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

Serpentine

Spring&Summer

Something about his last week at Hogwarts makes his skin itch to a point where he wishes to scratch it all off. Several somethings actually.

First, it’s his last week. Obviously. It has come too soon and too fast, and it feels as if he had arrived only yesterday. The past few months have been as thick and indulgent as a dream, making him comfortable. Complacent. It still hadn’t really hit him that he would be leaving soon until he overheard some student casually mention some book he brought to read on the train ride back home, and now he feels like a clock hangs over him constantly, ticking down to the day when he must step back into that awful, musty, dirty place he could never call home.

Second, and really this doesn’t make him want to scratch his skin off because he doesn’t care at all, not even a little bit, is that Ximena is holding conversations with people. At lunch and dinner, he’ll spot or overhear her discuss something or other with their housemates, and it’s not always about academia. It’s not always about a Transfiguration review, or advice on studies, or editing an essay. Lately, it’s been about fashions, broom models, and which professor is the most attractive (Alder and Willow are in the lead, but that’s not important--). Granted, Ximena does not chime in much to these talks, but she actively listens and replies when spoken to, which is more than could be said of their conversations just a few weeks ago. Where had this confidence come from? Was it even confidence? Or was she just trying to be more social? Probably Dumbledore’s doing, then. Some plot to get her to speak to anyone that wasn’t Tom. Because that’s what good, responsible, caring adults do to children. They separate them from Tom.

Third: Dumbledore. Tom had tried to get Dippet to allow him to stay at Hogwarts for over the summer, but Dumbledore quickly shut it down just when he was beginning to get somewhere. Or maybe that’s just his hope telling him that, and Dippet wasn’t ever going to even consider the idea. No, regardless, it was worth it to try. Try to make him see. Dippet treats him favorably, it’s only a matter of time before he has him wrapped around his finger. What was Dumbledore’s issue, anyways? What would be so terrible about letting him stay here? Missing new ringworm infections?

The end of term obviously solves the problem of the later two, but what about the first problem? Should he wish that the Muggles finally go to war? Perhaps only then will they keep the muggleborns and himself at Hogwarts for safety. Shouldn’t be too farfetched of a wish, Chamberlain is a downright idiot if the radio and adults at Wool’s are to be believed…

He desperately wants a distraction. Anything to get his mind off the inevitable. The fact that it even is inevitable.

Nemesis’ loud squawking laughter draws him away from his thoughts--She’s sitting at the end of the row of tables, alongside a group of young Slytherins and the witch of the week. He leers bitterly. No doubt Ximena has just said something scandalous to the other Slytherins (probably discussing which professor was most attractive again), and Nemesis is giving her commentary on it. She’s been quite chummy with her these last few days, it makes Tom think she’s caught on to just how useful Ximena could be.

As for the older witch herself, she appears mildly uncomfortable with the attention, but she also looks like she’s desperately trying. But what for? Why does she need to try? She doesn’t need them--Not like he does. Has flocking with him ignited some sort of similar goal within her? To rise above others? It’s a thrilling thought, if not unrealistic. He’ll try to push her on it later.

Half of the group disperses, and Tom relaxes again--It’s nothing like how attention was showered on her all those weeks ago, thankfully. It’s more like a subtle shoreline. Coming in and out. Waxing and waning. It comes in phases. One day, she would be alone and solitary as always. As he likes her. As he knows her. As he met her. Another day, she might be located around dozens of other students. Quiet, as always, but listening. He wishes that he hadn’t had been so obvious or open with his interest in his classmate. That she had instead become his special secret, rather than whatever nonsense this was. It makes him wish that he had given her something more concrete than some candies for her birthday. Something permanent and meant to be shown to others…

The reminder of the bracelet burning a hole in his robe pocket is enough to make him shake his head vigorously in order to banish the idea. The candies were enough. They did what they were supposed to, and they did not attract attention (useful as this crush facade is, it is annoying to high heaven, and he’s not sure what he would have done if there was a large audience privy to the gift exchange.) Ximena enjoyed them and they shared food for a second time, though he’s not sure what, if anything, was established between the two of them (are there rules for how much food is needed? Is it only foods that are handmade by the persons sharing? Does it count less because they were sweets and not a full meal?).

As for the remaining money, he’s not sure when he’ll be able to swing by Diagon Alley to open an account at Gringotts, much less if what he has is enough. The thought of squeezing money out of people pitying him for his situation at home is repulsive. He has pride. He does not need financial help. He has his own small collection back at Wool’s (a bundle of bills and coins stuffed under his thin mattress), of which can be converted to proper wizard money. Eventually.

“Alright there Riddle?” Ian Rosier’s ugly face is just what he needs to see. Moreso with his cousin and company in tow.

The Rosiers, from what Tom has gathered in his time here, are somewhere between respectable and social-climbers. Opinions change every century. Their family branches out to nearly all corners of Western Europe (in part thanks to a horrifying tradition of arranging their children in marriages at a young age), and their reputation ranges with every kilometer. His interactions with the second-year siblings hasn’t left much of an impression beyond ‘mildly useful’ (Ian) and ‘annoying’ (Druella) with him, but he’s yet to speak to the one in his own year.

“Salazar, that last practical was a nightmare, I’d much rather have faced off with a bogart.” Their company is Cygnus and Lucretia. Perfect.

“Don’t give me that, Cygnus, you’d run in the opposite direction the moment it took the form of auntie Vinda.”

The Blacks are a curious bunch. People hush when a member is speaking, and people chatter about them when they leave the room. The ones he has met walk about as if they own the earth beneath their feet, and quite frankly, most would agree that they have the right to. It’s a sort of authority he craves, but it’s also the sort of ego he despises and can’t stand to be around. Cygnus is the worst of it, and so far, Lucretia is the most tolerable, if not easy to sway.

“Oi, your bogart is aunt Vinda too?” Druella jests, setting her books down.

“Only when it’s not cousin Augusta.” Lucretia teases further, eyes down at her reading material.

“Augh!” Ian shivers, and Tom wants to roll his eyes because he is definitely overreacting, “Wretched gir! Heart of a lion and soul of a banshee!”

“What do you expect from a Gryffindor, Ian? It’s why we have the houses, it’s to keep the dignified people away from those...well, less dignified. No offence to dear Augusta.”

Tom gleams. He watches Lucretia calculate.

An opportunity. She strikes.

If you ask me, this sort of rivalry is childish.” Lucretia says in a manner that is both nonchalant and prim. Druella blinks at her. Ian appears to be confused. Cygnus, as usual, looks as if he wants to justify himself.

“What the founders themselves wanted is childish?” Druella sounds like she wants to be accusatory, but really it is more like she’s unsure of what she’s saying.

Lucretia lifts her chin up from her book, and Tom is reminded of what family she hails from, “I know you’re a Ravenclaw, Ella, but do try to not let your pomposity weigh down how you think--You know you’re only allowed to sit here with us because of your family and brother.”

Druella’s face is beet red from anger, it’s a little amusing to Tom just how easily she changes color like a chameleon. Ian himself is indignant, “Excuse me?”

“You all put such weight in where a person is sorted, and yet still openly socialize with your falcon sister. I just think it’s interesting.”

This time, Cygnus intervenes, “It’s different, Lucretia, you know that. Blood is blood.” He tries to make eye contact, to make her see.

The Black girl is seemingly indifferent, “Oh yes, blood is blood. But we are all of magick blood, are we not?” Her arms gesture out wide at the whole Great Hall, “Excluding the obvious ones, of course.”

She’s a radical.” Druella whispers so harshly into Ian’s ear that Tom’s sure that the Gryffindors on the other side of the hall can hear her.

Cygnus clears his throat, “Yes...There is good blood here in this room aside from...us.” He gives a pause, looking over the table, and Tom knows he is pausing over him, “But what of their minds? How do we know that their thinking is correct?”

“How do we know that Ella thinks correctly?”

I come from a long and proud line of Slytherin house members!

“--So why aren’t you like them? Not correct thinking enough?”

Druella looks ready to leap across the table and hex Lucretia. Ian, while appearing to hold her back, is prepped to do the same, surely.

“I am spreading our noble cause to the other houses!” She defends herself, “Collecting Ravenclaws to march under one banner is like herding cats, mind you--Some of them don’t even care that they share rooms with mudbloods!”

Apparently this is some sort of shocking scandal, because Cygnus and a few overhearing students react to it quite dramatically.

“You are right to do so, Ella, and I applaud you for it.” Lucretia is a better saleswoman than Tom expected her to be. He wonders if that just comes naturally to pureblood families, “But what has come of it? Do you have allies within your house? Do you sit with them at lunch and during classes?”

Druella stiffens up--She of course has been sitting at the Slytherins’ table for all her two years at Hogwarts (according to both Ximena and Lucretia, that is), and absolutely shit talking the rest of her house.

“That’s...That’s--”

The other girl reaches over the table and sandwiches Druella’s hand in between hers, gives a comforting look, “I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry Ella, I’ve gone too far.” She bites her lip, “It was a silly question, I was just...I don’t know.” A sigh, “Sometimes I think we end up alienating potential supporters that await us in other houses...You know I’ve heard that the Sorting Hat never makes mistakes, but lately, I just don’t know.”

Cygnus purses his lips, not completely convinced, but also deep in thought. Others around their table stay silent or speak in filigree whispers. The commotion, as he had hoped it would be, appears to have been overheard by the Hufflepuff table next to them. He sees two of Nemesis’ siblings and Elle’s brother give lingering stares at Lucretia. She has done her part well, if not for a stupid reason. All this for a boy? And a lackluster one at that? Good grief.

Regardless, everything is going better than expected.

All they need is an idea planted. A little drop of rain water. A small push. A glimpse of words as a book is skimmed through. They will mull over the words and ideas on their train ride back home. They will toss it and turn it over in their heads as they sit down for their first dinner with their families, and listen to their parents’ rave about purity. They will spread the idea around, as gossip or debate, to others. Their siblings, their friends, their caretakers.

Yes. All they have to do is wait. All he has to do is wait.

-

The dawn of his final day brings unease. As he sits for breakfast, he might as well be sitting on death row. The luxurious sweet oatmeal laid out before him is as appealing to him as the paste back at the orphanage. He doesn’t eat. He knows he wouldn’t be able to keep it down, even if he was hungry. Instead, he toys with the bits of fruit set on the side, meant to be placed atop the oatmeal. Squishes them in between his fingers and flicking them across the table, leaving colored puddles at his place, and sweet markings on his hands. It’s a pastime he used a lot back at Wool’s to distract himself from the mundane, but now he finds no joy in it.

He moves through the next four hours like a dead man.

Yes, he exchanges information with others, says goodbyes to his teachers, and the rest, but he does it all with no light in his eyes. He does it automatically, with no real effort or feeling. It’s probably something to be worried about considering that even Dumbledore himself looked concerned over his demeanor...Too late to take back your insistence on keeping him in that hole, old coot. Congratulations on that victory.

When his feet step foot onto the train, he manages to delude himself into pretending that this was his ride to Hogwarts rather than away. That everyone merely already has their robes on and are chatting about home because (like him) Hogwarts is their home. Their real one. It’s a hard lie to slip into, but Tom is nothing if not an amazing actor. When he accepts a few of his fellow future second years’ invitation to sit with them, they do not notice a thing.

Sitting with others is...different. Stark contrast to his first time on the train. He had managed to find a whole compartment to himself, and spent the entire time wringing his hands together and staring out the window at the passing scenery, expecting to see something magical in the countryside. Tom had done quite a bit of pacing as well, being restless and eager to arrive. Why the damn was a magical train so slow anyways? They left promptly at eleven and arrived well after sunset.

The other first years don’t seem to share his view. They like the hours spent on the train, it feels like mere minutes to them. Gives them a chance to catch up on all the latest gossip and happenings from over the summer. They try it on him when he sits in the compartment, sharing their families’ plans for the holidays, what they think the next year will bring, and other such complete nonsense. If anything, it makes his time feel like it’s crawling by. What does he care about Iris Parkinson’s potential transfer to Beauxbatons? About the students trying out for the Slytherin team next year? About the goddamn summer solstice festival outfit anyone plans to wear? He’s glad no one can read his thoughts, all they seem to be lately is complaints towards his highblooded classmates. Who knew children could care so hard about idiocities? He can’t wait until they’re all grown and past such things.

Tom lasts three hours. Noble effort. His personal record. But Nemesis’ recount about her ruined time at her eldest sister’s wedding broke him. Faster than he could have thought possible, he lifts himself up from between two other boys and excuses himself as politely as he can, stating that he’s going to go meet with some other friends on the train.

“Say hi to Lane for us!” Blow it out your ass, Bulstrode.

The leisurely pace he sets for himself as he goes through the train aids in clearing his brain. Few of the students are out and about as they were a couple of hours ago, leaving the aisles bare and free of annoyances--Minus the occasional tap tap on a window to catch his attention: other children inviting him inside already crowded compartments is politely denied with a sorry smile and a silent gesture that he was already heading somewhere else. That someone is waiting for him.

This is complete hogwash.

He wants another empty space to himself, being around so many people in such close quarters was exhausting. At least in his classes, he’s not forced to constantly socialize he can focus in silence on his work and selectively speak to others. He doesn’t feel so drained afterwards. So much like taking a nap.

The sight of the empty berths is enough to make him hear heavenly choruses--Picking up his pace a little, his hand shoots out right for the handle and slides the door open, and as he does, his mood lifts because it is not as empty as he thought.

She sits, as if in her own little private roomette, hands in her lap, staring into space. Tom expected for her to be looking out the window, it seems like something she would do. Be wistful. Nostalgic. Yearning.

He clears his throat and asks to sit, because though he has made much progress, there is still something holding him back. Her aloofness, maybe. Her separation. When she gives him permission to sit in the cabin with her, he chooses to sit beside her rather than across from. A different sort of intimate. Something of a powermove. He wonders if she notices it.

“You look happy, excited to go home?”

It’s like she dumped a whole bucket of ice water on his mood.

He is being torn away from his home. His real home. Torn away and placed back into that horrid, retched hole called Wool’s. How could anybody do this to a child? Give them all the food, heat, and shelter they were missing from their lives and then cruelly take it away? He feels like someone stabbed their hand into his stomach and twisted it all up before pulling back and taking some of the contents within it. Without a doubt, he should probably eat something, but he knows that it will only come back up.

“What’s wrong?” There is real concern in Ximena’s voice, at least, it sounds real, and Tom avoids eye contact.

“Stomach ache.”

“Eat something bad?”

He shakes his head no, wanting the subject to drop.

“Nausea?” Another shake. “Cramps?” Another. “Nerves?”

Hesitance. A nod.

Immediately, her hands dip through her school bag. He hears the clanking and chiming of glass and metals and the rustling and scrapping of books and pencils. His eyes are about to raise up to try and catch a peek, when her hand juts out holding a small vial of…

“What’s this?”

“Take it. It’ll help.”

It’s stupid to think that Ximena, or any other student at Hogwarts, really, would poison him, but regardless he’s still slow at taking it from her soft hands.

There’s two gulps worth of whatever medicine she gave him inside the translucent brown vial. When he pops it open, the smell of citrus, mint, and ginger wafts up. A moment of consideration, and he sips it. Sweet and prickly. It stings pleasantly on his tongue and leaves a trail of cool stillness down his throat into his stomach. He takes a gulp. The ugly twisting fades. He blinks. “What was that?”

Ximena looks excited in a quiet way, “Something I’ve been working on! I started it the day after the duel, actually.” Her lips press together, “It’s still a work in progress, it’s not as good as the go-to potion for nerves, but I’m glad it helped.” She gives a little wiggle, smiling softly, “You’re the first one to take it aside from me, actually. You’ll keep the secret, right?”

It pleases him that he be the first and only one to know about her little experiment, but he’s not so thrilled at being part test-subject, “I won’t tell.” Are students not allowed to invent potions? Slughorn laid out strict rules for the first years about brewing without supervision, but… “It’s wonderful. You have a gift.”

Satisfied with herself, Ximena settles back down into her seat, taking the vial Tom hands back and tucking it away into her bag.

“Do you plan to be a potioneer?”

A press of her lips, “I haven’t really thought about careers yet.”

“It’s still early.” He sounds reassuring.

She nods, “It might seem that way, I’m sure...But time flies. Before we know it, we’ll be graduating and leaving Hogwarts for good.”

Tom doesn’t like that. The stomach nerves threaten to come back.

“What a sad thought.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” Her chin raises up slightly, and she turns her head to stare out the window.

“--At least you’ll be leaving with friends.”

“Hm?”

“Friends. You’ve been more talkative lately.”

“Mm. Yes.” It’s strange that she is not surprised by his observation. Tom expected a ‘have I?’ out of her, “I wanted to try it. To try making friends.”

Is he not enough? “Why the change of heart?”

Ximena opens her mouth and closes it. Hesitates. “That’s a curious saying, isn’t it? A change of heart.” Perhaps. A deep breath. “Someone in our house has my bracelet.”

It takes everything Tom has for him not to stiffen up visibly. Not to break and tell and reveal his secret. But why? He’s been doing so well. So good. She had no idea. How could she have--

He leans closer, at attention, voice full of concern, “What? How do you know?”

Another press of her lips, “It’s not important.” It damn well is, “I think...I think maybe if I can get a little close, I can catch them.”

“So you don’t think they have it by mistake?”

“No. Not at all.” Her eyes stay forward and hardened. Her fist in a ball. “Stealing property like that--It’s natural. All they’ve ever had for me was disregard or disrespect.” The edge to her voice is enthralling. It’s so close, so related, to rage, that Tom almost wants to egg her on, were it not him that she would be angry at. Had she been keeping this contempt deep inside her all this time? Suddenly, her cool indifference wasn’t so interesting. What was was this anger. Deep and red like petals. “It’ll come back to me. It’s only a matter of time.”

A gulp, and he resists the urge to shove his hands in his pockets where the bracelet lay so close and yet so far from her. He knows having it touch his skin would both give him comfort and also burn. He knows she would notice.

“Can I help?” If there’s anything he’s brilliant at, it’s gaining the trust of others. Maybe he can pin this little borrowing on someone else.

Ximena shakes her head, “No. It’s my responsibility,” A pause, “I don’t know if I trust you yet, but...” She’s searching for the right words. Trying not to offend him or give him the wrong idea, maybe, “It’s my duty as your senior to not share my burdens with you.” Ximena sounds satisfied with that. To Tom, it sounds rehearsed. As if it were written in some prefect guide. It probably was.

“If you’re sure,” he wiggles a little in his seat for added effect, appearing restless and eager to help.

“I am.”

How strange for such a wallflower to be so solid in her stance. For such a quaint little girl to be filled with determination. He sits up straighter in his seat, still coming up short in reaching her height (when are boys supposed to get their growth spurt again?), “You’re diligent.” He compliments.

Ximena finds light amusement in his words, “You have a very good vocabulary; what’s diligent?”

“...Hardworking. Responsible.”

“I see--thank you, I am still learning English.”

What.

“Your English is wonderful.”

“You may stop trying to flatter me now.”

Alright, fair, but Tom wasn’t lying about that. Never had she given him any reason to believe that English wasn’t taught to her since birth. Lord, even her accent is light, showing itself only on sharp vowels and R sounds, “I’m being honest. You speak better than most natives.”

Her head turns to look directly at him, and he feels chills. He stares back at himself in her black eyes.

“...How do I sound?”

“--Pardon?”

“When I talk, how do I sound to you?”

“Uhm, you sound natural. English, with a little flavor.” Oh, he shouldn’t have used that word, it made her quirk a brow at him. Damn highbloods and their infectious diction, “I mean, like you moved here a long time ago, and your English was changed.”

The older girl stays looking at him for a small while, and the longer she does, the more Tom wants to fidget. He can’t sense anything in her stare. Not distrust or anger or doubt. Not relief or thankfulness or affection. It’s awful. He hates it. Anything would be better than a blank slate. Even hatred.

“I see.” She turns back and rests against the seat as Tom releases a breath he very well knew he was holding in, “Just wondering.” Her fingers drum lightly on the top of her thigh, the intensity of her aura taking a nosedive.

“...Do you know what your first language is?”

Open mouth. Hesitance. Closed mouth.

“That’s an interesting question.”

He almost snorts.

“Spanish? I assume?” Or whatever language you wrote in that book that I can’t figure out…

“I think...Spanish is one of them.” She presses her lips together again, “but I’m not sure. My name aside, I was taught it at the abbey.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, the Mother Superior is Spanish and saw to it. It paid off, in the end.”

Tom has never heard anyone speak who was from Spain. He wonders if their Spanish would sound like Ximena’s, “How so?”

“It’s worked wonders in Divination; most texts are originally in some sort of Latin language, and knowing one of them makes it easier when using translation spells.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, Tom chooses to unpack the smallest, prettiest luggage, “You take Divination?”

“Yes--I’m doing well, but I’m eager for next year, when we’ll be practicing and not just theorizing.”

“Didn’t think you were the type.”

She clears her throat, looking a little sheepish, “Ah. You’ve been speaking to The Buffoon again, haven’t you?”

“Guilty.”

Something like a smile, “He’s bettered our house’s opinion of me, for all it’s worth. But he talks too much.”

So much. He chuckles, “Was he your assigned guide then?”

“Hm? Oh, no, that was Acwellan.” [1]

“Hedwig?” He jests, but he knows better. Of course he does.

“Funny.” But she’s not laughing, “It was Dumbledore’s idea. I guess he saw we could have something in common?”

Tom contains his eagerness to know more, “Was he wrong?”

A pause, “...No.”

More. Say more. “...”

Neither of them continue the conversation.

Ximena takes to leafing through one of her textbooks and Tom does the same, propping his own book open wide and taking little annotations on the side of the page, occasionally peeking to see if she notices what he is doing. She does not. He does not sulk. He focuses on his textbook instead. As he should. His studies will not be neglected. The playing field must be leveled. He won’t be playing catch up with the pure and half bloods for long. By the start of term, things will be different. Better. There will be no more doubt surrounding his genius. His skill. He will be more than just a lucky prodigy quickly forgotten about when the learning curve evens everyone out.

The assigned readings for summer homework sounded trivial at first, and his suspicions were half-confirmed when his eyes skimmed over the opening paragraphs (these subjects were already breached by himself on his own time). The difficult part came with practicing. What kind of idiot made it law to forbid students from casting outside of school? How are they supposed to learn on just theory? How on Earth can anyone expect their skills to stay up to par over the summer like this? ‘The students who come from magic families, I’m afraid, have a bit of an advantage over the other half-bloods and muggleborns. More so if the families are prominent.’ Dumbledore’s words echo in his memory. Despite knowing this information as fact, the only students Tom saw as truly utilizing this advantage were few. The rest did not apparently see fit to study harder or work at magic before coming to school. Well, either that or they were really that talentless.

Tom thinks it’s a bit of both.

Coming to Hogwarts has been more than an eye opener to the shades of grey that his previously black and white life held hidden. Children who were given everything on a platter: finances, resources, reputation, education...They are not all that they made themselves out to be. Not even half of them. They’re not even grateful for these gifts, for the silver spoon in their mouths, for their family name. The world owes them, not the other way around. At least his dirty orphanage held people who knew the value of these things. Of home. Money. Family. They had nothing, and knew what it was like to suddenly receive that nothing. It makes them--him--appreciate what little good they were able to grasp.

Even Hedwig, who is the exception, not the rule, chalks up her talent to blood and family, and nothing else. Haughty and brash, Tom knows he can make her grow complacent. Make her stop caring about top marks and besting him. Oh, you don’t need your grades, not with Acwellan pinned to the end of your name. Why bother with being first in class? You’ll be first in society. Laughable.Tom can hear her response in his head: ‘Stop talking nonsense, you stupid pillock, that might work on a Malfoy, but it won’t work on me, now pass me the woodworm.’

A small snort escapes his otherwise neutral composure. Ximena doesn’t comment on it.

Composing himself, he tries to focus on the reading again: an introduction to charming objects to do simple tasks. Roll over. Fold in on itself. Resist water...Standard for second years, he had already started practicing before he left (managed to get a pebble to twitch once, and have his quil to swirl lazily in the air), though undoubtedly he would have gotten further if he had more time (and for him, it always comes down to time). It would have been better if his damn partner was more helpful as well. Will he share charms class with Ravenclaws again next year? He had forgotten to ask, and he wants to plan ahead to try and butter Alder into letting him pick his seat. Charms will be easy, as will Potions (even if he wasn’t allowed to choose his seat there, Slughorn would indubitably bend the rules for him and Hedwig), but the real challenge will be Defence Against the Dark Arts. Merrythought has a strict alphabetical seating chart, despite allowing students to partner with whomever for practicals. His seatmate is so incompetent, that he feels like he practically leaps into Nemesis’ arms when it’s time to partner up (on that note, maybe that’s why she’s been a little too friendly, he’s conditioned her somehow…)

“Do houses stay the same in regards to sharing classes?” His little voice breaks the silence so suddenly, it seems to almost startle Ximena. It’s not like the times she has forgotten he was there, thank Merlin, but she does look a little miffed at being pulled from her book. Ah.

“It depends--Some years there’s too many in one house for the classes to be halved fairly. They change it as needed after sorting.”

“So, it only changes for the first years?”

“Mm...Not exactly.” He can tell he’s hooked her because she’s lowered her book just the slightest bit, “You see...and this is something Dumbledore told me...Our professors watch us. Our interactions with the houses in our classes and at meal times. They pair houses up in certain classes that have a good history of working well together.”

“Like Hufflepuff and Slytherin in Herbology?”

“Yes!” There’s that quiet excitement again. It excites him as well. “But, sometimes students within a certain year will defy that history, and they’ll switch and move our classes around until we reach harmony.”

Efficient. Doesn’t sound like something Hogwarts would do at all.

“Has there been a case of mixing class years? First and second years together?”

The book lowers further, “I believe in those first few years, when the school was founded, that they were more relaxed with that sort of thing. They were still figuring things out, I suppose.”

“Nothing in more...modern times?”

“Oh, there’s electives with few enough enrollments to see to that.” Her fingers drum over the hardcover, “Mmmm...Medicinal Sorcery, Muggle Studies, Gobbledygook--”

“What?”

“--It’s Goblin language, Casting and Textiles, Midwifery--”

“No no, sorry, I mean, Muggle Studies?

A blink, “Yes, of course.”

Tom’s face twists into something sour, “Why would anybody want to study Muggles?

Ximena looks as if she’s not quite sure how to answer, “It’s natural to be curious about what you don’t know about.” She pivots the book back and forth towards her chest and away, “It’s mostly for students who’ll choose a career that involves high Muggle traffic--Or remedial classes for the students who are the loudest about their...prejudices.” She clears her throat, “There’s talk about making it a required class.”

Amazing.

“And what about the muggleborns? The half-bloods?” He can’t help it, he can hear the worry slip into his voice.

“Most of them will take the class for an easy pass.” Her tone is that of disapproval, “They’re in for a nasty shock--Muggle culture...human culture isn’t all the same.”

“...It’s not a monolith.”

Her eyes are on him again, and he is pleased.

“Monolith.”

“Indivisible. Uniform. One.”

She nods, “Human culture is not a monolith.”

He’s want to disagree--Humans...Muggles are filthy, selfish creatures. But he’ll keep that thought to himself. At least, that was the plan, but he’s so riled up. So impassioned. So goddamn bewildered that even in his safest of all places...Even in his haven, his sanctum, his asylum, he might be forced to be reminded of his life before. Of what he has to go back to term after term for the next six years of his life. To read and be preached about how ‘we must co-exist with Muggles’. He opens his mouth and is immediately interrupted by the train’s whistle, announcing their arrival. It is an ugly sound. Cursed. He can’t even remember months ago when it was a blessed one, broadcasting his coming to Hogwarts.

The change in wind is evident. “...My first year is over,” his gaze hardens as the train approaches the station, “it’s over and gone.”

“Was it all you wanted it to be?”

Maybe. Memories of the last few months flying through his thoughts; it seems to him that the year could have given him anything and he’d be completely happy with it. Anything is glorious compared to where he came from. “Yes.”

“Most feel that way--Especially after flying for the first time.”

Tom’s first flying lesson was interesting. The broom provided by the school didn’t seem to care much for him and instead much preferred to do whatever it wanted. If only he could just fly without a broom, that beautiful rush of wind and adrenaline was addicting.

“--I liked receiving my wand for the first time.”

“Yes, I hear it’s a very impactful moment.”

“You hear?” His fingers itch, he feels restless.

“Oh.” She’d spoken too much? What was that tone? “Right.”

“You didn’t buy your wand at Olivander’s?” He had an inkling, but no confirmation. Others’ wands don’t look like hers, but few and far inbetween have wands as unique as hers. His partner in charms had one made of coral, of all things.

“No.” Was that shame in her voice? “I--”

The sharp whistle of the train cuts her off, and he feels like giving a loud exclamation of frustration, but is stopped by his composure. The whistle saved him once, and damned him another.

The happy chatterings of all the students on the train mock him. The eager faces of friends and family on the platform are the faces of a jeering crowd. The cold empty space left beside him as Ximena rises to grab her trunk serve as the last awful awful reminder that he is on the last leg of his trip. He is finally on his way back to Wool’s. For real.

When he says good-bye to Ximena on the platform, he looks about as vulnerable as a boy of twelve can. A few meters back, he can see a nun dressed in blue and white with a jade rosary, and he assumes she is here for his classmate. Tom resists the urge to set her on fire.

“We’ll see each other again.” He drinks in the words. They come as a surprise. He knows they are true, but somehow it feels like a lie when they come out of her mouth.

“I know.” A little frown, “You won’t forget me, right?” A teasing, light jest. Hiding a very real concern.

“I can’t promise that.”

Tom doesn’t like that.

It is raining in London. This itself, is not at all noteworthy. Tom has seen many rainy days before this, and he will (regrettably) see many more after. The drops and streams that form on the glass of the taxi window are unremarkable. He races some drops against one another absentmindedly, only half paying attention to the grey world outside and the people in it. Their faces pass by in blurs, he’s unable to identify any real features, and after a while, he grows uncomfortable at the thought that maybe they were all staring at him.

He turns his head forward for the rest of the trip.

Surprising him is how surprised he is that Wool’s has not changed in the slightest in his absence. A part of him has been hoping it had burned to the ground or was destroyed in a freak earthquake, but that wasn’t a part of the surprise. The surprise came to him in part because as he attended school, Wool’s began to feel more and more further away. A bad dream. An imaginary place. But standing here at these iron gates shows him that this place is as concrete as the blocks it was built with. It is not leaving anytime soon. It is not changing anytime soon.

Even his room is as he left it, everyone being too afraid to step inside it in his absence. A light layer of dust blankets over his bed and desk, and as he runs a finger along the later, he muses over his study spots back at Hogwarts. Will they too be dusty when he returns to them? Or will they be kept spotless by some sort of magic? Will house elves dust them off just before students are allowed to return?

He sets his trunk on his bed (a cloud of dust erupts and makes him cough) and sifts through his possessions: school books, letters, and the secondhand robes he obtained in Diagon Alley. He spends the entire afternoon organizing and settling back into the room and tidying up. The last thing he puts away at the bottom of his dresser, deep in the corner, is a small, flat, grey box. Then, he opens the pouch in which he has been keeping the bracelet, lays back on his bed (it creaks under his weight,) and holds it up in the fading glow of the sun.

A featherweight charm had been placed on it prior to leaving Hogwarts, but even now he can feel it wearing off--He knows he did it right, it was flawless actually. It should last weeks--months at a time. But now, hours after departing his home, the bracelet has fought back. It weighs as much as a can of beans now, he reckons. In a few more hours, it will weigh more than him.

It’s strange, if he holds it close, holds it right in his grasp and concentrates. Closes his eyes and shuts out all other thoughts, he can still sense Ximena’s magic on it. Flowing and dripping. It grows faint but remains strong. The light of a distant star. If he holds it right under his nose, the bracelet smells of mint and soap. Clean. Fresh. Meanwhile, his own trunk smells of mothballs and cotton. He’d have to see if there’s any scent charms to help out with that.

He does not leave his room until dinner.

Summer at Wool’s is unbearable. Now that he has had a taste of where he truly belongs, it makes the ugly walls of his prison even more horrible. There is only relief in having the other children go even more out of their way to avoid him. They look at him like someone come back from the grave. Good. He spends the rest of summer communicating with his classmates at Hogwarts.

Ximena does not send a single crow to Wool’s.
♠ ♠ ♠
[1] In case y'all didn't remember: Hedwig has an elder sister. See chapter 2, where she and Ximena duel.

Did I delay this chapter due to lack of reviews? Yes. I'm okay with this chapter, but I want to edit it down and rewrite it one day...

WHEW. Hope I made y'all feel bad for Tom there--I even had Lion feeling sad for him, and all I hear from her is how much she hates him, lmao.