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He stands in the doorway. He stares.

“Oh, is this the new kid?” asks one of the kids, a nasty sneer on his face. And Tom-- Tom wants to sneer back, shoot a nasty glare at the boy with filthy off-brand white sneakers and burned-out eyes. But he doesn’t of course, because first impressions are everything and he at least has to make a good one with the foster “parent”.

“Yeah,” Tom says, offering his hand and a wide, fake smile. The boy doesn’t take it.

“Well?” a sharp, female voice says from inside. “Come in, kid.”

And he does.

The house is-- well, the house is not what he was expecting. He’s rather disappointed, actually. There’s a mess of worn sneakers and dirty sweatshirts strewn over pink chintz chairs, yes, but there’s not any iron chains or half-empty bottles of Camarena on the vinyl-laminate countertops. And he had expectations-- expectations that were apparently built up for no reason at all.

Tom sighs, carries his bag in. “You’re upstairs in the attic,” the invisible grown-up says. “They warned us about your night terrors at the other house.”

He nods, tries to hide his smile. Because the night terrors were his own invention, something just as cooked up as whatever the hell she’s doing with the grain-alcohol still in the bathtub. He wanted his own room, so he got it.

###

He’s sitting inside on a remotely sunny day when he sees her for the first time. There’s no particular reason why he’s sitting inside; only that the entire house doesn’t particularly smell like marijuana on most Sundays, and that’s something he relishes. So, yeah. Tom Riddle is sitting on a denim loveseat when he sees her for the very first time.

Hermione Granger stalks in, eyes dark.

“Hey,” she says, turning to look at him.

He’s surprised, at first. No one has spoken to him since he got here yesterday, which has been both a relief and a curse. “Hey,” he responds, not sure what she wants-- because her caramel skin is practically glowing, because she looks like a princess-- no, a queen!-- out of a storybook, because she’s someone that shouldn’t be here and is.

“You’re sitting in my chair,” she says.

Tom shakes his head. “No, it’s my chair right now.” Oh, the sweet push and pull of conflict. He breathes out, in. Yes. Please, now.

“That’s my spot.”

“I’m not moving.”

“Okay,” she acquiesces, and Tom tries to ignore the feeling of disappointment that’s welling up inside of him like blood from a fresh cut, because she’s not special, she’s not going to fight and that makes her normal. No one fights him.

But then-- oh, then-- she’s glaring at him, gaze rock hard and fingers clenching the other chair across from him, and she is, she’s fighting him now. And it feels exhilarating. And for some reason, the light is hitting him exactly in the eyes right now, and it hurts, it’s so bright.

Is she-- is she doing that?

No, he decides. Tom is the only one that can do that sort of thing. It must have something to do with the way the light is hitting the kooky crystal-cut rainbow maker. Yes, it’s just plain dumb luck.

But still.

Even still.

Tom Riddle wonders. He moves off of the chair, just in case.

###

They are standing outside for one of the interminable “outdoor activities” and he is staring at her. Hermione Granger, the most obnoxious girl he’s ever met is bouncing a rubber playground ball with a listless expression on her face, tired and a little bit done with it all.

He nudges Mack, one of the slightly more tolerable boys at the “home” and points to her. “See her?”

“Who, Granger?” he asks, turning around slowly. Tom manages not to groan. Mack is one of the stupider people he’s met in his life. It goes to show how awful the place is.

“Yes, her,” he hisses. “Go try to pull the ball out of her hands.”

“Why would I do that?” Mack asks.

To test her, he says in his head. To make her do something… unpredictable. “To play ball,” is what he actually says, because no one understands.

“Oh,” Mack says, nodding. He starts his slow walk over, and tries to grab it. As soon as he does, though, he’s rewarded by a sharp pain in his abdomen, it looks like. Hermione glares at Mack, clearly angry. “This is my ball,” she says loudly. “Serves you right, getting a stomach cramp like that for trying to take it.”

Tom looks at her, scrutinizing. Does she know that it’s her fault the boy is feeling ill? It’d be nice if she did.

But if she didn’t…

If she didn’t, that’d be even nicer.

###

Tom is standing in front of the swing sets when the idea first crosses his mind. Where is Hermione now? he wonders with glee. This idea, it’s certain to let Hermione know that she’s not the only that can do it, that she’s not the only special one.

She walks by him, hair a bushy mess. He catches her eye. They’re not friends. They’re not enemies. But she stops anyways.

This will be tricky, proving to her that he can control it, too.

A thought is a weapon too, like a sword is a weapon. So he thinks, he wields the only sword he knows how to. And the jab of his weapon, of his skilled knighthood, sends Mack flying off of the swings.

Hermione stops. She stares.

And Tom Riddle?

Tom Riddle smiles.

###

The first time they speak without any sort of violent measures acting on any party, it is in Tom's bedroom. Hermione Granger walks upstairs to his highly poetic attic bedroom on a Friday, seven hours and twenty one minutes after he has thrown a child off of a swing set. “You can do it too,” she states flatly, looking at him, spread out on his cheap broadcloth comforter.

Tom looks at her. “I don't know what you’re talking about,” he says in an even tone, though the excitement that’s flying through him is palpable, just like the thunderstorm-heavy early summer weather that hangs dead flat around them.

“I saw you. You made Mack fall of the swing just by-- by thinking it!” she says, pointing an accusing finger at him.

He nods. “Yeah. So?”

“I can do it too. Only-- only I can't all the time.”

“So what?”

“I want you to show me.”

A slow smile spreads across Tom’s face. The fish has bitten the hook.

###

It takes a while for her to get ahold of their wishing power. He shows her how he does it, of course, but it’s hard because being raised the way she was did not lend itself to imagination. “Foster care since I was two,” she says, cocking an eyebrow when he asks her about her past. “My mum had Alzheimer's and my dad was already dead. No relatives. You?”

“Oh. Mum, dead, grandfather, dead, uncle, insane and dead, father, bastard that left my mother and presumably doesn’t know I exist,” Tom says, trying to keep his voice casual and level. He knows that it’s not. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t.

Hermione nods. She understands. Of course she does. “Now,” he says, trying to keep a light hearted tone. “Back to the wishing.”

Finally, late that night, while she’s sitting on his rumpled gray bed, she gets it. Her wishes start to react more frequently, and suddenly, the dead plants in Tom’s windowbox aren’t quite as dead anymore.

“I am,” she says in awe, staring at her fingertips. “I can do it like you.”

“Of course you can,” he says, patting her back in what feels like congratulations. “I picked you, remember?”

“I-- yeah,” she says, hugging him briefly. “Thank you.”

It takes him a while to get used to the physical contact. It takes her a while, too.

###

The first time they decide to run away is a crisp, cool day in the middle of October, with claret and amber leaves falling down, that, when walked upon, sound like the crackle of a broken radio on a folksy static-filled channel. Tom Riddle is nine, and to the best of either of their knowledges, Hermione is eight. They don’t know how old she is. It bothers him more than her.

“Let’s leave,” he says, grabbing her hand on a day when their wishing has been going so well Hermione’s gotten ten shiny euros from the odd passerby.

“What do you mean? Today’s been going really well,” she says, turning towards him and holding the coins towards him. “See?”

He shakes his head. She’s so literal sometimes. “No, I mean leave the house.”

She turns towards him, eyes sparkling. “Yes.”

It doesn’t work, of course. They’re caught as they’re sneaking out of a window at eleven thirty nine at night with a rope and a bag of food and clothes between them. Tom sighs, offers his hand to Hermione, and pulls her back up into the room.

Nothing happens after that. There’s no punishment, no window locking or room moving. But in his mind, something starts stirring, a desire to be free and practice their magic. That’s what it is, he’s sure of it, but Hermione refuses to call it that. No, she’s way too pragmatic to believe that they have actual magic in their hands. It’s just a lucky gift, a talent that adds another tool to their arsenal when defending against the bigger, meaner kids and running away.

But he knows. He knows it’s magic.

###

They wait for exactly three more days before trying to run away again.

This time, it works.

And he knows that it’s all because of Hermione-- because she wishes and wants and her own pure force of will is exactly what got them out of there. Tom knows that he couldn’t have done it alone. If Hermione was normal-- which she’s not-- he would have left her to die in the small forest near the foster “home” as soon as he could have. But she’s not-- she’s remarkable and smart and the only one that knows how to do the same thing that he does.

So they start walking, as quickly as possible with all of their things. There isn’t much. “I hated that place,” she says as she’s walking. “I was only there for a little while, but I hated it.”

“Me too.”

“I’m glad we left.”

“Yeah.”

“What happens after this?” she asks, spinning around and facing him, face scrunched up like she’s about to cry. “I don’t-- I don’t know what’s going to happen. Will we go back? Get separated? Get lost? Die?”

“None of those. None of them ever,” he says, shaking his head vehemently. “They won’t happen ever.”

And then-- then Hermione’s clasping his waist and hugging him, and by now he’s pretty sure that he’s used to physical contact. He hugs her back. “Never,” she says.

###

It’s been a few days since they’ve left. They don’t know where to go. In effect, they are homeless. It doesn’t bother them. But Hermione has decided that today is a Research Day, so he bemusedly brings them to a public library. Tom reads a novel and a half. She is on the computer for five hours and forty two minutes.

“There,” she says, waving him over. “I’ve found it.”

“Found what?”

She grins at him. “Our new home,” Hermione says, looking smugger than he’s ever seen before.

He peers over her shoulder. It’s a picture of a cabin, looking decently worn down and abandoned. Hermione moves over to let him see. “I read the article. It’s empty and abandoned. There’s a creek right next to it. There’s old garden beds.”

He looks at the house. It seems as close to habitable as two orphans with ten euros a day can get. “We can get seeds now and then walk out there.”

“Okay,” Tom responds, and they leave the library, with a new home to go to and maybe something of a home. But that’s a lie, because he’s known for a while that Hermione’s kind of his metaphorical home in a not at all mushy heartfelt way. It’s not.

###

They stay in the cabin’s general area for nine weeks, seven days, and sixteen and a half hours. That’s when the cops find them.

Later, Hermione swears that it was stupid not to check the newspapers for information on missing children, and that it was kind of their fault, but it doesn’t really matter because--

Because when they walk towards her, grab her hand, she hisses something that he can’t hear from behind the bowed back of their brown nylon canvas couch.

The sweating cops drop her hand and look fuzzy eyed before just-- leaving the cabin period. It’s weird, and Tom grins at Hermione from behind the couch when they go.

She pinches at her wrist and frowns. “I think I did that.”

“You did,” he says. “What did you say?”

“Leave and forget us,” Hermione says, looking at her shoes.

He holds her by the shoulders and looks into her eyes. “Hey, hey. That’s good. We’re safe for now. You saved us!”

“I guess. But-- Tom, we really should leave here. They’re probably not the only ones that knew.”

“I-- You’re right. Let’s get going,” he says, grabbing his bag from the entryway. “Let’s get going.”

“But where?”

“I don’t know exactly. Here’s not safe, though. We have to get going.”

###

That’s why they find themselves at a train station in the pouring rain at eleven twenty six at night. Hermione grabs a raincoat from her bag, one that they just incidentally found on the ground, precisely when they needed it. There is change in the bag, too. “Where to?” she asks, teeth chattering. He grabs his fleece jacket and throws it over her.

“Don’t look at me like that, Hermione. I’ll not let you freeze to death, alright?”

She huffs. “Alright, but where do we go from here?”

“You won’t go anywhere,” a deep voice says from behind them.

Hermione screams.

###

The man that has apparently been following them for an awkwardly long time introduces himself as Albus Dumbledore, is not from the law, and believes in magic.

“No,” Hermione says, shivering. “No. You’ve got to stop bothering us, alright? I can call the police on you. You’re bothering my brother and I.”

Tom hides his cringe at the term brother. “Exactly. Our mum is waiting for us in Aberdeen. Please, can we just go?”

“Alright,” the frankly sketchy man says, and waves them away. “Goodbye, Tom and Hermione.”

He shudders as he and Hermione walk towards the ticket booth. “Where are we going now?” he asks her, grasping her hand.

“Anywhere but Aberdeen,” she says, squeezing back.

###

The next train leaves in ten minutes, the very nice man that sells tickets says. And he doesn’t ask questions. Tom buys the two tickets for Dumfries with some coins Hermione had in her pockets. True, they’re the cheap seats, but he doesn’t care. They have to leave, escape from the law, from Albus Dumbledore.

When they’ve gotten settled on the nearly empty train, Hermione starts laughing almost hysterically. “We’re being followed by law enforcement and an old man that’s completely bonkers. Right now, I’m a little bit more frightened of the old man.”

He smiles, but privately, Tom isn’t sure how crazy the old man really is. They buy a sandwich from the cart and share it. It’s a long train ride from Edinburgh to Dumfries, and they fall asleep halfway through.

When they wake up, it is morning and they are almost there. Hermione rushes around in their little compartment, getting their things collected. “I just don’t want to forget anything,” she says innocently when Tom asks why she’s being so mental about it.

She doesn’t want to leave anything that Dumbledore or law enforcement can track, is what he’s pretty sure she means.

###

They get off the train and there is nothing to do. If they don’t have to run, then they don’t have to do anything.

Tom asks what their plan is. Hermione shrugs. “I don’t know. Just-- hide in a library or something? Maybe a park?”

He laughs. “I’m not hiding in a park.”

“Alright, then a library.”

“Okay.”

###

They hide in the public library for a while and practice wishing. He discovers that if they say things aloud, they work better. She discovers that when she says things in the minimal French she learned, they work even better. So they practice their French and learn that they can get anyone to do what they want them to when they ask very, very nicely and want it very, very hard. Now that they know that, they can get people to do anything they want.

One day, because he was bored, he asks one of the businessmen they saw in a lovely park to jump into the fountain. He does it.

From the sidelines, Hermione smirks.

Later that day, they start wondering what all it is that they can do. “We can control people, of course,” he says.

“We can get things to come to us.”

“Can we create things?”

He frowns. “I don’t know. We can try?”

So they do. They can’t create things, not really, but they can transform them. Hermione smirks when their first pile of pebbles turns into an even larger pile of coins. Later that night, though, they are both disappointed when they slowly change back into pebbles. “But it doesn’t matter if we spend them,” she says. “Then we’ll have whatever it is that we want to buy and they’ll just have some pebbles after a while.”

Tom nods. It makes sense. They transform more, buy lunch, and sit at the park eating their sandwiches. Tom stands up first, scattering crumbs everywhere. The pigeons go insane.

“Let’s head back,” he suggests. Hermione nods, and they leave.

###

That night is when everything changes. When he’s walking into the library, Tom sees the man that called himself Albus Dumbledore. He gulps.

“Tom,” the man calls out. “Come over here, please.”

Slowly, his legs unlock and somehow, his worn sneakers make their way towards the old man. “I’d like to speak to you without your companion, if you please,” he says. “While she might be quite bright, I do so hate speaking to closed minds.”

He nods. Hermione doesn’t have a closed mind, Tom wants to scream, but he doesn’t, of course.

###

The old man has not stopped speaking for at least half an hour straight. Tom sits at the worn oak library table, his shoes kicking at the scuffed legs, and looks down at his hands. What Dumbledore says is tempting, but he doesn’t want to be suckered by something that wouldn’t be good for him and Hermione. “Would we have to go back to a home if we went to your school?”

“Yes,” Dumbledore says, and fixes him with an icy blue stare. “You can’t simply be homeless and come to Hogwarts.”

Tom nods. They’ll figure something out. But meanwhile, if the man is right, then they can learn all the magic they want. And of course, they’ll be ahead of the other students. “When does it start?” he asks.

“In a month,” says Dumbledore, and hands him a letter. “You’ll want to go shopping for school supplies. Miss Granger can accompany you.”

“But surely she’ll be going,” he says. It isn’t a question, and it isn’t a threat, so he stares at Dumbledore and masters his silence. Tom’s good at that. He knows that it scares people a bit, when he knows himself better than they know themselves.

“Yes, she will, Mr. Riddle,” Dumbledore says, breaking whatever thin veneer of quiet, of truth, that there was. “As you will you. You’re quite bright.”

There is a silence for a short amount of time. “You and Miss Granger’s, well, your activities are not tolerated at Hogwarts.”

He wants to scream that they did it to survive.

###

They go to Hogwarts in the fall. It is a horrific disaster. Yes, the magic learning, the wands, the structured lessons are all different and new, but he hates it, as does Hermione. Two days before the start of their Christmas holidays, she says, “I don’t want to come back here next year.”

“No. Me neither,” he responds, because there’s already too much time spent writing essays on what they’ve learned instead of learning, too much time wasted learning what they can’t do to discover what they can, and he’s done with it. Hermione, it seems, is just as done.

So they don’t come back.

Tom suggests they go back to Dumfries, fool people into thinking that they’re staying with an eccentric uncle and go to school there, at least until they’re eighteen, when they can start to travel. He’s not quite sure why Hermione agrees.

###

Hermione tricks the landlord into giving them the apartment for half of what it actually costs, and they magic up enough money to make the monthly payments. Anyone else would call it diabolic. Tom calls it survival.

They go to school, a nice school that isn't magical but still teaches them, and then a few years pass. “I want to travel,” Tom says. “I want to learn about the other types of magic.”

Hermione doesn't argue about terminology anymore. They both know it exists, but somewhere along the road, it became less a novelty and more of something they use to survive. Her hands wrap around his fingers, yes, yes, yes, and then she says, “I do too. Just-- after we finish school.”

“Good,” he says, ignoring her fingers and pretending that he doesn't care. “Where to first?”

###

They travel. For months, for years. He decides he loves her in Minsk, Belarus, while they sit on a bridge and she points out Stalinist architecture after they’ve killed someone for researching the effect of eating hearts for immortality. The experiment doesn't work-- something to do with mortal hearts and their personal weaknesses-- but he loves her anyways.

They have been searching for a cure for death for a year and a half and have not found it yet. Earlier on, they agreed to do whatever it takes to save themselves from dying. Nothing has been successful thus far.

She discovers that she’s in love with him in France. It is romantic and perfect and he drags her back to their hotel room that night, after a day of researching Nicholas Flamel. They have made next to no progress. But God, that night.

Their first kiss is sweet.

After that, nothing else is.

It’s hard, biting kisses, silk sliding up sweat slicked skin, it’s Hermione’s breathy voice saying yes, yes, yes, over and over again. Yes, yes, yes. She kisses him hard, and it’s pleading, begging, more, please. And her breath is hot on his neck, yes, yes, yes, while his fingernails drive into her hips and he thrusts into her--

They explode together.

###

Hermione discovers what they need to do to stay immortal a few weeks after Paris. “We can do-- do this,” she says, pointing to a library book. “It makes sense, right?”

He nods at her. “Yes.”

They decide on the people to kill two days later. He looks around the city for a few days, for a ring or two, maybe, and then he finds them and they are perfect. He gives one to Hermione, who understands why he chose to give her the heavy silver band. Tom will be using the one with the 24 karat cubic zirconia on it. He trusts her.

The rings are laden down with half of their souls when they finally trade them on a marble staircase, ready to live forever. There’s a kiss, too, another forever, a better one, and but god, he wants it. He wants their forever so badly. The promise, the threat of that forever-- it drips into their kiss, into them.

He still wants a forever.

He still wants her.

###

Tom and Hermione Riddle have had the other’s soul wrapped around their ring finger for for five months when the first postcard comes. It’s addressed to their flat in Paris, with a crimson red steam engine on the front. There’s no return stamp. He frowns when he first sees it.

The only thing it says is, “Wish you were here.”

He gulps, and practices something that they’ve discovered recently. “Burn.”

And it does.

###

The postcards keep coming, faster and more frequently, delivered in the night and shoved under their doorjamb. Frankly, it’s unnerving, and he still has no idea why they arrive. Hermione says that she has been finding them in books, too, and it makes Tom nervous. Now he’s worried.

Hermione frowns, points at a new letter. “Do you-- do you suppose that it’s from that school?”

“Maybe.”

She walks closer to him and whispers in his ear. “We need to pull a disappearing act.”

Tom nods. Too many years of suspicion, of fear, of uncertainty have made even the slightest provocation a danger, one that needs to be handled, handled in the only way they know how-- running away.

They are gone within the next day.

###

Albus Dumbledore has been tracking down the Riddles for eight and a half years. He will not stop now.