That little confrontation had been a mistake. Albus knew that now, long after it was too late. He knew he shouldn't have had that drink before he spoke to Tom, but after sitting through that idiotic staff meeting, he'd needed something to help maintain his sanity. Regardless, he'd always known it would be just a matter of time before he slipped up and said something untoward to his favorite student. He just hadn't expected to admit that he knew how Tom felt about him—and how much he liked it. Of course, since Horace had taken it upon himself to blurt out his secret to the boy, his irritation with the other man had clouded his judgment. Which, in turn, had led to him practically issuing an invitation to his bed to the impressionable thirteen-year-old. That had scared the boy to the point of never wanting to be alone with him again.
Which was probably best. After all, how far could he really take it with a child his age? Much as Albus hated to admit it, he was getting older. Not that he was getting too old to do what needed to be done, as the group he'd met over Christmas break could attest, but he doubted he could keep up with someone almost a third—well, quite a few years younger than him.
As he sat in the Great Hall staring at his plate, he wondered if telling Tom that would make the boy feel comfortable resuming their friendship. As it was, Dumbledore was bored without the nearly daily visits. They'd become a kind of reprieve from the idiots who filled the castle on a regular basis. Even if nothing else ever came of it, Albus enjoyed having an intelligent conversation with someone he could understand—even if that understanding came through a bit of creative magic use on his part.
Slughorn smiled at him down the High Table and Dumbledore frowned, resisting the urge to turn the fat bastard into a toad. Or maybe he could hex with him a case of dragon chlamydia. Or better yet, he could transfigure him into a house-elf so Professor Beery would show him the fun one could have with Devil's Snare, Aguamenti, and a little fiendfyre. The resulting scars would not only be endlessly entertaining—especially if old Sluggy couldn't reverse the transfiguration before the "free the grateful servant" game was completed—they would teach him a well-earned lesson about interference. And how flammable house-elf rags are. Of course, Headmaster Dippet would frown on the childish behavior, but Albus was beyond caring. He was going to get his revenge. It was just a matter of finding the right opportunity.
On the subject of opportunities, he would have to find another opening with Tom. However much he'd frightened the boy by being honest with him, Albus was determined to renew their friendship. If Tom's blushing smile from his seat at the Slytherin table was any indication, the boy was definitely up to accepting any challenge his professor offered. Or could be after some persuasion. Albus looked forward to persuading him for a very long time.
Tom turned away from the High Table, hoping no one sitting near him would notice the blush he'd been unable to hold back. They wouldn't have blamed him if they knew why. Dumbledore was staring as if he knew exactly what was going on behind the dark eyes (and robes) of the student beneath his gaze. Thankfully, he no longer had that option, thanks to a great deal of studying and concentration on Tom's part. That hadn't stopped the boy from letting his thoughts get away from him, resulting in embarrassment over something that hadn't happened yet. Well, something had happened. A confrontation that he hadn't been able to put out of his mind.
Dumbledore had issued a challenge he would not win. At least, not any time soon. Tom thought fondly back to the conversation he'd had with Dumbledore before Christmas. The idea of a professor admitting he knew of a student's crush and that he not only didn't care, but had the audacity to taunt him with it—Tom had been overwhelmed with the possibilities of what that could mean. Other than the obvious—getting what he wanted, if Dumbledore was "feeling generous." He wasn't sure if he wanted to benefit from that generosity. After all, a man of Dumbledore's age could get hurt. Or…hurt him. An idea which both frightened and intrigued the third year student.
Not that he would ever admit to either. That was why he'd taken great pains to learn Occlumency as soon as possible. If Dumbledore couldn't tell what he was thinking, Tom knew he would be less vulnerable to the other man's teasing. At least, that was what he had hoped. In truth, he just faced those twinkling eyes and smirks across the crowded classroom and in the Great Hall daily, embarrassing him to the point where he refused to be alone with his Transfiguration professor. A fact which excited the insanely jealous Horace Slughorn.
A soft hand slid against Tom's thigh and squeezed. "If I didn't know better," Abraxas whispered, "I'd say you like that pudding more than usual tonight."
Tom's blush deepened and he batted the other boy's hand away. "Not tonight, Malfoy. I'm just…"
"I can tell how you are," he whispered. His hand moved up further and Tom gasped. "I know you said you aren't really interested in me that way, but if you ever change your mind—"
Tom nodded and pushed his hand away again. "I'll think of you."
"As I will you tonight," the blonde whispered. "Feel free to come across the room to watch. Or help." He went back to the vanilla ice cream in front of him and began scooping it out of his bowl, licking the spoon slowly as he eyed Tom out of the corner of his eye.
That was another revelation Tom had been surprised with just before Christmas. One of his roommate's had a thing for him. More than one, if he believed Abraxas. None of them were as aggressive as Minerva and Slughorn, thankfully. Unfortunately, none were as appealing as the person he shouldn't be thinking about at all. Abraxas was giving it his best effort, though. Tom tore his eyes away from the site of his roommate licking a dollop of whipped cream from the corner of his mouth and looked towards the High Table again.
Dumbledore was staring down at his plate, pushing a chocolate eclair around with his fork. Further down, Professor Slughorn was watching Tom, performing the same allegedly erotic dance with his ice cream and spoon. Choking back bile, Tom stood from his seat abruptly and brushed his hands over the front of his robes to smooth the fabric. As he glanced over his shoulder, he saw Slughorn rise from his chair, his ice cream forgotten on the table.
Tom waved at several of his housemates hastily and began walking quickly down the table, looking over his shoulder every few steps as he approached the door. He might've known that Slughorn would notice him getting excited even from that distance, but he didn't think standing that way would come across as an open invitation for Slughorn to follow him.
Not that he needed an invitation. The Potions professor been getting increasingly more friendly the longer Tom avoided being alone with Dumbledore, going so far as to invite Tom and his friends to late-night snack sessions in his office every night. Tom had remained noncommittal on all of these evening get-togethers, but after being cornered after class, had given an indication that he "might be available soon." Which was all Slughorn needed. And reason enough for Tom to speed up as he left the Great Hall, hoping to disappear into the crowd of students headed towards their various common rooms.
He walked briskly, looking around frantically after every few steps. Tom was close to the door which lead down to the Slytherin common room when something made him stop in his tracks. Spotting Slughorn out of the corner of his eye, Tom thought quickly how he could escape another invitation. He grabbed the first girl he saw and planted his lips over hers. It felt disgusting, but gradually he forced himself to relax. Tom had to picture someone else and after a few moments, he found himself almost enjoying the contact. Slowly, realization dawned as to who he was pretending to kiss. He broke it off immediately and found himself looking into the stunned—and enamored—eyes of Minerva McGonagall.
No, that felt inadequate. Especially when she smiled, grabbed him and pinned him to the wall as she kissed him again.
Ew. She's using her tongue. Don't panic. What to do? Tom stomped on her toes and Minerva gasped, pulling back.
"What?" Minerva stared at him, her eyes darting back and forth in confusion.
"I have to go," he whispered. Without another look at her or Slughorn, he took off down the hall and into the nearest boys' bathroom. For some reason, he suspected this would be the first thing Scourgify couldn't clean off. He leaned over the sink and poked his tongue out at the mirror. He was going to taste like girl for days. There had to be something he could take for this. A poison?
At least he'd succeeded at one thing—getting Slughorn off his back. Unless the professor is into girls again or wants to try a group party invitation or... ew. Tom frowned. He wondered if it would be advisable to try to Obliviate one's own memories. He slipped his hand into his pocket and felt his wand. Not that he'd let a small chance of success stop him. Better missing memories than nightmares.
An hour after his hasty escape from the Great Hall, Dumbledore was surprised when Tom walked into his office. He slammed the door closed behind himself and his eyes searched the office. Albus waited until he had caught his breath before he put down his newspaper and cup of hot chocolate and beckoned the student across his office.
"How are you with Memory Charms?" Tom asked. He looked towards the closed door again before stepping forward. "Or Repelling Charms," the boy whispered as he sank into one of the guest chairs.
Dumbledore smiled. "Horace catch up with you, then?"
Tom scowled. "No. My robes are still on and in one piece, much to his regret. I'm lucky he can't run very fast." He continued over Dumbledore's quiet laughter. "You didn't spike his drink with a love potion at lunch today, did you?"
The Transfiguration professor shook his head. "If I wanted to have you running into my office for sanctuary, I would've found a much more subtle way to accomplish it." His laughter quieted and he leaned back in his chair, studying Tom. Albus wasn't sure if it was the breathless way the student had run to him or the brief flash of thought he'd caught as the boy closed the door, but he was suddenly glad Tom couldn't see behind the desk. This interaction of theirs was quickly slipping into dangerous territory. Or would if Tom kept staring at him that way.
"After the last time we spoke, I don't believe subtle is your style," Tom said.
Dumbledore smirked. "Your thoughts were not exactly vague." He crossed his arms and leaned back. "So, what will we do about them?"
"Provide protection for me?" Tom suggested.
"Are you still on that?" Dumbledore asked.
"Well, if you had people trying to get under your robes left and right—"
"What makes you think I haven't?"
Tom blushed. "I am not used to this sort of…bold attention. If you promise to help me with Slughorn and McGonagall…" He paused as he considered what he was asking.
"Oh, but not Mr. Malfoy?" Dumbledore asked. "I suppose his nightly tributes to you are welcome."
"I cannot control what he does in the privacy of his own bed," Tom responded.
"Ah, but you did not have to promise him you will watch one day. That only inspired a host of thoughts that would have Professor Slughorn salivating if he were flexible enough to act out half of them."
"I don't want to know." Tom made a gagging motion with a finger in front of his open mouth; Dumbledore shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"Do not worry," he said after a moment. "I will do what I can to keep Horace and Miss McGonagall occupied. Your virtue is safe. For now."
Tom visibly relaxed. "I suppose that will last until you…what did you say? Until you are feeling generous."
"Perhaps I spoke out of turn that day. I do not wish you to feel…unsafe when you are with me." A small smile touched his lips. "However much I enjoyed teasing you, please know that nothing will happen when you are with me."
"Nothing?" Tom didn't bother attempting to hide the disappointment in his voice.
"Nothing while you are underage," Dumbledore amended. "And perhaps not after that."
"Afraid you won't be able to keep up with me?"
Dumbledore shook his head. The child was playing a game with consequences he could scarcely imagine. He conjured a cup and poured Tom a cup of hot chocolate from the kettle on his desk. He handed Tom the cup and watched as he brought it to his lips.
"I would hate for all the effort you put into learning Occlumency to go to waste," Dumbledore said. "Preventing me from getting inside you one way only to invite me inside you another way." The professor smirked as the student began to choke on his drink. Tom lowered the cup, coughing and sputtering as he looked across the desk. "I fear you would not be able to handle it. I'd hate to overwhelm you." He gestured to the coughing student, smiling fully as Tom took out his wand to siphon the hot chocolate from the front of his robes. "Then, of course, there is my dislike of Azkaban."
"For being with a student."
"An underage student," Dumbledore corrected. "There is no rule that says we cannot do as we wish. I would merely prefer you reach the age of consent."
"Oh," Tom stated. "Then I should not worry about Professor Slughorn?"
At that, Dumbledore laughed loudly. "Oh, you should most definitely worry about Horace. He and I do not have the same level of restraint. I told you before, he can become quite fixated when it comes to something he wants." His expression turned thoughtful. "I do believe he also may see it as something of a personal triumph to possess you before I can, and he knows I will wait until you are older if I am to do anything at all."
"Then, what should I do?"
"Nothing," Dumbledore responded. "I will handle Horace." Dumbledore smirked. "Though after your surprise performance, you may have to deal with Minerva on your own."
Tom buried his face in his hands and sighed. "Maybe I'll need that poison after all."
"Perhaps I should teach you a few tricks to deal with your admirers," Dumbledore said. "After all, who better than me to teach you how to protect yourself?"
"Yes," Tom responded. "Who better than you to teach me how to save myself...for you?" he whispered, one eyebrow raised.
Dumbledore smiled. He had not made a mistake after all. Now he just had to have the patience to wait until the time was right. And he had to thwart his competition. His smile widened. Horace would never see it coming.