Time Or Manner

Chapter Two

-Time Or Manner-

Chapter Two

Tom sat down beside Neville and looked around. Every student dressed in black robes seemed as excited as he was. They laughed and chatted with one another considering the possibilities which lay ahead and the new experiences before them. Tom was mostly fascinated with the Great Hall.

The towering pillars were off-white and they reached up farther than perhaps ten men put together could touch. It was, of course, the ceiling that had him so transfixed. It was a partially clear night as the stars stood out and clouds of palest grey drifted over the moon. He gazed carefully at the table at the very front of the room where robed men and women sat speaking quietly. He saw Professor McGonagall, who had brought them to be sorted, but he recognised no one other than that. It was, however, as his eyes met a piercing blue that Tom's heart jumped. The man who was seated at the very centre of the table was looking back at him; the candlelight seemed to make the spectacles perched on his long nose glitter, and the white of both his hair and his beard allowed for a certain benevolence which made Tom suspicious.

The old man gave Tom a small smile before looking away. Tom immediately rounded on Neville.

"That's our Headmaster?" he demanded quietly.

Neville followed his gaze and nodded quickly. "Yeah; that's Dumbledore. My Gran says he's the only person more famous than Potter since he's so powerful. He defeated a Dark wizard years and years ago, but I can't remember what else he's done. All I know is that he's brilliant!"

Tom considered this just as the aforementioned Dumbledore stood up and made an utter fool of himself. Tom stared at him as a few students broke into applause or shaky laughter, and some others exchanged glances.

"What," murmured Tom, still staring, "did he just say?"

Neville only shrugged and looked away. This was not because he wasn't interested in what else Tom had to say, but mainly because there was food at the table. Tom looked at the trays now in front of him. They were covered in dishes, soups, and pastries. Pots of steamed potatoes hissed as the other kids lifted the lids, and Tom could only gaze as a redhead seated beside Harry Potter wolfed down a bowl of stew.

It was not as if he had been underfed at the foster home, it was just that there had always been so much of a row about who got what and why. Tom, at a young age when there had been a lot of older children already fighting for the best bits, was well-aware that it was not in his best interest to be bestial about the subject lest he be regarded unfavourably by them.

As dessert appeared, an older girl set a plate of strawberry mousse in front of him with a smile. He looked up at her for a quick furtive moment. He was saved having to make any response as Neville tapped his arm. He seemed about to speak, but the conversation at the table had veered, and Neville turned at a question from the freckled redhead.

"What about you, Neville?"

"Me? What?"

"Yeah. Are you Muggleborn or what?"

Neville gave a half-smile and shook his head. "Not exactly…my Gran brought me up and she's a witch, but the family thought I was all muggle for ages. My great-uncle Algie kept trying to catch me off my guard and force some magic out of me- he pushed me off the end of the Blackpool pier once, I nearly drowned- but nothing happened until I was eight. Great-uncle Algie came round for tea and he was hanging me out of an upstairs window by the ankles when my Great-auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go. However, I bounced-all the way down the garden and into the road. They were all really pleased. Gran was crying; she was so happy. And you should have seen their faces when I got in here- they thought I might not be magic enough to come, you see. My Great-uncle Algie was so pleased, he bought me my toad."

Tom listened to this with some interest. He could not quite remember ever having been without his powers. Once he had noticed he could move things, make things happen and undo things, it was only a matter of time until he was motivated to learn how to control these things. Yet the matter of Neville having been completely without magic troubled him. Was it possible that a boy born to a family of Wizards might not be able to do magic? It made him wonder about his parents; something he rarely bothered doing as it returned very little result with just pure reasoning.

It was as the talk over Neville's story finished that Tom felt a pair of eyes fixed on him. Potter's eyes slid away as he looked up, then furtively glanced up at him again. Tom took a brief moment to marvel at how poorly raised this hero must be. He found himself frowning back at the boy with deep annoyance. At that moment, as he glared, the boy's hand clapped to his forehead quickly in an expression of confusion and pain. Tom stared at him, and Potter reddened.

It was Neville who broke the silence finally with a worried glance between Potter and him. "Erm…this is Tom," he muttered lamely at the rest of those listening.

Tom found it crude that he needed to be introduced. He gave a bright smile and addressed the rest of the table, pointedly looking away from the stupid hoodlum. "Yeah, I'm Tom."

A few of them grinned back, but Potter continued blinking at him in that same confusion and wonderment. Tom contemplated the possibility that Potter may have been driven loopy from his surviving of this You-Know-Who's curse.

The Headmaster chose then to stand up and address the whole Great Hall and Tom was relieved to turn his mind away from the deranged lunatic sitting opposite him.

It appeared, so far, that the school was organised just like any other school. There was order, rules, and marking; the only difference would be that he would be educated in something he knew he was good at, something he was particularly interested in as opposed to the abstract numbers of mathematics, and the repetitive storybooks from his childhood. The headmaster Dumbledore talked about restrictions, the forest, magic in the corridors; all that. Nothing the headmaster said really caught Tom's attention except for the one remark that seemed to insinuate a lurking danger right within the castle. The third floor corridor was forbidden due to unknown circumstances. He looked around at the reaction of all those present. Most took the warnings seriously save for the select few who laughed at the manner in which he put the regulation.

Then they were singing and Tom was already prepared to despise this Headmaster for his effort at being most truly mad, and he was beginning to despise the establishment who put this batty old man in charge. He sat back in his chair as the music began at different tunes and as the golden letters looped their way over the head table. Was this a day-care or was this a school? Tom did not care to allow himself to be drawn into such mediocre behaviour.

He was no longer a child, after all.


***

Tom liked the Common Room and their boy's dormitory. What he found he didn't like was the presence of other people within them. The common room was noisy with laughing, common magic, shouting and howling from young boys and girls. The older students talked loudly and played their games. Tom watched all this for barely a moment before he turned on his heel to head towards the dormitory.

The other boys were already there, getting undressed and throwing their things around. Tom looked about the round tower room from the beds beneath scarlet hangings, the domed ceiling, to the comfortable window seat in the middle.The redhead was occupying the third bed from the door right next to where Potter was rummaging through his trunk. A black boy was pasting up a football poster as another sandy-haired one watched, and Neville was placing Trevor in what appeared to be a box with holes.

"I just don't want him running off," Neville explained as Tom stepped closer. "That bed's yours by the way," he added, indicating the second bed left from the door. His trunk lay at the foot of his bed and the hangings were pushed up and tied neatly back. Tom, however, did not feel like sleeping. He was too excited about classes the next day and was hoping against the advent of disappointment arising from more silliness on the part of the teachers.

The room was spacious, though. There was at least a metre between each bed and a night table stood in the far corner, and on it, a pitcher of water with glasses sat. It certainly was not a bad room. It was warm after all.

It was only as Potter rose, pyjama-clad, that Tom realised that he had been placed next to the boy-hero. It seemed Potter made an attempt at smiling, but Tom knew it was taking too much effort for the stupid boy to do so, so he positioned himself facing away from that bed, and met Neville's eyes. Neville seemed to give him what seemed an empathetic look which made Tom a little more at ease with his irritation.

"Do you think it'll be difficult?" Neville whispered to him as the lights went out.

Tom considered the question for a moment. He though of the social workers, counsellors, and teachers, who would tell him he couldn't make it too far and that he shouldn't take on what is most difficult all the time. He felt a sneer under the expanse of emotions upon him right then. "I don't think anything is difficult, Neville. It's just that you need to realise your own extraordinary power to overcome what other people want you to think."

Neville smiled at this. "I'm not good at most things, but I know how to work at them. You'll help me, right?"

Tom resisted the urge to mock him and sighed. "With my help, you'll be top of the class and your family won't be surprised when you do something worth talking of."

Neville looked at him for a while with sleep in his eyes and Tom wanted to have some time to think on his own. It was bad enough the way the day had gone so far.

"Thanks," Neville murmured, closing his eyes.

Tom didn't reply. He turned over; thinking of what use Neville would be to him beside the benefit of contrast. He was so busy that he didn't realise he had turned and faced Potter again.

Potter was lying on his back, looking up at the roof of his canopy. His hangings were pulled back just as Tom's were, and Tom wondered what he was thinking. As he looked at that disproportionate hairstyle over those brilliant eyes, he was more confused. He wasn't happy right now; he had no special reason to be, seeing as how uncomfortable he felt with the establishment. Yet, there seemed to be waves of contentment flying from the bed next to his, a still happiness he had not felt before. He had not felt it until this moment, but it was inside him, lifting his heart. He was tired, and Tom considered the fact that it might be his own sleepiness making him feel this way. The next moment he realised that this was ridiculous as he had not been sleepy a moment ago.

It was only as Potter's eyes fluttered shut and he too felt like drifting off that he felt a strange twinge of a memory: frightening and unsure. He woke up the next morning thinking of cold, green light, screams, and a reflection that was his, but he couldn't recognise.


***


It was at the very advent of the day that Tom realized that there would be no manner in which he could arrive to class on time. Students were standing in crowds throughout the corridors, backtracking whenever the first-year Gryffindors passed by. It was not because the passing of First Years was anything sensational, but more for the fact that Potter was within the throng. Whispers followed their group and there was nothing Tom could do so as to make it on time. It was horrible enough that the castle was a complete obstacle course as it was, but nothing worked at all the way it was meant to.

It occurred to Tom that it was beyond enough when he was on his way to Transfiguration. He was walking with Neville and two other Gryffindor girls who had chosen not to speak to either of them. Potter and the other boys were ahead of them, and another class had just adjourned; the hall quickly filled with Sixth Years. One girl took a look at Potter and gave a gasp and the other students with her turned.

"Is that him?" they whispered.

"Oh my God; there's the scar!"

Tom took a moment as the others stopped in their tracks to look at Potter. Potter kept on walking as his red-haired accomplice made furtive glances back and forth from the whisperers to Potter. Tom could almost sense Potter's need to continue on, ignoring the presence of their commiseration and distant awe. Tom suddenly hated all those sixth years for their blatant stupidity and inability at tact.

Yet, it was in that minute of empathy that he realised how truly ridiculous he was being. He also realised that he did not want to be late for Transfiguration and he deduced the possibility that he could probably access the Transfiguration classroom if he passed through the corridor close to that large Gargoyle and go through a classroom provided that it would be empty. Should he do this fast enough, he would get to class on time and avoid all Potter-traffic.

He turned around and pretended not to be aware of Neville's stare.

The corridor was, thankfully, empty and he felt considerably more determined as he passed into the hallway. As he hiked his book bag higher on his shoulder, he heard voices.

"-look completely alike! I don't know why you don't seem concerned, Albus!"

"Minerva, there are many reasons that someone might be concerned in such a situation, but I can assure you that we have nothing to fear just now."

Tom stopped where he stood, unable to turn the corner. He must have found himself near the Staff Room, and was now an audience to what appeared to be an important conversation. The woman's voice was sharp and imploring and the man's was-well, Tom knew there was no mistaking the flippantly congenial Headmaster. He leaned back against the stone and wondered vaguely what they were on about.

"Albus, with all due respect, you yourself said that You-Know-Who was not completely destroyed. Who is to say that this is not the way in which he intends to return to power?"

"I have several different theories and guesses. None of these move parallel to your theory, unfortunately. Were he to return, he most certainly would not take the form of a weakened, orphaned schoolboy."

"That may be so, Albus, but that cannot counter the feeling I have about the boy."

"If his name was down for the school then he must be permitted attendance, as I said in August.Treat him no differently and if my guesses are correct, which they usually are, all will unfold itself in time. Do you not have a class with the Gryffindors right now?"

"Ah, yes; I was just on my way. I thought I would stop and-well, I should like to speak about this again this evening…"

"As you wish, Minerva. Heaven knows, it takes great care to convince one of your intelligent demeanour."

Tom could only think of two things as he heard this and the first was of Potter. It was entirely possible that his survival of the Dark Wizard's curse might have been a ruse to take people's eyes off the war. The second held his attention more than any other thought. Voldemort. The name bothered him; it bothered him greatly. Yet, with the presence of those two thoughts at once, Tom, being of a quick mind, came to a jolting conclusion.

"It's perfect," he breathed. You-Know-Who may have found some way to channel his energies into Potter, making him his protégé, winning the hearts of the Wizarding World, and finally taking power again. It explained everything! There could have been no way that the only person capable of defeating this greatly feared Dark Wizard was a boy with not even enough sense to brush his hair in the morning. You-Know-Who had to be using him in some way….

Curiosity drove his thinking then as he set off for Transfiguration. Moreover, it was still curiosity, he told himself, that made him look up and meet that emerald gaze as he entered the classroom.

After the Wizarding elections of March 5, 1973, Voldemort and his supporters began a systematic takeover of the local governments throughout the United Kingdom, ending a centuries old tradition of Wizarding democracy. Armed with wands, his most valued supporters (referred to as Death Eaters, see page seventeen, figure 3.4) barged into the local ministry offices using the State of Emergency decree (see decrees against the Muggleborn as a pretext to throw out legitimate office holders and replace them with his own. He was a threat to Muggles, Muggleborns, the Wizards who protected them--

Chewing on his bottom lip, Tom flipped forward a page. He wanted to read the part about Potter; he felt it would provide some form of clue as to what happened the day Voldemort was supposedly defeated.

Then He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named made a move which would mark the end of the war. On a cold Halloween night, he stepped through the doorway of the Potter's. James Potter, the heir to the Potter legacy, married to Lily Evans, was said to have been the first to die. The manner which caused the fall of the notorious evil wizard are unknown. All that can be specified is that the child of that marriage, Harry James Potter, is the only known survivor of the irreversible Killing curse. Voldemort was destroyed and it was evident that the attack which He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named put upon the Potter house that evening was thwarted by little Harry, and to this day he is known as The Boy Who Lived.

Tom shut the book with a snap, disgusted. People were always so easily fooled. If no one knew what happened that evening then why were they so quick to worship this simple boy? Tom turned in his chair by the fire at the sudden sound of unruly voices behind him. It was nearly eight o' clock and he was in the Common Room buried in his book as a group of his year mates were at a rowdy game of Exploding Snap. He spotted Neville seated by himself a little ways away. Neville seemed to feel Tom's gaze and looked up. He smiled gratefully and made his way over to where Tom sat.

"May I ask you something, Neville?"

"Sure," he replied, taking a seat.

"How is it people know that Potter defeated Voldemort?"

Neville's eyes widened and his mouth went slack before he sat back in his chair. "You said the name. You shouldn't say the name!"

Tom frowned. "And just why not?"

Neville paused, looking back at him, frightened. "I don't know. It just isn't right; you could cause heart attacks just saying his name in public!"

Tom looked down at his book, thinking on this. "I automatically assumed people didn't say it only because they didn't know what his name was." Tom rather thought the whole thing was just nonsense. Why were they so afraid if they thought he was dead? There was no reason to fear a dead man. If a man was absent then he had less influence, less influence meant less power. Tom remembered reading that in a book once about corporate franchises.

Neville was still watching him, so Tom looked at him again. "Yes, I understand now, but you haven't answered my question," he pressed quietly.

He hesitated, his round blue eyes thoughtful. "I suppose I know why you ask stuff like this. All this is new to you, isn't it? I'm all right with telling you all of it, since we're friends."

Though it seemed interesting that Neville felt the need to remind him that they were friends, Tom ignored this and nodded, setting his book beside him in the chair.

"People know he did it because of his scar. The Killing Curse left a scar on his forehead in the form of a lightning bolt. If that's all the Killing Curse did, it must mean that Harry defeated him!"

Tom felt like throttling him. He didn't understand! Didn't they realise that Voldemort might still be around; that he could be in possession of their own boy-hero? As he looked at Neville, Tom saw that he was going to be on his own in his theory, which was just fine with him. He had read of many geniuses who were isolated because of their ideas. There would be great benefit for him in his unmasking the hero's dark side. He could picture the honour these people had so easily given to a one-year old child bestowed upon him instead. They would write down his name in Wizarding history as the boy who had vanquished the Dark Lord where Potter couldn't.

He opened the book again. He wanted to find out what exactly Voldemort had wanted in life. Everyone had motivation for their actions, and he needed to know just what might make this dark wizard take the form of a boy his age at school. What was at the school that Voldemort may have wanted?

"Hey, Tom; we should go try a game of Exploding Snap. I think I have a deck in my trunk," Neville offered quickly.

Tom was prepared to watch the other boy wither and die just then, but he shook his head casually and returned to the book.

"Don't you like games, Tom?"

"Of course I like games," he replied in a muffled voice, trying to sit facing away from Neville. What would be the nicest way to tell the boy to sod off, he wondered.

"Oh, hi Neville. Erm…hi, Tom," said a voice.

Tom, with some resignation, looked up. Hermione Granger had joined them. He gave her a nod, and hoped that Hermione would talk her head off at Neville so he could see how it bloody felt.

"Just finished Transfiguration homework," she offered brightly, "I was worried it would take ages, but it only took half an hour. How long did it take you, Tom?"

Tom decided that if he didn't close his book and set it aside, he might just strike her with it. He was fully aware since the beginning of classes today that Hermione was someone who liked to talk about what she knew offhandedly so as to strike up conversation. She also knew entirely too much. Tom felt a little vindictive.

"Five minutes or so," he returned with a soft smile at her.

Neville gaped, and while Tom had been expecting Hermione to go a bit red with embarrassment, she merely beamed. "Oh really? That's brilliant! We can trade papers, and double-check them. I always worry that I've missed something and I've often heard that you can't always pick up on your own errors."

"Oh, you've both done yours, already? It's not due 'til Friday!" Neville moaned. "How am I supposed to keep up?"

Tom reached into his book bag and pulled out his parchment. The truth was, it had taken him two hours straight after lessons to perfect it, and he knew it would put everyone else's to shame. He casually held it out to Neville. "There. Just read it over and write something out in your own words."

Neville looked exultant. "Thanks a million! Oh, look you even have footnotes and everything! I can tell her where I got the information. This is brilliant!"

Tom smirked. "Now you owe me."

Neville had an expression on his face that seemed to say he would gladly cut off his left arm to pay Tom back. This expression did not displease Tom.

But Hermione was scandalised. "Tom! You shouldn't do that! How on earth will he learn?!"

He turned to her, making sure his tone was light, but firm. "He will learn that he can always turn to me for help."

As Neville laughed, she gave a grudging smile. "Will you look over mine, though? I know the sentence at the end of my third paragraph is a bit awkward."

He nodded, knowing that Hermione would later be of great use in his effort at saving the Wizarding World.

Tom couldn't quite decipher Professor Snape. He was cold, mean, and generally unpleasant. All his behaviour could only be attributed to his complete and blazing hatred for Potter along with anyone associated with Potter. This left Tom, being a Gryffindor, in an uncompromising position of despising the horrible man.

Tom was not the type of person to take offence on someone else's behalf; obviously, Snape's disgust for Potter was justified in some way. He sought favourably to make a fool of Potter, which served the other boy right for not having read any of the material before class, and Tom was not about to question any of the teacher's principles. However, it was upon that moment when Snape paused at his boil-removing solution that Tom realised he could very well do without the existence of such a teacher.

He and Neville had been paired together so naturally Tom had not allowed Neville to touch a single thing on the table. He had followed the directions perfectly, and he had seen the other student's potions.He waited for Snape to pass by his table, and it was Snape's silence that struck him with such a fury that he felt the tips of his fingers tingle.

Snape stopped at the table, looked down at the potion-his eyebrows rising-, and walked by, barely giving Tom a second glance. "It was more than passable," Tom muttered fiercely.

"Don't worry about it," Neville muttered back, consolingly. "I heard Snape always favours his own house."

Tom's irritated gaze followed Snape to the table in front where the smug form of Draco Malfoy stood, adding his ingredients as Snape offered him an encouraging nod. In that nod, Tom felt that Snape professed a favouritism that went beyond unseemly. It was not calm jealously that plagued Tom right then, but an ugly dissatisfaction. His was worth the ten points awarded to Malfoy's! There was often very little motivation required to trigger Tom's instinctive vengeance, and this had been more than enough.

His fingers, resting on the table, dug deep into the wood and the back of his hand brushed against the porcupine quills. He looked down at the ingredients in front of him. The instructions stated that he should add the porcupine quills after removing the cauldron from the flame. He turned and flipped back to his ingredient index and read quickly through.

"My father says I'm bound to be a natural at Potions, but then, it could be your excellent teaching, sir." Draco's voice carried through the dungeon, and several Gryffindors shot him looks of disgust.

Tom looked up from his book just as Snape spoke. "I want you all to pay close attention to the care Mr. Malfoy takes with his ingredients. None of you could possibly have stewed these horned slugs any better."

"Stand clear, Neville," Tom spat at Neville, who stumbled back in bewilderment as Tom swept the entire set of porcupine quills into his potion.As the smoke rose, Tom gritted his teeth, watching Snape.

A loud hissing filled the dungeon, and Tom's cauldron rocked off its pedestal as an acidic smoke filled the air. Every student whirled around in their chairs as the now toxic substance melted through the bottom of the cauldron and the stone floor sizzled from the liquid seeping toward the front of the room.

Snape whipped around at the sound of exclamations from behind him. He moved forward with purpose, drawing his wand. Tom waited for those calculating black eyes to fall on him, but Snape stepped forward, waved his wand, and turned on Neville, who, despite Tom's quick warning, had managed to immerse his foot in the substance.

"Idiot boy!" snarled Snape. "I suppose you added the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire?"

Tom looked in outrage at Neville, who seemed to take it as a threat to keep quiet. How could Snape be so blind as to think Neville was capable of causing such a catastrophe? That was when Snape glanced at him, his eyes dark with irritation. "Take him to the hospital wing!" he spat, and swept on.

Neville whimpered vaguely as he stumbled toward the door. With a sick huff of displeasure, Tom took Neville's elbow and guided him towards the dungeon exit. He turned once more as he heard Snape speak again.

"You –Potter – why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he'd make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That's another point you've lost for Gryffindor," Snape told Potter coldly.

It was as Potter's mouth opened at the injustice that a spasm of rage convulsed Tom, a white heat rushed up his back, and he was shocked to feel a sharp pain over his left eyebrow. His breath caught, and Potter turned to look at him, confusion written in his expression. Tom looked back at him for a moment, warily. A slight fear of the unknown made Tom move, as he continued to grip Neville's elbow, and lead him from the room.


**


The library was practically empty.It was bound to be on a Friday evening, and Tom felt a moment's relief as he took a seat at one of the tables between the shelves. He felt enclosed and safe, his position unseen to anyone entering the library. This included Madam Pince, who didn't bother to prowl around the bookshelves when the library was so empty.

There was much to think about. He had attended all his classes this week, and he had finally come across the trend that had been bothering him; the feeling of unease which came with the end of each class. The teachers were pretending he wasn't there. No, he thought. It's not that. They were working their way around him, but watching him nonetheless. Professor McGonagall awarded Hermione Granger twenty points for knowing about switching spells, but when Tom had successfully switched the cabinet at the right end of the room with the bookcase on the other end, McGonagall had looked at him a moment, forced a pale smile and moved on. Flitwick was even more obvious about it; his small countenance was fixed upon the end of the room where Potter was, and avoided reacting to anything Tom came up with.

Tom's fists clenched. It was not infuriating that they ignored him, per se, but that they refused to acknowledge how extraordinary it must be for him to do these things without effort. He could feel the talent resonating from him as he worked day by day, and he could see how amazed they were, yet why? Why? His breathing slowed as he thought a moment. His mind wandered to Potter. Potions had been their last class for the day, so he couldn't quite decide if it were feasible that Potter had it in for him.

He could almost feel those bright eyes looking at him right then. This made him shift in his seat. Closing his eyes quickly, he bent his head over the table, his fingers entwined in his hair. A long-suffering silence followed before he sighed and bent to unearth his books. The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts lay open in front of him, but he could hardly concentrate. This whole issue with Potter was digging into his thoughts persistently. What was Potter after? In addition, what could Tom possibly do to put a stop to him? And why was this affecting him more than others?

It would be simple-no, laughably easy-to answer his last question. Tom knew he must stand out, and if it seemed this Voldemort was as brilliant as Tom had heard (which Tom doubted as he was supposedly taken apart by an infant) then Potter must already be aware of Tom. Tom supposed that he was the only person to be aware of what loomed behind those green eyes. He could feel it, that darkness, every time Potter looked at him, every time he felt that stinging pain in both his gut and his forehead. Potter wanted to control him; his emotions; and perhaps, if Tom chose not to be cautious, his actions.

That must not happen, he thought furiously. I cannot dare go near him; he may see through me. I need to know what he does when no one is there. Who he keeps near him. Everything!

"Why is Ron Weasley so disagreeable?" he asked Hermione on Thursday at breakfast after one of her careful and justified remarks was snubbed.

Hermione turned on him as if he were Providence. Tom smiled at her. "I don't understand either of them. Harry's smart, I know he is, but he lets that Ron Weasley convince him to talk the way he does all the time. And you should hear the type of language he uses." She frowned and looked back at both Potter and Weasley muttering quietly over a newspaper.

Neville leaned around Tom. "I think Harry's awfully nice."

Tom didn't care what Neville thought, and he offered Neville a sharp look to prove it. He could never really conceive what must go on in that boy's head. "They just don't take things seriously. They're the type that will straighten out a little too late if at all."

Hermione nodded fervently. "I don't want to waste time on them, anyway." She reached under the table and pulled out a book titled Quidditch Through the Ages. "Anyway, I suppose we'll need some advice on flying before we go out there so I borrowed this from the library."

Neville leaned around Tom again. "Oh good! I was so nervous all week about flying lessons. I never went near a broom, and I know I won't be any good."

A few people had turned to listen at the mention of flying lessons and Tom was vexed. His planned conversation with Hermione would have to be cut short. She opened the book to chapter twelve, chatting about how the book provided some useful advice like how to hold the end, how to mount a broom. Tom couldn't take it.

"You're not really going to read that aloud, are you?"

Hermione started and looked at him, so did many others. It was a truth well-known that Tom only spoke quietly to Neville or Hermione at meal times or rarely lifted his head from The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts. His sudden public speech attracted attention. Tom was vexed again as Potter set his eyes on him.

"I-I was thinking that maybe this information would be useful," she stammered at him.

He rolled his eyes. "You cannot inform anyone about a practical subject. This is something that you have to experience in order to learn," he returned bluntly.

The boy named Finnigan seemed to see this as a conversation-opener. "Do you know about flying? I heard you were Muggleborn."

Neville laughed. "Tom's a natural at everything, though."

He knew all the first-year Gryffindors were looking at him. At least they had noticed he was a genius. However, the timing was off. Tom didn't know a thing about flying, and he thought the concept of fulfilling the archetype of witch or wizard by riding on a broom was ridiculous. If Tom wanted to fly, he would like to know how to do so without the aid of a cleaning utensil. He raised his eyebrows in what he knew was a curious and innocent expression.

"Would you say I'm a natural?" he inquired politely.

The one named Thomas broke in. "Come off it! We all saw how you switched that cabinet with the bookcase!"

"Yeah, that was cool!" Finnigan added.

"The other day when we were practicing Charms, Tom did the Levitation charm from all the way in chapter five!" Neville announced.

Tom leaned back in his chair, his hand rubbing vaguely at his neck."I wouldn't say that makes me a natural. I practice," he returned lightly.

"As if," Weasley interrupted. "I don't ever remember seeing you work on that Switching Spell."

"Me neither," Neville shrugged.

Then Potter asked the question Tom was sure each one of them had been thinking. "Is it possible to be a natural at flying?"

Weasley shrugged at him. "If it's in your blood."

"I bet Tom will master it instantly," Neville announced proudly. Neville's enthusiasm did not bother Tom; it was the way the other boys looked at Neville with that unmistakeably incredulous look.

Thankfully, Tom was saved the prospect of having to tone Neville down by the arrival of post.

Tom didn't get a chance to find out whether he was a natural at flying or not. Neville panicked on his broom before the beginning of the lesson and got his arm broken. Then, Potter decided he could win Neville over by being the lone one to stand up to Malfoy when he nicked Neville's Remembrall. Tom could've summoned it later on, but Potter decided to make a scene out of everything.

As he watched the boy do that too-natural catch at a roll off his broom, he hoped venomously that the stupid attention-seeking "hero" would be expelled. When McGonagall arrived, Tom leaned over to Hermione.

"Even heroes should follow the rules," he murmured scathingly. In the absence of a reply, Tom looked at her. He saw a glaze of moisture under her eyes as she clasped her hands together in emotion. He heard several other students speak up on Potter's behalf as McGonagall led him away, and Tom was disgusted.

Didn't they see he was a fool? Wasn't it obvious to Potter that Malfoy was out to get him expelled? At that thought, Tom glanced at Malfoy who was sniggering over with his friends.

Tom, with a grit to his teeth, walked over to the Slytherin group. Malfoy caught sight of him; a slight flash of fear crossed his features, which placated Tom somewhat. Malfoy's thuggish comrades stepped forward enclosing Malfoy in an alcove of their arms. Tom gave both of them a withering gaze. "You really are pathetic."

Malfoy sneered from behind the thicker boy. "It's his fault. I didn't ask Potter to follow after me."

"Nobody asked you to be an inbred puppy without the brains to come up with some other way to gain respect."

"What are you talking about?" Malfoy spat.

Perhaps Tom just found it so easy to hate the boy, or perhaps it was the way his pointed features seemed to mock Tom. Either way, Tom felt a vicious anger bubbling up inside him for unexplained reasons. Oh, thought Tom, coming to the quick realisation, he got rid of Potter before I could deal with him. Moreover, he didn't even do it properly.

This coming to mind, Tom paused and took a deep breath. "We'll see how this turns out. If you've caused any trouble, you'll be dealing with me personally."

Malfoy smirked. "What? You upset 'cause your Gryffindor hero's going to be expelled?"

Tom thought on this for a moment, then leaning forward, he muttered coldly. "Yes, actually. The 'Gryffindor hero' happened to be my personal project."

They both were very well-aware that they had acquired an audience now with all the Slytherins and Gryffindors bunched around. He knew that they had not been able to hear his last words; however, they shifted closer to hear.

Malfoy seemed to preen in the presence of this sudden attention, as he had stepped forward to meet Tom's look with a new sneer. "I guess I can understand why you're looking out for him. Orphans stick together after all or so I hear. You're an orphan…you don't even have a surname, do you? What, mummy couldn't live long enough to tell you who-"

No thought to take out his wand occurred to him, but before Malfoy could complete his sentence, Tom felt a bolt of energy rush through him like anger, and Malfoy stumbled back, his heel tripping on his robes. He fell ungracefully to the muddy grass, his eyes wet with pain. He looked up at Tom, and his whole countenance changed, his sneer was gone, replaced with raw terror.

I could make you bleed, Tom wanted to hiss at him, but he knew the other students would hear him so he bent down quickly as if to check whether the other boy was all right. Instead, he bent his head near Malfoy's ear before the other boy could scramble away. "I know how to make you hurt if I want to. Don't give me a reason to do so."

He straightened, and was not perturbed at the presence of more than twenty pairs of eyes fixed on him. Soon, they would know he was their hero. It would be easier, after all, now that Potter was out of the picture.


**


One could imagine Tom's complete bitter astonishment at dinner that evening when he sat at the table only to find Weasley chatting, gesturing as Potter shovelled food into his mouth. Potter seemed in an exuberant mood as he nodded when Weasley asked a question or broke into careless laughter at Weasley's remarks.

Hermione saw his expression. "It seems Harry's on the Quidditch team now."

Finnigan, hearing this, shook his head ruefully. "Looks like you're not the only one who's a natural, eh Tom?"

Tom found he had to use all his will power not to glare at Finnigan. He stood up.

"Where are you going?" Hermione exclaimed."

Tom thought a moment. "I'm going to see Neville," he replied in a decisive manner.

Tom went first to the library and sat there for a long time, convincing himself that he wanted to read. By the time Tom finally went to see Neville that evening, it was clear that all the First and Second years had heard about his episodic rage outside during Flying Lessons. It disturbed Tom greatly because this also meant that Potter had heard. He didn't want Potter to think that he was one of his naïve followers; however, this particular brand of gossip was his sure way of giving Potter that impression.

"It's really cool how you can do so much wandless magic. I saw what you did to Malfoy on the train, and now outside. How do you do it?"

Tom was barely listening. He was trying to figure out a way in which to reverse what had happened. It was a while before he realised Neville was giving him a bewildered look. He sat up with a smile. "How's your arm?"

Neville gave a half-shrug. "You already asked that…but yeah, it's fine," he replied. "Madam Pomfrey should be here in a moment to give me that awful tonic. You don't have to wait; you might get in trouble for being out so late."

Tom shifted in his seat, thinking up strategy after strategy whilst none of them seemed like quite enough. "No, I'll stay."

Tom did not miss Neville's smile.

It was when they were about to go to Gryffindor tower that Tom realised he had never been out of the dormitory this late. The stone hallways were empty and the only thing he could hear was the distant sound of the evening breeze sneaking in through the cracks. The darkness of Hogwarts at night was too enticing. Tom bet, in his head, that he could discover a thousand things about this ancient castle within a week, were he only given the right amount of time and space. He saw that it was night that offered the most tempting time.

He stopped walking, and naturally, Neville stopped and looked back at him. "What's up?"

"I forgot The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts in the library," he returned, ensuring that his tone was vague and thoughtful.

"Oh, isn't it a bit late? I'm a little worried about the ghosts. They wander around at night."

Tom was already backing away. "Oh? Then you go on ahead. The tower isn't far, and it's easier not to get caught if there's just one of us."

Neville seemed strongly reluctant. "Oh…OK. I'll see you in the dorm, then."

He had already rounded the corner. Just moving gave Tom the feeling of purpose, as if he were on his way to do something. He could feel all his ideas burning up, and soon he would know exactly why he wanted to be out here at night. His mind was going over and over the same concepts repeatedly, and he slowly began to murmur. "Voldemort….Voldemort…Harry Potter…Potter…"

Then, it was easy, and he was looking for something; something that Potter was looking for, something that would convince a weakened Voldemort to return here while possessing the Boy-Who-Lived. His heart was racing at his intuitive findings, and he kept walking briskly, neither minding his footfalls nor his way. He was only aware that he was somewhere heading towards the Charms corridor.

Then he heard voices.

"Malfoy tricked you! You realise that, don't you? He was never going to meet you- Filch knew someone was going to be in the trophy room, Malfoy must have tipped him off."

Tom was all too familiar with the loud, exasperated manner in which Hermione enlightened others; however, it was on this occasion that she sounded a lot more aggravated. Curious, he stepped through the door.

All four figures froze, and Tom stared at them for a while in astonishment. He was looking at the startled, shaken faces of Potter, Weasley, Hermione, and Neville.

"Tom?" Hermione gasped in half-relief, half-incredulity.

He stood there, his hand still on the knob. "What are you lot doing here?"

Now that he had had time to register their presence, he could see just exactly how much Hermione was aggravated. She let out a huff of disgust, and Tom felt like smiling at her.

She pointed at Weasley and Potter. "These two thought it would be clever of them to accept a challenge from Malfoy, who tipped Filch off. Now we're trying to avoid expulsion due to their stupidity!"

Weasley appeared just as red-faced as she was. "No one asked you to follow along!"

Tom ignored this, and looked at Neville. "Neville?" he asked, not surprised, but still curious.

Neville sighed. "I went back to the dormitory like I said I would, but I'd forgotten the password. This lot came along, and I didn't want to be left alone…"

Tom opened his mouth to tell them exactly what he thought of this series of events when Potter interrupted rudely. "Look, we don't have the time, all right? We have to get out of here, and fast!"

That was when Peeves swooped in.

The conclusion to their reaction was that Tom thought not only Potter, but Weasley, Neville, and Hermione were inexcusably idiotic. It was for all these people that Tom found himself facing the undignified prospect of tearing his way down the corridor after Potter, trying to avoid Filch and his foul cat.

The door at the end of the corridor was locked. Tom didn't have his wand, and his state of mind wouldn't allow him to open the door on command. Hermione shoved all of them aside and unlocked the door quickly. Potter, Weasley, and Hermione pressed their ears against the door, listening for Filch. Tom glanced at Neville, who was looking mad with panic. Now that was too much, he couldn't really be that frightened over being caught…

Absently, he followed Neville's gaze up, and up to the most horrific thing he had ever seen in his life. His heart stopped, and had he not covered his mouth with his fist, he might have shouted. Neville whirled around and began tugging furiously on Potter's arm. Tom didn't dare move.

Even dogs of enormous size in the Muggleworld could be intimidating, but a gigantic dog with three heads! His gaze swept over the creature, from its wide, blood-shot eyes, its quivering, wet noses breathing hot bursts of air, to its huge, claw-like paws scratching at the wooden trapdoor beneath it. It took Tom three breaths of air to regain his composure before he whirled around as well. By that time, Potter had already wrenched the door open, and the four others were careening back to the dormitory.

When they reached the common room, Tom didn't sit. He felt cold and his insides were still shaking. Tom was not often frightened, and shock very rarely bothered him, but that had been a truly horrible experience. His fear quickly turned to irritation. He glared at each one of them, daring them to remind him how his fear had made him useless.

No one, however, was paying him the least bit of attention.

"What's a dog like that doing there?!" Weasley gasped incredulously.

Hermione, who had been seated, drawing great gasps of air, rounded on him. "You don't use your eyes, any of you, do you? Didn't you see what it was standing on?"

Potter opened his mouth to say something, but Tom broke in speculatively. "The trapdoor." His mind was racing suddenly, and he needed to do some research for the sake of confirmation. "It is protecting something…from…." He absently looked at Potter, who, Tom was certain, looked increasingly uneasy. Whatever it is, Tom calculated, he knows where it's hidden. He had very little time, then. He could not allow Potter to get close to that thing, whatever it was. Tom feigned sudden obliviousness as he looked away at Hermione, who had been watching him with a funny look on her face.

Her expression smoothed as she quickly turned away."Yes, well…" Her temper was back again as she faced Weasley and Potter. "I hope you're pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed – or worse expelled. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to bed. Good night, Tom."

He gave her a vague nod, and he knew Potter was still looking at him. He resisted the urge to upbraid him because what was the use? Potter appeared to be an excellent actor; his apparent cluelessness in the face of this new development was pristine. Tom frowned, and headed up the stairs.

Two could very well play at that game.

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