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When Harry Met Tom

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“You realize of course that we could never be friends.”

“Why not?”

“What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape, or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

“That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“You only think you do.”

“You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?”

“No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“How do you know?”

“Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.”

“So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?”

“No, you pretty much want to nail them too.”

“What if they don’t want to have sex with you?”

“Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.”

“Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.”

“I guess not.”

“That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.”

- When Harry Met Sally

September, 1942

The first time Harry saw Tom Riddle, well, actually saw him, not seeing the deformed back of Professor Quirrell’s head melting as she somehow lit him on fire, she thought he was almost too perfect.

She was twelve at the time, second year, and stumbled across the notebook in the flooding dungeon bathroom and inside of it was none other than this strange, perfect, boy who claimed to be a memory from fifty years ago.

It was easy to understand what had happened to Ginny and why. Hell, in retrospect, Harry couldn’t help but shudder and think that it could have so easily been her instead. If Lucius Malfoy had slipped it into her cauldron instead, if Tom had met her with all his pretenses, all his smiles and charm, and who was she but twelve-year-old Harry Potter who still wondered if she really had any friends at all and…

Well, the point was, that Harry got it and if Ginny was still angry and horrified a few years later and practically worshipped the ground that Harry walked on, then Harry got that too (even if it was still a little unnerving and so uncomfortable).

That wasn’t the point though, the point was, that even at the time, as Harry had looked up at him through thick coke-bottle glasses, taking in all his tall dark and handsome glory (except with pale blue eyes, the kind that should have almost been an unnerving color but somehow weren’t), she’d thought to herself that he was almost too beautiful.

There was a symmetry to him, a highness to his cheekbones, the thickness and length of his dark eyelashes, the bones of his hands at once both strong and frail, that was almost so perfectly human that it ceased to be human at all. Like looking at a sculpture by an art student, where the body and the face were too academically thought out, lacking all the normal imperfections of a human face, and started to look downright wrong. Where you could glance at them and shudder and think that they didn’t look human at all, that in fact, that very perfection, that golden ratio, made them look like monsters.

The trouble was, that Tom Riddle was almost that pretty, but not quite.

It was a weird thought, one Ron didn’t have the patience for (that and talking about the prettiness of any boy in general sent him running in the opposite direction), and Hermione found unnerving and not quite understandable (Hermione, also, delusionally, believed herself above judging boys by their appearances and would in no way admit that half of the reason she’d been so giggly over Viktor Krum wasn’t how sweet he was or his brilliant mind for quidditch but that he was an undeniable man-hunk). Which, Harry supposed, was fair. You kind of had to see it to get it, but even Ginny, bogged down by all her own horrible memories of Tom Riddle screwing with her eleven-year-old brains for shits and giggles and murder, didn’t seem to have the same impressions or thoughts that Harry did.

Which was also, given everything, completely understandable.

It just made it… hard, sometimes, to express all of Harry’s bumbling, quasi-philosophical, thoughts when it came to Voldemort and the boy he’d once been. Not that this really mattered, everyone listened to the important stuff, and the important stuff was that he was a right monstrous bastard who had destroyed or was set to destroy everything Harry cared about.

Oh, and that he was alive, and a giant snake man.

Except no one really listened to that last one, except the people who really mattered she supposed, the rest though… Well, Harry had thought her fourth year was damned difficult, she hadn’t realized the fifth would be that much worse.

She now had the scars to prove it, “I must not tell lies” on the back of her right hand, courtesy of one giant pink toad woman with a bizarre and unnerving love of kittens, Dolores Umbridge. Ron might have run off for the first third of fourth year like a complete ass while Harry had been set up to resurrect the dark lord and then be slaughtered like a pig, but at least no one had made her go carving “Potter Stinks” into her own skin while Voldemort invaded her brain.

However, that was off topic, again, and also somehow not even the worst part. Even worse than terrible, horrible, occlumency lessons with Snape and learning her father was, well, a bully and an asshole and not the perfect dad she’d always pictured and everyone else had always told her about.

The trouble was, that fifth year, somehow, had impossibly gotten worse than all of that combined. Somewhere between Harry, stupid knight in shining armor as always, getting Umbridge kidnapped and… well, Harry didn’t really want to know, by centaurs, and then leading all her friends into the dumbest trap that Harry should have seen coming a mile away and everyone had warned her about this whole year what with Voldemort literally chilling in her brain, getting them all maimed or killed and she didn’t even know…

Well somewhere, in that giant pile of garbage that Harry had created for herself, Harry’s life had gotten ten thousand times worse.

Which brought her, conveniently, back to how alarmingly, almost too, pretty Tom Riddle had once been, before his plastic surgery of the giant snake man variety. Because she was staring at him, right now, in the flesh, across the table from her as he charmingly smiled at Lucretia Black who gave him what she no doubt thought was an amused and seductive smile back while Harry tried and failed to not choke on her sandwich at the sight of this, dare she say, domestic scene.

It was the Potter Effect times a million, Harry Lily Potter, stupid ‘damn the torpedoes’ Gryffindor that she was, had, by frolicking through the department of mysteries’ time room like a complete jackass with spells flying everywhere, managed to send herself over fifty years into the past.

Where, upon crawling her way to Hogwarts after somehow managing to get fake papers about homeschooling and what not and then pleading to the headmaster, she’d been conveniently not sorted into Gryffindor (thank you Sorting Hat) and been put into Slytherin, with Tom Riddle, in the flesh.

Sometimes, when she looked at him, she could swear his skin glowed it was so flawless.

“What is the mudblood staring at now?”

Harry looked over, blinked, tried to adjust her glasses (then remembered, oh right, you don’t have glasses anymore because you got magic time dust in your eyes that, miraculously, did not make you blind but at least gave you twenty-twenty vision), and sheepishly grinned at Draco’s grandfather, Abraxas who was sitting several feet from her and directly in front of the wall she’d been staring at for the past ten minutes while desperately not staring at Tom Riddle.

The Malfoy sneer appeared to be genetic, not only that, Draco’s was watered down. Or ,maybe, she’d just stopped taking Draco seriously enough to really care after he’d made the ultimate threat of “my father will hear about this, Potter” for the fiftieth time in a week. Thus far Abraxas had never once pulled out the atomic bomb of, “my father will hear about this, Potter!” or well, Evans, Potter had seemed a bit presumptuous of a name to claim for herself what with the time travel and all. Either way, she wasn’t sure if it was refreshing or downright surreal.

“Evans,” Malfoy said to the chuckling of Orion Black sitting next to him (and Merlin did he look horribly like Sirius) as well as the other Slytherin aristocratic fraternity brothers, “Staring won’t make your blood any cleaner.”

Now, in the old days, Harry might have said something, actually Hermione or Ron would have beaten her to it, but Harry would have at least scowled in disapproval and said something. However…

These weren’t the old days anymore.

Harry was sitting by herself at the end of the table, a good three feet from anyone else, ignored by Slytherins for being muggleborn and Gryffindors for being a Slytherin, and more… With everything that had happened, god what about her friends still trapped in the department of mysteries, her own bullheaded stupidity…

She didn’t know, she just… She held her tongue, tried not to flush with anger as they laughed at the joke (and Merlin, was Malfoy glancing to Tom Riddle for approval, that was just so sad… yet somehow so like Draco at the same time) and went back to picking at her food and going over the pros, cons, and what the hell was she going to do now list again.

Pros: Harry was alive. She felt this was a very important pro, after all, she had the feeling if she was anyone else in the world and not the girl-who-lived-through-every-certain-death-encounter she’d probably be a gory pancake on the time space continuum.

Or whatever it was that happened to people who went back too far, Hermione had death-lectured her at one point during the end of third year, after the Buckbeak adventure, but the details were honestly kind of vague as Harry hadn’t really cared.

(Hermione was great and all, Harry loved her dearly, the best friend she’d ever had, but sometimes Harry wondered if Hermione didn’t just love hearing herself talk maybe a little too much.)

Other pros: Harry was in Hogwarts. Sure, it was Hogwarts from fifty years ago, but she was alive and in the best place on the planet Earth. She might not be with all her friends, she might not ever see her friends again, but that was… Not alright, but she could live, she was alive. Plus, she got to redo her fifth year, which probably was a good thing, since DADA had kind of gone down the tubes what with Umbridge.

Actually, all her DADA had gone down the drain except for third year, and, dare she say it, her fourth.

Of course, then there was the strange pro that might not be a pro at all: Nobody hated her, sure, nobody liked her, but nobody hated her either. At least, not on a personal level, they disliked the category she fell into whether that was Slytherin or muggleborn, but Harry Evans personally? Forget it, they probably barely knew her name. More, for the first time since she’d gotten to Hogwarts, people were perfectly indifferent to her. Not even the forced, faked, “Oh, Harry, you think I care about you, girl-who-lived? Please, you are beneath my notice,” facades that she ran into now and then.

Tom Marvolo Riddle, the dark lord, who she had encountered every year since the age of eleven (well, except for third year with Sirius and all the dementors), and tried to murder her in increasingly horrifying ways every time, appeared to be entirely indifferent to her presence.

He didn’t even bother to charm her, that’s how goddamn indifferent he was to Harry Evan’s very existence.

It was… surprisingly liberating. Well, Harry had always known that the whole fame thing made her very uncomfortable. After all, she’d just been thin little Harry Potter living under the cupboard before that, going from that to… the equivalent of wizard Jesus was a bit extreme for anyone to really be able to handle. Harry thought she’d done a pretty alright job, considering, but that didn’t mean she liked it.

In fact, she’d said several times that she downright hated it.

“Hermione,” she’d said one night in the girl’s dormitory, staring at the ceiling, her fourth year after Ron had made his rather dramatic exit stage left with his own ‘Potter Stinks’ badge worn proudly, “Sometimes it scares me how much I’d be willing to sacrifice to just be a normal girl with my parents alive and undo everything.”

Her parents might not be alive, her friends might all be trapped in the department of mysteries, she may be a right idiot, and she might be stuck fifty years in the past with baby Voldemort and all his pals, but this was likely the closest to normal Harry was ever going to get.

Was it terrible that, on some level, Harry could appreciate that?

Then there were the cons… There were so very many of them.

Con the first: Harry was an idiot and was singlehandedly responsible for killing all her friends, leaving them behind to their deaths, and now would spend the rest of her life tormented by her imaginings of them screaming.

Good show, Harry.

The slightly less terrible con: Harry had been sorted into Slytherin, if she’d just been sorted into Gryffindor like the first time she wouldn’t be having that problem. Sure, Minerva McGonagall was there, and Hagrid, and it’d be weird being friends with them (well not Hagrid as much) but at least she’d be able to make friends.

Being muggleborn Slytherin meant that nobody would want anything to do with her.

Apparently, pointing out this scenario to the hat had been, “A very Slytherin thing to say, Miss Potter.”

And then, of course, Tom Riddle was alive, in Hogwarts, was prefect of her house and could flaunt his authority over her as he damn well pleased, and everyone loved him. Well, everyone except Professor Dumbledore, who made it a habit of glaring contemptuously at Tom whenever Tom tried to answer a question in their OWL Transfiguration class.

Still, go Dumbledore, if Harry ever needed a sign that beneath all his eccentricities he really was a brilliant man then that was it.

Still, at least Tom really, didn’t seem to care one way or another about her. It actually was almost unnerving, she kept expecting something from him, anything, even when she’d met his younger self in the diary (who hadn’t had the joys of experiencing being blown up by the infant Harry) he’d been… Interested, she supposed she’d call it, or maybe assessing.

There was one final worry in her head though, even though it was more of a Hermione type thought than a Harry one. If Harry was here now, in the past, and had met Tom Riddle, then why didn’t he seem to recognize her in the future? Sure, she’d been younger, Gryffindor, had the glasses, and had used a different name but…

Maybe there had been moments where he’d looked at her, in the diary, or in the graveyard, and seemed to try to see through her, but he’d never said anything or asked anything that would have made her thought, “Oh my god, I’m going to wind up fifty years in the past with Lord Voldemort for a housemate!”

And if she did change anything… Her eyes drifted over to Hagrid, still in school, if she did change anything then what would happen to her? What would happen to Hogwarts, to everything? If she changed things, any slight number of things, could she still somehow get home?

She sighed, determined that thinking of time travel paradox while at breakfast was not the greatest use of her time.

Ultimately, Harry had to keep her head together and find a way to get back home. Somehow, in some impossible Potter way, she’d have to spring forward fifty years in time and hope to god she didn’t change anything. That was the end of it, period, all that could be said and done.

And Harry would not, could not, indulge in her saving people thing and sacrifice her own friends and even Sirius to do it. Because that’s what was at stake, ultimately, and no matter what happened to Hagrid (or oh god, to Myrtle) she had to remember that.

Yet, even as she stood and dashed off to class, a class she shared with Tom Riddle and many of her Slytherin peers, she couldn’t help but think that this was probably one of those things that was far easier said than done.

“Actually, you don’t even need that heavy of an object to take out a troll,” Harry Evans answered, sitting next to him, a peculiarly bright look on her face, “Honestly, a troll’s own club will take it out if you lift it even high enough above its head and concuss it. Three, maybe two, first year students could do it, even when only two of them can pronounce Wingardium Leviosa correctly.”

Harry Evans, muggleborn transfer student was, in a word, perfectly bizarre. He’d honestly meant to pay her no attention at all when she’d been sorted into Slytherin, nothing more than a distraction, the unfortunate might have been if Tom himself had been less astute and ruthless, but she made it very difficult to pass her over.

It wasn’t simply how she dressed or acted, as if she had no thought or care at all for her appearance and femininity, it wasn’t simply how she talked (using words Tom had frankly never heard in his life and he was certain she’d made up), it wasn’t just the bizarre anecdotes or trivia that would spurt from her mouth in this or that class (as her intimate knowledge of slaying trolls in today’s DADA lecture would prove), this whole combination instead produced what had to be the strangest girl he’d ever met.

In her own words, Tom was almost certain she’d accidentally stepped off the mothership and that she was still phoning home, whatever the bloody hell that even meant.

If she’d been a little quieter, a little… more normal, then she might be considered attractive. She was very pretty, when considered objectively, she was thin and lean, lacking the curves of the more traditionally attractive woman, but her dark hair was wild and thick with curls, and her eyes were the brightest green he’d ever seen.

However, there was a world of difference between her and someone like Lucretia Black, and as such whatever base physical appeal Harry Evans might have had going for her was ruined every time she opened her mouth.

Well, that and her blood status also worked quite a bit against her, something she appeared to know intimately and had chosen to quietly tolerate.

Merrythought considered Evans comment with raised eyebrows, pursing her lips and looking as if she wasn’t quite sure what to do with that information, finally she said, “Thank you, Miss Evans, for that fascinating fact.”

Evans beamed slightly before leaning back, listening as the lecture went on to describe facts about other magical creatures and the dangers of them. Her pale hand accidentally brushed his and immediately, with a look of alarm combined with horror and disgust on her face she snatched it back and surreptitiously scooted her chair further from him.

That was the other thing about Harry Evans, for whatever ineffable reason, she found him both terrifying and morbidly fascinating. It might be flattering, or perhaps even cute, if it wasn’t so damn bizarre.

And somehow, in Defense Against the Dark Arts, he’d been stuck sitting next to her.

“Now,” the professor said looking at them all with her rather hawkish eyes, “As you all know this is your OWL year, you have elected to continue past your basic requirements in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and because of that, on top of the usual homework and practical demonstrations, there will be a partner project due at the end of each term. And you will not be picking you partners!”

This was accompanied by a glare at the students, partner projects notoriously being a political nightmare filled with complaints that no sane professor wanted to handle. On seeing no one retort, or look too dismayed, Merrythought continued, “Congratulations, your partner is sitting next to you, I want you two to shake hands, and then, this week, brainstorm just what it is your project will be.”

Tom slowly, oh so slowly, with a feeling of dread in his stomach turned to look at Harry Evans who, in turn, was mirroring his expression of horror and distaste on her delicate features. Both seemed to realize at the same time that neither had a legitimate excuse to get out of this, not with Merrythought, who prided herself on being disciplinarian and unmoving in the face of student grievances.

Meanwhile, as if nothing at all was wrong, Merrythought continued, “And it will be a practical demonstration, this is a practical class, so I don’t want any posters or papers or any of that nonsense. Real spells here children, legal, spells!”

They were dismissed routinely after that, Harry and Tom both lingering, sitting in their chairs in dual states of shock. Finally, Harry succinctly summarized, “Well, shit.”

He glanced at her, grimacing slightly, honestly sometimes he didn’t wonder if she thought she was a man. Women simply didn’t curse like that, Tom wouldn’t for that matter, it was classless and vulgar and highlighted exactly the sort of world Harry Evans had come from.

Still, he did agree, “Well, Evans, it seems you and I will simply have to tolerate one another.”

Harry’s face twisted into some bizarre expression that was half a grimace and half utter despair.

“Yes, I’m just as delighted. You’re free tonight?”

For a moment Harry sat there, trying to twist her face back into some semblance of normalcy, and finally she stiffly nodded, and said, “Sure, I mean, the sooner we do it the sooner we’re done, right?”

He could say many things to that. He could even show how insulted he was that she seemed to have a problem with him, no one had a problem with Tom, and what had he ever done to her anyways that would warrant such fear, distaste, and even loathing? If anything, he should be openly sneering in distaste of her and all she represented, but no, Tom Riddle was better than that, he’d trained himself to be better than that. Slughorn would approve of him showing kindness, or at least courtesy, even on vulgar and vexing tomboys like Harry Evans.

So, he just smiled down at her, kindly, with all the charm and sincerity in his insincerity that he could muster, and said, “Oh, Harry, surely you don’t mean that.”

Her face twisted back into horror and… recognition?

Tom decided to give up while he was still ahead, there were better uses of his time, “Just meet me after dinner, would you? Then we’ll head over to the library and get this over with.”

Time, unfortunately, moved far too swiftly. He and Evans were seated far apart in the rest of their shared classes and he managed to move past her, focused instead on Dumbledore’s constant dismissal of him, carefully joking with his classmates and allowing them to pander to him in such away that no, of course they weren’t pandering to the mudblood, Tom was an exception, and more, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to loan Tom some of their private books now and then, he was just so useful and sophisticated despite his trash ancestry…

Thus, with a dinner filled with wry humor, subtle witticisms, coy flirtations, and the usual political jockeying done and over with he found himself sighing and staring at the end of the table where there, by herself as always, was Harry Evans reading some theoretical nonsense book on the space time continuum that no one in their right mind would take seriously.

This, he thought to himself as he watched her balance the book in one hand with a determined look on her face and pick at her food with the other, was the partner he’d been slated with for the rest of term.

Sometime in the future, when he enslaved all of wizarding Britain and became a dark emperor over this land, Lord Voldemort, he was going to kill Merrythought for ever enforcing this indignity upon him.

In the meantime though, he simply walked over to Evans, ignoring the somehow smug looks of sympathy thrown to him by his Slytherin peers and then sighed, “Evans, I’m afraid it’s time.”

Her book snapped shut, as if it had contained some dark secret that should Tom find it out the world would be perfectly and utterly doomed. She looked over her shoulder at him, large green eyes blinking as she edged away, hand darting quickly towards her wand. Then she appeared to remember where she was, who she was looking at, and she flushed, “Oh, right, study thing, project, yes… Right.”

Was that even English?

Tom just sighed again, stared at the ceiling (appropriately dark and overcast) in supplication, then said, “Well, we’d best get to the library then.”

She dutifully followed, somehow instinctively knowing every passageway of Hogwarts despite being a transfer student, another oddity, a thankful one though, as it meant that Tom hadn’t had to direct her to her classes even on the first day, and soon enough they were in the library and Tom was listing out spells.

“Now, unfortunately, as this is demonstrative, I can’t do all the work for you,” he started out, met with a pair of condescending and dubiously raised eyebrows.


“Let’s be frank, here, Harry,” Tom said, dropping his own charade of pleasantness, “You were fortunate in me as a partner, we both know this, however, this time it won’t save you…”

“Excuse you,” Harry scoffed, interrupting him with a rather offended flush on her pretty features, “I’ll have you know I am bloody great at Defense.”

Tom offered her a thin and humoring smile, “I’m sure you are.”

Harry seemed to find this amusing, an actual startled laugh coming from her throat, a smile stretching on her lips, “No, Riddle, I’m really bloody good at Defense.”

There was something in her eyes then, some hidden knowledge, not only about herself and her own depths but Tom as well, that he couldn’t help, even against all his instincts, but take seriously. As if somewhere in the very depths of his soul, that this, above all other things, he could take Harry Evans’ word on.

“Alright then, good, because we’ll need a spell we both can master before the holidays,” Tom said, “Perhaps even a counter if we’re practically demonstrating it.”

“Or,” Evans supplied pragmatically, with a rather amused and ironic twist to her smile, “One we’ve both mastered already, that way we don’t actually have to spend any time together.”

Well, didn’t she have a high opinion of herself?

Still, it was a… tempting offer, and it did solve both of their problems. Clearly, neither of them wanted to be here. That was one thing for Harry Evans, many girls would have been dying to have Tom in this position and drag it out as long as possible, an insipid attempt to seduce him no doubt. Harry Evans, couldn’t wait to get out of his presence.

“It would have to be something not taught in the curriculum,” Tom reminded her, “Something impressive, at that.”

“I’m sure I can manage,” Evans said rubbing the back of her head, “What about explelliarmus?”

“Far too simple,” Tom said, not necessarily in the curriculum thus far, a bit above and beyond, but far beneath Tom’s level, he’d demonstrated as much the year before.

“Damn,” Evans said, then she looked at him, really appeared to look at him as if she was seeing him for the first time.

“What?” he asked but she didn’t answer, instead he could practically see the wheels in her head spinning away, grinding against one another to form some thought that she couldn’t quite believe she was having, didn’t want to believe she was having.

“What is it?” he prompted again, watching her lips frown, the minute internal shake of her head, the look in her green eyes that screamed that whatever she was thinking could never work in a million years.

“Evans,” he finally prompted, and this seemed to do it, she sighed, cringed visibly for a moment, then said, “I… Don’t suppose you can make a corporeal patronus?”

He looked at her, feeling as if something inside of him had just plummeted outside of his body, leaving him hollow as he stared at Harry Evans. Finally, in a voice that was far calmer than he would have thought possible, “You can produce a fully corporeal patronus?”

She nodded before rambling her usual style of explanation, “Yeah, since I was thirteen… There were hordes of dementors involved, it’s a complicated story.”

He just kept staring, looking at her, and wondering how the hell someone like Harry Evans could produce a corporeal patronus, and by the age of thirteen. She didn’t seem to be lying either, in fact, she barely seemed to comprehend the magnitude of this, how rare it was for any wizard to produce a corporeal patronus at any stage in their life.

“So, I’m guessing that’s a no?” Harry asked, hesitantly, and he felt himself flush as he remembered that it was a no, and that that meant…

He stood, chair scraping back from the table, Harry leaned backwards at the sight of him, swallowing nervously, hand fingering her wand, “Riddle?”

“Outside,” he said quietly, “You are demonstrating, now.”

Harry frowned but acquiesced, packed up her supplies, and followed him out to the edge of the lake where all the other students were headed back to the warmth and light of the castle. And there on the edge of the dark water, she held out her wand and cried out into the night, “Expecto patronum!

A great white stag, made of blinding light, leaped from the tip of her wand to run across the lake and out towards the sea, and watching it Tom felt a pang somewhere inside him, hollow and empty, and entirely certain that he’d never be capable of producing something like it.

And yet he coveted that light, the smile and wonder on her face, more than he’d coveted anything before.

“This,” he said with a certainty that was not to be questioned, “Is our project.”

She turned, wand still in her grasp, still ready, always ready whenever near him and looked at him, “The patronus?”

She then looked back out towards the lake then at him, a frown on her face as she fully considered the situation, “Oh, look, Riddle, I know I suggested it but…”

“You’re capable of it,” he snapped back, unsaid was that if Harry Evans could do then Tom Riddle certainly could.

“Well, maybe,” she looked very dubious of that maybe, “But maybe you’ll have some better idea and…”

“No,” he said, short, finally, holding her eyes and seeing how they glowed green and bright even in the dark. Then, turning on his heel, he headed back to the castle, shouting over his shoulder, “This weekend, Saturday afternoon, we’ll start.”

She stayed behind, looking after him, her face perfectly still and empty of any emotion he could recognize. Once again, somehow, with her fierce eyes on him he felt as if he was some unknowing puzzle she had yet to solve, that she slowly but surely, fit together, piece by crooked piece.