beta by the amazing Vanillaghost whom I thank for all the help with all my heart:)
None of the shop owners dared intervene with Tom and his work on the rare occasions he returned for supply purposes.
It was not the kind of public work that certain wealthy individuals were aware of back in the hallowed halls of the Ministry. No, it was the kind of work that was both a source of excitement and frustration for those who followed Tom's rare visits to the shady shop down in Knockturn Alley. A great deal shadier than most people gave it credit for.
It suited Tom just fine.
At twenty-eight years, and in the midst of something far greater than working at the Ministry Of Magic, the hours spent on his secret work proved useful. And pleasurable, to tell the truth. There was an immense beauty in assembling a being all by himself, with his own two hands and the aid of his magic. Especially after the long hours of looking over tedious paperwork and mending the imbecilic mistakes of incompetent people of wealth. And his beings were not mere corpses like the Inferi, but something capable of thought — even if their ears functioned only for Tom's commands. Especially for it. He appreciated his followers a great deal, yet having these creatures at his disposal was something else entirely. Something thrilling. His own creation. His child, in a sense.
The ludicrous thought brought a grin to Tom's lips.
He cast another look at the book settled on Borgin's massive desk when the doorbell rang and Tom's smirk widened. Maybe an early client? Or maybe a special client?
It was a young boy, surely no older than fifteen. A well-dressed boy with wide green eyes who stared at Tom from across the room. Panting, leaning with his back against the door, and black hair curled over his forehead. A pretty boy.
"Are you lost?"
The boy did not move his eyes away — not even to stare at the contents of the shop — and merely furrowed his brow in something akin to annoyance. In response to the grin still gracing Tom's lips, he stepped away from the door and foolishly inched toward the counter.
Well, this could be fun. Tom was rather bored as it was.
"Of course not," the boy finally responded with bravery. Or was it arrogance? "I was simply… in need of a place to hide. For a time. Not long."
Tom closed Transmogrifian Torture and tapped a long finger against it. "And did it cross your mind that what you'll find in here may be far more dangerous than what was chasing you outside? Not to mention the fine alley you've wondered into…"
Green eyes narrowed and the boy scooped up the tall chair in front of the ancient desk and sat in it with his hands in his lap. Tense but composed. Tom was already intrigued and placed his bare forearms on the counter to lean forward. To his delight, his young visitor did not flinch.
"They were not really chasing me, sir," the boy insisted. "I simply bumped into the wrong sort of people while away from my parents. And they were rather insistent. Then again, Knockturn Alley is always filled with the wrong sort of people, but at least to me you don't appear so."
"How do you know?"
The boy's staring had been obvious before but was downright tragic now. Tom was a very attractive man and he knew it, and as such the look in the boy's eyes was familiar. But more surprisingly, not bothersome either. Usually such behaviour irritated him and engaging in pointless teasing with a schoolboy had never been on his list of pleasurable activities. Yet here he was, the Dark Lord chatting with a witty boy. Tom did not even enjoy children.
"You don't look like it," came the response followed by a shrug. "I mean… yeah, you're kinda old but still good-looking, well-clothed, tolerant enough to sit here and chat with me while you sell things that could kill people with a touch. Soooo… I believe you're all right. Sir."
"I am certainly not that old, young man," Tom corrected with a smirk, not bothering to correct the child on his assumption that he worked there. Not regularly, at least.
"Still old enough to be my father," the boy teased, his lips stretched into a grin as well.
"Are you in search of a father?"
"No, thank you, I already have one."
"Shame," Tom teased, "And here I was, offering you a stable environment for a little family. We even look somewhat alike… It could definitely work."
The boy surprised him by laughing, a genuine laugh that succeeded in bringing a twitch to Tom's lips. The brat was entertaining, there was no denying it. A tiny hand was offered over the table and Tom responded by presenting his own.
"My name's Harry Potter. Nice to meet you."
The Potter heir… how interesting indeed. The son of James Potter held his hand and Tom needed all the self-control he could muster not to let his feelings be known — praised be his vast experience in doing just that. And oh, the irony! To have the son of the man hunting him present himself just like that. If Tom believed in destiny he would have said this could be nothing but fate smiling upon him.
"Tom Riddle. A pleasure."
He released Harry's hand a little later than was proper but no complaint met his ears.
"So," Harry trailed. "Were you busy?"
Tom raised an eyebrow before dramatically gazing across the dark corners of the shop. Spiderwebs and all. The boy pouted and was rewarded with one of Tom's grins. The type of grin he had used on the old hag Hepzibah Smith. Except he found it came far more effortlessly this time. Almost natural. (And that was one thought to dwell on later. Or preferably never — and never could mean a tremendously long time to an immortal being.)
"Right… stupid question. Anyway, I should be going or mum'll freak out for disappearing without notice. I bet she already is."
Tom's nails dug into the book's cover, grin still in place. "Oh, that's a shame. You can't be shopping for Hogwarts as it's the beginning of the summer, so what's the hurry?"
There was no trace of fear in the boy's green eyes. Harry was genuinely comfortable in his presence and Tom almost wished he wasn't. To have nothing but pure terror from the boy brought a shiver to Tom's spine. But the wild dream had to be set aside for the time being.
"Just a visit to Gringotts. I'm pretty sure we should have been home already," Harry explained with a grimace.
I could have the boy now. No one would know. Find my way into his inviting body before any life left those eyes. Before he completely belonged to Tom. Nothing was stopping him. Not really.
But that was a lie.
It was that face that was stopping him, and the possibility of this meeting — which could go nowhere and anywhere at the same time. Tom had waited for a variety of things in his life. He could wait for Harry Potter as well.
"Come," he offered, stepping from behind the counter, his hand finding its way to Harry's shoulder. So slender in his grasp, and so eager to be there. "There's no need to travel through Knockturn Alley, especially without a companion. It could end tragically."
As soon as the boy stepped into the fireplace, his eyes found Tom's. The Floo powder wasted away in his small fist as Harry still did not say the name of his destination. The thought of leaving did not settle well with the child, or so it seemed.
"It really was nice meeting you, Mister Riddle. Truly."
"I know, Harry."
The smile they shared lingered even after Harry disappeared into flames as green as his eyes. Tom remained there, staring at the place the boy once stood for a disturbingly long amount of time. Thinking.
When the invitation to the Malfoys' party arrived, everyone was left speculating. Sirius had not received one, so why would Harry's family?
"Something fishy is going on here…"
James' rather muggle remark was undoubtedly true but went unnoticed by Harry. It was about the Malfoys, so of course his father had ill feelings about it. In the last two or three years, the menace of this new Dark Lord was looming over their family once again. Despite the Ministry's efforts, the man's identity remained a mystery but James was still convinced the Malfoys were somehow involved despite there being no actual proof. Harry and his mother did not share the same sentiment, at least not as much. Certainly the blonde family were pricks, but that did not mean they would offer their undying support to a megalomaniacal wizard who thought himself better than everyone else. And on that note, Harry wasn't so sure if said man even existed. It wasn't like anyone had actually seen him. Only heard of him through rumours spread by questionable individuals.
In the end, the invitation was accepted.
So here they were, on the evening of the twenty ninth of June, mingling with the good folks of Malfoy manor. Or better said; his parents had been, for just about the last ten minutes, involved in a rather lively conversation with Mrs Zabini of all people while Harry carried his glass of champagne from one place to the other and avoided his schoolmates like the plague. Pansy Parkinson threw him a nasty look from where she hung on Draco's arm and Harry felt compelled to return the gesture. Draco himself was surprisingly civil, merely nodding his head in Harry's direction when he passed the couple. Harry then struggled not to bump into a high-ranking politician and the rich family from Greece who spoke and acted like goofs — the four of whom were scattered all across the room and were a challenge not to stumble into that way. Harry had almost stepped on the girl's foot before reaching the balcony. She was no older than seven, dolled-up in a distasteful pink thing that made Luna's clothes seem elegant. He mumbled a muffled 'excuse me' before escaping outside.
The summer air was heavy and insufferably warm, the terrains surrounding Malfoy manor appearing to stretch into the night and long past the tall iron gate at the front of the impressive house. Judging from the height, it seemed they were on the third floor and Harry sighed, placing his still full glass on the vast parapet made of something akin to marble. Harry was no specialist but the whole texture had a nice feel to it. Well, he thought, it did not really matter what it was. It was expensive and that much was clear.
The noise from the party amplified all of a sudden and Harry sighed, hoping it was not a schoolmate. And if it was a schoolmate, he at least wished it was not Draco, though the unexpectedly civil behaviour tonight was never bound to last.
If Harry still held the glass, it would have surely smashed to the floor by now.
It was Mister Riddle, there was no doubt about it. He had only seen the man once, yet it was more than enough to paint a worthy picture. He smirked at Harry, smartly dressed in a black suit almost entirely muggle in fashion, and inched closer as if he owned the place. Thing was, Harry had never fancied anyone before, girl or boy — he was thirteen, soon to be fourteen— but he was kind of sure he fancied Mister Riddle. Enough to dream about him three days in a row now. That counted for something, did it not?
And the man was so handsome it could not be real. How could someone be so handsome? All sharp cheekbones and sharp eyes that could only belong to a god or in a fashion magazine. Not a human. And if that was not enough, his whole body, his whole posture, was flawless. Tall and broad shouldered, he towered over Harry as he neared, mirth dancing in his grey eyes.
Oh, Harry was sure he fancied the handsome Mister Riddle now.
"Might as well call me Tom if we came to the conclusion I was not going to be your father."
They looked at each other until Harry broke into laughter. Mister Riddle — Tom — patiently waited for him to finish before he extended a hand. "Very glad to meet you again," he said, taking hold of Harry's hand.
Call him crazy but Harry was convinced Mis — Tom — was staring at him in a way that was too… something. And the firm hold on his hand was warm and inviting and Harry should really not read so much into this. Should not even think about it. All jokes aside, Tom was old enough to be his father and just imagining his parents' reaction was a horror story with every chance to end up in tragedy.
Then Tom smiled down at him and his worries all went to hell.
"What's a shop worker doing here?" Harry found himself asking, not moving an inch from where he stood.
"What's James Potter's son doing here?" Tom bandied right back, amusement dripping from his words.
"I asked you first."
"I asked you second."
Harry sighed and tried to hide his mirth but it was to no avail. "You're terrible," he ended up chuckling.
"Perhaps. But it pleases you."
The words silenced Harry and their close proximity stung him like a bee. He should step back, run away… So many lessons from his childhood said he should. Stranger danger, they warned. Tom was way too old and Harry was in way over his head. And maybe Tom already knew that…
"Sir… are you," Harry stammered. "Are you…"
"Courting you?" Tom finished for him, tilting his head like a bemused child.
This was really happening.
"Not the word I was thinking of, but yes." Harry's bravado surprised him and brought a wide smile to Tom's lips.
"It does not bother you."
Which was not a question at all.
Harry held his chin high, tasting Tom's amusement in the air. The man did not advance, nor did he move back. His eyes fixated on Harry, watching, waiting — all while being devastatingly handsome too.
"I… I did say you weren't so bad back in Knockturn Alley, but you've pretty much admitted to courting a thirteen-year-old boy. With all due respect, sir."
"Soon to be fourteen," Tom added. "And now we're back to sir, are we?"
Harry was surprised. "I don't think it makes much difference."
"Oh, but I believe it does. For instance, Harry, you are still here conversing with me instead of running inside to your parents crying about a bad man. Which raises the question of whether you are interested or not."
Growing up with James as his father, Sirius his godfather, and the Weasleys as his friends, Harry knew a game when he saw one. "How old are you?" he asked, testing the waters.
"Twenty eight," Tom responded in a heartbeat, advancing toward Harry who flinched. But the man merely reached for Harry's glass of champagne. "I won't touch you without permission, child."
Harry scoffed at him. "Considering you're trying to bring a child into your bed, calling said boy a 'child' is not the smartest thing to do, if you ask me."
"Trying? Succeeding would be far more appropriate, child."
The petty Draco Malfoy could not hold a candle to this man. In spite of the vile nature of their conversation, Harry could not bring himself to despise Tom and his wickedness. It was just… well, Tom was special, for lack of a better word, and Harry was far from loathing it. It appeared arrogance was kind of attractive to him. Not to mention, Tom Riddle was a handsome man offering him attention and Harry had a hopeless childish crush on said man. And Mister Riddle must be aware of it.
"Dad will kill you if he finds out," Harry let out, cheeks pink. He had just agreed. He had given Tom his permission and opened a door to the unknown. "Mum too."
"Harry, Harry… I do not make mistakes. Do the same and our little… partnership will be beneficial for both parties. You have my word."
"Okay. How are we gonna —"
"I will not bend you over this balcony. I confess to not disliking the particular fantasy, but we'll need a more private setting for when you spread your legs for the first time." He wetted his lips on the champagne's glass before he passed it back to Harry. Still not touching him. "You will be informed of our arrangements, child. Just you wait."
As the man made to leave, Harry held onto the sleeve of Tom's coat. Like a child. "Tom? Are we sick?"
All amusement vanished at Harry's question. "Sick? Well, if we are, let's not aim for a cure."
Harry let go. Tom smirked and left.
The words scribbled on the page seemed to go on forever. It was summer and it was hot and Harry's mind lacked the necessary ability to concentrate. Barely a week had passed since his meeting with Tom and said man had decided to make himself at home in Harry's thoughts. Because really, picturing that handsome face and that cheeky smirk while his parents Sirius and Remus talked politics at the dinner table was such a good idea.
Harry groaned. The book was abandoned beside his now empty plate as he attempted to banish Mister Riddle from his mind.
"And as I was saying, Fudge is stepping down next year," James said. "Despite the scandal it will cause and everything. And it's not that it doesn't bring me any joy, but the individuals that are said to take his place… well… things are not looking good for us."
Well, all bad eventually came to some good. At least days before Harry had found out Tom Riddle worked at the Ministry, it had been mentioned briefly. An official down Knockturn Alley. (Such gossip to fall into the wrong ears…)
It was always the same subject these days. Either this or the other; Ministry affairs or the supposed Dark Lord lurking in the shadows eating children. And as always, Sirius nodded at James' words, offering his undying support.
Remus and Lily exchanged a look and Harry leaned back in his chair. The routine bored him. He could participate in the discussion if he wanted but Harry had done so before and there actually wasn't anything new to say. Everyone just repeated the same things over and over again, pretending to know what was happening in the world. As if it became truth this way. Harry knew as much and out of politeness decided to keep his mouth shut and his opinion to himself. Besides, his mother gave the impression she already knew Harry's thoughts.
Who had time to worry about a Dark Lord? Summer vacation felt more real, and it was here. Not like some supposed nameless wizard. Who cared about this man? About this ghost?
Harry excused himself from the lunch table and announced he was going to visit the Weasleys for the rest of the day. Well, that had been the initial plan. Truly. Fred and George just happened to insist on going to Diagon Alley and who was Harry to spoil the fun? Especially when he had a folded note in his trousers pocket that arrived outside his window yesterday morning to consider.
Coffee tomorrow, it read. No signature needed.
And here he was. Now Harry just had to get rid of the rest of the group. Which was quite easy. All he had to do was mention something about picking up a book or two and Harry was walking down Knockturn Alley all alone. Eyes followed but he kept his head high and his steps measured. Predators always followed if you ran. Then there were those predators who waited, and this one happened to be smoking a cigarette.
Of course Mister Riddle smoked. It fit with his sharp attire, handsome face, and steely voice. It would have been odd not to. Harry approached while the man measured him from head to toe. Tom was comfortably resting his back against the front of the shop, the half burnt cigarette between his fingers.
It came out far too intimate for a third meeting.
"I can't stay for too long. I'm here with friends and I said I have some things to do, but —"
Mister Riddle hummed, obviously not caring. "Let me offer you a drink. Your friends can survive without you for a time, I promise." The cigarette vanished and then a hand rested itself on Harry's shoulder, leading him down a shady street to an even shadier bar. It made sense. A Ministry worker like Mister Riddle couldn't appear in the company of a thirteen-year-old boy at The Three Broomsticks. People would talk and parents would find out. Some would not leave the house for the rest of the summer and some would have their political career demolished. Mister Riddle did not seem the type of man to take any unnecessary risks.
Tom bought himself a cup of black coffee and Harry was presented with hot chocolate.
"You said coffee," Harry noted.
"Figure of speech. This is far better for your health at this age."
Harry, of course, knew that. "I know some other things that aren't good for my age."
Tom grinned as he sipped his drink. "Fair enough. Also, you had the choice not to accept my invitation. One cannot say I kidnapped you for my pleasure."
Was there any point in playing word games? Mister Riddle would surely win in spite of Harry's dedication. But perhaps their little game served another purpose. Maybe it was easier to dance around each other than to actually talk about their… business. (Harry had to think of another word. Not business.)
Harry clenched his fingers around his cup and met Tom's grey eyes. Harry was being looked at and obviously Mister Riddle had noticed the trembling of his hands. If he thought Harry weak, he held the opinion to himself. The only clear thing in Tom's gaze was interest and the faintest trace of amusement.
"Were you… Were you serious back at the party?"
Their circular table was located in one of the many corners of the bar and far away from the other clients, as few as they were. Mister Riddle had probably cast some privacy ward or something similar. Which meant distasteful words could be said.
"You are a smart boy, Harry. What do you think?" Tom countered.
"I think you were but I don't understand," Harry confessed, leaving all modesty aside. "I'm still a child and you're older. You work at the Ministry, you're powerful, you're handsome… and I bet many other things. And, yeah, I have a crush on you. Who wouldn't? But… why would you be interested? I don't… I don't understand."
Mister Riddle was looking at him almost fondly. For a long moment he said nothing, and then holding Harry's eyes, Tom extended a hand over the table between their half finished drinks, palm up. If Harry blushed it was perfectly normal. Keeping his composure he let his own hand rest above Mister Riddle's, interlocking their fingers. How small his hand appeared… at least two times smaller than Tom's. It was oddly endearing. And how wholesome it felt! It was the first time Harry held hands with another person and, in that sense, it was glorious! Maybe that's how it ought to be, or maybe it was just the man before his eyes that made the difference.
"Does it matter? I could write you a confession or tell you beautiful words about your green eyes, rosy lips, and other features alike. But at the end of the day it will all come down to a single aspect. You caught my interest and that is why I'm interested, in spite of all the other valid aspects you mentioned. Now… does this satisfy you?"
"So you're really…"
"Yes, Harry. I really am interested."
Okay, then. Their hands separated.
"Well, now what?" Harry asked. He wanted this, wanted Mister Riddle to be pleased and needed specific instruction on how to achieve that. It wasn't like he had any previous experience, after all.
"I am a bit of a traditionalist so I believe a date is the appropriate course of action for us now."
So they did just that. Cups forgotten on the table, they talked about themselves and everything else. Harry found out Tom was an orphan and Tom found out how terribly bored Harry actually was with all the Dark Lord talk going on in his family. Smiles were exchanged. Finally, Harry thought, someone who understood! Someone who needed evidence before they spoke! It seemed not everything was lost in this world.
Mister Riddle also displayed curiosity in Harry's schoolwork, what subjects he enjoyed, what subjects he would rather break his finger than try to enjoy. Well… Maybe not to that extreme. No broken fingers, but definitely a scowl or two.
"What are you so smug about?" Harry insisted at one point. Tom had grinned rather viciously at the passing mention of the Defence teacher who kept on being a nuisance to pretty much everyone — Hogwarts' staff included, but students most of all.
"Well… let us say I may have ended up being your teacher if some aspects in my life played out differently."
A world with Mister Riddle looking down at a classroom full of students, oozing authority just by breathing. And Harry among those young people, being absolutely mesmerised. It surely would have resulted in having a much earlier crush on the man. And certainly would have presented countless other opportunities for conducting their… business. (Another word, another word. Do try and find another word.)
"I bet you would have been the strictest teacher."
"You are correct. Imagine the detentions."
Yes, Harry imagined them all. He and Tom in an empty classroom or in an unremarkable looking office. Always alone, always closer to one another than what was required. Or perhaps Tom had made reference to another type of detention? The kind where you manually scraped the floors. The kind Snape enjoyed giving where you were carefully watched over by a damn bird of prey. What a thought! Tom may be cocky but there was utterly no comparison to be made to the Potions teacher. Tom was too nice for any of that.
Then, of course, they got to that subject.
"Do you think our mysterious Dark Lord is evil?" Tom asked, scrutinising Harry over the brim of his cup.
Harry was on the point of shrugging but decided not to. The gesture seemed too childish all of a sudden. "You may as well ask me if Santa Claus is a creep for sneaking into people's homes. Neither of them are real."
"Humour me, Harry. A brand new Dark Lord. Evil or not?"
"You talk about dark lords as if they're shoes," Harry complained and Tom arched his lips. "New, old… But okay, I'll try and answer. Evil… It depends what you mean by evil. Are bullies evil because they terrorise and hit others or because they enjoy doing so? Why are bullies even bullies in the first place? Do they find pleasure in hitting and humiliating others? I have a classmate at Hogwarts…" He hesitated but the curiosity in Tom's eyes spurred him on. "You may know his father, Lucius Malfoy?" Tom nodded. "Draco is cruel to the other children he thinks are below him. He calls them names, breaks their stuff, sometimes even uses violence. Bloody noses, broken arms. I don't think I've ever hated him, not truly, but the feeling is far from like. And then one day I realised someone needed to do something."
"So what did you do?"
"I… confronted him. Duelled him publicly in front of the entire school. Humiliated him."
"Fear. There was no other way to put an end to his behaviour and only fear would do the trick. Draco needed to fear someone, anyone. I didn't enjoy it but no other alternative fit. Now… I do not know of this supposed Dark Lord… Perhaps he hurts from necessity or perhaps he likes it. Whether he is evil or not… I couldn't tell you because I don't know him."
Tom appeared pleased for some reason and then the topic was changed, though not before he muttered a "clever boy". Harry tried not to look too pleased with himself.
And so continued their discussion until Harry forgot the purpose of their meeting. The matter of touching and the like was lost among everything else.
By the time he had to leave, Harry was already enchanted. Tom studied him at the entrance to Diagon Alley and the gaze left behind the shadows of Knockturn. Harry would have come back all by himself but Tom insisted on playing escort and Harry obviously accepted sooner than was appropriate.
"I quite enjoyed your company today."
Harry stared up at the man. "Me too. So… we'll meet again?"
In a manner that was becoming familiar, Tom arched a brow. "Well, I'd like to."
"Me too," Harry repeated, prying his gaze away from those grey eyes. "See you soon?"
"Yes, Harry, see you soon."
Harry turned to look behind him only once as he strolled the streets in search of the Weasley twins, and Tom was still there watching him. Harry waved and Tom waved right back. Innocent enough for the bystanders.
It turned out that 'soon' was sooner than expected.
It all started quite innocently and wasn't even Harry's fault. His father just happened to forget an important stack of papers at home and desperately needed them delivered to the Ministry. James was too busy to come himself, Sirius as well, and Lily had her morning shift at St. Mungos. So like any good son with a tiny ulterior motive, Harry offered his services.
Now here he was, in someone's office, the important stack of papers scattered all over the table as his father and Sirius were caught in a lively conversation from which Harry waited for his cue to go. But then an interesting name came up.
"And now we have Riddle on our hands…" James complained to anyone who may be listening.
They were discussing none other than Tom, and Sirius was sporting a sour look. The same one he had when he spoke about his parents or Lucius Malfoy. Harry pretended to inspect an awfully boring cabinet, attempting to not seem too interested. Subtlety was the key here.
"I know what you mean. Prick's gonna try and convince the Wizengamot not to offer funds for our search into the Dark Lord. And considering his fanbase, I know for sure he's gonna offer himself as a candidate for the Minister position this winter."
"He's a politician," Harry blurted in a carefully uninterested tone. "Elections and convincing people are in the job's description."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "So we're basically talking about a fraud."
James offered his supportive nod but this time Harry did not yield so easily. "You don't really know if he's a fraud or not. You just presume based on the fact Mister Riddle is an politician. So, basically, you may be wrong."
His godfather appeared half impressed by Harry's argument and half annoyed at the logic of his answer. Meanwhile, James and the man at the desk were caught in an entirely different conversation.
"Well, kid, maybe. But I'm telling you, there's something off about the bloke. Now go home. Me and your father have a Dark Lord to catch."
Harry stared at him before taking his leave. Dark Lord… As if there were not other, more important, things to lose sleep over. Things more real. Such as crimes and the like.
As Harry strolled down the packed hallways of the Ministry, his eyes searched for one tall figure. The one true reason for his hurry to be here. There were familiar faces here and there but not Tom. Of course, Harry could ask someone where the man was to be found, yet… it seemed awfully inappropriate to do such a thing. They'll ask for the reason and Harry would say… He would not know what to say.
"Have you missed me this much?"
The soothing voice brought Harry to a stop. Between all those busy individuals, Harry turned and faced who else but Tom; elegantly dressed as ever, gazing at him, and only a few steps away. With just one look, Harry was hypnotised. They met somewhere in the middle and exchanged secretive smiles, subtlety out the window.
"Father needed me," Harry half lied, chin held high.
Tom's smirk told many things. "Of course he did. Now… what if I needed you as well?"
"Then… as I was not busy, I suppose I would have come just the same. No reason at all needed."
Were people staring? Should Harry check? Shouldn't Tom know better? Yet nothing of ill intent was taking place. Just two people talking and smiling from time to time. All friendly human interactions went like that. It was nothing special, nothing that should anger his parents… Well, nothing other than Tom's presence, a fact Harry chose to brush aside. He'll deal with it when needed. Yes, there was no need to worry just now.
"Harry, I have a proposition for you," Tom spoke in a low voice, inching closer than was entirely appropriate. "Taking into account our previous agreement, would you like to pay me a visit this weekend? At my house. To settle our affairs?"
Harry's heart was suspended in his throat. This was becoming terribly real. He felt as if he was standing at the entrance of an enchanted forest, at times stealing looks to the safety behind him but burning to sprint between those trees full of danger. But soon the reluctance was forgotten and Tom's voice brushed his ears in a way that Harry could never say no to.
"Yes, I'll come," Harry responded, already thinking of ways to sneak out of the house undetected, heart racing as if he were running.
"Brilliant. Wait for my owl."
Tom appeared incredibly pleased, both with Harry's answer and Harry himself. Rising his chin, a black curl fell at the corner of Tom's eyes. Truly, Harry could not find him anything but devastatingly handsome. He clenched his hands at his sides, fighting the urge to reach out and touch the older man in such a public setting.
The corners of Tom's lips were arching in a smile. "Nothing of great importance. I merely wanted to let you know how pretty you are."
Pretty. Harry's lips followed Tom's example and curved. He would be lying to deny his pleasure at hearing the word, and heat coiled in the pit of his stomach. Those eyes of Tom's… Perhaps Harry was falling in love. Or perhaps it may prove nothing but a crush.
Not much happened after this exchange and their conversation cut itself short. But the most notable moment, at least in Harry's mind, was when Tom left and — by accident or not — brushed against Harry. Harry was inclined to believe it was the latter though, as the halls of the Ministry weren't that crowded just yet. If skilled enough, one could even dance around here.
Biting his lower lip to keep the stupid grin off his face, Harry left and wondered if Tom gazed after him.
When he returned home, the thought still refused to leave Harry's mind. Now… preparations needed be made. The Weasley twins proved receptive to his letter and offered their undying support for his risky date (if only they knew how risky it truly was). Basically, the twins would say Harry was with them if an excessive curiosity struck his parents. In Harry's opinion, the plan was a solid one and when an unfamiliar owl arrived with all the necessary details of his and Tom's meeting, he memorised each word before burning it.
Friday night couldn't come any sooner.
As mentioned before, all was going well until one late dinner in the usual company. His parents and their friends were once again discussing this potential Dark Lord so after finishing his baked potatoes, Harry excused himself to retreat to the privacy of his room. He resumed his reading from a few days ago when a knock interrupted his quiet.
Remus was at the door, offering Harry a tight smile as he pulled out a chair. The air smelled of trouble. Harry crossed his legs and waited.
"I don't mean to intrude," Remus began. He sounded as if the upcoming subject brought him great discomfort. "But… it was an accident, so I need you to understand I did not pry. Harry, when you delivered those papers back to James, I was just heading over to him to finish some procedures and could not help but see you in a rather close interaction with Tom Riddle. It was a little noisy so overhearing proved difficult but I detected some familiarity in both your voices. I haven't said a word to anyone but, Harry, what business do you have with this man?"
It was no use lying now because Remus must have already overheard the wild pounding of his heart. Just to be sure, just to be certain their secret was safe, Harry decided to confess the closest thing to the truth.
"Don't worry, I know you would never spy on me. Tom and I are friends. I never mentioned this before as you know what father and Sirius are saying about politicians, about him. And I thought it's better this way. Not to lie to them, just… to say nothing."
"Friends," Harry repeated in as steady a voice as he could muster.
Remus didn't seem entirely convinced as he ran a hand through his messy hair. But it was no matter, because Harry knew him. Based on what little information he possessed, Remus would not accuse Harry or Tom of any ill doing. Least of all tell on them to James and Lily. As it was, friendship may prove a surprisingly valuable excuse. It wasn't even a lie, per se. He and Tom were friends.
A brief conversation disguised as 'catching up' followed as Remus attempted to chase the awkwardness away. But as soon as he left, bidding Harry a good night, Harry jumped out of bed to reach for ink and paper. Tom needed to be informed of this unfortunate development.
When he received the letter, Tom had frowned down at it. How irritating and how regrettable were the werewolf's abilities… But at least Tom had an inkling on what was soon to happen. The man was bound to seek him out, out of worry for the boy's wellbeing and general paranoia.
For now, Tom's eyes skimmed over the Ministry paperwork and then his own, making a quick read of the latest pursuits of James Potter and his idiotic companion, Black. They had gotten a little too close to arresting one of his followers three days ago. No one important but Tom could not take that risk with someone else, someone who possessed valuable information. His days were full but as soon as possible there would have to be an Unbreakable Vow made, at least with a few key individuals. Having Lucius Malfoy on a leash offered room for a variety of approaches and any betrayal from him was out of the question. So until the vow could be made, Tom had work that needed to be done.
His previous theory became reality only a day before Harry's visit, when Remus Lupin arrived at his house and asked if they could have a talk. Tom abandoned his experiment in the basement and went to meet the man, countless spells preventing the werewolf from catching any scent of corpses on his skin. Tea and biscuits were served as rain began to pour outside.
"Is this about the funds? Regarding the search for the supposed Dark Lord and my public disdain of it?" Tom asked, knowing well enough that this was not the reason behind the late visit.
The werewolf's eyes flashed to his and Tom steadily met his gaze. How amusing this man was… If only he could see himself. Tom had the strangest urge to laugh at his stupidity. Perhaps he should tell him how he was going to fuck Harry… Or perhaps let him watch the whole affair? Tom's smile turned genuine at the thought.
"No, this is not about the Dark Lord. This is about Harry Potter and your supposed friendship."
"Pardon me if I'm mistaken, but I do not understand your dubious tone, mister Lupin. Harry and I are friends. This bothers you. Is it because of who I am that you are so irresolute? You are a dark creature. You sometimes use dark magic in your line of work. So do I. Why should you be allowed a bond with Harry and I not? Where's the fairness in that?"
Remus Lupin had not touched his tea.
"Listen… Perhaps you are right and I'm prejudiced, especially due to your position in the Ministry. After all, James is my friend and this is precisely why I've kept your bond with Harry to myself. I merely wished to make sure he isn't hurt in any way. The boy is too wonderful to endure any misery."
Tom drummed his fingers against the arms of his chair — one, two, three, four times. "Oh, I agree. Harry is wonderful." His smile broadened and when the werewolf finally reached for his cup, Tom acted and petrified the man in perhaps the fastest movement of his life.
Lupin collapsed with a loud thud over his seat and Tom crouched down to his eye level, sighing. "You know… your infuriating quest for the Dark Lord is quite meaningless considering he's talking to you this very moment." The werewolf's eyes widened comically, the only part of his body still operational. "Yes, Remus Lupin. I am the Dark Lord you and your own are so desperately hunting and fantasising about. Now, to move back to my dear Harry. He is mine and none of you are invited to interfere with that fact. Well… to tell the truth, you kind of are. So tomorrow night watch carefully."
A swish of his wand and on the floor of his living room Remus Lupin no longer rested, but an ivory teacup. Ah… the wonders of Transfiguration.
"You know what they say…" Tom spoke to the cup as he picked it up. "A family friend is nowhere near as valuable as fine dinnerware."
The mug, of course, said nothing.