Status: Active | Currently posted on FF.net, AO3, Quotev, GOTVG.net, and Lunaescene

Serpentine

Their Severance

When Tom wakes up to the sound of rain, the first year boy’s dormitory is empty and cold, and he knows immediately that something is wrong because he’s the only one who gets up early in this place because he’s the only one who takes himself seriously. The answer to why and where is quickly answered, however, as he dresses himself and walks down to the Slytherin common room to a noisy and growing crowd of his housemates cluttering around some poor witch or wizard sitting at a table--His first instinct is to roll his eyes and move past them to head to breakfast, but a piece of dialogue hooks itself to his ear: “How could you protect yourself like that without words or moving your wand?” And of course, he has to investigate. For research.

There are few times, such as now, when Tom thanks his small size as he brushes and pushes past children bigger than he, and is able to squeeze into a space inside Ximena’s nonexistent personal bubble. Her hands are clenched tight around a book in her lap and her body language screams discomfort. It’s almost amusing for him to see.

Mostly though, he wants the attention she’s getting.

Tom opens his mouth to catch her heed, but--“Holy fuck, Lane,” --his thoughts are interrupted by none other than yesterday’s loser, “You really had me taking the piss yesterday, I have to learn that spell you used, it came out of nowhere!” Hedwig slams her hands on the table and leans in uncomfortably close to Ximena, “I didn’t even hear you say it! What, were you hiding it somewhere in that beanstalk body?”

Ximena continues playing with the fabric of her robes and smiles uneasily at Hedwig, shoulders cinching up, “Ahum...I’d be happy to help you.” She swallows a lump in her throat, “Maybe later?”

As the foul-mouthed first year continues on, Tom watches with increasing irritation and growing possessiveness of his teacher.

“Riddle, you’re awake!” He’s suddenly noticed by his mentor, who places a hand on his shoulder in an over-familiar way, “Looks like you’ll have some competition, eh? Nice of you to finally share Lane with the rest of us.” Tom wants to wipe that smile off his face, “Now we understand why you’re so buddy with her.” He laughs, as if he had told a joke.

Yes, now they understand.

---

Heavy rain pelts angrily at the windows of his transfiguration lesson, almost drowning out Dumbledore completely were it not for his powerful vocals. The lecture, though fascinating, inspires little interest at the moment. Tom’s hand moves and takes notes dutifully, but his mind wanders every few seconds. Sometimes to the subject at hand, sometimes to the current situation at hand.

Speaking with Ximena has been an impossibility since dueling club. Few students approached her on her way out of the hall that day, and slowly he noticed more and more of them coming at her. He supposes he should have known better than to be surprised at yesterday morning’s apparent Ximena Fan Club meeting, but if you had only seen how some of these children treated her before this, well…

On their way to dinner the previous night, Ximena had excused herself and shuffled away from Tom before he could get a word in. He wasn’t (and isn’t) concerned at all, but her flighty behavior is cause for curiosity. Usually, she’s as collected and as dignified as a lioness, it’s something he likes about her. But now an animal he would compare her to is a scared sparrow. This morning, even, when he was walking to his DADA class, he had spotted her crouching behind a half-wall in an attempt to hide from what he could only assume were attention mongers: a far cry from the cool and concise girl of only a few days ago. A part of him wants to grow bored of her and her behavior, but another part relishes to see her so uppity. Perhaps if he jumped out at her or spooked her, she would scream or hop in fright!

His toad, Ambrose, croaks quietly, looking almost longingly out the window at the wet world outside. Tom shushes him lowly.

“...Of course, don’t go looking for any Mandrake leaves,” Dumbledore chuckles, remembering some long ago memory, “The plants are, of course, poisonous and notoriously acidic. We wouldn’t want to fill up the hospital wing with you all. Might I suggest Perilla leaves instead? They’re...”

...Yes, maybe that was the answer. Tom tails Ximena like a ducking to his mother, but every once in a while, she manages to whisk herself away somewhere. Rather than admit that she could outsmart him, it’s only reasonable that she be...

This morning, he had spotted her walking briskly away from a small horde of eager Ravenclaws, loud with questions. Eyes darting around for a proper escape, she brushed right past him without noticing him and turned a sharp corner. When the students caught up to her, they expelled noises of confusion, and when Tom went to see what they were talking about, he saw only a dead end[1].

His quill hovers over the next page in his notes, dripping ink onto the clean sheet. The mar disgusts him.

Dumbledore’s lesson ends with a reminder on an essay due Friday, and as Tom and his fellow students gather up their materials, he calls his name and asks him to approach his desk.

“Have a seat, please.” Tom blinks as a chair that was not previously there presses against the back of his knees. When he sits down, his feet dangle. “Something on your mind, Tom?”

Several somethings. “Sir?”

His professor chuckles, shaking his head, “Only curious, you looked deep in thought, and I was not entirely convinced that it was related to the lecture.” His hands fold over each other, “Getting on well with your housemates?”

“Wonderfully, sir.” He’s a rising star.

“Good, good.” Dumbledore says this less to Tom and more to himself, as if he were assuring himself of something. “I’ve been hearing several fastidious rumors about the Dueling Club’s last meeting,” From who, Tom wonders. “worried about Miss Lane?”

It absolutely irks him how much Dumbledore knows. He looks at Tom, and he feels on display. Like all his stolen goods back at Wool’s were out before him on a table set pretty and organized.

“Mmm.” Dumbledore continues with reserved interest when Tom does not respond, “She has changed little since I came to her a year ago.”

Tom sets down his hands on the table, head tilted, “You found her like you found me?”

“On a rainy Sunday afternoon, yes.” He comments, gazing out the window, “I cannot say the circumstances were exactly the same but...” Withholding information from the boy only makes him want it with more fervor. He wonders if he stops talking to keep him from knowing something or for the sake of Ximena’s privacy. “Miss Lane, I believe, is very alone.”

Professor Dumbledore pops one of the brightly colored sweets from the dish on his desk into his mouth, “Perhaps she does not crave attention, but rather company.” Said as if it were something he had just concluded. He writes out a note in an elegant script before folding it neatly and handing it over to him, “To excuse you for any tardiness on my part, Tom.” He winks, eyes twinkling, “Stay out of trouble, the prefects are always harsher on rainy weeks.”

Strange man, though correct. Even Tom, a model student, finds himself being scrutinized by the older students during rainy days. Back at Wool’s, he always thought it ridiculous that the mood of the matron and caregivers were so affected by something as little as rain. It’s not like they had anywhere to go, anything to do. No automobile to keep clean, no garden to keep safe, no decent shoes to mourn.

He feels an ugly nostalgia overcoming him as he walks through the corridors to his next class, eyes sliding over the grey castle and sky, the dirty puddles of water lingering on the sides of the halls, and the distant sight of Quidditch players practicing in the miserable rain. Tom freezes. He is seized by the terrible, awful thought, that if he blinks, he will be back at the orphanage. His eyes shut tight as he stops in his tracks, counting. One...Two...Three…

A lungful of musky, wet, cold air, he plunges his hand in his pocket and squeezes. Squeezes so tight, he is sure that his knuckles turn white. Safe. He is safe at Hogwarts. Safe away from Wool’s. Safe alongside his fellow witches and wizards.

He opens his eyes and rushes along to the end of the corridor.

---

The sun is elusive the rest of the week, and almost as hard to catch as Ximena. Were it any other situation, Tom would simply use up the time by getting to know more of his classmates or buttering up the professors, but no matter who he talks to during free period or where he sits at lunch, the little witch seems to slip into the conversation one way or another. It’s annoying. Everyone is putting their filthy hands all over his things. Everyone isn’t paying proper attention to him. Everyone seems to know more than him.

His spot has been taken up by all manner of people: first years, half-bloods, Gryffindors, Quidditch players, none of which Tom has ever seen talk to her before. He ease drops when he can and catches the most arbitrary and stupid questions being pegged at her, and he absolutely does not fume in jealousy when she answers every. Last. One. Of. Them.

Sure, alright, her answers were about as helpful as the ones she gave him but that’s different. He has a limited amount of answers and conversation with her that he uses wisely and strategically, because when she’s done talking, she’s done. This is leagues different from the ridiculous inquiries given by the others. “Is silent magic common?” “What are you eating?” “Where did you learn English?” Ximena awkwardly answers as much as she can before she figures out an excuse to hurry away--Often with a first year or two trailing behind. She’s even stopped carrying her beloved books around. For what reason, Tom isn’t sure, but he speculates it has something to do with his hunch that she’s not allowed to be reading them.

He substitutes his time with her by reading the book she let him borrow. By now, he’s figured out that it’s a basic introduction to curses written for someone perhaps three or four years ahead of him. Already, he’s plowed through a good two-thirds of the way through it with his own annotations written in the margins alongside Ximena’s neat, printed script (he, himself, had made sure to only write in his best cursive). As for deciphering her notes, he had to take it upon himself to sneak into the fifth years and above section in the library to find a ‘simple translation spell.’ Her notes now read much easier, but there are some words that absolutely refuse to morph into English. Of course, these are the words and phrases that interest him the most. The ones that are underlined twice or circled to show importance.

For example, Tiger’s Eye will not protect you at sea or at night? And then under it, Nya b’a’n tu’n tchub’ key toj b’e, ku’n nlay ch’iyl twey? Which at first, Tom interprets as Ximena having an aneurysm on paper. The translation spell he chose first has no effect on it, and neither do the second, third, or fifth or tenth ones after it. Irritating. ‘The notes aren’t important to your questions.’ Bollocks. She’s hiding something and he’s going to find out what it is. With or without her cooperation. Or help.

As for what a maledictus is, he hasn’t gotten to that part yet. He expects to reach it soon, as the only two sections left in the book are curses that are hereditary, and curses that transform the victim into something else. It’s in this section that holds the majority of ink from Ximena’s pen, which has him all the more pressed to find a spell that actually works on whatever second language she writes in--He’s damn sure she knows just the right one, but he can’t ask...

It’s okay, though, he tells himself, because eventually her popularity and their separation will be over and things will have returned to how they should be. Ximena will be done with their classmates’ capricious admiration, and be entirely focused on...What she should be focusing on. Which, just so happens to include him. Completely by coincidence.

He expects it to happen by the end of the week.

His solace, and console, is Potions class. Professor Slughorn is a knowledgeable, gullible idiot who seems determined to get into his good graces. As if he were a lord and Slughorn a pathetic, gleeful jester. Occasionally, when Tom is alone in the dormitories, he pretends to order Slughorn (and a few others) around. The adults at Wool’s, older students, world leaders he sees in books and hears about on the radio...He gives out commands and makes him do his bidding. Decrees and laws are laid out for them to follow. Sometimes, Ximena is there, in his imagination, and sometimes she is not. Usually though, she is sitting in his mind, watching him and nodding along in approval or agreement with his actions. His game brings a wonderful thrill to his soul, and makes him ever more impatient to come into his destiny.

“Fuck’s sake, look alive, Riddle.” His ill-mannered Potions partner mutters as Slughorn makes the rounds from table to table, “You’ve had your bloody head in the clouds all week, have you finally lost it?”

It takes more than he thinks to refrain from giving her a nasty hive hex for speaking to him like that, and instead he blinks owlishly, “Sorry, sorry, just troubled.” No room for asserting his power when there’s this many witnesses.

Hedwig nods once, unconvinced, “Alright well, stop being troubled, there’s top marks on the line, yeah?” She blows a loose strand of cotton like hair out of her face before tucking it behind her ear, “And no one is going to stand in my way of it.”

His partner’s ambitions and good-breeding just about make up for the terrible company she makes, alongside her good knowledge of spells. Tom had, in fact, been meaning to ask her for a spare afternoon of her time, but unfortunately Hedwig (along with being gifted and on her way to the top) was also obsessed with the common stupidities of their fellow first years. There is also the matter of her protective older sister, who looks down at Tom for what he can only conclude is his unknown blood status.

Slughorn reaches their table and beams brightly at them him, “What can I expect from you both today, then?”

“A simple healing draught for bruises, sir.” Hedwig answers,

“An alternative to moxibustion[2]?” He raises a brow, smiling at the two of them, “I’ll be eagerly awaiting, then.”

When he steps away to check on the next pair, Tom turns to his partner, a bit vexed, “I thought we agreed on attempting to create a simple sleeping draught.” His voice makes it sound as if he’s upset and disappointed rather than annoyed with the nerve of the girl.

“This idea is better. He’ll be more impressed.” Her fingers dab around their table for the right ingredients, “You’re smart, Riddle, you can adapt.” She’s right, and she should say it, but honestly.

Tom refrains from mocking her under his breath and takes a look at the ingredients set out before him and pieces together in what order and in what quantities they should put in the cauldron. Though his seatmate is brash, he admits that there’s sense in what she said: a few other top students in their class are trying for a sleeping draught. Internal healing is just advanced enough to set them--him--apart from the rest. Luckily, she has half a brain and a good eye for quality ingredients, otherwise he’d have to carry the both of them.

Atmosphere peaceful and studious, Slughorn announces that he would be right back, and that if anyone were to need him, he could be found just down the hall in Professor Alder’s classroom. As expected, the quiet lasts little once he leaves the room.

“Hey, some of my ingredients are missing!” Tom glaces to his left behind Hedwig, to a Ravenclaw making an absolute spectacle out of nothing.

The student’s partner is quick to chime in, “Probably taken by Badi over there,” Cruel and accusing laughter is thrown at the shy, feeble, umber-skinned boy in the corner, “he can’t help it, it’s in his blood[3].”

“Feck off, you stupid sods.” Hedwig throws a spare stirring spoon at their classmate’s head with such accuracy, she could be a future beater in Quidditch, “Leave him alone before I decide to stop being nice.”

“We were just having a jest, Acwel--”

“Did I give you permission to talk back to me?”

Fumbled apologies are hastily given to the Slytherin elite as she huffs with satisfaction and turns her attention to Tom, “It’s so stupid, how they treat him. We’re all the same, in the end.”

“What do you mean?” Tom prompts, full attention on his potions partner.

“Badi is pureblood.” A well known fact, “Magic blood should stick together.” She states very matter-of-factly, sprinkling dried mugwort into the cauldron, “Don’t you think?”

The mugwort releases a smokey brown cloud within the translucent potion, and the smell of burnt wheat fills his nostrils before blooming into the strong scent of sage, blending in with the petrichor from outside.

“Yes.”

---

Finding his quiet housemate is more of a chore than ever, now that there are countless others searching out for her. Tom repeats in his mind the suspicion that, like most fads, that his classmates’ interest in Ximena will die silently in favor of the next big thing. Like a new broom model or an attractive teacher. Luckily, he wasn’t jealous or anything about any advice or tips or lessons or general words of wisdom given to any student who wasn’t him. Luckily. He’s above all that nonsense. Besides, he was here first, and is more important than those...leeches.

Ehem.

Luckily, Tom knows her favourite spot in the library to read in: a secluded corner behind a shelf filled with several dusty Mongolian manuscripts containing detailed instructions for brewing medicine out of mare’s milk[4]. There is a cozy red armchair that maybe one or two people could curl up in and sleep for a few hours because the painting sitting before it has nothing that makes any loud noises (a slow babbling brook and birdsong is just the right thing to lull a tired student to sleep), and more than once, he had followed Ximena to that very spot and sat perpendicular to her as she skimmed through that day’s tome.

When he arrives, however, he does not find her reading.

Since last week, he had noted the changes in her demeanor. Slumped shoulders, bagged eyes, unbrushed hair, and nervous tics, to name a few. Always looking over her shoulder, always sending second looks at any passerby, always double checking underneath her seat or book or arms…Tom first attributes it to her discomfort with all the attention, but that is only because he is very good at lying, even to himself.

“Ximena?” His face softens as his eyebrows rise and press together in concern. When she reacts to his presence with shocked bemusement, he continues, “Are you alright?”

Her lips form a thin line in thought, catching words before she’s able to speak them, “I--have...Have you...” She blinks, and raises herself tall in her seat, looking over his head behind him, “You weren’t followed, were you?” Her paranoia is almost comical.

“No.” He knows better than that. He wants her time for himself. “Everyone is at Hogsmeade.”

A shuddering breath of relief slides past her mouth as she relaxes back into the chair, “Oh thank God.” Her hand massages her temples, “They’re relentless. Beasts.”

“You don’t like them?” Tom walks closer while her head is turned away.

“I...” She begins, “...I am better in darkness.”

He kneels, placing his arms and chin up on the armrest, trying his best to look as cute as possible, “Better when no one’s watching?” His eyes do not leave her form.

A subtle nod, “It is better when eyes pass over me. When no second glances are given. When I am just another face.” She squeezes her eyes shut, “I shouldn’t have dueled Acwellan.”

But you were so good!” His praise isn’t empty. Not really. “I’ve never seen you do magic before.” They both know this is a lie but--

Ximena looks at him directly for the first time in their conversation, eye contact and all, and pauses, “I wasn’t good, I was prepared.” She pushes back her humid, frizzy hair and bites her lower lip hard. It blooms red. “Wand magic, what was I thinking, using--” A deep and sudden inhale of breath as she covers her face, exasperated, “And then I lost it! I lost it and I’m lost too!”

What did you lose? Is next on his list to ask her, but it never comes out of his mouth. “Why is it important?” Ximena is not stupid, she’s caught him staring at it more than once.

“It’s all I have.” Her voice rises higher than normal, “It’s all I had when I arrived at the abbey.” Her hand covers her mouth as she shudders and blinks rapidly, “I didn’t know who I was, but I knew that was from someone who loved me.” Ximena’s voice is a weak and scared whisper, “It’s the proof I have. The proof that I am loved.”

It is here that, if Tom weren’t Tom, he would offer a hug or perhaps a comforting word on how she would find it soon. Of course, Tom is himself, so he does not know to do either of these things. Instead, he decides to lift his hand up and set it down gently and heavily onto Ximena’s free hand. He pats it once. Twice. And waits.

The red bracelet burns in Tom’s pocket. He can feel it. It pulls in Ximena’s direction, longing to be reunited with her naked wrist once again. His other hand encases it. Strangles it. Silences it. It’s his now. His only.

This moment, too, is his only. Her tears, her distress, her aching vulnerability. Her quiet sniffles and sharp intakes of breath are his. There are no ghost or paintings or even insects around with them to share the instance of fellowship. There is only them, the cold air, and the sound of heavy rain outside the castle.
♠ ♠ ♠
[1] “Dead End” is the phrased used here in the US to signify that a road has no output/exit. I’ve had a few foreigners at work ask me about it in complete bewilderment, it’s adorable. I used it here because I think the phrasing fits.

[2] If you can guess where I learned that mugwort was good for bruises, I will give you/your character a lil cameo in this story. Hint: it is from a movie adapted from a book, much like Harry Potter.

[3] Badi is a Romani surrname, aka: g*psy surname. They’ve been systematically oppressed and stereotyped as thieves and scammers in Europe for centuries. The word ‘g*ypped’ (aka, conned, scammed, tricked, ripped-off, for those unfamiliar with the term) comes from the slur ‘g*psy’. The slur itself originated because it was falsely believed that they came from Egypt, when in reality, Roma ancestry hails from the Indian sub-continent. Yes, g*psy is a slur. The more you know!

[4] Shoutout to the Mongols for being the horse-obsessed fourth grade girls of world history.

DID Y’ALL FUCKING KNOW THAT THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED 16-YEAR-OLD TOM WAS 24 WHEN HE PLAYED THAT PART. GOD, NO WONDER THE LIL KID PLAYING HIM IN THE LATER FILMS LOOKED SO TINY, HE WAS THE RIGHT AGE.

Literally the only reason I’m set on finishing this story is because Lion (THE LOVE OF MY LIFE) likes it and wants more. Y’all can thank her and my gay ass, ty honnie for reading this over and giving Tom roastings.

I don’t mean to remind y’all of your junior year high school english class, but I fill a lot of my writing now and days with a shitton of symbolism and foreshadowing, so :D If you’re a nerd like me, and enjoy that stuff, I hope you find some good stuff in today’s chapter!

Thanks to aspiring cynic on FF.net for giving me my first and only reviews on this story!! They mean the world to me, and you are now my fave! Next chapter is dedicated to you!