Some things to know before reading:

Tom is going into his fifth year (1942); therefore, he hasn't opened the Chamber of Secrets yet (in the books it's in his sixth year).

He also hasn't killed Riddle Snr and his grandparents (which is supposed to happen in his seventh year).

He has his little group of followers at Hogwarts, but they follow him by choice… he has yet to morph into the "Dark Lord". So for now at least, he's just a powerful, handsome, cruel little shit.

He's supposed to be 15 in fifth year… but I always imagine him older. So I apologise if he doesn't act/sound very teenager-ish. Then again, I doubt he would be a normal 15 year old boy anyway.

Chapter 1: The Reluctant Student

The tall, dark-haired teenage boy paced distractedly up and down in his small room, a dark scowl twisting his (otherwise extremely handsome) features. The old floorboards of the muggle orphanage he lived in during the school holidays creaked under his restless feet.

His name was Tom Riddle, and he was a wizard.

A threadbare metal-framed bed, a narrow wardrobe, a battered-looking travelling trunk and a rickety table and chair cluttered the small room, making it rather pointless to pace. A couple of spellbooks were stacked neatly on the table. The door was locked. Every since Mrs Cole had fallen ill with pneumonia three years previous, things at the orphanage had quickly gone from almost bearable to completely intolerable. Now the management of the orphan boys was under the cruel hand of Mistress Miranda, a sadistic woman who drank too much, and even worse, the man who occasionally warmed her bed, Harold. If the orphanage had been in a small town, not London, Harold would have been the town drunk. He had no business being around children, but assisted Mistress Miranda in matters relating to "discipline". Beatings were frequent, and he seemed to have formed a particular dislike of Tom, who didn't seem to exhibit any fear like the other boys. At night the doors were locked, making the orphanage seem more like a prison.

But during the last week Tom had kept a low profile, avoiding conflict and remaining out of everyone's way. The reason for this behaviour was because a new term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was just about to begin, and he didn't want to go back looking like he had just endured hell. Which he had.

He reminded himself again that as soon as he graduated Hogwarts he would return and burn the building down. With its occupants inside to feel the flames. Until then, however, he had to maintain appearances.

He scowled again as he thought of the school. It was two days before the end of the holidays, and he was supposed to have received word from them days ago. He was waiting for the letter informing him of his new book lists for fifth year and his train ticket, as well as the pitiful allowance Hogwarts gave him so that he could head to Diagon Alley. It irked him that he relied so heavily on it, but he couldn't leave without money and the lists. Why hadn't it arrived? It was very suspicious. If he was any other student, he might have suspected foul play, but that was laughable. Only Slytherins were inclined to pull off those kinds of pranks, and they were too scared of him to consider something like that.

For four years each summer holiday the owl with his letter and allowance arrived on time to the hour… why not now? No, not for four years, he suddenly remembered. The first time Albus Dumbledore had appeared to deliver his letter in person. His temper darkened even further as he remembered that encounter. That blasted old fool had looked down on him ever since…

He stiffened suddenly. But no, surely that wasn't the rea-

Darkness fell in the room as the street lamp outside went out with a flicker, as if the gas lamp's luminescence had been sucked away.

Tom strode to the window and froze as anger and dread in equal measure burned through him. The familiar, hated figure of a tall wizard with an greying auburn beard in bright purple robes strode down the street towards the orphanage.

At the front door downstairs the wizard looked up and Tom saw moonlight glinting off of half-moon spectacles. He shrank back from the window and schooled his face into an expressionless mask, feeling like the old man had seen him even through the dark and dirty windowpane.

He heard a polite knock on the front door, and then a short silence, followed by the sound of the door opening, an unintelligible conversation, and closing again as Dumbledore was admitted.

Tom's mind raced as he considered the possibilities. He suddenly grew convinced that he was about to be expelled. Dumbledore had finally found a reason to kick him out, and had come to snap his wand. His legs felt strangely weak so he sat down hurriedly on his thin mattress. Did they find out about his… little experiments on the other students? He hadn't damaged anyone beyond repair though… Had one of his "friends" betrayed him? He had done any number of small transgressions…What did they do to expelled students?

He was so distracted by these disturbing thoughts that he barely registered that a key was jangling in his door. He had just enough time to sit up straight and try to look aloof before the door swung open and admitted the purple-robed wizard.

"Good evening, Tom." Said the old man in his kindly voice, though Tom noticed his warmth didn't reach his eyes.

Tom inclined his head, every inch the model student, "Professor." He said deferentially.

From the doorway came another voice. "Tom, my dear," simpered Mistress Miranda in a tone completely different to her usual nasal whine, "Your teacher tells me he has come to take you back to school early this year. Isn't that so nice of him?"

I'm not going to be expelled?! "Is that so, Professor?" Tom asked blandly.

A slight knowing twinkle entered Dumbledore's blue eyes for a moment, as if he could hear how Tom's heart was racing as he waited for confirmation that his world wasn't about to end.

Enjoy it while it lasts, old man, Tom snarled in his mind, I know what you really think of me. Yes, they were all liars in this room. Tom was not the polite student, Dumbledore was not the kindly teacher, and Miranda was a hag with a drinking problem, pretending to be a diligent carer. They all wore masks.

The twinkle vanished, and Dumbledore gave a small sigh, as if he'd heard Tom's internal monologue. When he spoke, he was more businesslike. "Yes. There is a small matter I need your help with before the school term starts, so I thought I would deliver your letters and money in person. I'll explain more on the way."

Tom nodded, as if this was completely expected, and stood up languidly from the bed. "I'll just collect my things, then, sir." He strolled over to his wardrobe and pulled out some of his clothes, placing them into his trunk. He did the same with his spellbooks, moving without haste though his fingers trembled with suppressed excitement. He was leaving two days early! He didn't even care that it was with Dumbledore, or what the old fool had planned. He would shortly be back in the magical world, where he belonged.

Dumbledore watched him impassively, while Miranda offered him tea, which he politely declined. She didn't seem to mind that he'd come bursting in like this late at night, but then, maybe she was just happy to be rid of Tom sooner than usual.

The feeling is mutual… "Will I be needing my wand, sir?" Tom asked indifferently.

"Probably not, but perhaps it would be best if you kept it with you anyway." Came the surprising reply.

Tom hesitated, taken aback, but only for a moment. Now his curiosity flared up at the possibilities. What could the professor need from him that might require underage magic? He pocketed his long, pale wand, savouring the familiar feeling of it at his side.

Dumbledore waved his wand and the trunk disappeared into thin air. Miranda didn't seem to notice, but from the slightly vacant expression on her face Tom could tell Dumbledore had cast a minor Befuddlement Charm on her.

"Come, let us be off." Said Dumbledore, and Tom followed him out of the orphanage.

Once out onto the street, Dumbledore walked quickly with long strides, making Tom trot to keep up.

"Tom, how are they treating you at the orphanage?" he asked suddenly as they walked.

Tom didn't let his mask slip at all as he replied tightly, "I can't complain." I won't complain.

Dumbledore didn't seem convinced. With a note of impatience, he said, "If you say you are unhappy there, I can make other arrangements-"

"Can I stay at Hogwarts during the holidays?" asked Tom bluntly.


"Then I have nothing to say, sir." He had a perverse sense of satisfaction as an uncomfortable look flickered across the old man's face. He knew they were treating him badly there. But Tom would rather endure it a thousand times over than admit he needed Dumbledore's help.

Dumbledore was silent as they continued, and Tom felt somewhat smug. "So, where are we going, Professor?" he asked innocently, after the silence became awkward.

"Knockturn Alley." Came the curt response. Tom's eyebrows rose.

Dumbledore saw his surprised expression. "I need your help retrieving a… valuable item." He said cryptically, seeming to enjoy Tom's confusion. "It's a new student." He explained, after a moment.

Dumbledore abruptly stopped and glanced up and down the darkened street. "This is a quiet enough spot." He offered his arm and looked at Tom expectantly.

Tom very nearly grimaced as he realized he would need to actually touch the man, but held back his disgust. He touched his arm and was immediately pulled into the crushing darkness of Side-Along Apparition.

Fifteen minutes later, and Tom found himself in the unlikely position of sitting on a conjured bench next to the professor he most despised in a grimy alleyway, watching the entrance of a ramshackle building opposite them.

"This student lives here?" asked Tom, disgusted, as his eyes followed shady-looking passers-by. Only Knockturn could still be busy at this time of night. The folk who dwelt here were more like cockroaches.

"Yes," Dumbledore replied, "She really isn't an ordinary witch." He chuckled.

Tom looked at the old man and waited impatiently for an explanation. This had turned into a very strange night indeed. Dumbledore pondered for a long moment, during which Tom had to restrain himself from throttling the truth out of him.

"Two months ago," he started at last, "A shipment of invaluable Time-Turners was ambushed by thugs, who made off with a number of them. A ministry inquiry was launched and the search began to track down the missing items, which, as you can imagine, could be devastating in the wrong hands."

Tom wondered briefly what he would do with a Time Turner…

"Anyway," continued Dumbledore quickly. Perhaps he had seen the covetous gleam in Tom's eye and was afraid of giving him ideas. "All of them were tracked down without fuss within hours, except one. It somehow ended up here, in Knockturn Alley, in a shop on sale to the highest bidder. But when the ministry official arrived to retrieve it, it was discovered that it had been stolen again, this time from the shop, by a bold and resourceful young girl."

"And she lives here?" Tom gestured at the building opposite.

"That's right."

"If you already know where she is, then why do you need-"

"Patience, Tom, patience. I haven't finished the tale yet." Dumbledore said mildly.

Tom compressed his lips and tried to rein in his temper.

"The ministry official chased the girl in circles for the next few weeks, but each time he got close she managed to slip away. He did however manage to find out her identity, which came as a bit of a surprise. Her name is Amalia Gray. I assume you've heard of the Grays?"

Tom nodded, surprised. They were an old Pureblood family known for their wealth and power, but like many Pureblood lines, theirs had disappeared some years ago.

"After the marriage of what I can only assume are her parents, all records of her family seem to have vanished. There are no other Grays left. We wouldn't even know of her existence at all if she hadn't drawn the attention of the Ministry in this matter. As far as I can tell, she's been living as an unregistered witch in Knockturn for at least the last two years."

Tom frowned. There was no way a first-year could survive in Knockturn… "How old is she?"

"Fourteen. I assume." He sighed, "It's hard to tell. She has had a Time-Turner for two months, after all."

"So, how did you get involved?" he realised he didn't sound strictly polite, and hurriedly tacked on a hasty, "Professor?"

"Well, it just so happens that her family, like many Purebloods, had a long-standing agreement with the school. She has a place by birthright at Hogwarts. And since the ministry official seemed to be getting nowhere… I was asked to intervene."

Dumbledore to the rescue, thought Tom sourly, The ministry is so pathetic.

"I hastened to find her, and met with her last week." Dumbledore gave a somewhat rueful chuckle. "It did not quite go as planned."

"Did you retrieve the Time-Turner?"

"I did, but she was incredibly suspicious, and seemed convinced I was about to murder or kidnap her at any moment. Once I realised she would not believe my friendly intentions, I decided to leave her Hogwarts letter and give her some time to think about it. Tonight, we shall attempt to present a united front and convince her of our earnest goodwill."

"That's why I'm here?" Tom thought he understood.

"Indeed. I hope that seeing a student will reassure her, and I have noticed that you seem to be, well-" he gave a soft chuckle, "Rather popular with the young ladies at Hogwarts."

Tom didn't smile. He knew what this was - a test. But was it for him, or this new student? Or possibly both? Things were never so simple with the old man.

"In addition," continued Dumbledore serenely, "You can consider it a school duty, as you have been made Prefect this year. Congratulations, by the way." He didn't sound particularly happy about it.

Tom blinked. "Thank you, sir." Of course I was made Prefect, you old twit, he thought arrogantly. "What year will she be going into, Professor?" he asked next.

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows, as if it was obvious. "Fifth. And as her classmate, you can ensure she settles in well." He'd clearly thought of everything.

He hid his annoyance. He didn't have time or energy to run after some dimwitted new student! "I thought she was fourteen, sir." He said instead, primly.

"Indeed, but her magic is rather advanced. I'm sure she won't have any problems academically; she seems a very capable young lady." His eyes suddenly caught sight of something and he smiled. "Ah, speak of the witch, and she doth appear!"

Tom looked around hurriedly, curious to see what the mystery girl that had dragged him from the orphanage looked like.

His eyes caught a slight figure cloaked in a dark robe, with a heavy cowl covering her face. Indeed, if Dumbledore had not been gazing directly at the figure, Tom would have dismissed her as yet another of Knockturn's strange inhabitants. She was tall for her age - only half a head shorter than Tom - but otherwise her cloak hid any other distinguishing features.

They watched as she reached the grimy black door of the building opposite and paused on the steps, before taking out a key and her wand. Then she glanced over her shoulder up and down the road somewhat furtively.

Dumbledore stood up, revealing their presence, and Tom scrambled to do the same. The old purple-robed wizard gave a cheery wave at the dark-robed figure, who had stiffened immediately as soon as she'd seen them watching her.

Dumbledore walked forward unhurriedly, beaming kindly. "It is good to see you again, my dear." He said gently, as if talking to a skittish horse.

Now that Tom was closer, he caught a glimpse of her face. She had fine features, everything in proportion, with a straight nose and high cheekbones. Her mouth was full and delicate, with a hint of stubbornness in the set of her jaw. Her eyes were large and brown, and flickered suspiciously between himself and the old wizard. But he didn't get the impression she was afraid… no, it was more like she was sizing them up. As if she was considering who to curse first.

After a moment, she gritted out a curt greeting, "Dumbledore," with a barely perceptible nod.

"This is a student of mine, Tom Riddle." Dumbledore said, indicating Tom, who gave a small smile that dripped of false friendliness. The girl didn't respond in kind, but narrowed her eyes slightly at him, causing Tom to bristle with annoyance, though he kept his carefully friendly mask in place. "And may I remind you that I am Professor Dumbledore." The girl's eyes flashed away from Tom and back to him. "May we come inside and talk?"

"I haven't yet decided that you will be my professor." She deadpanned back, with no sign of contrition at his small rebuke. Tom almost laughed out loud as he glanced back at Dumbledore and saw the old man blink. "But, I suppose you may enter." She added, rather grudgingly, after a slightly awkward pause.

Dumbledore sighed as she turned to the door and began unlocking it. But he reasoned that it was a sign of progress that she at least felt comfortable enough to turn her back on them. He watched in amusement as she inserted the key into no fewer than five locks, each seeming to require a different whispered password and wave of her wand before he heard the heavy bolts sliding back.

At last, the door swung open and she stalked in, not bothering to see if they followed.

"Close it behind you." She ordered bluntly over her shoulder as she ascended a rickety staircase rapidly.

Tom, being last through, pulled the door shut behind him as he stepped into the grimy, narrow hallway, and then watched as the five complicated bolts moved on their own back into place, sealing the door shut. He briefly wondered how Dumbledore had managed to get in the first time he'd visited, before he followed the professor up the stairs and into a room at the top.

The staircase and entrance hall had been musty with dark, damp wood panelling painted peeling black. But this contrasted starkly with the room that the strange girl called home. He stepped into the light and dry warmth of a large room and looked around with interest. A large fireplace dominated the centre of the room, with a cheerfully crackling fire burning unattended in the hearth. Next to it was a narrow bed, still unmade and strewn with crumpled clothes. She was quite messy. Nearly every surface in the room was stacked high with stuff. Books, quills, parchment, newspapers, clothes, miscellaneous crockery… even the brightly patterned carpet of the floor was barely visible. There was a large four-legged wooden table in the centre of the room with a single chair, groaning under the weight of more clutter, but that wasn't what Tom looked at first. His eyes were drawn immediately to the stuffed bookshelves that lined every wall except one, from the floor to the high ceiling. The one open wall was papered with notes in a cursive scrawl and what seemed to be newspaper clippings, chaotically layered like a strange artwork.

It gave Tom a slight headache just looking at it, and his fingers twitched uncomfortably as he saw the only purely decorative item in the room, a painting of a Scottish landscape, hanging askew.

The girl took off her cloak and cowl and tossed them carelessly onto her bed, adding to the growing mountain of clothes there, and ran a hand through her hair, which was brown and cropped short to just above her shoulders. She wore a grey high-necked dress and black tights, and unlike her cloak, it looked expensive and well-made. There was even lace cuffs at the ends of her long sleeves. Tom suddenly remembered she was a Gray. Did that mean she had access to an inherited fortune like the Malfoys and the Blacks?

She seemed slightly more relaxed in her own space, and waved her wand at the table, shifting the piles of books and papers to another corner of the room. Tom didn't miss the fact that the spell was non-verbal, although that wasn't particularly hard…

"I'll prepare some tea." She said, in a tone that was marginally warmer than the one she'd used before, and went over to the fireplace, where a heavy black kettle hung on a iron rod.

"Splendid." Said Dumbledore, and conjured two extra chairs at the table for himself and Tom.

"Your collection of books is impressive." Tom commented politely as he sat down, remembering that he was supposed to ingratiate himself to her.

She glanced at him as she added tea leaves to the pot. "…Thank you." She said stiffly, after a moment.

Tom glanced at Dumbledore, who gave him an almost imperceptible nod.

"You know," continued Tom slowly, as if remarking on the weather, "The library at Hogwarts is the most extensive magical library in Europe."

"Is-is that so?" although she tried to hide it, she couldn't quite stop the eagerness from infecting her voice.

Tom smiled charmingly, knowing he had her full attention. "Indeed." He said, and then gave a chuckle, "A student could spend years reading and not get through even a quarter of the books."

The girl looked oddly subdued as she brought the steaming pot over to the table, as well as conjuring a pitcher of milk, a pot of sugar, and three cups complete with spoons. Tom didn't miss that, once again, all her wand work was non-verbal. The spells were quite simple, true, but the speed and ease at which she accomplished her tasks even while she was obviously distracted was… impressive.

Dumbledore commenced pouring the tea and then addressed her. "So, Amalia, have you given any thought to my invitation to Hogwarts?"

She sighed and laid down her wand carefully next to her hand, within easy reaching distance. She accepted a cup of tea from the old wizard, and nodded slowly. Tom eyed her wand. It was nondescript but in good condition - a light brown colour with a carved handle, almost as long as his.

"I did some research about you, and Hogwarts," Amalia admitted, "And it seems like a good school."

"But?" prompted Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling kindly at her.

"I don't really have a choice at all, do I?" she said seriously. "The Ministry won't let an underage witch run around without a formal education. Now that I was found-" it was almost comical the way she sounded so cross with herself, "They won't let me be."

Dumbledore didn't bother denying her words. "Perhaps you are looking at this the wrong way," he said instead, "Hogwarts is not the Ministry - they do not have jurisdiction over its students. I know that you distrust the Ministry, but I can assure you that you will be safe at Hogwarts."

Tom could tell by her frown that she didn't believe him.

"Amalia, you can find a home at Hogwarts," Dumbledore continued, his voice earnest. "It can't have been easy, living here by yourself all this time."

"I don't mind my own company," argued Amalia, but Tom could tell she was beginning to cave in.

"It may be a bit of an adjustment at first," Tom said, with false sympathy, "But there is no need to be afraid…"

She glared. "I'm not afraid," she growled instantly.

He raised his hands in a placating gesture, barely concealing his smug look at her predictable response.

"Then you will become a student at Hogwarts?" prompted Dumbledore, raising his eyebrows at her in mild expectancy.

Amalia looked in irritation between them, and Tom half expected her to hiss like an annoyed cat. Then, she sighed and looked away. "Fine." She snapped.

"Excellent." Dumbledore said, satisfied.

"On one condition, Professor," Amalia interrupted, raising one finger.

"Oh?" said Dumbledore indulgently, "And what is that?"

"I know it is customary for the Ministry to question anyone who has been in possession of a Time-Turner. I will answer any questions about it, but not to them." Tom eyebrows rose at her venomous tone when she spoke of the Ministry, and he wondered what she had against them.

Dumbledore surveyed her for a moment, and then nodded. "That is not a problem. I can take your statement and pass it on. You do not need to have contact with the Ministry at all."

She nodded, looking relieved. "Oh, and I don't wish to talk about my past." She added hastily. "I moved to Knockturn two years ago. Before that… It isn't relevant."

Dumbledore looked mildly surprised. "That's two conditions, my dear." He read the firmness in her eyes and inclined his head. "Nonetheless, I accept them. However, if you do wish to talk to me about anything, please remember that my door will always be open."

She nodded, hesitated, and then in a surprisingly formal gesture she stuck out her hand. Dumbledore took it in his stride and solemnly shook it across the table. Tom fought with himself not to roll his eyes.

After that, the atmosphere seemed a little less tense, and they all sipped their tea in silence for a short while. Then, clearly making an effort to demonstrate her goodwill, Amalia gave a polite smile and said, "I got the fifth-year course books and had a look through them."

Tom felt a stab of annoyance as he realised she had a head-start on him…

"Oh, and what did you think?" inquired Dumbledore.

"They all seem pretty straightforward," she said seriously, and Tom couldn't detect any boastfulness in her tone, only honesty. She hesitated. "Except Potions. I think I'm far behind in Potions."

"I'm certain you'll manage just fine," Dumbledore said reassuringly, "And Tom here is top of his class in Potions. I'm sure he would have no issue with helping you should you need it."

Her large brown eyes travelled to him and once again Tom felt like he was being sized up. He felt a prickle of annoyance at her directness, but still managed to force a smile onto his face. "Of course." He said smoothly, "I'd be delighted."

To his surprise she narrowed her eyes slightly at him, as if suspicious. Had she seen something in his expression…? Her eyes slid back to Dumbledore. "What happens now?" she asked.

"Well, as you know, the school term starts in two days. You are welcome to meet Tom and I at the train station-"

"Professor, are you staying nearby?" she interrupted him.

He paused, then replied, "The Leaky Cauldron."

She nodded with a bird-like movement, a shifty expression coming over her face. "Then if it is alright with you, I would like to stay there until the term starts." Her eyes darted to the door as if she expected enemies to come bursting through at any moment. "This location has already been compromised." She muttered to herself in a low, serious voice.

Tom couldn't quite hold back an incredulous snort at her paranoia, but then tried to cover it up with a hasty cough.

Amalia wasn't fooled, and glared, looking down her nose at him.

If Dumbledore had thought her request was odd, he certainly didn't show any sign of it. "Very well," he said genially, "Would you like any help packing?"

"No, it's alright, thanks." Amalia said, and rose from the table. She looked ruefully around at her cluttered room, as if unsure where to begin.

After a moment's deliberation, she strode over and dragged a large trunk out from where it had been concealed behind a chest-high stack of books. It had an ornate crest engraved on the lid. Tom wondered if it was her family crest. She heaved it open, and began waving her wand. Books leapt out of the shelves and flew into the trunk at speed, making muffled thumps as they disappeared inside.

"It's enchanted with an Undetectable Extension Charm," she explained as she walked around the room, "It was very expensive, but worth it, I think."

"If I may ask," said Dumbledore politely, "Did you inherit money? Hogwarts has a fund for students who don't have any of their own."

A dark expression swept over her face, but she decided to answer, "Yes, whatever family I may have had left a small fortune at Gringotts."

May have had? So, she'd never met her family? Tom rose quietly and walked around the table, interested in the wall papered with newspaper clippings and written notes. Amalia was distracted by folding her crumpled clothes on the other side of the room with an irritable expression.

"Mysterious fire in Hampshire" read the headline of one clipping, and the picture of a burnt-out ruin was frozen - from a muggle newspaper. It was dated two years ago.

Next to it was a list of names, about twenty of them, under the scrawled heading "Involved?" Three had been crossed out.

"Mind your own business." Interrupted a sharp voice from behind him, and Tom turned with a bland expression.

She scowled darkly up at him and angrily waved her wand. With a ripping sound, all the papers came free of the wall at once and sorted themselves into a messy pile in midair. Another wave and they, too, disappeared into the seemingly bottomless trunk.

Tom shrugged, as if he wasn't burning with curiosity, and walked casually back to the table, which he leant against and folded his arms to wait.

Fifteen minutes later, the room was absolutely cleared of all traces of her existence, except the bare furniture.

Dumbledore vanished her trunk, like he'd done with Riddle's, and then they descended the stairs and exited the building in silence. Amalia closed the door behind her and locked it, and couldn't quite hide a small sigh as she left the building for good. But she squared her shoulders and looked resolute as she followed Dumbledore through the twisting roads of Knockturn towards Diagon Alley.

As they travelled, Tom kept expecting her to start babbling, as in his experience girls were wont to do. But she seemed more tense outside, and he started getting annoyed with the way her eyes flickered back and forth constantly, eyeing the shadows as if they could bite. Every now and then she would look behind her quickly, as if to catch a follower by surprise.

It was with some relief that they walked into the familiar bustle of The Leaky Cauldron, busy even at this late hour. Tom found he was ravenously hungry, and almost forgot his dislike of Dumbledore when the wizard insisted on ordering massive plates piled with food for each of them.

Dumbledore watched in amusement as his two charges fell on their meals. They were both on the skinny side, after all.

"It's not going to run away, Ms Gray," chuckled Dumbledore, and she blushed slightly over her almost-empty bowl of stew.

Tom's Sheppard's pie had already disappeared entirely, and his knife and fork were neatly crossed on his plate. He was already thinking longingly of the bed that awaited upstairs.

Amalia made an effort to chew slower, and swallowed carefully. "Eating was such a headache while using the Time-Turner," she said, unexpectedly forthcoming.

"Oh?" asked Dumbledore, inclining his head.

Amalia nodded, and rolled her eyes. "It was easy to forget, and then realize I had to leave food in the past for my future self… very confusing."

"You had the Time-Turner for two months, correct?" asked Dumbledore, a small frown creasing his forehead.

Amalia nodded. "Don't worry," she said easily, "I kept extensive records of what I was doing each day, so that I wouldn't get confused and be seen in the same place at the same time."

"I see." There was a stern look in his gaze, "However, you could have easily made a mistake and endangered yourself, or others."

Amalia didn't look contrite, but she did nod. "I know. But it was necessary, and I was as careful as I think I could have been."

Dumbledore read honesty in her gaze, but didn't understand. "Why was it so necessary?"

"I needed to learn how to defend myself in a short amount of time." She explained with a shrug. "They were attacking more often, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they found where I was living."

"They?" asked Tom, raising a skeptical eyebrow, "Who?"

Her expression darkened as she glanced at him, as if she'd forgotten about his presence, and was annoyed that he was in the conversation. "How am I supposed to know?" she asked hotly, as if he'd asked a stupid question. "Sometimes they'd be Ministry men, and other times they had masks!"

"Masks?" he sneered.

Dumbledore interrupted before Amalia could argue back. "And what did they do, when they… attacked?"

"Well, sometimes they would just try to kill me," she said matter-of-factly, "And other times they would try to capture me… I don't know why, so don't ask me!" despite her tone, she seemed quite upset, and looked at her stew, unhappy.

"The Ministry was just trying to track you down for the Time-Turner," explained Dumbledore, trying to calm her down, but she shook her head emphatically.

"No," she argued, "It's the other way around. The Ministry men were the ones trying to kill me. Not those idiots searching for the Time-Turner - they never got close enough to do anything."

Tom looked at the ceiling and struggled to hold back his laughter. Crazy as a coot, this one was…

Dumbledore certainly didn't sound convinced, as he said wearily, "And you have no idea why any of these men would seek you out?"

Her fork clattered in her empty bowl as she stood up abruptly. "I don't! I know you don't believe me, and I don't care." She raised her chin defiantly. "I'll give you my notes on the Time-Turner - that was the deal. I mostly used it to sit in my room and practice magic, anyway. Please don't concern yourself with any of my other problems."


"Good-night, Professor." And she stalked off to her room on the upper floor without another word.

Tom barely hid a grin at the look of frustration on Dumbledore's face - he didn't often see that. "Do you think she's telling the truth, Professor?" asked Tom, with false concern etched in his voice.

Dumbledore sighed, and looked even older than usual. "I think she believes it's true." He said thoughtfully, "But, I also think she's been living alone for a long time."

Even Dumbledore thinks she's nuts, Tom thought smugly. "I think you may be right." He said somberly, and stood up as well.

"Good night, Professor."

The next day went by in a blur of activity. Tom left Dumbledore and his new charge to do Amalia's shopping in the morning. He felt right again as he did his own long-overdue shopping, and saw many Hogwarts students among the throng in Diagon Alley as it was the day before the start of term. He stayed out late, and only arrived back at The Leaky Cauldron when it was already getting dark.

He spotted Dumbledore in a discussion with a group of awestruck-looking old wizards in emerald robes, but didn't know what language they were speaking in. He resisted rolling his eyes - what made him so great, anyway?

But as he passed by, Dumbledore looked over and motioned to him.

He fixed a polite smile on his face and walked over.

"Tom," said Dumbledore when he was close enough, "Before you go to bed, tell Ms Gray we are leaving at precisely eight o' clock tomorrow morning."

Tom nodded, his cheerful mood somewhat dampened at the thought of speaking to the neurotic girl. But he went upstairs and paused at her door and called out, "Ms Gray, are you in there?" he heard no reply, so he raised his hand and knocked.

As soon as his knuckles connected with the wood of the door, a surge of energy like a bolt of electricity flashed through him, and he jerked back, cursing. There was a red welt on his hand where the spell had burnt him.

He glared at the door and considered blasting the damn thing into splinters. Who in seven hells put a Stinging Hex on the door of an inn?!

He heard footsteps and the door cracked open, and Amalia stood there, pointing her wand at him suspiciously. "Oh, it's just you." She said, and her eyes lost their interest. He felt a prickle of annoyance. He knew for a fact that all female students at Hogwarts would have squealed in delight, or shrank back in fear at the sight of him at their door, not curled their lip in barely disguised disdain!

She left the door open and walked back inside. He stalked after her.

She walked over to the bed and picked up a book which she had obviously just been reading. It was Advanced Potion-Making, Year Five.

"We're leaving at eight tomorrow," he spat, still rubbing the welt on his hand, "Don't be late."

"I won't be." She answered emotionlessly.

He turned on his heel to march out before he hexed her out of annoyance.

"Riddle," she said suddenly, making him pause.

"What?" he snapped.

"What house are you in?" she seemed genuinely curious.

"…Slytherin." He replied.

She nodded. "Is that the best house?"

"Of course." He said arrogantly.

She seemed thoughtful. "Do you think I will make it into Slytherin?"

He looked into her big brown eyes and said coldly, "No." Slytherin was no place for paranoid hoarders, after all.

She blinked. "Oh." She looked down at the Potions book and traced a finger over the cover.

"Dumbledore mentioned you live in a muggle orphanage." She said suddenly, "Is that true?"

Tom just looked at her, with ice in his eyes, while he imagined cursing Dumbledore in the worst way possible for the umpteenth time.

Amalia saw the answer in his stiff expression, and inclined her head. "Are you muggleborn?" she asked next, in a matter-of-fact voice.

Tom, who had been determined not to give anything else away, couldn't help a disgusted expression flitting across his face, and he snarled, "No!"

"A Half-blood, then." Concluded Amalia simply, and, seeing confirmation in his glare, she shrugged and returned her attention to her book.

Tom tried to contain his fury with difficulty. How dare this insolent little girl speak to him like this…?! In his pocket, he felt his wand heating up under his fingers as he itched to curse her pretty little face right off… not that he thought she was pretty, of course…

He was distracted from his rage by her next words. "I sometimes wonder… why aren't there any magical orphanages…?" she murmured, as if she'd forgotten Tom's presence entirely. She sounded… wistful.

Magical orphanages? … Was she an orphan, then?

I moved to Knockturn two years ago. Before that… It isn't relevant.

Yes, whatever family I may have had left a small fortune at Gringotts.

Tom's rage faded to a dull roar at the back of his mind as he was gripped by a terrible curiosity.

Who was she? What had happened in her past?

Whatever her story was, she was certainly different. And different was interesting…

As he left her room, he pondered everything he knew about her. It wasn't much. And now she knew he was Half-blood. Though it wasn't exactly a secret at Hogwarts, he certainly didn't broadcast it, and those that did know also knew to keep their mouths shut. Could she use this against him…?

He shook his head at his own folly. There was no way she posed a threat to him. The notion was laughable. But he wanted to understand the mystery that was Amalia Gray… and he vowed darkly to himself that he would do it… Even if it meant he had to get his hands dirty in the process.

He threw himself down on his bed and let an evil grin twist his handsome features. This might actually be quite fun…