Author: Meltha

Rating: G

Feedback: Yes, thank you.

Spoilers: Through Deathly Hallows

Distribution: The Blackberry Patch and Fanfiction-dot-net. If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary: Every Head of House has to counsel his or her charges about their future outside of Hogwarts. Some of those conversations prove to be quite memorabe.

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by J. K. Rowling, a wonderful author whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.

Slughorn and Tom Riddle

The boy is always so very kind, Horace thought as he took the proffered box of crystallized pineapple from Tom's outstretched hand and gave the lad a smile.

"Well, m'boy, I'm sure you know why I've called you here today," Slughorn began as Tom gracefully took a seat across from him near the fireplace. "I'm also sure you've given plenty of careful thought to the topic, as you do everything."

"Yes," Tom replied, smiling politely. "I do prefer to have things all planned out ahead of time, at least, whenever possible."

"A good motto to live by," Horace said, popping one small piece of pineapple into his mouth and offering Tom a sweet as well by a shake of the box in his direction, but he declined. "So, what might your plans be?"

Tom remained silently for a moment, staring into the fire with an expression Horace couldn't quite place. It was thoughtful, or course, and serious, but there almost seemed to be faint traces of a mocking smile at the corners of his mouth, as though something amused him, something that old Sluggy wouldn't know about. Horace dismissed it as a trick of the firelight like the flickers of red in the green depths of boy's eyes.

"Antiquities," he said at last. "I'm extremely interested in the study of the wizarding world's past."

Horace puckered his mouth in surprise. This wasn't what he had thought he would say at all. It certainly wasn't what he'd anticipated from the star member of the Slug Club, the one he had expected to do very great things, things he couldn't begin to imagine.

"Really?" he asked. "It's not an especially lucrative choice, Tommy, you know. I'd have pegged you for wanting a bit more adventure in your life, something to get the blood racing."

"But I do find history to be most exciting, sir," he said simply. "What could possibly be more fascinating than learning about the great witches and wizards of the past and building on their knowledge to create a better world for us all?"

"Yes, I suppose the Muggle saying that those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it does have some merit to it," he said slowly, still not quite believing what he was hearing. "Is there a part of history that interests you most?"

"The founders, sir," he said, playing with the plain, old ring that encircled his right index finger. "I'm very interested in Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and, of course, Salazar Slytherin, the greatest of them all."

"That was a very long time ago, though," Horace said, shaking his head and unable to conceal his disappointment; there was very little chance of good Quidditch seats or finely aged liquors in his future Christmas parcels from him. "I'm not sure how many traces of that time are even still clinging to the world."

"One of each should suffice," he said, and a chill spread through the air as though he'd said something inappropriate, but there was nothing wrong in the words themselves.

Horace looked at him, and he wanted to like Tom. He felt sorry for the boy, and on consideration it could be that his desire for things from long ago was an outgrowth of his abandoned life, wanting to create a history for the wizarding world, a family so to speak, that he'd never had the opportunity to know. It would certainly make sense. But as sorry for him as he was, he could never quite forget that one conversation a few months ago, the one when that horrible subject had been brought up, and it seemed to poison everything Tom said now.

With a start, he realized Tom was looking at him intently, and he shook himself.

"I apologize. My mind wandered," he said.

"Of course, sir," he replied. "Do you think there would be an opening for me anywhere in the future? I don't mind starting small."

"Borgin and Burkes might possibly have something to offer you," Slughorn said, surrendering to Riddle's future as a nameless clerk in a junk shop… no, Tom's future. He had forgotten for a moment how much Tom abhorred being called by his father's name, so much so that Horace had gotten into a mental habit of avoiding the word even in his thoughts.

Tom smiled.

"Thank you, sir," he said, rising once more. "I hope you enjoy your pineapple."

"Yes, yes, you do know my little weaknesses," Horace said, laughing a little and feeling almost as though that other incident had never happened.

As he was about to leave, Tom turned back and spent one long second almost seeming to study his head of house's face, and for a moment it was as though a mask had fallen away.

"I really do quite like you, sir," he said, and he sounded almost surprised by the admission. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, m'boy," Horace called after him as cheerfully as he could, and then wrapped a cashmere shawl a bit tighter around his old bones to drive away the chill.