AN: Slightly longer chapter for you guys today, featuring the scene I have been waiting to write since I started this story. Guess which scene it is! :D Thank you for the kind comments!
Teaching History (is Old News)
23 - Closest
"Wait," Tom says irrationally, "did you forget what I owe you?"
"Since when do you owe me anything?" he says, sounding concerned and flabbergasted.
"I promised to wear one of your atrocious sweaters, did I not?" Tom continues.
Harry's jaw drops. "You mean… you're actually going to keep your promise?"
Tom scowls. "Do you think that I have no honour?"
"No, just, I mean, I didn't expect—"
Every bit of Tom's self-preservation screams that he'll never be caught dead in such neon colours and yet, Tom feels the irrational need to keep surprising Harry, to keep Harry from looking so bland and dull.
"Give me your most atrocious sweater, Harry. I keep my word."
Several seconds pass. Tom feels the urge to transfigure the strangest sweater he can think of, if Harry won't give him one, before Harry's face bursts into delighted laughter. His laughs are so startling that Tom nearly forgets his anger. Instead, Tom feels the faint outline of a barely remembered scene… the delighted laughter feels like the long-lost threads of an old tune or lullaby…
"Oh Tom," Harry grins, "I have so many ideas for you."
Never mind. Tom should have been content with the gift basket apology.
"Where in the world are Professors Potter and Riddle?" Hermione scowls. "It's been twenty minutes! I could have been half-way finished with our Potions assignment by now!"
"Hermione, no offense, but I'm pretty sure you can finish that essay later tonight with your eyes closed. You need to relax a bit more, you'll be fine," Ron tries to cheer her up.
"But it's not fine, precious minutes of my life are ticking away! If Professor Riddle lost track of the time because of some strange hunt for the perfect apology, I swear—"
"Oh precious, sweet Hermione," Fred wanders over.
"So naïve," George joins in.
"—Riddle would be the one to—"
"—miss an appointment or—"
"—our Professor Harrykins—"
They both lean against each other with matching Chesire grins.
"W-well," Hermione falters, "Professor Potter's been ill since Monday…"
"You mean, Sunday, when Riddle took Harrykins on a mysterious date which blew up in his face," George says. "Would kill to know what he did to our Harry."
Fred only cackles ominously.
"You don't think they're really dating, do you? I mean, Professor Riddle seems cool and all but sometimes he gets a really creepy look on his face when he looks at Professor Potter. Don't think that's love," Ron points out.
"Oh Ron," George pats his head.
"Don't you know?" Fred winks.
"Monopolize him," they both say at once.
Ron snorts. "Well, until I see Professor Riddle and Professor Potter acting friendly on both sides, I won't believe it."
At that moment, the doors open and the very professors they discussed rush in. Professor Potter looks like he hasn't slept in weeks, about to collapse at any moment, but his familiar smile remains a comfort even if it seems a bit forced. Professor Riddle, however, is the one who makes everyone's jaws drop.
With a scowl (which Ron honestly believes is Riddle's true default setting, not the eerily perfect smile he has on all the time), Professor Riddle seems to be wearing a fitted yellow sweater. The yellow yarn seems mixed with bits of silver thread, making the sweater gleam in the firelight. Even worse, the design in the center of the sweater features some dancing bananas, arm in arm, doing the can-can. Ron can't see it from here, but he bets that the writing at the bottom of the sweater says, let's go bananas! The worst thing is that Professor Riddle still looks as elegant and dignified as always, even wearing such a thing.
The room is so quiet, Ron can barely hear any breathing.
"Hello everyone!" Professor Potter says as enthusiastically as possible. "Such a great turnout tonight! I've missed seeing you all! Sorry I've been away. I'm kind of worn down lately. But no worries, I'll be back to teach tomorrow morning. Anyways, let's get started. Riddle, do you have any introductory speeches you want to say?"
Professor Riddle huffs and sends that creepy look towards Professor Potter again. Somehow, that look seems creepier than usual, as if Professor Riddle has realized how creepy that stare is and embraced it.
Ron does not shiver at all, nope.
"So," George remarks, "do we have to give Professor Riddle the shovel talk?"
Hermione blanches. "The what-now?"
"Well, they must be sleeping together by now," Fred nods.
George glares darkly and smiles.
"Shovel talk, it is," he says to Ron and Hermione's horror.
Act like a leader and no one will question you. Tom channels the aura of a commanding dark lord as he orders various students to fix their dueling stances. He gives no mercy (to an extent) when he and Harry perform their dueling demonstration. When Tom hears a few snickers over his sweater, he glares those students into terrified silence.
Smugly, Tom turns to Harry, ready to snidely comment that the students still respect him, no matter what he wears, when he notices Harry's distracted gaze.
Even now, when Tom acquiesces to Harry's requests, Harry sees another Riddle instead.
Unknowingly, Tom's fists curl together.
Suddenly, before Tom can comment, a stray slicing hex flies through the air, headed towards Harry's torso, and Tom sees a horrified Ron Weasley yell, "Professor Potter, watch out!"
But Harry doesn't hear. Harry's lost in whatever visions, in whatever realities, plague him, and Tom thinks NO!
He yanks Harry behind him, summons up a wandless shield charm and blasts the slicing hex into the ceiling. The force of the backlashed hex makes the ceiling rumble, makes the torches shiver in fear, and immediately, the room bursts into panicked cacophony.
"Professor Potter, are you alright?"
"What was that?! Can shield charms really do that?!"
"The power that Professor Riddle had…"
"Why'd you have to be so clumsy, Ron?!"
"Oh my god, is he hurt?!"
"ENOUGH!" Tom roars, if only to hide the way Harry's hands tremble. "Mr. Weasley—"
"Which one?" Fred and George pipe up.
"Ronald Weasley," Tom corrects.
"Oh no," Ron moans, "it's never good when they use your full name."
"Detention. This Friday, after your brothers are done their session with me. No tardiness, or I double the detention. The rest of you? Never fire a spell you don't mean to hit. Now, out. We'll continue next Tuesday."
Tom narrows his eyes at all of them and seethes, "Out."
No one questions his orders after that.
Once the room clears out, Tom whirls around and puts his hands on Harry's shoulders. "Are you hurt? Did anything hit you?"
"I'm fine," Harry brushes him away, though he looks anything but fine. The bags under his eyes seem more pronounced. He looks as if he saw his worst nightmare come true. "Just… distracted."
"Let me check you over—"
"No, I told you, I'm fine!"
"You are not fine. What is happening to you?" Tom demands. "This is about more than our disagreement."
Harry glares at him, suddenly more present. "What do you care? If anything, you should be ecstatic at the idea of me in pain. You always have been."
Tom stills, the words like a petrifying charm holding him in place. His mind swirls with contradictions—the immediate urge to deny such claims, and the evidence against it building inside him.
With a huff, Harry pulls back. "That's what I thought."
And once more, Harry walks away from Tom Riddle.
[Is Green Eyes returning to us at last?] Nagini eagerly asks when Tom returns. The line of purple death-eater-ducks, suddenly following her every action like ducklings, oink and quack at once.
[Do I want Harry near me because I enjoy seeing him in pain?] Tom demands instead.
[What?] If possible, Nagini would scrunch up her nose. [What kind of stupid garbage have the humans been feeding you this time?]
Tom doesn't answer. Instead, he pulls up another roll of parchment and immediately starts writing down every instance where he wanted Harry to suffer. Seeing as the list might continue indefinitely if Tom recalls every annoyance Harry has ever performed, he summarizes similar incidences and tallies them. The number of instances reach well over a thousand… all these murderous thoughts towards the one he wants to be his equal…
Disgust thrums through Tom, for the first time, towards himself. Has he ever tried to know Harry? Has he ever tried to build a bond with him through 'amicable' methods?
[…Master, do you seriously believe that you would hurt Green-Eyes?] Nagini groans.
Tom glowers at her and points to the list. [The evidence suggests that—]
[Never mind any murderous thoughts you might feel, that's normal! If you and your mate didn't annoy each other at least once, I would doubt your existence! Have you ever ACTED upon these urges? Have any of your actions ever been to harm? How have you acted when others threatened your mate?]
[He's not my…]
True enough, if anyone else ever dared annoy him to this extent, Tom would have plotted the proper revenge and ruined their life. But Harry, all these years with him, and Tom has never done so. If anything, he's grown… more than tolerant towards Harry. Didn't he come to this conclusion before? That Harry makes his life less dull? That Harry is a necessity? All those incidences when Tom was snide to Draco Malfoy, when Tom tried to sabotage Professor Trelawney when she made death predictions against Harry, when Tom dragged Harry to the library so he'd spend less time with Diggory, Longbottom, and Chang, when Tom tried to destroy Hagrid for threatening Harry with those acromantulas… Seeing Harry so worn during dueling club and wanting to hide him from prying eyes…
This terrible, creeping feeling, that's latched onto his very soul, that refuses to leave…!
[I… care about him…] Tom stares down at his chest, as if to glare at his soul, as if to accuse it of betrayal.
Nagini sighs and turns to the purple ducks. [And they say humans are the most intelligent creatures on the planet. You ducks might be better off as ducks.]
Tom stands up. [This can't be happening.]
[…But it is?]
[I can't care about him.]
At those words, Nagini looks up at the ceiling imploringly.
[Sweet Snake Goddess, help me,] Nagini sighs. [Alright, I'll ask. Why not?]
What a stupid question. Isn't it obvious? [It's weakness! He'll find a way to control me! Caring is a way to exploit others!]
Nagini stays quiet. Even the ducks don't give a quack or oink.
[Well? Aren't you going to say something?]
[Why should I] Nagini hisses, [when you've already decided that the risks outweigh the benefits? You're too afraid to see what you'd lose instead of what you'd gain.]
Tom clenches his fists. [Of course, I know what I would gain.] An equal, someone who understands him, someone who acknowledges who he truly is. Not the face he wears for others, but the all facets of him.
[Then why aren't you chasing it?]
Tom doesn't answer. They both know why.
The realization that Tom not only views Harry as an equal but also cares about him, has Tom internally seething at himself for days after. How can he be so blind and unaware of his own feelings? How can he leave himself so vulnerable? He should avoid Harry, cut off this weakness, and focus on returning his death eaters to normal.
And yet every time he passes Harry in the corridor or sees him during meals, Tom's ridiculous heart beats faster. He finds himself wanting to demand that Harry eat more, sleep more… He wants to hide Harry from Chang, from Malfoy, for anyone who will take his attention. He's even kept the stupid banana-yellow sweater and kept it in his room for safekeeping. He's even kept the annoying advice letters that still keep coming in the owl post for him about apologizing. These feelings that he buried under resentment and annoyance refuse to go away now that he's acknowledged them.
It's not love, it can't be. Tom refuses to let it become love. But he cares, when he thought he'd never be capable. He's being so weak.
Pushing Harry away is not an option but neither is letting this feeling fester. So Tom will keep a polite distance and continue to be polite until Harry talks to him again.
He's in control.
By Friday evening, Tom waits impatiently for the Weasley twins to show up for their detention. He made sure to lock every purple death-eater duck upstairs with Nagini, threatening to let her eat them all if they try to escape. He doubts they understand, but regardless.
Fifteen minutes pass and still, the twins are no where to be seen. Tom scowls, ready to hunt them down and drag them to his office when he hears a bloodcurdling scream.
Tom's blood runs cold. Before he can think, he rushes out, wand ready.
The scream continues, and Tom shouts, "Harry!" only to see that very person running away from a swarm of… moths?
For a moment, Tom stares in disbelief as these fluttery creatures swarm about Harry, as if to devour him. But they do nothing, only try to touch him with their little feet, making Harry shriek, "Get them off, get them off!" Tom almost wants to scoff at the silly fear, but then Harry locks eyes with his, and Tom sees the deep fear there.
Tom acts without thinking. He waves his wand, vanishing as many moths as possible, all while marching towards Harry. Some of the moths burn from the intensity of Tom's spells, but he doesn't care. There's an irrational need to be close, to use some kind of magic (anything) to wipe away the dread on Harry's face.
Nearly all the moths are gone when Tom reaches him. He stretches out his hand towards Harry and suddenly—
"Got—" a voice sings.
"You…!" The other voice finishes.
Two pairs of hands push Tom and Harry together and before Tom knows it, they're both trapped in a confined space in the dark, with little room to move. Tom's arms are around Harry's, like a cage, and he stares down at Harry's shocked gaze, at how close those eyes are, before he pushes back and shouts, "WEASLEYS!"
Muffled laughter answers him from the other side.
"But you've been pranked!"
"Can't leave the closet now—"
"—Until you work things out—"
"—And help us work out the kinks—"
"—Of our world-bending closet!"
What in the…? Tom is going to murder those twins. As soon as he takes over the world, they will be first to die.
He whispers a few spells. Blasting hex. The unlocking spell. Anything that might open the doors. But nothing. This closet, one that hadn't been in the hall before, seems built against such tampering.
"Detention for the rest of the year," Tom seethes.
"Hmmm… sorry!" One twin sings.
"It's so worth it," the other says.
"Shouldn't have hurt our Professor Harrykins!" they both chorus. Their laughter seems to move farther and farther away…
"Don't you dare leave! Let us out this instant or I'll…!" The tremors behind Tom make him stop. "Harry…?""
He slowly turns around and sees Harry with his knees curled up on the floor. Even as dark as the Weasley's closet is, those green eyes seem to glow even when lost in thought. Then Harry hides his face against his knees and, for once, Tom has no idea how to proceed.
In all his years at the orphanage and Hogwarts, Tom has never had to comfort anyone. At the orphanage, Tom had the privilege of ignoring or causing anyone's tears. Their pain was retribution. But at Hogwarts, Tom always acts pleasant to everyone, yet politely distant. No one would dare come crying to him…
To Tom's horror, he hears sniffling. "Stop that," he snaps, the urge to maim whoever caused this rising.
A watery chuckle answers him. "M'sorry. Can't exactly do that."
"Yes, you can! Just… concentrate, and you'll stop…" Tom gestures towards the damp tear stains, "that!"
Harry finally raises his head and looks directly at Tom, his green eyes like distorted stained glass that's been cracked and glued back together. Tom feels a strange pang at the sight. "Doesn't work like that, Riddle."
"Well, I wouldn't know! I've never cried in my life!"
"You must have cried at least, once, when you were a baby at least."
"Fine. I've never remembered crying in my life. Is that better?"
Another water chuckle rings out. "Much."
Tom hates how his shoulders relax at the sight of that smile.
"Are you… feeling better?" That's what people are supposed to say, correct? A pointless question, when Tom sees those tears still coming down Harry's face. Mere words can't change those away. Should Tom pat his shoulder? He's seen students do that after crushing examination results. He quickly taps Harry's shoulder quickly, as if burned.
A snort escapes Harry's lips.
Tom scowls. "What? I'm comforting you."
Something… soft and strange eases into Harry's face. "Yeah… you are, aren't you? Thank you, Tom. I feel… grounded, when you're here."
A burning sensation crawls its way up to Tom's throat, as if he's swallowed fire and joy all at once. "As long as you stop that, it's fine."
Harry laughs, his laughter as soothing as his singing, and it occurs to Tom that he's never heard this from Harry before. Genuine laughter. Not forced or practiced.
"It's called 'crying', Tom, and it's normal for humans to do it when they're sad or frustrated."
"Are you?" Tom asks.
Harry blinks at him. "Am I what…?"
"Sad or frustrated."
The look Harry gives him is indecipherable, like a dead language that recently surfaced from an ancient dig. Tom could study human expressions all his life and never be able to replicate the same look. There's pain there, sadness, maybe even anger. But the pain bothers Tom the most. It shouldn't be there. He wants to blot it out. Forever.
"You don't have to tell me," Tom says, not if it makes Harry's expression worse. Tom can figure out the cause for himself later, deduce who the culprits are. Eliminate them. No need to make Harry… cry… again.
And yet, Harry whispers, "No. I… I think I want to. You… You're different, right? You're not like the other Tom Riddles? You're you?"
That lost way of speaking, Tom hasn't heard it since they were young… since the incident… it's all so vague, Tom can barely recall the words…
"No, no, it's you. It has to be. I know it. Tom, I just never know when I'm actually talking to you. I see so many different versions of you, my head hurts. It's been nearly a week, and I'm slipping again. Twisting round and round, walking in different visions of different worlds. I see so many different Harry Potters, different Tom Riddles, with terrible fates, and I can never stop them. No one listens, no one believes, it's just me…!"
Tom's eyes widen. He… he doesn't—
"You're my Tom Riddle, right? Everything's quieter around you. I just need…!"
"Enough!" Tom snaps because he can't stand hearing Harry like this, so lost and confused, so far from himself. No. For the first time in his life, Tom wraps his arms around another human being, and he covers Harry's ears. "You don't need to listen to them anymore. Just listen to me. My heartbeat. I'm the Tom Riddle you should be seeing right now," the only one, "I'm here."
He presses Harry closer against him, silently dares Harry to protest.
But Harry doesn't. He just… sags into Tom's embrace and lets himself breathe.
Tom tangles his fingers tighter against Harry's head. He doesn't care about Harry. Not really. He's merely protecting his investment in his future equal. That's all.
He doesn't care…
When Harry's breaths calm down and the sniffling stops, Tom breaks the silence and demands, "Why were you running from those moths? They're harmless."
Harry puts on his annoying smile. "Have you seen moths up close?! They're freaky little monsters with wings that want to suck your blood and crawl down your throat!"
Tom doesn't budge at the silly answer. "The real reason, if you please."
The smile drops. "You don't want to know."
"I believe I do."
With a shrug, Harry murmurs, "The cupboard that the Dursleys made me sleep in used to be infested with moths. They somehow scared me, even when I made friends with the spiders. It's silly, I know."
Tom thinks of his own childhood, how Dennis tried to drown Tom in the ocean once, and then Tom made him pay. How vast oceans of water make his skin crawl even now that he knows how to swim…
"Perhaps not as silly as you think."
Harry freezes, like a startled rabbit, before he stands up abruptly and says loudly, "Let's figure out how to get out of here! Knowing Fred and George, there's probably some sort of mechanism or game we have to use. Let's see… lumos!"
Light brightens the closest, and on the walls, Tom sees a strange level and dial. The dial looks like several rotating circles, spinning around each other with different numbers running across each circle.
"Huh," says Harry. "Maybe we should push the lever? I don't see anything else."
Tom frowns. If the Weasley Twins are involved, then this lever may dye their bodies entirely purple or make them sprout feathers. Still, he'd rather leave and then reexamine this encounter with Harry in detail later…
With a nod from Harry, Tom pulls the lever.
Instantly, the door opens.
But they don't see Hogwarts beyond the doors. No, instead they see a giant flock of flamingoes outside. Flamingoes with beaks stained with blood.
Tom stares at the flamingoes, then back at the lever, then back at Harry.
He glares. "Did you have anything to do with—"
"Look, I'm as lost as you are, and I'm a seer," Harry blanches. "I'm just surprised you can see what I see."
The flamingoes look straight at them, their eyes menacing and bloodthirsty.
"Oh my god," Harry gapes, "I think we're in another universe. I think this closest travels through different universes."
"Harry. No." Tom says, wishing he could return to his room and plot dark evil plans, like a normal dark lord.
The flamingoes all let out a hungry cry, revealing strange sharp teeth (absolutely anatomically incorrect for avian species, definitely not of their universe) before charging towards the closest.
"Close the door, close it!" Harry hollers.
"I can't!" Tom roars back.
He pulls the lever again. The doors slam shut and the dial begins to rotate in a frenzy.
"What the hell was that?!" Tom demands.
"Maybe it was a hologram projection or an illusion, I mean, interdimensional travel isn't possible yet. Right? We didn't actually touch the flamingoes, so they weren't really there. Yeah!" Harry nods to himself. "Pull the lever again, maybe we'll be back in Hogwarts now, the twins will reveal it's all a joke."
Right. That seems more logical. This is all an illusion. Not real.
Another pull of the lever, and the door opens.
Tom and Harry walk out into a strange jungle that is definitely not Hogwarts.
"Well shit," says Harry. "We are not in our universe anymore."
AN: you have NO idea how long I've waited for this. Next chapter features the short interdimensional travels of Tom and Harry