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Before the Storm

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Chapter 3

 

A Ministry official came the next day when Harry was just about to slip out of the inn. He wanted to explore, to see what exactly had changed, or would change in the future. The alley was new, the world felt new! He almost felt new as well. Then he was forced to face reality.

It wasn’t the same man from the night before, for which Harry was quite happy...he still couldn’t remember what his name was...

Instead it was a witch with bright green robes and flaming red hair who, in the most gratingly chipper voice he could imagine, said her name was Annabelle Thomas. She pulled him aside in the Cauldron’s common room in late morning gloom, guided him to a table in the corner. Harry found himself nursing a cup of tea, that he didn’t want, as she discussing things that, quite honestly, he didn’t care about.

Rationally he knew should care. Hermione would have done more than scold him for such an attitude, even a year ago he himself would have found such apathy in his future unthinkable. Now though, as the witch before him talked of scores and fields that would be good for him to go into he realized a few things.

One, he was not nearly as bad in school as he had thought. Not that he had felt necessarily dull, just mindnumbingly average. Ms Thomas, however, seemed to think he was rather advanced for his age. Which after she assured him that she knew Harry was sixteen, was actually a very pleasant surprise.

The second thing he realized, quite extraordinarily and after she had asked after his career goals, was that he, Harry Potter, no longer wished to be an Auror.

He had been saying it for so long now that no one really even asked him anymore. Either that or they simply couldn’t think of anything else The Chosen One would do after defeating the Dark Lord. Clearly he would go into a field that assured his dark wizard prowess was used to its fullest. He had known the path that needed to be taken to be an Auror, set his schedule by it, had even been able to see himself, along with Ron, living out this long held dream.

How many times had he and Ron stayed up talking out it, especially in the last year? The advent of the DA had only served to strengthen Ron’s resolve to become a dark wizard hunter. At the time, Harry had thought it had done the same for him as well.

Just the icing on the cake he’d been baking for years.

An easy, knee jerk reflex he didn’t need to think about anymore. Always on the tip of his tongue. In the back of his mind.

And he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

Somewhere along the way Harry had stopped wanting that. When exactly the joy had faded. When knowing looks of those he told stopped filling him pride and started itching at his nerves.

It was then that he realized something else. Something wonderful.

He could be whatever the hell he wanted now!

He hadn’t been able to give her a definitive answer about his future career choices, to which she had been very helpful and understanding. Assuring him that he still had two years worth of schooling left, and really he could decide and change his mind as often as he wanted. He had his whole life before him and he should find the one thing that made him truly happy and do it.

No one had ever told him that before.

Once he had a his classes planned, which was pretty much what he’d been taking before, as such classes were needed for a myriad of careers, he was allowed to go about his day as he pleased.

And so, he spent the rest of the summer doing just that.

It took only one afternoon to gather all his supplies for the school year, everything fitting in with what he expected. His charms books, history, transfiguration, potions, and quite a few more defense against the dark arts book than he was expecting, but nothing that looked too daunting. He even had one for divination, a small book on reading portents. There wasn’t a book for care of magical creatures, but then he hadn’t really used the one Hagrid assigned them, so it would probably be fine.

He couldn’t find the color changing ink that he had enjoyed so much in his time, but there were several jeweled tones that caught his eye, red, blue, and green in particular. He needed new pens, a cauldron, and well...everything. He’d needed to make several trips to get it all back to the Cauldron, but it had still only eaten up an afternoon.

It took another three days for Harry to talk himself into going into the broom store with the intent of buying the racing broom on display. It was lovely, really. Not his Firebolt by any means. But the handle gleamed and the bristles were smooth, almost feather soft to his touch. He placed it in his trunk with care, already eager to take it out when he got to Hogwarts. Quidditch might be out of the question, he couldn’t just barge in and expect to have a position on the team of whatever house he ended up in.

But he could still fly.

No one could take that away from him once he was back at the castle.

The rest of the summer flowed nicely, if a bit on the boring side. Not that he was every going to complain about a little monotony. He’d had far too much excitement in his life already, thank you. He was pleased enough to spend his days having an ice cream in the sunshine when the days permitted and tucked away in a tea shop when the days were grey and the thunder drowned out the roaring of the crowds. Either way he watched them, all the magical people as they scurried about their days.

And when he tired of imagining what their lives must be like he read a little. He wasn’t overly worried about classes now, but there really wasn’t anything else for him to do. No one to talk to. Cane was there every evening a meal that she insisted they share. He supposed it so that she could report to whoever that she was making sure Harry was still alive and eating. Other than that, well....There was no one that knew Harry. And if he recognized a face his joy at prospect of striking up a conversation was quickly dampened in the reality that they didn’t know him. At all.

He would have to start those relationships all over again.

September couldn’t come soon enough, and though the days seemed to drag forever, one night Cane sat before him at the little table that had become theirs over the last month and asked him something he hadn’t been prepared for.

“How do you want to get to Hogwarts tomorrow?”

Harry snapped his gaze up from his plate of shepherd’s pie, in the month he’d been there, away from the Dursley’s, he’d been steadily trying to eat a little more. Working his way back to three full meals a day. A slower process than most seemed to think. Cane still gave him odd looks if he didn’t eat at least most of his dinner. So he had worked out a schedule. A light breakfast of toast and tea, a light lunch of soup, or just ice cream....no one paid much attention to him at lunch time. And his dinners were something heavier, something meal like. He even manged to eat it all most of the time.

“How?” He asked cautiously.

“Well, there’s the train.” Cane said, taking up her own fork and tucking into her pie. “Takes off at King’s Cross, all the kids take it. Barring a few exceptions here and there, which.” She fixed her eyes to him, stern but not unkind. “Your situation it...well can call for a little leeway. If you’d rather not have people bother you, and trust me you’ll get a lot of that once you’re at Hogwarts. Kids love a new face. Well, if you wanted. I could apparate you to Hogsmeade. You’d avoid the stares and questions, for a time.”

Harry smiled at her, they hadn’t really connected in his time there. Dinners, a few hellos here and there, and the occasional fielding of questions about how Harry’s day went was all the interaction between them. But he liked Cane. She got him to a certain extent. Knew he wanted the silence, the calm. Like now. “That does sound better. If it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Of course not. I can have you there and be back in London in a flash.”

“Thank you.” He said sincerely.

Cane shrugged and simply said. “It’s nothing, kid.” before going back to her dinner. A steady, welcome silence between them.

Just before sunset on September 1st Cane transported Harry from the beautifully sunny, albeit rather chilly, Diagon Alley, to the gloomy, rain soaked streets of Hogsmeade. She helped him get to the station before wishing him luck and making a quick exit. After a month of casual acquaintanceship Harry was more than used to Cane’s abruptness. In fact it was one of things he liked best about her. She didn’t linger, didn’t press too hard about his past. Didn’t pretend that she wanted to befriend a teenager when it was clearly the last thing she wanted. She was just some Auror the Ministry had dropped a homeless, lost child on and now that she’d seen that he was safe she was free to go back to her bachelorhood in peace.

Harry liked her a lot.

The train wasn’t there yet, and through the gloom it was difficult to tell how close it was to the station. Even with one of his new cloaks wrapped snugly around him Harry didn’t fancy standing in the rain waiting the train. He supposed that he could wait inside the station, or a shop....but there were already a few carriages right there waiting.

He knew where he was going, and no one was there yet to greet him....

Dragging his magically lightened trunk up to one of the carriages, he loaded it in before headed up to the front. The Thestral was lovely, stoic, it blinked a curious, red veined eye at him as he came forward to stroke softly at it’s mane. “Hello there,” he said gently, “Mind taking me up to the castle really quick? You can be back before the train gets here, I’m sure.”

The Thestral whinnied and tossed its head, which Harry took as a yes. “Thanks!” he said cheerily, patting it on the back and jumping into the carriage. As soon as the door was closed, Harry settled into the warm, plush seats, they were off.

A lone black carriage trudging its way through the growing gloom and steady rain.

 

~~~

 

“Did you do it?”

Tom rose his gaze from the book he’d been trying, with little luck, to read. The movement lazy, unconcerned. Alphard Black was always so excitable. Like an overly affectionate dog. Tom had learned years ago that he would calm down after a fashion if one didn’t engage him. He was only in Tom’s inner circle because Orion had begged it of him. Tom thought it was more so that Orion could keep an eye on his erratic cousin than any real belief that he could of use to Tom. And if was only the year before when Alphard earned his prefect badge that he had even agreed.

Which was why he was allowed in their compartment, seated not on one of the velvet seats but on the floor just in front of Tom’s feet. He did manage to not actually touch him. If one thing could be said about Alphard Black in his favor, it would be that he didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Tom turned back to his book.

Of course that didn’t stop Alphard, who asked once again, “Did you really do it, my lord?” Tom couldn’t help the slight uptick to his lips at the title. They never used his chosen name, only refereed to him as their lord in private. When in public referred to him simply as Tom, or Riddle depending on how good of friends they appeared to be to others. One must keep up appearances, after all.

Yes he was pleased that Alphard could remember his place in the pecking order, but Tom wasn’t about to talk about that on the train. !Quite a few of them were prefects all, with him as the Head Boy, they had to keep the compartment unlocked and unwarded to allow the other students access to them. Alphard should know how to keep his mouth shut.

“He said he would, do not bother him with inane, and inappropriate questions.” Alexander Rosier sat beside Tom, always to his right though Tom had never specifically told him to do so. If he could consider anyone from his inner circle a friend it would be Rosier, and he knew it. He never took the rank for granted, though. There was a reason he was Tom’s favorite.

Instead of cowing Alphard’s....enthusiasm, it only perked him up further. “Really? Where is it? Do you have it here?” He asked jubilantly, eyes flicking to where Tom’s trunk rested on the rack by the door.

Like he would keep it there.

No, the Horcrux rested safely, soothingly, against his chest in a pocket inside his robes. He was very skilled at creating such things, though he never did so where any of his followers could see. They didn’t need to know about how Tom Riddle had needed to learn how to mend his own clothing growing up, just that Lord Voldemort had hidden pockets in his robes from which he could pull any manner of useful thing.

It wasn’t as though he did it by hand anymore either way. It was all for appearances.

All the world was a stage, so the saying goes. And if all the people of the world were simply players acting out there parts, then Tom Riddle was the star of the show.

Stretched out across the seat from Tom, all long legs and flowing blond hair, was Abraxas Malfoy. He gazed wistfully out the window, grey eyes locked on where he thought the castle should be as they moved ever closer. Not that he could see anything through the sheeting rain. Abraxas sighed. “Hard to believe this is it. The last time we’ll be making this trip.” Most everyone in the compartment other than Alphard and the other Slytherin prefects were in their seventh and final year. And though Tom didn’t really do sentimentality, he couldn’t deny a certain degree of nostalgia in the thought that would never again be making this exact trip.

He did not by any means expect to leave Hogwarts behind for good.

Just before the train pulled into the station the rest of the prefects and the Head Girl, a Ravenclaw by the name of Esme Clarke, filed through their compartment in waves. They got their assignments from Tom and Tom alone. Technically Esme was the same rank as he, but she had her nose so wedged into her books that she hardly took note of the prefects that were supposed to be under her. Not that she was completely inefficient. She was swift to anger and dolled out punishments with a firm, unfeeling, hand that cared not which House the perpetrator hailed from.

The trouble was getting her to pay attention enough to the world around her in the first place.

As the last of the riff raff finally left them the train pulled into the station. Everyone rose to squirrel away books and cards that had served as their past time, taking the last few minutes to straighten up. Magically steam wrinkles from their robes, or fix their hair in the pocket mirror Fulcran Lestrange always seemed to have on his person.

Tom surreptitiously touched the small, leather bound book through his robes. Enough of the passengers in that compartment had seen him with it before. They wouldn’t question it if they saw it now. But he was still hesitant to take it out. He wouldn’t, couldn’t leave it in his trunk. Not yet. The house elves took their things from the carriages and Tom would never let a part of his soul be handled by unfamiliar hands.

He liked to keep it close by as well. It made the gas lamps on the compartment walls burn just a little bright, the air around him turned a little warmer. He couldn’t keep it on his person all the time, but once in his room, a private room this year thanks to his new status as Head Boy, he could set it up so that the book would be safe. Until then.

“Oh bugger all!” Alphard suddenly shrieked into the calm, his nose pressed firmly to the window.

“Alphard!” Orion yelled, appalled. “Language!”

“Sorry, it’s just...” He looked at them sheepishly from over his shoulder. “One of the carriages is already heading back to the castle. We won’t be the first ones there now.”

“Surely you’re just seeing things incorrectly.” Abraxas said, steaming out the creases of his robes with a lazy flick of his wand.

“No I’m not!” Alphard shot at him haughtily. “I know what coming and going looks like.”

Tom stretched his neck slightly to peer over the others and out the window, he was a good bit taller than everyone else and with his improved night vision he could easily make out a lone carriage heading towards the school. “You’re right, Alphard,” he said softly, “Probably it is just someone who apparated to Hogsmeade and didn’t want to wait out in the rain for everyone.”

Technically most everyone in their compartment could have done the same. All the seventh years had their license, and it was only Tom among them that had to be there. The others chose to accompany him more than the tradition of the riding the train in.

“Why does it matter anyway?” Orion asked, he didn’t wait for Alphard’s reply though before pulling him away from the widow and setting him a myriad of arduous tasks, like combing his hair and unrolling his sleeves, to keep him busy.

“I had a bet going with that Hufflepuff, Cyndi, that we’d beat her and the rest to the castle.”

Tom sighed, blocking out the chatter as he left the compartment, his followers filing out and fanning around him to start the business of herding the underclassmen to the carriages. It was time to start the year in true.

And Tom had plans.

It was going to be a good year.

 

~~~

 

Harry jumped down from the carriage, narrowly avoiding landing in a tall puddle but sheer luck. As soon as his feet hit the ground the Thestral turned about-face and head off back to the station....taking Harry’s trunk with it!

“Well...damn...” Harry said with a soft sigh. There goes his clothes and books, and he could either slog through the rain and mud to try, and most likely fail, to catch up with a Thestral pulled carriage and then wade all the way back with his trunk, or just let it go and have faith that it would return with his trunk and the house elves would take over like always.

So really, no choice at all.

He sighed again.

“Harry, I didn’t expect you to be so early.” Dumbledore’s voice held a note of distress, though when Harry turned around he was all bright eyed smiles and cheer. And again Harry was struck with how much younger this Dumbledore was, and it wasn’t just the color of his hair. His Dumbledore had a much better poker face than this one, his kind, grandfatherly demeanor more believable.

“Um, hello, sir.” Harry gave one last longing look toward the carriage before stepping inside. “Auror Cane apparated me here...well, to the station.”

Dumbledore gave him a kind smile, gesturing for Harry to follow him in. “Good, good. I’m just glad you made it here safely. I trust you had an enjoyable summer.”

Harry nodded, his hair and cloak were soaked and he felt rather chilled as Dumbledore led him through the entrance to the great hall. “It was nice. Quiet.”

“In times like these ‘quiet’ is often a luxury. I’m glad you were not troubled. And,” he cast a wary glance down at Harry, “You are...well?”

Though they were alone, Harry knew it would be foolish for Dumbledore to speak of his past there. Ghosts, and of course Peeves, could be lurking around in their invisible forms. It was safest to assume they were not alone. He got Dumbledore’s meaning anyway. “Yes, I...I’m adjusting.” He said with smile he hoped was reassuring.

He’d had his bouts of melancholy, sure. Reality always had a tendency to catch up with him, especially in the dark night. But there wasn’t anything he could do about it. And in his more lucid moments, warmed by the sun and unburdened by the weight of so many people’s expectations, he knew that he didn’t want to got back.

Not yet.

Maybe in a year or two he’d feel different and he could start looking then. Nineteen ninety six wasn’t going anywhere. His friends, and the war, could just wait. It wouldn’t be anytime to them, what would they care that Harry had his little break while they were essentially on pause.

“Good, splendid!” Dumbledore led him up the dais where the teacher’s table was and through the door that led, as Harry was well aware, to a small sitting room. There was a fire burning merrily in the heart and an over stuffed wingbacked chair sat before it. “You can wait in here, get warm by the fire. You’ll be sorted after the first years, and I dare say it’ll be a while to get them all herded inside.’

Harry smiled, already he could hear a few lowered voices as the teachers began to take their seats, they must have come in right after he and Dumbledore entered the hall.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Right, well. See you in a tick.” He said brightly before rushing off.

Harry took out his wand, waved it in a low arch over his robs and hair to dry off. His hair was now curling a bit from the rain, but mostly Jean-Loup’s serum kept it neat and sleek despite the unwanted moisture.

He took the seat before the fire and waited, feeling oddly nervous though he knew exactly what to expect. The whole place had just a strange air to it now. It was the same though, right down the tapestry of the school’s crest that hung large and bright against the stone wall.

If the castle was the same, he supposed that meant he must be what changed...in how many different ways could he have possibly changed in one summer though?

His thoughts were disturbed as the first years began pouring into the room though a side door. They were a fidgety lot who took in the one occupant of the room and honed in on him. before he knew it he was surrounded by children!

“Are you a professor?” One girl with glossy black curls asked him with wide and wondrous eyes.

“Of course he isn’t, Clara, look at him. He’s too young for that!” A boy with the same curls and bright eyes said, probably a brother or cousin. He turned to Harry, arms crossed over his chest. “Why are you here and not out there?”

All the kids had gathered around him, staring at him and murmuring to each other. He could well remember what it had been like on his first night, they were nervous, even their haughty leader.

“I’m a transfer student,” he said simply, “I have to get sorted too.”

“That makes sense,” the boy said confidently. This seemed to relax those around them a bit. It wouldn’t be so bad, Harry didn’t seemed worried, so they shouldn’t be afraid either.

“What’d you think it’ll be?” One of them ask to the room at large.

“My brother said it’s a test we have to take in front of everyone else.”

“I heard they make you drink a terrible potion and somehow that tells you where to go.”

“What do you think it is?” Clara asked Harry suddenly, her black curls bounced as she tilted her head at him.

“Well...” Harry lifted a hand to rub at his chin in faux thought, fighting back a grin. “When I was your age I had to fight to troll to get into my old school.”

There were gasps and even yelps of glee at the mention of fighting trolls, Harry couldn’t fight back a small smile any longer. “But I hear they don’t use troll at Hogwarts. It’s difficult to get them past the wards, you know,” Harry leaned back in chair, folding his hands on his lap, delicate and unaffected. “We will probably have to prove ourselves by winning over the trust of Hippogriff”

“A Hippogriff?”

“No way!”

“Wait, a what?”

The room dissolved into frantic muttering as some proclaimed they could take on a troll or Hippogriff no problem, while some kids tried to explain what a Hippogriff was to their muggle-born counterparts.

A small boy with honey-brown hair lifted his wand up warily. “I don’t know any magic though. Not even that one spell Samwell said was easy didn’t worked for me.”

“Because that wasn’t a real spell, you lout, Sam is a liar.” The boy with the black curls said with a massive roll of his eyes.

Before the other boy could manage a retort a shadow fell over their little group and he looked up and up at Dumbledore with hopeful eyes. “We don’t really have to fight a troll, do we professor?”

“A troll?” Dumbledore said in exaggerated shock. “My word, no!”

“What about a Hippo...Hippo..”

“A Hippogriff?”

“Trolls and Hippogriff?” Dumbledore said softly in confusion, before his bright eyes locked onto Harry, who by this time was having a little bit of trouble not falling into a fit of laughter. He smiled back, giving Harry a wink that was very close to the sparkling way his Dumbledore used to joke around. “Unfortunately our shipment of Hippogriffs were late. This dreadful weather, you know. I’m afraid you’ll all just have to make do with the back up sorting methods.”

A few of the kids grumbled in disappointment, where a few, the boy with honey brown hair among them sighed in obvious relief. Dumbledore clapped his hands and began herding the kids away once more. “Line up by the door now, wait until I call you.”

He looked back down at Harry, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Troll and Hipposgriff, hum?”

Harry shrugged, smiling innocently. “Isn’t part of the fun of being a first year the anticipation of what the sorting ceremony will be.”

Dumbledore chuckled softly, taking out his wand to flicked it at the small table near Harry’s chair and quaint little tea set appeared. “I’ll call on you last. Just have some tea while you wait.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” With a knowing, departing look from Dumbledore, and nothing else to do, Harry made himself a cup of tea, relaxed back in the cozy chair. He positioned his head against one of the soft wings, and watched the first years file out of the room to be sorted. When the last few students walked through the door Harry stood and peaked around the frame.

The staff table was full. The only other face he knew apart from Dumbledore was the wizened wizard in navy robes. He rang a very faint bell that Harry was only just piecing together when Dumbledore called his name.

“Harry Evans!”

He must have said something to the hall first as everyone was sitting at attention when he stepped out. A few, tentative and uncertain students clapped before their neighbors shushed them. Harry tried not to feel their stares on him as he crossed the stage. Apart from noting how full the room was, he tried not to look too closely at the masses.

Dumbledore smile at him encouragingly as he approached the lone stool, climbed on top and waited for the hat to fall.

“Remember, the hat always knows where we need to be.” Dumbledore said softly, as though he could pick up on the exact cause of Harry’s discomfort.

In that way, he was very much Harry’s Dumbledore.

The hat was placed on his head, and though it no longer dipped as far as it once had, it still covered his eyes. Plunging him into a familiar and welcoming darkness.

‘Well, you’re not one of my sweet little first years.’ The hat’s laughter rang through Harry’s mind. ‘What an unexpected surprise to see you again, Harry Potter.’

Harry’s lips curved slightly. He didn’t even question how the Sorting Hat could know. The Hat always knew.

‘It’s a pleasure to see you again as well.’ Harry said in his thoughts.

‘Yes,’ the Hat hummed softly. ‘Now, to find a place for you to rest. I dare say I can’t put you back with your old pack. That lot is far too rowdy for your current....state.’

Harry nodded ever so softly. He hadn’t expected to go back to Griffindor...didn’t actually want to, if he were being honest. It would only upset him to have to be surrounded by all the reds and golds without Hermione, Ron, and the twins there with him.

‘I thought so.’ The Hat said softly, obviously able to pick up on Harry’s thoughts and moods. ‘You’d find peace, as it were, with the Ravens. Though you would find great frustration there as well. No, no, that won’t be helpful at all.’

The Hat hummed to itself. ‘My sweet Badgers would always be too much for you. They could help you heal, yes. But you would end up wanting to strangle the lot of them before the month is out.’

‘You know then,’ The Hat said darkly, ‘What I’m going to suggest.’

Ge did, and for a wonder Harry found he also did not mind. Not like he had six years ago. Not even how he would have if the suggestion had come up three or even two years previous. Harry had met all types by now. Good Slytherins, brave Hufflepuffs, terrible Griffindors. People were largely people, no matter what house they hailed from.

‘It’s fine.’ He thought, sure and steady.

“As you wish. SLYTHERIN!” The Hat yelled the last part into the silent hall, and three of the four tables erupted into cheers.

the sea of red and golds only gave him vague, half hearted attempts at applause that weren’t even trying, everyone else in the room seemed fine with the decision though.

Harry slid off the stool, handed the hat back to Dumbledore with a small smile, and headed for the last table of silver and green.

 

~~~

 

Despite what many may think, Tom Riddle didn’t dislike children. Well...not all children at least. Some came from good and influential families, it would be wasteful to not endear himself to them early on. They would grow up to remember that Tom was kind and ever helpful. Some children lacked the resources of the Higher Class peers, but he couldn’t simply dismiss them off hand. They could grow to become powerful in their own right...not to mention showing blatant favoritism could be seen by others, could potential tarnish the reputation he’d worked so hard to perfect.

So he approached the children the same as he approached anyone, with a warm smile and kind deeds. He helped them stow their luggage and lifted the smaller ones into the carriages with gentle hands, thanking Salazar himself that at least for the night the first years weren’t his problem. Second and third years were bad enough.

He sent another carriage of third years off with a relieved sigh. They were almost there, just a few more carriages remained and the fourth and fifth years pretty much too care of themselves. His prefects could handle any minor troubles that might arise there. His circle, his knights, had stayed behind to help. Most of them were not prefects but they acted like them all the same.

Alphard whined as another carriage left the station. There was only enough left for the prefects and his knights to take back. Tom resisted rolling his eyes at Alphard’s melodrama. “You are a prefect, you must stay until the others are on their way, you know that. Why make a bet you cannot keep.”

“It was her idea.” He said, drifting off weakly at Tom’s withering look. “Sorry, my lord.”

“Just get in the carriage, Alphard.” Tom snapped in annoyance. Alphard leaped away to claim one of the last carriages for them.

“Hey,” he yelled, throwing open the compartment to stow their trunks. “There’s already a trunk in here!”

Tom swept over to have a look, nestled in the compartment was a lone trunk. Pristine and new. There was no one else around the carriage though, he and his knights were now the last at the station. “It doesn’t matter, just put ours in beside it.”

Before he had even finished speaking a pair of pale, manicured hands flashed by him and opened the trunk. Tom raised an eyebrow at the perpetrator.

“What?” Abraxas smiled knowingly. “You know you wanted to look too.”

And he did.

Though he could have refrained.

Abraxas was so impulsive. But Tom looked anyway. They didn’t touch anything, just inspected the contents from they could see. There were several silk robes, in fact all the clothing he could see were silk. So whoever it was had money, but judging by the array of colors they weren’t dealing with a muggleborn. He would have said it probably belonged to a witch, but there was a racing broom on top of it all. Not many witches flew on those.

“Interesting,” he said softly. “Now close it and get in. I’m tried of being in the rain.” Abraxas complied, curiosity giving way under Tom’s stare and the promise of warmth and food.

“Betcha it was whoever left first.” Alphard said excitedly from inside, Tom climbed in followed closely by Abraxas, Rosier, and Lestrange. The others would have to the take next carriage. “We probably got the fastest one of the lot!” He looked through the front window adoringly, though he couldn’t see the Thestral. Of their entire ground only Tom and Rosier were able to view the death steeds.

Something the other knights were openly jealous of. A few had even begun to plot how best to rectify this.

Tom knew it was only a matter of time.

The Great Hall was just as vast and impressive as always. Something about being away for the summer always seemed to dampen the memory of it, each new year he looked on it with new eyes, just like the first time he ever stepped foot inside.

He settled down at the head of the table, his followers spreading out around him, and waited for the arduous task of the sorting to get underway. His night would not be over then. There were still a few things to see to before his night could finally end. The first night back was most important. His followers needed the reminder that their summer was over, it was time for them to do his bidding once again.

The sorting commenced as always. Grimy little first years approaching The Hat with trepidation and fear, only to bounce away eager and happy once they were sorted. They got their fair share including a set of twins, a boy and girl with shiny black hair and the pale and delicate features of pure-bloods.

The last child slipped off to Hufflepuff and Tom readied himself for another dull, dull, dull speech from Dippet. But Dumbledore didn’t take up The Hat and stool, instead he paused for a moment, his bright smile turning instantly sad, caring.

If there was one person who was just as good an actor as Tom, it was Albus Dumbledore.

“The hardships of the past few years, I know, are always close to our hearts, though we are protected within these warded walls. We are lucky. We have a duty to enfold those weary wanders-”

Rosier sighed, tilting his head to Tom he said. “Another transfer.”

Tom nodded, he too was more or less tuning Dumbledore out now, everyone else in the hall had also figured it out, a low chorus of whispers began to sound around the hall as an undertone to his speech.

“Join me in welcoming the newest edition to our esteemed institution, Harry Evans!”

There was a smattering of claps from some of the less intelligent members of the crowd who misread Dumbledore’s enthusiasm and thought the occasion warranted an applaud. It died down quickly when a small, dark figure stepped out from the room near the teacher table.

He was small, though taller than the first years for sure, he still appeared minuscule compared to Dumbledore’s height. He walked across the dais with graceful steps, his robes billowing around him telling all of their fine quality. He perched daintily on the stool, hands folded on his lap and waited for The Hat to be placed on his softly curling hair.

The whispers of the others fluttered around him.

“He’s so cute, look at him!”

“Small, though, isn’t he?”

“What year is he, did Dumbledore say?”

Had he? Tom tilted his head thoughtfully. No...he hadn’t

“Gotta be older than first years,” Alphard said matter of factly. “Else he’d be sorted with the others.”

“Twelve then,” Emaleigh Greengrass said from Alphard’s left with a swish of her pale blond hair. “He’d be a bit tall for it though.”

“I say thirteen. Looks thirteen, doesn’t he?” Another sixth year, half-blood, Tom didn’t know his name, said.

That started it, the others began naming their guesses, someone offered a bet of ten sickles that he was actually thirteen instead of twelve. Eventually eyes turned to him. Tom sighed.

“Fourteen.” He was the only one who said so, though Rosier nodded from beside him. A hush fell over the table once all bets were placed.

They waited.

“Having a right conversation with it, isn’t he?” Lestrange said, laughing softly. It was taking an abnormal amount of time though.

Curious.

Finally The Hat sang out, “Sytherin!” and the table around them cheered loudly.

Tom leaned forward, pitching his voice to carry down to the sixth years. “Alphard!” He turned his shaggy head to Tom instantly. “Don’t you have prefect duties to see to?” Alphard just blinked at him dumbly. Tom forced a smile on his face, this was not the place to reprimand the boy, they must remain a single unit when out in public. “Go greet the boy, take him to sit with his year.”

Alphard’s face split into a huge smile before he bounded off the bench to lope towards Evans. The poor unsuspecting boy. He startled back when Alphard nearly ran him over in his haste. And who could blame him? Alphard leaned forward to say something to Evans, his ever present smile widening at whatever it was Evans had said to him.

Alphard led him past the first years. Then the second years. Tom smirked when he was brought before the third years, he would have have really been too tall for twelve, and now that he was closer he had a much more restrained and mature air about him. So much so that Tom wasn’t even surprised when he was led on to the fourth years. There was a general groaning around his end of the table as those who had lost the bet already felt the lightening of their money pouches.

Then they were passing the fifth years, and Alphard came to a stop at the spot he had left before. “This,” he said loudly, so that all those around him could hear. “Is Harry Evans, he’s going to be a sixth year!”

Well that was a surprise, everyone seemed to agree as those not close enough to speak him personally began their whispers once more. The other sixths years began sending questions Evans’ way. His voice was so low that Tom couldn’t hear it when he answered, but whatever he said made a few of the others shy away with looks of guilt, regret, and sadness.

Interesting.

 

~~~

 

Harry’s heart nearly lodged in his throat has a young man who looked far too much like Sirius skipped towards him. He had to close his eyes and take a few deep breaths.

It wasn’t him. Sirius wasn’t born yet. He was far, far into the past. This was a relative. It had to be.

He introduced himself as Alphard Black, and Harry had a very clear memory of Sirius running his fingers over the singed remains where a name should have been on his family tree. Alphard Black, Sirius’ uncle. He had given Sirius money to help him move away from his family and go live with Harry’s father and his parents.

Suddenly he felt just a little less alone.

The questions fired at him once he sat at the table were nothing he hadn’t expected and prepared for. He wasn’t even surprised when one of the first things he was asked was whether his parents were wizards. In the climate of the day, especially being sat among the Slytherins, he would have been surprised if they hadn’t asked. Evans wasn’t exactly a wizarding name, after all.

It seemed saying “My parents died when I was a baby and I recently lost my godfather who I had been living and traveling with,” was a remarkable way to get people to stop asking him questions. He was allowed to then to stare blankly at his empty plate and sip on a cup of honey sweetened tea.

Usually the feasts were a time to sample a little of all the food placed before him. Not over eating so as to not be sick, but just a time to enjoy all the rich flavors of things he’d been denied while living with the Dursley’s. But he just couldn’t work up an appetite. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as it usually was without Ron there to pack his cheeks full like a large orange squirrel, hilariously misplaced next to Hermione’s ever prime and bird-like way of eating.

He would try again in the morning. He’ll probably feel a bit more settled then.

He allowed the talk of the table to wash over him. The excited retelling of vacations in warm, war free zones. Exclamations over how much so and so had grown, or how great their new haircut looked. And when someone inquired about why had wasn’t eating, he quickly said that he’d had dinner before. Feigning ignorance about a welcome feast.

The Headmaster spoke at the end of the feast, just like Dumbledore would have done in his time. Harry tried to focus on him, Headmaster Dippet was either very old, or simply an extremely frail man. His beard and hair, not nearly as long as Dumbledore’s, were a washed out brown, more grey with a hint of the color that it used to be than truly brown itself. His face was lined and his eyes spoke of great exhaustion and stress. Harry had trouble following his soft voice as he gave his parting words to the hall.

It seemed to be the same warnings Dumbledore always gave. Stay away from the forest, don’t go swimming too far into the lake. The curfew was at nine o’clock. Things he was used to. It was a relief when he dismissed everyone to their dorms.

Harry stood with the rest, the fifth year prefect girl gathered up the first years hurrying past the rest of the table. Harry fell into line with them, since he shouldn’t know anything about the Slytherin dorms, especially not the specific stretch of wall that it hid behind. But instead of blending in among the much smaller first years, Alphard was right there at his elbow, all smiles and bright eyes.

Merlin, he looked so much like Sirius when he smiled.

“Come along now children!” Alphard sang, his voice easily taking over the other prefect, who, after a brief glare in his direction, realized that Alphard taking over her watch meant she didn’t have to coddle the kids, and ran off to be with her friends. Alphard beamed, taking Harry’s arm he pulled him to the head of the small queue and began to march him and the first years out of the Hall.

“This way! This way!” His voice rang through the halls as he led them downstairs. “Stick together my little snakes, fore if you get left behind you’ll never find your way home!” Despite his words, and his carefree nature, Alphard kept shooting surreptitious glances back at the first years. Careful to keep them all in his sight.

Harry smiled softly at that. He had learned a while back that Slytherin indifference was mostly vibrato and posturing. When they stopped in front of the wall, that Harry knew was the doorway, Alphard took the time to look over all the children. Counting them.

“Listen up, little snakes, this part is very important. Our dormitory is hidden behind this wall.” He stepped back, flourishing wildly at the blank wall. “It will only reveal itself for the proper password. The password changes every few months, you will be notified when. The password for now is, Viridis!”

On the last word the blank wall melted into a lovely door of carved ebony. Serpents and flowering vines twined their way around the glossy panels, dancing and undulating together in the wavering light of the hall sconces. He watched them closely as they passed through the door, not quite sure if it was a trick of the light that made them appear alive, or magic.

The common room was larger, warmer, than he expected. Being so far down under the ground, under the lake, one would expect damp and dreary. But the light from the two large hearths filled the room with cozy warmth and merry crackling light.

Unlike the common room in Griffindor that was just one large room that held many functions, there were ornately carved wooden screens that sectioned off different parts of the room.

There was a proper entryway when they first walked in. Alphard showed them hooks along walls for hanging their cloaks, divided into years with the individual’s initials on a little wooden plaque above them. Below the hooks were little shelves for their shoes, each shelf had an accompanying pair of slippers, though Alphard said they were welcome to use their own. All this so that no one would drag wet and dirty cloaks through the halls or track in mud on their shoes.

It was such a baffling, pure-blooded thing to do that Harry couldn’t help but laugh softly at the absurdity of. He still took his cloak off and hung it under the hook that read H.E. Following Alphard’s lead, he placed his shoes on the shelf and slid the slippers on his stocking feet. He spared a moment of amazement that they fit, but then House Evles were nothing if not efficient.

Off to one side of the great room was the smaller of the two hearths, tucked away behind a few screens with the same snakes and vines as the door. There were several tables of wood, polished to a high sheen and comfortable looking wingbacked chairs all a dark green. Alphard pointed it out as the study area and informed everyone of the room’s silencing wards and rules on never speaking above a whisper once inside.

The rest of the room was filled with plush couches and over stuffed chairs in varying shades of green from nearly black to vibrant spring and every shade between. Oil lamps provided a soft, even lighting throughout the large space from their places on the little polished tables that dotted the room. Several large chairs sat grouped together right before the hearth and patterned rugs in silver, green, and black covered the immaculate, dark tiled floors in almost random intervals. But most impressive of all was the wall of solid glass that looked out into the lake.

It took up most of the back wall, the first thing that caught the eye as soon as one was past the entryway. It looked for all the world like a normal window would. Tall, floor to ceiling glass, draped in luxurious velvet of a deep palatial green. The glass was black now, reflecting the pinpricks of light from the room back at them and showing nothing of what was beyond it. But he knew, in the day, it would fill the room with a greenish grey glow of the bottom of the lake.

A shade he was all too familiar with.

Alphard stepped away from their little group for a moment, puttered around on a stand in the corner that Harry hadn’t noticed in his awe of the window, when came back he held in his hand a great white serpent. The firelight cast opalescent sparks against the snakes scales as he carried it over to them, smiling from ear to ear as he held his arm out. A few of the first years balked at the snake, unsure about the creature that so many found dark and republish in nature. Harry and the others regarded it with careful interest.

“And this,” Alphard said, running a finger over the fine white scales. “Is our Lady Gemma. She’s a Lunar Adder, and she’s our sweet little girl. Please treat her with respect.”

Gemma hissed softly from where she perched wrapped around Alphard’s entire arm. “It is I who take care of you, silly child.” She gave him a rather exasperated look with her jeweled eyes. Though Harry was sure he was the only one who picked up on it. He was certainly the only one who heard her.

Alphard came to stand next to him again, smiling a knowing smile. “You want to hold her, Harry?”

He had to try, very, very hard to make sure he didn’t slip into parseltongue. English, please, please let him speak English! “Yes, please!” Alphard handed her over, Gemma transferring easily to Harry’s much smaller arms. He had neither the bulk nor the length of Alphard’s, so she stretched her length all the way down past his elbow and nearly to his shoulder.

He stroked her head gently where it rested on his hand, her eyes like two opals blinked up at him calmly. “She’s lovely.” He whispered to no one in particular, vaguely aware that Alphard had taken his other arm and lead him to a couch near the fire.

“That she is. Such a lovely Lady.” Alphard deposited him on the couch before stepping over to the chairs by the fires, with a flick of his wand one turned around to face the room at large. He took seat and waved a hand at the gathering first years. “Take a seat now, little snakes. We need to have a talk about house rules and then you’ll be able to go off to dreamland as to be up bright and early for classes tomorrow!”

The first years piled into the couches, several of them sat very close to Harry, snuggling up to him to get a chance to pet Gemma. He tucked his slippered feet under himself as to make room a few that placed themselves on the rug before his feet.

Alphard spoke, but honestly he didn’t listen. He was no first year. He wasn’t going to wander off and get lost in the forest, or fall in the lake. Hell, he wouldn’t even get lost roaming the castle halls. He knew what it was to be a Hogwarts student, what could Alphard possibly say that would change anything for him?

Instead he focused on Gemma and the few children that had chose to sit near him. If snakes could purr she certainly would be doing so, as not only Harry but the children stroked her delicate scales. Occasionally she’d say something about how she liked a certain spot to rubbed or that one of the children was being a little rough. Harry managed to convey these things to the children while not giving away that he could understand her, or disrupting Alphard’s speech.

“There are six prefects to a year, noticeable by the badges,” he paused, Harry assumed to point at his badge, though he didn’t look up from Gemma. “Any of them will gladly assist you if you have a question or need help. Though they can also punish you if you are acting out, which will not happen, I know. But be aware that they can deduct house points and give detention. So always be on alert.”

“Slytherin, and Ravenclaw have only five prefects this, as we are graced with housing the Head Boy. Ravenclaw, the Head Girl. If you can’t find a prefect for help you can always ask Tom Riddle here,” another pause, “For help. Though please keep in mind that he is very busy as Head Boy, organizing the prefects and helping out the teachers, so only come to him if it’s an absolute emergency.”

Harry smiled softly as Gemma flopped over, twisting so that her belly was in air and desperately begged for someone to scratch under her chin and rub her belly. Chuckling softly to himself Harry complied. Luckily she was too far gone to question how he knew exactly what she wanted.

Alphard kept talking but something he said kept nagging him. Riddle....Riddle. It was familiar, he tried quickly to place it with some pure-blood face in the future, his mind was a bit hazy from day’s events, but still it kept come back.

Riddle.

Tom Riddle....

Tom....

Harry jerked, hand halting on Gemma’s warm scales. He did know that name. Not a pure-blood name. Not a pure-blood name at all. A half-blood. Like him.

So much like him, isn’t that what Dumbledore said?

He lifted his eyes, not wanting to see....knowing he had to.

Tom Marvolo Riddle sat in one of the large chairs by the fire! The Dark Lord of his time was just basking in the warmth of a fire, surrounded by helpless children, turning a soft smile and kind eyes their way.

How the hell had Harry missed that a young Voldemort was there? Even for him that was horribly obtuse!

Granted he had tried very to hard to remain unseen, to put on a completely boring front, which had included him keeping his head down and avoided eye contact at all costs. He had made a point of not really looking after all. Had gone out of his way to remain out of the spotlight as the new kid. So...maybe missing him was perhaps not so hard to believe.

Right.

It wasn’t his fault.

It wasn’t like he knew that Tom Riddle lived in this time....Hermione probably knew....Actually he probably should have known, from the diary...

He was pulled away from his frantic, unhelpful thoughts by a light tapping on his arm. The little girl with glossy black curls, Clara, was looking at him with her deep grey eyes. “Harry,” She whispered urgently, trying to keep from disturbing Alphard’s speech. “Is she okay? She looks dead!”

Gemma did, in fact, look dead. Her head was tilted precariously to the side, having slid off his hand, and her little tongue was lolling out. What Harry knew and the other’s did not was that she was still, from time to time, hissing her deep and utter pleasure.

He gave Clara a gentle smile, rubbing his finger along her long belly. “She’s fine, I think she just really like thes attention.”

A short time later Alphard clapped his hands loudly, drawing every wandering eye back to him. “So, that’s about it. The rules are important, and they’re there for your own protection. Now, off to bed with you! You’ll meet with our head of house, Professor Slughorn tomorrow morning. He’s the potions master and enjoys spending the first night back..um...celebrating the new school year. He’ll meet us at breakfast.” He pushed out of his chair, motioning for the others to follow.

Harry gathered the now lax Gemma in his arms and went over to him.

“She really likes you.” Alphard said, leading harry over the stand near the hearth. It was a table, about waste high to Alphard and a bit taller for Harry. It was set up like one of the terrariums he had seen at the zoo back in London. With fake limbs and rocks disguised to mimic a snakes natural habitat.

Only the rocks and tree limbs were very real here, the terrarium was filled with little trees that would be the perfect size for Gemma to perch on, there was even a tiny stream that sprang up from one of the rock to roll merrily over the side of the table. Disappearing into nothing as soon as fell over the edge. And above it all was a teeny tiny sun, suspended over the trees, shedding warmth and light onto the little grove. Harry smiled brightly when he realized there was also no glass. This might be where Gemma slept, and it was definitely her space. But she could come and go as she pleased.

Harry placed her onto one of the large, flat rocks, the warmth from the stone sinking briefly into his chilled fingers. “I didn’t think snakes were one of the approved pets on the list. How do you get around keeping her here?”

Alphard smiled wolfishly. “Loopholes, my dear Evans,” He turned Harry with the touch of a hand, leading him to the arched doorway that Harry figured must lead to the dorm rooms. “See, no one actually owns her, she’s just here. Just a creature that found her way into the school that happens to like living in our common room.” He gave Harry an exaggerated wink as they entered the dim hall.

He didn’t have a moment to question, or even to be impressed by the Slytherin’s penchant for wiggling around the rules, as the hall, almost literally, took his breath away.

Salazar Slytherin, it seemed, hadn’t done things by halves. The entry way and the common room were so much more extravagant than what he was used to with Griffindor, He didn’t know why he had been expecting ‘normalcy’ in their dorm rooms either.

The hall was separated into two sides. Though separated was a very loose way of describing it. There were a series of carved arches between the two walls, gilded pots of bright, fragrant flowers stood next to each column. The columns themselves seemed to stand between what was the girl and boy sides of the dorms and aside from that there was no separations.

The first doors on either side were thrown open, a prefect stood in the either room, a girl for the girls, a boy for the boys, giving them last minute instructions or help. Harry couldn’t imagine which.

The prefects in his own time certainly didn’t take such care with the first years. He remembered quite soundly being stranded with just kids his own age to fend with.

“Prefects’ rooms are situated between the third and fourth year’s rooms. The Head Boy and Head Girl rooms are the ones at the end of the hall, though only Tom’s in occupied,” Alphard said as he led Harry down to the seventh door of the hall, it was next to the last on this wall, the Head Boy, he noted, would be able to look into the common room from his doorway.

“If you need anything you can come and get me. Anytime, anything, don’t worry!” Harry nodded, Alphard opened the door to a very large, circular room, the ceiling was almost completely glass. Like with the window in the common room the lake was black through it, a void through which anything could be looking.

Shuddering, Harry forced his eyes from the vast nothingness to take in his new room. Even here there was odd, unnecessary opulence. The beds were fourposter, just like he was used to, but they looked much larger. Whether because they actually were, or because the dark green bedding simply made them appear so, he wasn’t sure.

The beds were lined up against the walls, ten on one side and ten on the other, separated by a door that Alphard said was the washroom. Between each was a large wooden wardrobe, though everyone’s trunks still sat at the end of their beds, the rest of his dorm mates were stowing their robes and other assorted garments into the wardrobes.

Alphard slipped off to his own room and Harry made his slow way to the only unoccupied bed, ignoring, for the most part, all his unnamed roommates. There would be plenty of time, once he was rested and a little more settled, to worry about learning names.

One step at a time.

Over the course of the past month certain...things...had appeared in Harry’s trunk that he had no memory of placing there. A little kit in a leather case that held a come, brush, scissors, and other assorted items that Harry didn’t know how, or why he would need, had simply been there the day after he went clothes shopping. Then there were several pairs of stocking, both in silk and wool and in a variety of colors. He had been more taken aback by them than he had the slips. there was no possible way to not feel like he was wearing woman’s clothing now...though it had been a chilly day and he had put on a pair of the black silk ones, and they were undeniably comfortable.

Still, he only felt better about them when he saw other’s in his dorm placing their own stockings and little grooming cases in their wardrobes.

The past was just plain weird.

And fussy.

Ignoring everything around him, Harry took off his robes, draped them over a hanger in the wardrobe and tucked his little slippers under his bed before crawling under the covers and pulled the curtains around.

It took some time for the room around him to settle down. The thick curtains did quite a lot to dampen the noise to a soft buzz as his roommates chatted through their nightly ablutions. Harry just tried setting into the luxurious warmth of his bed. Fluffing pillows, rearranging them just so to make a nice little nook to curl up in.

Not too long after he was finally settled the wall sconces were extinguished. Plunging the room into sudden darkness that slowly faded into a soft green glow as the wane light from the lake filled the room.

Harry stared into the rippling, gossamer waves above his head, trying vainly to fall asleep.

 

~~~

 

Eleven thirty exactly, found Tom in his chair, the largest one in the room, by the fire. All the Slytherin prefects were there as well, seated in their own armchairs around him. Such after hours meetings were a tradition he had set up in his fifth year, after proving himself as Slytherin’s heir he had simply became the head of the house. The older prefects and that year’s Head Girl all stepped aside for him to take his rightful place as their leader.

Before his rule Slytherin house only played at unity. Presenting themselves as a whole to the rest of the school, but behind closed doors they were little better than animals. They were a house divided. Children playing at the games their parents thrived on. Petty, useless feuds that served no real, lasting purposes.

Tom had taken them and shaped them into something better. Stronger. Something that would last and serve him well for years to come.

He turned his gaze to Emaleigh Greengrass, the prefect that had been in charge of the first years during the feast. “Tell me about them,” he said with quiet command.

Emaleigh flipped a golden curl over her shoulder before starting...she often had trouble begging a conversation without at least touching her hair first. “Everything seems to be fine, for the most part. It’s much the same as usual. Most of them already know each other, those who don’t are slowly finding their place in the group.”

“And the exception?” Tom’s eyes narrowed at her, he had a feeling he already knew what she would say.

“There’s one child, he doesn’t have a name,” everyone in the group murmured an understanding. They all knew what that meant. Tom had shown up at eleven and he too did not ‘have a name’. It was what they said when a child arrived with a name that sounded far too muggle for comfort.

A pretty way to say a dirty thing.

“How are the other’s treating him?”

Emaleigh smoothed out nonexistent wrinkles in her robes, a nervous habit that gave away what she didn’t want to say. Tom sighed, the fingers of his right hand began tapping the chair arm in mild anger. It did not go unnoticed among the group. Emaleigh sat straight, nearly tripping over her tongue in her haste to answer him.

No one wanted to see him truly angry.

“They others well...they didn’t want to talk to him much, but I tried to bring him into the conversation, find out about his past. No one said anything slanderous to him, not where I could hear anyway,” she said the last part softly, as though hoping Tom wouldn’t hear that she had been lax in her duty of listening to them. “But his name isn’t muggle,” she added quickly in a stronger voice. “His family is from Russia originally, it’s just an uncommon name here. Aaron Petin.”

Tom was silent for several minutes as he thought, letting them stew for a bit, unsure of what he might have to say about that. “I want you to keep on eye on them, lead them. They need to know how things work around here.”

Emaleigh scoffed, all decorum thrown at the window at being given such a task. “Make Grace do it!” She said vehemently, tossing her head in the direction of the fifth year prefect two seats down. “She likes kids, she’ll want to do it.”

Grace, as though trying to defy the name her parents bestowed on her, was a sturdy girl that nearly reached Tom in height. She was stoic and statuesque with a handsome face and arms that would have no trouble in breaking the much more delicate looking Emaleigh in half.

If the look she sent Emaleigh’s way was any indication she very much wanted to test that theory.

“I shouldn’t get stuck with them just because Emaleigh would rather spend her time in front of the mirror.” Grace shot back, turning in her chair, ready to pounce Emaleigh any second.

“Enough.” Tom’s voice was soft, barely more than a whisper, but it had everyone falling silent and still in a instant. “You will both take turns watching the first years until you are sure they not only find their footing within the school, but also make sure they know that we do not shun our House. A child is a tool waiting to be shaped. If we set them so carelessly aside others will simply pick them up, and use them against us.” He fixed them all in turn with a sharp, unwavering look. “Do I make myself clear?”

A satisfying chorus of ‘Yes, my lord’ met the question. He gave a small smile. “You my go. We’ll have another meeting at the end of the week.”

All of them but Alphard rose and headed towards the dorms. Alphard fiddled idly with the prefect pin on his robes, still uncomfortable with being alone in Tom’s presence. He relief when Orion arrived to sit in the chair next to him was palpable.

Tom smirked at his delicious discomfort.

Slowly the rest filed in. Orion and Lestrange had been hiding in the study, and Abraxas he was sure had been painstakingly hanging his robes. But one by one his knights found their seats. Rosier had simply been standing in the corner, peering out into pitch black. He took his chair last.

“Tell us about our newest addition to the upper class, Alphard.”

Because he had no sense of propriety, Alphard wiggled in his seat. He would need to get over this unease if he was ever going to be useful to them. “Harry is quiet, his whole family is dead, as far as I can tell. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about it. Um...” Alphard tapped his lips in thought for a moment. “Oh! And he likes snakes!”

There were a few muted groans at Alphard’s less than useful report.

Tom wanted dearly to join them.

“He doesn’t have a name.” Abraxas said mater of factly.

“He doesn’t look muggle-born.” Orion said softly. “He has the bone structure and air of a pure-blood, I can think of a few families he might have branched from.” Several knights nodded in agreement.

“Get close to him Alphard,” Tom instructed, “Learn about him before anyone else does. We need to know how to protect our newest snake. He will already be a target, being a transfer student and all.”

“And because he’s pretty.” Alphard said, nodding himself. It seemed this too was a point that the others agreed on. “We’ll probably have plenty of classes together, I make sure he stays safe.”

“Good,” Tom said resolutely before turning to other topics. It was getting late, and there wasn’t much that needed to be covered. They needed to wrap up this meeting and get ready for the next day.

“Now,” Tom steepled his fingers and peered over them at his followers. “It’s time to get down to today’s business.”

 

~~~

 

He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t even find the space between sleep and being awake. The warm fuzzy, almost, pace that was all darkness and warmth.

It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t relax. He had become very good at relaxing his muscles and letting his mind drift. Snape would honestly be so proud of him...or well...wouldn’t be able to taunt him quite so much. The problem was that he couldn’t seem to stay in that state.

It was a slow awakening. Realizing that his eyes were open, that he was staring into the swirling waters over his head. The way it cast ephemeral light on the hanging around him.

Dizzying. Dancing. Dazzling.

The bed was large, the space above his head felt endless. But he still felt...trapped.

Like the weight of the lake was actually pressing down on his chest. Suffocating. Crushing.

Pushing down a wave a nausea, Harry sat up and slid to the end of his bed. Some time ago the door had opened and someone had left the room, only to come back an hour later. He could think of many things someone, or someones, might be doing out in the common room when everyone else was sleeping. Most of which involved a certain Head Boy that, try as he may, kept jumping to the forefront of Harry’s mind.

Giving up on sleep Harry crept out of the bed. The room was chilly, though not as cold as he had always figured the dungeon dorms would be. There must have been some magic worked into the floors, as there was no toasty fire roaring in the rooms. Even so it was a little cooler than was comfortable, what with the thin silk of Harry’s nightclothes. He wrapped a spare blanket from the bed around his shoulders and left the room as silently as he could.

The common room was dark, but for a few embers still glowing the hearth and Gemma’s tiny, brilliant sun. With the room empty it made the furnishing look more like a display of wealth. Like some of those show rooms in aunt Petunia’s Better Homes magazines. Something to be seen and definitely not touched.

She would have a cow if she’d known that Harry had his feet on one of these couches just hours ago! He couldn’t help but smile at the thought. But his humor was brief. He hadn’t been able to not think of the Dursley’s, probably more than ever before. He hadn’t even thought this much about them when he went off to Hogwarts the first time.

Now they were there with everyone else, playing on a loop through Harry’s head.

He would never seen them again. And perhaps it was because he had not chosen this path himself, he couldn’t quite figure out what it meant to him to leave his only living blood relative behind without so much as a heads up.

In the silence of the room, Gemma’s soft hissing reached him easily. She must have woken up when he entered, now she looked on him with bright eyes that seemed to glow in the light of her little sun.

Her head bobbed around as he approached her, her tongue flicking out carefully to taste him on the air. “What is bothering you, little hatchling?”

Harry smiled at her. She was really such a kind snake. He didn’t know how exactly she came to be in this common room, but it was easy to see that viewed the Slytherins as her children. How odd. And endearing.

“I just couldn’t sleep.” He said, his voice sounding louder than it was in the quiet room. Even for a hiss.

She perked up instantly. “You speak!”

“I do.” Harry said back, falling easily into parseltongue. He reached out a hand to her. He didn’t have to wait long before she was climbing up on his arm and wrap around it like before.

“I speak all the time, and no one hears.” She said, her words taking on a hint of a pout. “Except the other.”

Oh right, Riddle would be able to speak to her.

Harry wouldn’t know that though.

He went over to one of the chairs by the fire, curling up on the closest to the fading embers. It was still warm from when the fire was stronger. Harry allowed his blanket to pool around his waist to better soak up the remaining heat.

“Someone else talks to you?” Harry asked in the most sincere manner he could. “I’ve never met anyone else who could speak to snakes before.”

“Oh yes!” Gemma said excitedly. “My Tom. Such a good, strong snake.” There was pride in her voice that Harry would have found amusing, if he didn’t know she was talking about the future dark lord.

“The Head Boy.” Harry mused. He spent some time simply stroking Gemma, he didn’t ask what they talked about. He didn’t honestly care.

What would Voldemort say to a small, motherly snake?

Nothing useful surely.

What was useful anymore anyway? What would Harry do with any information that he could get about Riddle now?

Why had that woman thrown him into the past? Into Voldemort’s past?

‘It didn’t have to be this way’ she had said. What exactly did she even mean. Why say that and hand him a locket of Riddle’s parents? For surely that was who they were. He was so much a carbon copy of his muggle father it was almost ridiculous.

Harry bet that fact was something of a giant thorn in Riddle’s side.

Was that why he was comfortable running around as a half snake, half man beast thing in the future?

“What are you thinking so hard about, little hatchling?”

Harry blinked down at her. “Just...mulling over some things.”

“Things I can help you with?” Gemma hissed, gently prodding his cheek with her nose. “I’m good at helping.”

Harry chuckled softly. “I’m sure you are very helpful.” She preened under his praise. Harry sighed, slumping in the chair when his worries came back once more. “I’m just not sure you can help. Or that there’s anything to help with, I guess.”

“Gemma is here to listen, hatchling.”

Harry looked into the embers, faint reds and oranges undulating over pale, ash covered coals. “What if, you suddenly found yourself...lost.”

“Lost?”

“Well, maybe not lost. But everything was suddenly so different, and no one you loved or even knew was there anymore.”

“It does not sound happy, hatchingly. What happened to your other snakes?”

“Some died,” Harry said, voice a hoarse whisper. “Some I simply had to leave behind.”

“Gemma is here to look after you now, little snakling.”

“Thank you.” He couldn’t help but laugh at her persistence. Her eyes reflected the dancing light of the low flames, they were almost hypnotic. “What if, hypothetically, you were given a chance to go back. Make some bad things in your life, in the world, better.”

She tilted her head, her eyes wide. “Hypo....tet?”

“Never mind, Gemma. It was just a silly question anyway.”

She booped against his face once more. “But I helped with the other things, yes?”

“Yes, you’re very helpful, Gemma.”

She seemed satisfied with that and was content to settle against Harry’s chest as he watched the fire. He hadn’t realized he dozed off until a sharp nip of pain on his check woke him up. He startled, momentarily disorientated. Until he remembered he had returned to Hogwarts, was sorted into Slytherin, and had fallen asleep in the common room.

The room was dark, the only light now the one from Gemma’s stand. “You were sleeping, littlest snake. You need to go to bed.”

She was right. If he was tired enough to actually fall asleep now he should do so in his bed and not scruntched up in a chair where anyone could come by and see him. He rose, stretching his bunched up joints, and took Gemma back to her post. “Good night, snake mother.”

She rubbed against his hand at the name, clearly pleased. “Don’t forget your blanket, little one.”

He fetched his blanket like a good snakling, wrapped it around his shoulders and left for bed. Feeling oddly relaxed and centered.

Who knew talking to snakes could be so rewarding.

 

~~~

 

Tom watched his knights go off to bed.

The meeting had been fruitful, though there was little to discuss. No one did anything worth mentioning over the break. No one but Tom, and the story of how his Horcrux came into being was not one that all of his followers would be treated to. Only those closest to him would know any of the details, and even then, they would only know the where and a very general idea on how.

He would not share all of the intimate details with them.

Not with anyone.

The fire burned low, Tom contented himself with watching it dwindle. He was used to staying up late, to working at night. And with his enhanced night vision it seemed a waste to not use it.

But sometimes it was nice to just sit back and allow the world to settle around him. To feel the current of magic as it raced through the halls. Such a different flavor than the magic that hung over the streets of magical London. It was more wild, untamable, eager to learn. Just like the students that fueled it.

He sat there for countless minutes, just feeling. Until Gemma spoke.

“Someone comes.” She stated just before Tom heard soft footfalls coming from down the hall. “It is the new snake.” She said simply with a flick of her tongue.

He didn’t know why he did it. He had no fear or intimidation of the new transfer student. A meek boy who, though lovely, was of no consequence to Tom and his plans. He should be trying to win him over, to make nice and learn the things about him that would either lead to this Harry Evans becoming one of his knights, or simply a member of his house that Tom needed to protect.

Instead to cast hasty concealment over himself with a quick wave of his hand.

Becoming invisible had been something he’d learned long before meeting Dumbledore and coming to Hogwarts. It was always a handy trick to have up one’s sleeve.

Harry walked in, wrapped in a blanket from his bed, his little stockinged feet peeping out with every step, and his hair in disarray. He was honestly quite adorable like that, ruffled, blinking curiously at the grant room with his large, acid green eyes.

Tom contemplated getting up and moving into the study. He could pop out and act like he’d been in there all along, he could help Harry with whatever was wrong.

Then Gemma hissed.

Somehow Harry heard her from across the room, he turned and headed straight for the little stand.

Gemma, ever the caring Lady, asked if Harry was okay. Tom couldn’t help but enjoy her antics. He had learned long ago that most snakes had a very skewed view of life. Gemma actually thought that the student in Slytherin were her children. There was nothing he could do stop that.

But then Harry answered her, and Tom’s world stopped on its axis.

Harry could speak parseltongue!

That was...well it was impossible.

His mind raced, trying frantically to make sense of it all.

He was the heir, just him! He couldn’t have a brother...especially a younger one. His mother died when she gave birth to him, she was the one who passed the snake language and the only good part of his heritage to him. There was no way!

And yet he was seeing it for himself, right in front of his face. And coming right towards him!

He had risen when Harry first spoke, and he took a few steps back and away from the chair as Harry and Gemma drew near. She knew Tom was still around, but she didn’t give him away. Not even when she told Harry that he too could speak to snakes.

A fact that Harry just adsorbed, as though the idea were a mere curiosity and not the proclamation of the Heir of Slytherin that it was.

Tom had never been so taken aback in his life. No one had ever been able to surprise him. His life had been a smooth one, for all purposes. Even finding out he was a wizard wasn’t shocking. But this! Nothing could have prepared him for a small boy appearing out of the blue who could also talk to snakes.

Tom took a few deep, steadying breaths. There was a rational explanation to all of this. Nothing simply was, even in the in magical world. There were laws and rules to how things worked.

Tom was the Heir of Slytherin because the Guants were direct descendants of that noble line.

The pure-bloods in his ranks had said it earlier, hadn’t they. Harry didn’t have a name, but he had a face. Harry Evans simply must come from another family that could also draw it’s lines back to Slytherin...or some other ancient house that had the talent. There were other, less spectacular cases after all.

After a brief chat about having to leave his friends behind, Harry dozed in the chair. In Tom’s chair!

No one ever sat there. Not after he had claimed it years ago, everyone knew better!

Well, Harry wouldn’t, would he? He’d have to learn, but that was a lesson for later.

“Wake him, Gemma, it’s getting late.”

Gemma complied, and Tom watched as Harry placed her on the stand, and dutifully returned to chair to retrieve his blanket. The pale cream of his under robe was almost an exact match for his skin, smooth and pale. He walked with a careful grace, weaving his way through the chairs and tables, slipping a little on the silk covered feet.

Tom couldn’t seem to take his eyes off him, and as Harry passed by, still unaware that he was right there, Tom got his second shock of the evening.

They didn’t touch, he hardly even felt the breeze left in Harry’s wake. But for a moment, a single second as Harry crossed his path and left him behind, the room around him grew brighter.

A shock of light, almost blinding, but it was just the small sun of Gemma’s stand. The room grew warmer, the bone deep chill that Tom now carried with him thawed. Just for a moment.

For just a moment, the scent of a meadow, warmed by the summer sun, filled the room.

In a flash, here and gone again, Tom was transported to somewhere....well...magical.

Then Harry was walking away, rounding the corner, and leaving him behind.

Tom gasped, hands reaching, clutching the chair as his knees threatened to give. It was...it couldn’t be. But it was...so much like the....

His diary!

His Horcrux.

Harry couldn’t have....

It made no sense, but Tom was already off, running through the arch and down the hall. He tore his door open, kicked it closed behind him and with careless flick of his wrist locked it. The diary was in his trunk. There were plenty of wards around it. Things he couldn’t stick on his door lest one of the underclassmen wander into his room. But his trunk was his territory alone.

And it was still there. Wrapped in a bit of black silk, tucked into a corner with a camouflaged charm on it.

Tom hugged it to his chest as he sunk to his knees, the room spinning around him. Growing bright, sharper, a little warmer.

Harry hadn’t taken it after all...not that he could have....not with the protections on the trunk.

But then how...why had he felt that way before?

It could be another fluctuation, but he hadn’t had one of those in over a month. He was well and truly adjusted to his new senses. This shouldn’t still be happening.

And oddly of all. Even when his senses were a mess, even now when he held his Horcrux close and soul felt whole once more.

There was never the scent of the sun drenched meadow on a summer’s afternoon.