tbh I can't say I'm super thrilled about this chapter, but it was hitting 14k and I still hadn't gotten to where I wanted, so -.- Maybe I'll go back and edit it at a later date, but for now I'm just done lol. I got it out before xmas, so I'm satisfied.

/

The encounter leaves her with far less anger, and far more confusion than she would like. The man is insufferable, and at this point Harry feels as if she should give up trying to figure out his motivations.

Would he really come all this way and concoct such an elaborate scheme, only to let her go, just like that? Maybe he was allergic to tears, Harry thinks with an amused snort. That would explain a lot. He looked positively shell-shocked when she started to cry— completely beside himself and at a total loss as to what to do. He tried to comfort her anyway, though. Harry blushes, refusing to think about that. The lap-sitting incident is one she will take to her grave.

Why did I let him do that? She scowls at herself, blushing harder.

Because she was upset, that's why. Upset and overwhelmed and trying so hard to remain unaffected by it all— not just for her sake but for Tom's as well— with no outlet and no one to confide in. Unfortunately, it all just happened to culminate at the most inconvenient time. Of course the dark lord wasn't exactly helping, what with badgering her for answers she didn't (and couldn't) give.

And does she handle this like a reasonable adult? Of course not. Instead she just bursts into spontaneous tears.

He was… surprisingly kind about it, she finds herself musing, as she walks down the halls in search of her room.

He could have used her distress as an opportunity to wheedle through her defenses, but he didn't. He might have been too shocked and horrified to do so, or alternatively, he could have displayed some amount of civility and decided to back off. Harry didn't know, and she wouldn't know unless she asked. And there was no way she was going to do that.

At any rate, he was rather kind— and not at all what she had expected.

To be fair, they had only met in person all of three times, and each time had been brief. When she thinks back on it, he had certainly been demanding, but aside from the time he had shot the killing curse at her, he's never seemed outright hostile.

Somehow during her train of thought she ends up going in the completely wrong direction to her rooms, ending up at the entrance to the women's bath instead. Harry debates for a moment, before deciding she could use a nice bath, and heads inside. She doesn't want to return to Tom while she's so out of sorts like this, anyway. The boy is too perceptive for his own good.

The bath cheers her up, sort of.

It also gives her far too long to think, which is the last thing Harry wants to do. She's been exerting a lot of effort into not thinking lately, she's beginning to notice.

Eventually all the steam and heat gets to her head and she has to get out.

Harry's not sure whether she's relieved or not to see Tom fast asleep with his head on the table. That cursed book is by his side, still open on whatever page he'd left it on. Harry very consciously doesn't look at it as she gently tugs Tom towards his futon and tucks him in. She probably doesn't need to read it, anyhow. She probably already knows its contents front to back, in the same intrinsic way she commands the dead, and returns from the arms of death on a regular basis.

Harry snorts, letting out a huff of air that fluffs up the stray hairs escaping her messy bun. Yeah, so much for not thinking about it.

It's not going anywhere, she reasons to herself. There's really no reason to worry about it right at this very moment.

.

.

.

Harry refuses to let her odd encounter with the dark lord affect the rest of their vacation. Or any of her odd encounters, really. She tucks that stupid book away before Tom can resume where he left off come morning and spend the rest of the day with his nose in it. She and Tom wake up early for a spread of breakfast laid out for them. Tom scrunches his nose and pokes and prods at his breakfast with his chopsticks, looking at it as he would a science experiment. Harry thinks this is more or less her fault, for always adhering to his wishes in regards to food instead of forcing him to try new things. Normally his curiosity is enough to get him to try things at least once, but apparently two weeks of odd foods all day long is about as much as he can handle.

"Do they have pancakes here?" He asks, plaintively.

Harry shakes her head. "I really doubt it, Tomcat."

He pouts. "Cereal? Bread?"

She stifles a laugh. "I don't think they'd have that either. Didn't you look this up already? The staple grain of east Asia is rice."

"I think I'm done with rice." Tom announces, moodily. "It tastes like nothing."

"Well we've only got a few more days of this, so just try to eat it." Harry replies, exasperated. "And speaking of, what did you want to do today?"

Tom beams at her. "Monkey mountain!"

Harry should have expected this.

Oh great, she thinks, exasperated. The last thing she needs are poop flinging monkeys in her life.

.

.

.

Despite his overwhelming excitement for term to resume, Tom finds himself oddly despondent come the end of their vacation. It seems as if they've been gone for ages, and yet not nearly long enough. It leaves him out of sorts for weeks afterwards.

The vacation might be over, but Tom thinks he got what he wanted out of it— and then some. He learned a lot of valuable knowledge.

Spot, predictably, was not enthused with being left to his own devices for such a long stretch of time. Unmoved, Harry points out he's a carnivorous snake who knows damn well how to catch his own food. Spot complains regardless. Tom ignores all of that, excited to show his snake his new magic carpet. They fly around the yard in a few lazy loops, until Spot decides he prefers to be on the ground. He has a lot of cool new trinkets to show the snake, but unsurprisingly Spot doesn't care much for interesting books or exotic artifacts. He is more disappointed that they neglected to bring him any exotic food to go along with all these exotic gifts. All the same, he's very excited with them, and even more excited to bring them to school and show them off.

He has a lot of other things to be excited over, and more than plenty to be apprehensive over.

Tom isn't entirely sure if his vacation has left him with answers or just more questions.

The 'Tale of the Three Brothers' showed up in every country they went to, in some way, shape, or form. The vampires in Mongolia had told him a similar story; it wasn't the exact same, but there were still three cursed, greedy siblings that all inevitably met their end. The monk's version didn't have any people at all; supposedly the artifacts of Death were always around since the dawn of time, and they were not the same artifacts— a mystical screen, a magical staff, a jewel in a tiara. Now Tom understood what Ruth's brother meant when he said it was a tale not unknown to history. There has to be some truth in the myth, although Tom isn't sure how to confirm what is fact, and what has been twisted with the passage of time. The symbol, though. That was irrefutable. He'd seen it in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Unfortunately, its meaning was not explained.

And beyond this Hallows business, there was, of course, Harry herself.

Harry was… something. Although Tom had absolutely no idea what.

Was Harry even human?

It sounded like a silly question to ask, but upon further deliberation Tom realized he doesn't actually know where Harry comes from, or who she is, really. What she is. What she could be. She just— just appeared one day emerging out of the fog as if she had existed there for all of eternity. He remembers those days vividly; the longing, the waiting, the curious, unexplained comings and goings. It could have just been simple apparition, of course, but for some reason Tom can't believe that. It was like Harry wasn't even real, shifting in and out of reality itself.

How old was she? He didn't actually know. She'd told him a number, but that could easily be a lie.

Was she really a Potter? Everyone seemed to assume so, and Harry had never confirmed nor denied the claim. But she also never confirmed nor denied Harry Riddle, and she wears that name so easily, as if it truly is her name. And Tom knows that's not true, so who's to say she isn't simply lying about being Harry Potter, in the same, effortless way she lies about being Harry Riddle?

And on top of all that there are the strange happenings of their vacation. The undead army responding to her as if she was their queen; the reverential monks who worshipped her as some kind of deity— those were not mere coincidences.

So Tom has a lot of questions, and even more suspicions, and he's not sure what to do with them.

Should he confront Harry? No, absolutely not. Beneath it all Tom is still the cold and pragmatic orphan that has learned to look out for himself, and himself alone. No one else mattered at the end of the day, no matter how much he was attached to them. Even Harry. And the possible outcomes of confronting Harry were too varied for Tom to risk it. What if Harry got angry with him? Genuinely angry? She could react poorly— maybe even so poorly that she decides she no longer wants to keep him. She's reassured him time and again she will never leave him, but at the end of the day Tom can't trust that. He's never made Harry exceptionally angry, or even overly upset. And he knew humans reacted in severe and often extreme ways when they were backed into a corner.

Anyway, risking his current livelihood because of a curiosity— no matter how fervent it was— wasn't worth it.

So he can't ask Harry directly. And these days, he's not even sure if he can ask anyone, period. He's not the only one who's recognized that there is something special about Harry. He's pretty sure he's the only one who knows just how special she is, and actually has proof to back it up, but he doesn't want to tip his hand to anyone. He's going to have to be very careful when he goes about his research once term resumes.

All this just means that he can't do anything at the moment, stuck in that odd limbo between vacation and the beginning of term. Summer break is the worst. It's so hot out he doesn't want to go outside, even though it's already September, but if he stays in here any longer he might just start chewing his hair out of boredom. To make matters worse Harry returned immediately to work, and has lately been leaving early and coming home later than usual, so Tom is almost always left to his own devices.

He sits morosely at the kitchen table, picking idly through a book on the history of Eastern Asia, feeling restless and bored out of his skull. Spot curls around his legs, whining about the heat outside. This speaks volumes to the temperature outside, since Spot is a reptile and is always on the hunt for ways to leech body heat from Tom and Harry.

"The sun will go down soon," Tom replies, although even then he doubts he'd be willing to leave the comfort of the air conditioned indoors. "It'll be better then and you can go outside and catch something to eat."

Spot shoves his nose atop Tom's knees, staring at him blandly. "I want your human meat," he says, pettily.

"Don't you dare." Tom scowls. "Harry will be furious if you try to open the freezer again and melt everything in it."

"She won't even be home to know it." Spot points out, which only makes him more irritated. These past few days Harry hasn't even returned until well past dinner, so he and Spot have been on their own.

Tom doesn't answer that, declaring menacingly; "If you even try it I'll lock you out outside." He warns.

Spot is a snake so he doesn't really have expressions, yet somehow he still looks baleful.

Tom sighs, wishing he could be anywhere but here right now. School can't come fast enough.

.

.

.

The coffee machine in front of her makes an ominous hiss, before a steady stream of dark liquid steams out from her cup. Harry watches it all blankly. Her hands are shaking.

She's done a good job so far of just shoving all her thoughts into the corner of her mind, so she's not entirely sure why she's failing now. It's as if she's finally tried to stuff so much back there that it just burst open like a broken dam. This was bound to happen eventually. Although she's not entirely sure why it happened at this moment, in the middle of the workday, as she sluggishly makes another coffee to combat the afternoon haze. Harry is normally quite good at pretending to be a Muggle during the workday, so she's not sure how thoughts of being the Master of Death have seeped into what is usually a safe haven away from her magical troubles.

But the Master of Death is clearly not something she can compartmentalize. It's not some alternate personality that only comes out with a special ritual or magical ring and fancy costume, it's not some strange entity possessing her, it's nothing foreign, period. It's just her. It's always been her.

Great, she thinks, defeated. So basically I've always been God.

How the hell is she supposed to wrap her mind around that?

She slumps forward, forehead thumping against the cabinet in front of her. The coffee continues to slurp it's way out of the machine.

How is she supposed to just accept this? How is she supposed to come to terms with what she is, without feeling absolutely terrified? This was beyond human comprehension, so much so that it made her head hurt. She feels helpless and impotent; she never wanted this. She still doesn't. Why did it have to be her? Why can't she just live a (relatively) normal life with a normal nine to five, raising a normal(ish) child?

" — Harry?"

Harry all but leaps in surprise, so startled she almost drops her coffee cup. She tries valiantly to collect herself, trying to pretend as if she wasn't just having an epic existential crisis in the middle of the break room. She turns to the side,sending a shaky smile to the person calling her name. "Y— yes?"

Harry thinks she knows him. He works for the marketing department, or something. His face is familiar enough. She's fairly sure they've made awkward small talk in an elevator before. His name is Mark, or Matt, or something.

"Um… Are you okay?" The question is perfunctory enough, so Harry merely waves it off with a bigger smile.

"Yes, yes, totally fine. Just— spacing out. The afternoon slump is getting to me." She laughs uneasily.

He still stares at her, as if he wants something. It puts Harry on edge. She feels like he knows, somehow. As if her thoughts were so loud everyone in the building could hear them— like they were so damning she would live in fear of them for the rest of her life.

Then he just blinks. "Oh. Well do you mind if I use the keurig?" He points to the coffee maker she's standing in front of.

She suddenly feels very stupid.

"Right, right— sorry about that." Harry steps out of the way, gesturing towards it. He was probably just wondering why she was spacing out in front of the coffee maker for the better part of a half hour. She wonders how long he was just standing there, politely waiting for her to move. God, that's embarrassing.

She decides a hasty retreat might be her best option right now.

She's out of the kitchen in record time, running a frazzled hand through her hair.

When she gets back to her desk, and the endless inbox of emails waiting for her, she realizes trying to work right now is a lost cause. Instead she takes her coffee and decides to take a walk around the block. Hopefully some fresh air will cool her head.

Muggle Boston is loud and windy, but that's no surprise. The sun shines without warmth on this chilly afternoon, bright enough to warrant a pair of sunglasses, but not enough to deter her from walking out without them anyway.

By Merlin, what is she supposed to do?

She thought all her problems were over. She thought the prophecy was the be all end all of her life. As it turns out, it didn't even scrape the surface; Voldemort has ended up being the least of her worries. But taking his place is an equally aggravating Dark Lord and the very real reality of her 'condition'. The whole not being able to die thing has been a subject of fascination— and occasionally hilarity— between she and her friends, but now the thought is accompanied by a cold, shaking fear. What if she's stuck like this forever? Immortality is terrifying. And that's to say nothing of the other undiscovered powers of the Master of Death. It's clear being the Master of Death is more than just an uncanny ability to not die from the killing curse. She's never tried, but what if nothing can kill her? She always assumed her appalling lack of dying was more to do with the method involved than the actual act of dying itself. She had survived the killing curse as a baby, and every subsequent killing curse ever aimed towards her since, but what if it was more than that? What if it had nothing to do with the killing curse, but just death in general?

She pauses in the middle of the crowded street, tilting her head up into the sky. What is she going to do if she's forever stuck beneath this bright blue sky?

Harry doesn't feel any better by the time she gets back to her desk.

She wishes she could tell someone, but the muggles around her would look at her with bewilderment if she even tried to broach the subject. And the thought of telling Ron and Hermione made her wary and uneasy. She didn't want to worry them— and she knew they would be worried beyond all reason if they found out everything that happened, odd occurrences during vacation and all. But she didn't have anyone else to tell.

She's surrounded by people— coworkers, friends, an entire city of people. Beyond that, she's finally found a family to call her own, a close bond of friendship, a clan of redheads, and a place in the world. She's not a little lost and forgotten girl locked in a cupboard anymore.

And yet, she's never felt more alone.

She's still in this odd out of sorts state of reality when she's called in to a sales meeting, picking up her computer and following her coworkers in a daze.

It quickly clears up once she catches on to the matter at hand.

"Me?" She blinks out of her stupor, with a look that might seem like shock but is actually pure terror.

All eyes around the meeting table turn to her. Some with envy, some with excitement, and others with plain bewilderment.

"Yes— you have a great relationship with the portfolio companies and the customer, it would be ideal to have you there setting up and attending meetings." Her boss says, and she's fairly sure it's a compliment but it doesn't really feel like one.

Sure, that doesn't really sound all that different than what she does now. Basically it's a lot of emailing people and talking to people and conference calls that seem to drag on forever— but she's always managed to do it from within the comfortable confines of her office desk and the hours from nine to five. And she's always been here. Not halfway across the country.

"I see." Harry manages to reply, put on the spot and unable to say no.

The woman directs her attention to some of the outside reps then, moving on to another topic.

"Reinvent is arguably the biggest conference of the year," Madison, one of the coworkers she's closest to, says as they walk out of the meeting. "It's a great opportunity."

Harry only nods absently. Madison isn't wrong, a transition from inside rep to outside rep is basically a promotion, and it seems like this is a solid step in that direction. Actually going out and conducting business deals herself sounds appealing, until she remembers she's not really in any position to be putting her career first. She has a child to raise— a child that, incidentally, she's raising almost half a century in the past!

And on the subject of that child, what is she going to tell Tom? What is she going to do with him? Can she really leave a child his age alone for that amount of time?

It's not for a couple months; I can figure that out later, Harry thinks. Her life was complicated enough as it is already, she can worry about that when she's over fretting over her very existence.

.

.

.

Term resumes with Harry in an odd mood and Tom in a decidedly sullen one, and Tom isn't entirely sure what to do to get them out of this.

Nothing has really changed; he still snuggles in with Harry at night, and she still reads to him when he asks her. Spot, if possible, has grown larger, to the point Harry often just shoves him off the bed and calls it a day. His first day of school comes and goes more or less as it had last year; Harry drops him off and says hello to his new teachers for the coming year, and comes to pick him up from school at the end of the day. The only real difference is that she's being chatted up by a blathering Charlotte Washington when Tom finds her; he also can't help but think more people are watching her than usual. That could just be paranoia, but since Tom is a cautious and wary individual by nature he can't help but think his suspicion is not unwarranted.

They still go on the occasional weekend outing— once to Cape Cod at the end of the summer, and another foray into New York City— and although Harry doesn't outwardly act any different, Tom can't help but think she's still shaken up about something.

This only solidifies his determination not to ask her about what happened on their summer vacation. He doesn't like seeing Harry so despondent and pensive. He doesn't like it at all. It makes him feel restless, like he doesn't know what to do with himself. It takes a while for him to identify what it is he's feeling— he's worried. He's never been worried about anyone before; anyone other than himself, that is. It's unsurprising that the first (and only) person he's ever cared enough to worry about would be Harry.

He makes it a point to ignore Margaret from the get go, still angry at her for manipulating him. It's petty, but he hates the idea of someone getting the better of him. He vows to never make that same mistake again. Margaret is useful, but only as far as her intelligence and wealth will get her. She is nothing but a pawn at the end of the day, and Tom should have known better than to trust her even a little bit.

He makes it a point to avoid all of them, actually. Ruth and Margaret are predictably unbearable, and even the relative solace of Washy and Wesley is not enough to keep all the girls in his new class at bay. Apparently, hanging around the 'aristocratic' Washy and the 'handsome' Wesley is making him even more popular than usual.

He thought he was doing an admirably job of it. Ignoring them, focusing in on what truly matters.

Or so he thought, anyway. Turns out humans tend to be empathetic and unpredictable creatures— himself included, unfortunately.

The new school year brought about many changes, not the least of which was the fact Tom had ceased to belong to the elementary school and was now placed in some kind of weird limbo called 'junior high'.

No one but Tom was surprised to hear it— he didn't remember hearing anything like this in England. Of course, Tom hadn't attended any educational systems at the orphanage anyhow, but it's not as if he was blind or deaf to the world around him. He was always infinitely jealous of the normal children from normal families, walking around in their school uniforms without realizing just how lucky they were to be wearing them. He remembers primary schools, and afterwards vocational schools, and if you were very lucky or very talented (or very rich) then there was university after that. Despite its odd and rather vague subheader, Tom quickly decided he liked this concept, if only because it awarded him more freedom than his previous status as 'elementary' student did.

Instead of having broad-sweeping, general courses working as introductions to certain branches of magic, students could now start choosing some of their own courses. Or rather, the more zealous students could. Predictably, Washy was more than happy to stick to the standard schedule provided by the school. Others, like Tom and Margaret, were all too eager to tailor their schedules to their own interests.

"What are you choosing, Tom?" Ruth prods immediately, once their homeroom teacher hands out the course listings and leaves them all to decide.

Tom scowls at her, busy reading through the list. It wasn't as expansive as it would be once he was finally in the elusive 'high school', but it still gave him ample opportunity to choose courses closer aligned to his interests.

"I'm not sure yet," he replies coolly, intentionally vague. He doesn't want her picking the same ones as him solely because he's in them.

"This is an outrage," Margaret cries from his left, looking absolutely livid.

It's enough to cause Tom's inquisitiveness to win over his stewing anger, and he turns to her with curiosity. "What's wrong?"

She throws down her pamphlet in disgust, crossing her arms. "My father will hear about this," she promises darkly, with a look that means the school will lose a significant amount of funding if they dare to defy her.

"Hear about what?" Tom scowls as he rolls his eyes; how typical of Margaret to throw around her family's wealth to suit her demands.

"Sewing?" She seethes with so much rage Tom swears the air around her is starting to burn with the heat of her anger. "Cleaning? Cooking? Just who do they take me for?"

Ruth blinks, confused. "You don't want to take cooking?" She asks, genuinely surprised.

Margaret turns to her with all the ire of a dragon guarding her eggs. "No, I do not want to take cooking." She hisses through gritted teeth, looking as if it's taking a lot of willpower not to shout. "I do not want to be trained to sit in a house all day. The fact that these courses are mandatory for girls is appalling. You don't see Tom or Washy having to take cooking, do you?"

Ruth looks at her blankly. Tom, at least, can privately agree with her. That's ridiculous.

With a look of stunning apathy, she crumples the paper in her hands; within moments it erupts into flames, causing the students around them to jump in surprise. It's a rather impressive display of wandless magic, although Tom supposes Margaret looks angry enough to warrant it.

Their new teacher— a frazzled looking young man who has already elicited Tom's distaste by fawning over Harry the day prior— comes over with a look of concern. "Miss Buchanan?" He asks, hesitantly. "Is everything alright? Are you okay?"

Margaret stares up at him with a look that could kill lesser men. "No, Mr. Kleeman, I am not okay. In fact, I believe I was given the wrong course listing."

He stares at her, uncomprehending.

"I would like the boy's courses, thank you." She says, primly, as she crosses her legs and folds her arms.

The man looks awkward. "Well… that is…"

She holds out her hand with such imperiousness Tom has to stifle a laugh. She looks for all the world like a self-righteous Queen waiting for the rest of the world to serve her.

It's more than enough to cow their spineless teacher into fetching her a new course pamphlet.

Despite conclusively winning against the school and its stupid rules, Margaret does not look particularly pleased. Her mood turns sour for the rest of the day; so sour that her gaggle of pandering girl classmates avoid her like the plague. Tom tries to ignore it, even though they end up picking the same classes and being stuck with each other the whole day. It's unfair, but it's not any of his business. What does he care, anyway? It's not even as if he likes Margaret.

And yet he can't help thinking what it would be like if Harry was in Margaret's place. Harry in a schoolgirl outfit and bouncy red pigtails being denied a chance to reach her own potential because she's got a girl's outfit on and not a boy's.

So Tom and Margaret are not friends, but after their classes are over for the day instead of going home immediately Tom stays after school with her and watches her throw fireballs into the lake on the school grounds. The day is bitter and grey, and seems suitable considering her mood.

Harry said the lake in Hogwarts was home to all sorts of creatures, including an elusive giant squid, and a whole colony of merpeople. Tom hopes no such creatures exist in the perfectly manicured gardenscape of Wolcroft, because he has no qualms in following Margaret's lead and causing a few lighting strikes to hit the lake. Margaret watches him with some strange combination of fascination and envy; Tom wonders what she's so envious about. His gender, or his apparently rare affinity towards lightning? He supposes it's probably a combination of both.

They're not friends, and he doesn't like her, and he doesn't trust her. For some reason, that doesn't stop him from confessing; "Harry never took cooking or cleaning, or sewing."

Margaret stares at him with big eyes. It's only September, but the wintry chill blowing down the manicured lawns is enough to make him wish for a coat.

"She doesn't really care what anyone thinks of her, either." He adds. "Stuff like that never slows her down."

He's not sure why he's even bothering to do this; Margaret doesn't deserve to know anything about Harry. He has a feeling Harry is rubbing off on him— he would never voluntarily try to comfort someone like this otherwise. Harry tries to teach him all sorts of things, like morality and being nice to people and treating others well even if they're mean to you. He doesn't believe in the validity of any of it, unless for purposes of manipulation. Tom supposes he could brush this off as just another act he puts on to further his own aims. After all, he might not like her much right now, but Margaret will probably be very useful in the future.

His gaze slides to the girl next to him.

Or maybe in the not so far off future…

"I'm sure she wouldn't mind teaching you a few things," Tom suggests, leadingly.

"Really?" Margaret looks excited.

"Sure— she's all about female empowerment," Tom shrugs. That's not even a lie.

"That would be so nice," Margaret breathes, clapping her hands. "I'd love to pick her brain… what does she say in job interviews? What does she wear to work? Does she let people kiss her hand or prefer a handshake?"

"Well, I can ask her for you, of course…" Tom's gaze turns sly as he stuffs his hands into his pocket and looks back towards the lake. "If you do something for me, that is."

He sees Margaret stiffen by his side. She's silent as she thinks it over. "What would you want me to do?"

"I propose an exchange," he announces, boldly. "You can meet with Harry, and in return, you tell me everything you know about why your father would bother sniffing around the house of a woman he's never met before."

Margaret looks indignant for a moment. Then she just scowls.

"I've told you this before, I don't know what he wants from her." She sighs deeply, before adding, "And quite honestly, I don't think he's the one who's really looking for information."

Tom straightens up abruptly. "Is that so?" He asks calmly, maintaining his composure.

Margaret flicks her finger, causing a little plume of fire to light on her fingertips. She watches it idly as she replies, "He has a lot of business associates, you know."

"Yes, I would imagine," Tom agrees, impatient.

Margaret doesn't share his urgency, wiggling her fingers around to make the ball of flame dance up and down her hand. It's a fancy demonstration of wandless magic, and again, Tom isn't surprised to find Margaret capable of it, even at their age. She's the only one who rivals himself, after all. It does irritate him a bit though; with an element as difficult and temperamental as lightning, he most likely will never be able to harness it in quite the same way.

"He didn't want a girl," she says suddenly, on a completely different tangent. Tom frowns, confused.

"My father, I mean. Of course he didn't— who would? You can't hand your company over to a girl." Her expression turns pinched, gaze still focused on the flame in her hand. "He wanted a boy, an heir to pass down his legacy," she pauses. "I'm sure he still does."

Tom doesn't say anything, frowning deeper as he wonders why she's even bothering to tell him this.

"My parents would never dare to have another child, though." With a snap of her fingers, the flame is abruptly snuffed out. She turns to Tom. "Do you know why?"

His brow furrows. "No, not really."

"Of course you don't." She rolls her eyes. "Harry might not be your real mom, but you did say your mom was a witch. If she had another child, more than likely it would be just as magical as you are; my parents don't have the luxury of that confidence. Even if they wanted a boy to replace me, they couldn't be certain he would be a wizard, so they thought it better not to risk it."

This gives Tom pause. "That certainly didn't stop Ruth's parents." He points out; all of those siblings were magical, even though their parents weren't.

Margaret shrugs. "No one really knows what causes magicals to be born from non-magicals. But magic is a prestigious privilege, and my parents were ecstatic to know I was a witch. Most of the American aristocracy is magical, so they were thrilled to be able to join such a selective group, even if it was only by proxy."

"This is great and all, but I don't see how this has anything to do with Harry," Tom interrupts, testily.

Margaret huffs, crossing her arms. "My point is that my family is in a precarious position, in the magical world. Sure, my parents are very wealthy and influential, but they're not magical. And there are people in the magical world that… well, that you just don't say no to."

Tom's eyes widen with alarm. "People like who?"

Margaret tilts her head, consideringly. "Well, our Headmaster, for one. My father is always telling me to act 'appropriately for a lady' and be respectful in his presence." She uses her fingers to put up quotation marks in the air as she says this, rolling her eyes.

Tom could have guessed that one. One doesn't become the head of an elite school like Wolcroft without being influential. Although he does wonder, just what level does one have to be, to get to that point? And how long would it take him to get there?

"And— that other man."

Tom is stirred out of his thoughts. "What other man?"

"That handsome blonde man, the one that was talking to Harry at our graduation ceremony."

Tom feels his stomach drop. He knew it. He knew there was something off about that man… something dangerous and predatory.

"What about him?" He asks, stiffly.

"I've seen him with my father a few times." She reveals. "Usually they talk about automobiles and other kinds of machinery. But I know he's a very powerful and important figure, especially in Europe. He has a winter gala every year in St. Petersburg— it's basically the red carpet event of the entire winter season."

Tom wrinkles his nose. "What's a 'red carpet'?"

Margaret shakes her head. "Honestly Tom, do you live under a rock or something?" She laments, dramatically, "It just means it's the most important event of the winter season— you know what that is, don't you?"

Tom stares at her blankly. "The season that comes after autumn?"

The deadpan look Margaret gives him is answer enough. "Do you pay attention in our history lessons? Ever since the age of antiquity winter has been known to hold a variety of important holidays all across the world—

"I'm aware of that," Tom retorts, offended. "Saturnalia, Yule, Christmas—

"Yes, yes, and because of that it's become a very important piece of political campaigns," Margaret cuts in. "All these holidays are just excuses for the rich and the powerful to get together and network to further their own games, consolidate agendas, fundraise and strike deals; and trust me when I say Lord Grindelwald's Yuletide gala is the golden ticket of them all."

"Grindelwald?" Tom repeats. "Is that his name?"

"Lord Grindelwald," Margaret corrects with emphasis.

"Right, Lord Grindelwald." Tom repeats, irked slightly at the idea of calling anyone a lord. He didn't bow down to anyone, least of all some jerk off hanging around Harry. "So he's pretty important, huh?"

"That would be putting it lightly." Margaret returns drily, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her petticoat.

Tom waits impatiently for her to continue, but doesn't move to press the issue. He's already getting pretty valuable information out of her, and he doesn't want to risk losing an opportunity for more. It's actually cold enough today that he almost wishes he brought a scarf or something, and it's mildly uncomfortable to be sitting here at the edge of the lake, with the wind at full force.

Finally she continues; "He asked about her." She admitted, finally, to his alarm.

He struggled to find a response for a moment, too caught up in pushing down his own rising fear. "...Why?" He managed to ask, after a long beat.

"Like I said before, I don't really know." She retorts hotly. "I think she's all fine and dandy or whatever, but I really don't see why someone like Lord Grindelwald would ask after her specifically. Why does he care?"

I know why. He thinks, hysterically.

In his head there's a symbol all but burned into his mind, legions of undead kneeling in front of their queen, the reverent looks of the monks at the temple as they gazed upon her.

He knows very well why someone that powerful would be interested in her. What he doesn't understand is how the man knows. And just what does he know? He must know something, to be so invested in her. Does he know Harry's secrets? The ones Tom doesn't even know?

"I don't really get it either." Tom says instead, making a valiant effort to shove down his growing hysteria. "Maybe he's just a weirdo."

Margaret looks scandalized. "Don't say that!" She hisses, looking around as if she think someone can hear them. She leans closer to him then, looking wary. "He's not someone to cross, Tom."

Tom watches her with a narrow, thoughtful gaze. He doesn't think he's ever seen Margaret look worried or scared about anything, but she sure looks apprehensive now.

"Okay, whatever." He allows, after a beat, shrugging.

"I'm being serious!" The blonde girl looks irritated that he would brush her warning off so cavalierly; she also looks as if she wants to add more. She shifts her weight on her shiny new oxfords in a decidedly nervous manner. "He's— " She cuts herself off, pursing her lips.

"He's what?" Tom prods, impatiently.

She bites her lip, looking conflicted. "He's the dark lord, Tom." She reveals, finally.

Tom's eyes widen dramatically. He knows what that means. This is a dark-oriented school, after all.

"You can't cross him, do you understand?" She urges him quietly. "No one can. He's really, really dangerous."

It's exactly the kind of information he was fishing for, but now he isn't sure if he really wanted to know it.

He hides his alarm behind a mask of indifference, nodding. "I understand."

Margaret returns his nod with an austere look, before drawing away and releasing a breath. "Well, I think I've let my driver wait long enough." She says, as she turns away from the lake.

Tom follows her back to the school. "I'll invite you over soon so you can meet with Harry," he says, holding up his end of the deal.

Margaret hums in agreement, before glancing his way. "Oh good. But you know, that wasn't why I told you all this."

"It wasn't?" Tom frowns, confused.

She rolls her eyes. "Are you really so obtuse you can't understand the concept of friendship? If you keep up this ignorance, I really will beat you for first place in grades this year."

Tom blinks in surprise, thrown off guard. Then he scowls. "As if I'd let you."

The girl laughs and grins at him; the brightest— and only— smile he's seen on her all day. It shouldn't matter to him, but somehow it makes him feel better anyway.

.

.

.

Harry checks her schedule once, twice, and a third time when she gets home. This is about as good as it's going to get, unfortunately.

Now that her hotel and travel arrangements are set in stone, she decides she can't drag her feet about it any longer and will have to tell Tom when he arrives home. He's later than usual, which is surprising. Maybe she should go to his school and check up on him? She can't imagine he's got an afterschool detention. More than likely he was holed up in the library and had simply forgotten the time.

As if on cue, the fireplace erupts with green light, and Tom steps out of the floo. He looks pensive as he dusts his shoes off, not even noticing her sitting at the kitchen table.

"You're home later than usual," she greets, causing him to jump a bit. "Did you have a good day at school?"

He recovers himself well. "Yes. We chose our classes for the rest of the semester today."

"Oh that's wonderful! What did you choose?"

"I'm taking more Necromancy this year," he replies. "And Alchemy, and a new class called Ancient Magics only available for my year and up. Washy says it's just wards and curses and blood magic combined into one class."

Harry smiles weakly at that. "Sounds lovely." She replies. "And what else?"

Tom watches her closely, wondering if she appears nervous or if he's just projecting that. Then he realizes what she's asked and shifts his weight uncomfortably, distracting himself with setting down his backpack and taking out his schoolwork. "Um, well those are the only magic classes. The others are non-magical." He hedges, vaguely.

Harry looks— rightfully— surprised at that. Last year Tom complained loudly over the travesty of having to take his 'boring muggle classes' when he could be taking more magical classes instead. And now he was taking more non-magical ones than he was magical. "Really? Like what?"

"Three history classes—

"Three?"

"And a Chemistry class." He finishes, shrugging. "My professor advised me to do it. He says it's invaluable for potions and alchemy, so it's really not just non-magic knowledge…"

"Okay, that makes sense." Harry agrees, blinking. "But why so many history classes?"

Tom shrugs again. "I was interested." He answers, lamely.

He's not about to tell her he's taking them to learn more about the Deathly Hallows. And anyway, it's not as if that's the only reason he's taking them; it's considered a non-magical class but only because no spellwork is involved. It's a complete history of it's set region, magical and non-magical alike. Tom is interested about magic all around the world, and if there's anything he's learned on his vacation it's that every part of the world has something to offer, and he wants to know it all. Unfortunately the history classes are divided by regions, and he could only choose so many.

"Well, I think it's wonderful." Harry smiles sunnily at him. "The world has so much to offer; and history repeats itself, you know."

I'm counting on that, he thinks, resolutely.

Harry looks away then, and Tom observes her with a slight frown. She seems a bit… distracted.

Tom frowns further. More than distracted, she seems a bit upset.

"Harry—

"So what were you thinking for dinner?" She cuts him off, a bit nervously. She stands up abruptly and walks into the kitchen." I'm not really up for eating or ordering out, so I was thinking maybe grilled cheese?"

"Well, that's—

"Or maybe pizza?" She starts opening up cupboards at random. "I think we still have some."

His brow twitches. "Harry—

"Oh, but we had that yesterday, didn't we?" She thinks aloud, talking over him. "Maybe we really should go out."

"Harry!" This is enough to startle her out of her thoughts. He drops his books on the kitchen table with a thump, turning to face her. "What's wrong with you?"

"Wrong?" She smiles, but her eyes look just a tad bit anxious. "There's nothing wrong."

He wonders who she's trying to fool here. She can't actually think he's that dense, can she?

Apparently not, because after a beat she sighs, shoulders deflating as she wrings her hands in front of her. "Fine, yes. I suppose I'm just a bit… stressed."

"Stressed?" Tom repeats, sitting down. "Stressed with what?"

Harry makes no move to join him, leaning back against the kitchen counter with a vaguely panicked expression. "Just work, really."

That's what she usually says, so Tom isn't surprised to hear it. But she's normally not this stressed, either.

"That's all?" He prods, frowning again. "Just work?"

"Yes, it's just work." She pauses, biting her lip. "Well, sort of. I've been asked to go to a big conference— err, an event. A work event."

"Conference?" He repeats, cocking his head.

She nods. "Yes, it's a bit of a big deal. A lot of people will be there."

Tom doesn't really know what Harry does, and he's not all that familiar with all these professional and work-related terms. Being a child still in school, it all seems so foreign and strange to him. He doesn't really get how the adult working world works.

His brow creases. "Okay. Is that a good thing?"

"A good thing?" Harry echoes, looking taken by surprise at the question. She blinks thoughtfully. "Well, yes, I suppose so. That they chose me to go is a very good thing; I think I was technically promoted, actually."

"And that's good, right?" This term, at least, he knows. Being promoted is a really good thing, it means Harry is taking up a position with more power. Or at least, that's how Margaret had explained the term. And as far as Tom was concerned, more power was always a good thing.

"In a way…" Harry hedges vaguely, still looking conflicted. "We'll see. I might not take the position."

"What?" Tom blinks, surprised. "Why not?" Why would anyone ever turn down power?

She runs a wary hand through her hair, looking away. "Well, big promotions like that tend to change things. You know, like what kind of work I'll do, what sort of hours I'll have… where I have to be."

He leans back in his chair, thinking this over. He thinks he understands. Important people are really busy normally, right? So that makes sense.

Harry takes a breath. "I plan on turning it down, if or when they offer it to me," she starts, uneasily. "But in the meantime, it looks like I'll have to travel for a few days."

"Travel?" Tom perks up at that. "Travel where?" That sounds fun.

"Not too far— just to the West coast."

Harry still looks nervous, and perhaps a bit tense. But why? If there's one thing he's learned, it's that travel is a lot of fun. Traveling for work can't be all that different, right?

He smiles at the thought, sitting upright. "That sounds fun! When are we going?"

"Well, that's the thing, Tom. It's work related— so I can't take you with me."

And suddenly her wary demeanor makes so much sense. His expression falls.

"What?"

"It's a work event, Tom. And you have school! Trust me when I say I would love for you to come, but it's just not possible." Even more than he knew, considering it was a work trip over half a century in the future.

"Oh," he manages to say, slumping back in his chair. His eyes are wide and grave.

Harry watches him with deep concern. "I'm sorry Tomcat, really. I really don't want to leave, but it's only for a few days."

Tom merely stares at her with that wide-eyed look. "You're leaving me?" He says then, voice cracking.

"No, no— I'm not leaving you!" Harry insists, before pausing. "It's just— it's just a trip. A little trip. It'll be over before you know it—

"You're leaving me." He repeats, looking like he's in a state of heartbroken disbelief.

Harry bites her lip. "Tom—

He looks up then, subdued. "How long?" He asks, tonelessly.

"Just two nights. I'll be here Friday morning and then I'll be back on Sunday morning."

What is he supposed to say to this? It feels as if the floor was just pulled out from underneath him. It seems silly to say, but he never thought this would happen. He had trusted Harry. He had believed her when she said she would never leave him! And here she is, breaking her promise. He should have known better.

"It's not for forever Tom, I promise." Harry attempts to reassure him. "I spoke to Charlotte about you staying with Washy— she was absolutely ecstatic. She really wanted us both to attend her Halloween party but—

Tom jumps up at that, eyes wide. "What? Staying with Washy? What do you mean?"

Harry falters, taken aback by such an explosive reaction. "Well, for when I'm gone. I can't exactly just leave you all alone here by yourself for a few days."

Tom stares up at her with those wide, shining eyes. The look of betrayal is so visceral it cuts into her like a knife.

"You're leaving me and locking me out?" He whispers, and his expression of pure abandonment is almost more than she can handle.

"No, no, that's not what this is," Harry tries to reassure him. "If it was only for a night I wouldn't make you leave, but it's too long to leave you alone for so long—

"So what? You don't trust me?" He returns, the hurt in his eyes only growing.

"That's not it at all!" Harry cries, dropping to her knees in front of him. "You just have to think about it from my point of view, Tom. What if something happened to you while I wasn't here? I would never forgive myself."

"So you're saying you think I'm some kind of child, incapable of taking care of myself?" He rears back, offended by the very idea.

Harry frowns at him. "Tom, you are a child." She reminds him, shocking him. Afterwards his sadness and anger turns into a resentful, cold fury. "A very mature child, but a child nonetheless. You're not even eleven years old!"

"You think of me as a child." He repeats, flatly.

Harry stares at him, confused. "Well, yes."

It hurts more than he thought it would. Even still, underneath all his anger he can admit he sees her point. He thinks the same about all his classmates, doesn't he? And they're all the same age. He thinks they're stupid and immature and wholly incapable of taking care of themselves.

He's not thinking in a rational manner right now, though.

He just wishes Harry would stop thinking of him as a kid. He's not a child! He's better than all of them.

"I think you're a very mature and responsible child," Harry is quick to add, but the damage is already done. "I know you can take care of yourself, for the most part, but what if something happens, Tom? What if you need help?"

"I don't need any help!" He spits back, furious. He leaps away from her, as if burned. "Not from any adult, and definitely not from you."

Harry's eyes grow wide. She reaches for him. "Tomcat—

He smacks her hand away. "And don't call me that!" He shouts, backing away from her.

"Tom, please, just listen to me—

"Why should I?" He retorts, the shine in his eyes turning into a blaze of fire. "I'm probably not 'mature enough' to listen anyway!"

And with that he turns around and darts up the stairs, in what could possibly be the most immature manner possible. Harry would love to point out the irony of his words and his current behavior, but unfortunately that wouldn't help her case in the slightest.

Harry presses her hands to her temples, letting out a long breath.

Well. That could have gone better.

.

.

.

Harry lets out a long sigh. Hermione mirrors her.

The patio is far too sunny and warm for Harry's liking. She wished the weather was moody and cold, and far more fitting for her current mood.

Tom has refused to talk to her all week. At this point, Harry is at a loss as to what to do.

She had made multiple attempts to talk to him, but was rebuked every time. If she asked him any questions, he would respond with short, clipped answers. It didn't matter what attempts she made at conversation, he refused to be engaged. Unless she addressed or spoke to him directly he wouldn't answer, and even then none of his answers were ever worth noting. He was ignoring her, and to Harry's lack of surprise he was incredibly good at it.

The longest conversation they'd had since she broke the news to him was on his accomodations for her trip. She'd told him she had made arrangements with Charlotte Washington, only to have the boy rebuff her. He had told her that there was no need to worry about him because he had already 'secured accomodations for himself', to her surprise. He had decided to stay with that darling Buchanan girl instead, and had already asked. Harry confirmed the next day, but the whole ordeal left her listless and feeling five times her age.

A part of her just wanted to scrap the whole thing and tell her boss she couldn't find someone to look after him for that long, and just simply couldn't go. Quite honestly, her work was very understanding and lenient with employees with young children. Doubly so in her case, what with being a single parent and all. No one would mind at all, and in fact they'd probably be very accomodating about it and ask her again if she was sure she didn't want to take a more flexible schedule and work from home more often. She would love to, except then she would have to explain the internet to Tom.

But— as Hermione confirms— it's not really about that.

"It's painful, I get it. And I know I don't have children of my own so I really ought to stop trying to give you advice, but this has to happen, Harry." She advises, setting down her fork.

Harry picks listlessly at her salad. "I know." She mopes.

"There are inevitably going to be times when you're not going to be able to be there for him all the time," she reminds her, gently. "What about when he goes to Hogwarts? What's he going to do then?"

"You're right, I know." Harry repeats, stuffing a mouthful of lettuce into her mouth so she doesn't have to reply for a moment.

Hermione merely gives her a long look.

She chews and swallows, before all but falling into her salad as she collapses onto her propped up hand. "I do know. Honestly. I do spoil him. I'm not blind, you know. But it's just so hard not to! He just needs so much love and attention and Merlin Hermione, you didn't see him when I told him. The betrayal in his eyes was heartbreaking."

"It is a difficult situation," Hermione agrees. "Since his past puts your relationship in such a fragile position. But there are inevitable difficulties in every relationship— and avoiding them will never solve the issue."

"I don't disagree at all," Harry nods, still looking downcast. "I just wonder if it's too soon… he's only ten, you know, even though he likes to pretend he's much older than that. Quite honestly this behavior is rather par for the course for a child his age, isn't it?"

"I think so," Hermione looks contemplative. "Although ignoring you for a whole week is a bit much."

Harry laughs weakly. "Oh. That is all Tom." No one can hold a grudge quite like Tom Riddle can.

"Some days it seems like all he wants to do is grow up and get away from me," Harry confesses. "But then he still prefers to sleep in my bed and throws a tantrum at the thought of me leaving for a few days."

"I think he is a very independent child, but also quite lonely." Hermione replies, thoughtfully. "I don't think he needs you, not in the way most young children need their parents, for basic necessities and such. I think it's more of an emotional attachment."

Harry shakes her head then, letting out another blustery sigh as she sets another defeated gaze on her best friend, lounging in the soft afternoon sunlight, looking a thousand light years away and completely untouched from Harry's gloom in her in all her child-less, ineffable glory. "I just don't know if I'm handling him well at all. Some days it seems as if we're perfect together— and then things like this happen, and I feel like I don't know him at all."

Hermione gives her a sympathetic look. "Oh, Harry. I feel like that's always been your relationship with him, don't you think?"

Harry gives her a strange look at that. "Voldemort and I? Perfect together?" She snorts out a laugh. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"I dunno," Hermione shrugs. "I guess your relationship with him had always seemed rather… prophetic, I suppose. Inevitable. And yet, it was so volatile too."

Harry isn't sure how she feels about the idea of she and her mortal enemy being 'inevitable' but the evidence is rather undeniable at this point. Did she not upend her life for a boy named Tom Riddle, more than fifty years in the past of a timeline that was never her own?

Hermione shakes her head then, as if dusting off a train of thought. "I just mean to say— maybe it's nothing to worry about. Every relationship is fraught with issues, at some point or another."

"I guess that's true," Harry deflates, prodding at a loose cherry tomato on her plate.

"Anyway, not to be insensitive but your problems with Tom are normal enough given your relationship. I feel for you, I really do, but you two will get over this and move on. Quite frankly I am more concerned over recent events with the other dark lord in your life."

"Tom is not a dark lord," Harry retorts, sourly.

"Yet." Hermione rolls her eyes.

"Never, if I have anything to say about it." Harry shoots back, scowling.

"We're arguing semantics— stop dodging the question." Hermione shuts her down with an unimpressed look over her water glass.

If possible, Harry deflates further.

"It was nothing," she lies, poorly.

Hermione can see through that like transparent glass, but Harry is at a loss as to what to say; she can't tell Hermione about it, in the same way she refuses to tell Hermione about anything that happened on her vacation. Sure, she had lots of photos of Tom riding a yak to show, and all sorts of stories on their culinary adventures to share, but she was avoiding discussion on all these 'Master of Death' revelations, and that was practically half the vacation. She'd love to tell Hermione all about the sky burial in Tibet, and the singing dunes of Mongolia, and the real reason she started crying with Grindelwald, but she couldn't. So right now Hermione thought her vacation was fun but uneventful, and Gellert Grindelwald deserved to rot in hell for making her best friend cry, even though he kind of had nothing to do with it.

"Like I said, I was just stressed." She adds, helplessly.

"Harry, I have seen you stressed." Hermione replies, patiently. "I have seen you hold your own in a fight against a crowd of Death Eaters; I have seen you escape out of a guarded bank on the back of a dragon; I have seen you face your imminent death countless times— you don't cry when you're stressed. You cry when you're upset. Very, very upset."

"It was nothing like that," Harry insists, although it falls on deaf ears. "It was just… an emotional time of the month, if you know what I mean, and I was just really annoyed that he would ruin my vacation like that. So yes, yes I suppose I was rather upset. At any rate he actually promised to leave me alone, and has been making good on his word. I think he's deathly allergic to feelings, so I seem to have found his weakness."

"I agree dark lords are probably allergic to feelings, but I sincerely doubt a few tears would terrify him into complacency." Hermione scoffs.

Privately though, Harry thinks that really was what happened. The man's confused and horrified expression would have been priceless, had Harry not been in the middle of an existential breakdown. An existential breakdown she was still sort of in, since she had yet to make her peace with it. She was still adamantly burying her head in the sand instead of having to deal with it.

And on the subject of ignoring problems and pretending they didn't exist, she should probably get back on that. She decides a subject change is in order. "Look, I don't want to talk about dark lords— past or present." She ends with finality. "How do you feel about bubble tea after this?"

Hermione looks like she might just fight her on that, before ultimately deciding its not worth the ensuing argument.

Instead she folds her arms, looking torn. "I'm trying to stay away from sugar." She sniffs.

It's Harry's turn to roll her eyes. "Hermione. If this is another one of those ridiculous diet fads…"

"It's not!" Hermione protests, before looking sheepish. "Well, not really. At any rate sugar is really bad for you, often being compared to cocaine in muggle studies, so it's not really as if I'm wrong to avoid it but as Ginny has since pointed out to me it is also incredibly bad for your skin—

"Ginny?" Harry perks up at the familiar name. "Oh yes! How is she doing? How is she liking her exchange program in Korea?"

"She's liking it a little too much, according to Molly," Hermione confides. "She spends all her intern pay from the hospital on skin care products. Speaking of, I have a whole bag of them to give you, since she keeps giving them to Ron and what the hell is Ron going to do with that…"

Harry laughs along with her best friend at the idea of Ron putting on a face mask, tucking her hand through Hermione's elbow as they decide to go to some posh juice bar down the street instead. Harry points out there's still sugar involved, but Hermione swears it's different if it comes from 'natural sources' or whatever. At this point, Harry is just happy for the change in conversation, more than willing to discuss new skin care trends instead of the bewildering and terrifying revelations of her vacation, or the bewildering and depressing recent events between her and Tom.

.

.

.

The day of Harry's trip comes, and she and Tom are still in this strange and stilted relationship where they barely say a few words to each other every day. Harry has nearly caved multiple times, although manages to stay strong despite her emotional turmoil.

Tom has returned to sleeping in his own bed again, and treats her with a frosty politeness Harry doesn't know what to do with. Spot only gives her unimpressed and unamused looks whenever she turns to him helplessly. The banana snake merely repeated what he told her last time this happened, 'Tom is a hatchling, and they don't like to be very far from their mothers.' Harry didn't even bother to point out the technicality in that this time around, even though she wasn't Tom's mother and she was fairly sure the boy didn't see her that way, either. Tom was very attached to her, and he was seeing this as some kind of betrayal. After endless hours looking this up on her computer at work, the internet has confirmed that this is normal behavior for young children.

It's perfectly normal for children to cry and feel abandoned by their parents during their first real period of time away from them; normally preschool, or first playdates at friend's houses. Tom didn't seem upset in the slightest with the start of school, but that was probably because he was at an age where he could understand the value behind it, and the reason Harry was leaving him there. Unfortunately it didn't seem like he was at the age where he could accept and acknowledge that there would be times Harry would have to leave him for short periods of time outside of that. He could barely handle her staying out late with Ron and Hermione, and he definitely couldn't handle her leaving on a business trip for a few days.

It was so odd since he was so mature in other areas of his life— and then he turns around and starts yelling at her to stop thinking of him as a child, even though he's acting like one. It's very typical childish behavior, and something she's not surprised Tom exhibits. He's always wanted to be seen as better than his peers— even before Harry came into his life.

She supposed this sort of insecurity and dependency was understandable given the circumstances. She only hoped they would both learn and move on from the experience.

Finally the day comes for Harry to leave. They eat breakfast together in silence; Harry's luggage is by the door. She's wearing a comfortable pair of joggers and a light sweater in adherence to the Vegas weather report, hair tossed up in a ponytail. It's a far cry from her usual sleek work look, but Tom doesn't comment on it at all. In fact, he hasn't really looked at her. His own luggage is by the floo, where he'll shrink it and take it to school with him. After school he'll return home with Margaret, where he'll stay the weekend until Harry picks him up on Sunday.

Tom isn't sure whether its better or worse to have this happen over the weekend. On the one hand his school routine isn't messed up by all this, and no one has to see him both leave and arrive with Margaret every day. But on the other hand, weekends are for him and Harry, and him and Harry alone. No one is allowed to intrude on their time together, he's made that clear to everyone, so it'll be strange to spend a whole weekend without her there at all.

Almost as strange as this whole month has been.

Not that Tom regrets it. He's still viciously angry. Although his unbridled fury has since cooled into a simmering rage, the sharp sting of abandonment remains as painful as ever.

The voice in the back of his head reminding him he's thinking emotionally and not rationally has only gotten louder in the interim of days since their fight, but Tom has basically made ignoring it into a minor art form. He doesn't care if he's being illogical, and impossibly hypocritical. All he can think is that Harry is leaving him. Nevermind the fact it's only from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. She is leaving. It's his worst fears realized. The circumstances of the event itself are inconsequential in the face of that.

All the same this is the longest he and Harry have gone without really speaking, and it feels weird to think they're going to leave each other like this. It makes him far too uneasy.

The thought eats away at him as he pushes his eggs back and forth on his plate. Spot has stuck his nose on his lap with an eager expression; ever since he and Harry got in their fight he's found his appetite rather lacking, and Spot has been capitalizing on this by propping himself on Tom's lap during meals in anticipation of a few bites. Harry doesn't even reprimand him for feeding him anymore.

He looks up then, stricken.

Harry is distracted with her large travel bag, poking and prodding at all the stuff she has crammed into it. It's bigger than her normal work bag, as is the luggage by the door. The last time Tom had seen it, he had been so excited for vacation he had started bouncing at the sight of it. Now it only fills him with a sense of forlorn sadness. It was only a short time ago, and yet it's so strange to remember how blissfully he happy was then, and how miserable he is now.

Harry curses the time as she checks her wristwatch. She pulls at her hair, before standing up in a flurry. The look she sends him is a bit anxious, but she smiles anyway.

"Well, have a good day at school, Tom." She says, in that same cheery voice that is too high to be anything but false. "I'll see you very soon. Don't forget to give Margaret's mother her gift, alright?"

Tom nods silently, watching her with solemn eyes.

Her smile falters in the face of his silence. "Right," she says shortly, adjusting her sweater. "Well, I better hurry. I wouldn't want to be late—

He darts in and wraps his arms around her before he can convince himself not to. He doesn't want to hug her, but he can't help but wonder if this is really how he wants to say goodbye to her. What if something happens to her? She's so dead set on worrying over something happening to him, that she is, as usual, neglecting to worry over herself. What if something happens to her while she's gone? Tom couldn't bear the idea of parting like this, forever. Thinking about Harry's death is so horrifying it makes him physically ill, so he doesn't let the thought linger. Instead, he just hugs her a little tighter.

It only takes a moment, but then Harry is recovering from her surprise and hugging him just as tightly.

"Have fun at Margaret's Tom; try not to get in too much trouble." She jokes weakly.

Tom nods against her shirt, so content to feel her warmth against him after so long without it.

She places a gentle hand over his head, rubbing his hair fondly. "I love you, Tom." She murmurs, quietly. He can only nod again, too overcome to reply. "I'll see you when I get back, okay?"

"Okay," he agrees, voice muffled by the fabric of her sweater. He squeezes her tightly one more time, before pushing away from her and diving into the floo, refusing to look back.

.

.

.

Tom climbs out of the car, unsurprised to find Margaret's house to be exactly what he imagined it to be.

Her family— or rather, her father— owns a sprawling estate in Weston, ironically not too far from one of Ruth's (many) houses. It was also ironic how similar the two places looked, despite the fact they apparently were complete opposites, as far as wealthy aristocracy goes. But where Ruth's estate had horses and carriages, Margaret's had a long driveway through well-manicured hedges leading up to a circle around a fountain, full of shiny automobiles. However, both their houses were far larger than necessary, and full of maids and luxury. It was making Tom mildly uncomfortable. But if he had stayed at Washy's instead, he had a feeling it would be a thousand times worse.

Margaret looked right at home in this wealthy palace, bounding up the front steps just as the two maids by the door moved to open them for her. They bowed to him as well, and a footman took his bags before he could even think to protest.

"Where's father?" Margaret demands to one of the maids.

"Your father is in the parlor, Miss Buchanan. But—

The little blonde doesn't wait for the woman to finish, spinning smartly on one heel and bounding down out the palatial entryway and down a corridor. She tugs Tom with him, even as Tom tries to slow down to get a better look at all the crystal chandeliers.

"He knows you're here, of course, but it's only polite to say hello," Margaret explains, as they take a sharp turn down a corner and Tom almost runs into a full marble bust of someone that looks important. The hallways are full of oil paintings, just like Ruth's. However, where Ruth's was full of stately ancestors posing in archaic chairs with the family coonhounds at their feet, Margaret's were all famous impressionist works of art, with no ancestors to speak of. He's sure both cost a fortune either way, and that wasn't even to speak of the gilded gold frames they were housed in.

They passed a few more maids dusting the hallway, before Margaret stands to attention in front of an intimidating oak door. She knocks smartly, then waits.

"Come in, darling." A man replies from the other side.

Margaret steps in without hesitation. "Hello, father," she greets, before adding without missing a beat; "And good afternoon to you, Lord Grindelwald."

Tom stiffens behind her, but manages to make himself move into the room after she steps in.

It's just chilly enough outside to warrant the warm fire blazing in the hearth, but it still serves to make Tom feel just this side of uncomfortably warm. A man that he easily recognizes as Margaret's father is standing by the windows overlooking the gardens, pipe in hand. He realizes Margaret takes after him in many ways besides attitude, physical features being forefront. His guest is lounging in a leather armchair opposite the desk. Tom meets the man's sharp gaze by accident; it's the only reason he can register the slight surprise that flickers through those ice blue eyes. Afterwards, his expression turns pensive, before he recovers himself and turns to Margaret with an indulgent smile.

"Well hello little Miss Buchanan;" The man returns. His accent is new to Tom, but it certainly sounds European. "Are you excited for your party tomorrow?"

"Yes, very." Margaret nods. "Will you be attending, my Lord?"

The man merely tilts his head, smiling enigmatically. "I hadn't planned on it, but it does sound interesting."

"Does it?" Margaret's father returns coolly, looking surprised.

The man meets Tom's gaze again. "Oh, yes. Far more interesting than I had first thought."

Margaret's father's gaze then flickers to him. "Ah yes, you must be Tom Riddle, correct?" His smile is benign enough, but it still puts Tom on edge. "Harriet Riddle's ward." He adds, and it seems to be more for Lord Grindelwald's benefit than his own.

This isn't news to the blonde man though, what with meeting him earlier in the year. "Is that so? I thought he looked familiar." Grindelwald remarks, in a manner that seems far too casual for coincidental. "Harry is a dear friend of mine."

Tom's eyes near bulge out of his head. Friend? Since when, exactly, did they become friends?

"Truly? I hadn't realized," Tom replies smoothly, smothering his irritation. "She usually introduces me to her friends, but you don't look very familiar to me at all. Have we met before?"

He thinks the man's eyes darken slightly, his pleasant expression shifting so quickly it could have been a trick of the flickering flames.

"No, I don't believe we have. At least, not officially." The man agrees. "This will be an excellent opportunity to get to know each other then, don't you think?"

Tom couldn't help but disagree. Outwardly he merely plastered on his best smile. "Sure. An excellent opportunity, truly."

If possible, the tension between them grew even further. Tom wasn't even entirely sure where it was coming from. Sure, he didn't like the guy, but he didn't understand the intense stare the man was giving him. He knew they had met before, but he certainly didn't remember doing anything that warranted this look. He also couldn't recall a single time Harry had even mentioned the man. She had made it sound like they weren't even acquaintances, and yet here he was saying they were friends. Tom narrows his eyes; there is definitely something afoot here. And he intends to use this weekend as an excellent opportunity to find out what it is.

"Bucky!"

Margaret effectively cuts into the tension, darting towards the fireplace, where a large hound is lazing in front of the fire. Tom is surprised to find himself missing Spot in that moment, as Margaret leans down to affectionately pet the beast's snout.

She peers up at her father. "Father, would it be alright if I showed Tom the kennels before dinner? Tom has a pet snake, but I've told him our collection of Grand Bleu de Gascogne are much better than any reptile."

Her father looks intrigued at the idea of such an exotic pet, but merely smiles in response. "Of course darling, try not to get too dirty."

Margaret looks scandalized. "Never, father!"

She stands primly, brushing imaginary lint off her school uniform. Then she claps her hands, and the dog unfolds its massive berth from the hearth and follows her up. "Come on, Tom. I'll show you all my favorites." She says, tugging him along. He gives her a narrow look in response, not wanting to leave so soon when he has so many questions he wants answered.

But the look she gives him in response is quelling. "We have greyhounds too, you know." She adds deliberately, with a telling look in her eyes. "We could even go out and hunt foxes."

He merely stares her down, debating whether he'll make a scene. In the end he reluctantly allows himself to be pulled out of the room by her, with one last look at the two men in the room. Margaret's father has been approached by a made with a telephone, and has turned towards his desk to rifle for a pen and paper, phone tucked in his ear. Lord Grindelwald remains seated, watching Tom leave with a knowing, predatory look.

They both know this isn't the end of this conversation.