Hollow Thunder, Vital Lightning -Aariya

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Harry Potter/Tom Riddle

Genre: Drama, Romance, Fantasy, Action/Adventure

Summary: Life after Voldemort is ideal and perfect for everyone except the one who made it possible. Unbelievably bored and unhappy, Harry performs a spell that will take him to an alternate universe where he can be happiest with Voldemort. Even he hadn't expected the outcomes or how the spell would misinterpret his desires.

Warnings: slash; AU; Slytherin!Harry; Dark!Harry (sorta)...and another one I took out that you will have to figure out for yourself; it's kind of crucial to the plot so I can't tell you!

Spoilers: Compliant with first five books and includes information from six and seven.

Disclaimer: You know, I've thought about it, mulled it over in my head, and I've come to the conclusion that Harry Potter could possibly be mine...IN NEVER-NEVER LAND!

.-.

"HTVL" - English, or other human languages

HTVL - Thoughts, Spells, Special Text (titles and such)

"HTVL" - Parseltongue, Incanted Spells, or a language within a language

HTVL - Parselmagic (spells and the language in writing)

Chapter 11: Head Games


The low hum of conversation filled the Head Dorm common room, where Tom was holding a meeting for his followers. The sole purpose of tonight's meeting was to induct Lucas Pyrites.

Meetings of this nature were rare; the bloody Head Girl hardly seemed to disappear for as long as Tom needed her to. (Not to mention, every one of his followers gathering in the dorm for the occasion would raise suspicions—particularly Dumbledore's.) But after her precious boyfriend had been deemed well enough to leave St. Mungo's and transferred to Hogwarts' infirmary today, she had yet to leave his side.

Tom capitalized on the opportunity by changing Pyrites' initiation from its original time next month to tonight. Owen Padrig having been dealt the Cruciatus proved to be serving him in more ways than one. Tom surmised he had the dorm almost entirely to himself while Padrig was fully recovering from two simultaneous Cruciatus curses in the hospital wing for at least another two weeks.

All this, however, was far from what was on the forefront of his mind.

One by one, every single one of the followers he'd gradually amassed since his third year filed into the common room. He inputted a special password for them on the portrait into the dorm for these meetings, and activated it only on the night of so that they couldn't enter whenever they fancied.

Tom watched as they took their seats. The chairs in the room were arranged to form a half-circle in front of his armchair, which he had enlarged so that they had to look up at him. There was one chair right between the others and his, directly facing him. This one was meant for Pyrites.

Tom had yet to decide how he would welcome Pyrites into the group. It was different for everyone. Sometimes it was done formally, by making an oath to him—but that was reserved for his most serious followers (though they were all made to swear some loyalty to him). Other times, it was informal. Once, he had had an intellectual discussion about the wizarding world, blood status, and the future. That, however, was only allowed for people he himself had sought out and was charming.

Pyrites didn't fit into either of these categories. He had expressed interest in joining Tom on his own, and he hadn't yet shown to be one of his more zealous followers.

Tom had had a talk with him after Antonin had, as promised, brought him along to their regular meeting. He had concluded that while Pyrites was interested in joining him, it wasn't because he was serious about Tom's proposed cause. He may be agreeable, but the real reason he wanted to join was so that this could serve as a distraction.

Tom might have turned him away (He had no tolerance for someone who did not take what he was doing seriously.) if not for the fact that Pyrites was not only a highly skilled dueler, but, from what he'd gleaned, he seemed to be an equally as sadistic person. And Tom truly enjoyed having among his followers those who weren't afraid to do what it took to get the job done while managing to stay level-headed at the same time.

It was a rare thing, and a very fine line.

Sometime after most of the students arrived, Pyrites walked into the room behind Antonin. The Slytherins who didn't come to the regular meetings stared at him, probably surprised to see the small boy without Anastius's towering frame at his side. Antonin brought him to the front of the room, and then left him to go take his seat. Pyrites eyed Tom somewhat anxiously, though he tried to hide it.

Tom swept a careless hand at the chair before him. "Have a seat," he invited silkily.

Pyrites obediently sank into the proffered chair with a combination of grace and trepidation. Obedient was good. That was one less lesson for Tom to teach him. A proper fear of him helped, too.

Tom observed him silently for a long minute. He allowed the boy—and everyone else—to think he was scrutinizing him when, in fact, he could think of nothing more than what he had learned yesterday.

He had been coming up to the Entrance Hall following a visit to the dungeons when he'd found Noah with tears running down his face. After the initial aversion to seeing someone cry—ingrained in him from years of having to put up with it at the orphanage—he'd asked the Hufflepuff what had happened. Needless to say, his reaction had been far from ideal.

Blood throbbed rhythmically in his veins at the mere reminder. His magic answered with each beat, eager to be released, eager to sate his blood-thirst, most eager to hurt Alphard Black.

He had been seconds away from searching out Alphard and performing the Killing Curse on him. It was good he had reined in the urge, though. Slow drawn-out torture would be much more satisfying. The many ways he could carry out his revenge refused to leave his mind, even now when he should be focusing on this meeting instead.

"Tell me, Lucas," he whispered, breaking the tension-filled silence in the room, "what you would do if someone dare touched what is yours?"

Pyrites temporarily lost the fearful look in his eyes as his brows furrowed in confusion. "I beg your pardon?"

Tom smiled chillingly. He greatly disliked having to repeat himself. "It's a simple question," he said faintly.

Pyrites' eyes widened, sensing he'd somehow angered him. "Of course," he quickly agreed, and then hurried to answer his question, "If this something or someone rightfully belonged to me, then I would surely make them regret doing so."

Tom paused to analyze his distinction. Pyrites had specified his question by adding that he had claimed this someone as his and not, presumably, just in his own mind. Tom could therefore safely deduce that there was someone who was the object of Pyrites' affections, but who either did not know or did not return these feelings.

Since the small boy hardly socialized with anyone besides Anastius, Tom had to assume he was this mystery person. But Anastius was well-known for his discomfiture over anything involving homosexuality, and he was currently infatuated with the one girl least likely to return his affections.

He had little to no interest in who Pyrites was coveting, though, unless it was something he could use; which, in this case, it was not.

"And how is it you would go about doing that?" Tom asked.

Pyrites' eyes glazed over, as though he were imagining it. "I would first give them a potion to ensure they did not lose consciousness. After which I would slice off their eyelids so that they had no choice but to watch as I slowly peeled away their skin. Then I would set afire a small patch of skin at a time. The smell of their own burning flesh would make it seem worse than it actually is. But, in reality, I would have only just begun," he explained with relish, voice soft and honeyed.

Tom thought it prudent to intervene before he continued, as he could see the boy was gearing up for more. "Thank you, Lucas; that will be all," he cut in. "You certainly do paint a vivid picture."

Pyrites seemed to glow at the supposed compliment, while the rest of the students stared at the boy, evidently stunned. Tom was less impressed at his vicious, imaginative prowess. Granted, Pyrites was better than most, but Tom had seen better, and Pyrites needed practice before he was anywhere as good.

Nonetheless, having Pyrites recount what he would do served its intended purpose, besides giving Tom ideas on how to carry out Alphard's punishment. His followers now knew Pyrites wasn't afraid to get dirty, and could acknowledge him as one of them. Each was respected for at least one thing; there was no doubt Pyrites, too, would come to be respected for his vindictiveness.

Not that he cared all that much if they approved of the people he chose to join him, but it certainly made things smoother when there were no objections.

Normally, Tom required that new followers demonstrate their loyalty to him during their induction, but he'd decided to forgo that today. Primarily because he had no desire to prolong this meeting and he wanted to get to what he actually wanted to do. There was also the fact that he had another induction planned for the last meeting before the winter break and it would be less trying for him if he didn't have to go through this twice in the span of two weeks. Besides, Pyrites could benefit from a little uncertainty if he were made to wait.

Tom stood, effectively signaling an end to the meeting, which caused some confusion, to be sure, judging by the looks on their faces. He didn't bother to clear up the confusion, instead turning to the room at large and saying, "That shall be all for today. You may approach Renatus for when you will be expected to attend the next compulsory meeting." Quickly, before they took up space in his dorm loitering about to speak with the Lestrange, he added firmly, "Elsewhere."

"Good night, Lord," Antonin began the usual chorus of 'good nights' that followed his dismissal, as he did every time.

Inattentively, Tom said, "Good night."

As they had entered, they left his dorm too gradually for his liking. Finally, he had the room all to himself—or so he thought until he turned around to find Renatus still there, and then recalled he had the boy stay behind after each meeting.

"The tenth of December," Tom swiftly told him, preempting any conversation that might delay his departure.

"My Lord?"

"The next meeting," he clarified, hiding his impatience. He waved his wand perfunctorily at the chairs scattered about the room to vanish them.

Renatus nodded. "Yes, my Lord." A beat later, he questioned, "If I may ask, my Lord, why was it Pyrites was not made to swear his fealty to you?"

Tom had known he would ask; had anticipated it, actually, so predictable were the people among him, particularly his followers. "You are curious?"

"Yes."

"As is he."

"Ah—very good, my Lord," the other wizard remarked, as though Tom needed his input to know when he'd made a sound tactical decision. Not to say that there had been any definite strategy involved in it.

"My Lord...have you chosen Hadrian Black as your consort?" Renatus suddenly inquired, surprising Tom enough for him to stop the systematic cleansing he was doing of the entire room.

That, he had not anticipated Renatus would have the guts to ask.

Tom glanced at him obliquely, wondering why he was allowing him to continue taking up his valuable time. Or breathe. Choosing to humor him for the moment only to see what he would say, he asked, "Whatever gave you such an idea?"

For a fleeting second, Renatus seemed to think better of what he was going to say. Then he lost whatever intelligent thought that had crossed his mind, and said it anyway. "Forgive my bluntness, my Lord, but the two of you have been close for rather some time, and then...at the Hogsmeade attack..." he faltered, unable to finish the sentence, probably because of some combination of the expression on Tom's face and his own discomfort.

Tom had no trouble filling in the blanks, though. How dare this cockroach throw his misstep back in his face? His expression became icy in response, and Renatus was instantly on guard, poised to apologize profusely and grovel in case he'd made Tom irreparably mad. His eyes were trained on Tom's wand, which was now waving in his general direction as he wiped the signatures of every wizard and witch that had walked into his dorm that evening.

"Your interest in my personal life is fairly annoying. Your audacity: even more so," Tom drawled, deceptively calm. "I indulged you once, Renatus. My mistake, it seems. I will not revisit this again, understood?"

Renatus swallowed convulsively, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down quite noticeably. "Yes, my Lord."

"Excellent." Tom smiled thinly at him, and sharply ordered, "Now, find me Alphard and let him know I wish to see him straightaway. Impress upon him that it would be most disadvantageous should I be forced to search him out."

The pureblood fairly stuttered as he bowed and hurried to obey. "Right away, my Lord." He was out of the room in less than five seconds.

Tom's hunger for inflicting pain on someone—preferably Alphard—was suddenly much higher than it had been an hour earlier. The presumptuous Black had better heed his warning, for both his and Renatus's sake; he'd had about all he could take of insolence for a year.

000

Alphard's talk with Noah had not gone well. He imagined that if the Hufflepuff hadn't been so mild-mannered he might have told him to sod off. Of course, it went a little differently than that, though not by much.

"How long have you known?" had been the first thing out of Noah's mouth when he'd finally agreed to go somewhere private with Alphard to talk, which in and of itself had taken some convincing.

At the unexpected query, Alphard directed his gaze from the floor to the sixth year standing as far from him as humanly possible while still within hearing range. "How long have I known of my feelings for Hadrian?" he elucidated, and instantly wished he hadn't from the brief wounded glint in Noah's eyes. Vaguely, he responded, "For a while."

Noah's brows knit together in irritation. "How long?" he repeated in an unusually forceful tone.

With some effort, Alphard kept from sighing. His muscles ached, his heart still ached, and this talk was coming on the heels of Tom's special brand of torture so his bones, most of all, ached something fierce. He hadn't thought it possible to underestimate Tom's wrath, but he'd learned just how severely he had misjudged it. For one who hoped to keep his involvement with Hadrian concealed, his rage had been very telling, even if he'd feigned anger only over Noah.

Yet, Alphard knew he owed this much to the shy boy who'd become as attached to him as one could be to another in under a month, and received little but apathy and detachment as thanks.

And he knew what Noah was really asking of him. Since Alphard couldn't bring himself to further hurt the boy, he wasn't about to tell him that he'd been certain for close to five years now, but hadn't had the decency not to start anything with him knowing he wouldn't be able to fully, or even partially, invest.

In the end, he varnished the truth a little. "Long enough," he said.

At this, Noah's stare was piercing, and Alphard felt as though he were silently asking him if he thought him incapable of handling the truth. He wouldn't have an answer for that even if the question were posed outright. All he was sure of was his refusal to be the cause of anymore of his pain if he could help it.

"I'm sorry," Alphard echoed the words he was finding himself constantly repeating for two days.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" Noah's voice was small when he spoke, and he drew self-consciously into himself. "I would have understood."

Alphard felt awful for having brought this out from a boy whose confidence was already extremely low. He shook his head helplessly, unable to come up with an adequate response, and then admitted, "I didn't mean to deceive you. I just didn't want to disappointment."

That the one he wasn't keen on disappointing was Hadrian and not Noah he chose to keep to himself. Either way, it seemed like the younger student had picked up on the underlying meaning.

For a moment, there was nothing but the soft sound of their breathing, until Noah half-accused, half-asked, "You have always known, haven't you?"

He'd tried to circumvent the truth, but it seemed Noah was quite adamant about getting a direct answer. Alphard couldn't lie to him again about this; he was just emotionally and physically tired of lying about it at all, for that matter.

"I...cannot imagine loving anyone else," he said candidly.

Noah nodded solemnly, and shrugged. "Then there's nothing else to be said, is there?"

"But it doesn't mean I never can," Alphard added, rather vainly, he knew.

"Yeah, it pretty much does," Noah contradicted. He turned away and called softly over his shoulder, "Goodbye, Alphard."

Alphard's goodbye got stuck in his throat, mainly because, for some reason, he didn't want to say it. He might not have liked Noah the way the Hufflepuff would have wanted, but he did like him. He was...well, endearing was the only word that would do him justice. And lovely, he'd told Hadrian—yes, lovely.

He watched him walk away, his thin shoulders hunched and perhaps trembling, and wondered how many times in one day he could feel like the biggest arse in the world. Alas, the only thing that came to mind was, "Noah, I'm really very sorry."

"You already said that," Noah remarked, voice faint as he got farther down the corridor.

Frankly, he had thought the conversation would last longer, possibly even involve some yelling, though he should have realized that wasn't very like Noah's quiet nature. Instead, it had taken less than ten minutes, and most of that had been silence.

Alphard didn't fail to notice that he hadn't been forgiven, although he couldn't blame him for that. He didn't expect forgiveness for a long time, if ever. They hadn't even been officially dating, much less anything more, yet his guilt was as immense as Professor Slughorn's ample girth. That he'd done this to a boy as genial as Noah and had been the cause of that expression on his face tonight made it all the worse.

Head bowed, Alphard made his way back to the Slytherin common room. With each step closer, he fortified his mask so that no one would be witness to anything but a carefully constructed façade of insouciance.

He could have just saved himself the trouble until he was right outside the common room. The halls were unnaturally empty for so early a Friday night, probably due to the fact that it had gotten too cold for the students to handle being outside the warm confines of their common room. Such warmth didn't exist in Slytherin, however, unless one was willing to sit beside the fireplace until they went to bed.

Without permission, his mind went straight to Hadrian, and how much worse this had to be for him.

Why must you torture yourself? Alphard inwardly wondered.

Was he subconsciously a masochist? Or was this some way of punishing himself for his indiscretion? To continuously think of the very reason he had a hole the size of Jupiter in his chest? And to constantly remind himself of exactly why that was?

Stop obsessing over this, he chided. It's not going to change anything.

Once in front of the wall to the common room, he paused to take a deep, bolstering breath, and to make sure his mask was up to the task. When he was ready, he muttered the password and tried not to drag his feet as he stepped inside. Fortunately, the room was crowded so he went relatively unnoticed; unfortunately, all the seats by the fireplace were taken, which meant retreating to his dorm for warmth.

Before he could step down the stairs, he heard, "Alphard."

He knew that voice without having to turn around to look at its owner: Hadrian, whom he hadn't talked to since early evening yesterday, when it had all happened. He'd been avoiding Hadrian rather vigorously; though, if he thought about it, Hadrian hadn't been that persistent about seeking him out. Alphard had been too ashamed to face his cousin anyway, and had therefore found it beneficial that Hadrian was still uneasy around him, even if hurtful.

Steeling his nerves, Alphard turned and came almost face-to-face with him. "Hadrian," he said softly, unsurely, and took a short step back.

"Hey," Hadrian greeted, smile strained and nervous. He glanced about the room, then suggested, "Can we talk? Preferably in our dorm?"

"Sure." Alphard led the way down to their dorm room.

He attempted to keep his heartbeat at a normal rate, but it was an impossible thing in Hadrian's presence, especially since he'd gotten the chance to taste his lips. Damn, now he was thinking about it.

Their dorm was blessedly empty. Hadrian closed the door behind him and put up privacy charms for good measure. Then the two of them were standing in the middle of the room with nothing to say to each other. Alphard tried to keep from fidgeting by imagining what his father would say to that. He felt like he had to apologize again, but wasn't going to risk opening his mouth before Hadrian did.

Finally, Hadrian said, "I'm sorry."

At first, Alphard didn't register what he'd said, and, when he did, uncertainly asked, "Why are you apologizing?"

"Yesterday—" Hadrian hesitated, as though searching for the right phrase, and finished, "I was unbelievably insensitive. I said some things that, thinking on it now, I would give anything to take back." He huffed quietly. "Come to that, I recall having been incredibly tactless on many more occasions. And, Merlin, Alphard, I'm sorry."

"Please don't apologize," Alphard implored. The pain in his heart that had become a dull ache throughout the day now stung almost as much as it had yesterday. As with Noah, he didn't like that he'd brought this out in Hadrian, except...except this was Hadrian. "You did not know."

Hadrian was shaking his head even before he'd finished speaking. "But I should have. I hadn't bothered to find out; I did everything but listen to you," he said. "When I remember the things I said, how I must have hurt you—"

So softly as to almost be inaudible, Alphard entreated once again, "Please, don't apologize."

Hadrian stopped. Alphard could tell he was being stared at, could feel the heat of his gaze, but was trying his hardest not to let his cousin see his face.

"Let's take a seat, shall we?" Hadrian proposed.

He walked past Alphard's immobile form toward his bed and sat. Alphard relaxed now that they were no longer on the dangerous topic. He gladly sank into his bed, and only then realized how drained he felt and how great sleep sounded right now. But there was still this thing to resolve between he and Hadrian, and he'd rather get it all out of the way.

He was startled out of his thoughts when Hadrian abruptly sat beside him on his bed. Alphard glanced up at him anxiously. From the determined look on his cousin's face, he concluded that he'd been pulled aside for more than just an apology. Now he was even more apprehensive. And perilously aware of his body heat.

"There's something I need to say," Hadrian said by way of an explanation for sitting so closely, "and I require your utmost attention."

"All right."

Briefly, Hadrian glanced away, as though ashamed. "The day before, when I ran off—"

"Hadrian, I told you, you don't have to apologize," Alphard interrupted.

Hadrian looked back at him, and insisted, "Please, let me explain. After you...you know, kissed me, I was extremely uncomfortable. And I unfairly took that out on you. To be honest, I am still a bit unsettled by it." Alphard winced inwardly, and it didn't help any when Hadrian quickly assured, "But that has nothing to do with you. I'm just...well, you're my cousin, Alphard."

If this hadn't been such an important moment in his life, Alphard might have found it marginally funny that he'd caused someone who was usually so eloquent to become tongue-tied. There was no humor to be found in the situation, however.

It was clear Hadrian himself was frustrated by his lack of grace in what he was trying to convey. He ran a hand through his hair in distress, and mumbled, "This isn't at all coming out the way I'd hoped."

Alphard spoke to put him out of his misery. He had no interest in prolonging this when it was causing them both pain, though of different kinds. "Hadrian, it's all right. I understand."

"I wasn't planning on telling anyone this, but you should know I like Tom," Hadrian revealed.

"I figured as much," Alphard said, and, even if he had, hearing him say it made it seem more real, and thus more cutting.

"But I do love you, Alphard," Hadrian affirmed, fairly passionately, and Alphard stupidly allowed it to affect him, though he knew it wasn't that way. "Maybe if I hadn't felt this way for Tom—"

Alphard barely kept from flinching at the words. He couldn't stand it if Hadrian pitied him. "You don't have to say that, Hadrian," he said firmly. "I was never under any illusions as to your attraction for me."

Hadrian sighed and apologized, "I'm sorry, I'm being insensitive again."

Alphard said nothing, averting his gaze. He could feel Hadrian's stare on the side of his head, and could instinctively tell more things he didn't like talking about would follow.

"Noah is a great guy," Hadrian said in a deliberately nonchalant way, as though that hadn't been the biggest non sequitur.

Noncommittally, Alphard responded, "Hmm."

After a tense minute—tense for him, at least—Hadrian stood to his feet. He straightened his robes and brushed off unseen dirt. If not for the excessive flattening of his hair, Alphard might not have been able to tell just how unnerved his cousin seemed to be in his presence.

He put on a good face for Alphard, though, when he looked straight at him and said lowly, "I don't wish to upset you by meddling again, but it is my hope that you don't allow someone like Noah to get away."

Once more, Alphard gave no reaction. He couldn't say that he would give Noah a chance, if the boy ever wanted anything to do with him, that is. He also couldn't tell Hadrian what he'd told Noah: that he couldn't imagine loving anyone else but him.

Hadrian held out for a response for the briefest of seconds before he realized one wasn't coming. He gave him that same long look he had the day Alphard had kissed him, and Alphard now thought it might very well be that his emotional stability was in question. This time, he was given a proper goodbye.

"I'm going to retire to the room upstairs as it is much warmer than in here. I'll see you in the morning?" Hadrian asked, oddly uncertain.

Alphard nodded to put him at ease, though the question had put him at ease, too. He'd thought Hadrian would feel too awkward around him after this to continue their previous relationship. He doubted they would ever go back to the ease they'd felt around each other when they had been just cousins (and Hadrian none the wiser), but he was glad they hadn't been forced to permanently part because of this.

Hadrian smiled tentatively. "Good night, Alphard."

Alphard returned it with a smaller smile, mostly meaning it. "Good night," he said.

Once Hadrian left the room, Alphard got under the covers of his bed without bothering to change out of his clothes or take off his shoes. All the energy he'd had today had been sucked out by two heavy conversations in a row. Time would tell when he would heal from this feeling of despair, but, for now, he was really tired of feeling.

Maybe when he woke up tomorrow, all this would have simply been a dream.

000

The first day of December was heralded by the arrival of his father's peregrine falcon, which he used when he wanted to send a letter as quickly as possible, and usually only for business. As it turned out, though, Alcyone wasn't carrying a letter from his father.

The last four days of November had been a welcome respite from the drama of the rest of the month. They had been downright uneventful, in fact. On Saturday, there had been the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff Quidditch match, in which Ravenclaw had won against the equally-matched team by a small margin, thanks largely in part to their merciless captain and Beater, Tertius Quinlan.

It had lasted much longer than a game so uninspiring had any right to, and Hadrian had been tempted to save himself the frostbite and leave halfway through, but had even less desire to be alone with his thoughts. Thoughts that would no doubt center on Alphard. Thoughts he desperately didn't want occupying his mind.

On Sunday, Tom and he were supposed to have met one final time in the Room of Requirement while they'd still had the perfect excuse available, but Tom had canceled the meeting last minute to tend to "business," as he said it. Hadrian hadn't believed the lie, and suspected it was really because Tom was formulating a 'plan' (for getting Hadrian to stop this dueling-only nonsense without actually letting on that that was what he wanted.)

Either way, he hadn't cared much since he, too, had wanted a reprieve from resisting his urges. It was trying work.

Monday, the twenty-ninth, had been as quiet as the mundane weekend before it. The presentation for the Defense Against the Dark Arts projects had come and gone, and, to no one's surprise, Tom and he had walked away with the prize. Their classmates hadn't offered much in the way of competition, though. He and Tom seemed to have been the only two to have put any forethought into their project.

He hadn't expected the students to take it upon themselves to invent something like they had, yet he was amazed by how many of them had made the simplest objects out of scratch. Some of them weren't even magical! One set of partners had presented a small treasure chest warded heavily with the most ill constructed, clunky wards he'd ever come across. The whole thing had taken twenty seconds to dismantle, and by the graceless oaf, Mulciber, no less.

Hadrian had been able to see Tom's disgust clear as day the more presentations they had had to endure until their turn came. He knew what Tom had been thinking, as the same thought had been running through his mind while he observed and tried not to cringe too noticeably. Why in the world had they bothered to put so much effort into their work when this was the competition they were up against?

Professor Merrythought had shown some interest in the more creative projects. Devan Rosier and Xanthia Viridian made up for their too-practical object with warding that had been ingenious and intricate enough to warrant Hadrian's efforts when all the other partners had been incapable of breaking it. Valerie Moon and Brenna Gudgeon had made antique, girly two-way hand mirrors that wouldn't allow for anyone but the two of them to use it. It had proven difficult for many of the students to take apart, until Abraxas—probably to redeem himself for having failed to make a dent on Rosier and Viridian's wards—had stepped up to do so with the haughtiest expression on his face and disassembled it as though it were nothing.

Both pairs received a short praise from Merrythought, though she had clearly been very impressed with the former pair's spellwork. And then it had been Tom and Hadrian's turn, and the students hadn't been the only ones to perk up in their seats when they stepped up to the front of the room. There was a reason Merrythought had partnered them up; she'd known no one else would provide a challenge for either of them, and it had been obvious the moment they revealed their project to the class that she'd been most looking forward to what the two of them had to offer.

After the awe that came with seeing the Scrying Compass for the first time, the seventh years had had multiple tries at breaking down their wards. When even the most capable students had been unsuccessful, Merrythought had looked as though she were barely containing the urge to declare them the winners right then and there, even if Abraxas and his partner had yet to share.

She held on until class ended, however, after Abraxas had been clever enough to stump everyone but Xanthia Viridian with his skillfully warded object. Before Tom and Hadrian had even gotten a chance to try, the Ravenclaw girl tore apart his work with swiftness that put the ease with which he'd dismantled Moon and Gudgeon's to shame. After that display, Merrythought, beaming excitedly, had announced them as the clear victors and, thus, the recipients of automatic Os for their practical Defense exam.

Besides the one unexpected shining star, the overall experience had been less than remarkable. The journey had been fun but the destination had turned out to be disappointing, to say the least. He didn't mind all that much, though. His time working with Tom on the compass was not something he would soon forget. Not only because they'd come out of it with a wicked magical object, but mostly because his opinion of his partner had changed significantly in those three months, and now he couldn't imagine a time when he didn't desire Tom with every bone in his body.

Yesterday had been Tuesday, and Tom and he had almost forgotten that they couldn't meet as they had been for the past however-many Tuesdays. They'd had a brief discussion in Herbology and decided on a substitute method to seeing one another while still giving off the impression that they weren't involved.

Tom hadn't been happy about Hadrian's suggestion that they sneak off to meet in the Room of Requirement once in a while, but he hadn't been able to provide a sufficient alternative in the short time they could talk without bringing back the suspicions of their classmates. Hadrian didn't agree with Tom's disgruntled assessment that there was something debasing about being made to sneak around to see him. There was a lot of thrill in seeing someone when no one knew and you were trying your best to keep it hidden.

Little had he known that keeping his involvement with Tom hidden was just about to get a hell of a lot harder. Impossible, even.

That morning, he was sitting next to Tom, since it would look odd if he were to actively avoid him. Also, he was still keen on getting a bit of distance between he and his cousin while the memory of Alphard's lips on his was fresh. Okay, stop—no. He was not going to think about it.

Sitting beside Tom afforded them the luxury of communicating without being seen, a fact Tom took advantage of almost immediately after the school had dug into their meal. Hadrian had been debating in his head whether he should risk trying to subtly ask Dumbledore how one could get their Patronus back to an older form or scour the library until he found the answer himself when he felt a ticklish sensation on the palm of his left hand.

Startled, but managing to keep his composure, he lifted his hand up and looked to see shimmering wispy, black letters appearing on his palm, telling him, I shall be free Saturday.

He hadn't expected Tom to propose a time to meet so soon. A little over a week since they'd last gone to the Room of Requirement wasn't his idea of 'once in a while.' He suddenly had the foreboding sense that Tom was planning something. Had he somehow come up with a solution to Hadrian's avoidance of anything unrelated to dueling when they were alone?

Realizing he may come to regret this later, he decided to risk it and see what would happen Saturday. A tiny part of him conceded that it was also because he was bloody exhausted trying to deny himself and was a little excited about what Tom might have planned. He'd never actually said no to dueling the three times Hadrian had continually suggested it, hadn't even looked disagreeable or annoyed— just determined to figure out what Hadrian was thinking.

Hadrian had been glad for it, as he hadn't been sure his resolve would've been all that strong if Tom had fought him on the matter. He had been counting on the Slytherin's enormous pride to refuse to show his desire if Hadrian was doing the same.

He didn't know Tom's particular version of the spell, but he did know of an equivalent. It was an easy enough charm so he didn't require a wand. Under the table, he discreetly waved his hand in Tom's direction and cast his acceptance of the plan at the same time dozens of owls flooded the Great Hall.

He looked up out of habit, and not because he was expecting to see Hedwig, so Hadrian was surprised to receive a letter from home so soon after the last one. That, plus the fact that Alcyone was delivering it led him to assume the worst.

He figured he was entitled to presume as much considering how odd the last letter from home had been. He'd been surprised when Regulus—with finespun diction meant to disguise what he was really saying—had inquired after his state of mind. Not that his father wouldn't be concerned with such things, but because he usually left that sort of thing to his mother. Furthermore, his health was one thing, but his state of mind?

And as if he believed for a moment that Adrianna had been so distressed that she'd needed her husband to do what she would have happily done herself.

He needn't have worried unnecessarily, he realized halfway through when it seemed his mother had nothing more important to say than to ask how he was doing and relay to him how things were going at home. His muscles unclenched in relief as he continued to read and found nothing untoward. At the back of his mind, though, he wondered why his mother had sent Alcyone for such an ordinary matter.

Then he came upon a phrase tucked seemingly carelessly towards the end.

I hear tell of a relationship between you and a Tom Riddle—the boy on the cover of the Prophet with you, if I am to believe.

Oh, shit.

Hadrian had to stop there and glance around to make sure no one was looking at him, or they would see how pale he'd gotten after having read that. No one was, except for the one person he most did not want to see him: Tom. He avoided catching his eye as nonchalantly as he could.

Trying to appear outwardly calm, he turned back to read the rest of the letter.

Mere whispers, to be sure, but they do not know my son as I do. I have seen the photo, and it tells me far more than you have, my dear. I regret that you felt you could not share this with your father and me. Do you realize how happy we would have been for you?

Well, no need to dwell on a missed opportunity. Perhaps you can allow us the chance to make up for it when you invite Tom to be our guest this holiday. We are most eagerly awaiting the arrival of the boy who has captured our son's attention so. And, of course, your return as well, darling.

Hadrian felt panic rising in his chest like a crushing tide. This was happening way too fast. It had only been a little over three weeks ago that he had finally come to accept his attraction to Tom, and now they were suddenly at a point where he was expected to introduce him to his parents? No! Every cell in his body screamed it. No, no, no, no.

"Hadrian?" Tom whispered, careful not to be seen or heard by anyone else. "Are you all right?"

Seated so close to Hadrian, he'd probably noticed how tense he had become since opening his letter. Hadrian couldn't answer him. The panic had clawed its way up his throat, making it difficult to breathe, let alone speak. Shit, he had to get out of here right-fucking-now!

Hastily, Hadrian got to his feet, maintaining his fluid grace with ease that would not be shaken even under the direst of situations. He clutched the letter and his book bag in hand, barely remembered to instruct Alcyone to follow him, and then he left the hall as quickly as he could without drawing any more attention to himself, even though he had a falcon clutching his shoulder.

Once outside of the Great Hall, he forced himself to take a calming breath. He was making this out to be a bigger deal than it was. He just had to...he just had to think through it. Had to be logical and try to control his panic over the implications of a step like this.

His mother's request—nay, demand, because he knew his mother and wasn't fooled for a second by her conciliatory tone—threw a wrench into the progress of a relationship that was in its beginning stages, and that needed to be as stress-free as they could get it at this point. They certainly didn't need anyone's help messing this up, he was sure.

Merlin, how was he supposed to bring this up to Tom? Should he even bother? Perhaps he would be better off telling his mother that Tom had turned down the offer to stay with them. That would likely lead her to believe that they weren't as serious as she'd suspected, which, as far as he was concerned, would be entirely favorable.

There was no chance she would buy that, he realized immediately after. She was too persistent, his mother, when it came to him. Whatever she thought she'd seen between he and Tom in that picture, she wouldn't let it go until she decided herself that she'd imagined it. And that wouldn't happen unless she met Tom.

Dammit, why did his mother have to complicate things? He'd never even considered introducing Tom to his parents, hadn't thought them capable of getting to that point anytime soon, if ever, and now it seemed he was being forced into it.

With any luck, Tom would be as freaked out by this as Hadrian was and would be amenable to sending a letter politely declining, saying that he unfortunately had plans for the holiday break already. Which could be the case, for all he knew; Hadrian wasn't sure. He knew Tom wouldn't be attending Lucretia's wedding, but that didn't mean he didn't have other things to do.

It was entirely possible. Heck, knowing Tom, he'd probably outlined his itinerary for the whole two weeks. And once Hadrian told him, he'd be as repulsed by the idea and likely jump at the chance to reject the invitation. Yes, there could be no doubt. He couldn't fathom a reason Tom would willingly wish to meet his parents.

Now convinced of this, Hadrian's breath evened out. He would be okay. He could get through this.

Alcyone screeched with such severe irritation that it snapped his attention forcibly back to his surroundings. He realized then that he'd kept walking without notice, and had just passed the main doors, which was no doubt what she was objecting to. Alcyone was quite a short-tempered bird, and could usually only tolerate his father—and him to some extent, but just on better days. Hadrian supposed today would not be considered a better day as not only did his mother send her on a frivolous mission (He didn't know how, but the sharp falcon could always tell when she was being used for matters that weren't of the utmost importance.), but it seemed he'd also delayed her hope of quickly returning to her owner.

Regardless, he was thankful for the momentary respite she'd brought from his thoughts. He hated being in his own head sometimes.

"You're a fickle one, you know that?" Hadrian asked her.

The expression he got in response would, if she weren't a bird, be called thoroughly unimpressed. He chuckled quietly.

"I can't send you back home yet," he informed her, stopping in front of but not opening the large double doors.

Her talons dug into his shoulders in a manner that would have been very painful if he weren't already used to such abuse from her on her worse days. It was all he could do not to curse and swing at her, knowing she'd try to claw his eyes out in retaliation.

Hadrian surged on without acknowledging the pain. "Mother is expecting a reply from me," he said matter-of-factly, "and you cannot leave until I have written one. In the meantime, you will have to wait in the Owlery."

He opened the doors and walked out with her before she could voice her displeasure. It was freeze-your-nuts-off cold outside, and his teeth chattered the entire time as he waited for her to fly off his shoulder. His uniform and winter robes were insufficient protection against the unforgiving wind and extremely overcast sun; he was sure the evil little thing knew it and was taking her sweet time on purpose. When Alcyone did let him go, he was quick to hurry back into the building.

He still had twenty minutes before classes began, which he used to walk aimlessly around the castle until he could come up with a good plan concerning his mother's letter. He had three days to come up with a way to break it to Tom that would ensure his immediate refusal, though he was fairly certain he didn't need to make the idea sound fouler than it already did to the other boy.

This new development might have served to bring a halt to whatever Tom had planned for Saturday. That it was helping Hadrian keep his resolve to delay sex with Tom appeared to be the only good thing that had come of it.

000

Snow began to fall on Friday night. By Saturday morning, a thick sheet of sparkling, white snow coated the grounds surrounding the castle, and it continued to fall well into the afternoon. When he'd first seen it on his way to the Great Hall, Hadrian had lamented that snow season was officially underway. But did there have to be so much on its first day? Couldn't it have accumulated gradually? Merlin did he hate winter.

At least it was markedly less cold than it had been the past couple of weeks. Immediately after breakfast, many students took advantage of this fact and went out to play in the snow. A part of him wished he could still find joy in that, but the old Hadrian's aversion far outstripped any pleasure he'd ever found in it. He inevitably found himself to be in the minority when he stayed inside to finish his homework in the library.

It was gratifyingly warm in there, which was why he didn't mind that the wingback armchair he occupied was up against a large window. He might have even watched the small figures down below as he worked through the last bit of weekend homework he would receive until the next term.

Halfway through a very dull book he was required to read for a Herbology essay, he decided it was time for a break. To stave off the drowsiness threatening to overcome him, he requested a cup of coffee from one of the house-elves. (She was very agitated over the fact that he was in the library so he'd had to lie and assure her he'd drink it elsewhere.)

The library was virtually empty, save for the few like-minded students who were busy with schoolwork, and none were anywhere near him in the oft-abandoned Muggle section. He'd also guaranteed further solitude by encasing his Shadows around the area in which he sat to dissuade any who wished to come back here. He felt comfortable enough in his privacy to let loose in a way that he would never do so in public. Slipping his shoes off, he tucked one socked-foot under his legs and threw the other over the arm of his chair, then leaned half on the back of the chair and half on the other arm. Not even his own parents had ever witnessed him sitting so carelessly as to be accused of inelegance. Yet, that couldn't be further from the truth; even the most stringent of purebloods would have had a hard time criticizing the effortless grace he exuded while spread across the chair.

Not that he would have cared either way. Hadrian was drinking his coffee in leisure, thinking of nothing more complicated than how good it tasted. It was a nice change of pace from what he'd become accustomed to the last few days, which had been filled with little more than Tom and his mother's letter. Whatever reprieve he got from thinking on that never seemed to last very long, though. Either way, this matter would be resolved before the day's end. Whether the resolution was to his satisfaction or not remained to be seen.

Idly, Hadrian wondered where Tom was presently. He'd set the day of the meeting, but had yet to tell Hadrian the time, which was very unlike Tom's meticulous nature. The most reasonable conclusion would be at night, as that was when their absence would be least noticeable. What with the number of students outside the castle, though, this afternoon would be an equally ideal time.

Evidently, the boy had been as distracted with other matters as Hadrian had been. Perhaps it would be prudent to just ask him.

Great justification for wanting to see him; it's not at all flimsy, the voice quipped smarmily.

Shut up, Hadrian snapped, trying to ignore the troubling truth in those words. Feeling vaguely like a jealous ex-girlfriend, he straightened up in his seat to withdraw the Marauder's Map from his bag. Once he spoke the words to reveal the school's layout, he laid the map out on his lap and searched for Tom.

He found the dot labeled 'Tom Riddle' seconds later in a nondescript room near the courtyard. Curiously, on top of that dot were two others: Xanthia Viridian and Kateline Harris. Of course. After the girl's display in Defense, it came as no surprise to him that Tom was now interested in Viridian. Hadrian had anticipated it, in fact. On the other hand, he wasn't sure what Harris was doing with them. She was, after all, a Hufflepuff, a House Hadrian had seldom seen Tom consorting with. He supposed, though, that the girl's politically-inclined family might very well hold appeal for the ambitious Slytherin.

Well, he's in the middle of courting—clearly, he hasn't the time to spare for you.

Hadrian refrained from scowling harshly, unsure if he was more aggravated at the voice's continued existence or that he was letting it get under his skin. Still, something about what it had said struck him as odd. Now that he thought about it, without his emotions getting in the way, the voice was right. It didn't seem at all like Tom was free, or that he would be so any time soon. As charismatic as Tom was, it was doubtful that planting the seeds of intense (irrational) devotion could be done in one morning.

Hadrian considered that Tom hadn't simply neglected to tell him when to meet but that he'd done so purposefully.

That's ridiculously paranoid. To what end?

To control the direction of this relationship, of course. He has done this once before—when he directed that I accommodate his schedule at the beginning of our project's journey. It is scarcely beyond the realm of belief that he would test my willfulness again. Yeah, that sounded like Tom, all right.

It's fascinating how quick your mind is to cast aspersions on him even when pertaining to something as mundane as a bout of forgetfulness, the voice sniffed.

Hadrian only just kept from laughing out loud. That is a paradoxical statement, if I ever heard one; Tom suffering from a bout of forgetfulness.

Did you both not suffer from it a week ago today?

A different matter entirely, Hadrian dismissed, because it had been.

Hadrian supposed this could be the plan Tom had come up with to circumvent his dueling-only policy. But what did he imagine the end result to be? That Hadrian, fed up with the uncertainty, would eventually seek him out in desperation and initiate something?

Fuck that.

If Tom wanted to meet, they'd meet; but not on his terms.

Hadrian slipped his shoes back on, and then made space for the map on the round table in front of him. Now that he had a view of the whole school, he called forth his Shadows, shaping and commanding them to do exactly as he wanted. Coming up with a scenario suited to his purposes was easy enough, as was holding on to the Construction and guiding that piece of his Shadows through the school using the map as a visual aide. It was made even easier by Tom's magic, which was like a beacon, calling to his Shadows from several floors away.

He had no need of either of these things as he could sense every twist and turn his Shadows took to get to Tom, but it was much simpler when he could see the obstacles in his way to avoid someone touching a stray piece. As it happened, he only had to dodge a few students, Professor Binns, and Peeves, who'd somehow become aware of the foreign magic and tried in vain to follow it.

When he reached the unmarked classroom, he encountered two suits of armor—saturated with Tom's magic—that were guarding the door. They weren't as perceptive as the poltergeist, and his Shadows slipped past without notice. The first thing he detected once inside was the pale, winter light pouring into the room, casting shadows across every surface. Tom's shadow was a long, slanted sweep against the back wall, its owner sitting loftily upon an old desk.

Hadrian's Shadows circled the other boy's shadow, recognizing him as a familiar presence and seemingly intrigued. The sudden reaction to Tom's proximity was not one Hadrian was used to or, apparently, able to control. He had yet to tell his Shadows what to do, and here they were practically purring over Tom. It was truly bizarre.

He cast the matter out of his mind for later examination, focusing instead on bleeding his Shadows into Tom's own, weaving and lacing his Construction. What he wanted to do was a tweak on the Shadows' Constructing ability, where he changed the normal means by which the target's shadow leaked into their mind (through the mouth, nose, ears, or eyes) to garner a more subtle effect. This way, planting false images or ideas seemed less fabricated and more a concept reached independently of outside influences. Tom was much too discerning for anything less, especially if he wanted this to work.

He still wasn't sure if this would work since escaping detection was pivotal to its success, but it was worth a try just to imagine Tom's reaction. Once done spinning his web, Hadrian sat back to observe his handiwork.

000

Xanthia Viridian was a bore unlike anything he'd ever encountered. Merlin, if she hadn't been such a brilliant witch Tom might not even have bothered. He'd never have imagined someone could so thoroughly take the fun out of the art of enticement. Perhaps he would keep her hidden in some lab far out of his hearing range.

Kateline was his saving grace in this moment, and he was thankful he had had the foresight to bring her along. She was keeping up conversation where he'd fallen short when Viridian's lecture had proven her extensive knowledge on Defense was far outstripped by her Potions know-how.

Great, because the minutiae of proper cauldron care and its effects on potions was just what Tom had been dying to know.

The only reason he was allowing her to babble on was that he could tell she had a delicate ego, and he very much wanted that knowledge and power at his command, even if she were as dull as Ravenclaws come.

Ah, and the real reason he'd brought Kateline was being realized now before his eyes. Though he'd never given her any thought, Tom had instinctively known Viridian would be captivated by the Hufflepuff girl's dazzling charm. Indeed, Viridian was rosy-cheeked and triumphant under Kateline's attentive blue gaze. Miraculously, she even faltered in her never-ending speech when given a warm smile.

Not to say that Viridian hadn't been equally entranced by him when he'd deigned to bestow his regard upon her. On the contrary, she appeared to be having a hard time deciding to whom she wanted to devote the full focus of her admiration. He'd expected some difficulty in charming such an obviously remarkable witch, but he was glad to have been disproved.

There was only so much of her tedious company he could tolerate, and the second she took a breath, Tom smoothly broke in, "I must say, it is quite a treat to speak with one so well-versed in something other than the inanities that capture our fellow students' minds." He paused to allow her thin lips to form a smile. "Additionally, it pleases me to know you felt comfortable enough in our presence to cause you to become so effusive. Your passion is admirable."

Kateline's eyes glimmered with barely restrained laughter, but the veiled insult went completely over Viridian's head. Just as well; he would have been very annoyed if the hours he'd wasted on her had come to naught. Tom imagined what Hadrian's opinion of Viridian would have been, and the thought had him curbing his own urge to quirk a smile. No doubt the boy would have been bored to tears with her.

With some measure of self-disgust, he resigned himself to the fact that he couldn't seem to go even a few hours without thinking of Hadrian. How bothersome.

Tom looked back at Viridian, on the verge of dismissing her when whatever he'd planned on saying to the girl died in his throat. He felt Hadrian's magic. More specifically, his Shadows.

Since the attack in Hogsmeade, Tom had been able to perceive their presence whenever Hadrian employed them, and, right now, he could feel them with an alarming intensity. Both he and his magic perked up at the first exciting thing to happen all day, for not only did he know they were there, he could also tell the Shadows were prowling the hallway outside his room without their master. Though they were tinged with their Lord's magic, he couldn't sense the sufficient amount that meant Hadrian wasn't far behind. From what he'd been able to glean thus far, this wasn't a normal occurrence. Shadow and Lord ordinarily came hand-in-hand.

What was Hadrian up to?

Moments later, they spilled into the room and headed straight for him. Tom, forgetting his companions, failed to contain the smile that slowly stretched across his face.

000

Tom's reaction was instantaneous. Hadrian watched the map with some anticipation as the black dot belonging to the Slytherin began to move the moment his Shadows took a hold over him. Through them, so entwined with Tom was he that Hadrian could feel his magic unfurling with each step, burning with intent and…anger, perhaps? He couldn't quite tell as well as he would have been able to with Voldemort, which was somewhat reassuring; any differences he could find between his connections with Voldemort and Tom was superb.

If Tom was angry, that meant his Construction hadn't been as undetectable as he'd hoped. That was a shame, but it was still carrying out the desired outcome: making Tom come to him instead of the other way around.

Tom was quickly making his way from the ground floor to the fourth. The thought that Tom could so easily find him anywhere in the castle without having to even think on it was highly worrisome. He hadn't been able to do that before, and that he could now had Hadrian overcome with an uneasy feeling. He had to come up with a way to counteract this unforeseen effect of their magic having joined. As great as it had been, he had no wish to allow Tom free reign over his comings and goings.

Tom's magic preceded him into the library, stalking in and fanning out as though announcing his arrival. While the magic found him instantly and seemed to hum in his presence, Hadrian waited patiently for its owner to catch up. He did so a moment later when he turned into Hadrian's secluded corner.

As Tom stalked much like his magic over to him, Hadrian observed his expressions and body language for a hint at what the boy was thinking. He found nothing, of course, but neither did he let Tom find anything in him. Because, no mistake, he was being watched just as avidly.

There were no words exchanged, no heated accusations thrown his way, or even an indication of an impending fight. If he were being honest, Hadrian was a bit confused about Tom's behavior. It was clear that the Construction hadn't gone unnoticed, and knowing Tom, manipulations against him should have angered him. But if not anger, what was this?

Long legs ate up the distance between them, and, suddenly, Tom was standing over him, a mere half inch away. He grabbed Hadrian's face firmly in his hands, tilted his head up, and pulled him in for a sizzling kiss. It was…exquisite, really. Tom had never kissed him like this, though he had only a handful of occasions for comparison.

He was hard-pressed to think of an adequate description for how this was different from the other times. Just that it was like Tom was very pleased with him, and that he wanted nothing more than to show him exactly how much. The rational part of his brain—questioning why Tom would possibly be pleased with him—turned off when Tom's tongue swirled around in his mouth.

He was helpless to avoid getting lost in its searing intensity. Tom bent down further, pushing him to lean back into the armchair. His tongue slipped back out to lick across Hadrian's bottom lip; his teeth followed the path of his tongue, then closed sharply on the corner of his lip.

Hadrian's groan escaped him before he could reel it back in. He made to withdraw from the kiss, but Tom was relentless and followed his retreat. He sucked on the bite he'd just left, leaving Hadrian's lips feeling swollen and tender. One hand left his face to play with his hair, fingers carding through and tugging in a way that really shouldn't have turned Hadrian on so much but sure as hell did.

"Tom," Hadrian tried around the mouth attached to him, "what—" His words were cut off when Tom slithered back into his mouth and engaged his tongue, sucking on it as vigorously as he had his lip.

The dedication with which Tom set himself to pleasuring him was intoxicating. His mind was hazy with lust, and he was loath to fight it, wanted desperately to yield to Tom's unceasing mouth and tongue and hands and, gods, his knee was now between Hadrian's legs, pushing into his groin.

Then he remembered who this was.

Tom knew of his Construction, he was sure of it. The only reason he was acting as though he were being influenced by it was that he had some agenda.

Hadrian drew away from the kiss with more persistence. Tom only took the opportunity to shift his attentions to his neck. Hadrian seized his head in his hands and pulled him up to look at him. He wasn't expecting to be greeted with a triumphant smirk.

Still smirking, Tom grasped his hands and moved them off him. "I have these notions in my head, flickering images of you caught in my embrace, interspersed among my thoughts of you, flitting away when I attempt to pinpoint their origin. I have you to thank for that, I presume?" he asked, tone just as smug as his expression. "It's very subtle, but I can feel you now, and that was your undoing."

He didn't wait for whatever response he might have gotten. His hands splayed on either side, he put his weight on the arms of the chair and bent again to Hadrian's face, lips pressed to his ear. So softly that Hadrian had to strain to hear him, he purred, "Your Shadows are no longer immune to my senses."

Hadrian moved his head back in surprise to look at him. Of course, he'd known Tom was aware he was a Shadow Lord, and he'd also suspected Tom knew he knew. But for him to just come out and admit it? He'd never conceived of either of them doing that. Why the change in their game?

Even so, things were worse than he'd thought. He'd anticipated the change in Tom's ability to sense his magic. After all, Hadrian himself had been able to feel the other boy's magic calling to him with a lot more frequency and strength than prior to the Hogsmeade Debacle. It only stood to reason that, along with his natural perception, Tom would be able to do the same with more precision.

However, it hadn't crossed his mind that Tom's magical perception would expand to include his Shadows. He'd never known anyone who'd been able to do that, not even Voldemort. Then again, his magic had never merged with Voldemort's like it had with Tom's.

The gleam in Tom's eyes dared him to make some comment about his sudden candidness. Well, he'd never been one to turn away from a challenge. "Is that so? If you knew all along, then I must confess I find myself puzzled by your behavior thus far," Hadrian acknowledged. "You have not been affected, yet here you are."

Tom's fingers danced across his cheeks, which did nothing to remove his confusion about his demeanor, as he was being unusually demonstrative. "I did not say I was left unaffected," he spoke lowly. "These images are rather unshakable."

Hadrian stared shrewdly at him. Those words sealed it for him. He was more certain than ever that Tom was up to something. Constructing did not work the way the Slytherin heir seemed to think it did, especially not the one he'd weaved for him, which had been dependent upon remaining imperceptible.

While thoughts and images could be either planted or pulled from the target's memory, they would only be effective if they had a strong connection to the target. The images he'd planted in Tom's mind certainly weren't taken from his memory; and they should have no particularly strong link to him, unless the Slytherin really, really wanted to have sex with him, so badly that he could feel it and had played it out in his own mind countless times before.

If it had worked the way Hadrian had envisioned, it should have just given Tom an idea, one so overwhelming that he'd have no choice but want to enact it. But it would be impossible for it to cause his personality to change. Besides, Tom was stubborn enough that there had been the prospect of even that failing to happen.

Tom smiled in amusement. "You do not believe me," he observed.

Hadrian gave him a thin smile in return. "You may know of my Shadows, but it is clear you know nothing about them." He pushed Tom back until he could no longer touch him. Then, because being looked down upon by Tom was far from appealing, he stood to his feet. "What are you playing at?"

000

Tom had never been proud of someone else. Such a notion was unknown and perplexing to him. Pride in himself, however, he'd experienced plenty of times. In fact, the only person who could hope to match up to the pride he currently felt in himself was Hadrian.

He'd known Hadrian would figure it out, and Merlin but did he go above and beyond what Tom had predicted he might do. And with such style, too! The Shadows' presence in his mind had evoked not anger, but the immediate need to evince his pride in Hadrian for having deduced his plan. Ordinarily, Tom would have been enraged with having his mind tampered with in such a way, but he couldn't fault Hadrian for something he'd provoked him into doing.

Hadrian had discerned that he'd deliberately left out the time they were supposed to have met. Tom was curious to find out if he could determine his true motive, the reason behind his deception. Doubtless, he would soon enough; the boy's suspicions of him seemed never-ending, though Tom couldn't fathom why. He had yet to perpetrate against Hadrian the kind of subterfuge that would cause such distrust in him.

Following his accusation, Hadrian paused, a considering expression on his face. "You wanted me to realize you'd knowingly omitted when we were to meet," he said in answer to his own question. "So that I may do something to summon you to me. Why?"

Tom resisted the urge to kiss him again. He wasn't ready to give up the game. "How disappointing to command so little trust," he lamented, taking a step back as if he were offended by it. "Is it so unthinkable that your illusions were enough to galvanize me into action? Granted, it did not have the desired effect, but, as I've said, these images are unshakable."

Unexpectedly, Hadrian smirked, and Tom watched this with eyes half-lidded in satisfaction. "What is unthinkable is that you did all this for sex," he scoffed, sitting back down in the armchair, less guarded now that he'd discerned what Tom was 'playing at.' He tilted his head to the side, penetrating Tom with the gaze of one studying an interesting specimen. "No, you are testing me."

Tom could have clapped his hands in approval. He opted instead for kissing him. Hadrian was well-disposed towards him this time around, and he regretted having to cut it short. "I have done this very thing to others," he did not mind revealing at last, sure that, in this, Hadrian would not think any less of him. "They could not hope to match the speed with which you've unraveled each one of my deceptions."

He felt Hadrian's lips twitch against his—into an aborted smile or frown, or what, he could not tell as their faces were so close the only thing he could see were Hadrian's bright green eyes. Those same eyes twinkled with a mystifying emotion he would not call unhappy, though, so Tom wagered a smile.

"I'd thought we were past the mind games, Tom," Hadrian chided, voice dropping to a soft lilt that left Tom wanting to lick the sound out of him. "Have we not entered into something of an understanding between us?"

The reluctance to call this a relationship was practically hovering in the air (and Tom could sympathize). Yet, that very reticence was what emphasized the inaccuracy of his statement. If they had been comfortable enough with calling it what it was, there would be no need for gauging the level of trust they could put in each other; which, at this point, appeared to be none. Hadrian knew this, too, especially since it was his continued refusal of any further intimacy between them that had started this.

No, Tom had not done all this for sex, of course. That was ridiculous. The challenge of finding out why Hadrian was indirectly denying him had been too good to pass up. He'd already come up with a much simpler route for circumventing that, but he had no wish to attempt it before he knew of Hadrian's reasons. The test had only been a little taste of what he'd planned.

Now he knew Hadrian's resolve was not due to his lack of trust in Tom. Or for fear of becoming that close to him. Or even—preposterously—because he did not find that much attraction in Tom. Most basic reasons eliminated, he must turn now toward the more obscure. No matter what the reason, he intended to uncover it.

Tom chose to ignore Hadrian's question, knowing he was not expecting an answer. He conjured an armchair adjacent to the other one for himself, and settled into it imperiously, Hadrian's eyes focused on him the entire time. He returned the gaze with equal measure.

"Why have you summoned me?" he asked, aware that the pureblood would not have fallen so easily for the bait if he hadn't had something of obvious importance to tell him.

Here, Hadrian's good mood subtly, but surely, seemed to evaporate. He crossed his right leg over his knee, linking his hands and placing them in his lap, looking as though he were chewing the words over in his head. How curious.

"My mother has heard of our connection," he began lowly, looking at the table between them. "She has insisted, most adamantly, that I invite you to spend winter holiday with us. Please, do not feel as though you are obligated to accept. Both me and my parents shall understand should you wish to decline."

What Tom heard was a plea for his declination, and he almost jumped at the chance. Three days ago, Hadrian had fled the Great Hall after having received a letter; Tom, at the time, had assumed he'd gotten bad news, but now he could make sense of it. Hadrian and he were wholly on the same page, then, that this was a most unsolicited intrusion.

But his initial revulsion at hearing the invitation abated the longer he mulled it over. As much as he did not wish for Hadrian's parents to think of him as someone firmly affixed in their son's life—though he couldn't imagine ever letting Hadrian go, no one else needed to know that—Tom had to see this for the opportunity it was. Not for his Inheritance, as he'd already lined up two ways out of Hogwarts without leaving a trace: one from the passageway he'd first seen Hadrian use, and the other he'd lifted from Alphard's mind while he'd been torturing him.

What made the invitation even remotely appealing was being able to attend Lucretia Black's wedding, and, afterward, the more important Winter Solstice Ball. He could scarcely think of a better platform to make his debut, gather followers and associates outside of Hogwarts, ones with real clout in the practical world.

Faced with this prospect, there was only one answer: "I accept."

Hadrian's jaw tightened, something Tom saw only because he was looking for it. "Very well," he said curtly. "I shall let them know to expect you."

Tom had not given the response expected of him, and it seemed he'd upset the other boy. He'd known his answer wouldn't be favorably received, and there was nothing he could do about that now. The unfortunate inclusion of his parents notwithstanding, Hadrian would be all his for two weeks. Two weeks was a long time. Tom could suddenly appreciate the benefits to this, and he would be more than happy to show Hadrian as well.

Over the next number of days before the break, Tom set out to do just that. He became so busy that he hardly saw Hadrian outside of classes or mealtimes. He wanted that but it turned out making himself unavailable required little engineering on his part.

As was its wont when so close to the holiday, Hogwarts was bursting with energy. Professors and students alike were trying to get as many things done as they could before they were to go home. The week after their Saturday together was the start of end-term exams, and Hadrian was quite busy himself so Tom wouldn't have bothered implementing his plan anyway.

Following the exams would be the traditional Hogsmeade visit before the break for those who wished to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. In addition to shopping for gifts and the like, members of the Slug Club were looking forward to finding proper attire for Slughorn's annual party. From what Tom had inferred when the trip's announcement had been made, Dippet had allowed this year's visit against Dumbledore's advice. Dumbledore seemed to be the only one wary of another attack as the rest of the school shared the headmaster's enthusiasm for returning to the town.

On the final day of exams, Tom's designs for Hadrian fortuitously came together without any prodding from him. It started, strangely enough, with this term's last gathering of his followers—the evening scheduled for the induction of Camden Reive (and twice amended to include Lucas Pyrites).

Reive was a Hufflepuff seventh year whose existence Tom had never given any thought beyond knowing that girls tittered when he walked past. That is, until Kateline had brought his attention to his previously unimportant classmate.

One could mock Kateline Harris for being a Hufflepuff (and could make the mistake of doing the same to him for trusting her judgment), but he'd never known a witch more suited to Slytherin. She possessed cunning, ambition, and an ability to persuade that could rival his own. All this, however, was overshadowed by her extremely hard-working and patient nature.

There were few people who could match the ease with which she swayed others. Of course, others underestimated her because of her House, but Tom had never been so blind. He'd known of her power from the beginning, and she had been instrumental in getting students outside of Slytherin interested in Tom's plight ever since. Thus, when Kateline vouched for a boy whose skill could compete with her own, Tom had been intrigued.

Unfortunately, it seemed she'd given him a little too much credit or herself not enough. While very charming indeed, Reive was not quite up to her caliber. Either way, there was still some use to him, though Tom had not known in what way until later.

At least Reive's hatred for Muggles paralleled that of Tom's own, a fact the boy had been keen on telling him at the time he'd expressed interest in joining him. Glimpsing that bit of darkness had been what convinced him to give Reive a chance. After several meetings following the first one, Tom had made it his goal to see if he might coax that darkness to come out more often. He'd succeeded in private, but Reive continued to play the unassuming Hufflepuff in public, even among the few in Tom's inner circle who knew of him.

Well, that was all right. Tom fully intended on more than just coaxing tonight.

The meeting resembled the last one in almost every way, except Tom was much more relaxed this time. And the one in the spotlight seat was Reive and not Pyrites, who was instead seated in the first row, unable to hide his apprehension. Tom had witnessed several of the older Slytherins in his ranks trying to psych the boy out after his induction. They'd put quite the scare in him by questioning the brevity of his initiation, or by wondering whether it had been one at all. He'd found the whole matter mildly amusing, and had been equally unwilling to dispel the rumors.

That Tom had seemingly forgotten about him in favor of Reive did not help to remove these doubts either. He hadn't, obviously; he never forgot. He'd just found in Reive a more interesting motivation for joining him.

He didn't give Reive a chance to peruse his surroundings, or become too uncomfortable with all the bewildered eyes on him. Tom stood from his armchair and beckoned the boy to him. Reive did so with a bravado that Tom longed to train out of him.

Walking to stand in front of him and closer to the first row of chairs, Tom addressed the room, "You may know of him already, but for those of you who don't, allow me to introduce Camden Reive." Murmurs swept the room at that, which he swiftly silenced with a narrow-eyed gaze. "Hereafter he shall be one of you."

"This Hufflepuff disgrace will be one of us?!"

If the room had been silent before, it was nothing compared to this. All the air seemed to have been sucked out at the exclamation, and a heavy tension set in. Every eye was on Tom, wondering what he was going to do in the face of this blatant disrespect.

There was nothing Tom wouldn't have done right then. His magic had gathered to retaliate the second the words had come out. He wasn't surprised to see that Guifré Savall had spoken them. The fifth year's own initiation had been only two months ago, so he wasn't very educated in how these meetings went. The knowledge that he was one of the youngest in the group only added to his over-inflated ego. Tom would have liked nothing more than to deflate that ego once and for all, to impress upon him that coming from an influential family and being moderately powerful was nothing to true power.

But then he had a better idea.

"Explain yourself," Tom demanded with misleading detachment.

"I-I did not mean to speak out of turn," Guifré had the presence of mind to say.

Tom's answering smile might have been characterized as shark-like by others. "Well, it's a little late for that, isn't it? Please, share with us what was so urgently on your mind."

Guifré fidgeted in his seat as if he were little more than an indecorous Muggle and not the heir of one of the most powerful families in Western Europe. "Forgive me for speaking so freely, Lord Voldemort," he repented.

Tom was starting to get annoyed; he managed to hold on to his composure just barely. "Clearly, you have some quarrel with Camden," he goaded, trying to keep from sneering at him. He hesitated as if considering a sudden thought, then posited, "Or perhaps it is with me."

"No, Lord! Never!" Guifré promptly assured, his dark brown eyes wide with panic. Others around the room—Renatus in particular—threw him expressions bordering on murderous.

"Very well," he accepted with a gracious tilt of his head. Injecting a bit more force into his voice, he added, "Do not be afraid to speak as freely as you have done so thus far."

This time, the fifth year could tell his patience had worn thin.

"He is a Hufflepuff, Lord," Guifré explained lamely.

Tom leveled an unimpressed gaze at him. "Astute observation," he said dryly, inciting amused smirks all around. "As is Kateline; can you think of anyone more worthy than she?"

More resolve coloring his face, Guifré pronounced, "But he is not a pureblood. Hufflepuffs who are not pure of blood lack the nerve to carry out what you deem is necessary; especially not one who has reason to despise purebloods and their agenda."

Either the boy wasn't aware or he was choosing to ignore that he'd just indirectly insulted Tom. Sure, he was no Hufflepuff, but to suggest that half-bloods in general would have less conviction than purebloods—that anyone here was better than he, Lord Voldemort, at anything— was galling to him. Merlin, he wished to torture the errant fool within an inch of his life. Alas, he'd already conceived of a fitting punishment for him, and it would not be by his hand.

He looked back towards Reive, whose body was frozen with as much trepidation as everyone else's in preparation for his reaction to Guifré's words. For several long, excruciating seconds, he basked in the silence and stillness suffocating the room. He ignored Guifré altogether, though he could sense the boy's magic flittering nervously around him as if it were trying to decide whether to fold or chance going up against Tom.

He took the decision out of his hands. "Guifré raises a valid point," he conceded to Reive, soft tone belying his anger.

Reive glanced up at him, eyes displaying alarm that was mirrored in everyone else's body language. Guifré's magic shivered with relief—a relief he did not allow to last as he pierced the fifth year with a gaze he had no doubt was crimson in color.

"But...he questioned me," he continued with just a hint of a snarl in his voice. Guifré's breathing was practically audible then, he was so terrified. "What shall we do about that?" He paused momentarily to let the younger student stew. Then, he abruptly ordered, "Camden, get your wand out."

When Reive didn't immediately comply, he glanced over at him. Bloody Hufflepuff was shifting anxiously on his feet, obviously reluctant about what Tom would ask of him.

Tom narrowed his eyes at him. "Get your wand out," he said, voice soft and icy. He absolutely hated having to repeat himself.

Still not nearly as eager as he ought to be at this opportunity, Reive finally did as told. He held his wand loosely at his side, his expression uncertain as he looked expectantly over at Tom. Tom smiled thinly, and strolled over to stand behind him until they were almost touching. Reive's shoulders tensed but he made no move to retreat.

Mildly satisfied with his nonresponse, Tom slowly guided the Hufflepuff's arm up to point his wand straight at Guifré in the far left corner of the first row. He distantly registered Reive's pleasure when he touched him, and filed it away for later use. "I shall give you the honor of punishing him for me. As well as the opportunity to prove him—and others—wrong."

Tom felt Reive hesitate under his hands. He quickly removed them, and wasn't disappointed by the seventh year's reaction when he seemed to dislike it. "Or is Guifré right? Maybe you do not have it in you."

"No, I can do it."

Tom felt his lip curl in distaste at his impudence. Honestly, speaking directly to him without the proper honorific. Grudgingly, he let it slide. He would drill it into him later.

"Is that so? In that case," he prompted, giving the boy his most charming smile, "let us see what Dark spells you have in your repertoire. Savall will help you demonstrate for us just how qualified you are."

Reive did not know it, but Tom referred to his followers by surname only if they had fallen out of favor. Whatever designation he gave them in his head, he called them by name aloud—though very few had leave to address him in the same way when out of the public eye. This inspired in them a false sense of camaraderie with him that he most certainly did not feel, but wished to foster on occasion.

For Tom to resort to using his surname in front of all his followers meant that he was especially displeased with Guifré, and they all knew it. Allowing someone else to punish him was a great mercy and a humiliation both.

Reive's arm shook minusculy enough that Tom was probably the only one to notice, but he recovered quickly, grasping his wand with a determination that was reflected on his face. "Excarnifico," he hissed lowly, waving his wand with a gratuitous flourish.

A blinding white spell shot out to hit the wide-eyed Slytherin in the chest. Guifré endured the pain for several moments before he fell off his seat with a scream. He writhed on the floor, tan, gangly limbs jerking every which way, thick brown hair flying over a face contorted with agony. His screams became increasingly louder the longer it lasted, and Tom was thankful for the blanket Silencing Charm on his dorm or the whole of Hogwarts might have heard the boy.

The Excarnificatus was one of Tom's favorite torture spells, and he was quite pleased to see that Reive had knowledge of it. Just as painful as the Cruciatus but overlooked by Hogwarts' wards, he'd used it on many occasions to punish his followers. While the Cruciatus felt as though hot knives were penetrating the skin, this one felt like the skin was being flayed layer by layer.

Fascinated, Tom watched as Guifré began to claw at his skin, as though trying to aid the spell in removing it. After a minute, his arms and legs were too tired to even twitch, and his body just shuddered on the floor, though his screams did not subside.

When the novelty wore off, he declared, "That will be enough, Camden."

Reive lifted the spell with an odd mix of relief and rapture. He stared at the fifth year's still-quivering figure as if he were entranced by it. Tom felt smug knowing he'd succeeded in bringing the Hufflepuff's inherent darkness out for everyone else to see.

Finally, the tremors stopped and Guifré shakily stood up to return to his chair. He didn't dare look at Tom, head bowed in the manner it should have been from the beginning.

"Have you any other worries you would like to bring to my attention?" Tom asked sardonically. He received a hasty headshake in response. "Let us hope not, or you might find that I won't be so forgiving next time."

Ostensibly, he'd been quite lenient, but he knew Guifré's punishment would not end there. By the looks the boy had been receiving, he had no doubt his followers would be carrying out their own forms of retribution. Usually, he did not like for anyone to take from him what was his right, but Guifré needed to learn his place.

Reive's induction over with, the rest of the meeting continued on just as eventfully. Tom put Pyrites out of his misery by challenging him to a duel to showcase those famed skills of his. Pyrites was good, and his small frame allowed him to move faster than his larger opponents, but he wasn't up to Devan or Antonin's standards, much less Tom's. Still, he was better than most and that was good enough. At the end of the duel, he accorded Pyrites his praise and officially welcomed him into the fold.

However his two newest followers had come by him, Tom was relatively satisfied with their addition. They weren't people he would usually pursue—indeed even notice—but now that they were here, he could benefit from them. Reive's use became apparent sooner than he'd anticipated.

Having decided that Reive needed to become familiar with the rules now rather than later (If he had to hear the Hufflepuff call him Tom again, he wouldn't be responsible for his actions.), Tom kept the boy in his company the last week of term. On the second such day, he began to notice the effect that had on Hadrian.

He'd known Hadrian was every bit as possessive as him, though the only occasion Tom had witnessed it first-hand had been when they had encountered Ivan Banges. And just like then, it wasn't his demeanor that gave him away; what clued Tom in was Hadrian's magic, which burned with a ferocity that surprised him anytime he was in the vicinity of Reive.

While lacking the power and intellect required to pique his interests, Tom supposed there was some attraction to be seen in Camden Reive's lustrous blond locks, bewitching amber eyes, and lean, athletic build. The only other wizard who was remotely as good-looking among the people he freely associated with was Abraxas, and Hadrian would hardly be jealous of his own cousin.

Well, Tom was nothing if not opportunistic, and he heartily availed himself of Reive's unwilled influence on Hadrian. The few moments of the day he kept the boy around changed to almost every moment of leisure he could afford. By the fourth day spent in the Hufflepuff's presence, he was thoroughly sick of him. Even Renatus could not claim to have spent so much time with him in a month and he was better company.

His sufferance paid off, however, as the Shadow Lord became progressively frustrated whenever he saw him with Reive. Tom could understand that frustration, he was not immune to it himself. After all, they hadn't had a single private moment together for going on two weeks.

He would much prefer Hadrian to Reive any day, especially as the boy seemed to be developing the undue notion that his infatuation was welcome or somewhat reciprocated. Really, that was the most ludicrous thing he'd heard all year, but what mattered was that Hadrian think it, too.

By term's end, Tom was sure Hadrian's attitude about having him over for break would change.

000

The train lurched into motion, a slow momentum building as it chugged down the tracks. Forehead pressed to the cold window, body vibrating with its rumbling, Hadrian listened to the rattling of the rails, all other sounds drowned out.

He was going to enjoy this stolen moment of quiet solitude before someone inevitably found him and ruined it. He knew Jezebel and Adelina had been eager to talk to him since the Slug Club party; about what he had no doubt.

Tom packing for the winter holidays had garnered interest from their classmates, until they'd ascertained that he was going home with Hadrian. There went any hope of them fooling anyone, because now there wasn't a single person at Hogwarts who didn't firmly believe that he and Tom were in a relationship.

Hadrian had never thought they could divert attention forever, but he would have liked for their privacy to last longer than it had. This was yet another good thing that his mother's letter had disrupted. Though it wouldn't have been a problem if not for Tom's acceptance.

Honestly, he wasn't sure where he'd gone wrong with Tom. The way he'd phrased the invitation—by making it seem as though his mother was very anxious to meet him—he'd been certain that Tom would turn it down.

Did you ever think that perhaps he himself was anxious to spend the time with you?

Hadrian scoffed. That definitely wasn't it.

But...Tom had been anxious for something else: to actually attend the wedding ceremony he'd been invited to first. He couldn't believe he'd discounted that entirely when considering this mess. Now the other boy's response made a lot more sense, and Hadrian breathed a little easier knowing the reason behind it.

He supposed, though, that it wasn't going to be as bad as he'd made it out to be. Yes, he was not exactly ready to introduce the Slytherin heir to his parents—or the rest of his family, for that matter—as someone who was more than a friend, but that wasn't all there would be to this trip. While there was no escaping that, once past it, he might come to enjoy the time spent with Tom.

Merlin knew there hadn't been much of that all month. Tom had been spending more time with Camden Reive than with him. Quite unexpected, as Hadrian hadn't known the Head Boy had even been aware of their classmate's existence.

He himself knew of the boy only through the gossip about Reive's mother that had run rampant in the pureblood circles years ago. Nyx Fawley had been known as a vivacious and enchanting witch whose fleeting regard many had aspired to; until, to the shock of her rigidly pureblood family, she'd hitched herself to a lowly half-blood from an unknown family.

Overtime, however, others had begun to realize what she'd seen in Dalston Reive, who had proven himself to be a man of many talents. Alas, just when people had forgotten his pedigree and just when the little family had entrenched themselves in pureblood society, Nyx Fawley had brought disgrace upon her family once again when she left her nine-year-old boy and husband to run off with her Muggle lover. No one had seen or heard of her since, but, even to this day, the stain she'd left on her family refused to be washed away.

It was an unfortunate nature of the pureblood community that when Fawley, a beloved pureblood, had done something shameful, the blame lied mostly with the tainted blood she had associated with. For the perceived crime of poisoning the mind of a pureblood so severely that the sin of touching a Muggle became an attractive prospect, father and son had been readily cast aside by the same people who'd once accepted them.

Reive's sudden affiliation with Tom meant that he was now one of his followers. Which was curious, as that seemed to indicate that his mother's actions had cultivated in Reive a dislike for Muggles, instead of the more rational dislike he should have acquired for the purebloods who branded him a disgrace.

Beyond his need to rip Reive from Tom's side, it wasn't like Hadrian had ever had a personal dislike for him before this. Yet, once again, at the mere thought of the Hufflepuff, his Shadows left the confines of his magic to seep out into the small compartment he occupied, slinking around as if searching for a way out, as if itching to track Reive down and punish him. Reconciled to this odd new behavior, Hadrian reined them in before they could do just that.

He could not make sense of their violent reaction toward the other boy. Sure, he was not happy at all about his continued presence in Tom's company (not happy was putting it mildly, actually), but he did not understand why his Shadows were independently responding to his displeasure. They had been somewhat sentient on occasion, but never to this extent.

In fact, he'd noticed that this was another thing that had changed as a consequence of his magic merging with Tom's. This cognizance was not limited to his distaste for Reive; anytime he was near Tom, Hadrian had to fight to keep his Shadows from going to him. The only thing he could liken such a bizarre and inexplicable display of awareness to was the voice in his head.

As soon as the thought crossed his mind, Hadrian sat up straight in his seat.

Could it be that this infernal voice and his Shadows were connected? Despite the voice dismissing the notion, he'd thought it had to do with Voldemort. Now that he considered it, though, it had made its first appearance soon after he'd mastered the Shadows. Only after he came to this world did it become the utter nuisance it now was. Was there something in this world besides his Shadows that had exacerbated it?

The one time he would have welcomed its input, the voice remained silent.

The train rocked and lurched at the same time his compartment door slid aside for two Slytherins to stagger in. The fifth years were rather entwined in one another and failed to notice him until the girl broke the kiss. She turned to look at him, and blushed lightly at having a witness.

"Oh, our apologies;" the boy said nervously, trying to avoid looking Hadrian in the eye, "we didn't know you were in here." Arms still around the girl's body, he steered her back toward the door. "We'll just be going, then."

Amused, Hadrian stood up. "Do not worry," he dismissed, "I was just about to leave." He headed for the door and beckoned them in. "Please, enjoy yourselves."

Still appearing much too nervous, they thanked him and stared until he closed the door behind him. He shook his head at this unwarranted apprehension of him, and began to compose his appearance in the empty hallway outside the compartment. His solitary moment interrupted, it was now time to partake in some obligatory socialization before he was to go home.

What he really wanted to do was find Tom, but Hadrian was capable of holding off and keeping up pretenses for a few hours more when he had two weeks alone with him to (now) look forward to.

"...with Black?"

Attuned to the sound of his name, Hadrian listened closely to the hushed voices coming from the compartment he'd just vacated to hear what they could possibly be saying about him.

"Yes, I did hear that," the boy spoke, his voice muffled by something, though Hadrian was willing to guess it was the girl's flesh, judging by the faint sounds he could hear. "It comes as no surprise to me."

"Hmm? You think what they are saying is true?"

"I hope you are not so naïve, dear. Why else would Tom be visiting a classmate's home for the first time? Such favor was never afforded even to Lestrange; or Malfoy, for that matter."

He should have known, really, that they would still be talking about this. Fucking gossip just didn't know when to die.

"I suppose you're right. It does make sense now why Tom has allowed Black to get away with so mu..." Her words faded into a gasp, making Hadrian feel distinctly uncomfortable eavesdropping knowing what was happening on the other side of the door.

The boy's voice, husky and low, added, "Of course. Lord Voldemort's consort can do what he wishes, whenever he wishes."

Hadrian recoiled from the words, stepping away until his back hit the wall behind him. It was all he could do to keep from unleashing his magic upon these idiots to give them a piece of his mind.

Consort? Consort?! As if he were some blushing dame waiting around for a Lord to do with as he pleased!

Was that what people thought? Was that what Tom thought?

Fists clenched, Hadrian snarled furiously. I am nobody's fucking consort.


Those two just can't give each other a break, huh?

Thanks for reading and reviewing the previous chapter, guys! And thank you all for your kind words. Editing this chapter took freaking forever or I would have had it up two days ago. (As always, if you see any mistakes, please, please let me know; I'm kinda anal about it.)

Please be patient for the next chapter as I don't know when I will be able to update it. I've already begun writing it so I'll try to get it done as quickly as possible; no more years-long waits! I'll even give myself a deadline, even though I hate that.

If all goes according to plan, next chapter will include almost all of the winter break (just leaves out about the first couple days of January '45, before the start of the new term), and a lot more important additions to the central plot. Not only will you see the reemergence of the Potter equation, you also get to learn more about the original/old Hadrian, mainly why he didn't fight the merging/wanted change, as well as get an answer to the Horcrux question so many people have been asking and I've been dodging. Fair warning, there are going to be LOTS of new characters in it, too (Don't worry; as I said, most are fillers.). And more than a fair share of balls and the like.

This is all only if I can fit all that into the one chapter because I don't want it to become insanely long, which I'm afraid will be the case with all that will be happening. Hopefully, I can get all the important bits in.

By the way, has anyone guessed what I left out among the list of warnings? Or does everyone scroll past that like I do? Well, even if you haven't, just know that it's important. You might guess it by chapter 12 but, if you don't, I'll probably reveal it. It's NOT mpreg, though, if you're wondering. I can assure you that will not be making an appearance or getting even a slight mention anywhere in this story. Someone asked, so now you all know. I'm curious to know what you think it might be, though so give me your best guess!


Edited: 6/6/13