Slughorn always picks the Slytherin groups for the projects in his subject.
He knows how his students work, their weaknesses and strengths, and, notably, their grading and standing. Their performance reflects on him, as the Potions professor and, doubly, as Head of House. So, while he’ll allow every other House to fend for themselves, he often ends up being quite hands-on in his handling of Slytherin House.
The morning dawns sunny, and surprisingly warm for October in the Highlands, on the day they’re due to start their project. As expected, here’s a new note pinned to the notice board in their Common Room, and the fifth years make sure to pass by and check their assigned groups.
“Well,” Druella Rosier says, blonde hair pinned up in an elaborate hairdo and her expression supremely unimpressed. “Fuck.”
Tom Riddle doesn’t echo her sentiments aloud, but he does empathize.
He’s slightly late to his first class of the morning, which is, coincidentally enough, Potions. It’s been somewhat of a constant this year, the shiny Prefect badge on his lapel often means he’ll be asked to walk some errant first years to their respective classrooms. When he steps foot in the Potions classroom, luminance low and air flooded with exotic fumes, he’s not surprised by the sight that awaits him.
Abraxas Malfoy and Druella, sharing a workstation and sitting with as much distance between them as they possibly can manage. Florence Fawley and Elina Greengrass, heads bent together as they whisper animatedly back and forth. Orion Black and Ivor Lestrange already sorting through their syllabus and jotting down notes.
And there, right in the middle of the classroom, his empty seat - right next to one Harry Evans .
Tom Marvolo Riddle prides himself on being Hogwarts’ star student, beloved by students and faculty alike. He’s an inspiring tale of humble origins and unbound talent, of overcoming hardship and rising above one’s station. He’s one of the brightest minds that has ever crossed the school, walked its halls, and slept in its rooms. He’s polite, he’s charming, he’s -
(terrifying and awful and amazing in equal measure)
Harry Evans is a newcomer. He’d arrived that year, along with a bushy-haired girl and two redheaded siblings. Cousins , Dippet said, Homeschooled by aunts and uncles until two of them had met a tragic demise, courtesy of Grindelwald’s rampaging reign of terror. Their remaining guardians could not afford to continue being their sole providers of their education and had decided to send the children in their care to Hogwarts.
They’re an odd bunch, to say the least. Closed off and tight-lipped, slightly aloof. They weren’t the only students in the castle who’d suffered losses to Grindelwald’s cause, few and far between as the case might be, but they were the only students who were known to have directly faced the stink and horror of war and, as such, their behaviour is usually excused by mourning.
(Known, of course, because that wasn’t quite right; not when Tom still has the bitter tang of fear, of ruin sitting on his tongue after a summer spent in the delipidated ruins of Muggle London. Not when he still flinches at the shriek of planes overhead. Others probably feel it as well; Muggleborns and Muggle raised kids with the rotten luck of being stuck in the middle of a Muggle war. But none of that matters to this sheltered, self-important world of wizards and so Tom keeps his mouth shut.
He suspects that so do others.)
But there was something - odd about them. Something almost foreign.
Tom braves the space between his door and the desk in confident strides, pointedly ignoring the commiserating glance Abraxas throws at him.
“Tom!” Beams Slughorn, bustling around the classroom while they wait for the Hufflepuffs to trickle in.
Tom pastes a polite smile on his face. “Professor Slughorn. How are you feeling today?”
“Oh, I’m doing rather well, m’boy. Rather well, yes. Say, I’m quite sure you saw the group assignments, yes? Ah, good, good. I trust you understood the logic behind your assigned partner?”
The problem is that yes, Tom understands. But, somehow, he truly didn’t see it coming.
“Harry is still getting used to the school.” Tom answers, straightening his shoulders into a serious, concerned posture. “I imagine a group project of this magnitude, what with his particular education, might be a bit daunting.”
Slughorn’s walrus-like moustache quivers. “Quite, indeed! I know that you’ll help him along, Tom. Brilliant as you are, I trust my very best student to be up to the job!”
Tom’s smile strains. “Of course.”
“Jolly good, I knew I could count on you, Tom! Oh certainly, do sit down, class is about to start -”
Their workstation is still quite bare, bar Evans’ second-hand school book, quill, ink bottle, and blank parchment. Tom sits on the bench and starts taking out his own stationery while he glances at the other boy out of the corner of his eye.
It’s hard to explain exactly why this boy keeps catching his eye, keeps insistently tugging at his interest in a way few things have before. But, he supposes, it might have started when Evans didn’t follow his relatives into the lion’s den - when he sat down at the table of snakes and looked at Tom with an odd type of recognition in his eyes, which were the eeriest green that Tom had ever seen -
The set of Evans’ shoulders is tense, his expression focused on the parchment in front of him with the sort of single-mindedness that denotes intent. Like he’s scared his gaze will wander if he loses control for a single second.
Slughorn starts the class with his usual theatrics, which are as condescending as they are annoying. They’re usually entertaining enough to provide enjoyment, and Tom appreciates the calm ambience of his classes, the opportunity they offer to watch . Besides the subject, besides the magic , Tom likes to watch the teachers, the students; he likes to figure out how they tick - people are always more honest when they think no one is looking.
So, although he and Evans have yet to exchange more than cursory pleasantries, Tom hasn’t been sitting idly by. He’s observed the easily struck friendship with Orion, the tentative camaraderie with Druella. Evans’ effortlessness in spellcasting and disinterest in anything theoretical. His heavy glance, burning into the back of Tom’s neck, when Evans thinks Tom isn’t paying attention.
The undercurrent of tension that lines their every stilted conversation. It’s not fear, it’s not shyness, it’s not dislike -
It feels like resonance .
As soon as Slughorn gives the groups free rein to discuss and elaborate their project proposal, Tom briskly turns around and offers Evans his most genuine smile.
“So,” He starts with, casual as can be. “I happened to notice that you were listening in on my conversation with Slughorn, earlier. I apologize for the indiscretion - it’s not very pleasant to talk about people behind their backs.”
Evans eyes him, consideringly. “No.” He says, at last. “It isn’t, but I’m not exactly acing this class, am I? And well, he’s our Head of House.” Harry’s mouth twists into something wry. “It probably reflects badly on him if I fuck up too majorly.”
So, there’s some Slytherin to you, after all , Tom thinks, pleased. Good .
“Quite.” He agrees out loud, not masking his fondness for the eccentric professor. “He’s… a very particular person.”
“He’s a spider.” Evans corrects dryly. “But that’s okay, I suppose. He seems alright.” He tilts his chin towards the board, where Slughorn has written down the requirements for their project proposal. “Any ideas for this project thing? We’ve established I’m not good at this. I’d have to be a lot blinder than I am to miss that you are very good at this. Do you have any ideas?”
Abraxas hates this boy. Hates his bluntness, how he never takes a slight sitting down. He’s brazen and opinionated, as open with his rage as he is with his easy affection. It offends poor Abraxas’ delicate, pureblood sensibilities, a lot more than Tom’s unpolished manners and curt retorts back in first year had ever managed to.
Orion adores this boy. Awes over his simplicity, how he never backs down from a fight. He’s easy-going and sharp-witted, not afraid to toe over the line of propriety. It delights Orion to rebel against his family’s strict upbringing by becoming quick friends with someone who so clearly does not care one whit for anything he’s been taught to cherish.
Tom thinks none of them have quite got it right. The way Evans talks makes it seem like he’s in on a joke no one else has quite got yet. There’s a tilt to his mouth and a tinge to his voice that betray a near constant state of amusement, which is as galling as it is confusing. He’s blunt and kind, certainly. But there’s an edge to him that Tom finds strangely familiar.
Harry Evans is, in a word, intriguing.
He’s intriguing in a way Tom has never encountered before and that makes him downright fascinating.
Tom is, at his core, a thief. He likes pretty, shiny things, like soft fabrics and expensive jewelry. He likes rare books and valuable artifacts, advantageous connections to use and abuse, and intelligent allies to surround himself with. Something in the back of his mind has been whispering that Harry Evans more than fits that bill.
Tom thinks it’s time to put that theory to test.
“Amortentia.” He states, noticing that he’s kept silent for longer than intended. Evans’ reaction is nearly comical, with his widening eyes and the nearly tangible awkwardness that surrounds him, so Tom pats himself on the back for provoking such blatant surprise. And well, if Evans never backs down from a challenge - “That is, of course, if you’re feeling up to it.”
And Tom smiles.
Evans blinks once, twice. The gears move behind his eyes and, when he smiles back, it’s small and sharp.
“Sure.” He agrees, tone light and eyes bright.
Killing curse green, Tom notices with slowly mounting giddiness.
He rather thinks this is building up to be a very interesting year.