburga cut in. “This is Tom Riddle. We told you he liked you! He’s probably the hottest bloke in the school, and he’s staring at you!”

“He’s also obnoxious and full of himself,” Alera retorted. 

Lucretia shushed the other girls. “He’s coming over here!” she whispered loudly.

Amanda giggled. “This should be interes—”

“I heard my name,” Tom interrupted. He was suddenly right beside Lucretia and Alera.

Lucretia looked up awkwardly. “Well, we saw you looking over here, so—”

“That I was,” he replied. His eyes traveled to Alera, who was making a point to look away from him. He smirked.  “Why are you ignoring me, Alera?”

She scoffed and looked up at him. “I’m not ignoring you.”

“Well, now you’re not,” he responded quickly, forcing back the jolt of indignant rage that she would lie to him so shamelessly.

Alera gave him a withering look.  “Do you need something, Tom?”

He softened his facial expression and smiled ever so slightly. “Come for a walk with me.”

“Wha—now?”

“Yes, of course.”

She looked at Lucretia, her face saying, Can you believe his nerve?!

“You don’t need Lucretia’s approval,” Tom chuckled.

“I don’t need anyone’s approval!”

“Then what are you waiting for.” His voice was barely audible, but he was not asking. He was daring her to refuse. It was an order.

Alera stewed for about fifteen seconds, weighing her options, before sighing loudly. Tom wouldn’t leave unless she went with him; and the sooner she got this conversation over with, the sooner she could get away from him.

“I’ll see you guys later,” she mumbled to her friends, and stood up sharply.

“Have fu-un!” Lucretia teased in a singsong voice, to the delight of the other girls.

“Haaahaaa....” Alera drawled, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She shook her head and followed Tom out of The Three Broomsticks.

He led her away from the bustle of Hogsmeade, in the direction of Hogwarts.

“Where are we going?” Alera groaned.

“The lake by the school,” Tom responded calmly. They walked in silence until they approached said lake. Then Alera spoke up.

“Okay. What’s so important that you need to talk to me now?” she snapped. 

Tom smiled. “I just want to get to know you better.”

“What?!” Alera looked at him incredulously. “We’re in the same House, we’ve shared pretty much every class since our first year, we’ve barely ever talked, and now you suddenly want to get to know me better?! I was in the middle of a conversation with my friends!” 

“Now seemed as good a time as any,” Tom replied with a shrug. “We just so happened to be in the same place at the same time.” You clearly didn’t realize that I followed you to Hogsmeade. Not as aware of your surroundings as you should be, my dear.

“We’re often in the same place at the same time, you jerk. Stop with the Mr. Smooth Talker act. I fucking hate it.”

Tom only chuckled.

Damn it, Alera thought. Why does he always find my insults funny? Can’t I just make him mad, so he’ll go away?!

“Take a deep breath, Alera. Cheer up. I’m not punishing you.” Yet. “And besides, you’re here now, so there’s no point in protesting.” He sat down on the grass beside the lake, and motioned for her to sit next to him. She shook her head and obeyed.

“Why do you suddenly want to get to know me better?” she asked, making no effort to hide her aggravation. “You’ve been harassing me for ages and I have made it more than clear that I am not interested in talking to you! What is your problem? Why are you doing this? Why can’t you take no for an answer? Why won’t you leave me alone?”

Her voice grew progressively louder as she spoke. Tom regarded her calmly, waiting patiently for her to finish fuming at him before he answered all of her questions with only three words.

“You fascinate me,” he said quietly.

“I—what?! How?”

“I see more of myself in you than in anyone else.”

“Wait. You just said you wanted to get to know me better, and now you’re assuming that we have a lot in common? Get your lines straight. You are really confusing me.”

“I’m saying I see much of myself in you, just from superficial interactions, and I want to explore this further. That’s all,” he chortled. “Nothing to be confused about.” 

Alera nodded slowly. “And what exactly do you think we have in common, other than being in the same House?”

“Well, first of all, you’re clearly the brightest witch in our year. You’re right behind me in marks, remember? I can’t see myself having an intelligent conversation with many other students, apart from you.” He paused, noting the faint smile that briefly ghosted across Alera’s face. “That one fact may seem obvious, but I’ve also observed more aspects of your personality that others don’t pick up on, simply because they don’t know what to look for. I notice these details because I am the same way—as I believe we discussed briefly a few years ago.” 

“For example?”

“You and I are both very...sinister. You gave me a glimpse of this back in fifth year, when you told me you couldn’t have cared less about the students who had been Petrified. Not only that, but I see the way you act in class—with the hateful looks you give some people, I’m surprised they haven’t dropped dead from simply ending up on your bad side.”

Alera tried unsuccessfully to suppress a giggle. He might be on to something here, she thought—and immediately hated herself for it. She shouldn’t have been laughing at his jokes; she should’ve been punching him in the face and storming off. Was a part of her enjoying this?

He pressed further. “In our last Defense Against the Dark Arts class, I saw the look on your face, and remember well the spells you cast during duelling practice. You looked like you wanted to kill that Gryffindor girl.” 

Alera giggled again.

Tom’s smile widened. “Am I right?”

“Something along those lines.”

“I have felt the same,” he replied softly, “and not just when practicing dueling. I sense that you do this as well.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, and then Tom spoke again. His question caught Alera completely off guard.

“Have you given any thought to the upcoming ball?”

“I—I bought a dress before term started this year.”

“What does it look like?”

“It’s mostly black with some green accents...the skirt is layered with black lace, and the bodice is something like a corset, so it’s...somewhat low-cut.” 

Tom raised his eyebrows and grinned. “Somewhat low-cut?”

“Yes....” she replied with annoyance.

“And how low is that?”

She looked at him disbelievingly. “Low enough!”

“So, around...here?” He reached out and tried to place his right hand where he thought the dress would cut off, but she swatted his hand away.

“Hey!” she exclaimed, glaring at him in disgust.

“Forgive me,” he drawled with a devious grin. 

She sighed and shook her head.

“Do you have a date?” 

She exhaled slowly, looking out over the lake. “I don’t.”

“Really.” He paused. “I’m shocked.” His eyes were glued to her, and she had to will herself not to squirm. She could feel his intense scrutiny like little pinpricks on her flesh.

“Why?” she asked, still looking away from him.

“Oh, come now, Alera,” he replied slowly, dropping his voice down about an octave. “You’re the most beautiful girl in the school. I’d have thought all the boys would be clamoring around, lining up to ask you.” His voice had faded to a whisper by the time he’d finished speaking, but still commanded authority.

He knew his flattering words would likely have no impact on her, the way they would on others, but he simply couldn’t help himself. The fact that she was so difficult to charm only increased his determination to win her over.

“Well, no one has,” she replied flatly. And he was correct: she was not impressed. Her jaw set and she rolled her eyes. 

“Maybe they’re all afraid you’ll hex them,” he teased, keeping his voice low.

She chuckled nervously. “Who knows.”

He regarded her for a moment, studying her reaction to his words before speaking again.

“Well, either way...I’d like to take you.” In more ways than one. 

Alera sighed. It was true; no one had asked her to the ball. She had bought a beautiful dress and wasn’t even sure, as of late, if she’d be able to wear it. But now, a golden opportunity was dangling in front of her face—an opportunity that most of her peers would kill for. And this was only one dance, not a lifelong commitment. It couldn’t be all that bad....

“Um...sure, why not,” she finally replied in a monotone.

“Fabulous.” Tom’s face broke into a broad grin, and it took concerted effort not to pounce on her and pin her to the ground in excitement. “Now, when do I get to see that dress?”

“You’ll see it at the ball,” she responded, as if he should have already guessed that.

“I want to see it sooner.”

She sighed again and turned to look at him. “You’ll see it at the ball,” she repeated, and stood up. He was in front of her before she had taken three steps. She started, and stepped back a bit.

“But I’m your date,” he insisted with a half-smirk.

“It doesn’t matter. No one else has seen it.”

“The other girls in your dorm?”

“No. No one.”

“But still...I’m your date.”

“You’ll see it at the ball,” she said with finality.

So, now he wants special privileges? That’s just lovely, she thought as she glared at him before walking away.

“I do want special privileges,” he called after her. 

The blood drained from her face. She stopped dead in her tracks and whirled around, eyes widened and mouth agape. “Did you just....”

Tom grinned mischievously. Alera shook her head as he approached her. “Are you a Legilimens?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. 

He nodded, grinning wider.

Shaking her head again, she started to back away from him and tried breathing more slowly, as her heart had just begun to pound. “But, that’s—that can’t be. You’re only seventeen! How in the world—”

“I have my ways,” he responded slyly, once more closing the distance between them.

“How?? How is that even possible?”

“It’s possible because I’m a genius.”

“And you’re so modest, too!” Alera huffed, and looked away from him, in the direction of Hogwarts. She was suddenly dying to return to her dorm. Alone.

Tom reached out and ran his thumb over her chin, coaxing her to look back at him. “Are you afraid?” he asked silkily. 

“No....” she groaned impatiently, averting her eyes.

He stepped closer to her and began stroking her cheek. “Yes, you are,” he whispered. His face was grave as he gazed into her eyes. She didn’t see his other hand fisted inside his robes, twitching as he willed himself not to reach out and grope her.

“No, I’m not!” she insisted, feeling her face flush with embarrassment. She turned away from him and began walking back toward the castle, wanting to be back in the safety of its walls as soon as possible...and also to banish the warm, heavy feeling building in between her legs. The strange sensation frightened her more than anything Tom had said.

He grabbed her left wrist, preventing her from moving any further. 

“Let go!” she ordered.

“Where are you going.” His voice was soft, but his tone was firm. He was frowning as he stared intently at her.

“Back to my dorm!” she growled through clenched teeth.

He held onto her wrist for another moment before slowly letting go, passing his hand through hers as he did so. “I’ll walk with you,” he replied, falling into step beside her.

She gritted her teeth and looked toward the castle, imagining that Tom wasn’t next to her.

“Pretending you’re alone won’t make me go away,” he reminded her.

“Stop it!” she exclaimed. Tom snickered.

They walked in silence until they entered the Slytherin common room. Alera turned toward the girls’ dormitory, and noted with annoyance that Tom was still beside her.

“What, are you going to follow me into my dorm now?”

“Don’t tempt me,” he threatened with a cunning smile. 

She sighed loudly. “I’ll see you later,” she snapped.

“Later, gorgeous,” he responded, stroking her cheek one more time. 

Alera cringed and raced down to her dorm, completely unnerved. After removing her shoes, she climbed onto her bed and angrily pulled the curtains closed. She needed some time to think. A lot of time to think.

Tom lingered in the common room a moment longer, trying to hear anything Alera might be saying to anyone, or to herself.

“You’re mine and you don’t even know it yet,” he chuckled. “Poor girl.”

And with a slight spring in his step, he turned around and strutted back to his room.

Chapter Text

Lucretia’s voice brought Alera back to the present.

“Alera! Are you in here? What happened??”

She and the others came bursting through the door of their dormitory, anxious to hear what had happened between Tom and Alera.

Alera chuckled as she saw her friends’ jumpy silhouettes through her bed curtains. “Over here,” she replied unenthusiastically, with a hint of annoyance.

Lucretia practically ripped the curtains away, and the girls piled onto the bed. Alera scooted back so she’d have some room to breathe. 

“So? What happened??” Amanda asked excitedly.

“Well...he said he wanted to get to know me better, because he sensed that we had a lot in common.”

Her friends stared in disbelief.

“It was a bit strange, honestly. I can’t say I was expecting that.” She chuckled nervously. 

“Even after what we talked about this past summer?” Lucretia challenged with a smirk.

“Yeah, I—”

“So, now what?” Walburga interrupted. 

“Does he JUST want to get to know you better?” Lucretia giggled. “I think he’s got a lot more than that on his mind.” 

Don’t blush. Don’t blush. Don’t you dare fucking blush. “Well, he also...um—” 

“He what?” Walburga piped up.

Alera bit her lip. “He...asked me to go to the ball with him.”

“Merlin!!” Lucretia reached forward and grabbed Alera’s shoulders. “I told you he was interested!! Tell me you said yes!!”

“I did.”

“Oh, congratulations!!” Amanda squealed with excitement.

Alera forced a tiny smile, trying not to roll her eyes. Wow, Amanda, really? she thought.

“Guys, could we maybe...not make such a huge fuss about this?” Alera asked her friends. “I see why you’re excited, and I’m glad you’re so happy for me, but it’s only one dance. It’s really not that big a deal.”

“I disagree!” Walburga whispered loudly, to Amanda’s amusement. 

“Oh, it’s more than one dance,” Lucretia insisted. “Mark my words.” 

Alera rolled her eyes. “Come on, stop it,” she insisted, visibly annoyed by this point. Her friends gave up after a few minutes, but Alera could still hear them whispering and giggling amongst themselves long after she’d asked them to give her some time alone. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed. 

*   *   *

The news that Tom was taking Alera to the ball spread rapidly through Slytherin House. Tom was visibly the most popular boy in Slytherin; he was enviably handsome, brilliant, confident, and ambitious. He was everything a Slytherin boy wanted to be, and many of his younger classmates tried to emulate his behavior with the hope of gaining more respect from their peers. Tom milked the attention for all it was worth, both inside the classroom and out. He was perfectly aware of the way most girls looked at him, and used their infatuation to his advantage. He often did small things like help a girl with a difficult assignment, even if he would rather have thrown her in the Black Lake, in return for her helping to cement his solid reputation as a student who could do no wrong.

Alera, on the other hand, was known for her temper and solitary nature. While most teenage girls were concerned with being popular and having sexy boyfriends, Alera cared more about her solitary pursuits and achieving academic excellence. She always put her alone time before her friends. Also, most of her friends were a bit scared of her, often worrying that they might say or do something to trigger a violent reaction from her.

A few Slytherin boys were slightly disturbed when they heard the news. Abraxas, Ignatius, and Alphard were the first to hear it from Tom; the four of them were chatting in the common room one evening, and conversation drifted to the Winter Ball. Ignatius was taking Lucretia, and Abraxas was going with Amanda. Tom smiled and acted happy for his Housemates, politely agreeing with virtually everything they said about their dates. Which was mostly centered on their physical attributes and potential talents in the bedroom. 

“Who are you going with?” Abraxas asked Tom, realizing that the Head Boy had volunteered no information on the matter.

“Alera,” he replied with a superior smirk.

“You serious, mate?” Alphard asked. “Damn. That girl creeps me out.” 

“She has that affect on many people, it would seem.”

“But not you?”

“Of course not,” Tom laughed. “I find her quite intriguing, actually.”

“I won’t lie; she’s pretty hot,” Abraxas put in.

Tom’s burning glare told Abraxas he had made a mistake. “Keep your wandering eyes away from her,” he warned.

Abraxas cleared his throat and looked at his feet. “I’m—I’m sorry. I didn’t realize....” He trailed off, not knowing quite how to finish the thought.

Alphard, who was a bit more bold—and a bit more clueless as far as how to wisely handle Tom’s formidable presence—filled in for Abraxas. “Are you dating her?” he asked. 

Tom turned his attention to Alphard and grinned. “Not yet, but I will be soon enough. Just watch.” 

Alphard smiled back. “Well, congratulations, mate.”

Tom thanked him, and left for his room. 

He cared not for his peers’ juvenile discussions. Alera was not just his date or a potential shag, and he hated having to speak about her as if she were something so insignificant. Though he wasn’t sure what word would describe his growing interest in her, he knew it was unique. He was thinking of her more and more as time passed—his wasn’t simply a desire to touch her or induct her into his secret group. If only he could figure out exactly what that desire was. Did he want her as a Death Eater with special responsibilities that only she could handle? A bedfellow who would relish his diabolical nature, without him having to break her down and condition her first? Or perhaps both? Surely, time would tell. At least he knew he was finally rubbing off on her.

And he certainly loved the thought of rubbing himself on her. But such a thrill would have to wait.

*   *   *

Alera tried to downplay the recent events, but to no avail. Girls she hardly knew now either gazed at her in awe, or stared disgustedly at her as if she had stolen their prized possessions and gotten away with it.

So this is all that girls care about? she thought. How good-looking someone else’s date is? Wow. And then people wonder why I hate them so much.

Alera couldn’t believe what she’d gotten herself into, and wasn’t quite sure what to make of the situation. She knew that Tom was arrogant and full of himself, but she couldn’t deny that she also liked having things in common with him that others would never understand. Still, being around Tom unnerved her, as she knew he could and would probe into her mind at every opportunity. On the bright side, she figured that there was no way he could have already mastered advanced Legilimency; she’d have to be looking directly into his eyes, or at least be within arm’s length, for him to read her thoughts and feelings. Or so she hoped.

She was an uncommonly private person, and couldn’t stand the thought of being around someone who could learn anything they wanted about her. There were reasons why she never truly opened up to anyone. She was terrified of Tom learning all her secrets and then using them to his advantage; and there was no doubt in her mind that he would, given the chance. She saw only one way out: avoiding him altogether was out of the question, but she decided to keep as far away from him as possible outside of the classroom. 

Alera felt more tense than she had perhaps ever been in her life. She didn’t even want to be around her friends, for she knew she couldn’t tell them what was wrong. One Saturday afternoon, she decided to do some homework in the library, away from any people and any questions they might have about her mood or wellbeing. 

It didn’t take long for her to find a suitable table. Being one of the only students who regularly did homework on Saturdays, she savored the peace and quiet she could find in a secluded corner, surrounded by books. Dropping her caudron onto the floor, she sank into the chair with a heavy sigh. She leaned forward and massaged her temples for a little while before straightening up and beginning her homework. The plan was to throw herself into her studies until she could no longer concentrate, and then retire to her dormitory for the night.

After arranging her textbooks, quills and parchment on the table, she began outlining a Charms essay with more enthusiasm than she usually felt for such assignments. She made rapid progress and felt very pleased with herself. After about half an hour of intense work, she set her quill down and flexed her fingers a few times. She was about to pick it up again when a voice nearly made her jump out of her seat. 

“Alera.”

To her dismay, Tom had brought over a chair from the nearest table and was now sitting inches away from her. She only afforded him a brief glance before looking back at her parchment and smoothing it over nervously. 

“Hi,” she breathed softly. She refused to look up from her parchment, though it was clear her study session was over.

“Alera, I am not as dense as you seem to think,” Tom scolded, placing his left arm over the back of her chair. “You agreed to come to the ball with me, and yet you do everything you can to keep away from me, just like you did last year. You oppose my presence like nothing else. Tell me why.”

“I’m not, I—I’ve just been very busy with homework.” Wow, that’s the best I can come up with? Damn. I’m pathetic, she thought.

“You and I both know that’s a lie,” Tom replied quickly, with a barely-perceptible growl. He took a deep breath to calm his temper, and then spoke again more gently. “Alera, you can avoid me all you want and pretend nothing is wrong, and you will be miserable during the ball; or, we can talk it out now and fix the problem, so you will be happy to spend the evening with me. It is your decision. Just know that no matter what you choose, for the duration of the ball, I will not leave your side.”

Alera drew in a shaky breath but refused to speak or look at Tom.

“Tell me what’s bothering you,” he offered. “I don’t want you to resent my company.” 

“You already know, so why are you pretending you don’t?” She looked up from her parchment, staring forlornly at the bookcase in front of her.

“I want to hear you say it,” he whispered.

She sighed loudly and dropped her gaze back to the table. “I just—I need my privacy. I need it more than most, which I’m sure you’ve already figured out. I can’t stand the idea of someone being able to just look at me and know what I’m thinking. What I’m feeling. All of my secrets. I don’t want anyone to know everything about me. I can’t handle that. And no one else has to deal with that! It’s not right!” she blurted out. She was practically panting with rage—not fear. Or anticipation. Only rage.

Tom had her exactly where he wanted her. She was conflicted, certainly, but her reaction to his sudden presence next to her told him that her past indifference was gone. He meant something to her now; she was simply not ready to admit her shifting feelings, meaning he'd have to coax her along. And he would enjoy every second of the challenge.

“Alera, in case you haven’t noticed: yes, I have learned an awful lot about you, but I’m not running away. In fact, I only want to learn more.” He smiled and lightly touched her arm. “And I will.”

“You are impossible!” 

After hastily gathering her things, forcing her hands not to tremble, she stood up sharply and stormed out of the library as quickly as she could.

Tom had to grip the table to stop himself from following. Not yet, he told himself. Not when she's expecting it. Take her by surprise. Wait until her defenses are down, and then trap her.

Relieved to find the hallway deserted, Alera immediately broke into a run. Her heart was pounding out of control, and she needed to stop and catch her breath after only two minutes. Attempting to ground herself, she pressed her hand to the cold stone wall and inhaled slowly several times, refusing to move until the shakes died down. She felt as if she’d been standing there for an hour before finally trusting herself to walk again. She continued on her way back to the Slytherin dungeons, relieved to feel the nervousness oozing out of her.

And then she was suddenly slammed against the wall. Tom’s eyes burned into hers. 

“I know why you truly detest my presence,” he declared, gripping her shoulders tightly. 

She jerked her head away from him, trying desperately to avoid looking into his dark, probing eyes again. 

He wouldn’t have that. He kept her right shoulder pinned to the wall with his left elbow and grasped her chin, yanking her head back forward and forcing her to look up at him. She was now too afraid to even attempt to look away.

“I know what it is you try to hide from me. No one else can see it, but you cannot fool me!”

“Oh? And what might that be?!” Alera snapped, futilely attempting to cover the tremor in her voice.

“For the most part, you’re just like me,” he said softly, a smile spreading across his handsome features. “Your heart is cold. You despise almost everyone you know, but conceal it well with false friendliness. You are vicious. Cunning. Selfish. You fantasize about torturing and killing people just to calm your raging temper. You never help anyone unless you can benefit as well.”

“No shit....” she grumbled.

“But a very small piece...” He pressed his body firmly against hers and continued, whispering slowly into her ear. “A very small piece of you is just like everyone else. You feel. You hurt. You love. There are a few people you genuinely care for. And you hate it. You feel as if you’re caught between two worlds, and it exhausts you.” 

Her heart sped up. She could hardly breathe. “Tom, this isn’t—”

“You know as well as I do that love is weakness. You know that the second your heart aches, you become vulnerable. Too human. And you want to be perfect. You don’t want anyone to hold a shred of power over you, because you look down on everyone and want no association with their normal, disgusting frailties. You want to be more like me, more than you already are. I know you do.”

He loosened his grip on her chin, and seemed to almost caress her jaw line. “I want this for you as well,” he said softly, “and I can show you. Let me teach you.”

“Let me go!” she protested, clenching her teeth and trying to maintain a last shred of dignity.

“I will,” he replied quietly, and kissed her below her ear, “for now. But know this: you cannot evade me forever. I will always find you.”

Lifting her chin, he placed three slow, firm kisses above her collarbone. He held her in place for an agonizingly long moment, breathing deeply while brushing his lips against her neck, before suddenly—and reluctantly—releasing her. She turned and ran all the way back to her dormitory, clutching her cauldron as if it were the only thing keeping her alive.

It took all of Tom’s energy not to grin at her flushed face when he let go of her. He was winning.

“You can run, but you can’t hide,” he murmured to her quickly-disappearing form. “Let’s see how long you can hold out before you drown.”

*   *   *

Alera was relieved to find the girls’ dormitory empty as she burst through. She figured everyone else was in Hogsmeade, and she had no desire to join them. She dropped her cauldron on the floor beside her bed, kicked off her shoes, and collapsed on the mattress. Her heart was still hammering out of control. She sat up and pressed her fists to her forehead, rocking back and forth to try and calm her nerves. 

“Oh my god....” she whispered over and over. 

Even though she knew Tom was a Legilimens, she still couldn’t believe that he had basically figured out everything about her, without her having to say a word. It made her feel vulnerable and weak: two emotions she rarely felt, and for which she utterly despised herself when they crept into her psyche.

She was also terrified. Not only did she feel more uncomfortable with Tom than ever before, but she also couldn’t deny that he was starting to affect her more than she could have possibly imagined before that fateful day in Hogsmeade. She would only be lying if she told herself she hadn’t felt a jolt in her stomach—and a bit lower down—when he had pinned her against the wall, whispered in her ear, and kissed her neck. Her heart had been pounding purely out of fear—or had it? As no one else had been around, she realized that he could have done so much more to her, and now he was probably just biding his time until he could lure her into an even more secluded location and completely penetrate her mind and body. She moaned and shook her head violently, trying unsuccessfully to banish these dangerous thoughts from her mind. She couldn’t stand the idea of him being able to trap her and completely saturate her.

Or could she?

Would she try to fight him off and escape, if this happened? Or maybe—

“No...stop it....” she scolded herself, pressing her warm thighs together and taking several deep breaths to try and soothe herself. It didn’t work. She needed a distraction, and soon.

“My essay...right. Perfect,” she growled. “Then I can come back here and read whatever I want for hours...maybe write in my journal for a bit...about something else...!!"

She got off her bed and slung her cauldron over her shoulder. With a deep breath, she headed for the common room, determined to get lost in her studies until she had finished all her homework for that week, and possibly the next.

Chapter Text

Alera was still very much on edge the following week. Thankfully, she managed to conceal her inner turmoil well, for her friends suspected nothing. 

Tom, on the other hand, was feeling more confident and powerful than ever. He had managed to inspire fear in the heart of the most fearless person he had ever met, and knew it was only a matter of time before she would be thinking about him constantly, desiring him as strongly as he desired her. If she wasn’t already, of course. 

He spent many late nights in bed replaying the scene outside the library—but without the possibility of being caught. He would have continued kissing Alera’s neck for a while as his hands groped and explored her skin under her robes, seeing which caresses affected her the most. Given the opportunity, he knew he could melt her remaining resistance into a flood of arousal with the proper touches. And perhaps she’d even begin to touch him back. Maybe he would have hiked up her skirt and taken her right there, up against the wall, relentlessly pounding into her until she cried his name. He shuddered with need at the thought of it, urgently stroking himself under the blanket until the pressure burst forth.

As difficult as it was for him to let her be, he decided to give her some space for a few days before approaching her again. A plan was beginning to form in his brilliant mind, which he knew would change her opinion of him in his favor. He simply had to craft his words and gestures carefully. He had to be gentle with her so that she would choose to open up to him.

Yes, she would be his. Very soon. 

About a week after the incident in the library, Tom felt ready to approach Alera again. He knew that after dinner that evening, she would either be in the Slytherin common room or her dorm, as curfew was approaching. He went into the common room and found Lucretia relaxing on one of the couches.

“Hello,” he said pleasantly.

“Hi, Tom,” she replied. “How are you?”

“Very well, thank you. Do you know where Alera is?”

“Um...she’s in our dorm, probably reading in bed. She likes to do that at night.” 

Tom smirked. “Mind telling me which bed is hers?” he asked impishly.

Lucretia figured it would be a bad idea to deny the Head Boy any information he desired. “It’s the third one from the right when you walk in,” she replied, trying fruitlessly to muffle a giggle. 

“Thank you,” he said smoothly, and swept down the stairs to the girls’ dormitory.

Alera had no idea that she had company until Tom spoke. 

“Alera, are you in here, love?” he called out gently. 

WHAT did he just call me?! she thought. Oh, good grief....should I even respond? Maybe he’ll go away—fuck, no he won’t. He’ll just search every bed until he finds mine. That’s it. I’m done for.

“I’m here,” she replied with reluctance, trying to ignore the flutter she felt in her stomach when she heard his voice.

He approached her bed and opened the curtains. He found her lying on her back with her knees drawn up, and her head propped up by her pillows so she could read comfortably. A stab of electricity shot through her as soon as she saw him. She prayed that he couldn’t tell.

“May I?” he asked, gesturing to her bed. She nodded, knowing there was no point in telling him he couldn’t sit there.  If he had come to visit her in her dorm, then he certainly wouldn’t leave her alone until he had said or done whatever he’d planned.

He sat down a few feet from her, regarding her for a moment before speaking.

“You seem tense,” he offered.

“Yeah, well, what you did last week was a bit of a shock,” she retorted. 

He reached out and gently squeezed her knee. “Alera, I need you to understand something.”

She immediately sat up straight and crossed her legs, so no part of her body was within his reach. He was tempted to move closer and change that, but decided to wait. That would not win him any brownie points. 

“What is it.”

“I know you are uncomfortable with me knowing so much about you. I know you have never truly opened up to anyone, and I don’t blame you for that. I don’t hold it against you. I think it is a wise choice, considering how most people think and feel, but it is useless with me.” 

“Yeah, ‘cause not every seventeen-year-old is a Legilimens!” she whispered harshly.

“That’s not what I mean,” he insisted. “And there’s no need to whisper. No one else is in here.”

She wasn’t sure if she felt more relieved or scared to be completely alone with him. Not knowing what to say, she simply blinked.

“Like I told you before,” he continued, “you and I are more alike than you realize. Like you, I have always felt separated from society, as I am vastly different from most people. And, like you, I keep my true nature hidden well. If I did not, I wouldn’t have nearly as much respect and admiration from everyone here at Hogwarts. Well...almost everyone.” He grinned secretively. 

Alera knew that was a reference to Dumbledore, but didn’t care that Tom was trying to be funny about it. Her face remained expressionless.

“I am not trying to scare you,” he insisted. (This wasn’t entirely true, but she didn’t need to know that. Not yet.) “Do you realize why I’ve been so persistent in getting to know you and grow closer to you?” 

“I don’t know. I—I thought—maybe you were just trying to....” she trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence and worrying that she would anger Tom again. And considering how he’d acted the last time she’d made him mad, she didn’t even want to imagine what he would do this time.

Tom smirked at her anxiety, but there was a slight fondness in his eyes as he looked at her. He fought off a bizarre urge to reach out and stroke her face, and not stop until she relaxed.

“Since I first noticed you watching me, I began to pick up on how similar we are,” he said. “And I relish that fact. I know you’re used to hiding your innermost thoughts and feelings from everyone, but those traits are what I like most about you. Your personality doesn’t frighten me or make me want to distance myself from you. I know more about you than anyone else ever will, and I’m not running away. You...who you really are...it only makes me want to be near you more.”

His words had the desired effect. Alera bit her lip and looked down, a blush gracing her beautiful face.

Tom felt like seconds had turned to hours as he paced himself, not wanting to speak too soon after delivering each little chink in her armor. He couldn’t wait until there was nothing left to keep him out and she would be rendered utterly defenseless against him.

“I want you to enjoy talking with me about all the things we have in common—things we cannot share with anyone else,” he went on. “I promise, you will never incriminate yourself by opening up to me. I will keep your secrets safe. And I will gladly assist you, should you decide to kill the parts of yourself you despise and enhance those you enjoy—those parts that only I will ever understand. I’d consider it an honor.”

“You’d consider what an honor?” she spat. His words sounded too much like that blasted Mr. Smooth Talker persona, and she wanted to smack him. How gullible did he think she was?

“Your trust. Your complete, unwavering trust. Your faith in my ability to help you become the most powerful witch you can be. Only I can help you achieve that; no one will ever relate to you the way I do. And you know it’s better this way. Anyone else who really knew you would abandon you the instant they saw your true colors. I, on the other hand, never will.”

“And what do you get out of such an arrangement?”

“Would I ever associate with someone weak? Someone as powerful and ambitious as you only stands to become more so with time. I’d be pretty thick to not want you near me.”

She slowly raised her head and bit her lip again—she couldn’t deny that his offer seemed worth her while. Even if he were trying to use her, but she would become more powerful as a result, was that really such a bad thing? And wouldn’t she just be using him in return, as a resource to increase her strength? She’d have to think on that.

He eased a bit closer to her, and pursed his lips in annoyance as she scooted back as far as she could and drew her knees up to her chest. He edged closer still. He wanted her to enjoy being overwhelmed by his presence, but she was still too uneasy for it to be pleasurable. He concealed his exasperation well—though she thought she detected a flash of frenzied lust in his eyes. She wasn’t sure. She immediately banished her suspicion. 

It was a blessing that she couldn’t read his thoughts: he wanted more than anything to plunge on top of her and hear her cry out in protest. He visualized her struggling to break free as he pinned her arms over her head, pried her legs apart and began grinding against her pelvis. He then imagined her naked, sobbing, and tied down as he viciously pounded into her and bit into the soft skin of her neck. At that second image, he barely suppressed a shudder. (He was also thankful that his robes were concealing the sudden strain in his pants.) 

To prevent himself from acting on his reckless desires, he breathed slowly and forced his facial muscles to relax as he looked at her.

“Outside of anything I may teach you, I want you to enjoy my company—the way I enjoy yours,” he said softly, while running the back of his hand down the outside of her leg. He thought he felt her tremble a bit beneath his touch, but he could have imagined it. 

“I’ll try,” she whispered shakily.

“Good.” Those two words were music to his ears. 

Granting her a warm smile, he stood up and gently squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He briefly considered asking once more to see her dress, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to control himself after she put it on. Especially since they were alone in the dorm room. He knew she wasn’t ready for what he had in store for her, even though he could barely hold back as it was. With a colossal amount of willpower, he forced down the adrenaline and the pulsing ache in his groin and quietly left the room.

Alera listened to his footfalls fade away, then hit herself on the forehead with the book she was reading. “Damn it,” she groaned. “What the hell am I doing....”

*   *   * 

She fell into an uneasy sleep around eleven o’clock. In the middle of the night, quiet footsteps by her bed slowly dragged her back to semi-consciousness. Somehow, Tom had crept into her dorm and slipped into bed with her, and then woke her up by climbing on top of her and gently nipping at her neck. She would have cried out in surprise had he not covered her mouth with his hand.

“Shhhh,” he whispered in her ear, and quickly replaced his hand with his lips to kiss her deeply. She moaned in his mouth and suddenly realized that he was naked, as was she. How? she thought groggily. Where are my pajamas? Where are his? How did Tom get in here? How did I not wake up before he.... 

She tried to protest, but he gripped her hair and continued kissing her until she had given up on that idea. And the sensation wasn’t all thatbad. His lips were soft and smooth, and his tongue massaged hers with a firm persistance. She began to breathe faster as he kissed his way down her neck. Goosebumps blanketed her skin. 

He moved lower and kissed her breasts several times before taking a nipple in his mouth. She jumped and grasped the sheets in both hands as he sucked hard. She entertained the thought of reaching up to touch him as his mouth worked her, but she was too afraid to move. She wasn’t supposed to like this, anyway. And where would she touch him? He kept moving his head, sucking one nipple and then the other, and then back again. He couldn’t seem to get enough. And his hands were everywhere—massaging her breasts, squeezing her shoulders, rubbing her arms, stroking her face.... 

She couldn’t think. She could hardly even breathe. The air felt too thick around her body. But she supposed he wanted it that way.

After licking her breasts, he slid down her torso and pried her legs apart to lightly trace her folds with his fingertips. He did the same with his tongue, and then began sucking on her clitoris while running his hands up and down her waist. Her hips arched violently and she bit back a moan.

“Tom...” she gasped. “What...why are you—”

In response, he draped his left arm over her stomach while slipping two fingers inside her. He briefly stopped sucking and nuzzled the area just above her entrance, inhaling deeply and murmuring something unintelligible. She felt a gentle vibration from his mouth as he groaned in satisfaction. He slipped a third finger inside her and she moaned again, louder this time, as he resumed sucking her quivering nub. He pumped his fingers in and out of her, faster and faster, until her orgasm ripped through her. She wasn’t sure what scared her more—how easily he’d brought her over the edge, or how much trouble she’d be in if her moans woke up her Housemates. Surely, they couldn’t sleep through something like this! Someone would turn her in! What was she going to do?

Her fears quickly faded as Tom withdrew his fingers and licked them dry, before diving in between her legs once more and hungrily lapping up the rest of the fluid. She was panting heavily now. Spreading her legs wider, she pressed herself against his greedy tongue, no longer caring to keep her moans quiet. She wanted to freeze time for the next ten minutes, at least—the way Tom all but worshipped her body was unreal. 

After a few minutes, Tom licked his way back up her torso and resumed squeezing her breasts while sucking on her neck. She felt his stiffness pressing against her stomach, and her sex throbbed violently as he kissed her hard once again. He forced his tongue so far back in her mouth that she almost couldn’t breathe. Tossing her fears aside, she finally wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer.

“Your skin is so soft...you taste delicious....” he murmured in her ear, coaxing his hand in between her legs again and easing his cock toward her entrance.

Before she could respond, he hoisted her legs over his shoulders and forcefully thrust into her. She felt a sharp pain and whimpered loudly. Though she moved with him for a moment, she suddenly realized that she didn’t want to be with him this way, especially with so many people around. Were they watching? Were they getting off on the carnal shadows playing against her curtains? She didn’t want that. Her bed was no one else’s business. Regardless of her body’s responses thusdar, she was no longer enjoying this little late-night romp. She struggled violently and somehow fought Tom off...and he quickly disappeared.

She woke up with a loud gasp and bolted upright, terrified that Tom would reappear and harm her for resisting him. After her breathing had slowed, she looked around and realized with relief (and embarrassment) that she had been dreaming. And no one appeared to have noticed. The room was blessedly still.

Alera collapsed back onto the mattress and was disgusted to find it drenched in sweat. And to make matters worse, her sex and thighs were uncomfortably moist. She groped around her nightstand for her wand, and cast drying and cleansing spells on her sheets and body.

“Oh my god, this is insane,” she whispered. She turned over on her side and curled up in a ball, only dozing on and off until the morning. 

*   *   * 

Tom awoke in an unusually good mood. Reliving the previous evening’s events in the Slytherin girls’ dormitory, he knew that his carefully-crafted plan was now falling into place. He had not planted the dream in Alera’s mind—not that she would know either way. She couldn’t exactly ask him about it. He would tear her apart.

Before breakfast, Tom pulled Abraxas aside before they headed to Transfiguration. The two boys always sat next to each other, while Lucretia sat with Alera. It was time to change that.

“I need you to do something for me,” Tom said with a smirk. 

“What’s that?”

“Tell Lucretia you want to sit with her during Transfiguration today.”

“How come?”

Tom scoffed, annoyed that Abraxas didn’t make the connection. 

“Why do you think?” he hissed. “I’m going to sit with Alera.” 

“Oh, all right,” Abraxas replied. He looked away from Tom, feeling quite silly for not taking the hint initially.

“You do that,” Tom snapped, and stalked away. 

*   *   * 

Alera wasn’t sure what to feel that day. She went about her morning as usual, trying not to think of Tom’s visit to her dorm or her dream. She was certain that he had fed her the lascivious images somehow—when it came to Tom Riddle, it seemed anything was possible. He was terrifyingly brilliant.

She hardly said a word to anyone until she walked into the Transfiguration classroom after breakfast. Lucretia walked in shortly after Alera sat down, and paused at their table before walking over to Abraxas. 

“Um...what?” Alera narrowed her eyes.

“I’m, uh...sitting with Abraxas today,” Lucretia responded awkwardly. 

“O...kay—” 

“He told me it was important. I don’t know why.” She gave Alera a strange look and then headed over to Abraxas. Alera glared at her friend’s back until the realization suddenly hit her. 

“Oh, fuck....” she whispered. As soon as the words escaped her lips, she saw Tom approaching from the corner of her eye.

“All alone today?” he asked, smirking at her.

“I suppose so....”

“No matter,” he said cheerfully, and sat down next to her. Alera closed her eyes and shook her head, her lips turned slightly upward in disbelief.

“What was that for?” Tom teased.

“What was what for?”

“You just shook your head. Is something wrong?”

“Do you really need to scrutinize every move I make? It’s really annoying and—”

“Good morning, class!” Professor Dumbledore’s voice interrupted Alera, for which she was relieved. After the previous evening, she was in no mood to put up with Tom’s antics—or Lucretia’s giggles as the girl turned around and discovered the meaning of Abraxas’s request. Alera refused to even make eye contact with her best friend until the class period finished. 

*   *   *

Over the next few weeks, there was a noticeable shift in Tom and Alera’s interactions. As he suddenly insisted on sitting next to her in every class they shared, they started talking more, and their conversations grew more casual. They worked together on assignments, pooling their vast knowledge and offering each other suggestions, which often led to in-depth discussions about the concepts they were learning. Even during mealtimes. Tom had a way of making Alera think about their coursework from several different angles, revving up her curiosity to learn more. He could turn even the most boring lessons into jokes that had her stifling fits of laughter. Alera found herself looking forward to their study sessions in spite of herself.

And it was all Tom could do not to smirk triumphantly whenever he yet again said something that made Alera’s cheeks redden, which happened more frequently as time passed. He found this development especially thrilling because he’d never even seen her blush before deciding to pursue her. She wasn’t the blushing type. She wasn’t the type to lose her head over a boy and forget who she was. This meant that his impact on her was special. He was special, and she was finally realizing that. It was about time.

He spent as much time with her as possible, taking care to be on his best behavior to allow her to grow accustomed to his presence and slowly begin to enjoy it—rather, to admit that she enjoyed it—and eventually crave it. 

It was strange because, though he had solidified his exemplary reputation by telling people what they wanted to hear, he knew that Alera required a different set of rules. And he would never let her know that he, too, was a bit scared—scared of how similar they were, and thus how little he could hide from her. Yes, he had revealed more of himself to her than he’d ever shared with anyone, but that didn’t mean he harbored no reservations about her impact on him. He couldn’t pull out his usual bag of tricks with her. She made him vulnerable in a way that he never thought he would be, and he both hated her for it and wanted her more because of it. I guess she’s not the only one caught between two worlds, he thought one afternoon.

He often found himself deep in thought for hours, wondering how he could balance his desire to coerce and manipulate with his now-urgent need to keep Alera close because he realized, to his horror, that he genuinely respected her. How many people had he actually respected in his life? How many people had he wanted to admire and revere him, and not just so that he could get what he wanted from them—but because he enjoyed the thought of being himself with no filter? He couldn’t think of anyone besides the raven-haired beauty who had so captivated him. The little firecracker who keeps scaring everyone, he had once called her. 

Firecracker indeed. He was amazed he hadn’t exploded yet.