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Serpentine

Her Silence

In the months leading up to his first day, he had been carefully observing other wizards: their mannerisms, customs, sayings, and the like. He wants to be absolutely sure that he does not fit out like he does back at the orphanage. He wants to make a name for himself his way. To be recognized for the best reasons. And so, Tom parrots them: their gaits and gazes and speech and stance, and so far his chameleon ability has worked like a charm. He is getting along finely with others for perhaps the first time in his life, and he has even started perfecting his smile to look...well, less like a grimace. Tom continues to make allies everywhere he steps in this fascinating and great new world.

Except…

His last name. Wizards, he has found, seem to have some top secret list kept in each of their houses that contain all the family names of all the witches and wizards that have ever been. Riddle, of course, is not one of them. Some on his journey have so far overlooked this, but others have straight up immediately stopped talking to him mid conversation and walked off. They have no time for him, for weakness. He understands. He hates it, but he understands.

Tom grips the edge of the table as another uproarious cheer is heard from the students at the sound of another first year being sorted. He’ll show them. He’ll prove himself to all of them--

The girl previously sitting to his left scoots upwards to make room for an older boy, perhaps about 14; he introduces himself with his name and a handshake. Tom does his best to shake firmly.

“Riddle, right?” The boy has a brilliant smile that reminds him of a politician, “Professor Dumbledore told me about you, asked if I could help show you around.”

Tom tilts his chin upwards in soft bemusement.

“It’s part of a program he wants to start: introducing muggleborns to Hogwarts safely and all that--”

He stiffens at the word, but the older boy does not seem to notice.

“Of course, no offense intended, I know you’re not one of those,” He nods his head over to the newly sorted Hufflepuff student sitting proudly among his housemates, “--Just being in Slytherin proves it.” A comforting hand is rested on Tom’s shoulder, “I’m here for any questions you might have.” A wink and smile.

Interesting.

“What makes you think I’m not muggleborn?” Tom makes sure to use the same word as his new mentor did.

A chuckle, “Ah, Dumbledore didn’t tell you?” The boy rests his arms on the table before them, lowering himself down as if their conversation were now secret, “Well, to put it bluntly, Salazar Slytherin would never allow a muggleborn into his house--Take comfort in that.”Tom does.

“But don’t feel alone in your not knowing, there’s another one like you,” He turns and points across the table a few seats away to a young girl reading though a tome, “--She’s also an orphan: doesn’t know anything about her bloodline. A year ahead of you, I believe, but you should talk to her.”An interest is formed almost immediately: attention piqued and curiosity sharpened, the young boy drinks in the stranger down the table, whose self-possessiveness could be felt from even his seat. What was her orphanage like? Was she an outsider as well? Was her magic as powerful as his? Did she also know that she was destined for greater things beyond the walls of her prison? Tom sees the disconnect his fellow Slytherin has with the people around her (even if it wasn’t already obvious by her own hand-me-down robes and appearance), and he knows that he has found kin within his house.

He resolves to talk to her at once.

He gets his chance a week later, in the library.

Ink and quills are a bother (he wishes he had brought the nice fountain pen he took from the desk of the matron of Wool’s), but he’s so enraptured in the subject of his papers, that having homework during the first week at school does not bother him in the slightest. For an hour he stays like this: writing constantly and furiously for an essay that half the children in his History of Magic class haven’t even thought about yet.

Out of the corner of his eye: movement.

Tom almost spares no glances to the identity of the student now joining him at his table, until he adjusts the brim of his hat (what kind of school uniform assigns hats for day wear[1]) and sees a flash of dark skin to his left. The recognition is immediate.

Subtly, though not subtle at all, his eyes look over her reading material: a thick and aged book appearing to be entirely written in pictographs of a language and style unknown to him. As he tries to peer closer, he makes out what appears to be a rather bloody scene within the book. A ritual explanation? Instructions?The last thing he sees is the threaded bracelet on her wrist before he glances upward and is met with sharp darkness.

“What are you reading?” Tom is nothing if not quick on his feet, though he does perhaps need more practice on the innocent act.

Distrust is evident in her eyes (it’s a look Tom knows all too well,) and his housemate takes a moment to size him up before answering in a voice softer (and harder) than expected, “Poems.”

Tom wonders if she’s serious or if he takes him for an idiot. But he’ll save that for a later conversation.

Remembering his manners, Tom extends his hand outward to her, “Tom Riddle.” He tries not to look too unnerving, as he remembers how much his stare would creep out the caretakers back at the orphanage. He even tries for a kind smile.

The distrust is still there, but now it is mixed with something else. Progress, Tom thinks, though he does not know what exactly the other thing is, it makes him feel better than the thing that bleeds into people’s gaze when he tells them his last name.

Sure enough, she takes her eyes off of his hand like it’s carrying a hex and extends her own hand for him to shake, “Ximena.”

He-men-ah?” He repeats, not out of courtesy, but because she had clearly not given him a last name.

But all she gives is a nod before returning to her reading. Though it’s clear to him that she’s vaguely annoyed by his...existence, she appears to also tolerate it, as she does not move from her spot at his table.

Tom resolves to investigate further.

But first: his essay.

---

Barely two weeks into his time at Hogwarts, and Tom feels that he has eaten more than he ever has in his life. Every meal is wonderful and there is nobody there to tell him no, that he cannot have anymore or that he has eaten too much or that he may not have sweets.

He tries not to think about when he has to go back to Wool’s at the end of the year.

Instead he focuses on where he is going to sit for today’s lunch: near his half-annoying assigned guide or by some new chatting classmates? Eye contact and pleasant greetings are made to both options, but Tom soon makes a beeline towards a different table.

There’s a regal air surrounding Ximena to the point that it feels as if she were a teacher sitting down during her lunch--In fact, Tom actually finds himself genuinely asking permission to sit at her table. He is pleased when she responds with acknowledgement of his presence and a nod.

The seat taken is strategic. That is to say, Tom takes a seat directly across from her to try and inspire conversation. To build a friendly atmosphere. Of course, this would work with any normal person. Or any person with manners. His fellow Slytherin, of course, ignores him in favor of her drink. Tom spares it a glance:A tall glass of something red and dark. Rosy red. Like wine or petals. When she drinks from it, the liquid leaves a pink stain over her upper lip that reminds Tom of blush. Her fingers trail tracks on the condensation of the glass, and it almost makes him shiver to think just how cold it has to be. The food is equally intriguing: simple rice mixed in with small chunks of a green slimy type of...plant? Vegetable? Alongside it is a mound of unidentifiable meat covered in a thick brown sauce topped with some sort of seed. Despite the unusual choices, his mouth begins to salivate at the heavenly foreign smell wafting from her plate. There was something special about this meal. Something sacred.

He clears his throat, “What are you reading today?”

Ximena’s leatherbound book (sat next to her black hat) reads “RAMOS” on the cover in a golden script, and is about two and a half inches thick. The pages are browned from the sun and various sections have the corners folded down,

“Something light.” Her knife cuts through the meat on her plate as Tom begins work on his own meal (corned beef and a side of bread pudding).

“Did you get that book from the library?”

The girl shakes her head, and Tom knows she is done speaking.

For the next few weeks, he would follow her around like a puppy dog--Though not out of loyalty, but more out of curiosity. To her credit, or perhaps discredit, she does not seem to mind or even take notice. Across plazas and library spaces and the Great Hall, Tom can be seen walking along behind her, keeping up rather well with her brisk pace all while the rest of Slytherin house watches with mixed tones of amusement and confusion. A part of him is annoyed at the silly rumors flying around about his “crush” (an absurd notion), but another part is half thankful for the opportunity to talk to the people who think they’re knowledgeable enough in women to give him advice: Tom is savvy enough to talk them into sharing their knowledge on magic.

He sits next to her during lunch, occasionally dinner, and eats quietly while she thumbs through whatever book she happens to be carrying that day. Every once in a while, during the times he is not eyeing her strange meals, he’ll ask a question on what she’s reading or request advice on his studies, and to his surprise (and delight), she always has an answer for him, though it is rarely an answer that is actually useful to him in the moment. Tom finds that she dislikes giving others a straight answer when the person can find it for themselves, or so he deducts when a Ravenclaw sits across from her during one lunch and asks about some sort of potions review. That’s respectable, he concludes, and not to mention useful. Can’t be giving away all your secrets. Can’t be looking arrogant and too involved in yourself.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want special treatment.

One thing he can assure everyone of is that he is not an idiot: He might not be able to understand or decipher the readings of the girl, but he damn well knows it’s leagues different than whatever she should be learning. They don’t teach what she reads at Hogwarts, but maybe she can teach it to him. Only to him. Exclusively.

Ximena,” he prompts in his best meek voice, “it says in my potions book that I need nigella seeds, but I can’t find anything useful on them anywhere.”

She looks up from her page, marked with a grand and proud tree, “Your kind of witches and wizards call them blessing seeds.” Her hand slides over the surface of Tom’s book to point at the picture of a black mound of said seeds, Tom stares at her red bracelet, “You won’t find anything useful about them in any English book.” His eyes glance upward, but her hand and attention return to her own literature before eye contact could be made. “--Try Punjabi.”Progress.

---

Euphoria is not an emotion Tom is used to. Fear, yes. Sadness, yes. Anger, oh God yes. But happiness?

When Dumbledore arrived at Wool’s and told him that he was different, that was triumph. Satisfaction. He had always known that he was better than the others, that he was special. That day at the beach? When the serenity of the sea met with the delightful vengeance on those two children? Close. Very close. Maybe when he was first sorted, perhaps? His heart did a strange sort of jump up against his ribcage and his feet felt lighter than air...Yes, maybe that was happiness.

But first, let us compile what Tom has learnt after his first month of observing:

One: she is indeed a year ahead of him. A minor setback, but an even greater advancement. There are many places that a first year cannot reach or pass into, so much that even having a year added to one’s age is a huge advantage. Already, he has managed to accompany (sneak in with) her into various fascinating sections of the library and common room and learned a good handful of spells infinitely more useful than the rubbish they were teaching him and the other first years. Though not being the rule-breaking type, Ximena does not say anything about this to the teachers. Possibly because she simply does not care. Possibly because she has not noticed him. The thought of the later, irks him, but there is some good in going unnoticed.

Two: his so-called mentor was wrong: she is not an orphan, she is a foundling. Found with no memories or evidence of a life before her arrival at her given orphanage. This, he learns from Dumbledore, who has taken to having tea with him every week to check up on him. He takes Tom’s curiosity as a good sign, and encourages him to make friends with her. The fool, he’s way ahead of him. Of course, he knows better than to try to bring her past up with her before properly constructing a perfect empathetic story to go along with it, but a part of him doubts that that would even work: the girl is viciously private and guards herself better than the dementors do Azkaban. It only makes him want to pry her secrets from her grasp even more. Secrets that perhaps not even she knows. Secrets that, in their own way, could help him heal and discover about his own past. A longshot, he knows, but if he lives in a world where magic is real, he’s willing to calculate the risk to find out.  

Three: she has no friends to speak of, unless they are outside of the school or within classes only. Every lunch and dinner he has with her holds few similarities: her spot, her demeanor, and his questions. Few enough students speak to her, and even fewer do it with any shred of respect. Tom concludes that wizards aren’t as progressive as they’d like to make themselves out to be. A part of him wonders just how different it would be had the girl been born pale and as English as imperialism[2]. Certainly more popular, he’s sure. What idiots. Their loss, he supposes, and definitely his gain: if he could only wiggle his way into her small and restricted circle of friendship, he is sure that he stands much to win. Luckily, despite dividing his time between classes, studies, and conquering the hearts and minds of his fellow first years, he has not been stagnant on this quest. Ximena, while cold to everyone, has dropped enough added extras into their conversations (if one could call them that) for Tom to know that he is preferred over others at their school. While one person might get an “Good afternoon”, he receives a “Good afternoon” and eye contact. That’s just fine, it only makes sense for two superiors to differentiate themselves among a pack of sheep. As long as he was different.As for the sheep, well, that was coming along as well as it could. Unfortunately, stupidity was found everywhere, and not just the muggle world. Tom weeds through mediocrity and weakness at such a speed that if he were physically doing it, it would cramp his hands within seconds. Already, he has a fine reputation with his classmates on being the best student to partner up with, and that has helped in his journey to climb to the top. Sadly, even the brightest students among him are only concerned with frivolities: gossip, broomsticks, and Quidditch. No matter, they are still merely children, there is time. At least, and he comforts himself with this thought, he has support. A network. A web. He is no longer alone. We Slytherins are brothers. We Slytherins welcome our own.[3]What exactly “our own” was, is still up for debate. Many in his house have shown themselves to be of the opinion that even reactionary half-blood wizards have no place in Slytherin, and a small (but loud) fraction of those are particularly bitter at the inclusion of wizards whose parentage hails from less savoury countries. What muck.

This, of course, brings us back to Ximena:

They ask him questions, other students. Questions about her and her strange demeanor. Associating himself with the right people is starting to pay off: his schoolmates see him as something other than another blotch in the painting. Not just another ‘Tom’. As distasteful as it is to leech from the infamy of another, it serves as a nice boost for the people who have not yet witnessed his skill and talent within the classroom. Granted, the questions asked are abhorrently stupid, but they serve more than they slack. “Has she cursed you yet?” “So she can actually talk?” “Got a case of jungle fever, have you?” “She’s so arrogant, how can you stand to be around her?”His answers take a page from the book of Ximena: mainly, that he gives a straight answer without really telling the person what they want to know. He plays the other students like instruments and gains more and more admirers for his bravery in speaking with a girl with such a savage background. How noble of him. They believe he can civilize her for the betterment of Slytherin house.

Disgusting.

As if he had any obligation or time to build another up like that. He looks out for himself, and that’s that. If any of these fools were truly worth their salt, they would have already seen her potential, which begs the question: can they see his potential? His already natural talent and raw skill? Or do they see a sad orphan with no past and no future?

So returning to euphoria (finally): It is ridiculous, he knows, but he cannot help but see parts of himself in her. No, he is not drawn to her, that’s ridiculous. He has chosen for himself to feel attached to this stranger with whom he shares so much with. The more he sees, the more he is convinced of it: they should join forces. Nevermind that his moments with her are quite nice, that is only because she does not spout buffoonery at all hours of the day and provides him with adequate help and knowledge on his studies.

It is not because it fills him with peace. Or contentedness. Or satisfaction. Or because he likes looking at her. Tom truly has no sense (or tastes, for that matter) regarding beauty, but there is something particularly exciting in the confidence and air she gives.

Alright, so fair to say that he is drawn to power, though in all his watchings and followings, he has yet to catch her uttering a single spell. One afternoon, he had passed by her in the common room and observed that the spoon in her hot drink was moving by itself, but that was nothing. He had done that and more in his time before he knew about his being a wizard, and though others in his year are clumsy oafs who couldn’t bend a spoon if they tried, such magic is simple. No, Tom wanted to see exactly what she could do. Not just what she knows or just what she studies, but also what she is capable of. Rumors heard and digested from other Slytherins do little to satiate his curiosity (and expectations), and really, they only fan the flames of an already minute obsession (the obsession to have the upperhand, of course. Not at all an obsession with her.) While most of the rumors are in fact vulgar slander, a small pocketful are curious notes of interest for Tom, such as the subject of Ximena’s wand. As a matter of fact, Tom hasn’t ever seen her wand. He’d like to inspect it, if he could, and maybe take it for an evening...Without her knowing, of course.

Erstwhile, his mentor, while well meaning, has been of little use thus far: he is busy with Quidditch and chasing girls, of all things. Tom has only had time to speak with him in the darker hours of the Slytherin common room, and even then, he says nothing of value. Oh sure, now he knows about the house elves behind the painting, and what staff to watch out for, and what the best thing to order at Honeyduke’s is, but Tom’s idea of good information involves which students in his year have connections. Which students are particularly gifted and easy to manipulate? Are wizards particularly fond of yearbooks or family documentation?

“I’ve noticed you’ve been talking to Lane.” The older boy prompts, dressed for bed and lounging across a chair as if it were his personal throne, “Getting along good?”

“Swimmingly,” Tom says, back straight, sitting pretty with a book on his lap, “Bit of a strange surname for her, isn’t it? Lane?”

He bites into an apple, snorting, “Aye, you caught that, didn’t ya?” Of course he did. Buffoon. “Muggles give strange names to foundlings.” Agreed, but that’s not what Tom wants to know.

“Where do you think they got Ximena from?” Casual and innocent.

“Mmm,” He chews and swallows thoughtfully, “from what she told me, it was all she could remember about her.” A shrug, “Could you imagine? Having only your name in your possession?”

Tom makes a noise of acknowledgement, but stays still, “You talk with her often?”

A smile. Or a snerk, “Oh worry not Tom, I won’t steal your love away.” Another bite as Tom suppresses a look of contempt, “We’re in dueling club together, though her interest is more method than action.” He shrugs, “She might seem a bit away with the mixer, but she definitely has knickers, if you know what I mean.” [4]He does. More or less. “Method?” Perhaps he is getting somewhere.

“She’s a bit obsessed with methods, yes. Sometimes I think she’d be better off as a teacher assigning meters of parchment.” A pause, “Lane doesn’t just want to know spells, she wants to know how they work. Why they work. Bit of a waste of time if you ask me, most everyone who pays enough attention to know about her train of thought thinks she’s loony.” He leans in towards Tom again just as he did at their first meeting, another secret: “It’s such a muggle way of thinking, isn’t it? Finding out why things work instead of just using the thing and being done with it.” He shakes his head, “Never satisfied.”Tom can relate.

Alright, so maybe he wasn’t as special as he thought he was. A minor setback. The way he sees it, it was only a matter of time: his mentor had over a year on him and had known her for longer. It’s not as if he was particularly talented and better than he was. More knowledgeable, perhaps, in the affairs of wizards and in the names of spells and such. But there was no way she respected him as an equal.

Right?

He is not jealous.

He is a perfectly fine and reasonable boy of 11, he is absolutely positively not at all jealous.
♠ ♠ ♠
[1] The uniform in the books is described as “plain black work robes” and “One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear.”

[2] J.K. Rowling can talk all she wants about how “wizards aren’t racist”, my brown ass is not buying a damn cent of it.

[3] Excerpts from the Slytherin House welcome page in Pottermore

[4] “All furcoat and no knickers” is a British saying meaning “all appearances and no substance” or “pretty but shallow”. “Away with the mixer” is another way of saying “loony” or “away with the fairies”.

I wanted to see if I could write a decent and in-character ficlet involving Tom Riddle and a plausible romantic love interest. Of course, I decided to use the platform to world build on my own, as usual /shrugemoji

Thanks to Lion, Diana, and Leigh for reading it over and giving feedback.