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The Mind Flat

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Teaching is a pain in the ass, and anyone worth his salt would tell you so.

 

It has been eight weeks since Tom Riddle accepted the Divination post.

 

"Professor," a student called. Tom lifted his head from the mahogany desk and stared at him in confusion. He didn't recognize the child. Or rather, he didn't recognize anyone these days, the weight of exhaustion heavy on his shoulders. "Professor, the trapdoor is locked, please unlock it."

 

Tom turned his head back around and closed his eyes.

 

"Professor, it's been three hours."

 

"Open it yourself," Tom muttered, slowly urging himself to sleep. Sweet, sweet oblivion…

 

"Professor, please!"

 

Utterly tired of these petulant, insignificant children, Tom slid down his chair and snuggled in the empty space beneath the table. Under here, he kept a blanket and pillow ready for use, used almost every day and at every opportunity.

 

Students sobbed. A thunder crackled outside. Tom Riddle snored blissfully.

 

It has been eight weeks since Tom Riddle accepted the Divination post.

 

***

 

"Professor Riddle."

 

"Harry," Tom greeted with a suppressed grimace, turning to fully face the man.

 

Harry Potter was the Defense Against Dark Arts professor, prodigious talent, nurturing teacher, Dumbledore's favourite and unfortunately, Tom Riddle's own (unknowing) archenemy.

 

"I heard you kept the fourth years up there for four hours straight," the man said as he took a seat beside him, signalling to Tom that a thorough tongue-lashing was on its way.

 

"It was a demonstration of… dream interpretation?"

 

"Are you asking or telling?"

 

Tom, not completely devastated by his past loss (at least not enough to completely throw away his dignity), raised an eyebrow in question. Nowadays, he had no patience to play nice with people.

 

"You know that you can't drag the students down with you," Harry started with an indignant scowl. Tom resigned himself to an hour of 'teaching ethics' and tuned the rest out, focusing on the only joy left in his life right now — namely, food.

 

"Tom." He twitched at the direct address. "You can at least give me the courtesy of listening to me. I'm trying to help you here."

 

"That's not all you can do to help me," he suggested and received a glare for the effort. "I should tell you: The more you speak, the less I hear. Be concise and practical. Brevity is the soul of wit, after all."

 

Harry pursed his lips and inhaled, forcibly calming himself. "Let's talk later then. I'm too angry to talk to you now."

 

"Fury looks fetching on you, dear," Tom mocks. Gazing into Harry's alluring eyes, he closed his mouth around a morsel of roast beef and chewed, very deliberately. "Are you going to eat?"

 

"Stop playing with your food."

 

"Oh, I'm sorry, was it me who was talking to the treacle tart the other day? 'You and me, baby, a sugar paradise. Let me lick you to the plate.'"

 

"Don't—" Harry stabbed his fork in the air, aiming at him, eyes narrowed. "—provoke me."

 

Tom gave him an angelic smile.

 

"I've been watching this play out for the past eight weeks plus nine days," Minerva Mcgonagall told Miss Wayheart, the Astronomy substitute professor. "You see what I'm saddled with? Eight weeks of bearing this torture, every mealtime, while we wait patiently for the day these two fools give up the posturing and finally bed each other. Saying it's frustrating is an understatement."

 

"Aren't you worried they'll hear us?"

 

"Who, those two? Don't worry, if they're together, they won't hear anyone else."

 

***

 

And the day came that Tom Riddle's hubris bit him in the ass, teeth sharp and pointed like needles.

 

Tom, Dumbledore wrote. Tom's eyes traced the letters fervently for the words he sought, only to droop with disappointment. I would like to talk with you this evening. Are you free? I'm sure you're aware of the password to my office.

 

As usual, the signature lay sprawling right under the note, written in purple ink for a change. 

 

"He's going to berate you," Harry taunted him. Tom's brow twitched in annoyance. One day, Harry Potter would learn the meaning of privacy and not read over his shoulder. "I told you what to do and you didn't listen."

 

"I listened," he defended. "The first time." Every time after, he only listened to the cadence of his voice, the firm and deep tenor rumbling in his ears. Words were naught but constructs of artifice.

 

Harry snorted. "Not enough, looks like. Learn to take your lessons seriously, won't you."

 

"I think it's exceedingly obvious that the answer is no, yet again," he said. Tucking the note into his breast pocket, he stood up and bid his farewells. "Have a good day, everyone. I'm off to get whipped bloody."

 

"Don't bother coming back!" Harry called after him, the tone of his voice gleeful.

 

Pretentious, privileged prick.

 

***

 

The staircase was wholly unnecessary, in his respectful opinion. The Headmaster's office was already high enough, being on the fifth floor; if it was so necessary, one could just sequester this small space as a waiting room, with the actual office only a door away.

 

Sadly, the unconventional architecture of a castle wasn't something he had the authority to change, nor the credentials required to undertake such a challenge.

 

Tom Riddle knocked the door and tapped his foot, the tip of his shoe almost blurry in motion. Generally, he only had to wait three seconds after he climbed the stairs. One, two—

 

As predicted, the door opened with a pleasant and sonorous creak, letting the light filter into the hallway.

 

"Tom," Dumbledore said. His voice was genial. Said professor winced and stepped in. "It's good to see you. How have you been?"

 

"You know how I've been, you old coot," Tom spoke without a care, moving with exaggerated comfort to offset the stress of memories. Plopping on the sofa, he started, "What will it be now? Suspension? Another counselling session? You know those don't work on me, Albus."

 

"On the contrary," Dumbledore chuckled. As was tradition, he extended a box of lemon drops which Tom readily refused. The continuation came without a pause: "I'm concerned about the state of things. I'm not going to insist on another educational conversation — not if it doesn't provide any benefits. Punishment is supposed to correct the cause of the behaviour, not only the symptoms."

 

As opposed to what it was supposed to do some years ago, apparently. Meaningless obstacles that did nothing but create nasty rumours.

 

"Tom," Dumbledore said, his expression strange. Unconsciously, Tom clammed up and his throat constricted. "Are you well? You can tell me honestly."

 

Stop it. Focus! Speak! "Of course," he said, voice hanging on the edge of cracking. What is wrong with me? "I'm grateful for the second chances offered to me." 

 

His words must have ended too subdued, since Dumbledore's frown only deepened. 

 

"And the lessons?" the headmaster asked, diverting his attention to a stack of letters on his ornate desk, some with ribbons and some with very familiar seals, and then some opened. Tom recognized the crest of the Blacks and the somber purple of the Minister's M.

 

"Not very well," he admitted. He couldn't hide it without his lie surfacing. "I'm having trouble with maintaining the students' interest. It is rather difficult to truly garner their honest attention."

 

"Is that so?" Dumbledore said, his gaze boring into Tom's eyes, slicing viscerally through his mask. 

 

His arm flinched and Tom nodded, not trusting his crafty tongue. When he felt more stable, he drawled out, "Unfortunately."

 

"I will let this incident go," Dumbledore continued, "provided that there is no repeat of what happened earlier this week. I am truly sorry that it has come to this, my boy, but perhaps you ought to review what you really want. You are a very career-oriented person, after all — if you are uncomfortable with…" A deep discomfort fell with the quiet, itching underneath skin. "With your current circumstances, then I implore you to try to alleviate some of what irritates you. Is that simple enough?"

 

"Yes, headmaster."

 

"Off you go, Tom," the old man nodded as he dismissed him. His face was gaunt and his beard showed silver beneath the surface, and Tom thought for the first time that maybe Dumbledore truly didn't know what he was doing.

 

Not at all.

 

***

 

The tides changed at the wash of a wave and neither the rising legend Tom Riddle nor his loyalists could change it.

 

The very end of the summer of 1954, August 21th, marked the strangest thing that ever happened to him: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore's decision to — no matter how nonsensical, absolutely mind-boggling it was — hire the illustrious Tom Riddle for the Divination post.

 

He had been waiting for the day he would return to Hogwarts, but never in his wildest dreams had he ever thought that he might enter the castle like this. He had always fancied himself the athletic, strong sort. (Of course, that opinion's roots lay in his miserable childhood, wishful fantasies of burying his tormentors into the backyard dirt, solely by the work of his bare fists.) It didn't matter that Tom had never participated in rowdy plays or mock Quidditch games — he had thought of himself as the ideal Defense professor: Popular, intelligent, quick-witted with even quicker reflexes and a taste for the darker magics, unafraid to brave the beyond.

 

The Divination post, the thought ran through his mind in cycles, one moment burning hot and shivering cold the other. I am the new Divination professor. I graduated without a Divination OWL grade. Dumbledore took me in regardless of whether I'm qualified to teach it or not.

 

It could only mean one thing, and that did not surprise him. Tom was desperate to stay at the castle, his first home and hopefully his future domain. Dumbledore was desperate to keep a sharp, close eye on him.

 

It worked mutually. The elderly passed on and left their seats to their legacies — the youth took over the dead bones of their fathers. When they died…

 

Tom, however, would not die.

 

If it meant that he would stay a Divination professor for decades, so be it. He would do it for the life he wanted, the one he deserved after years of toiling. 

 

Hogwarts, hopefully, would be truly his one day.