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euphoria

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There is a ritual to how Harry Potter readies himself in the morning.

First, he gets up.

He stands to his feet and stretches. He looks around the room, peering at his sleeping roommates. First, at Seamus, the farthest from his bed. Then, to Dean, who is in the bed next to Seamus. Neville, snoring away into his pillows.

Finally, Ron. Ron is the ugliest of sleepers.

Harry saves Ron for last because it always makes him want to laugh. Ron is starfished out over his sheets, snoring rather loudly with his mouth hanging open unattractively. It’s a laugh, for sure. And after he laughs, Harry goes to the bathroom and continues the ritual.

He strips out of his clothing and ignores the snide remarks from the magical mirror—because he remembers the days where they took the magical mirror out, the days when he was a breeze and his bones—before he steps into the heat of the shower. Slowly, all of that sleep tension melts away as he runs soap up and down his arms. He lets the water pour over his head, flattening his hair over his blurry vision. He soaks in the heat and lets it seep through his pores. Even now, after all of these years, hot showers sometimes feel like a luxury—this is one of those mornings when they do.

Because it feels like a luxury, he melts in the heat a little longer than he usually would. When he finally steps out, wrapping himself in a fluffy crimson towel, he feels more refreshed and relaxed than he has in ages. There are no phantom aches, his stomach doesn’t feel too full when it’s so empty, and his skin doesn’t feel too tight for his bones. He feels healthy because he is; he’s better now.

He grabs another towel to scrub the wetness from his curls and walks quietly back into the bedroom. Neville is up, but he’s moving quietly. He offers a smile, but doesn’t say anything to Harry—Neville and Harry aren’t close, but Neville knows his habits.

This is an early morning.

That means Harry means to go it alone today.

So, Harry dresses in clothing that fits, which to this day, still feels rather odd. He knows that the trousers aren’t too tight; they’re simply tailored. But Lavender has joked that they make his bum look good, and he’s not sure what to make of that, honestly.

He buttons up his shirt, and then, pays homage to Sirius by leaving his shirt untucked because, according to Sirius, shirt-tucking is for scrubs. Harry doesn’t really know what that means but Sirius says a lot of wild things and he thinks that the scrunched up expression that Remus will surely make is a little (a lot) funny.

Finally, Harry loops around his tie. He remembers his first year, when he didn’t know how to tie a tie. He glances over at Ron, still ugly-sleeping and smirks.

Ron had known, and had gladly taught Harry.

Harry’s smile softens; it’s hard to make fun of someone so earnest.

He slides into his shoes and waves goodbye to Neville before he scoops up his robe over one arm and his satchel over the other before he’s bounding down the steps. Harry ignores the third-year student that’s always up at this time too, always studying. Sometimes Harry thinks the kid should’ve been Sorted as a Ravenclaw, because he is always studying. Harry goes up to the portrait hole and pushes it open.

He stops.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Harry asks.

He pulls his bag up his shoulder and swallows, staring at the other boy on the stairs.

Harry hates how fucking handsome the other boy is; tall and dark and handsome with a patrician nose. He thinks he’s too good to be wearing the Hogwarts uniform, electing an all-black Muggle suit with only his fucking tie to break up the solid wall of darkness. Harry sneers.

Tom Riddle smirks up at him, like there’s nothing wrong with the picture.

Harry can think of about twelve.

“I’m here to walk you,” Riddle says.

Harry scoffs, leaning back against the portrait hole. He ignores the Fat Lady’s squawks of disapproval, keeping his eyes trained on Riddle and his smug fucking face.

“To where?” Harry asks.

“To breakfast,” Riddle says. He takes another step up, like he’s going to actually walk up to Harry, and Harry can’t have that.

Harry walks carefully across the landing to the opposite staircase, and Riddle turns, keeping him in his burgundy line of sight, but he doesn’t make a move to follow Harry. Harry had thought that Riddle would’ve given up by now, but he seems to be fucking serious with his nonsense.

“No thanks,” Harry retorts with a sickly sweetness and he throws open his bag, digging through it as the staircases start to shift, thank Merlin.

Riddle stares with an absent sort of curiosity that turns into burning amusement as Harry finally pulls his hand out of his bag.

And promptly flips Riddle the bird.

Chapter Text

Harry picks at his dinner that night. He doesn’t mean to, but he does. Breakfast had been consumed, lunch was light, but dinner isn’t something that seems to be happening for him. He can’t help it; sometimes, he gets in his own head, and there’s a lump in his stomach that sits as heavy as a meal. He gorges on his own anxiety instead and pretends that Ron and Hermione aren’t watching him closely.

They’re surrounded now by Lavender and Ginny and Luna, so they won’t say anything; not to his face or right now. But, he knows that sometime soon, he’ll turn the corner to find them pressed together, heads bent, his name passed back and forth between them. They’ll wonder why, and how, and when, and he’ll have nothing to say to them, but he won’t tell them about Riddle.

If he mentions Riddle, it’ll be real. Riddle’s attentions, whatever they are or what they mean, are a distraction, and if he mentions Riddle, he’ll be just like everyone else.

Caught in the path of a phoenix, waiting to be burnt by its flames.

And he’s a phoenix all on his own. He won’t be caught in Riddle’s fucking nonsense.

So, he won’t say anything.

He forces himself to eat. He forces the bits of steak and kidney pie down his throat, finishes half of it until he’s stuffed, and he looks across the table, at Lavender, and feels a bit better.

She hadn’t been eating either. She does when he does.

And he wants her to be whole and healthy, because someone needs to want that for her, even if she doesn’t want it for herself.

 

(Sometimes, Harry doesn’t want it for himself. )

 

“You’re in your head, aren’t you? You alright, Harry?” Ginny asks.

Harry blinks and looks up from the mush that he’s made, mashing down his steak and kidney pie. He doesn’t have an answer so he shovels another mouthful of food into his mouth, so he can consider words that won’t set Ron or Hermione off with worry. He swallows hard, and smiles over at her, relaxed and loose.

“Just fine. Thinking about how Defence went today,” Harry says.

This, he’s honest about.

He’d expected something from Riddle. Instead, Riddle had sat in the corner of the classroom, silently grading a few third-year essays while Moony had launched into the next unit, discussing proper defensive theory, the last unit before real dueling would take place. The anticipation had been practically palpable.

“Are you worried? You’re ace at Defence, mate,” Ron reassures him.

Harry’s lips twitch into a smile. “No, I’m not worried . Just...you know, I’m much better at the practical than the theoretical,” Harry insists.

Hermione sniffs. “If only you’d apply yourself. All of the answers are in the text, Harry, I swear. You should take notes—”

“Harry doesn’t need notes,” Lavender proclaims. “None of his answers in class are ever based on the textbook.”

“And you would know?” Hermione bites out, pompously. “You never read the supplementary reading either .”

If it were anyone else, those would be fighting words, and Harry would whisper something to Hermione about backing off. But, Lavender has always held her own rather well against Hermione. Lavender tilts her head and sniffs.

“That’s because I’m perfectly alright with applying myself in courses that are more relevant to me and help my future, rather than succeeding just to succeed. Seems like a waste of time to me,” Lavender says pointedly.

Hermione is appalled by the very idea.

“Why are you taking Defence then?” Luna asks.

Ginny’s lips curl into a wicked grin. “Because Riddle, right?” she asks. She waggles her eyebrows at Harry, and Harry looks down at his plate, rolling his eyes.

“Can we not talk about Riddle?” Harry sighs.

“Why not?” Ron asks. “You used to be obsessed with him.”

Harry flushes as Luna, Ginny, and Lavender turn sharply to him.

“What?” Lavender squawks.

“I was not,” Harry snipes.

Hermione snorts. “Habibi, you were—”

“I was not obsessed,” Harry snarls, probably harsher than he needs to. Everyone falls silent. Harry takes a deep breath through his nose, breathes out. He looks at Lavender. “I said I knew everything I needed to know about Riddle. I do. I wasn’t obsessed. I just...knew him. When I was a first year. Then, we stopped knowing one another.”

There is more to it than that, and less to it too.

A Christmas spent at Hogwarts with nowhere else to go.

And a Chocolate frog.

That is all. And Harry doesn’t want to think about the—

“Oh,” Lavender hiccups. She still stares at him, like she can dissect him, pull him apart and see his secrets, and Harry wants to run away from it all.

Harry shakes his head and smiles. He smiles the way that makes people stop and stare and stop forgetting the words that come out of his mouth (Lavender knows how to smile that way, maybe that’s why he feels such kinship with her, Sirius taught him out to smile this— ). He shrugs, nonchalant, and lets out a soft laugh.

“It was a long time ago. Ron likes to tease me,” Harry laughs. He smiles a little more easily, shovels more food into his mouth, and leans forward. “I have a few Quidditch plays that I wanted to run by you, Ginny, by the way—”

“Why not me?” Ron demands. “ I’m the strategist of the family!”

“Well, yes, but she’s the better Quidditch player,” Harry grins. He ignores Hermione’s watchful gaze and falls into easy conversation about power plays and Dionysus dives, something that distracts the two Weasleys, while Lavender, Hermione, and Luna fall into more intellectual conversation.

The entire time, Harry can feel Hermione casting side glances.

He very carefully doesn’t look across the Great Hall, where Riddle sits in the center of the Slytherin table, eating his food while the Death Eaters fawn over him.

“Who’s up for a round of Exploding Snap?” Ron asks when he’s polished off his second plate of food, and the Quidditch conversation dwindles.

“I have a practice OWL in History of Magic on Wednesday, and I’m incredibly ill-prepared,” Ginny says as a way of excusing herself.

Hermione looks proud. “Lavender and I are revising in Arithmancy.”

Lavender looks put out, but also rather grateful for Hermione. Harry knows that Lavender enjoys the hard work of Arithmancy, but is still struggling, just the tiniest bit. Luna shrugs and shakes her head.

“I have to edit a piece for the Quibbler.”

Harry jerks around to look at her. “You’re a journalist now, Luna?”

Luna’s lips quirk into a tiny smile. “It’s part of my ongoing column about the hunt for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. My sources say that Newt Scamander may have found more evidence .”

Hermione leans over to Ron and whispers, “I thought those were short stories.”

Luna doesn’t seem to hear her, and Harry smiles.

Ron groans. “Is everyone busy? What about you, Harry?”

Before Harry can agree to an evening of slacking off, though he has a number of assignments that mark his impending doom, he senses a presence behind him. A hand lands on top of his head and Harry grins, tilting his head back.

“Moony,” he greets.

Remus smiles down at him. “Harry, take a walk with me?”

Ron groans. “Professor, you’re taking my Exploding Snap opponent away,” he complains.

“Shouldn’t you be doing that reading for my class on Wednesday?” Remus counters with a twinkle in his eyes. Ron sighs dramatically and shrugs his assent.

Harry jumps up excitedly. “I’ll play, Ron. Promise. I’ll be up soon enough.”

They both know that Harry and Remus can talk for hours, when they really get going. It’s much the same with Sirius. Harry used to think it was weird, wanting to spend time with his godparents so much; Ron did nothing but complain about his parents, and Fred and George did the same before they’d dropped out of Hogwarts and became lucrative professional pranksters.

Hermione says that it’s because Harry has never had positive adult role models.

He accepts that logic as is, refusing to think any deeper about it.

In his mind, anything before the adoption is full of warning signs— DARK MEMORIES AHEAD, DO NOT APPROACH!

Harry leans into Remus’ side for just a moment, taking in the scent of him; clean and wooly with a smother of dark chocolate. He’s always smelled like that. It grounds Harry.

They get through the Entrance Hall and are halfway between Gryffindor Tower and Remus’ study and apartment before Remus says anything.

“I saw...you were struggling to eat today?” Remus asks.

Harry’s good mood falters immediately.

“You’re monitoring my eating?” Harry retorts, the ‘again ’ implied. “You don’t have to worry about me, Moony.”

Remus stares down at him, a cross between serious and amused. “You’re my kid. I always worry about you.”

Harry feels that warmth, deep in his chest, and Remus wraps an arm around his shoulders. Remus is exceptionally tall, like Sirius, and Harry burrows into him, like he’s all of eleven years old again, meeting Remus for the first time and whispering, You want me? , like he couldn’t believe it.

That was the first time Harry broke Remus and Sirius’ hearts.

It wouldn’t be the last.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about this. I ate,” Harry insists, under his breath. He presses his cheek into the soft knit of Remus’ sweater and inhales. Remus doesn’t say anything for a long time. Harry swallows. “I really did. I ate half of the steak and kidney pie. Breakfast was fine. My lunch was light, and dinner, I—”

“Alright, alright,” Remus says, because he can read Harry better than himself sometimes, and he could hear the anxiety churning in his tone. “I’m sorry that I pushed. I won’t push.”

Harry relaxes. “Thanks, Moony.”

“Are you keeping out of trouble, then?” Remus asks. “No more late-night escapades?”

Harry grins cheekily and thinks back to the Samhain party. His grin falters when he remembers fucking Riddle , and all his fucking talk, and—

 

(every time I look at you, I’m reminded of how fucking beautiful you are.)

 

—whatever, it’s fine.

“I had fun at the Samhain thing. And it was sanctioned fun, mind you,” Harry quips with a grin.

Remus snorts, rolling his eyes. “Albus lets the Slytherins get away with murder, you know. He favors Riddle.”

“So, do you,” Harry accuses. “He’s your assistant.”

Remus laughs. “He’s exceptionally good at what he does. Given any thought to filling his place next year?”

“And grading papers all year? I think not,” Harry laughs.

“Would you like to come over for some hot chocolate? I want to know a little bit more about this Samhain party,” Moony teases.

Harry grins. “There’s nothing I’d like more, Uncle Moony.”

Chapter Text

Break is usually the time where Harry wants to lounge around and do nothing but gossip and eat snacks. Unfortunately, he’s caught up scrawling out the conclusion of his Potions essay, which Snape is sure to grade harshly. Harry thinks the essay is pretty good, but the conclusion will be messy, and Snape will hate him for it. It’s inevitable.

So, he doesn’t try as hard as he might’ve if he had more time.

He groans, rolling around in the grass, tugging his cloak a little tighter around his body to keep the damp chill from his skin. He rolls to the other side, grunting again.

“Do you need some attention?” Ginny asks, pulling away from her conversation with Luna.

Harry glares up at her. “No,” he bites out. “I just know that I’m going to get a Troll on this Potions essay.”

Luna squeaks and reaches forward, gently tugging the parchment from his hands. She gives it a cursory glance and then looks up, her brow creased into a frown. “It isn’t that bad. An Acceptable at the lowest.”

“Yes, but you forget Snape teaches this class. He hates me,” Harry says.

Ginny frowns. “Why does Snape hate you? He’s... unpleasant, but I never thought he targeted anyone in particular.”

Harry scoffs.

“So, you want to know the saga of the Marauders, Lily Evans, and Severus Snape?” he drawls, already rolling his eyes. “Come forth, children, and—”

“You’re so dramatic, Harry,” Luna chides. She’s staring down at his essay with narrowed eyes, tapping her chin as she mouths words to herself.

Harry gapes at her, shocked, and then bursts into laughter, rolling his eyes. “Fine. Snape and my mother grew up together, and then, it turned out she was a Muggleborn. They went off to Hogwarts, and it turns out, my father and Sirius were a pair of arseholes. They were bullies, for the sake of looking cool. And they grew out of it, yeah, like most kids do, but they were still arseholes,” Harry spits, and that’s something that he’d had to contend with long ago, something that he’d thrown in Sirius’ face long ago.

“And he’s holding that against you? How childish,” Ginny sniffs.

Harry shrugs. “He was in love with my mum too. I think…I think Snape is a complex guy, but also, just a massive arse.”

Harry will never forget the first time that he met Severus Snape. He’d been captivated by the enchanted ceilings in the Great Hall, the tables heaped high with food, jittering with all of the news that had hit him—the possibilities of a new life, a new family, a new world—and then, he’d seen Snape. Snape had looked at him like he’d seen a ghost, and in half a second, Harry had watched Snape’s face crumple with grief, and then, rearrange into a sneer.

Harry has never been able to parse the meaning of that. He isn’t sure he wants to.

“How are you and Dean doing?” Harry asks. “You know. With the friend thing.”

Ginny says that Dean Thomas and her can stay friends. Harry has his doubts. Ginny knows him well enough now that she can read it in the slightly downturned corners of his lips. He has no faith in her, and for very good reason.

“We’re fine. We’re supposed to go to Hogsmeade together this weekend.”

“That sounds very date-like,” Harry sings the last word, pointedly.

Ginny rolls her eyes. “We’re scoping out Zonko’s. Fred and George are talking about buying it out,” Ginny says. “You’d think you’d know about that.”

“I don’t make it my business to know Sirius’ business dealings,” Harry snipes. He knows that investing in Weasley Wizard Wheezes was one of the first things that Sirius did when he came into control of his finances again, but he had never made it through pranking people.

“So, it’s...not weird?” Luna asks curiously. “You won’t be jealous when he starts dating other people?”

“Well, I’m seeing other people and it’s not weird yet,” Ginny defends.

Harry raises an eyebrow. As far as Harry knows, they haven’t even managed to go on a single date. “Is that what you’re calling Zabini and your weird song and dance?”

“Is it a song and dance?” Ginny retorts.

“It’s... something,” Harry says, referring to the strange eye contact that the pair have maintained over the last week and a half. Neither has made a move. It’s weird.

“Have you fucked?” Luna asks.

Ginny jumps violently at the question. “Who?”

“You and Dean. You and Blaise Zabini,” Luna says, blinking owlishly. “I presume you’ve already fucked Dean, but I mean, in the aftermath.”

“Why would she just...have sex with either of them?” Harry asks, squirming in discomfort. It’s different from when he was talking to Lavender. She needed help. She didn’t know what she was talking about. Talking about sex just for— ugh.

“Ginny and Blaise are viscerally attracted to one another. Ginny and Dean would have break up sex,” Luna says, speaking slowly like she’s talking to a pair of idiots.

“No! Neither of those things have happened,” Ginny squawks. Her cheeks burn red.

“And you want them to?” Harry asks, amused. Ginny glares at him and he lifts his hand in surrender. “I’m just clarifying.”

“And what about you, Potter? Any boys that you want to talk about?” Ginny demands. It’s the way she’s looking at him that clues him in on exactly what and who she’s talking about.

“No, no boys,” Harry sighs.

Luna hums. “When did you realize that you liked boys, Harry?”

Harry raises an eyebrow at her, his lips twitching. “Well...I always knew that I liked boys. But, I didn’t always know that it was okay. It was only after being with Sirius and Remus and then...kinda realizing they were together—”

“Wait! You didn’t know they were together ?” Ginny cackles.

Harry flushes, rolling his eyes to placate his embarrassment. “Look, I thought ‘partners’ meant just like...living together. Not like partners .”

Luna grins gracefully. “We all make mistakes, Harry.”

Ginny huffs, shaking her head and leans forward.

“Fuck, marry, kill. Hottest guys at Hogwarts, then,” Ginny says slyly. She waggles her eyebrows at Harry, her lips twitching into a smirk even as Harry very dramatically rolls his eyes. “Harry Potter, of course.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Harry laughs softly, shaking his head.

But Luna hums her agreement. “Oh, yes, you’re quite handsome, Harry. Pretty sometimes, too.”

“I am not,” Harry insists.

Luna huffs. “Well, you wouldn’t be able to tell, would you? You wear glasses,” she teases.

Harry flushes, ducking his head. “You can’t include me if we’re going to play this stupid game.”

“Fine,” Ginny pouts. “Cedric Diggory…Blaise Zabini—”

“Your boy toy?” Harry retorts.

“He’s very handsome, Harry,” Luna says. Somehow, she sounds both patient and condescending. It’s a talent of hers that Harry usually loves. Currently, he’s resentful of it.

“And Tom Riddle,” Ginny grins.

Harry flushes, staring down at his lap. “ Obviously, kill Tom Riddle,” he mutters.

“Sure about that one, Potter?” Ginny teases.

Before Harry can snap at her, the slight swelling of sound around them gives way to Hermione and Ron bickering, Lavender smack right between them, ignoring the typical noises that the two make. Harry practically deflates with utter relief.

“—complicated bit of spellwork. It’s not my fault, if you don’t—”

“I understand perfectly—” Ron retorts in the face of Hermione’s condescension.

“Just show them,” Lavender huffs, effectively putting an end to it. She pulls her wand, jabbing it at the air with a swift, “Muffliato.”

The buzz of magical barriers settles in the shells of Harry’s ears.

Hermione turns to all of them, something unholy lighting up her eyes. “ I have crafted a way of communication for us,” Hermione declares.

Ginny raises an eyebrow. “Other than just talking?”

Hermione looks at her, insulted.

“We’re almost always near one another. Do we need another form of communication?” Luna asks quite innocently. She gasps excitedly. “Is it the chippering language of Blibbering Humdingers? I’ve been learning the language recently, and it’s all in the intonation—”

“No, Luna, it’s English,” Hermione interrupts before Luna can launch into a full story about Blistering Humpers, or whatever she’s just said. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a thin stack of parchment. She drops them into Luna’s lap. “I’ve enchanted these notepads so that we can keep in contact when we’re not near. It’ll be good.”

Interesting,” Ginny praises. She reaches up with one hand, yanking Lavender down. Lavender topples into her lap, laughing, and with the other hand, she begins to disperse the books. Harry catches his own. “So, we’ll be able to keep tabs on one another. Or Hermione can keep tabs on us.”

“That’s what I was saying!” Ron declares.

Hermione flushes. “I just want to keep you all out of trouble!” she insists.

Lavender smiles. “Sure, Hermione.”

Hermione, flustered, stammers over her explanations on why this is her greatest idea yet. Harry watches all of them and grins, laughing to himself.

Chapter Text

“As we approach the first practical unit of duelling, I want to do a refresher,” Remus says as he looks over the sixth year Defense class. He looks pretty youthful and energetic at the moment, and yet, still so relaxed. He stops his pacing and leans back on his desk, surveying everyone. “In the traditional sense, magic—and in particular, spells—can be classified. Can anyone list those classifications?”

Harry goes to raise his hand, but Hermione’s jerks up into the air first.

“Miss Granger,” Remus says, a smile playing at the corner of his lips.

“Magic is traditionally broken up by function, and such the types are Transfiguration, charms, jinxes, hexes, curses, counter-spells, and Healing spells,” Hermione rattles out.

“Very good. Five points to Gryffindor,” Remus says. Hermione preens under his praise. “Magic, according to oral tradition, is separated into schools as well—”

“Light, Neutral, and Dark,” Hermione barks out before she rocks back as everyone breaks into snickers; she hadn’t even thought to raise her hand.

Remus smiles and nods. “Another five points, Miss Granger. Now, these schools are according to oral and cultural tradition and have no bearing on the spells themselves, nor who can or would use them, but for the sake of culture, we’ll agree that they exist. We talk about these three schools because the ethics and use of certain spells, known as Dark magic, is important when the topic of duelling is raised.”

Harry nods firmly. He knows what Remus’ stance on Dark magic is—don’t use it—but he knows that Sirius is the type of guy who sometimes believes the ends justify the means. It’s one of their sticking points; he knows now not to raise a conversation on the subject in private unless he wants to hear a never-ending argument.

And then something interesting happens: Riddle leans forward and raises a finger to speak.

Remus looks surprised, but nods.

“Dark magic isn’t inherently bad,” Riddle says, his voice slow, low, and somehow cultured. Harry stops himself from sneering. “Anything can be used to hurt.”

Remus nods. “This is very true. A Wingardium Leviosa used on a person could suddenly be ended, dropping them from a large height.”

“Then, why is using Dark magic more punishable?” Parvati Patil asks, hand in the air.

“Because it was designed to hurt.” Harry doesn’t even realize he’s spoken until Ron turns in his seat to stare at him. Everyone is staring at him, waiting for him to say something more. “Dark magic is Dark, is wrong, because it was made with the intention to harm someone. That’s what makes the difference between a curse and a jinx.”

“But, we aren’t talking about classifications,” Greengrass says. “We’re talking about the schools of magic, which aren’t even well-classified or a qualified thought. Have you ever considered that certain types of magic are only classified as Dark is because of the Ministry’s bureaucratic biases?”

Harry raises an eyebrow at the thought. “Biases?”

“Well, a lot of Dark magic is being outlawed because it’s practiced by purebloods,” Greengrass explains.

Hermione rolls her eyes. “Yes, make it all about blood.”

“It is about blood,” Riddle says coldly.

Hermione looks surprised that he’s addressed her at all.

Remus looks pleased with the intellectual conversation. “Do elaborate, Mr. Riddle.”

“Dark magic is typically practiced by purebloods. It’s passed down through oral tradition, and many spells are rooted in bloodline, learned from family grimoires. That’s a pureblood practice. Perhaps, Dark magic is being outlawed because not everyone has access to the magic being taught and learned within families,” Riddle says.

He sounds so pompous and sure of himself, and he’s looking at all of them like he’s learned the darkest secrets his family had to offer. He looks at them like they’re not worthy of learning it too. He looks at them like Dark magic is everything.

“Dark magic is dark magic. There’s a reason it’s illegal,” Harry snaps, glaring at Riddle directly now.

Riddle scoffs. “And that’s a reason to disregard an entire branch of magic?” Riddle drawls, turning in his seat, and Harry can feel everyone around them shifting; it’s rare for Riddle to provide anything close to a lecture.

It’s even rarer for someone to argue with him.

“If experts older and smarter than the both of us say so, then yes, ” Harry snaps and even if he might not completely agree, he’d rather stick to his argument than give Riddle a fucking centimeter.

“Age does not speak to intelligence,” Riddle dismisses. He leans forward, his chin balanced on steepled fingers and his fingers are long ; Riddle’s got the type of hands that Harry might’ve been jealous of, pianist’s hands.

“Neither does your high-and-mighty attitude,” Harry retorts. “You don’t have to be such a fucking cliche all the time, Riddle.”

Remus looks surprised by the foul language. “Language,” he barks. “A debate is fine in my classroom, but you’ll be civil.”

“Sorry, Moony,” Harry spits out almost immediately. “You don’t have to be such a freaking cliche all the time, Riddle. Just because you’re a Slytherin, doesn’t mean you need to act like one.”

Riddle looks amused. “My, my, Harry. You sound rather prejudiced,” Riddle drawls. “That hurts my feelings .”

He doesn’t sound like it. Harry wants to put his fist in his smug, fucking face.

“Look,” Harry spits. “The Dark Arts is a form of magic meant to destroy. It’s inappropriate to use in a classroom setting or a duelling setting without the proper license to do so, and even that, I take issue with. It’s wrong.

And Harry means that, whole-heartedly. There is something about Dark magic that repulses him. The few times that he’s witnessed it, it felt like something was rotting inside of him, making his stomach turn, and rebel. He’d wanted to shed his skin, like a snake, because he hasn’t wanted to touch it. It made him feel dirty.

(He’d wanted to be dirty again, after that, like an addiction that crept through the marrow, through the bush, through the—)

“So, what would you do? Ban it altogether?” Riddle asks, like he’s genuinely curious.

Yes , especially when it’s used at a disproportionate rate against half-bloods and Muggleborns,” Harry snaps. “Maybe, you’re right. Maybe it is about blood. But it’s about us not having the right blood, and so we’re subjected to violence of the Dark variety.”

Riddle hums. “But, hate crimes have fallen by seventy-two percent since...1985.”

Harry knows what he’s referencing. He was three in 1985. He sneers.

“Yes, it should be banned.”

“Then, what about hexes? Jinxes?” Riddle challenges. Harry falters. “Come now, Harry, you have to know that those constitute as Dark magic. And Acromantulas, dementors, werewolves . Under the law, that’s considered Dark too. Should we outlaw sentient Creatures, too?”

What your mother fought against? shouts between each word.

Harry looks over at Remus, helpless, but Remus looks between the pair, considering the ethical arguments with care. He’ll be no help.

“No…” Harry begins, forming his argument, but Riddle drives on, so intent on being Goddamned right.

“The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing and eternal,” Riddle imposes, and there’s something heavy and awe-filled in his voice that makes Harry’s blood curdle. “Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.” [1]

Harry breathes heavily through his nose, like an angry bull. “Don’t talk down to me, Riddle. I know about the Dark Arts,” he barks. Riddle leans forward, intrigued.

He hears a sharp, heady inhale from Lavender. Harry ignores her.

“Do you, really? ” Riddle purrs. “Do share with the class.

“You want to know why I don’t believe in an education in the Dark Arts?” Harry asks coldly. “Because there are people out there— sick, unbalanced people that need Mind Healers—that created spells that could bind a consciousness to an inanimate object. That created spells where all you want to do is scream, but you can’t , because look, you don’t have a mouth. Hexes and jinxes that creep, rotting and irreversible and marrow-deep. And there are people that would...that would gladly do that to another person, in the name of whatever bullshit that they’ve concocted in their head to justify it, but really it’s all about innate evilness.”

And Riddle blinks, slow and steady, drinking in every single word. He seems to consider them too.

And then he says: “There is no good and evil. There is only power and those too weak to seek it.” [2]

And finally, Harry’s fed up. A sickly smile spreads across his face as he regards Riddle and quite carefully, he snarls out: “Eat glass.” [3]

Riddle grins back.

The room is silent as Harry’s last words echo through the room. Everyone is unsure of where to look, so they all turn their gazes downward to their notes.

“Well, then, that was an interesting discussion—” Moony begins, clapping his hands.

“Potter’s interest isn’t so far fetched.”

The unwelcome contribution comes out of Malfoy’s mouth.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Harry barks.

“Just you know an awful lot about the Dark Arts that you speak so against. But, like I said, your interest isn’t far fetched,” Malfoy says with a shrug, a sly look in his eyes. He glances over at Riddle, as if seeking approval, before turning his pointed silver stare back to Harry. “Which one of those terrible spells was used on your parents, Harry?”

Hermione jumps almost violently in her seat, and she looks up, absolutely furious. Her hands clench into fists.

“Watch your mouth, Malfoy,” Hermione hisses.

Before Moony can even react, Riddle stands up, his chair screeching against the ground. Quite bored, he sighs, “Detention with Filch tonight, Malfoy.”

Malfoy looks shocked that he’s facing punishment from Riddle. If Harry’s honest with himself, he feels the same shock. But, Harry’s rarely honest with himself, so he lets himself feel rage more. He glowers at Riddle and turns his glare back down to the table.

“And with that,” Remus says with a well-placed glare directed at Malfoy, “our class ends. For Monday, I’d like a sixteen-inch essay about the ethics behind the usage of the Dark Arts. Feel free to reference Chapters 3 through 6 in Confronting the Faceless .”

The class breaks into mumbles about varying things as they’re dismissed to dinner, but Harry can hear his name loud and clear. He doesn’t shift, packing his things slowly, even as Malfoy complains. Harry watches from the corner of his eye as Malfoy approaches Riddle.

“Riddle, that wasn’t—” Malfoy begins.

“You’ve been dismissed, Malfoy,” Riddle says without looking up from his papers, so blase that Malfoy flushes scarlet before he stomps out.

His dramatic exits aren’t as dynamic without Parkinson flapping after him; honestly, Harry hasn’t seen her at all. Something about her being ill.

Harry sighs and stands up even as Hermione crowds close to him.

“Harry, habibi, are you alright?” she whispers, almost frantic.

Before Harry can answer, a hand lands on his shoulder.

“Harry, can we speak?” Remus asks.

Harry winces, and he looks down at his feet, shaking his head. “I have to go do—”

“I’m asking as your guardian, not your professor,” Remus says, just a touch more insistent.

Harry only nods because Remus says ‘guardian’. He always so careful not to say ‘parent’, and honestly, Harry appreciates it.

“I’ll catch up with you guys later,” Harry tells Hermione, Ron, and Lavender.

Lavender looks worried, but nods. She flounces out after casting another glowing, inquisitive look Riddle’s way. He doesn’t even pretend to notice. Hermione and Ron follow after her.

Harry shifts uncomfortably under Remus’ gaze and sighs as he fights to look up at him. Remus’ eyes are soft.

“Are you alright?” Remus says softly, repeating Hermione’s question.

Harry’s gaze darts over to Riddle, but Riddle continues to look over essays, pretending to give them privacy.

“I’m fine,” Harry says firmly. He shrugs, rolling his eyes. “It just...got out of hand, but I’m fine.”

“What Malfoy said—”

“Doesn’t matter,” Harry insists.

Remus smiles and nods, knowing not to push. “Okay,” Remus says.

“Can I go?”

“No,” Remus says with a snort. “I wanted to ask you. Would you be interested in joining the duelling club this term? You’d be a great asset to the team and—”

At this, Riddle looks up, intrigued by the idea.

Harry scowls over at him. “Absolutely not,” Harry says.

Remus follows Harry’s stare over to Riddle, and Riddle looks at them, his eyes full of such false innocence that even Remus rolls his eyes.

“Don’t let—” Remus mutters, joking and smiling.

This is no laughing matter. Harry will not laugh about his brewing feud with Tom fucking Riddle.

No,” Harry repeats, shaking his head. He takes a step back, and then darts forward, wrapping his arms around Moony briefly. “Thank you for checking on me.”

He pulls away and briskly leaves the room. He can feel Riddle’s stare. He hates it.

When he exits the classroom, he practically crashes right into Hermione’s back, where she stands mid-rant.

“—detention with Filch. He deserved it. How dare he complain, as if he was wronged! I bet he wouldn’t say a single one of those words to Riddle’s face,” Hermione snarls, concluding what sounds like a very long-winded admonishment of Draco Malfoy’s heinous actions.

Lavender looks just as put out. “We should tell Ginny so that she can hex him.”

Harry blanches. Ginny's Bat-Bogey Hex is...probably one of the most horrifying things he's ever witnessed.

“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Harry provides, and Hermione spins around, finally noticing him, though he’d just collided with her.

“Oh, Harry! Are you alright?” she asks.

“I’m fine,” he says. Each time Harry says it, he feels like the word ‘fine’ loses its meaning a little more.

Lavender glomps onto Harry’s side. “That was mad, Harry. Just mad. Malfoy was completely out of line,” Lavender insists. She leans in, eyes wide. “And that argument with Tom was just—”

Before Lavender can finish her train of thought, her rambles falter into nothingness. She stares, wide-eyed, and so when Harry turns, he knows exactly who to expect.

“Do you need something, Riddle?” Harry barks.

Riddle casts him a look from the corner of his eye before he turns his full attention to Lavender.

“Hello, Brown. Your hair looks lovely today.”

And then Riddle walks away like he hadn’t said anything at all.

Harry glowers at Riddle’s back. Riddle glances over his shoulder and smirks.

Check.

Chapter Text

“He knows so much about everything. I just can’t believe someone can be so—” Lavender says for the millionth time.

“So smart, Merlin, how can anyone be so smart,” Harry forces out through gritted teeth, mimicking the words that were sure to come out of Lavender’s mouth. Lavender’s giggly monologue about Riddle tapers off, and she stares at Harry with a glint of hardness in her eyes.

“Well, he is. He proved you wrong,” Lavender challenges.

Harry grinds his teeth as he looks up from his Transfiguration essay on the Principles of Re-Materialisation. He looks over at Hermione, sure the disbelief is painting his face. He expects her to agree with him, to disagree with Lavender, but she looks thoughtful.

“No, he didn’t,” Harry forces out.

Lavender hums, lifting one lofty eyebrow. “Your argument for ignoring the uses of Dark magic was that it was illegal. That sounds very ‘Hermione-ish’,” Lavender says. She turns swiftly to appease Hermione’s outrage. “That wasn’t an insult, Hermione, I swear.”

Hermione purses her lips and glares at Lavender; she clearly doesn’t believe her. “Well, Riddle’s argument was interesting. To ignore an entire branch of magic, without considering how it can be repurposed,” Hermione says.

Harry swallows back the bile building in the back of his throat.

“Well, excuse me for not wanting to use the branch of magic that killed my parents,” Harry barks.

He regrets his statement almost immediately, as an awkward silence descends upon them.

“Malfoy was kinda right though, wasn’t he?” Lavender asks, innocently. “Not about what he said about your parents! That was out of line. But, you know a lot about Dark magic, Harry.”

Harry stares past Lavender’s head, eyes trained on something far away. He breathes noisily through his nose, ignoring the curious stares, stares from even Ron and Hermione, who should know better by now.

The silence goes on for long enough that Ginny tears her eyes away from her reading and asks, “Hermione, can you explain this Vanishing Spell for me? I’m a little lost on the theory.”

It’s clearly a ploy to wreck Lavender’s train of questioning, and for a moment, Harry is endlessly grateful. He turns his gaze back to his work and sighs.

“Anyway,” Lavender sighs, “he said he thought my hair ‘looked lovely ’.”

Ron grumbles under his breath, rolling his eyes.

“It does. Perhaps it was just an observation,” Luna provides.

Harry pretends that doesn’t want to make him smirk, so he stares even harder at his chicken-scratch notes until his eyes water.

“Riddle is a stuck up arsehole, and you can do better than him,” Harry mutters under his breath. He knows it’s loud enough because a noticeable silence descends upon the table. He can feel Ginny and Hermione’s knowing gazes.

Thankfully, Ron chimes in with a, “Harry’s right, Lavender. You’re too good for him.”

Lavender looks at Ron with pursed lips, one eyebrow raised in disbelief. Ron reddens under her stare, and he looks down at his homework. Hermione takes up where he left off.

With a gentleness that isn’t very Hermione-like in the slightest, she says, “You really are too good for him, Lavender. Riddle is an arrogant know-it-all.”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” Ginny jokes, nudging Hermione in the side.

Her teasing successfully derails the seriousness of the conversation and Harry’s grateful as the pair begin to bicker. The conversation on Riddle ends, and everything is exactly as it should be.

Chapter Text

Harry hates the library. It’s largely Hermione’s domain, and he only tolerates it when she’s present. Of course, she’s not currently present—after Thursday’s afternoon lesson in Charms, Hermione always has Ancient Runes— and so this is the only exception in which he’ll go to the library alone, because really, he doesn’t need anyone seeing where he’s going.

He keeps his head low as he sneaks by the back aisles, his destination in sight. Remus’ note burns in his pocket, permission for the Restricted Section. Of course, Remus’ own hand hadn’t written it. Sirius made sure that Harry knew Remus’ handwriting down cold, the summer that they’d officially adopted him. Something about having avenues out of mischief.

Harry sends up a thanks to Sirius and hopes he gets it, wherever he’s fucking around at. He’ll be around for dinner on Saturday, but currently, Harry thinks Sirius is in America, getting his magical Harley Davidson motorbike looked at by a magical specialist. He’s always off gallivanting somewhere, making up for lost time spent in Azkaban.

Remus never cares as long as Sirius makes it to the weekly suppers that the whole family is made to attend, though Harry can get out of it, if he really begs.

Harry has an essay on the ethics of the Dark Arts to write. And the only place to find books on the Dark Arts is the fucking Restricted Section.

So, he walks in as if he belongs, and pretends that he doesn’t know exactly where all the books on the Dark Arts are. He knows that he wants the Godelot book and maybe Owle Bullock’s Secrets of the Darkest Arts, though he’s not sure if he’ll really need the second one. He doesn’t need the details, really. He just needs references.

He knows Riddle’s going to read the essay, so it’s going to be the best damn essay that Harry’s ever fucking written in his life. He stands on his toes to look at the shelves, scanning the rows for the familiar dark and crimson leather bindings. He taps over the spines of The Nightshade Guide to Necromancy and The Imperius Curse and How To Abuse It . Neither are what he’s looking for. He wants something broad.

Briefly, he wonders why Dumbledore hasn’t locked these books up yet.

“Aren’t you a little lost, Harry Potter?”

The smug arrogant tone belies the identity of the voice’s owner. Harry huffs loudly through his nose and he turns around to see Riddle leaning against a nearby bookshelf. Harry looks up and down the aisle, searching for another soul, a witness of some sort, but he finds none. Alone, then.

Good.

“No, I’m not,” Harry snaps. “I have a pass for the Restricted Section.”

“In the Dark Arts section?” Riddle continues. “I feel like we just had a rather lengthy debate about the ethics of learning the Dark Arts.”

“I may feel a certain way about it, but clearly Moony feels another. I’m writing a paper,” Harry retorts. “As you very well know.”

Riddle hums, nodding his agreement. He continues to stare at Harry with burning burgundy eyes, like he’s undressing Harry with his stare. Harry flinches, shoulders curling inwards; Riddle always has the ability to make him feel stripped bare and vivisected, like Riddle could see into the softest parts of him. Harry peruses the shelves instead, humming when he continues to miss the book that he’d gone to look for anyway.

He feels the weight of Riddle’s stare growing.

“Do you mind ?” Harry snarls, refusing to look at Riddle.

“Are you looking for something in particular?” Riddle drawls.

Harry huffs. “I don’t know anything about the Dark Arts. I wouldn’t know what to look for.”

“So, it wouldn’t be Magick Moste Evile by Godelot?”

Harry whips around, eyes narrowing on the scarlet bound book in Riddle’s hands. Riddle opens it, flipping through the pages rather lackadaisically, a soft ghostly wail swelling from the pages, before a tap of Riddle’s wand silences it.

“Give it here, Tommy,” Harry says.

Riddle hums. “Do you even know what’s in this book? I don’t know if you’d feel comfortable, seeing as you despise the Dark Arts,” Riddle says, a teasing glint in his eyes. He hums, looking Harry up and down again, and this time, Harry doesn’t flinch. He just sneers.

Riddle is charming, and he knows it too. It’s the type of bullshit Lavender fell for. Harry won’t.

He won’t.

“Tommy, come here. We need to talk.”

Riddle laughs softly, amused as Harry summons him so gracelessly. He snaps Magick Moste Evile shut audibly, and the corners of his lips turn up, but Harry wouldn’t call it a smile or a smirk.

“We need to?”

Harry puts his hands on his hips and nods. “Yes.” He takes a step closer, now that they’re truly alone. Harry can’t even hear the other people in the library, this deep into the Restricted Section. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?” Riddle asks innocently.

Harry scowls. “You know what. With Lavender,” he snaps. He tilts his head as he regards the boy. He can’t read anything in that face. He doesn’t understand him at all. “You keep giving her attention and she’s going to get her hopes up.”

“I haven’t encouraged her at all. I’ve been nice,” Riddle drawls, and he says the word ‘nice’ with such distaste that Harry would smile if it was anyone else.

But, this isn’t anyone else. It’s Tom Riddle, the fucking asshole.

“Don’t pretend to be stupid.”

“I haven’t promised Lavender Brown anything , and I never did. She knew what we were doing,” Riddle says firmly and he takes another step forward. Harry wants to flinch back, but he refuses to give Riddle any ground. “It isn’t my fault if she doesn’t understand that the word ‘acquaintance’ is not a synonym for ‘long term partner’.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “She’s infatuated with you. She can’t help it. You need to discourage her, instead of smiling at her and touching her shoulder,” Harry retorts.

Riddle stares at him for a long moment, long enough for the silence to tense, and then, he smirks.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were jealous,” Riddle declares, so charming.

So fucking fake.

“If you hurt her, I will kill—” Harry begins, his voice deepening into a snarl.

“Do you know Aivazovsky’s The Ninth Wave ?” Riddle interrupts.

Harry startles. “No,” he mutters.

“You look like it.”

Harry barks out a laugh. “Fuck you.”

Riddle’s smirk softens into a smile. “You do,” he confirms.

“You’re fucking weird,” Harry says, startled beyond belief. He rudely pushes past Riddle and snatches Magick Moste Evile from Riddle’s hands. Riddle barks out a laugh but doesn’t steal the book back. Harry lifts his chin, feeling just a little bit lighter after that interaction as he makes to leave the Restricted Section.

He’s at the end of the aisle, near the exit, and then—

“Harry Potter.”

Harry pauses and turns around to look at Riddle, raising one eyebrow. Riddle stares down at him, and he has that look in his eye, the one that Harry has seen twice before now, and this was the third.

“What?” Harry snaps.

“Go on a date with me.”

Harry scoffs. “Fuck you!” he insists, even louder this time.

He leaves the Restricted Section, eyes trained forward, feeling the weight of Riddle’s gaze on his shoulders. He feels his face do something weird.

When Harry touches his mouth, he realizes—he’s smiling.

Chapter Text

“CONGRATULATIONS!”

There’s an explosion of red and gold sparks, followed by the obnoxious roar of a lion.

Harry grins, rolling his eyes as Sirius gives him spirit fingers and an obnoxious smile. He steps to the side, and Harry raises an eyebrow at Remus. Remus rolls his eyes but doesn’t exactly look up from his book. But, Harry sees the smile playing around the corners of his lips.

“Thanks. What’s all this for?” Harry asks.

“Your last detention. It’s a celebration!” Sirius cheers. He grabs Harry in a headlock that transforms into a tight hug, punctuated with a kiss to the top of Harry’s head. “Hey, kid.”

“Hey, Siri,” Harry says, pressing tighter into the hug for a moment before he disentangles himself and searches through the cupboards for something to eat. “Moony, I’m starved. I missed dinner. Is there—”

“Your friend Dobby was kind enough to bring us a late dinner. On the kitchen table,” Remus directs. He doesn’t get up, having already eaten probably. Sirius and Harry exchange looks of excitement.

Whenever Dobby brings dinner, it’s always a collection of their favorites. The pair of them rush to the kitchen table, practically bouncing with excitement.

Harry tries to go for the treacle tart first, but Sirius elbows him jokingly and says, “Meat and potatoes first, kiddo.”

“I’m going to be seventeen,” Harry groans.

Sirius grins, looping an arm around his shoulders and pressing a kiss to the top of Harry’s head again. It happens so often Harry’s used to it. “You’ll always be kiddo to me,” Sirius murmurs.

Harry snorts and pulls away from under Sirius’ arm, going to make his plate.

“How was America?”

Sirius pouts. “The motorbike is under extreme renovation. I hadn’t realized how much I let the charms deteriorate. Nearly crashed her.”

“Sirius!” Remus shouts from the sofa. “You didn’t tell me that!”

“Oops,” Sirius grins, roguishly. He winks at Harry, and Harry smothers his laughter into the crease of his arm as he grabs two forks and knives while Sirius grabs the napkins. The pair join Remus back in the mini living room.

Harry curls up, plate in his lap, and dives in.

Remus shakes his head, rolling his eyes. “And how was your week, Harry?”

“Long. Snape was a bastard, as per usual—”

Professor Snape,” Remus corrects.

Sirius smirks. “Professor Snivellus,” he retorts. “Still snivelling around?”

“As always, ” Harry confirms. “And my Defence professor let things get a little out of hand this week.”

He adds a smile, but Remus rolls his eyes. Sirius perks up, suddenly a lot more interested when the subject is one of his two favorite people in the world.

“What’s this about?” Sirius asks.

Well, Harry and my TA got into it a bit about...the ethics of Dark magic. I happened to assign an essay on the matter,” Remus says. He leans forward and his lips tilt into a smile. “It’s not that I disagree with you, Harry. But, as an educator, I should allow difference of opinion in my classroom. Students come from all manners of background and education.”

Harry scoffs. “But his opinion is wrong .”

Sirius holds up hands. “Wait, wait. Which ‘his’ are we talking about? Who’s your TA?”

“Tom Riddle. The Heir of Slytherin that your aunt and uncle’s family practically fosters,” Remus says.

Sirius’ nose wrinkles. “ Oh, ickle little Bella is obsessed with him. Cissy and Andromeda say that he’s all she talks about,” Sirius says. “What’s your opinion on him, Harry?”

“Riddle is... infuriating,” Harry hisses between clenched teeth. He ignores Sirius and Remus’ exchanged glances. “He’s a proud, know-it-all arsehole, and I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that he practices the Dark Arts.”

“He has a license,” Remus allows. He raises his hands in surrender when Harry’s head whips around, his eyes narrowed with righteous fury. “For the Duelling Club. He’s quite talented.”

“Are you jealous of his talent?” Sirius asks curiously.

Harry scoffs. “ No .”

“I know I shouldn’t, but I wonder about them all the time—the two of them duelling. It’d be interesting,” Remus says. He shakes his head, stopping himself from going into a deeper musing on the subject. “But, this grudge seems more... personal .”

And Harry looks between his godparents. He looks from Sirius to Remus and sighs as he leans forward, recognizing that he can put his trust in them.

“Tom Riddle...has acquaintances. Or at least, that’s what he calls his little boyfriends and girlfriends. He’s always got one from each House. And they always fall in love with him, and he always dumps them, horrifically. Everyone knows,” Harry says.

Remus’ eyes widen. “ What? Tom Riddle? Tom Riddle, who is the pride and joy of Hogwarts?”

“Yes, that Tom Riddle,” Harry sniffs. “Well—”

“Did he do that to you ?” Sirius demands. “I’ll hex him myself !”

“No!” Harry protests. “He didn’t do it to me. He did it to Lavender. And she’s still in love with him even though your cousin and Riddle humiliated her. Riddle pretended not to recognize her. She was...well, she was a virgin before him.”

Sirius grimaces. “Yikes. That’s…”

“He’s the king of prats,” Harry proclaims flatly. He shovels food into his mouth, ignoring the stares from either Sirius or Remus. He knows that they’re thinking over his words. He knows that they think he’s being dramatic too. “I put him in his place though. I wasn’t going to let him speak to my friend like that.”

“And you shouldn’t,” Sirius agrees.

“And he thinks he’s just so smooth,” Harry mutters under his breath as he finishes up his food, and sighs when Sirius’ plate is scraped clean too.

“What does that me—”

Sirius’ words trail off as Harry stands, and begins to collect plates. Harry realizes his mistake immediately and winces when he sees the stricken look on Sirius’ face.

Gently, Remus works Sirius’ plate out of Harry’s hands, and says, “Harry, you don’t have to do that anymore. We’re still at Hogwarts.”

Remus waves his wand, Banishing the plates off to the Kitchens, and Harry’s cheeks burn with humiliation. Before he can apologize, Sirius drags him into a tight hug that Harry folds into, tucking himself tight against Sirius’ side.

Sometimes, Harry forgets. He forgets that he isn’t anyone’s servant anymore. He forgets that he doesn’t need to clean without being asked, for fear of a well-placed smack. He forgets that he doesn’t have to stand by the stove and slave away, morning, noon, and night, hands permanently pocked with burn scars. He forgets that he doesn’t have to feel the hollow in the pit of him.

Sometimes, Harry forgets, and it’s always humiliating when he does.

(He hates seeing that look on Sirius’ face—a stench accompanies it: humiliation, failure, rage, and disappointment. It’s not for Harry, but sometimes, the id tells him it is)

“Well, Riddle’s an arse,” Sirius insists, wiping that look off his face.

Harry buries his face in Sirius’ shoulder and nods. “Yeah, he is,” he mutters.

“What else is going on with you? Last detention tonight, eh?” Sirius asks with a tiny grin. “Any parties coming up?”

“Not that I know of,” Harry says dryly. “Honestly, I think everything’s shaping up to be a rather boring term.”

His mind wanders as he sits in comfort, tucked into Sirius.

He wants it to be a boring term. Harry wants that more than anything. He wants Exploding Snap with Ron. He wants thestrals with Luna. He wants Quidditch with Ginny. He wants Hermione to nag him about doing his homework. He wants to laugh with Lavender about petty gossip.

And then, the words, Go on a date with me , echo in his head.

He remembers burgundy eyes.

(He pretends that he doesn’t want that—he doesn’t want that—

he might want that)

Do you know Aivazovsky’s The Ninth Wave?

“Remus,” Harry starts off, slowly. Remus looks up, sharply. It’s rare that Harry will call him that in private, so used to ‘Moony’. Sometimes, if Harry thinks hard enough, he might remember shadows from before that night, a ‘Moo-y’ and a ‘Pa-foo’. “Do you know much about Muggle art?”

“Some. Your mother and I went to museums often,” Remus says.

Harry feels something warm building in his chest. He smiles against Sirius’ shoulder at the mention of his mother.

“Do you know the painting...the Eighth Wave? Wait...no, The Ninth Wave ?” Harry asks.

Remus’ brow furrows for a moment and then, he slowly nods. “I might...have a print of it. Let’s see... Accio 1800s’ Art book?”

Remus sounds uncertain, and yet, he makes a soft noise when a book slips off his bookshelf and zooms over to his lap. Remus pats the seat next to him and Harry crawls away from Sirius towards Remus, eyes wide as Remus flips open the book.

The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky. He’s Russian, as I’m sure you can tell by the name. He was a marine painter, capturing scenes at sea,” Remus explains as he peels past prints. “This was your mother’s copy of this book, actually. It’s part of a collection of charmed Muggle paintings that move.”

“That’s really cool,” Harry murmurs as he looks at the flipping washes of color, bright and shimmering. He’s haunted by them, and he wonders if he touches the pages, he’ll feel his mother’s hand against his.

“I would say The Ninth Wave is Aivazovsky’s most known work,” Remus says. “Ah, here it is.”

And Harry loses his breath as he stares at the crashing wave, sea foam cresting forth, spilling like froth. The sun pierces through, casting the water in a crystal green, like the color of emeralds. The sun is murky behind the clouds, but the light illuminates from the inside. It’s the end of a storm, nature turned violent and gorgeous, and somehow divine as the waterlogged men cling to debris shaped in a cross.

“It’s meant to be a commentary on the dual nature of nature . Destructive and devastatingly beautiful,” Remus says.

Harry swallows, dragging his finger over the rising wave as it goes higher and higher, threatening to swallow the painting whole.

And to himself, he whispers, “He said I looked like The Ninth Wave .”

He doesn’t notice the looks exchanged over his head.

Chapter Text

Harry sighs as he stalks down the hall, eyes tracking the ceiling as he makes his way to dinner. He feels his bag bounce against his hip, and he tries to forget the books on Dark Magic that sit in his bag. He purses his lips as he thinks about how he let Tom Riddle fucking get to him, implying that Harry didn’t know anything about Dark magic. As if Harry hadn’t formed his opinions on his own.

He hopes that Riddle will feel fucking stupid when he reads his essay. He even wrote an entire draft during his free period, one that he doesn’t share with either Hermione or Ron—for some reason, Ron had elected to continue with Care, and when he’d realized that Harry wasn’t, he’d tried to drop. McGonagall hadn’t let it happen.

He’s nearly to the Great Hall, and then, he hears a savage, “Diffindo!” followed by a “Confringo!”

Harry gasps as he hears the two destructive spells, and then an explosion, and he practically jogs down the hallway to see where the chaos is coming from. He skids to a stop when he looks into the classroom, through the thin magical barrier. The Shield wavers in front of him, just slightly distorting his vision, as if he’s in need of glasses, despite having his perched on his nose.

He stares into the room and realizes that he’s come across the duelling club.

And what a duel.

Riddle makes it look as easy as breathing, batting away hex after jinx after curse, not a single word escaping his mouth as the Lestrange brothers advance on him. Honestly, to Harry, it looks like Riddle’s toying with them. His lips are curled into a slight smile as he bounces back and forth on his heels, sweeping around the dueling platform in an arc. His burgundy eyes flick around, as if he’s noticing something, before he turns back to the Lestranges.

Something deadly settles over his shoulders, and Riddle stops playing around.

He goes after them with a savagery that seems unwarranted. A savagery that makes Harry lose his own breath.

Riddle arcs a spell that drips with power at Rabastan, blasting him off the duelling platform and sending him crashing into a collection of desks by the wall. Bellatrix twitches but continues to stare at Riddle with something like awe in her eyes.

Harry watches Rodolphus’ Adam’s apple bobble in his throat. Rodolphus grits his teeth, steeling himself and then he falls into a classic duelling stance, arms raised defensively. Riddle doesn’t even bother doing that. Instead, he spins, putting a corkscrew on what Harry recognizes as an Incacerous, followed by an Incendio. An explosion of fiery ropes attempts to bind themselves to Rodolphus’ body, if he hadn’t batted them away.

Still, Rodolphus escapes with singed robes.

Tom!” he complains, in that reedy voice of his.

Harry’s almost surprised that Rodolphus sounds like that, though he shouldn’t be. It’s not like he’s heard Rodolphus Lestrange speak very often.

Rodolphus’ stance is weak. Riddle can tell because he follows up his spells with a quick slam of his elbow on Rodolphus’ shoulder, sending him to his knees. Rodolphus falls flat on the duelling platform and rolls away, and continues to roll as Riddle sends playful hexes, just shy of missing him each time. When Rodolphus jumps back up to his feet, he immediately raises a Shield Charm against the onslaught.

And it’s beautiful.

Riddle is beautiful.

Harry hates it.

He can think of at least three different ways to beat Riddle. He isn’t sure if they’d succeed, but at least he wouldn’t look like prey, at the mercy of a great snake.

Riddle is just playing games and he’s beautiful at it.

Rodolphus seems to finally realize that he’s not going to win this one. He crosses his wand over his chest, yielding, but that doesn’t seem enough to Riddle. Riddle blasts him off the platform, and Rodolphus flies, going to join his brother.

“TOM!” he shouts, more annoyed.

Riddle throws his head back and laughs. Harry flinches.

He’s never heard Riddle laugh before. It’s deep and slow and lovely.

“That was good, Tom,” Bellatrix drawls, her lips curling into a slow smile. And then, suddenly, her gaze darts over to Harry, catching him in the web of her stare. “And it looks like we have a little spectator. Ickle, baby Potter.”

Harry opens his mouth to say something, but suddenly, all of those eyes are on him.

Except for Riddle.

Bellatrix slides off the desk and slowly walks towards Harry. Harry takes another step backward before he turns his spine to iron and he stares at her, balefully. Bellatrix’s lips twitch and she slowly shuts the door in Harry’s face, deliberate and calculated.

And just for a moment, Riddle’s gaze flickers up to meet Harry’s.

Harry turns his back on them all before the door can slam shut in his face.

Chapter Text

Harry looks very deliberately at Lavender’s ear as she chatters on about Arithmancy. He pretends to be paying attention to her and Hermione’s conversation or Ron’s conversation with Luna about the ethics of magical zoos, but really he’s looking at the Slytherin table.

He’s watching the Death Eaters sitting in the very center of the table, practically parallel to Harry and his friends. Bellatrix is bouncing up and down in her seat, wielding her spoon like a sword as she chatters to the Lestrange brothers, Rosier, and Nott. Rodolphus looks a little enamoured by her, if Harry’s honest, but it’s in vain. Every thirty seconds, Bellatrix casts her eyes towards their leader, but Tom Riddle is paying far too much attention to the black journal that Harry has seen in hand, the end of a quill caught between slightly thin lips.

Suddenly, Riddle looks up, like he’s sensed Harry staring, and Harry’s gaze darts towards Ron’s face, and he nods along to whatever Luna is saying.

“Harry agrees with me,” she notes, beaming. “Shouldn’t creatures just roam wild and free? The whole Earth really does belong to the heliopaths. We’re just lucky to live here.”

“Uh, what?” Harry stammers.

Before he can dispel any assumptions Luna’s made about his position on something like that, Ginny bounces into the Great Hall, practically skipping, her lips curled into a wide smile.

“ ‘Sup, bitches.”

“‘Bitches’?” Hermione drawls, nose wrinkling as Ginny chews on an enormous wad of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum.

Ginny blows a wide pink bubble and lets it pop on her tongue as she collapses next to Hermione, tossing her bag onto the floor carelessly.

“Sorry, trying something new. Did we like it?” Ginny asks.

“I didn’t mind,” Lavender says just as Luna giggles, “I like it!”

Hermione rolls her eyes dramatically.

“Hello, Ginevra,” Ron drawls and he snorts when Ginny elbows him hard in the side. Ginny leans into his side, like that’s supposed to ask for forgiveness, but it only ends with the pair of them giggling as they try to pinch one another.

“Was there something you wanted to say, Ginny?” Hermione sighs, miffed after being knocked into one too many times.

Ginny slaps Ron’s hand away one last time, and then she grins at the table at large. “We’re no longer in detention,” she announces.

Lavender’s nose wrinkles. “Well...yes. I think you’re about five days late for that one, Ginny,” Lavender says, gently condescending.

Harry snorts in the crease of his arm, and the corners of Lavender’s eyes crinkle as she smiles over at him. It makes his stomach clench when he thinks about a boy, tall and dark-haired (and handsome) and arrogant.

 

(Go on a date with me.)

 

“We should go out now that we’re no longer in detention,” Ginny says with a shrug. Almost immediately, Lavender and Luna are intrigued by the idea. Ron is nodding like his sister’s said something that’s genius, just as Hermione shakes her head.

“We just —”

“There is no ‘we’. You only had detention once,” Ginny warns.

“And she went three times for solidarity,” Harry insists.

Ginny snorts, her lips curling into a slow smile. Hermione bumps her head against the side of Harry’s in acknowledgment of his words.

“We just finished with detention.  And you want to risk it again?” Hermione says. She shakes her head. “Besides I haven’t heard a whisper of a single party.”

“That’s probably because people think we’re going to brawl in their common rooms and get everyone in trouble,” Ron provides. Everyone turns to look at him in surprise. Ron looks caught out for just a moment and swallows thickly. “Haven’t you heard?”

“Well, obviously not, Ron,” Lavender chastises. “What’s this about ‘brawling’?”

“People are...afraid of us? Just because of what happened with Malfoy, and then, Romilda Vane and that lot. We won, and so now, people think that if anyone messes with one of us—” Ron starts.

Lavender’s squeal cuts him off and draws the attention of a few nearby lunch-goers. She pays them no mind. “We’re so cool,” she sighs.

“That is not cool,” Hermione insists. She draws herself up, lifts her chin and shakes her head. She looks around at them all and shakes her head. “We shouldn’t be looking for more trouble.”

“At least, not so soon,” Ron contributes, unhelpfully. He grins, ignoring the put-out look that Hermione shoots his way.

Ginny looks thoroughly annoyed by the direction of the conversation and she looks to Harry, like he’s their leader, like he’ll be the one to decide. “What do you think Harry? Should we do something Friday to celebrate the fact that we’re no longer in detention?”

Lavender sends her biggest puppy dog eyes his way. It’s those eyes that convince Harry to make his decision.

He might have other plans on Friday.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Harry begins. Lavender and Ginny groan, while Hermione makes a squeak of victory. He looks over at Ginny and winks. “You need to sleep well to prepare for Quidditch practice.”

“Oh right,” Ginny drawls, her nose wrinkling. “Do we really? We’ve done Quidditch practice with the three of us hungover before.”

“Yes, and Ron was sick all over the Pitch.” Harry grins.

Ron groans. “Hey! How about you get hit in the stomach ten times with Quaffles being thrown at a hundred kilometers per hour.”

Ginny flexes her bicep and smirks. “Can’t help being this nice,” she grins.

Harry grins, rolling his eyes, and settles into lunch, finally able to eat.

No one has to know.

Chapter Text

Harry tries his very best to focus on his Potions homework. He knows that Snape has a grudge against him because of some childhood bullshit that Sirius and his father pulled, and he knows that no one will really do anything about it, so he has to try. And yet, he can’t focus at all. Not even Hermione’s sighing—done only when she’s trying to goad him into talking about his feelings or get him to focus—is helping. Instead, he drops his forehead onto his parchment, uncaring about the wet ink that is surely staining his skin.

That seems to be the final straw for Hermione.

“Harry, are you okay?” she asks briskly, setting down her quill and turning entirely in her seat to look at him.

He turns his face, sighing when his cheek hits cool wood. “I’m fine.”

“You sure, mate? You’ve been...spacey since lunch,” Ron mentions, always hesitant to be the first one to bring it up. Now that Hermione’s given ‘permission’, he’s leaping onto the train. Harry fights the urge to groan in dismay.

“Yeah, I’m...worried?” Harry says. This is true. He is worried. “I’m worried about Lavender.”

Ron’s face falls into a grimace. “Because of Riddle?”

“Yeah, because of Riddle.” They’re sitting in the most central part of the library, where all of the shelves create walls around them, and in the middle are a group of study tables. Harry looks across it at Tom Riddle who sits closest to the shadows, studiously doing his homework.

Harry’s stomach flips—turns.

“I am too,” Hermione admits, almost like it hurts to do it. Her brow furrows and it’s moments like these that Harry wishes that he could parse her expressions. He’s never been good at reading the creases in her brown face, far too complex for him when his head is full of his own mess.

“You are?” Harry asks.

“Yes. Riddle isn’t...he’s unkind to her. Lavender doesn’t deserve that,” Hermione says, her frown deepening as she stares down at the table.

“He’s more than just ‘unkind’. He’s a bloody arsehole. He talks about her to his friends. He ignores her and is just stringing her along. I have a mind to hex him,” Ron snarls, and Hermione shakes her head, looking over at the boy.

“No,” she corrects. Ron looks surprised. “Lavender is practically an adult. She can do what she wants, even if that means embarrassing herself in front of the Death Eaters. We can’t do anything about it.”

None of it sits well with the three of them, but that’s clear. Harry sighs as he thinks about Lavender. Sweet, innocent Lavender who so desperately wants to believe in the fairytale of Tom Marvolo Riddle that she won’t even consider that maybe it’s more of a fable. A lesson to be learned about handsome, witty, arrogant boys and the games they play.

“What if there was something I could do?” Harry says.

Hermione looks at him strangely, like she’s trying to dissect him. Harry glances quickly over to Ron, but Ron looks just as curious.

“Besides verbally destroy him like you did last time?” Ron asks. His lips twitch. “That was epic.”

Harry grins. “Thanks.”

Hermione is still frowning. “Well, I don’t think there is. You can’t really control either of them, can you? She’s going to be obsessed with him, until it runs its course, and he’s going to think it’s funny to string her along.”

Harry wonders if that’s why he does it. Because he finds it funny.

What if there was something I could do?

There is something that Harry can do.

Instead, he nods and sighs, looking around. He pulls his wand and murmurs, “Tempus.” He frowns at the time and shrugs. “I’m exhausted. And a little burnt out. I’m going back to the Tower.”

Hermione doesn’t look surprised, but more pensive. Thoughtfully, she nods, and Harry flips his potions textbook closed, never taking his eyes off of Hermione. She doesn’t look away either, utterly unflinching. She pulls her wand.

Scourgify,” Hermione says sharply, and Harry yelps loud enough to draw the attention of the other students as the ink disappears from his skin in a rather painful moment.

“Thanks,” he drawls, quite truly unthankful because bloody hell, Hermione .

“You’re welcome,” she retorts, her lips twitching into a smile.

Harry stands from the table, packing his things, and he shoves his hand into his pocket, feeling the folded edges of the parchment note that he’d penned out three days ago. He tosses his bag across one shoulder and shrugs at the pair of them, his closest friends, his loyalest friends, and wishes that he wasn’t about to tell a lie.

 

(Don’t lie, habibi, she begged through tears. No more secrets, he demanded, face white under his freckles. It’s one of the few times that Harry had ever seen them cry. Never again—)

 

“I think Ginny's back at the Tower too. Maybe I'll talk Quidditch with her for a bit. My brain is practically ready to melt out of my ears,” Harry says. Ron looks excited by the prospect, but Hermione slams her hand down on his books.

“Not you, Ronald. You need to revise for History of Magic. You had to beg Binns for the extra credit,” Hermione advises. Ron pouts and he salutes Harry.

“You heard the Auror sergeant. I’ll see you later, mate. Keep those diagrams for me?” Ron asks.

Harry nods and makes a note that he really will have to seek out Ginny now to create a plausible excuse for why he’s disappearing. He fingers the piece of parchment in his pocket again and gets ready to leave, until he hears another expectant sigh from Hermione.

Yes, Hermione?” Harry asks with a small smile.

“Have you eaten dinner, Harry?” Hermione asks.

Harry’s smile freezes on his face. “I—”

“Maybe you should go to the kitchens first. You didn’t really eat lunch,” Hermione says. She used to yell and nag him about this. Now, she says it as calmly as she can, like it’s an afterthought. She’s learned what works best.

“Okay. I’ll...I’ll do that,” Harry decides.

“Good on you, mate. Maybe a roast beef sandwich if nothing else,” Ron advises.

Harry nods again and his smile warms just a little. “Okay. A roast beef sandwich if nothing else,” he echoes. He turns on his heel and makes a note to actually go eat that roast beef sandwich even if his stomach feels full of lead.

He looks across the cluster of tables, where at the very edge, by the door, Tom Riddle sits alone. His table is stacked high with books, and Harry knows by just glancing at the names on the spines that Riddle is doing work far beyond school-level. Briefly, Harry wonders just how smart Riddle really is, because some of it is advanced magic like Legilimency.

Riddle doesn’t look at him as Harry walks by.

Harry shifts, swiftly plucking the letter from his pocket and dropping it by Riddle’s loafer. He doesn’t stop walking until he’s by the exit of the library. Briefly, he looks back, as if he’s looking at Hermione and Ron.

Riddle leans down absent-mindedly, plucks that parchment from the ground, and unfolds it. He doesn’t look back at Harry, but he nods.

Harry thinks about what he wrote down:

 

Entrance Hall. Friday. 8pm. Don’t be late.

 

He hopes he doesn’t regret this.

 

(Famous last words.)

Chapter Text

You look good.”

Harry jumps violently. He spins around, stares at his godfather who stares back at him, as amused as Harry is frightened. Harry swallows hard and squirms, glancing back in the tall mirror again. He’s wearing a Sirius-approved outfit—his jeans are too tight, and yeah, he’s wearing layers, but a Muggle band that Sirius likes is splashed across the front of his t-shirt.

“Thanks,” Harry mutters. He ruffles his hair. He thinks about brushing it.

And then, he decides against it. Riddle doesn’t deserve that much effort.

“What are you up to? A party?” Sirius asks slyly.

Harry snorts. “ No,” he says. He looks up at the man in the doorway, and Remus looks over him, bemused. “I’m really not going to a party, Moony. Promise.”

Moony nods, because Moony always believes him. To a fault, almost.

It used to be a problem; it hasn’t been so much anymore, after Harry started to eat of his own free will.

“Well, you must be going somewhere,” Remus says with a gentle smile. “Do you have permission?”

Harry flushes. He knows Riddle arranged something with Snape to allow their date somewhere that isn’t Hogsmeade. Harry had refused Hogsmeade. It’s embarrassing that Snape knows that he got special permission for a date.

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Harry mutters.

“He’s blushing,” Sirius sings. “Why are you blushing, Ha-rry? Could this be...a date?

Harry’s face burns red. “No!” he shouts even as Sirius bursts into a round of laughter.

“It is! It’s a date! Who are you going on a date with then, little deer?” Sirius asks.

“Fuck off,” Harry insists.

Sirius sits up, swinging his feet around to slam against the floor. He leans forward, eyes narrowed. “I haven’t heard you talking about any boys.”

“Why would I talk about boys with you ?” Harry snaps back. He crosses his arms, looking back and forth between Remus and Sirius. “Just...I’m going to a meeting. I have an appointment.”

That’s the only way Harry can justify this. An appointment. A meeting. Cold and clinical and distinct from a date. Because Harry would never—

“How cold,” Sirius teases. “Why are you getting ready for your meeting here, then? Are you hiding ?”

Harry sniffs. Sirius is always somehow on the nose about this type of shit.

“I’m not hiding. I just have an appointment,” Harry reiterates.

Sirius huffs out a laugh. “Hmmm...I’ve only heard you talking about one boy,” Sirius trails off, waggling his eyebrows at Remus. Remus seems to get it only a moment later, his lips twitching into a slow smile. “Could it be that this date...I’m sorry 'appointment', is with Riddle?”

Harry’s flush darkens to a dangerously red color. He chokes on his own spit.

Sirius and Remus look at him, shocked.

“I was... joking,” Sirius whispers. He shakes his head, taking a step closer. “Harry, is this the same Riddle that...hurt Lavender?”

Harry closes his eyes and looks away. “Yes,” he mutters.

“Harry, what are you doing?” Remus asks cautiously. He’s always so careful. He’s careful not to accuse, but his tone doesn’t let Harry off the hook either.

“I’m doing it for Lavender!” Harry insists.

Sirius looks at him, skeptically. “Are you really?” he challenges.

“He...he asked me out a couple of weeks ago. I told him no. And then...he apologized to Lavender, and then, I started ignoring him again. Then, he started flirted with her again, and when I told him to leave her alone again , he said ‘go on a date with me’. So, we’re having a meeting to discuss the terms of him laying off her,” Harry explains.

“Sounds like a date,” Sirius points out. He leans forward, suddenly intrigued. “Do you like him?”

No,” Harry snaps.

“You dressed up for someone you don’t like?” Remus asks, his own humor catching.

Sirius resists the urge to tease and turns fully to look at Harry, looking far too serious for Harry’s taste.

“Won’t this hurt your friend, Harry?” Sirius asks gently.

Harry glares at the ground. “I’m doing it for her.”

Neither Remus or Sirius look like they believe Harry in the least. Harry doesn’t need them to believe him. He knows what he’s doing.

He does.

So, Harry turns his back on them and bends over to grab his money sack and stuff it into his too-tight jeans pocket, and then his jacket. He looks back and forth between his godfathers who look at each other, having their silent conversation, and then look at him, and then back at each other.

“Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I’m just going to get this over with,” Harry mutters. He looks over at Remus and bites his bottom lip. “If...uh, if Hermione comes around, just tell her I’m sleeping in the back. Or not feeling well?”

“Wait...does no one know?” Sirius asks.

No one can know. Not even Mione and Ron,” Harry says firmly.

He doesn’t even want to imagine what they’d have to say about this. He turns on his heel and salutes as he heads out of the door.

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Sirius calls as his parting shot.

Harry smirks, but doesn’t say anything in response. He leaves Remus’ rooms, and cuts through the strange passageway between his rooms and his study. He exits through the Defence classroom, looking around to see if anyone’s around. He sees no one and skulks towards the Entrance Hall, gaze turned downwards.

He wanders about the bottom of the Grand Staircase, looking around wildly, but it’s an awkward time. No one is out and about. His stomach rumbles; dinner will be much later for him. He’s tried not to wonder what Riddle wants with him or what they’re doing. Harry tells himself that it doesn’t matter, because this is a means to an end. An end of many things, he hopes.

“Harry Potter.”

Harry looks up, wild-eyed, and he tries to school it into something that means he doesn’t care. From Riddle’s smirk, Harry knows he hasn’t succeeded, so he crosses his arms and glares.

“Riddle,” he snarls as Riddle moves away from the stairs up to the dungeons. “Let’s get this over with. Next village over?”

Harry hopes it’s Muggle. No one will care or even think about what might or might not happen in a neighboring Muggle village.

“Ah, no. I got permission for something a little farther from home,” Riddle says. He offers his arm with a flourish, but almost snorts when Harry summarily ignores it. “Let’s go.”

He leads Harry out of the Entrance Hall and into the chilly brisk air of a Scottish November. Harry wishes that he’d worn a cloak or a heavier sweater or jacket. Riddle doesn’t seem to quite notice yet as they walk down the path to the gates. He’s staring straight ahead. Harry looks at him from the corner of his eyes.

Riddle’s dressed almost as stiffly as he usually is, in all black. His suit is, as per usual, Muggle-style, though expensive-looking. He’s too tall, with a too-angular jaw, and his eyes are strangely red, almost unnaturally. He’s too handsome, and Merlin, Harry hates him.

“Are you sure we’re allowed to do this?” Harry drawls.

“Aren’t you a Gryffindor? Where’s your sense of adventure? Your courage?” Riddle mocks.

Or teases.

Harry doesn’t care.

“Firmly not attached to or invested in this event,” Harry deadpans.

Riddle smirks as they approach the gates and he slashes his wand across, going through a series of complicated wand movements before it creaks open.

“Well, Dumbledore has approved this himself.”

“That’s because he plays favorites,” Harry accuses, as if he isn’t one of them. He looks forward and peers into the landscape before him. “What are we going to have? A picnic?”

Riddle’s nose wrinkles. “Absolutely not,” he says. “Take my arm.”

Harry very daintily takes Riddle’s sleeve between two of his fingers. Riddle rolls his eyes and jerks him closer, and then Harry is experiencing once more the unpleasant event of Apparition. He hates it, the world going black, and his body being compressed into a small tiny thing. He can’t breathe, and he’s being made hollow at the center—and he hates it because it feels so familiar and—

When they appear again, Harry stumbles and Riddle has to catch him. His shoulders are shaking and Harry jerks out of Riddle’s hold and stares up into his face. He scowls when he realizes Riddle is snickering.

“You don’t know how to Side-Along?” Riddle asks.

“I know how to Side-Along,” Harry snaps. He crosses his arms over his chest and looks around, eyes narrowing.

For a moment, he’s transported to when he was a child, seeing it for the first time again.

Diagon Alley looks even prettier at night. The cobblestoned road goes crooked as far as the eye can see, splitting into a fork around the enormous glimmering white bank of Gringotts. The glittering, colorful storefronts all sport cauldrons and broomsticks, owls and spellbooks. The wide picture window of Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour is filled with a group of children, all licking happily at strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice cream.

Harry’s favorite.

“We could get ice cream after,” Riddle suggests, following Harry’s stare.

Harry spins around and glares at him. “No, it’s fine,” he snaps even as his mouth waters at the thought.

“So rude,” Riddle drawls, tutting under his breath.

“You’re practically blackmailing me to be here, Riddle,” Harry hisses. “Forgive me if I don’t want to get ice cream with you.”

Riddle never stops looking amused. “The definition of ‘blackmail’ is forcing someone to comply by using threats. All I did was ask you on a date, darling.”

Harry flushes because when Riddle calls him that, his mind always goes hazy for ten seconds.

“I don’t want to be here, you know,” Harry retorts.

“And yet, you’re here,” Riddle says, walking backwards down the Alley. He turns around, eyes caught on the pixies in mason jars strung across the Alley, casting everything in a hazy romantic light.

And Harry hates this boy. He’s annoying and arrogant and a general arse, but he’s also beautiful.

It’s a startling conclusion to come to.

“So, what are we doing?” Harry drawls. “Do you have something planned?”

Riddle smirks. “We have a reservation in about an hour.”

“An hour ?” Harry groans. He spins around in a circle, eyes darting around. His gaze catches on Quality Quidditch Supplies. Before he can even move, Riddle grabs him by the back of his collar pulls.

“I’m not going into a Quidditch shop,” Riddle sneers. He looks over at the Quidditch shop like it’s beneath him.

“And you think that we’d be good together,” Harry scoffs, slapping away Riddle’s hand.

“Is ‘us’ contingent on me liking Quidditch?”

“No, it’s contingent on you not being a huge fucking dick .”

They wander down the Alley, and Harry knows Riddle’s looking at him, but he refuses to look back at Riddle. It won’t do anyone any good, let alone Harry. Harry peers around at all of the shops.

His first year into the Alley had been with Hagrid. Hagrid had told him everything that had been kept from him, and then at the end, Harry had been brought into Gringotts, and he’d met Sirius for the first time.

It was one of the happiest days of his life.

His third year had been the first year Sirius and Remus had brought him into the Alley. They hadn’t just gotten full custody of him yet—the Dursleys were ecstatic to be rid of him, but the Ministry’s bureaucracy quickened for no man—but it was coming.

It was one of the worst days of his life.

Harry looks past the glittering white bank, to the crooked storefronts in its shadow, dripping into the dark alleyway, just past it.

Knockturn Alley.

“Have you ever been down there?” Harry asks, looking towards the yawning entrance. Knockturn is always cast in shadow, darkness stretching out, and yet, still cringing from the fairy lights of Diagon Alley.

It’s a place that Harry’s always been curious about, but never gone.

“Knockturn? Once or twice.”

Riddle says it so confidently, Harry’s surprised, even though he shouldn’t be. Riddle’s fascination with Dark magic speaks for itself. Without meaning to, Harry takes a step forward. Moony and Padfoot had never allowed him down there.

“Would you like to go?” Riddle asks slyly.

Harry spins and looks at him, eyes wide with excitement. He swallows when he realizes that he’s caught, and he purses his lips.

“Yeah, sure,” Harry drawls, looking away.

“We don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” Riddle says.

Harry can hear his smile.

“Ugh, you’re such an arsehole. Let’s go,” Harry snaps and he snatches Riddle’s wrist out of the air, dragging the taller boy after him towards Knockturn Alley. As they approach, Harry can’t help how he shivers with excitement, eyes darting towards the hag that hangs out at the mouth, raising a haggard, long hand.

“Tom Riddle,” she hisses, “it isn’t summertime, just yet.”

“And yet, I’m here, Agatha,” Riddle says. He passes into the shadows without a glance back, pulling Harry along with him.

Harry twists, glancing over his shoulder at the one-eyed hag. She gnashes her teeth at him. Harry smiles back, wide and bright.

“You know her?” Harry asks. He looks down at where their hands are linked now. He yanks back his hand and grits his teeth against the flush in his cheeks. “You’ve been down here more than once or twice, I suppose.”

“Well…” Riddle drawls. He doesn’t make any move to elaborate.

“You think you’re so mysterious,” Harry sighs. “Does that work with your acquaintances?”

“Usually.”

“It won’t with me,” Harry warns. “This is our first and last date, Riddle, you hear me?”

“As you keep reminding me,” Riddle says, flashing Harry another one of those stupidly charming smiles. He brushes his fingers through his wavy black hair, where it’s grown just a little too long around his ears, loose without pomade.

Harry can almost see what Lavender sees in this boy.

Almost.

“I lived here last summer,” Riddle finally says.

Harry’s head turns with a snap, so fast that he almost gives himself whiplash. “You what ?” he demands. “You’re just a kid .”

“I turned seventeen last year. I was perfectly in my right to live wherever I wanted,” Riddle says loftily. He looks down at Harry, and then back up at the Alley. “I stayed in a flat, and worked in a secondhand shop to pay my rent.”

Harry doesn’t want to admit that he’s impressed, but he’s a little impressed.

The dark winding alleyway is cramped with street vendors, older witches and wizards selling shrunken heads, black wax candles, and human-looking body parts. Instead of being repulsed, Harry’s intrigued. Riddle looks interested in the body parts for some unknown reason, and Harry’s nose wrinkles.

He peels away from Riddle and stops in front of one vendor, an older man who smiles at him with a mouth full of gold teeth, as sparkling as Galleons.

“Can I interest a pretty wizard like you in a false face?” the older man creaks, gesturing wildly to the beautiful face masks mounted on the dirty bricks behind him. Each is more beautiful than the next, handcrafted, painted with metallic colors, bursting with feathers.

“What do they do?” Harry asks. 

“No,” Riddle barks.

The older man seems to startle when he sees Harry’s shadow, and almost immediately, his eyes widen and he cringes violently. “R-Riddle?” he crackles.

“He’s not interested in face-stealing, Mortimer,” Riddle says, his voice going just a little higher, sibilant and jarring.

Harry can see the whites of Mortimer’s eyes.

“Right, right. I’m so sorry, Mr. Riddle,” Mortimer babbles, dipping his head over and over again, almost like he’s bowing.

Before Harry can ask, Riddle grabs his elbow and drags him off. “What was that?” he demands when they’re further down the alley.

“He was going to steal your face, Harry,” Riddle warns.

“What do you mean ?”

“He was going to put the mask on you, and steal your face for his own purposes. Whatever that may be,” Riddle says. His gaze flits over Harry’s body, and suddenly Harry feels absolutely naked. “Mortimer does find you pretty, and he has no problem finding whores down here.”

Harry isn’t the brightest of his age, like Hermione, but he can put two and two together. His nose wrinkles. “Ew.”

“Indeed.”

“What shop did you work in?” Harry asks. Riddle almost looks hesitant. “I want to see it!”

“I thought you hated Dark magic,” Riddle says plainly. “They sell Dark artifacts. With a permit, of course.”

Harry doesn’t hesitate. “Know thy enemy, and all that,” he declares. “Show it to me, Riddle.”

Riddle looks amused by his demands and nods anyway. He looks down at Harry, like he’s curious. Harry knows he’s going to ask a question, because Riddle doesn’t give a shit, but he also knows Riddle will take his time, because he’s deliberate.

“You’re awfully interested in Dark magic for someone who abhors the branch of magic altogether. And it’s beyond ‘know thy enemy’,” Riddle swiftly adds before Harry can repeat his excuse from before.

Harry gnaws on his bottom lip as Riddle leads him further down Knockturn Alley, and stares up all the shops and bars that they pass by. He takes notice of the people—people that stare at Tom Riddle in irreverence and awe, two things that scream. He looks back at Riddle.

“Forbidden things…” Harry says, and then he trails off as suddenly, Riddle is looking down at him with that look.

He looks away, and almost walks right past the building that Riddle stops in front of.

Harry looks up.

At Number 13B Knockturn Alley, Borgin & Burkes looks like a very normal antique shop. It’s something that Harry nearly walked right past. That’s how normal it seems at first glance. But, the longer that Harry stands there, outside of the grimy time-crusted windows, the larger that unsettling feeling grows.

“Borgin and Burkes?” Harry murmurs.

“A shop that specialises in objects with unusual and powerful properties,” Riddle says. He looks down at Harry, his lips twitching. “Would you like to go inside?”

Harry doesn’t wait for Riddle to open the door for him, marching right up and throwing it open for himself. There’s a gong sound instead of a bell, and then an eerie sense of foreboding sits at the roof of Harry’s mouth. He waits.

The shop is dimly lit and dusty, and cluttered with what Harry could feel were Dark artifacts. ‘A glass case nearby holds a withered hand on a cushion, a blood-stained pack of cards, and a staring glass eye. Evil-looking masks stare down from walls, an assortment of humans boys lay upon the counter, and rusty, spiked instruments hang from the ceiling.’ [1]

And then, a low voice, creaking with spite sounds: “I thought I wouldn’t be seeing you again, Tom.”

Riddle turns in the shop, his lips upturned into a small smile. “Nor I, dear friend.”

A scathing laugh and the sound of someone spitting, and then a man descends from a set of stairs tucked behind a massive cabinet, cracked in half. The man is tall and crooked with a head of slimy black hair—or what’s left of it. He sneers at Riddle, looking him up and down.

“I am not your friend,” he warns.

“Come now, Borgin, I grew your clientele list, the summers I was working for you,” Riddle says as he walks about, peeking at all of the artifacts.

Harry loses himself amongst it all, staring at the withered hand, a tiny card underneath declaring it as the ‘Hand of Glory’. He wonders what kind of glory comes from it.

“And promptly stole it all,” Borgin warns.

Harry looks up sharply, but Riddle refuses to look back at him.

“I’m not here on business,” Riddle says flatly.

“I hope not. I thought I’d have a reprieve of you until the next summer. Or aren’t you graduating yet, boy? Off to bigger, better, Lighter things,” Borgin says, as if to mock him.

Riddle’s eyes flash. “Or perhaps I am here on business,” Riddle corrects, and Borgin’s nasally laughter comes to an end swiftly. “There’s something that you owe me, Borgin.”

“What?” Harry asks.

Riddle looks down at Harry for a long moment, before he looks back up at Borgin. “Let’s take care of this privately before...Bellatrix has to come and collect my things,” he decides. Borgin sneers and backs away, nodding. Riddle turns back to Harry. “I’ll be thirty seconds tops .”

“What are we really doing here, Riddle?” Harry asks.

Riddle smiles charmingly. “Thirty seconds, I promise, and then, we’ll go to dinner.”

Harry rolls his eyes and waves Riddle away. He turns away as Riddle follows Borgin into the back of the shop, and he inspects the Dark artifacts filling the space.

So, this is where Riddle works in the summer.

It’s not what Harry would expect.

Riddle seems the type to wrangle an internship at the Ministry, in the DMLE or IMC. Instead, he’s a shopkeeper, puttering around in a dusty old secondhand shop on Knockturn Alley. It’s disconcerting, and certainly not glamorous enough for a guy like Riddle. It makes Harry wonder if there really are hidden depths to someone like Tom Riddle.

Or if he’s up to something.

Borgin had said something about Riddle stealing his client list.

Harry gets closer to one necklace, in particular, a simple silver chain with a massive, cloudy opal hanging from it. He reaches forward to touch it, and then, a hand reaches out, snapping around his wrist, yanking it back. Harry spins, and looks up at Riddle. In Riddle’s other hand, is a small black velvet bag.

“Why are you always touching things?” Riddle groans.

“Get off,” Harry snarls. “What’s the big deal?”

“There are Dark artifacts here! You shouldn’t just be touching things. That necklace is cursed, you idiot,” Riddle retorts.

“I’m not an idiot!”

Riddle rolls his eyes and takes a step back, releasing Harry’s wrist. “Let’s go .”

“But, I’m not done looking,” Harry complains.

“If you’re not buying anything, get out of my shop,” Borgin growls. He looks more haggard and angrier than he had when they entered the shop.

Harry frowns and stomps out. Riddle follows much more gracefully. He turns in the doorway and smiles winningly at Borgin.

Thank you for your services, Borgin,” Riddle drawls.

“Don’t come back here, boy,” Borgin snarls back.

Riddle laughs and leaves the shop, letting the door slam behind him. Harry looks up at him.

“Did you bring me here to run errands?” Harry asks, bored.

“No, but your curiosity did allow me to pick up something of mine,” Riddle says. He pulls out a pocketwatch, a rather new looking thing, but a watch that marks him a man, nonetheless. “It’s almost time for dinner. Come now, Harry.”

Harry follows him back down Knockturn Alley, and this time, he pays more attention to how everyone looks at him. Everyone looks at Riddle like they’re afraid, and Riddle seems to feed off of it, his lips curled into a self-satisfied smile. Harry leans in as they walk together.

“What else did you do last summer besides work at Borgins & Burke?” he asks suspiciously.

“A little of this. A little of that,” Riddle says vaguely. When he notices Harry’s unimpressed look, Riddle laughs softly. “I have my hobbies, Harry.”

Harry rolls his eyes and then squints when they enter Diagon Alley again—it’s so much brighter than Knockturn Alley, even at night. The shadows and Dark residue that clung to them on Knockturn washes away, and Harry feels almost normal again, as he follows Riddle down the Alley again, back towards the restaurants. He stops in front of a familiar one, one of the more expensive places.

“Here?” Harry asks, looking up at Steamy Hallows.

“Yeah, here. Come on,” Riddle says. He steps up into the doorway and doesn’t bother holding the door open for Harry. Harry’s not sure if he’d hate Riddle holding the door open for him more than Riddle letting the door practically slam in his face.

He decides Riddle can’t do anything right, so it’s better to just hate Riddle for everything.

“Table for two under Riddle,” Riddle says charmingly to the hostess.

The hostess—a pretty brunette witch—flushes as she looks at Riddle, her eyes widening as she looks him up and down once. Harry can’t help but roll his eyes.

“U-uh, yes, um, right this way,” she says, her voice cracking.

Riddle and Harry follow her to their table, a table tucked slightly out of the way, next to one of the wide windows. Harry sits down and immediately starts looking out the window, preferring to people watch instead of watch this hostess fawn over Riddle.

“You just...um, tap your wand against the meal item you want on the menu. And when you’re done, cross your utensils over the plate, and um, the bill will appear,” the hostess says.

“Thank you, Miss,” Riddle drawls.

She flushes and nods again before scurrying off.

Harry rolls his eyes at the smug look on Riddle’s face. “You think you’re so cool, don’t you?”

“I don’t,” Riddle disagrees. “Do you like the restaurant?”

“I’ve never been,” Harry lies. Riddle looks pleased by that, and Harry scoffs. “What, you think if you take me to a really nice restaurant and show me Knockturn Alley, I’ll forget about how much of an arse you are? Yeah, it’s not gonna happen, Riddle.”

“Right,” Riddle drawls.

Harry huffs. “Just so you know,” he snaps as he flips through the menu for the most expensive item.

He selects the steak and kidney pie, tapping on it with his wand, and shuts the menu, crossing his arms over his chest as he looks across the table. Riddle seems to be considering far more carefully than he did, and it makes Harry wonder.

“For someone who’s never been here before, you knew exactly what you wanted,” Riddle says without looking up from his menu.

“I just picked the most expensive thing,” Harry says with a sneer.

Riddle laughs softly as he selects his own food, and then the menus disappear, replaced with the food in question.

“How can you even afford this?” Harry mutters. “Everyone knows that the Founders’ bloodlines are ancestral. There’s no money or property in that.”

Riddle’s lips twitch into a smile and he leans forward. “Don’t ask about my business unless you really want to know, darling.”

Harry rolls his eyes and resists the urge to throw up the middle finger. He looks down at his meal, kidney and steak pie, and very delicately begins to pick at it. It’s good, he realizes, and he knows that’s all due to the amount of Galleons Riddle dropped on their food.

Harry hasn’t eaten since last night, because he’d been too nervous for this over breakfast, and then, again over lunch he’d been busy. So, he eats ravenously, with little attention paid to table manners. If Hermione was here, she’d chastise him on his abysmal behavior, but it’s only Riddle and anything that makes him want Harry less is a plus in Harry’s book.

But when Harry looks up, Riddle’s smirking at him, amused. He doesn’t look put off at all, as he cuts into his medium-rare steak, so damn prim and proper. He hasn’t eaten a single bite, simply cubing the meat. Harry sneers.

“What?” Harry snarls.

“Why don’t you want to be with me?” Riddle asks.

Harry chokes on his food and swallows painfully. He washes it down with a swig of Butterbeer.

“Are you serious?” he gapes.

Riddle nods once. “I’m rarely not.”

“Oh, no, you’re only not serious about the people that you’re dating,” Harry barks. He laughs, painful and hard.

“I don’t ‘date’. Actually, I’d say you’re the first—”

“Cut the shit, Riddle,” Harry interrupts. “You want to know why I don’t want to be with you? It’s because you’re a bad guy . You’re not a good person. In fact, I think you’re an abysmal person.”

“You’re hurting my feelings, ” Riddle deadpans.

Harry scoffs. “See. Right there. You’re such an arsehole, and you’re shocked that I don’t want anything to do with you? You even asked me on this date because you know if Lavender finds out, it’ll hurt her.”

“Oh, so she doesn’t know you’re here?” Riddle asks loftily.

Harry’s eyes narrow.

“You know she doesn’t know, Riddle.”

Riddle hums as he observes Harry, and then, he leans forward and deliberately says, “I asked you on a date because you’re beautiful and talented at Defence and you act like you’re not afraid of me.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” Harry snarls.

Riddle nods and delicately takes a bite of his steak, a perfect cubed centimeter of meat. He hums around it. Harry waits for him to finish. Riddle places his fork down.

“No, you’re not. You’re just afraid of the fact that you want me.”

“Eat shit, you prat.”

Riddle smiles. “You’re not all that nice either, Harry Potter.”

Harry gapes.

“You’re not,” Riddle continues. “You’re on this date with me, aren’t you?”

Harry freezes. “I don’t...I don’t want to be. You keep hitting on me behind her back, and leading her on.”

Riddle leans forward. “Then, a question: why don’t you just tell her that I’ve been hitting on you?”

Harry is suddenly not hungry. And yet, he eats because that’ll give him a longer moment to figure out his answer to a question so fucking simple.

He swallows. “You’re a narcissist.”

“Oh, I’m a narcissist?” Riddle drawls.

Yes. You manipulate people to do what you want, be who you want, all in the promise of them getting closer to you. You even do it to your best friend,” Harry spits.

Riddle’s eyes narrow. “Don’t talk about Bella, Harry. This isn’t about her.”

Harry leans back, surprised. “It’s not? No, I guess not. It’s about Lavender,” Harry growls. “All you care about is yourself and your shitty hair .”

“My hair?” Riddle asks, almost delighted.

“Ugh,” Harry groans.

“Harry, I told Lavender what we were going to be. We weren’t going to be serious. I was very clear about that. It’s not my fault that she got her hopes up. It’s not my fault that she decided to have expectations of me,” Riddle says calmly.

“But, you didn’t have to be so mean. You said horrible, awful things to her,” Harry snarls. “You destroyed her.”

“If she’s that easy to destroy, maybe she wasn’t so strong in the first place.”

Harry swallows his rage back and gears up to speak again, but Riddle raises a hand.

“And you. You said terrible things to me. In front of my friends. You see, you’re not so nice either, Harry Potter. Just because I can take it doesn’t mean what you said wasn’t awful,” Riddle says. “So, let’s not throw stones at glass houses.”

It’s the Muggle idiom that does it. That truly and fully throws Harry off. Harry stares at him for a long time, opens his mouth, and then closes it again, as he considers what he said.

“I...I guess,” Harry whispers.

Riddle looks smug. “You guess .”

They sit in silence for a moment, simply eating their food, and Harry keeps his gaze on his plate, because the weight of Riddle’s eyes is just too much for him. He doesn’t want to look, he can’t look.

Riddle is right. Riddle is fucking right, and Harry hates it so much.

Riddle was clear. Riddle didn’t do relationships. Lavender thought she could change him, and then, failed miserably at doing so. She got her hopes up, and she got destroyed for it. And then, Harry had done the same thing to Riddle, verbally eviscerating him, in the hopes of humiliating Riddle just as badly as he’d humiliated her.

Harry has to say fucking sorry, because he’s going to be the bigger person.

He’s gonna have to say—

“Goddammit, Bella,” Riddle whispers to himself, his hand pressed to his shoulder. He stands up, suddenly. Harry stops in the middle of his food and looks up at the man.

“Is there a problem ?” Harry drawls.

Riddle looks down at him, and for just a moment, Harry sees a glint of regret.

“I have to go,” Riddle says softly. He moves almost to sit down again, but then, his shoulder twitches again, and he shoves his chair in. He crosses his utensils over the unfinished plate, and then, looks down as the receipt pops into existence. He glances at it for just a moment before he throws six too many Galleons on the table. “ Fuck.

Without another word, he grabs Harry by his wrist and yanks him up from the table. Harry’s in shock as Riddle drags him out of the fine restaurant, out onto the uncrowded road that makes up Diagon Alley. Harry pulls out of Riddle’s grasp with a snarl.

“Hey! What the fuck?” Harry demands. “You can’t just drag me around, like I’m a fucking doll.”

“Harry, I really don’t have time for this,” Riddle snaps, just as savage. Harry rears back, eyes widening.

Riddle’s never spoken to him like that. 

“What’s going on?” he asks, suspiciously.

“None of your concern,” Riddle retorts.

“You said ‘Bella’. Do you mean Bellatrix?” Harry asks. “Is something—”

“Enough, Harry,” Riddle sighs.

He pulls Harry close and suddenly, Harry feels like he’s being forced through a tiny funnel the size of a straw. His ears feel like their popping and he’s nowhere and everywhere, and then, suddenly, he’s right side up again. He stumbles, and Riddle catches him to steady him, an amused sound coming from his throat. Harry growls and looks around.

The light pollution from London is gone, and the air feels crisper. Different. Harry looks around and recognizes the Entrance Gates to Hogwarts, more than twice his height, wrought magical iron, and the two winged boars that serve as guards.

“Did you just...you can’t just side-Apparate someone without telling them! What if you had Splinched me?” Harry demands, but Riddle continues to ignore him.

He does a complex motion with his wand, one that Harry attempts to commit to memory, and the gates creak open. Harry supposes that as Head Boy, he’d know the unlocking spell to the gates, just as well as any of the professors.

“Go back to your dorm, Harry,” Riddle commands.

“You’re not the boss of me,” Harry retorts and almost immediately regrets it. He flushes; he sounds like a little kid.

Riddle seems to think the same. His lips twitch and he raises an eyebrow.

“Okay, Harry,” Riddle says. He turns his back on Harry and moves back away from Hogwarts, and that’s when Harry realizes that Riddle isn’t coming back to Hogwarts with him, at least not just yet.

“Hey! Riddle!” Harry calls after him.

Riddle pauses and glances over his shoulder. “What is it?” he asks, impatiently.

“Are we done?” Harry demands. “This...thing. You’re going to leave Lavender alone. We’re done, right?”

And Riddle’s lips curl into a smile, one full of promise, that shivers its way down Harry’s spine.

Softly, he says, “I’ll never be done with you, Harry Potter.”

A crack of Apparation, and then, Harry is alone.

Chapter Text

Harry swallows hard as he sits down at the Gryffindor table and lays his head down against the cool wood. Hermione’s fingers against the nape of his neck soothe him.

“Are you alright, habibi?” Hermione asks.

Harry hums. “Yes. Just... exhausted,” he mumbles.

Hermione nods and she hums soothingly. “Why don’t you eat something?” she suggests, her tone light, but the worry coming through clear.

“I will. Promise,” Harry sighs. He stares down at the wood and closes his eyes, ignoring the weight of Ron and Hermione’s stares. They’re the only ones that know, he tells himself. And maybe Luna. But Luna knows he can take care of himself.

He can. It’s just the wanting to, that’s hard sometimes.

He still feels full from dinner anyway. He’s full in a lot of ways. Knockturn Alley and barbs and Dark magic and a boy

Harry sits up straight and moves to grab a piece of toast. He sets it down on his plate in front of him, and very methodically butters it. Just as he’s lifting the dry piece of bread to his lips, there’s the sound of heels clattering against the ground, and Lavender Brown whips into the Great Hall, glancing over her shoulder again and again, like she’s being chased.

“You look excitable—” Ron begins.

“Did you hear what happened?” Lavender gasps, slapping her hands on the wood. Harry groans, rubbing at his temple as he looks up from his bread, eyes catching on the curly-haired blonde.

Headache, Lav,” he groans.

Lavender shakes her head in disbelief. “Who cares about your headache! Did you hear what happened?” Lavender demands.

Ginny snorts. “No, Lavender. What happened?”

“The Death Eaters got in a fight in Knockturn Alley,” Luna says in the middle of spooning porridge into her mouth.

Lavender’s face falls dramatically and she slips into the seat across from Luna, glaring. Harry slowly straightens at the revelation, and the group look at one another.

“I wanted to tell them,” Lavender whinges.

“Enough, Lav. What happened?” Hermione asks, a little more alert.

“Well, McGonagall can’t prove it, and they say that they just got wand-happy in their impromptu duelling club meeting, but Hannah Abbott heard from Michael Corner who heard from Astoria Greengrass —” Lavender rattles off, practically vibrating with her excitement.

“The point, Lav?” Ginny asks.

Lavender gasps, catching her breath and she slams her hands on the wood again. “The Death Eaters were in Knockturn Alley for some reason last night, and they got into a duel with a bunch of Dark wizards.”

“Holy shit. Why?” Ron asks through a mouthful of bacon.

“Well, no one knows. But, apparently, Riddle showed up late. He didn’t leave with them. Someone said they saw him leave earlier with someone,” Lavender says. “I think...he was on a date.”

Harry stiffens and slowly lowers his gaze to the grain of the table. He feels the weight of Hermione’s fingers on his nape just a little more.

“Oh?” Ginny asks, her voice cracking just a little.

“Like, who do you think he went on a date with?” Lavender asks, her voice squeaking.

“Who cares?” Ron garbles.

Harry’s lips twitch.

“I cannot believe that the Head Boy got into a duel in the middle of Knockturn Alley,” Hermione grumbles.

“I can,” Ron says, adding another of his two Knuts. “That’s very... on-brand for Riddle, isn’t it?”

Hermione looks like she’s gearing up to rant about Riddle, but she looks down the Gryffindor table, her eyes narrowed on the entrance to the Great Hall. A swell of whispers begin.

“Isn’t that Riddle now?” Hermione asks.

Harry spins and his breath catches in his throat as he watches the Great Hall doors part wider. Severus Snape leads the group in, a stern look on his face, but no one pays the Slytherin head of house any mind when the spectacle trails after him.

Riddle stalks in, his face devoid of any emotion or injury unlike the others. Bellatrix spits to the side, her purple lip painted to match the black eye that she walks with, proudly. She sneers and then licks her teeth, before she smiles as the Lestrange brothers limp after her, a fresh scar on Rabastan’s cheek. It’s like they’ve never heard of magic, but it would make sense for the Death Eaters to wear their violence like badges of honor.

Riddle makes eye contact with Harry for only a moment, but it feels like a thousand years until Riddle turns away. He’s untouchable. The Head Boy always is.

“How haven’t they been expelled?” Hermione mutters under her breath. “He’s the Head Boy.”

“And he’s Dumbledore’s favorite. He’s everyone’s favorite,” Lavender reminds them. This makes Harry finally turn away from Riddle, and look at Lavender with a raised eyebrow. “Dumbledore was the one that fetched him from the orphanage.”

Harry’s breath catches in his throat. “Orphanage?”

Lavender looks surprised that Harry doesn’t know. “Tom is an orphan. Everyone knows that.”

Not Harry. He didn’t.

Hermione’s still ranting about Riddle setting poor examples as Harry tries to reconcile the image of Tom Riddle as an orphan with Tom Riddle the most arrogant motherfucker alive. Harry stares after Riddle as Riddle walks straight up to the teacher’s table, standing in front of Dumbledore. Dumbledore appraises him and says something softly. McGonagall looks grudgingly accepting of his words.

“Well...they’re all 17,” Ginny’s saying, “they don’t have to do anything. And it looks like Dumbledore is fine.”

Dumbledore’s still talking. Riddle nods once and his lips twitch with triumph. He turns around and leads his little group to the Slytherin table. Bellatrix smiles back at him, a vicious spiteful thing, and Riddle leads them over to the Slytherin table. Bellatrix sits down, leaving a seat open for him to sit down in. But, Riddle shakes his head and murmurs something to her. Bellatrix looks disappointed but doesn’t argue with him.

Riddle turns away and makes to leave.

Before Harry even realizes, Lavender stands up, a look of resolve decorating her pretty face.

Lavender—” Hermione starts.

But, Lavender ignores her and meets Riddle near the doorway.

He looks surprised and put out by her. His eyes dart over her head, swiftly, and he meets Harry’s eyes once.

Harry looks down first.

“Are you okay, Tom? I heard about what happened,” Lavender says bravely. Her voice doesn’t even falter once.

Riddle looks surprised by her concern for just a moment, before he creases his face into that blandly charming smile again.

“I’m fine. Thank you...Brown,” Riddle allows, and then he turns on his heel, leaving Lavender in the dust.

He doesn’t look back.

(Harry almost wishes he would. )

Chapter Text

Harry doesn’t mean to call him over after Defence that morning. Harry’s friends are waiting for him to catch up, after he’d made up something about wanting to speak to Moony.

Harry shouldn’t call Riddle over.

They’re done. Harry had made that clear.

And yet, Riddle fucking ditched him, and he was rude about it, and when Harry thought he’d run to help a friend, Harry finds out that he really was fighting.

 

(And maybe Harry feels even worse about what he said, because Tom is an orphan. Tom is like h—)

 

“Tommy,” Harry calls as he sees Riddle walking along the corridor towards whatever class he has next.

Harry doesn’t even call particularly loudly, but Riddle spins around on his heel like Harry had shouted in his ear. Riddle lifts an eyebrow and he doesn’t smirk or sneer.

No, he’s grinning.

And it’s—

“Stop grinning,” Harry snaps, arms crossed over his chest.

Riddle doesn’t stop grinning. Harry glares up at him.

“Is there something you need, Harry P—”

“So, you ditched me on our date for a fight?” Harry asks.

It’s the first thing he can think to ask, now that he finds himself alone in a corridor with Tom Riddle. Riddle leans back against the wall, opposite of Harry, so nonchalant as he regards Harry with a raised eyebrow. It sends a flux of rage through Harry, the type that Harry has to keep in check and swallow or it’ll swallow him first.

“You didn’t want to be on that date with me in the first place,” Riddle drawls. He pauses, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, have you finally realized?”

“Realized what?” Harry snarls.

“That we’re inevitable, darling.”

Harry’s nose wrinkles. He hates how confident Riddle sounds. Merlin, he hates it.

 

(He really, really doesn’t.)

 

“Merlin, you’re such a cocky bastard,” Harry sighed, shaking his head in disgust. “How do your friends stand it?”

Riddle’s lips tilt into a humorless smile. “I’m a cocky bastard who produces results.”

“Why are you talking to Lavender? Don’t talk to Lavender,” Harry warns.

Riddle rolls his eyes as he leans back against the wall, looking Harry up and down like he’s trying to undress Harry with his eyes. Harry suppresses a shiver, feeling practically naked.

“She talked to me,” Riddle corrects.

“She fancies you, Riddle, of course, she’s going to talk to you. Your job is to let her down. Gently,” Harry reminds him, severely. He feels a little like McGonagall in that moment, and it’s rather disconcerting.

“It’s not my fault that she doesn’t realize that I fancy someone else.”

Harry pauses. “What? You fancy someone?”

Riddle stares at him for a long time like he’s an idiot. This is what Hermione typically refers to as Harry’s emotional stuntedness at work. Harry stares at Riddle as he tries to work it out, and when he does, his heart starts beating in his fucking ears. He can’t breathe and his chest feels tight, and his stomach is caving in on itself.

“You don’t fancy me,” Harry breathes softly, because that’s something—that can’t be true, because if it is, he might just—that Harry just doesn’t want to deal with. The possibility of that makes him go crazy with irritation because it ruins things.

“I don’t?” Riddle drawls, raising an eyebrow.

“You don’t even know me,” Harry groans, absolutely frustrated.

Riddle reaches for him and grabs his hand out of the air. Harry startles, but doesn’t pull away.

“I know you, Harry Potter.”

Harry frowns, looking down at his feet, lips pressed into a thin line. “Riddle…”

“I’m just being honest, Harry,” Riddle says and he finally drops Harry’s hand. Harry holds his hand against his chest, hoping to stop the pounding, because it feels like he’s having a fucking heart attack. “You should try it. I rarely do, but I must say, this is refreshing .”

“Fuck you!” Harry snarls, and he storms past Riddle, refusing to see the laughter in his eyes.

Neither of them sees the silver hair that whips around the corner either.

Chapter Text

“Her?” Lavender starts, eyes darting over the swell of students. And then, she lets her head drop against the arch of the window and shakes her head. “No, she walks a bit funny, don’t you think?”

Hermione gives a cursory glance and then rolls her eyes. “Sure, Lavender,” she drawls.

She’s not even paying attention.

But, Harry is. He’s paying a hyper-close amount of attention.

“No...maybe that dark-haired boy. What’s his name?” Lavender asks, pointing rather conspicuously at a Hufflepuff boy that Harry might vaguely remember as one of Riddle’s old ‘acquaintances’.

“Finch-Fletchley?” Harry suggests.

Hermione’s nose wrinkles. “I thought Finch-Fletchley was straight.”

“I think his thought process was if he was going to try it, it should be with Tom Riddle,” Lavender declares, a silly grin on her face. But, she shakes her head. “No, it can’t be. He’s old news. What about her?” Then, she pauses as she regards Marietta Edgecombe. “No, she’s a bit...dumpy, wouldn’t you say?”

“That’s rude,” Hermione snaps, quick and fast.

Lavender looks lost, and surprised more than hurt at the snideness in Hermione’s tone. She blinks owlishly, looking between Hermione and Harry, like she can’t comprehend that they’re not seeing what she’s seeing.

“Well, she is. She isn’t put together and she’s a little...thicker,” Lavender drawls. “If Tom Riddle was going to go on a date with anyone, they’d be fit. That’s all I’m saying. Some people like bigger bums, and some people like breasts, and in the case of Tom Riddle—who, did you know, he’s pansexual—he likes fit people. Fit, pretty people. And we both know Marietta Edgecombe isn’t pretty .”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, Lavender,” Hermione insists, shaking her head. “You can’t... reduce people to their body parts.”

And Harry understands what Hermione’s trying to say, but he can see something in Lavender deflate. Hermione doesn’t get it. Hermione doesn’t realize. Sometimes, it’s easier to think of yourself as all of the parts instead of the sum. Harry gets that. Harry gets it better than most, even though he hates that he does.

“I’m not trying to be rude,” Lavender insists again, her voice so very sweet-sounding. “I’m just saying that if Tom Riddle was going to date someone, really date someone, he’d want to date someone pretty and fit.”

Harry turns away because he knows. He knows Lavender doesn’t see herself as one of those people.

Merlin.

“Lavender, you’re so obsessed with him. It doesn’t matter. You’re better than him anyway,” Harry says, as off-handedly as he can, but he can never quite hide anything from Hermione. She cuts a look at him, and Harry doesn’t look her way. He refuses.

“Harry, you just don’t understand,” Lavender sighs, shaking her head.

Harry leans forward where he straddles the archway, patting her ankle where it sits between his legs. “What don’t I understand?”

“You’re just not interested in dating. If you were, you’d get why everyone wants to be the person Tom Riddle’s dating.”

Harry barks out a laugh. “How do you know I’m not interested in dating?” he challenges.

Lavender raises a lofty eyebrow, shaking her head.

“Harry, you could have anyone you wanted,” Lavender teases. She leans forward, winking dramatically, her lips twitching into a sweet smile. “Unless there is someone.”

“Alas, no, I’ll die a spinster,” Harry deadpans.

Lavender giggles.

And before Hermione can say anything else, there’s a soft sob from someone just across the courtyard. Lavender, with the nose of a gossip hound, looks up, eyes darting around and finding the Ravenclaw sixth year that let out a sound like that. Isobel MacDougal looks devastated and her Hufflepuff friend, Justin Finch-Fletchley, is comforting her with the look of a friend that knows exactly what she’s going through.

Hermione is still watching Harry, though. Harry feels his anxiety in his throat.

“What’s that about?” he asks.

Everyone’s watching, even the Slytherin girls, led by Daphne Greengrass in Parkinson’s absence. Daphne Greengrass frowns.

Lavender jumps off the ledge, her skirt flapping about her thighs and she puts her hands on her hips. “I’ll find out,” she decides. She marches over, a sympathetic pout already slipping over her face as she approaches the sobbing girl.

Harry watches them and is only disturbed when Hermione reaches up from the grass and yanks on his ear. Harry grunts and slips off the ledge, sitting at the base of the stone wall next to her, looking at her in alarm. Hermione stares at him hard.

“What was that about?” Harry demands.

She looks bewildered, like she can’t figure out if she’s disappointed or excited, or maybe she’s disappointed by the fact that she’s so excited.

“It’s you. You went on a date with him.”

Harry feels his heart drop into his stomach. He sputters.

“W-what? I—”

“Don’t lie to me, Harry. I know you did,” Hermione insists, bouncing up and down in the slightly damp grass, slick underneath the blanket of her cloak. She leans in, grabbing his arm to drag him closer so she can hiss into his ear. “I looked for you last Friday! I was looking for you everywhere, I even almost went to Professor Lupin’s!”

Harry swallows hard and shakes his head. “Don’t freak out!”

“You’re dating Tom Riddle,” Hermione snarls softly. “And you’re telling me not to freak out? I thought you hated him!”

“I do!” Harry insists. “I went on one date. I did it for Lavender—”

And before Hermione can say anything else, Lavender darts over, her black loafers making her slide across the grass. She collapses on the other side of Harry, her eyes wide in her round face.

“What is it?” Hermione asks, briskly.

“Tom Riddle broke up with them,” Lavender breathes, like she’s come across the holiest of secrets. She looks almost pale.

“ ‘Them’?” Harry drawls uncertainly.

“He broke up with all of them. I just spoke to MacDougal and she said Riddle broke up with her this morning. And then, Finch-Fletchley said that he broke up with all of his ‘acquaintances’. The Hufflepuff one last night, and there are rumors that he hasn’t slept with Bellatrix Black in ages . He broke up with all of them,” Lavender hisses.

Harry feels numb, and he swallows, staring straight ahead at Isobel MacDougal as she weeps into her friend’s shoulder, like she didn’t know she was going to get dumped by that asshole.

 

(You don’t fancy me.

I don’t?)

 

Harry pinches the bridge of his nose as Lavender vibrates with her newfound information.

“Why would he break up with all of them?” Even Hermione can’t help but be sucked into the drama of it all.

Lavender shakes her head in wonder. “Do you...do you think this has to do with his date?”

Before either can respond, there’s the ding of the bell and the other students begin to move, making their way to class. Lavender groans and hops up, snatching her bag from the ledge. She looks down at both Hermione and Harry with a meaningful glint to her eyes.

“I have Divination. Find some information for me?” she asks, with a wink, and then, she’s off, probably to divine the information from some hack crystal ball.

Harry and Hermione watch her. They watch her as she lopes off through the slick grass and ducks through an archway and up the hall. Harry and Hermione remain, and then, Hermione turns to look at him, shaken. It’s different than when she’d just called him out. Now, she looks thoughtful, like she’s realizing something, and she’s not sure if she likes it yet.

“I thought you said it was one date,” Hermione breathes, wide-eyed.

Harry stares at her for just another second before he buries his face in his hands, shaking his head.

“It was,” he groans because he can’t look at her.

Hermione looks crossed between appalled, impressed, and amused. She leans forward, wraps her fingers around his wrists. Hermione’s serious then; she only insists on them making eye contact when she’s serious.

“Then, why did he break up with his ‘acquaintances’?” Hermione whispers gently.

Harry swallows as he looks into her brown eyes. Hermione’s eyes have always compelled him to tell the truth. It’s how Ron and her found out about his home life. It’s how Ron and her found out about his sexuality. It’s how Ron and her find out everything. He can’t resist.

“He says...he claims that he fancies me,” Harry whispers.

He expects Hermione to condemn him, to berate him, to do anything but what she does.

She practically shrieks, leaning forward, wide-eyed.

“He fancies you?” she demands. “Wallah, Harry, Tom Riddle?”

“I don’t fancy him back!” Harry protests, his voice going higher in panic.

Hermione shakes her head in disbelief. “Wallah.”

“I know.”

“Why would you...you know how Lavender feels about him!” Hermione whispers. Harry just feels even worse as she finally voices it out loud, what’s hung between them since the moment she acknowledged that it was him . “She likes him so, so much, Harry. If she found out—”

“She won’t,” Harry insists. “I went on a date with him for her.”

Hermione stares at him blankly. “Make it make sense, habibi.”

“Because he...he only apologized because I called him his arse, and, honestly, he was going to keep flirting with Lavender, and when I told him to stop, he said ‘go on a date with me’, and so…” Harry trails off, because saying it out loud only makes it seem more underhanded and worse, and he feels just like Riddle 

Hermione stares at him like he’s an idiot.

“So...you’re dating him...to stop him from dating Lavender?” Hermione asks. She sounds disbelieving.

“He was never going to date Lavender. And I went on one date. A singular date. That will never be repeated ever again,” Harry insists, emphasizing each word.

Hermione purses her lips as she looks at him. “Well...you’re going to have to tell her.”

“What? Why?”

“You can’t keep something like this away from her. If she finds out, she’ll be so hurt,” Hermione insists.

Harry’s eyes narrow. “You hurt her feelings on a daily basis.”

If Hermione was a single shade lighter, Harry thinks she might be blushing. She looks almost embarrassed, which is certainly uncharacteristic of Hermione, who is so strong in her convictions. Hermione leans forward.

“What did you do?” Hermione asks. “On your date.”

Harry fights the urge to blush. “Ugh...does it matter?”

Yes. You went to Diagon Alley, for this, right?” Hermione asks.

Harry nods. “We...walked around the Alley,” he allows. He wants to tell her about Knockturn Alley, and the things he heard, but for some reason, he hesitates. He doesn’t want her to know. He wants to keep that for himself. “And then, he took me to dinner at some fancy café. And we argued. He tried to be charming, and I called him an arse, and he...he said that I wasn’t as nice as I pretend that I am.”

Hermione leans back.

“I didn’t know you pretended to be nice,” she teases.

Harry groans. “Be serious, Mione.”

Hermione fights her grin and nods. “Okay, okay, I’m ‘serious’, Harry.”

“He...brought up when I verbally attacked him. That I was doing the same thing that he’d done to Lavender—”

“You were protecting a friend!” Hermione protests.

Harry nods. “But I’m supposed to be the bigger person. And...he was clear with her. About what they were. She pushed it—”

Hermione sighs and Harry swallows the rest of his words, looking at her for a long time.

“Are you sure you don’t like him, Harry?” Hermione asks, her voice a little softer. Kinder.

Harry frowns. “No. I don’t like him,” he says, voice hard enough that it makes Hermione’s eyebrows travel up her forehead.

“Harry—”

“I don’t,” Harry insists.

Hermione purses her lips for a long time. And then, she sighs. “Okay. Come on. Let’s go to the library. I need a few books for Ancient Runes.”

Chapter Text

“Ugh! I love this place!” Ginny crows as she runs and dives into the massive pile of pillows that always sit at the center of the Room of Requirement

Harry grins as he watches her snuggle deeper into the pile, rolling about it with an abandon that Harry is still getting used to. Ginny Weasley, when she is wholly herself, is a spectacle. Witty and intelligent, and daringly brave. She smiles easier and lifts her chin like she’s always aching for a fight, ready to deliver.

Harry thinks that if he were into women, he might fall in love with her.

“It’s my favorite place,” Harry agrees.

Luna doesn’t lack any enthusiasm, but she swans through the room, looking around, completely bypassing the pile of pillows. Harry leans against the wall and watches her as she dances along the edges, catching glimpses of herself, spinning like a top, in the mirror. She tilts back her head and laughs, like she’s testing echo-capacity. She seems delighted when the cavernous ceilings laugh back at her.

“I think it might be my favorite place one day too,” Luna agrees.

Harry smiles as Luna settles in and sits at the piano, flipping open the top and staring down at the ivories like they’re curious creatures to be evaluated. Harry’s fingers twitch with the urge, but he tamps it down; he doesn’t play here, at Hogwarts. It’s for the summers, when he’s feeling bored and listless, and isn’t totally reminded of his third year, the year he’d learned to play as a way to cope.

“We should do this more often,” Ginny says.

“Do what?” Harry asks as he joins her in the pillow pile, sitting down cross-legged.

“Do things in smaller groups. Sometimes, the big group gets…” Ginny says, and she waves her hand, searching for the right word.

“Overwhelming?” Harry suggests.

Exactly,” Ginny agrees with a fierce nod. “Sometimes, I just want to be…”

“Whelmed?” Luna suggests.

Ginny looks between the pair of them, shaking her head, and Harry grins.

“I’m in awe,” Ginny sighs, and Harry laughs, shaking his head. Ginny leans back on her hands as she looks between Luna and Harry. “Anyway, tell me when it’s almost time for dinner. I’m getting dinner with Dean tonight.”

Harry tries to raise a single eyebrow, but that’s always been more of Hermione’s strong suit.

“You’re doing what?” he asks.

“It’s casual. We’re doing the whole friends thing,” Ginny says, waving her hand away.

Luna hums. “Is that smart?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Ginny challenges.

“What about Zabini?” Harry asks next, and this time, Ginny looks a little more awkward instead of relaxed like she does when she talks about Dean.

“He’s...well, he asked me out, at that last party. And I told him to rain check. But, now, I want him to ask me out again, but he hasn’t,” Ginny mutters.

“I mean, you could ask him out,” Harry drawls. He leans back in his pillows. “You see, that’s the thing about this shit. Guys are always expected to ask out the girl, and that’s a lot of pressure on guys too. It’s a different kind of pressure, but it’s there.”

Ginny flushes. “But...won’t it make me sound desperate?”

“He likes you, doesn’t he?” Luna asks. “I don’t think it really matters.”

She begins to pluck at the keys. None of them sound even a smidge out of tune.

“I see him in the halls, and we talk a little. But…” Ginny trails off and shakes her head. She pastes a smile on her face, and it feels real, if a little forced.

If Harry was Hermione, he’d push a little more, but he’s never been like Hermione, so he won’t.

He’s saved from having to give any more ill-advised advice when Luna speaks up.

“Harry, if this is your happy place, why is there always a piano?” Luna asks.

Ginny looks grateful that the attention is no longer on her. She sits up, curious, staring over at Harry. Harry looks away, his lips pursed.

“I used to play piano,” he allows slowly. “It was part of my…”

Therapy, is what it was a part of. He isn’t sure if he’ll say it. He’s never acknowledged the fact that he saw a Mind Healer every day for a year and a half, that he still sees Miriam now, when he needs to. He thinks Ron and Hermione know, because of the prescriptions and the Calming Draught, but he isn’t sure if he’s ever said it out loud or if they’d just filled in the blanks for him.

“Will you play something now?” Luna asks.

Harry’s head speeds through the number of pieces he can play, and he hears the flickering of parchment flipping over and over again. He looks over at the piano where Luna sits, her hair billowing back gently as the Room’s magic works, flipping through sheet music. And then, when Harry shakes his head, the sheet music disappears altogether.

“I can teach you something,” Harry says instead. He grunts when he stands to his feet and goes to join Luna at the piano, and Ginny dogs his steps, eager to witness it.

Harry grabs Luna’s hand and squeezes as he begins to guide her through the motions of Chopsticks. He takes two of her fingers, pressing them, and Luna makes a soft sound of delight as he shows her the simplest of piano pieces. If he can even really call it a piece. He doesn’t think he can. It’s really nonsense notes, but he still plays it sometimes.

It was the first thing Remus ever taught him on the piano, before he’d gotten good enough that he needed a teacher. A real one.

“Why don’t you ever play?” Ginny asks. “You know how to play, don’t you? It shows up in your happy place.”

“Yes. I just...don’t play very often anymore,” Harry says with a shrug. “Keeping up with piano takes a lot of practice, and I don’t have much time now, studying for NEWTs, and with Quidditch practice.”

“But the season is going on break until March after Saturday’s game,” Ginny suggests to the sounds of Luna picking up the rhythm. She leans in.

Harry looks at the ivory keys and thinks of playing again, and then, he shakes his head.

“I’ll find something to preoccupy myself,” he insists. “You all are a handful anyway.”

“Maybe you’ll use Tom Riddle,” Luna says absent-mindedly.

Harry chokes on his own spit.

“What do you mean Riddle?” Ginny asks. She looks over at Harry through shrewd eyes, like she’s trying to figure him out just by staring at him. “What’s this about Riddle, Harry?”

“I saw Harry and Riddle meeting in the corridor the other day. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but Harry looked pretty mad,” Luna says. Her lips twitch as she finishes her third round of Chopsticks. “Harry shouted ‘fuck you’ and stomped off. Riddle was smiling.”

“He was smiling?” Ginny says, her voice going an octave higher and cracking. She slides closer to Luna, crushing the poor girl between Ginny and Harry. She leans over Luna’s hands and Luna cranes her head to keep her eyes on the keys. “Harry, I remember, he asked you out. Remember, I saw.”

“He asked you out?” Luna asks. “Was he asking you out again?”

“Did you go out?” Ginny asks.

“Clearly not,” Harry says, and he’s never been a great liar, but if he doesn’t make eye contact with either one of them, he thinks he can pull this off. “Tom Riddle is the most arrogant arse alive. And he hurt Lavender’s feelings. I would never go out with him.”

“Don’t say never,” Luna says sharply.

It’s sharp enough that both Harry and Ginny turn to look at her.

Luna turns to look at Harry, her eyes surprisingly piercing and focused.

“What?” Harry whispers.

“Don’t say ‘never’, Harry,” Luna warns. “You wouldn’t want to be a liar.”

It sounds like she’s telling him, You’re a liar, Harry.

And Harry knows that he must not tell lies.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Harry likes to be with Hermione alone.

It’s never against Ron or anyone else in the Ginny Weasley Defence Squad, but it’s been like this since Harry was a first year. Sometimes, it’d become too much, and in their younger years, Ron wouldn’t always get it. Hermione would see almost immediately, and she’d take him by the hand and drag him off.

They’d become closer his third year, Hermione and Harry. Harry’s third year had been—

It doesn’t matter, Harry thinks. It’s in the past.

So, he focuses his attention on his friend as he watches her scribble hurried notes that don’t look like they have anything to do with Ancient Runes or Arithmancy. Honestly, Harry thinks she’s a little mad for taking on such a heavy courseload, because it means she’ll have so many NEWTs to take, but Hermione Granger is the brightest witch of her age.

He has no doubts that she’ll graduate with the highest marks.

But, that’s not what she’s focused on, and it’s rather surprising.

If he thinks about it, she hasn’t been focused all week. She’d been intrigued by gossip. That is characteristically unlike Hermione.

Harry congratulates himself for being so observant.

“Are you...alright, Hermione?” Harry asks.

Hermione looks up, frenzied, her dark eyes flashing. She slams her book shut, and Harry winces when reads the cover— A History of Servitude: The Complex Relationship between House-Elves and the Wizards & Witches They Serve.

Fuck.

“I am not alright,” Hermione hisses. “I’m doing research right now so that I can bolster SPEW’s outreach. Luna is a little... Luna, but she made a good point about reaching out to house-elves. And I’ve done that, and they weren’t receptive, and I wasn’t sure why, but I think they’re avoiding me, so I decided to read.”

Harry doesn’t think she took a single breath through her rushed words. He tries to parse meaning out of the slurred speech, and nods, eyelashes fluttering as he blinks several times over. He leans forward, curious, to look at her notes, but he can’t make much sense out of it, and at a certain point, she started writing in Arabic, except for the words that she doesn’t know Arabic for, like ‘house-elves’ and ‘menial’.

“Oh. That’s...a lot,” Harry drawls. “Uh...well, Dobby will speak to you?”

“I’ve already spoken to Dobby. Numerous times, Harry,” Hermione deadpans. She sighs, letting her forehead drop to the table as she stares at her notes, looking far too crushed for Harry’s tastes. “Maybe house-elves really don’t want to be freed?”

“I think...that things have been the way they are for a very long time. Maybe you should focus on something else until you become struck with new inspiration?” Harry suggests.

Hermione taps her quill against the parchment and nods. “It’s just...you know why this is so important to me, Harry,” she sighs.

Harry does know. Hermione’s told him a number of times. The others don’t understand. They weren’t raised in the Muggle world, so they don’t know anything about it. About what the British Empire did, once upon a time. What it continues to do.

Harry doesn’t know much, either, but he was the only one willing to learn.

“Until you come up with something that empowers elves rather than empowering yourself, what else are you interested in?” Harry asks. He knows Hermione well enough to know that though she fixates, there is a breadth of causes that she takes seriously.

Hermione hums, her brow furrowing as she considers it. And then, she brightens, looking over at Harry.

“Do you think Professor Lupin would be amenable to talking with me about werewolf relief efforts?” Hermione asks.

At this, Harry perks up, actually interested in werewolf relief.

“I think he would,” Harry says. He pauses as he looks at Hermione, lips pursed. “Would you...would you want to read my mother’s journals?”

Hermione sits up, ramrod straight, staring at him with wide eyes.

Harry knows that Hermione thinks of his mother like a goddess, a pioneer for the rights of marginalized groups in the magical community. There are a lot of people that think the same of her, and Harry has gotten his fair share of letters requesting her work and her materials, all looked over first by Remus and Sirius, but he’s never offered her journals to anyone.

He’s never trusted anyone with pieces of his parents.

He’d trust Hermione.

“Oh, Harry...I couldn’t,” Hermione breathes. And it sounds so hard for her to say, when all she clearly wants to say is 'yes, thank you', but she doesn’t. She knows what it means that he would offer it.

And that’s why he trusts her.

“Oh, Hermione, you can,” Harry grins. He shrugs. “I wouldn’t give you all of them. Just her stuff on werewolf rights. She worked on a lot of it with Remus, anyway, but this is important to me. I almost wasn’t adopted because of discrimination against werewolves.”

Hermione’s gaze softens. “Oh, I know, Harry.”

Harry isn’t sure if he’s the one to carry on his mother’s mission. He doesn’t think he’d be any good at it. He hates interviews, and he hates public speaking, and he doesn’t really have a mind for the politics that are surely involved. He’s probably too brash, always the first to snap in defence of his friends, and it reminds him of terrible things.

But, Hermione.

Hermione would be good at it.

When she grows into herself a little.

“Yeah. You should come by during dinner tomorrow night. I’ll owl Sirius now and ask him to stop by the vault on his way over. He’ll bring her books and you can talk to Remus,” Harry says with a smile.

Hermione leans over, pressing a soft kiss to Harry’s cheek that makes him turn red.

“Thanks, habibi,” she murmurs.

“Anytime, Mione.”

Chapter Text

“LOOK AT THAT! DID YOU SEE THAT?” Ron roars as he thunders through the locker room. “THE MOVES! THE SKILL! THE TEAMWORK! WE’RE GOING TO WIN THE CUP THIS YEAR!”

There’s a roar of approval, of agreement, as Ron jumps down from the bench, sticking his fist in the air. The rest of the Quidditch team screams even louder as Ron postures, parading around the room, slapping high fives with the Beaters and the three Chasers, the girls lingering in the doorway on their way to their own locker room. Ginny is just as enthusiastic as her brother, screaming herself hoarse, and Harry doesn’t even have the heart to tell them to shut up, because his own heart is thundering in his chest with their victory, and Ron’s not wrong.

They’d played bloody brilliantly.

They were a well-oiled machine at this point, weaving in and out of the air like a single organism. Katie and Robins were excellent, especially after Robins had come out of her shell, and Harry is a man enough to admit that Ginny Weasley is probably the best flyer that’s ever come out of Hogwarts besides Gwenog Jones, and he’s including himself in that factor.

He knows that Ginny is going to be one of the best Quidditch players of all time.

“That was something else,” Hermione says from where she’s next to Harry, by the door, ready to slip out at any time. And then, Hermione looks over at Luna—Luna who is still in her lion headdress, which is a rather biased non-statement since she’s the commentator —and smiles. “And your commentating was... something, Luna.”

Harry grins. He’d nearly fallen off his broom at Luna’s commentary.

“Thank you, Hermione!” Luna beams.

Harry snorts.

“It was a good game to end on until March,” Harry agrees. He looks over at everyone, brimming with pride. When he steps forward, the roars nearly fall silent as their captain turns to address them. “It was a good game!”

“A great one!” Robins roars, and yes, she’s out of her shell.

The rest of the team cheers their agreement.

“A great game,” Harry corrects himself. “It was a great game to end on until the season picks up again. But, it’s important that we keep this sharp. The other teams won’t forget, and we can’t come back in March slacking after a game like this. We won’t be practicing as hard, but we’ll need to keep sharp, mind you.”

Everyone groans, but nods their agreement, and Harry grins, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Can’t you just be proud, Harry?” Ginny sighs, though she doesn’t sound particularly put out, as she’s smothering her laughter in the crease of her arm.

“Alright, alright. Just, go on, and get ready. I’m sure there’s going to be a rager in the Common Room, waiting to celebrate us,” Harry dismisses.

The rest of the team cheers and the girls slip out, giving the guys some privacy. Ron comes over, clapping Harry on the shoulder. Harry looks up at him, grinning.

“Couldn’t have done it without you, Captain,” Ron teases.

“Oh, shut it, Ron,” Harry snorts, shaking his head.

“He’s not wrong, Harry,” Ritchie Coote, one of the Beaters, says. “Would you play professionally?”

Harry shrugs. “I don’t know about all of that.”

“If you don’t, it’d be a travesty,” Jimmy Peakes agrees, shaking his head. “At least a coach, Harry. Your plays are incredible.”

“Well, I don’t come up with them all by myself,” Harry insists, bashfully, rubbing at the back of his neck. He doesn’t change yet, clutching his Firebolt to his chest. He likes to be alone in the locker room when he changes, because he doesn’t want people to see.

(Sometimes, he forgets that he can’t count his ribs through his skin anymore. Sometimes, he imagines that he still can. He doesn’t want them to see—)

“You’re too modest, Harry, honestly,” Ron sighs. He unabashedly strips down to his pants, his pale freckled body on display except for where his face in tanned by the unforgiving sun. Despite it being November, it’s rather warm, up in the sky.

“Whatever,” Harry mutters as he straddles one of the benches.

He’s never given much thought of what he wants to be after Hogwarts. He can’t really imagine a time after Hogwarts. He doesn’t want to just sit around spending money like Sirius, but he might like to travel a bit. And he also thinks Remus’ job as a Defence teacher is cool. Remus always says that he can’t wait until next year when Harry serves as the TA; Remus thinks he’ll be ready to take his NEWT early, even, with the rest of the seventh years.

Harry still isn’t sure if he wants to be a TA, but that’s because he’s not sure if he’s a good teacher.

“I bet we’ll be partying past midnight,” Coote says to Peakes.

Harry smiles because they’re young; they’ve never really gone to parties before. This will be one of their first.

“You bet your arses. Gryffindors know how to party, especially after victories,” Ron beams. He pulls his sweater over his head, marked with a massive ‘R’, and Harry just wants to wrap himself up in a blanket and wear his own and maybe go to sleep, but he’s the Captain. “Even Hermione has fun at the Common Room parties.”

“Hermione has fun at most parties,” Harry reminds Ron.

Ron rolls his eyes, waving Harry away; he prefers to think of Hermione as the forever stick in the dragon dung, even though that’s not really who she is. Not anymore.

“You two ever tried Firewhiskey?” Ron asks with a sparkle in his eye. He guides Peakes and Coote out, glancing over his shoulder and nodding at Harry.

“Don’t get them too drunk, Ron. They’re fourth years!” Harry insists.

Peakes grins. “I’m actually a third year.”

“Merlin,” Harry groans, shaking his head and smiling as Ron leads the Beaters out, leaving Harry utterly alone.

Harry turns to look in his cupboard, sighing as he presses his forehead against the wood, still clutching his Firebolt to his chest.

It was a good game. A blowout against Ravenclaw.

Cho Chang was a good Seeker, but Harry was better, and the Ravenclaw Keeper wasn’t nearly as daring as Ron, who was willing to practically throw himself from his broom to save a goal. And maybe Harry had been nearly clipped by a Bludger, but that just meant that he was paying extra close attention to the Ravenclaw Beaters, because he wanted Coote and Peakes to be that aggressive.

“Well done, Captain.”

It’s a voice that doesn’t belong, so out of place in the locker room that Harry startles violently, and almost drops his broom.

He slowly turns and stares at the doorway where Tom Riddle, Head Boy, leans against the doorframe. He looks Harry up and down and very carefully bites down on his bottom lip, like he likes what he sees.

Harry’s mouth goes dry.

“T—Riddle,” Harry whispers, catching himself. The name strangles in his throat. He watches Riddle, pressing himself harder into the cupboard behind him, feeling the knob dig into the small of his back. Riddle hovers in the doorway for just a moment before he waves his wand, and a hush descends on the locker room.

Riddle doesn’t say anything as he slips farther into the locker room. Harry presses himself tighter into the cupboard, but there’s nowhere else for him to go as Riddle weaves through the room, looking about the space with a detached curiosity. It strikes Harry that Riddle has probably never been in the Quidditch locker room.

“Is there something—” Harry starts.

“You played a very fine game,” Riddle finally says.

“Thanks, I know,” Harry says. He’s finally admitting it, but only out of spite at this fucking arsehole, who is infringing on Harry’s post-Quidditch game routine. “Didn’t you know? The locker room is for players only.”

Riddle raises an eyebrow. “I’m a genius with an eidetic memory and the Head Boy, Harry. I have the rules of Hogwarts memorized, and I’m quite sure that’s not one of them.”

“Fuck off, Riddle. Do you need anything?” Harry barks.

Riddle takes a step closer, staring at Harry with his wide burgundy eyes and his wide mouth, and fuck, Harry wants to punch him in his smug face.

“You’re so eager to send me away, Harry. You always hurt my feelings .”

“Didn’t know you had emotions to hurt,” Harry barks. He takes a step back, until he realizes that he’s already boxed in against the wood of his cupboard.

“I think I’m starting to get you, Harry,” Riddle sighs.

Harry scoffs. “I seriously doubt it, Riddle.”

“You get mean when you feel threatened. You’re threatened by me,” Riddle says, and there’s always that hint of teasing on his face that Harry hates because, it feels so fake, or at least, strangely ill-fitting on Riddle’s face, in Riddle’s voice.

“You don’t scare me,” Harry reminds him.

And then, Riddle is right there, right in front of Harry, and Harry tilts his head up to look in Riddle’s face, his chin jutting out arrogantly.

“I never said you did,” Riddle says. “I know you’re not afraid of me.”

“Then, what are you saying? Why are you even here? ” Harry snaps. “I thought you didn’t like Quidditch.”

“Oh, I don’t,” Riddle says, his nose wrinkling at the fact that he’d just sat through two hours of a Quidditch game. “But, I had to see you in action. I’m even late to my duelling practice.”

“You practice on Saturdays now?” Harry asks.

“Oh, so you know my schedule?” Riddle asks. “Sounds like you—”

Harry sneers and looks away. “Fuck off. Go away .”

“You like me, Harry Potter,” Riddle murmurs with a teasing lilt in his voice, his hand pressed into the wood next to Harry’s ear. He’s looming, and Harry has always hated people that loom. Riddle looms.

Harry hates Riddle’s mouth, just too thin to be called generous, but lips dark pink. He hates the way his tongue curls around Harry’s name, like he owns it, like it’s his alone to be spoken aloud. 

“I don’t like you,” Harry whispers.

He can feel Riddle’s smile against his skin. “Liar.”

And then, he’s gone, taking two steps back. Harry shivers against the cupboard and tries to breathe. He finds that he can’t; each breath lodges high in his throat, forming a lump. Riddle smiles wider and leaves with a swirl of his cloak.

Harry slides down the cupboard and presses the heel of his palm to his crotch, half-hard in his Quidditch leathers.

Chapter Text

Harry takes a deep breath.

This is a good idea, he tells himself.

He’s been telling himself that since he’d made the decision last night.

“Is this a good idea?” Hermione asks.

Yes,” Harry snaps, probably harsher than he really needs to. Hermione glares at him, but Harry’s too on edge to apologize. Instead, he stares even harder at the door, attempting to will it open with his mind.

“You just reach forward and turn the—” Ron starts.

“Yes, I got it, Ron, thanks,” Harry retorts just as fast.

He rolls back his shoulders, cracking his neck hard, and then he throws the door open with a bang, hard enough to startle the Death Eaters just on the other side of the door, but not enough to disturb Riddle and Bellatrix as they duel on the platform.

Bellatrix is holding her own remarkably well, but Riddle is, as always, the stronger, smarter duellist.

He throws a hex at her—one that Harry recognizes by the viscosity of the purple—and Bellatrix isn’t quite fast enough.

Harry is.

Protego Maxima,” he barks, and the shield is so strong that it’s practically visible, casting the area around Bellatrix in this strange hazy shade. Bellatrix looks up, alarmed, but Harry doesn’t let her become a distraction. Instead, he flings himself at Riddle and snarls, “Expelliarmus.”

Riddle’s wrist jerks but he keeps ahold of his wand. He spins and fires another wandless spell that Harry throws himself away from, rolling to a stop. He jumps up onto the duelling platform, in front of Bellatrix and falls into a duelling stance.

Riddle smirks.

Then, they’re moving at breakneck pace, volleying spells at one another with little regard for the people around them. From the corner of his eye, Harry sees Hermione dodge a hex that lingers more on the Darker side, and it just pushes him harder.

Morbilicorpus!” he shouts, and Riddle snorts like Harry’s spell is too small for him. Fine. Diffindo!

Riddle’s face snaps to the side and he looks back at Harry, shocked, a thin line of red across his jaw. Harry sneers.

Fulmencio,” Riddle hisses, sending a crackling wave of lightning straight at Harry’s head. Harry ducks, and then swiftly has to roll out of the way of a Suffocating Curse, one that judging from the light and swiftness was exceptionally powerful. Harry jumps to his feet, pointing his wand.

“Are you trying to fucking kill me?” Harry demands.

Riddle scoffs. “You just tried to kill me. Just a few centimeters down and you would’ve slit my jugular.”

“Girls, you’re both pretty,” Rodolphus drawls from where he’s perched atop one of the desks, a slightly interested look in his eyes. Rabastan snorts, but Bellatrix simply sneers, glaring at him with a look that reminds Harry uncomfortably of one of Hermione’s glares.

“Such casual sexism,” Bellatrix says, her voice dripping with disdain. Rodolphus winces, but Bellatrix barely pays him any mind, her cutting gaze stuck on Harry. “You interrupted our duel.”

“You were losing,” Harry says. “You were about to be hexed into oblivion.”

“I didn’t need your help,” Bellatrix barks. “This is a closed practice.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I’m here. You would’ve been cursed with Dark magic,” Harry volleys back.

Riddle scoffs. “What of it? I have a license to use Dark magic, Harry,” Riddle says. He ignores the sharp look Bellatrix throws him, and it takes Harry a moment to realize that it’s because Riddle is using his given name like they’re familiar.

“Why would you need that?” Hermione asks. She doesn’t seem as horrified as Harry, more intrigued by the concept. “You have to be of age—”

“I am of age,” Riddle sighs, like he’s already tired of the conversation. “I have the license because Viktor Krum of Durmstrang has a license. Since we’re duelling Durmstrang in a few months, one of us has to transcend our disadvantage. So, she gets hexed.”

“That’s a regular occurrence in this club. If you’re duelling Tom, you get hexed. Or cursed,” Rosier explains. He’s slighter than his other male compatriots, pale and willowy and rather pretty. He brushes back ashy blonde hair from his face. “Except, you weren’t.”

Rosier glances at Nott from the corner of his eye, but Nott doesn’t say anything—he seems the strong, silent type. Bellatrix seems to understand what Rosier’s saying in an instant. She groans, shaking her head over and over again.

No, Evan. I refuse! ” she declares dramatically, on the cusp of shrieking.

“What?” Ron asks slowly.

“Why are you here, Potter?” Bellatrix asks, taking another step closer. She towers over Harry in her enormous impractical boots, but they fit her personality perfectly, so very wickedly sharp.

“I’m here to join your stupid duelling team,” Harry says.

“Absolutely not. Our team is full,” Bellatrix declares, shaking her head. She sits down atop the closest desk and turns her head, sticking her nose in the air.

At this angle, she resembles Sirius most strongly and it’s more than a little disconcerting. The Blacks have strong genes, though Harry has always noticed that Malfoy resembles his father more than he does Bellatrix’s older sister, Narcissa.

“It’s really not,” Rabastan pipes up, his voice slightly higher than his brother’s. “And Potter is...you’re quite good, aren’t you, Potter?”

“I am,” Harry acknowledges. “And Hermione knows a lot, theoretically. And Ron is a strategist. We’d make your team stronger.”

Ron makes a soft sound in the back of his throat that Harry ignores for now. He doesn’t have the time to dissect that. Bellatrix sneers and the way she’s looking at Harry, and then back to Riddle, makes Harry think that she might know something. She must know something.

That terrifies him.

“Tom, you can’t possibly be thinking about—”

“Dumbledore thinks that our club is too elitist,” Riddle says. Bellatrix shuts up immediately, her eyes narrowing. “He thinks I use ‘exclusionary tactics’ that discourages other students from participating.”

“This would shut him up,” Rodolphus says.

The longer Harry watches them, the more he understands the way the Death Eaters’ hierarchy works. Riddle is on top, which makes sense. Rodolphus and Bellatrix are his seconds, the only ones brave enough to stand up to him. The rest fall in line accordingly.

“He’s a Gryffindor. He’s Potter,” Bellatrix spits. “Did you forget what he said—”

“Harry and I have settled our differences, haven’t we?” Riddle asks, his burgundy eyes flashing. He’s daring him. It reminds Harry of the locker room, and Harry’s breath catches in his throat.

Harry shifts. He presses his thighs together and bites his tongue against even a taste of arousal.

“Yes,” Harry says firmly.

He ignores the weight of Ron’s and Hermione’s eyes, keeping his stare locked on Riddle.

Riddle smirks like he knows what Harry’s thinking.

Harry wants to punch him in the throat.

“Well,” Riddle drawls, loftily. “I suppose you held your own—”

“Get on with it, Riddle,” Harry barks.

Riddle smirks. “Welcome to the duelling team, Harry. And friends.”

He turns away, jumps off the duelling platform, and presumably goes to fill out the necessary paperwork. Bellatrix looks quietly furious and she’s already stalking over to Riddle, hissing soft curses at him that he easily ignores.

“Merlin, mate, what have you gotten us into?” Ron murmurs in Harry’s ear.

Harry swallows hard.

He’s not sure.

Chapter Text

“Lupin assigns too much homework,” Ron declares for the sixth time in the last twenty minutes alone.

“You’ve said,” Ginny drawls as she makes her way through an OWL practice exam for Charms. She looks up from it and stares across at Ron’s textbook, attempting to read it upside down. “When do you start duelling?”

“Next Monday. Honestly, I just hope I’m not paired with Harry,” Ron says, his lips curling into a teasing smile as he glances across the table at Harry.

Harry looks up from his Potions homework and rolls his eyes. “You’ll be fine.”

“You’re always so prepared to lose, Ronald,” Ginny says, always so very teasing. She tuts. “For shame.”

“Harry doesn’t pull his spells. It’s like he’s trying to kill someone,” Ron says.

Ginny looks over at Harry, surprised, and then, insultingly, turns to Hermione as if she’s the only one that can offer confirmation. Hermione is very painstakingly copying out a new set of runes out onto her parchment.

Without looking up, Hermione confirms, “Oh, yes, Harry’s brutal.”

“I am not,” Harry insists, shaking his head. He looks over at Ginny, rolling his eyes. “They’re just dramatic.”

“I’m not sure Hermione is capable of being dramatic,” Ginny says with a small smirk. Harry frowns at her, but it rolls right off of Ginny. She leans back in her seat and sighs, popping her back as she looks over her practice OWL. “Where’s Luna? I need her help with this Charms theory.”

“Heading over with Lavender, I expect,” Hermione says absent-mindedly. She looks up from her work, a slightly agitated expression on her face that Harry can’t parse no matter how hard he tries to. “She’s seemed rather peppy recently. Lavender, I mean.”

“Lavender’s always ‘peppy’,” Ron disagrees. “What makes you think she’s more peppy than usual.”

“Well, Riddle broke up all of his acquaintances, didn’t he?” Hermione asks, and now, she glances over at Harry pointedly. Harry turns his gaze elsewhere as a lump suddenly develops in his throat. He clears it twice, but nothing seems to happen. “Maybe she thinks it’s her time.”

“She can’t be that...Merlin, you think she still fancies him?” Ron demands, sounding far more dismayed than a friend has any right to.

“I think she does,” Hermione says simply. “Someone should let her know that it’s not going to happen, right? For her own sake.”

“Lavender does what she wants. She’s got this blinding optimistic belief that Riddle will come to his senses and just...fall in love with her,” Ginny says, shaking her head. She speaks about it much less pointedly than Hermione, sounding vaguely interested in the whole idea. She tosses her hand and sighs. “See, Lavender fundamentally misunderstands Riddle. Riddle isn’t going to be the type to be tamed by a sycophant.”

“Lavender is not a sycophant,” Ron insists, even though Harry is about eighty-percent sure he doesn’t actually know what that word means.

“‘Tamed’? Is he a wild animal that we don’t know of?” Harry asks casually.

And Ginny smirks over at him. “Apparently, he is in bed.”

Ron pauses, staring at his sister. “How do you know that?”

“After he dumped all his acquaintances, one of them tried to spread rumors that he was awful in bed, but there was resounding disagreement amongst everyone else that’s slept with him,” Ginny says firmly. “Apparently, he’s quite generous.”

And fuck, Harry doesn’t want to think about that.

He doesn’t want to think about Riddle or how generous he might be, about how his hands might feel when they’re pressing out knots from Quidditch or how his mouth might feel on one of the bruises on Harry’s thigh, made from his broom.

“Ugh, stop talking about Riddle in bed,” Ron groans, shaking his head. “I especially don’t want to hear it from you .”

“What’s wrong with hearing it from me?” Ginny challenges.

“It’s because you’re his little sister. He finds it distasteful,” Hermione says before Ron can, ending an argument before it even begins. She looks up, staring over at Ginny with a shrewd expression on her face. “How are you, habibi?”

Harry frowns.

“What do you mean?” Ginny asks.

“About Dean and Padma.”

“Padma who?” Ginny spits.

Harry’s eyes widen.

“I...I didn’t know you weren’t aware. Dean is seeing Padma Patil. At least, that’s what I’ve heard,” Hermione says, her voice getting softer and more unsure with each passing word, as she realizes that she’s said something wrong. She glances at Harry, but he shrugs, just as panicked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Harry says.

“When did they start seeing one another?” Ginny barks, her voice hard.

“Does it matter?” Hermione cringes.

“Hermione. When. ” It’s no longer a question.

“Not too long,” Hermione admits. “They’ve only been to Hogsmeade, and I hear they’re studying together.”

Ginny flushes, though from what, Harry isn’t sure.

“He’s already dating,” Ginny whispers in disbelief.

“Dean doesn’t really stay single long, does he?” Ron asks. “First, Romilda Vane. Then, you. Now, Padma. What do girls see in him?”

Ginny sneers at her brother, shaking her head. “How could he be dating already? Everyone must’ve heard...but—”

“I heard he went down on her.”

The quartet looks up just as Luna dances forward, dropping her bag on the table. Ron turns a bright red at the Ravenclaw’s words, but Luna acts as if she hasn’t said anything particularly important.

“He did what?” Ginny screeches, and almost the entire library looks her way.

“Who is shouting in my library?” Madame Pince barks from around the corner, but even that is barely enough to get Ginny to simmer down.

Muffliato,” Harry casts; he wouldn’t mind being kicked out of the library, but he knows that Hermione would have a fucking conniption. “Ginny—”

“He went down on her, Luna?” Ginny demands, and she sounds angry, but there’s something about her face that betrays how terribly hurt she is too.

“That’s what I heard. Mandy Brocklehurst and Lisa Turpin were talking about it,” Luna says. “Apparently, he’s quite good. Good job, Ginny.”

Don’t congratulate me,” Ginny says, dangerously, and in that moment, as if struck by lightning, Harry sees what the problem is.

“Oh, Dean never—” Harry trails off, because Ron looks a little green. He changes tactics swiftly. “Does it really bother you that he’s seeing someone already? I thought you were both trying to be friends?”

“I guess not if he didn’t...it’s just...how does he already have his shite figured out? And Zabini and I can’t even…” Ginny trails off, shaking her head. All of her rage seeps out of her, and her shoulders sag as she presses her hands to her face and let out a long, ragged sigh. She looks up again, exhaustion at the corners of her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. It’s whatever.”

“It’s not whatever,” Hermione says firmly. “It’s understandable that you’d be upset. But, Ginny, it’s not a competition to see who gets over who first.”

“But, it’s not as simple as that either,” Luna jumps in. She reaches over the table and presses a kiss to Ginny’s forehead before looking her straight in the eye. “You’ll be just fine, Ginny Weasley. Blaise Zabini says you’re worth standing in the rain for.”

Ginny flushes, eyes wide and she nods.

Harry’s teeth ache from the sweetness of it all. He turns away, and his slight disgust is immediately replaced by irritation. He waves his wand sharply, sharp enough to make everyone jump, as he ends the Muffliato, and he glares over at where Lavender is still lingering.

Her muffled giggles easily float over to their table. She’s got that glazed, slightly hysterical look on her face that she always gets when she’s talking to Riddle. She’s staring up at him, and they do look lovely together, because Lavender is lovely, even if she thinks she isn’t and Riddle—everyone knows what Riddle looks like.

Harry knows what Riddle looks like.

Lavender’s eyes widen when Riddle says something, and then she turns, and looks directly at Harry. Harry nearly jumps as Lavender’s gaze searches his face, and her brows crease, before she turns back to Riddle and nods. Riddle gestures to the table and Lavender hums.

“What…” Ron asks and then trails off when the pair start walking towards them.

They wait in silence even as Lavender and Riddle keep talking like they’re the best of friends, and Harry swallows his irritation.

“Lavender, we thought you were right behind Luna,” Hermione says stiffly, shooting a look over at Harry, like it’s his fault that she’d stopped to talk to Riddle.

“Oh, no, she stopped to speak with Riddle,” Luna says as plain as day, like that was supposed to be a common fucking occurrence.

“Yes, I wanted to ask him for some clarification on the Defence work, and he brought up that Harry, Hermione, and Ron have joined his duelling club?” Lavender asks, sweetly, those words growing pointed with accusation.

Harry’s nose wrinkles. “On a trial run. We’re not committed or anything,” Harry insists.

Lavender hums. “Well, Tom suggested that we join as well. We meaning the rest of our little study group. As reserves.”

“Or at least to learn something,” Riddle adds, finally deigning to speak. He doesn’t fold under Harry’s fearsome glare, only growing more pleased by it. “Harry is quite the duellist. Fights to kill.”

“Told you,” Ron provides unhelpfully.

“Shut up,” Harry snaps softly before he looks back at Riddle. “I’m not sure—”

“Well, it’ll be nice to have a private tutor, yes?” Lavender asks, blinking rapidly at Riddle.

“Harry could tutor you, Lavender,” Hermione tries.

It’s as if Lavender doesn’t even hear her. “Tom’s the T.A. He’d know every part of the material, wouldn’t he?”

“We train Tuesdays and Thursdays. I hope that you become a permanent member of the duelling team,” Riddle says charmingly. He pulls out the last empty seat for Lavender and she collapses into it, thoroughly charmed.

And when she can’t see his face, Riddle winks.

Right. At. Harry.

Harry’s eyes narrow.

And he grips the edge of the table to keep himself from throttling Tom fucking Riddle.

Chapter Text

Harry glares at Bellatrix, and she glares back at him, sitting on the other side of the duelling platform, while the rest of the Death Eaters chat amongst one another, words soft as breath against paper. Harry strains his ears to hear them, but most of his attention is caught by Bellatrix’s glare, and Merlin, he can’t help but glare back, because he knows how terrible Bellatrix can be.

“Where’s Riddle? When is this going to start?” Ron complains.

Hermione snorts. “Don’t worry, you’ll get to dinner soon enough,” she taunts.

Ron scowls at her, good-naturedly, and Harry gives him a pat on the shoulder, still not looking away from Bellatrix.

“Come on, mate. It’ll be fun. First duelling team meeting, and all that,” Harry says dryly.

He glances at Ron for a moment, flashes him a smile, and when he looks back at Bellatrix, she’s baring her teeth at him.

“Harry...are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Hermione hisses in his ear for the third time.

She’s the only one that might know something’s not quite right with what’s going on. She watches him from the corner of her eye, and he can see her worry—she’s so worried that her hair looks frizzier than normal, and she’s tamed it back into a tight puff atop her head, and she smells like Sleakeazy’s gel and coconut oil.

“Never. I never know what I’m doing,” Harry admits, and he smiles to try to make it seem like he’s not being serious, but Hermione knows.

She gives him a severe look, and Ron is shooting the pair of them confused looks—that look he always gives them when he feels like they’re being too secretive—and then he redirects his stare because Luna, Ginny, and most importantly, Lavender has arrived. Ron goes dumb, staring at her wide-eyed, and Harry doesn’t understand why Lavender just can’t like Ron.

Ron is nice . Ron isn’t a total arse that would tell everyone that he slept with Lavender. Ron isn’t a total arse that would go on a date with Lavender’s friends.

 

(Ron isn’t an arsehole that Harry wa—)

 

Lavender is talking over her shoulder to someone, and her expression is too exaggerated and bright for it to be anyone but Tom fucking Riddle. Harry’s suspicions are proven right when Ginny pushes at Lavender’s shoulder, hurrying her in, and Tom Riddle stalks in after the trio of girls.

He doesn’t look annoyed, exactly, by all of Lavender’s incessant chattering, but that might be because he’s good at faking like he’s not.

“—so much to learn, and I can’t imagine learning it from anyone but you,” Lavender finishes, and she takes a deep breath afterward, nearly a gasp, like she hasn’t stopped talking for ages.

Riddle’s eyes narrow; he wants to say something, probably cruel and biting, and then, he looks over at Harry, and takes a deep breath.

“Surely,” is all Riddle says. “I believe your friends are waiting for you, Brown.”

And for a moment, Lavender looks crushed because Riddle has never addressed her as ‘Brown’, but she puts on a stiff upper lip and nods once before marching over to join Harry and the others, a great sacrifice to be sure. She smirks over at Harry and sits right in front of him, like she’s the first in the row of a particularly exciting lecture.

Riddle glances over his shoulder at Harry and the rest of the Defence Squad, before he turns back to the rest of the Death Eater. Bellatrix stands up in one fluid motion, and she presses closer, entering Riddle’s personal space without even a thought. She drags her hand down his shoulder, tugging on his blazer and Harry bites his tongue hard to keep himself from spitting a Stinging Hex at her.

Rosier says something, eyes flickering over to the Gryffindors and their Ravenclaw.

“—tell if it’s rage or if he wants to eat—” Rodolphus Lestrange is saying, and then Bellatrix hushes him violently, personally attacked by Rodolphus’ words.

Riddle glances over his shoulder at Harry as he shrugs off his blazer and tosses it to the side. He smirks.

“Are you just going to gossip or are we going to start?” Harry barks across the room.

Bellatrix shoots him a vicious look. “Nobody invited you.”

“It’s an open club. We didn’t have to be invited,” Hermione shoots back, just as fast, and Bellatrix scowls at being spoken to. She sniffs, throwing her nose in the air as she turns back to Riddle, hissing something at him.

Riddle waves away whatever her concerns are, clasping his hands behind his back as he looks to his new ‘recruits’. Harry raises an eyebrow.

“Welcome to the Hogwarts Duelling Club,” Riddle deadpans. “I’m the team captain. I’ve been a part of the duelling club since my second year. This will be the third year that I will be competitively duelling. While the team as a whole hasn’t won the Interschool Duelling Competition in my time as part of said-club, I have personally won individual awards for my performance.”

“Are you just going to keep bragging or…” Harry can’t help but heckle.

Riddle raises an eyebrow, and Lavender turns, a vicious look in her eyes. She flicks Harry hard in the cheek.

“Shut up,” she hisses before turning back to Riddle, a beatific smile on her face. “We’re sorry about that, Tom.”

“Right,” Riddle drawls. He glances around at everyone. “While today we won’t begin formal training, I thought it would be best to...lay out the rules.”

And he does.

Harry hates to admit it, but Riddle knows how to command a room—without snideness or smarm. He goes through the tournament rules like a real duelling instructor would, explaining carefully, and when Hermione raises her hand to ask about doubles vs. singles, he doesn’t sneer like Bellatrix does. He very carefully explains himself, thorough enough that Hermione doesn’t even have any follow-ups—very unlike her.

“Where are we in the line-up, then? Are we seeing any action?” Ginny pipes up after receiving the dates for the duelling tournament—beginning the first weekend back after the holidays. She looks quietly intrigued.

“Doubt it,” Rabastan snorts. He winces when he gets a look from Riddle.

“Starting next meeting, we’ll be assessing where each of you stands in terms of skillset. Most of you will probably do better as a duo. You’ll be paired with one of us to get you up to speed,” Riddle decides.

Almost immediately, there’s an uproar.

“What do you mean paired with one of us?” Bellatrix demands appalled.

Ron turns on Harry. “You can’t be serious. Duelling with a Slytherin? A Death Eater? They’ll curse us the moment our backs are turned!” Ron insists.

“You’re worried about us?” Rodolphus retorts, glaring across the room at Ron. “You’re the ones that are randomly joining our club. Why are you here anyway?”

Ron glances over at Harry, like he can’t help it. Harry glares across the room, his arms folded. Riddle returns his stare, a sly look crossing his face.

“Harry, of course, will be paired with myself,” Riddle continues. Before Harry can protest, Riddle gives him an apologetic look. “You’re the only one with the skill to duel me. As you’ve so demonstrated.”

“You’ve duelled?” Lavender demands, raising an eyebrow at Harry.

“Once,” Harry drawls, eyes narrowing at Riddle.

Riddle turns away again, steadily laying out the rules and expectations for the next meeting before he presents a roll of parchment. “Before you go, you’ll need to sign your names. As part of the charter.”

Lavender jumps up, the first one ready to commit her soul.

“I thought this was a trial run,” Harry warns.

Riddle raises an eyebrow. “Oh, is it?” he asks, so damn innocent.

“It is not,” Lavender snaps, and she crosses the room, batting her eyes up at Riddle before she signs with a flourish, ending her signature with a heart.

Ginny and Luna are the next to do so, and Harry reluctantly stands, following Ron and Hermione. Hermione looks over at Harry, apologetically.

“It sounds…rather interesting, doesn’t it?” Hermione suggests.

“You’re not wrong there, Granger,” Rosier says, looking over at Hermione appreciatively.

She returns his gaze with pursed lips, but doesn’t say anything as she very carefully signs her name. Ron follows, and then, it’s only Harry, clutching Riddle’s quill in his hand. He looks over at the Death Eaters, and they all look amused, like they know. Bellatrix, certainly, knows, from the way she looks ready to crush the life out of Harry.

“I’ll wait,” Harry decides, setting his quill down, staring up at Riddle, waiting for an argument.

Riddle smiles as if it doesn’t bother him, but Harry can see his irritation. It just makes Harry beam.

Riddle clears his throat and turns to address the club at large. “Well, then, I look forward to assembling as a true club next Tuesday. Meeting adjourned.”

It’s like a spell has been broken. The Death Eaters stop paying rapt attention—despite already knowing all of the information repeated for the benefit of the newly-inducted Gryffindors—and turn to gossip amongst themselves.

“—getting ready for the party tomorrow night?” Nott asks, and Harry realizes this is the first time he’s ever heard him speak.

Bellatrix seems to be considering the question, but Lavender has never been able to leave things alone. She beams at the group of them and swiftly crosses to them.

“Are you also going to the Hufflepuff party?” she chirps.

The Death Eaters stare at her. Rabastan’s eyebrows furrow like she’s spoken a language he doesn’t understand. Bellatrix appears disgusted. Harry moves without thinking, going to stand at Lavender’s shoulder like her shadow. He can feel Ron join him.

“I...yes?” Rosier finally says, glancing over at Riddle.

Riddle is pretending not to listen, inspecting the roster again.

Lavender follows Rosier’s gaze, and her cheeks turn a rosy pink. “I think it’ll be a good idea. An opportunity for us to bond as a club,” Lavender says. “I hope I see all of you there!”

And then, she turns on her heel, bouncing away as if she’s done something.

Ron and Harry exchange bewildered looks, and cast one more look back at the equally confused Death Eaters before they meet the girls by the door.

“That was interesting,” Luna says, almost meaningfully. “I think this will be good for us.”

“Which part?” Ginny asks. “The hanging out with Slytherins or the potential maiming by Slytherins?”

“Well, we’ll also be learning how to maim, won’t we?” Luna challenges with a sweet smile. Ginny snorts, linking her arms with the silver-haired girl. “And I meant nearly everything about it. I’ve never learned much about duelling. But, an entire duelling competition? That sounds quite fun, doesn’t it?”

“I expected it to be a barbaric sport. A little like MMA,” Hermione says. She frowns at their empty looks. “Mixed martial arts. It’s...hitting people. With your fists. Through martial art forms.”

“Muggle duelling sounds rather savage, doesn’t it?” Ron says slowly.

Hermione’s eyes narrow. “I’d watch the use of that word. ‘Savage’,” she warns, spitting it like it’s poison. Ron stares at her, wide-eyed, and Harry pats Hermione’s hand, drawing her back to her former point. “Anyway, it’s quite regulated, isn’t it? And Dark Arts, though used, it seems like it’s meant for specialized duels. Like Riddle would be paired with someone that could also use Dark Arts, so it’d be even, wouldn’t it?”

“Doesn’t mean we should watch it for sport,” Harry mutters under his breath with little heat. He ignores Hermione’s knowing look.

“Well, I’m excited to learn,” Lavender says.

Ginny snorts. “I think you’re more excited to be in Riddle’s presence. I thought you were over him,” Ginny says. Immediately, Ron’s expression falls into a deep frown.

Lavender flushes delicately. “I am over him,” she says unconvincingly as they walk down the corridor, heading for dinner. There’s the sound of the Death Eaters spilling out of the empty classroom too, and Harry takes a right, deciding to take the long way to avoid being overheard. Lavender casts him a semi-grateful look. “I just...oh, you guys, he’s just so cute .”

“Is he?” Ron asks, nose wrinkling. “He...he looks kinda like a git. A rich git.”

“That’s because he is a rich git,” Harry declares firmly.

Ginny snorts into her sleeve.

“He is not,” Lavender protests. “You know as well as I that he’s an orphan , Harry.”

“Well, Harry’s a rich specky git too,” Ron says pointedly, cackling to avoid Harry’s jabs. “Doesn’t mean Riddle can’t be one too.”

“Tom Riddle’s net worth doesn’t really seem to be the point, does it?” Luna asks delicately. She looks over at Lavender. “Also, you’re not over him. You still fancy him.”

Lavender huffs, crossing her arms over her chest. “Well, I can’t help it. Anyway, I’ll...maybe when we go to the Hufflepuff party, we’ll see him there?” Lavender says. There’s a brief moment of silence, and then she spins on all of them. “We are going aren’t we?”

“We just finished detention for sneaking out past curfew, Lavender,” Hermione begins worriedly, and then, she throws Harry a look , and he looks away, pretending that he doesn’t know what it means.

Exactly . We’re finished!” Lavender says, cheerfully. “And you only got two detentions. Come on, you guys, we have to go. It’ll be so fun!”

Ginny seems to be seriously contemplating it and then, she nods. “I...maybe, I’ll ask Zabini if he wants to go,” she murmurs, growing more and more pleased with herself and the idea. “And you have to come too, Luna.”

Luna nods the affirmative.

“Can’t let you two go alone, now can I?” Ron adds.

“Ronald!” Hermione protests. “You’re a prefect!”

“So, are you,” Ron retorts. “Guess that means you’re coming with me to keep an eye on this lot.”

Hermione groans, pinching the bridge of her nose. “And you, Harry?” she asks.

And Harry seriously considers it.

He considers sneaking out to go to the Hufflepuff party, and having fun with his friends. He imagines dancing with them and laughing and losing himself in the music.

And then, he imagines the Death Eaters there too. He imagines Tom Riddle with the music, in the dark.

 

(Anything can happen in the dark.)

 

“No. It’s weekend supper tomorrow night. I’m gonna see Sirius,” Harry decides. “Probably work on some Quidditch plays.”

Lavender pouts, but Hermione looks almost relieved by his choice, somehow.

“Alright,” Hermione says. “Alright. Let’s form a plan over dinner.”

Chapter Text

Harry is content, sitting on the couch, picking at his treacle tart while he sketches out Quidditch plays. He should be looking at his homework—he has twelve inches due for Transfiguration—but he has the rest of the weekend to think about it, and he thinks he wants to ask Hermione to help him outline. So, instead, he looks at the Weasley siblings’ messily sketched plays and tries to form them into something cohesive.

“What if Ginny was a left winger?” Harry asks the room at large.

Remus looks up from the essays he’s grading, and Sirius glances away from whatever book he’s looking at.

“Is she subtle enough?” Sirius asks.

Remus still looks contemplative. “She could be. You’d need to work on her on it, wouldn’t you?” Remus asks. “How does she interact with the Beaters?”

“She’s reckless and unfortunately, Peakes favors his left. Maybe not,” Harry mutters. He winces at the thought of Peakes swinging just a little too hard, and a Bludger knocking Ginny right off her fucking Nimbus. It’s a bad thought.

Sirius shuts his book rather loudly and slides from his armchair, going to join Harry and sitting at Harry’s feet. He tilts his head back and looks up at Harry, and Harry looks down, a small smile working its way across his face.

“Why aren’t you out tonight?” Sirius asks.

Harry raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean? Encouraging me to break the rules?” Harry challenges. He glances over at Remus who is pretending that he isn’t smiling. “Hear that, Moony? Padfoot wants me to break the rules.”

“I want you to be with your friends and having fun, not hanging out with your fuddy duddy godfathers,” Sirius retorts.

Remus lets out a tiny scoff, as if to say that he’s not fuddy duddy in any way, shape, or form. “Harry’s very busy. He’s preparing for his NEWTs, he’s Quidditch captain,” Remus says like he’s gearing up to something, and then he looks up, and continues, “and I hear that you’re joining the duelling team.”

Harry stiffens.

“Who did you hear that from?”

Remus’ eyes sparkle with mischief. “My TA.”

Sirius sits up straighter. “That TA being...young Tom Riddle. The Tom Riddle you went on a date with?” he asks, his voice swinging higher.

Appointment,” Harry corrects, shaking his head. “And it’s...on a trial basis. Or whatever.”

“Well, no matter, I think you’ll be an excellent addition to the team. It adds some diversity to the team—”

“Riddle said something about that. Dumbledore wanted a different House?” Harry asks.

Professor Dumbledore just felt that it was beginning to look like a very exclusive social club,” Remus says.

Harry scoffs. Dumbledore isn’t wrong. Everyone knows that the Death Eaters and the duelling team are practically synonymous.

Except, they’re not now because the Ginny Weasley Defence Squad are on the team now.

“There are rumors about this year’s duelling competition,” Sirius volunteers. He only continues when he has Remus and Harry’s full attentions, because that’s just Sirius’ brand. “I had lunch with Marlene McKinnon—”

“Your ex-girlfriend?” Remus asks.

“We’re still friends,” Sirius says, waving Remus’ concerns away. Remus just rolls his eyes. “Anyway, I had lunch with Marlene McKinnon and she said that there are rumors about a gambling ring going on based on the outcome of the tournament. Your young man is apparently quite the duellist.”

For a moment, Harry thinks about Tom Riddle the duellist. He is a good duellist. He’s excellent, even, talented and sure of himself. He’s quick too, and seems to hold this encyclopedic knowledge of spells, even if he’s quick to use the Darkest ones in order to secure himself a win. And then, the first part of what Sirius say comes back to Harry.

“I. Uh. He. Is not my ‘young man’,” Harry sputters, shaking his head so fast, he feels like a wet dog. Sirius throws back his head and cackles even as Harry reaches down and shoves his head. “Stop it! Riddle isn’t...he’s just an arrogant toerag of a human being.”

And Remus just looks at him fondly and says, “You remind me of your mother.”

Harry rolls his eyes.

“You like him, Harry. I can tell,” Sirius teases.

“You don’t know him. He’s an arsehole,” Harry says firmly, and that, at least, doesn’t sound like a lie. He takes a deep breath and summons the spirit of Hermione, preparing to launch himself into a long tirade about why he can’t stand Tom fucking Riddle.

And then, Hermione’s actual spirit is summoned.

Or rather her Patronus.

Harry’s always found Hermione’s Patronus—an otter—rather cute, but as it darts into the sitting room, Remus stands up, alert and worried. No one just sends a Patronus message to someone. Harry stares at the Patronus for a long time, all good humor sliding out of him.

Then the otter lands on the table, right in front of Harry, and opens its mouth.

Hermione’s voice emerges: “Harry, I don’t have our parchment right now, but Lavender’s disappeared. We were at the Hufflepuff party and she tried to talk to Riddle, and then, she was sobbing. She ran off, and we can’t find her, and Ginny is so drunk. Please come! Bring the Map!”

And then, the Patronus Charm dissipates, little white sparkles falling onto the table. Harry sits frozen for a moment, his mind racing kilometers a minute.

Lavender spoke to Riddle.

Lavender cried after speaking with Riddle.

What had he said to her?

“That...doesn’t sound good,” Sirius says uncertainly. He looks over at Harry. “Is that...that’s the girl that likes Riddle, right?”

Remus groans, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Another party?” he demands.

Harry buries his face in his hands and groans, because this...he has to handle this. When he looks up again, he looks directly over at Moony. Moony already looks resigned to his fate.

“I need to take care of this,” Harry says firmly.

“It’s after hours, Harry—” Remus begins.

Harry shakes his head. “She’s my friend, Moony. I have to go get here. Let me do this, please,” Harry begs. He knows Remus to be the pushover—not that Sirius isn’t a pushover either—and he stands up, crossing over to Remus at the kitchen table. He slides into the seat directly across from him. “Come on, Moony. I gotta get Lavender, and I don’t know where she is.”

Sirius jumps up from the ground and follows Harry, easily slotting himself into Remus’ lap, between Remus and the kitchen table. He wraps his arms around Remus’ neck, pressing his cheek to the top of Remus’ tawny brown hair. Remus’ hands settle on Sirius’ hips.

“Come on, Moony,” Sirius drawls. “This will be a formative experience for our Harry.”

Harry resists the urge to snort, smothering it in his sleeve. “Yes, Moony, formative,” Harry insists.

We didn’t want adults cramping our style when we were kids, and we had the Map too,” Sirius continues. He leans in, pressing a soft kiss to each of Remus’ cheeks, and he smirks when Remus’ hands tighten against him. “At least, with Harry, we know that he’ll use it responsibly.”

“That’s why he got it confiscated!” Remus protests. “He wasn’t using it responsibly. He was sneaking out on school nights.”

“Did the full moon wait for weekends, Moony?” Sirius challenges. “He snuck out to help a friend, just like he will now.”

Remus groans, his head tilting backwards, and he closes his eyes, thinking on it for a moment. Sirius leans back, glancing over his shoulder to wink at Harry.

“Don’t wink at him,” Remus retorts without even opening his eyes. He stands up, and Sirius slides off his lap, leaning back against the kitchen table, grey eyes bright with triumph. Remus snorts and pulls his wand, going through a motion too complicated for a simple Summoning Spell.

But, even as he casts his spell, the Marauder’s Map zooms from wherever he had it locked up, and settles on the kitchen table, right in front of Harry.

“Thank you!” Harry blurts out.

“Use it responsibly, Harry. I mean it,” Remus warns. “Go find your friend and escort her right back to Gryffindor Tower. I’ll give you twenty minutes, and then, I’ll be alerting Professor Sprout to the party occurring in her Common Room .”

Harry groans, shaking his head. Trust Remus to make him look like an Auror.

“You’re going to rat them out?” Sirius demands.

“I’m a professor, Sirius!” Remus insists, and before they can devolve into a petty argument—albeit a cute one because somehow Harry does find his embarrassing godparents rather cute—Harry pops up, and awkwardly hugs Remus.

Remus looks down, surprised, because it’s rather uncharacteristic of Harry.

Everyone hugs Harry first.

“Thank you ,” Harry says and then, he runs to grab his wand, Hermione’s rather magical parchment, and snatches up the Marauder’s Map before he darts away, a mission in mind. As he walks from the flat through Remus’ study to the DADA room, he casts, “ ‘I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good’.

Harry doesn’t realize how much he missed the Marauder’s Map until it opens in his hands and he watches the ink spread, marking where everyone is. He flips through rapidly, eyes darting around, but he lands on the Hufflepuff Common Room, first. He sees the cluster of names, all overlapping with one another—too many to count—but he catches a ‘Herm’, a ‘—sley’, and a ‘Rid—’.

Harry’s eyes narrow and he goes down the Serpentine Corridor from Classroom 3C. He swallows as he glances at the staircase that leads straight down to the first floor.

The only problem: at the bottom is Professor McGonagall’s office.

What would Hermione do? Harry asks himself.

He clears his throat and whispers, “Silencio,” at his feet, and begins his descent, keeping his breath so low and shallow, he can barely hear himself as he goes through the dark. He doesn’t dare to light the end of his wand as he creeps down the corridor to the next staircase—down into the basement.

Now, he whispers, “Lumos,” and lets the soft white light guide his way.

He glances down at the Marauder’s Map, and curses under his breath.

Fucking Mrs. Norris.

He moves swiftly down by the kitchens and swings into the little nook that he knows leads into the Hufflepuff Common Room. He slides between the barrels and searches for the one he needs. He glances down at the Marauder’s Map again.

She’s close. Far too close.

He can hear her soft meows.

He locates the barrel two from the bottom, middle of the second row, and painstakingly taps the rhythm of ‘Helga Hufflepuff’. He finally breathes easy when the lid swings open, exposing the passageway that leads right into the Hufflepuff Basement. He crawls, tracking through the basement, and stops suddenly as the sudden acrid, sour taste of vomit hits his nose.

Harry gags and lifts his wand to see a pool of vomit just right there, in the middle of the tunnel.

“Fucking gross,” he groans. “Evanesco.”

The pool of vomit Vanishes but the smell lingers and he coughs and gags as he crawls forward towards the mouth of the tunnel.

Immediately, he’s met with loud pounding music, so loud that it rattles Harry’s teeth and he winces away from it, clasping his hands to his ears. Before he makes any more moves, with a whispered ‘Mischief Managed’, he tucks the map into his back pocket and stands up, looking around.

Most every upper-year is around, gyrating to the sounds of a magically enhanced harp and a magic violin, along with the screaming shrieks of the French Veela pop star, Colette. Harry takes in his surroundings—he’s only been in the Hufflepuff Basement once before—and he’s as amazed as always. In the light, it might look homey, round and earthy with low ceilings and artificial sun coming through portholes.

But, now, with the sharp yellow lights, everyone looks overexposed and still cast in shadows. Harry swallows, and then, he catches a glimpse of red hair, a person that stands taller than most others.

Harry jerks through the crowd, shoving people out of the way.

“Ron!” he shouts. “Ron!”

Finally, he captures Ron’s attention. Ron spins around, waving his arms through the air like a wild person, his eyes bright with excitement.

“HARRY! YOU CAME!” Ron says cheerfully, throwing his arms around Harry and dragging him in. His other arm is wrapped around Hermione, and she looks caught between drunk and worried, eyes darting around nervously.

When she realizes that Harry’s arrived, Harry watches her relaxes and she melts into his side, grinning.

“Harry! You’re here!”

“Yes, yes, but where’s Lavender? Have you seen her?” Harry asks, urgently, but they either can’t hear him due to the music or are too drunk to care.

“DANCE WITH US, HARRY! WE’RE HAVING FUN!” Ron cheers, jumping up and down, shrieking something else unintelligible.

Harry groans. “Thanks, but no,” he says, shoving Ron’s arm off of him. He grabs Hermione by the hand, pulling her in. “Hermione, do you remember sending me that Patronus? Where is Lavender?”

“Lavender left. Lavender went home,” Hermione recites, shaking her head. She looks dazed and she glances over at something far away. “Merlin, look at them. Harry, they’ve been snogging for ages!”

Harry follows her finger, preparing himself for something—for Riddle and—and he frowns when he sees Zabini pressed up against the wall, Ginny standing on her toes while she suckles on his pulse point, and bites her way up the column of his neck to his lips. Zabini’s hands are tight on her waist, dragging him as he slowly rolls his hips, and Harry flushes, turning away, because suddenly he feels like he’s intruding.

“That’s great,” Harry says sharply. “But, where is Lavender? What the bloody hell happened?”

Hermione hiccups. “I-I told you! She went to talk to Riddle, like she always does, and he said something to her, and then she just started crying, and I tried to talk to her, but oh, Harry, you know I’m no good at those things and Luna said she’d take care of it, so she followed, and then—Greengrass looks rather pretty tonight, doesn’t she? I like her hair.”

Harry feels like she’s just given him whiplash.

“I—what?” he asks, startled. Hermione is still staring at Greengrass, curiously, like she’s trying to assess something. Harry shakes his head. “Look, you...you stay with Ron, and I’m going to look for...well, You-Know-Who.”

“Okay!” Hermione says, distractedly, and then, Harry is off again, braving the sea of teenagers with nothing but determination and the urge to maybe punch a smug Slytherin in the face.

It doesn’t take Harry long to find Riddle.

He’s in the center of the room. Where everyone looks sallow or sick in the strange yellow lights that dance around the room, he looks absolutely otherworldly. Harry’s breath catches in his throat as he watches Riddle grin at something that Rosier says, cruel and terrible, and he throws his head back. Harry stares at the column of his neck, the Adam’s apple that he’d sink his teeth into, and he wonders what Riddle’s laughter tastes like.

And then, Harry shakes his head and banishes the thoughts away.

He shoves his way through the swaths of dancing students, his gaze narrowing on Riddle.

Harry reaches into the middle of the Death Eaters and grabs Riddle’s wrist. Almost all of them react, eyes darting up and narrowing on his face, but Riddle looks only pleasantly surprised. Harry glares up at him and drags him away, without a single care for how it may look, because apparently, Lavender is fucking missing.

“Oh, manhandling, Harry?” Riddle drawls, and his voice cuts through the music unlike anyone else’s, and Harry wonders if that’s something Riddle just does with his voice, or if that’s something that only Harry can hear, and he can’t think about that second option, no thanks. “Didn’t know you missed me so much.”

And Harry has had enough of his shit because he shoves Riddle against the wall and crosses his arms. Riddle goes easily even if he’s got two stones on Harry, and a generous height difference.

“What did you tell her about us?” Harry demands, and he isn’t worried because the music is so loud that Harry can hear it over his own fucking thoughts .

“ ‘Us’? There’s an ‘us’?” Riddle sneers.

Harry pushes his shoulder roughly. “Me. What did you tell her about me ?”

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Riddle asks, but he’s grinning, sharp and terrible.

“It’s not fucking funny, Riddle,” Harry snarls.

Riddle scoffs, looking away. “I find it pretty funny.”

“Be serious, Riddle,” Harry reminds him. He presses a finger against Riddle’s sternum and glares up at him. “What did you tell her? She ran out of here crying.”

“She tried to interrogate me about why I stopped seeing my acquaintances. I told her it wasn’t any of her business, and she got it into her head that she was the reason. She tried to kiss me, and I rejected her. I told her that I wasn't interested, and that if she felt encouraged by my friendliness, she shouldn't be. It’s as simple as that,” Riddle sighs, like he’s already tired of this story, and he looks down at Harry warily as Harry works through the story

His brow furrows as he thinks on it.

“Well, were you nice about it?” Harry snaps.

Riddle’s eyes narrow. “Do I look nice?”

Before Harry can list all the ways that Riddle is not nice, the yellow lighting of the entire room sharpens and brightens, turning everything sterile like the lighting in St. Mungo’s. Harry spins around and his eyes widen.

Time’s up.

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?”

Harry had never realized that Professor Pomona Sprout could scream so damn loudly.

Riddle’s eyes narrow and he ducks his head, eyes darting around.

MY HUFFLEPUFFS? THROWING AN ILLICIT PARTY?

“We have to go,” Riddle says immediately as the entirety of the party begins to lurch, people flying towards the door, darting around Sprout with their hands over their heads as they try to disguise themselves.

Riddle grabs Harry’s hand and immediately drags him along.

Harry stumbles after him, eyes wide. “No, I-I can’t! My friends!” he insists.

“No time for that,” Riddle says, his voice never rising above a hiss, as everyone screams louder, trying to start meet-up points as Sprout spills into the room, Moony and Filch on her heels.

Harry glances over at Moony, who finds him immediately. Moony looks at him grimly, and then his eyes go down to where Riddle’s fingers are entwined with Harry’s, and he raises an eyebrow, looking rather amused. Harry flushes and moves faster.

“Let’s go!” he insists, going with the sea of people even as Filch’s reaching hands try to stop them.

People are fleeing, crawling over one another through the tunnel, and Harry falls out of it next to Ginny and Zabini who look pleased and horrified by the turn of events.

“Ginny! Have you seen Hermione or Ron?” Harry blurts out. “O-Or Lavender? Luna?”

Ginny looks woozy and lost, shaking her head slightly. “Uh...what?” she says. She pauses. “ Riddle ?”

“I need to get her back to the Common Room,” Harry says firmly.

“It’s fine, I’ll do it,” someone says immediately, and Harry blinks as Katie Bell appears, looping her arm through Ginny’s. “Look for your other friends.”

COME BACK HERE! I SEE YOU GRYFFINDORS!”

“No time,” Riddle says sharply.

And then, he’s storming down the hall, hauling Harry after him, and then, they break out into a run as they hear the meows of Mrs. fucking Norris.

“Why won’t this cat just drop fucking dead ?” Harry snarls as they run down the fucking corridor, spinning around the corner and then shoving Harry into an alcove, pressing up against him. Harry gasps as he feels the lines of Riddle’s body against his. “Hey—”

“Shut up, you talk too much,” Riddle hisses, slapping a hand over Harry’s mouth. He cracks Harry on the top of his head and Harry feels like a cold egg trickles over his body, and then Riddle does the same to himself.

They breathe softly, and when Harry looks up, he can’t see Riddle anymore, not really. He can see the haziest outline in the shadows, but it’s a remarkable Disillusionment Charm.

Mrs. Norris’ meows get closer, and Riddle turns around and presses back. Harry’s trapped between the wall and the solid form of Riddle and he presses his forehead against Riddle’s back, head pressed between his shoulder blades. Riddle reaches back, groping for something and his hand lands high on Harry’s thigh.

Harry gasps, and suddenly, Mrs. Norris is there, lingering in the alcove, staring over at them with round yellow eyes.

And then, a strangled, sibilant hiss slips from Riddle’s lips. It’s a threatening, horrible sound, and Mrs. Norris yowls before she darts off, moving faster than she had all night. Riddle lingers for just a moment and then he pulls away, and Harry misses the hot brand of his large hand almost instantly. Harry lets out a shaky breath.

Finite Incantatem,” Riddle whispers.

And then, Harry watches as Riddle takes shape and color once more, and he looks up, leaning back against the wall, his chest heaving.

“What the fuck was that?” Harry breathes.

“Parseltongue. She’s afraid of it,” Riddle whispers back. “It’s why she never catches us.”

Harry has so many questions.

He banishes them for a later time.

“I have to go find Lavender,” Harry whispers. “And Ron and Hermione, and possibly, Luna.”

“You can’t go anywhere,” Riddle says, shaking his head. “Mrs. Norris was just here. Filch is never far behind, and with the number of people at that Hufflepuff party, they’ll want the prefects and me to look out for any stragglers.”

Harry shakes his head, yanking out the Marauder’s Map. “I have this,” he says, waving it in Riddle’s face.

“It’s...old parchment?”

Harry glares. “It’s a map of Hogwarts.”

For a moment, Riddle looks impressed. Then, he shakes his head. “If you look at your little ‘map’, you’ll see that every professor will be out in full force too. You can’t evade all of them,” Riddle disagrees. “It’ll be better to stay in my rooms until everyone’s settled and then you can properly sneak out. I’ll even cast a Disillusionment Charm for you.”

Harry sneers. “I can do that myself—”

“Can you?” Riddle asks, as if he doesn’t quite believe Harry.

“Fuck you,” Harry says.

It’s as good as a fine.

Riddle smirks and moves first, backing out of the alcove. He looks up and down the corridor, before tilting his head towards the right. Harry follows him out, moving as slowly and quietly as he can down another set of stairs. They arrive in a more abandoned corridor that Harry recognizes, and he sees the portrait of the python soon enough.

Harry waits for a password of some sort, but Riddle just hisses at the portrait again, and it hisses back, pale acrylic eyes flickering over Harry’s face before the door swings open, and Riddle leads him inside, like Harry’s one of his fucking acquaintances.

Harry inspects the place—it’s rather sophisticated in the way that the Common Rooms aren’t. It’s grey slate, accented with plush purple sofas. There’s a kitchenette tucked in the corner, with an ice box, and two doors that lead, presumably, to the bedrooms. There are cushions by the fire dancing in the fireplace. Harry gasps when he sees that the fire is green.

Mr. Riddle. Tom, my boy.”

It’s Dumbledore.

Harry glances at Riddle, alarmed, but Riddle doesn’t seem incredibly concerned. He strips out of his jacket, tossing it over the back of the sofa and he slides out of his slick dragonhide boots. He exchanges them for slick leather Oxfords.

“Professor Dumbledore,” Riddle calls, and his voice sounds different now.

Scratchy, throaty, as if he’s just risen from sleep.

Harry’s eyes narrow.

Riddle is good.

Did I wake you, Tom, my boy?” Professor Dumbledore asks through the green flames. Harry tucks himself against the wall, in case, Dumbledore thinks to look through the fire. “We seem to have a situation.

“A situation? Of what kind, professor?” Riddle asks.

It seems that the Hufflepuffs took it upon themselves to throw a...soiree. If you would assemble your prefects and patrol for the next hour or so, it would be greatly appreciated.”

“Very well, Professor,” Riddle says, and then, the fire turns orange again. He turns to look at Harry, who stares at him in silence. “He knows that I was there.”

“Does he? And you’re not in trouble?” Harry challenges.

Riddle snorts. “Dumbledore is a fool that believes in innocence until proven otherwise.”

“You’re taking advantage of his trust in you,” Harry retorts.

Riddle rolls his eyes. “Dumbledore knows who I am,” is all he says, and then, he waves his wand, Summoning his Head Boy badge. He presses the tip of his wand—long and pale, Harry has never noticed before—to the metal, and it burns bright for a moment. Riddle fastens it to his shirt and clears his throat. “My room is through there. Clearwater’s is locked. She’s away again for the weekend. She’s applying for a medical program in France.”

Harry shakes his head. “I don’t need to know where your bedroom is, Riddle.”

“Are you sure?” Riddle smirks.

Harry flips him the bird as Riddle backs away towards the door, his eyes catching on his face, like he’s trying to commit Harry to memory.

“Go do your fucking job, Riddle.”

“I’ll see you in a bit, Harry.”

And Merlin, Harry hates (likes) how Riddle says his name.

Chapter Text

Harry gets bored very fast.

He walks in circles, rounding the Head Boy’s sofa, again and again, rounding in front of  the fire again and again. He sighs, glancing from the fireplace and back over to the kitchenette. None of it looks particularly personal. It’s also not what he would’ve expected for Riddle.

Riddle is made for onyx and stone and very elaborate candelabras. But, this is warm and soft, plush purple velvet and dark wood. Harry frowns, and wonders what’s in their ice box. He walks into the kitchenette and has no qualms with opening the cupboards—it’s all quite boring, he’s sad to report. Just tea and biscuits and an assortment of snacks. Harry shuts the cupboard and frowns, turning towards the two doors.

Riddle pointed out his room to Harry.

Harry frowns, folding his arms over his chest.

He knows that Lavender never went into Riddle’s room. She’d made it sound romantic—the fact that they’d fucked in front of his fireplace. But Harry just thinks that it’s rather humiliating, not even being invited back into the man’s bed.

Harry takes a hesitant step forward, curious.

He hesitates, hand hovering over the doorknob.

He doesn’t wait long because Harry has always been nosy, and he doesn’t put it past Riddle to be up to something, because he seems like the type to be up to something, and Harry still hasn’t forgotten their da—appointment, where he just disappeared with Borgin, and then ditched Harry back at the castle to go get into a fucking fight.

Harry wrenches the door open and peeks inside.

This is more of the kind of room Harry can picture Riddle occupying.

It’s still rather warm, but there are the Slytherin green sheets and comforter that Harry missed. There’s the big heavy desk that’s probably compensating for Riddle’s tiny dick—even though Harry knows Riddle’s dick isn’t tiny, because everyone says it’s fucking—and there’s, strangely enough, an enormous rock in the corner that radiates heat, though Harry isn’t sure what that’s for.

Harry steps past the threshold and feels something warm rush over him. He shivers against it, this wave of magic and sighs before he looks around, tracing the end board of the four-poster bed.

What kind of person does end up in Tom Riddle’s bed? Harry wonders.

He steps away from it, refuses to touch the sheets even though they look soft, like one could get lost in them. He ignores the mound of pillows and turns his attention to the big heavy desk.

It’s as orderly as Harry imagined it would be. Riddle has an assortment of books stacked on his desk, all categorized by subject. He seems to be a connoisseur of texts, particularly advanced magical theory, which Harry supposes checks out.

He keeps three black quills on his desk, and there’s a perch for a hawk, though the hawk is noticeably absent. Harry wonders if the hawk sleeps in the Owlery with the others, like Hedwig.

Harry looks over and sees a stack of first year Defence essays, all in chicken scratch, already graded. Harry leafs through them, his lips twitching into a smile against his will as he looks at the essays on imps and bowtruckles. He sets them aside, and his gaze catches on a book.

It’s a nondescript black book.

A diary.

Harry snorts. “Riddle keeps a diary?” he mutters, and without a single moment of hesitation, he picks it up and flips it open, in search for what kind of thoughts Riddle commits to this small black diary.

Instead of Riddle’s innermost confessions, all Harry finds are lists. It’s lists upon lists of things.

“Boring,” Harry sighs as he leafs through the book.

And then, he pauses.

The list is precise and strange.

 

Bundle of Unicorn hair

Sonnets of a Sorcerer by 

Mordred’s music box

Basilisk venom

Acromantula silk

Veela scalp

 

And on and on the list goes, each with corresponding numbers next to them and initials. Harry’s brow furrows as he goes to the next page, and there are more items, except now, there are notes under each individual item and dates. He checks the latest item, and recognizes the date—his and Riddle’s appointment.

 

Locket

Given by B., bound by UV, paid in gold

 

And before Harry can read further, there’s a furious hiss. Harry drops the diary like he’s been burnt and he spins around, staring wide-eyed at the enormous poison green snake that slithers from under Riddle’s bed. Its eyes are enormous and glassy with a frightening amount of awareness in them, and the snake opens its mouth wide, revealing long glistening white fangs.

It spits more hisses at him, rearing its head as it emerges fully.

“Fuck!” Harry gasps as he jerks back, avoiding the darting head and he stumbles from the room, slamming the door shut just as the snake slams into the door.

He breathes hard, pressing his hands to his chest and lets his head fall back against the door.

For a moment, he just celebrates being alive.

And then: “Why the fuck does Riddle have a massive fucking snake in his room?”

Chapter Text

Harry is back in front of the fire, on the couch, when the door swings open again, some hour later. He pulls his knees closer to his chest and pretends that he’s still not a little pissed about the big ass snake that tried to eat him or guilty that he snuck into Riddle’s room in the first place.

Riddle doesn’t say anything at first, taking his time to shuck off his student robes and shoes by the door, before he turns to Harry, leaning over the back of the sofa. Harry looks up at him, and his expression falters at the endlessly amused look on his Riddle’s face.

“What?” Harry barks.

“You met Nagini. Didn’t you?” Riddle drawls. He’s practically grinning.

Harry’s eyes narrow. “Who’s Nagini?” he asks, almost convincingly.

Riddle laughs softly in Harry’s ear. He’s so close that Harry can feel the vibrations of his laugh, and he pulls his knees even closer to his chest.

“My snake,” Riddle whispers. “Did you sneak into my room, Harry Potter?”

Harry flushes bright red.

“I...uh...I,” Harry stammers, and then, he just decides to glare up at Riddle. “Why the bloody hell do you have a snake anyway?”

“Because I asked,” Riddle drawls and then, he swerves around the couch and sits down next to Harry, slouching down on the sofa.

Harry presses himself to the side, staring at Riddle from the corner of his eyes. Riddle doesn’t seem to mind Harry’s wariness, waving his wand and Summoning a glass and a bottle of amber liquid. Riddle pours himself some and doesn’t bother to offer any to Harry, drinking from it in silence for a moment.

“It’s dangerous,” Harry mutters.

Riddle snorts. “I’m a Parselmouth. Nagini doesn’t do anything I don’t tell her to,” Riddle insists, and then he takes another sip of the amber liquid. “Now, why were you in my room, Harry?”

“How was the prefect meeting?” Harry says, clumsily deflecting.

He ignores Riddle’s rolling eyes.

“Granger and Weasley looked surprisingly sober during the prefect meeting,” Riddle says, and Harry nods, his lips twitching into a smile. He wouldn’t be surprised if the pair had downed Pepper-Up Potions, even if that only promises a killer headache in the morning. “We patrolled for an hour and then we decided on shifts. The professors will be out for the remainder of the night. Have you found Brown on your little...map?”

And Harry pauses.

He hasn’t checked the map.

He hasn’t checked the fucking map.

“I...er…” Harry drawls, letting his knees fall to the side and he reaches into his back pocket, pulling out his parchment and then reaches for his wand. He glances at Riddle from the corner of his eye, and Riddle looks back at him, smug and only slightly surprised.

“You haven’t checked for Brown, then?” Riddle asks, pleased.

“Fuck off,” Harry mutters. He stares down at the Marauder’s Map, trying his very best to ignore Riddle’s stare. “‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good’.”

Riddle shifts forward to stare as the Marauder’s Map presents itself to Harry, and he makes a soft sound in the back of his throat.

“This...is some of the cleverest, most complex magic I’ve ever seen,” Riddle murmurs. He looks over it, eyes narrowed as he studies the map. “How did they get the Hogwarts plans? Or did they reconstruct it themselves? What surveying charms did they use?”

“You’re seventeen. How much magic have you seen?” Harry interrupts because he can’t help being a little shit even if Riddle’s right. Especially if Riddle’s right.

He flips the map open and starts to scan each floor for Lavender’s name. He still sees a few students out and about, running through the corridors, avoiding professors. He spots Zacharias Smith in Sprout’s office with a few other Hufflepuffs, probably the enablers of the little Hufflepuff event. He even sees Ron and Hermione patrolling on the fourth floor.

“Quite a lot, if you must know,” Riddle says seriously. Harry looks over at him, doubtful. “How does it work then? Is it an enchantment? Is the map connected—”

“I couldn’t tell you how it worked,” Harry says flatly. “It’s a map of the castle and it tells me where everyone is. It’s why I rarely get in trouble when I’m out and about.”

“How did you come across it, then?” Riddle asks.

It doesn’t even strike Harry to lie. “It was created by my father, Prongs, Remus—Moony—, Sirius—Padfoot—and...Wormtail. Peter Pettigrew,” Harry says, whispering the last name to himself, giving voice to a name that he doesn’t use often.

There’s a moment of pregnant silence.

“Pettigrew. The man that—”

“Yeah. That Pettigrew,” Harry interrupts, sharply. He finally gets to Gryffindor tower and he taps his wand against it, sifting through the clump of names and letting out a sharp sigh of relief. “Okay. Lavender’s in bed. I guess she just went back home.”

Riddle nods, like he actually cares and he turns to look at Harry for a long time as he sips his drink.

"I really did just let her down. I believe she understands now," Riddle says.

Harry looks away, frowning down at the Marauder's Map for a long time before he gives a muttered Mischief Managed. When he looks back up, Riddle is still staring. Harry’s nose wrinkles.

“What?” he mutters.

“Nothing,” Riddle drawls even though he doesn’t look away. “But...really, why were you in my room?”

“Stop asking,” Harry insists, nearly whinging. “I just...thought you were up to something, and I saw your dorky diary and—”

“Did you open the diary?” Riddle asks abruptly. He doesn’t sound like he’d be upset if Harry said ‘yes’, just morbidly curious.

“Yes,” Harry says. “And then, your fucking snake—”

“Nagini.”

“Attacked me!” Harry finishes. He frowns over at Riddle. “Her name’s Nagini?”

“Yes. She thought you were an intruder. She isn’t allowed to venture out of these quarters, and rarely out of my room. Clearwater is afraid of snakes,” Riddle explains. He stands, so long and tall, and finishes his glass before Banishing it away. He stretches his arms over his head, and Harry briefly admires the long length of his back. “Would you like a refreshment?”

“I...what?” Harry stammers.

“A refreshment.” Riddle is already walking away from him, going towards the kitchenette.

“You can’t possibly have snacks,” Harry says, following him over and Harry leans back against the counters, pressing his hands to the edge before leveraging himself on top of the counters. Riddle pauses, looking over at him with an inscrutable expression. Harry raises a challenging eyebrow.

“I have snacks,” Riddle mumbles like he’s appalled.

Harry snorts. “You don’t seem like the snacking type.”

Riddle rolls his eyes as he goes through the kitchenette, wrenching some of the cabinets open. He throws his hand up, as if to display all that he has to offer.

“I do have friends that enjoy the privacy that the privileges of the Head Boy provide,” Riddle says, sounding so put out and teenagerish that Harry laughs. Riddle’s lips quirk into a small, pleased smile as he pulls out two boxes of candy from Honeydukes. He rattles them and they sound vaguely empty. “My friends are heathens. I have Blood Pops and Chocolate Frogs.”

Harry raises an eyebrow, lips curling into a smile. “Only vampires eat Blood Pops,” Harry says.

“Then, I suppose Rosier is a vampire,” Riddle says, crossing his arms over his chest as he regards Harry. Harry kicks his feet, his heels hitting the lower cabinets as he makes his decision. “Chocolate Frog, then?”

“And a cup of tea if you have it,” Harry agrees.

Riddle nods. “I do,” he confirms as he grabs for the kettle, fills it with a wordless Aguamenti, and settles it on top of the stovetop. He turns back to Harry, staring at him with curiosity. “Tell me something about your childhood.”

And almost immediately, Harry feels his shoulders curving inward as he tries to ward off the thoughts that come with even the reminder that Harry had a childhood.

“Why would you want to know anything about my childhood?” Harry asks coldly. “I grew up with Muggles. Don’t you lot hate Muggles?”

Riddle’s eyes narrow. “We have more in common than you think,” he warns.

“Not hating Muggles,” Harry retorts.

“I never said I hated Muggles,” Riddle says so prim and proper, his nose wrinkling at the very idea. He turns to Harry. “I don’t care for them, but I don’t hate them. Hate is quite a lot of energy to waste on a population I don’t particularly care about.”

“They’re human beings,” Harry snaps.

Riddle hums. “Are they?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. He seems to catch Harry’s rising temper and he sighs. “Isn’t it a little late for another ideological argument, Potter?”

“Never,” Harry retorts. He leans forward, folding his hands in his lap. “Tell me, Riddle, why do you dislike Muggles?”

Riddle snorts. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

It’s so needlessly childish that Harry can’t help but erupt into laughter, and Riddle smirks as the tea kettle finally whistles. He waves his wand, Conjuring a cup into existence while he uses his magic to Levitate the kettle. Harry watches in suppressed admiration as Riddle maintains the nonverbal spells while moving about. He’d never say it out loud, but Riddle’s magical talents were as great as everyone said they were.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Harry asks.

Riddle pauses as he goes through the cabinets. “Darjeeling or orange blossom?” he asks.

“Orange blossom,” Harry decides. He leans forward, watching as Riddle makes his tea, with a splash of milk—just how Harry likes it. “Are you not going to tell me?”

Riddle hums. “What do you think?” he asks, passing Harry his tea. Riddle takes his own cup of tea and steps back, leaning back against the sofa, opposite Harry. Even still, Harry can’t shake the feeling that Riddle is too close, despite being over a meter away.

“Everyone says that you’re going to be the youngest Minister for Magic in history,” Harry drawls. “Or an Unspeakable. Or another high ranking position in the Ministry.”

“What if I said I wanted to be a professor? A Defence professor?” Riddle asks, his voice very carefully blank.

And Harry just stares at Riddle for a long time. Riddle stares back.

Harry doesn’t think he’s lying.

“That’s...I hope you’re not looking to steal my godfather’s job,” Harry says as lighthearted as he can.

“Maybe I am.”

“Why?” Harry retorts.

Riddle’s brow creases. “Hogwarts is my home.”

And it hits Harry too close. He feels the words in his spine, in his ribs, in his gut, and he nods almost against his own will. He leans forward, sipping his tea again.

“It’s mine too,” he whispers.

Riddle’s lips twitch. He leans forward. “What do you want to be? A Quidditch player?” Riddle teases.

Harry snorts and turns, reaching for the Chocolate Frogs in the cupboard. He takes one, catching it before it can leap from the box and he bites into it savagely.

“No,” he declares. “I don’t know what I want to be.”

Riddle nods his acknowledgment. “You don’t have to know. We shouldn’t really know. We’re only still students.”

Harry lets out a small sound in the back of his throat, because he remembers telling that to McGonagall and the look she’d given him at his Career Meeting—a look that both held pity and expectation all wrapped into one.

You know what you want to do for the rest of your life,” Harry accuses. “I know that you want to do something, you want to be something, but we both know you are going to end up Minister.”

“Why, Harry, I didn’t know you thought so highly of me,” Riddle deadpans, pressing his free hand to his chest.

“Fuck off, I’m just being truthful. I know your type. You want to be important. You want a legacy,” Harry mutters. “But...you’re right. We shouldn’t have to know.”

Harry nibbles on the Chocolate Frog in his grasp, letting his head fall back against one of the cupboards, sighing to himself. He looks over at Riddle.

Riddle is watching him.

Riddle looks at him a lot. It’s the kind of look that strips Harry bare, that looks to Harry and searches for Harry’s secrets, like Harry doesn’t deserve secrets. It’s the kind of look that makes Harry feel naked, and makes the monster in his chest scream, and his bones jittery in his skin. It’s the kind of look that reminds Harry of (euphoria) him at his highest, when he’s on his broom in the sky and spiralling downward in search of the Snitch.

It’s the kind of look that terrifies Harry.

Harry stops, the teacup just at his lips. He takes a deep breath of the orange blossom. Then, softly, he asks, “Why do you look at me like that?”

“I like looking at you, darling.”

And it’s the way Riddle says it, dark and slow and hoarse. It’s the way Riddle looks at him, leaning against the back of the sofa as he stares at Harry, perched atop the kitchenette counter.

Harry presses his thighs tighter together.

“What does that...what does that mean?” Harry asks even though he knows he shouldn’t.

Riddle takes a step closer, staring at him, and the space between them. He looks like he wants to eliminate it, to get into Harry’s space and suck up all of the air around him. Harry isn’t sure if he’d let him or not.

“It means that you’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”

Harry closes his eyes. “You can’t say things like that,” Harry says gently.

“Why not?” Riddle asks.

Harry frowns at him, and takes another sip of tea to avoid answering right away. Then, “Because I’m not so easily convinced, Riddle. I’m not one of your conquests.”

“No,” Riddle agrees. “No, you are not.”

Harry sets his tea to the side and pushes off the counter, landing with a soft thud. He wraps his arms around his body and swallows hard. “You...you said that the halls are being patrolled?”

“Yes,” Riddle says with a nod. “The prefects are out in shifts. I’ll have to go out again soon enough too. And the professors are up.”

“Then...Hermione...they’ll want to know where I am. I have to write it on the parchment to check in. They saw me out,” Harry says, finding excuses, searching for them, because he doesn’t want to leave. He swallows hard as he sees the look in Riddle’s eyes, and he returns it with a look of his own, practically pleading for him to leave it alone.

“So...you want to stay then?”

Of course, Riddle doesn’t leave it alone.

“I—” Harry starts, and then stops, looking away when Riddle smirks at him. “I’ll take the couch.”

“Penelope will be back in the morning,” Riddle interjects. “She’ll wonder why you’re here. We’re both adults, Harry. We can share my bed.”

Harry bites his bottom lip because he doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s here. He can’t own that. And yet—

“Are you...er, are you sure?”

“Extremely.”

“And your snake?” Harry returns, because he still hasn’t forgotten the massive fucking snake.

Riddle gives him a look and marches towards his room. He throws the door open and that same hiss from the corridor before slides out from between his teeth. Harry’s breath catches in his throat again and he shifts as that heat in the pit of him grows again, and he feels his own cock twitch at the sound of Parseltongue. He prays that Riddle doesn’t notice.

Riddle hisses again, and the snake—Nagini—answers, slithering from the room and crawling up Riddle’s body, twining up like he’s a tree until she falls over his shoulders, a heavy boa of sorts. She lifts her head, turning her flat diamond head in Harry’s direction and hisses again.

“I’ve told her that you’ll be in my bed—ah, room—for the night,” Riddle explains. “She thinks you smell quite pretty.”

“Does she, or do you think that?” Harry retorts, hopping off the counter.

Riddle smirks and hisses something at Nagini again, and she hisses back. Harry slowly approaches the pair, eyes caught on Nagini.

“She’s quite intelligent, isn’t she?” Harry murmurs.

“Well, she understands English,” Riddle snorts. He meets Harry’s surprised stare. “She’s magical. She’s a descendant of a Basilisk, somewhere along the line. I found her when I was eleven, and as long as she’s confined to my rooms, Dumbledore doesn’t mind.”

Harry huffs. “One day, I’ll find out what you have on Dumbledore that lets you get away with shit,” Harry warns.

“I don’t have anything on the old man. He just thinks I need a mentor and guidance,” Riddle spits like curses. Harry snorts into his sleeve.

Sure,” Harry drawls, following Riddle into his room.

Suddenly, he feels washed with nerves, jaw clenched. He hadn’t been nervous sneaking into Riddle’s personal space, but now he was. Harry bites his bottom lip, carefully regarding Riddle as Riddle dips his hand low. Nagini travels down off of Riddle and towards her rock, curling up on the heated rock and letting out a hiss that sounds like a sigh.

“Do you want pajamas?” Riddle asks, smirking over at Harry.

Harry purses his lips. “No,” he bites out, climbing onto the bed and climbing to the top, sitting up against the headboard, folding his arms over his chest. “I’ll sleep like this.”

Harry fucking hates sleeping in jeans.

“You’re stubborn,” Riddle murmurs.

“Yup,” Harry confirms, reaching into his back pocket and searching for Hermione’s parchment. He sees some of their conversation from earlier in the day—mostly check-ins from everyone about where to meet up before dinner or for break. His announcement about them joining the duelling club is there too. “We’ll create a barrier too. With pillows. You don’t cross to my side.”

Riddle snorts. “Whatever you want, Harry,” he drawls. “I’ll need to patrol in a few hours or so.”

Harry huffs and reaches for the numerous pillows, carefully erecting a wall before he leans back against the headboard. Riddle has his back to him, rearranging his things at his desk, going through it all, and putting it back in its place. Riddle hisses at his snake, and the snake hisses back.

Harry feels his cheeks grow hotter.

Riddle shucks off his jacket, and he places his wand—long and pale—in one of those pretentious holders that Harry knows that the Blacks have.

Harry doesn’t quite realize what’s happening until Riddle’s fingers go towards his own throat.

Harry’s breath catches in his throat as Riddle turns away from him and lets his shirt fall to the ground. Riddle waves his wand and sends it to wherever his laundry basket is. Harry bites his bottom lip as he stares at the lines of Riddle’s back. He’s thin, but he has broad shoulders and his skin is pale except where he has a spatter of moles between his shoulder blades. Harry swallows hard as he sinks into the pillows, hands folded in a fist in his lap.

He can’t look away even as Riddle walks towards the bathroom, and Harry sees it.

It’s ink that’s scrawled across Riddle’s forearm, a dark skull twined with a snake, but it sneaks up towards his bicep, the curves and patterns vaguely familiar to Harry in the same way Riddle’s pet snake Nagini is. It meets its end at Riddle’s shoulder, an open-mouthed snake that resembles a Basilisk more than anything else. It flexes, moving and twisting on the canvas of Riddle’s skin, eyes flickering towards Harry.

Riddle looks over his shoulder and smirks.

“Are you watching me, Harry?” Riddle teases.

Harry jumps almost violently and he tears his gaze away, his cheeks reddening. “I-uh-no. I am not,” Harry mutters. “Lend me a quill.”

He glances down at the parchment paper, the last question in Hermione’s hand— Saw you at the Hufflepuff party. Did you get caught?

Riddle walks over—still fucking shirtless, Merlin put a shirt on —and places an inkwell and quill on Harry’s bedside table before he walks around the bed, eyes still on Harry’s red face as he slides into the bed, still in his trousers, a book tucked under his arm.

Harry bites his bottom lip, looking over at Riddle from the corner of his eyes.

And Harry very carefully doesn’t think as he uses Riddle’s quill to scrawl out: I’m spending the night in Moony’s quarters.

Harry practically throws the quill in Riddle’s face after, like it’s burning. Riddle stares at him, surprised, an ink blotch now on his cheek. Harry howls his laughter, falling back, shaking at the utterly devastated expression on Riddle’s face, his cheeks hurting from how hard he grins, because it’s stupid, it’s so stupid, but Riddle finally looks his age—like any other seventeen year old.

Riddle scowls. “Unnecessary,” he bites out.

“You...uh, Riddle, you have something…” Harry laughs, pointing at his jaw, right where Riddle has an ink splotch.

Riddle glares at him, swiping at his face and he reaches forward, plucking Harry’s parchment for his fingers. Harry makes a sound of loss, and Riddle smirks as he looks down at the parchment.

“This has Granger all over it. Is this a way for you all to stay in contact?” Riddle asks.

“Give it here, Riddle,” Harry warns.

Riddle hums. “Hmmm, don’t want them to know, huh? Why is that?” Riddle teases.

“Fuck off.”

“Don’t want them to know you’re in my bed?” Riddle taunts.

“Fuck off! ” Harry repeats, cheeks burning.

“I’ll just respond to Granger myself then,” Riddle drawls. He hums to himself in amusement as Harry dies of absolute fucking embarassment. “'I’m so in love with Tom Marvolo Riddle that I can’t possibly leave his—'

Harry rolls over and leaps onto Riddle, wrenching his parchment from Riddle’s fingers and tossing it into the corner. “No!” he cries out. “You can’t tell her that. You can’t tell anyone!” He doesn’t even care that he’s practically straddling Riddle’s lap. He doesn’t notice until Riddle tosses his quill on his nightstand and wraps his long fingers around Harry’s waist.

Harry’s breath catches in his throat as he feels the warmth of Riddle underneath him, and Riddle’s fingers tight against his middle. He feels fingertips brush under the hem of his t-shirt, pressing into his skin and Harry's thighs tighten. He shivers, looking down into Riddle’s eyes and Harry doesn't know what to do with his own hands, not when all he can think about are Riddle's big hands. Riddle stares up at him like he wants to devour him.

“I—” Harry starts. He can't continue. A keen leaves his throat and he flushes with embarrassment at the sound.

And then, Riddle dismounts him, throwing him to his side of the bed. Harry loses his breath with a loud huff, and he watches wide-eyed as Riddle wandlessly Summons back the parchment and snatches it out of the air.

Riddle! ” Harry insists.

“No.” Riddle shoves Harry back. “What are you doing? You’re in my half of the bed. Go back to your half.”

Harry groans as he falls onto his back. He’s exhausted.

He closes his eyes, turns his back on Riddle and pretends that he doesn’t feel Riddle’s burgundy stare boring into his back.

It’s too easy to fall into sleep.

Just. Too easy.