Chapter 23:

Zevi Prince kept his eyes glued to the floor, hardly daring to breathe for the possibility of drawing Tom's wrath.

The rest were the same, no exceptions, even among the first years.
The Slytherin Common Room was uncommonly silent, devoid of the normal games or even the normal friendly discussion after classes.

There was a scratch of quills on parchment, the rustle of book pages, muted murmurs and the air was sharp like the exact moment when a glass shattered across the floor.

They hadn't yet got to the aftermath of the ringing in their ideas, but someone had already tipped the glass, and now it was suspending on the edge of explosion, clear and devastating.

Two second years had strode in, chatting, only to sort of freeze when they realised the unquiet in the room, turned green with the possibility they would be victims if only for breaking the hush before the storm, before quickly scuttling to find a seat in the corner.

Tom sat in the centre of it all, the only one who seemed perfectly calm.

He supposed that was only natural considering their...lord, as they were supposed to be calling him nowadays, was the eye of the storm.

He was writing out their Astronomy Essay, expression smooth and unreadable...fingers resting so very lightly on his wand.

Zevi was glad, for once, that he wasn't closest, like Abraxas or Cygnus. It was a toss up between them, before it used to be Lestrange quite clearly, but since Harry's arrival the power dynamic seemed to be shifting as Riddle grew increasingly irritated with Cygnus' almost desperate demeanour.

Whilst Tom had his fondness for other people's desperation, or rather the power and control it allowed him in turn, he had a simultaneous intolerance for weakness and there was a very fine line between the two sides.

He didn't know quite what had happened, but he knew Evans had done something.

Whilst there was nothing tangible to link Tom to the potions incident, and the severe injuries resulting to Roger Watkins, he had reacted with incredible reflexes. Superhuman almost, unless he'd known that the explosion was about to happen.

He was just surprised Tom hadn't let Harry be blinded with an explosive posture tearing through him and potentially killing him.

It wasn't his business.

But he felt the stirrings of involuntary curiosity either way.

Evans hadn't been at dinner, no doubt still lurking around the Hospital Wing, but he'd have to come back eventually.

Maybe that was what they were all waiting for.
He fingers stilled where he was smoothing out his Potion's essay, as he heard the door open.

Harry steeled his shoulders as he arrived outside of the Slytherin common room, jutting his chin up in defiance.

The absolute, consuming terror and sickness had faded now, smearing to guilt which crystallised to dangerous shards of rage.

He did not have to put up with this shit.
He hadn't asked to come back here, he hadn't asked for Riddle to become obsessed with him, now or in his time, and frankly he didn't see how attempting to obliviate the young Dark Lord was any worse than when he'd been drugged and forced to drink Veritaserum.

His eyes tightened, as he muttered the password and boldly strode into the room.

He almost wanted to freeze and walk straight back out again; but he wasn't that bloody cowardly.
He locked eyes with Riddle, almost as if had blinkered everyone else aside from the clutching of wands and the thinned lips and feverish eyes that tracked his every movement.

He was a figure carved out by the lazers of their stares, splintered from the rest of the world by their attention.

He'd had the whole damn school stare at him like he was a murderer before, like he was scum. He wasn't going to let them intimidate him like this.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't rip your throat out," he hissed, past caring about the reactions he would get for the slip.

Riddle didn't look up immediately, and that bloody well infuriated him too, because it made him look like an idiot to be ignored and left standing in front of the man. So he didn't hesitate, he drew his fist back and punched him hard across the face.

Voldemort or not, monster or man - Tom Riddle was a bastard.

That certainly got the Slytherin's attention, a hand grasping his wrist and squeezing and twisting as his bones grinded, not managing to prevent his blow but softening the impact marginally to avoid the crunch of a broken nose.

His wand was in his hand without even thinking about it, and Tom's was too, an essay falling to the floor with undignified grace, and for a second it was going to be Halloween all over again-then Riddle stopped, seemingly not enraged enough to make a spectacle of himself in front of his oh so loyal followers.

Harry hardly cared about them, and maybe that was his advantage, because the second Riddle released him he lunged for him again, in a hot stripe of pain as his wand lashed down, and the burst of a shield charm and the harsh slice of a glare in his direction.

"I'm sorry, what?" Tom returned, after a moment, tilting his head. "Was that supposed to be intimidating?" There was a trace of mockery, and something else he couldn't figure out. "I must say, I much preferred you earlier Harrison, on your knees and begging. What was it again?" the Slytherin Heir tilted his head. "Oh yes, I'll do anything."

"Does that normally work on people?" Harry bit out, glossing maddened eyes around the room, and the students who practised playing stone like this was a game of musical statues in which no one remembered to switch the sound back on. "Is this normally how it works here? You just let him walk over you and everyone else? I suppose you're just setting yourselves up for your lifelong careers of grovelling at other people's feet."

"Now, now," Riddle purred, liquid velvet poured over a knife, "no need to be so frustrated just because you honestly expected to be able to walk into someone else's kingdom and start throwing your weight around."

"Oh, I get frustrated whenever I see a bully get away with throwing their weight around, when all it would take is a little rebellion and they'd be nothing. And you know what, Tom, one day people are going to realise how utterly insignificant you are, and how you may think you're worth something, but you're not. You're just another kid so scared of losing control that you'd kick everyone else down to feel better about yourself."

Tom stared at him for a moment, before raising a brow.
"So how long did you practise that speech?"

"About as long as you spent trying to prove to everyone that you were special in the good way and not just a freak."

He regretted the words almost the second they were out of his mouth, because they rattled like conkers in his chest, but he stood by them anyway, outwardly unfllinching as there was suck of air around them, a vacuum of reaction that screamed more loudly than anything else could ever have done.

"Oh god, do you actually believe I have some distorted issues of being misunderstood?" Tom's eyes flashed, even as he smiled back. "That' quaint I can't decide if it's pathetic or adorable. Oh I don't think I'm special because I'm compensating for feeling like a freak - no need to project there, darling - I think I'm special because I'm amazing."


"-But tell me, Harry," Tom continued, relentlessly. "Did I in your opinion spend longer pretending to not be a freak than you did and do compensating with a hero complex for the fact that your parents were murdered because of you?"

Harry's breath caught in his throat, and for a second, he was stunned. Because Tom knew what he'd done! He knew he was the one who killed them, and nausea brewed in his gut, and he should have come up with a witty comeback several long seconds ago.

The words just echoed in his head, and his fists slowly clenched.

"Must feel terrible how you still haven't seemed to have got past the habit of recklessly putting everyone else around you in danger," Riddle laughed, almost pleasantly. "Your friend, is he going to make a full recovery? He was on the Hufflepuff Quidditch Team and everything, rumour has it he's not going to walk again?" the tone had turned sympathetic now. Those eyes were anything but.

"Touch my friends again and I will kill you."
All quips and banter, however venomous, had fallen out of his tone now. It was flat, deadly - determined. Time line be damned, he was at the point where he could kill Riddle now, regardless of the intense amount of damage it may or would cause.

Riddle must have sensed that, because his head tilted a little again.

"You're being cute again. Your attempts to stand up to me haven't been going well so far? Though I suppose I should congratulate you and your one man army. It's quite amusing watching you try."

"That makes two of us then," Harry said, the ringing of words slowly dimming in his head, burning in his blood all the same. "I find it amusing that you're so desperate to keep the topic on me. I have issues, at least I can admit to that. Amazing or not, doesn't stop you hating yourself. I mean, why the hell else would you be trying so hard to run from who you are and your very name? I mean, your mother didn't want you, your dad left you - and god, that blood purism thing must be one hell of a daddy issue considering you're a halfblood yourself. But just goes to show that you must hate yourself even more."

Tom's eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth to speak. This time, it was Harry who didn't give him the opportunity.

"I mean, not that I blame you. Bit hard to love someone no one else wants or gives a shit about. I mean, aside from their own ends, because that's how a tyrant's kingdom works, doesn't it? They stick around because you can give them something. Nobody actually likes you."

"And we're back to you compensating," Tom spat back, and Harry was again aware of their audience and now, instead of feeling...invigorated by it, by the opportunity to tear hunks of their lord out in front of them, he just felt uncomfortable. "Is that another reason why you play the hero? Because that's what everyone expects from you, or so you feel, and you're so scared that if they knew how messed up you really were they wouldn't like you either? I make no pretences or apologies for the way I am...but you...I pity you."

Lord Voldemort pitied him?

The next second he'd lunged at the bastard again, because sticks and stones could break my bones but the words could hurt more and he was so sick of all of this.

Someone grabbed him, yanking him back before he could claw at the other.
Tom snorted.

"So uncivilised, aren't you? Little lion. That's what you are, a lion in the snake house. Interesting combination."

Bizzarely, and he didn't know why because this whole conversation was just making him more livid, Tom seemed genuinely at ease now, all of a sudden. Amused. He made a slight gesture, and whoever had dragged him back - Alphard - released him just as quickly.

Tom stepped forward, seemingly oblivious to the murder attempt, though his gaze had a steel to it that warned him not to try anything, smoothing out the wild temper of his hair, and his clothes back into place from where they had rumpled and ripped with the explosion, fingers dragging across his skin.

"Would do you good if we could just get all that passion trained in the right direction, hmm?" Riddle murmured. "Well played. We're even."

Tom held a hand out to shake, smiling openly, eyes gleaming.

Harry felt thrown off course, bewildered and disconcerted at the sudden switch, before he understood just as quickly and wanted to swear.

Thrown off course with the rug pulled out from under his feet.

If he refused, Riddle was the bigger man here, and he was the villain.

He hated Slytherins.

He shook the hand, and they practised breaking each other's fingers, and maybe there was still some frisson in the air because the Slytherins didn't look relaxed yet.

He plotted further revenge in his head, and he could tell Tom was doing the same, but he'd still stopped and-

Was he feeling as uncomfortable with an audience as Harry was? It was an odd epiphany, but he was abruptly convinced to it.

At least, because with an audience they were pinned to one board and, Riddle, well, Riddle liked a challenge, didn't he?

And Harry had just figured out the perfect way to give it.

Still. He smiled back sweetly.

"Of course we're even. I never once thought you were above me."

Tom's jaw tightened.

A/N: So, it's been a...while. I hope I still have the characters down, I feel like I've fallen out of practise as though I still write Tom and Harry a lot (as you may know) the dynamics are different. So yeah, hope I didn't shatter the dream, and this was worth the wait. Um. Probably wasn't. I'm going to scuttle back to revision and hopefully not failing my life...adios. Thanks for the reviews :)