Note: This is a non-magic AU! No foolish wand-waving or silly incantations.
As a heads up, if you're thrown by the Weasleys-being-wealthy thing, it's because blood status = wealth, in this odd little world.
Also, there are a couple jibes at the usual time-travel fics in the first few bits. I couldn't resist. Hehe.
Hermione Granger's foot collided with the suitcase with a resounding clunk. "Damn it," she muttered under her breath, and tossed herself on her bed, staring up at the peeling ceiling. Damn it all. Damn this new boarding school, damn having to abandon all her best friends to live in the countryside, damn having to live with a bunch of rich, pretentious pricks, and most of all, damn VoldeMart, for having outsourced her parents' already-inadequate jobs to China.
Hermione attempted to control her anger, but that rarely worked, and the pain in her foot provided no relief.
Her mother would move to Liverpool to finish her training in law school. Her father would move up to Wales to get his previous employment back, a low-paying assistant job in a dentistry partnership. Hermione fumed at the thought. Like the dentists were even any good in Great Britain.
Sure, things hadn't been great in London, but her mum and dad living together had helped ease some of the financial trouble. The jobs they'd had at the factory which supplied VoldeMart had paid just enough for a decent living, even one with a couple of comforts. But no. Damned outsourcing.
Hermione buried her face in her pillow and yelled. This was so unfair – she couldn't even convince her parents to let her live with Ron, whose family was still wealthy, even though they had so many kids to put through university. In fact, the Weasleys were one of the best-off families in her school. The Potters weren't far behind, even though Harry usually lived with his nasty aunt and uncle because his parents were doing tours over in Somalia for the UN. He hadn't seen them both at the same time in years.
And she was so close to graduating top of her class. For all she knew, there was some rich bastard over at Hogwarts Academy who had even better grades than she did, and then she would be second, and that was just not acceptable. Not when she was already in danger of losing a university education due to financial circumstance. She hoped for a scholarship to Cambridge or Oxford –Oxford was her personal preference – or even somewhere over in America, Harvard or Princeton or Yale. She'd aced every single GCSE she'd ever had... and this was her reward? This was shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Everyone at her current school already knew to not get in the way when it came to grades, already knew that the best they could hope for was salutatorian. She wouldn't have much time to impress it upon the rich kids, starting off her last term at Hogwarts. What sort of a shit name was that, anyway?
They were all bound to give her a hard time about her background, about having to live off welfare half her life, about living in a dingy flat in London, three people to four rooms. At least Hogwarts didn't have a uniform, on top of all that, so she didn't have to fork out money for it. God knew there wasn't money to fork.
As Hermione stood back up, the blood rushed from her head, dizzying her. She looked down at her trunk miserably. She didn't want to leave the city. Heading into the countryside to attend school in a castle? What was this, the 1940s?
It was full scholarship, though, so she'd be an idiot not to attend. She hadn't managed to get complete scholarship to any boarding schools in London, much to her chagrin – even a couple thousand pounds a year was still too much. And her parents would be so busy adjusting to their news lives, making moving arrangements … finishing her last school year with one of them was a hassle she didn't want to put on their shoulders.
"Hermione? Come on – you're going to miss your train," called a voice through the thin wall. Hermione cast her most withering glare at the disembodied voice of her mother. Even the train had issues; it had a fraction in it. The nine and three quarters, direct to Hogwarts at five in the morning. The nine and three quarters? It was far too early for that to be even mildly entertaining.
Hermione yanked her trunk over her threadbare rug out the door. "Coming, Mum, coming."
The bus ride to the station was irritated and short. Hermione arrived just as the train was pulling in. Her parents guided her to the ticket station and handed Hermione her student identification.
"We'll miss you so much," whispered her mother, kissing her once on each cheek, her kind, round face filled with worry. "Write us over your breaks."
Hermione nodded, suddenly feeling more tired than angry. "I will. You'll do great in school, Mum." She glanced to her father. "Dad, good luck with that prick Harrington."
Her father chuckled. "Language," he said. "And sweetheart, don't … don't let anyone ... well, don't let them tell you who to be."
Her parents wrapped her in a swift hug, and just like that, she was through the strangely concealed door to the Special Line. The nine and three-quarters direct to Hogwarts waited beyond, a big maroon train purring with energy. There were only about ten or fifteen students boarding at the London stop, and they already looked well-acquainted with each other, laughing and chatting and being infuriatingly well-dressed. Their trunks varied in size and in designer. She couldn't help noticing that not one of them had a shabby one like hers, but she quickly chided herself. No, Hermione, you are not embarrassed by how your trunk looks!
She wheeled her trunk to the train, casting a glance around. Years of friendship with Ron and Harry had given her some social awareness – she knew not to start a conversation by spouting off millions of facts, in any case – but this silence was awkward. Several people were glancing over at her, their expressions varied. Hermione blushed and stared at her worn brown boots.
"What's your name, then?" asked a blond girl with pigtails.
"Hermione Granger," said Hermione.
"Nice to meet you," said the girl firmly. "I'm Mafalda Hopkirk."
She stuck out a hand, which Hermione shook, relief flooding her body. Then, Mafalda turned to her companion, a tall black girl with a slim, stylish coat. "And that's how it's done," Mafalda said.
Hermione looked from one girl to the other. "How what's done?"
The black girl shrugged. "I was telling Mafalda that I'm terrible at meeting new people. I just moved to London, see, so this is my first year at Hogwarts."
Hermione leapt at the opportunity, her immediate relief swelling into excitement. Fate was good to her today. "I'm new too! I thought I would be the only one."
Mafalda chuckled. "It won't matter, really. There are a couple new students every year, and everyone usually fits in well."
The black girl shook back her hair. "I'm just worried about the people there. They're all bound to be perfect – I mean, Hogwarts only takes the best, with the prestige and the big name and all."
Hermione looked down at her hands and said nothing.
Mafalda looked at her curiously. "Are you alright?"
Hermione waved a hand. "Yes, I just –" She lowered her voice. "I'm, er, a scholarship student, actually, and I'm just – well, my main worry is that people will be rude about my financial situation. Do you think … think they …"
The other two girls both looked shocked. Hermione felt intensely uncomfortable. Was she about to be judged for the first time in a long line of judgments? "What?"
"Nothing," said the black girl. "I wouldn't have guessed. Your look is so grunge. It's very in – all the models at Topshop are wearing distressed and patched."
Hermione snorted. Why would anyone purchase distressed clothes? Having worn many an item of clothing to shreds, she didn't see the appeal.
"Besides," Mafalda said, "Hogwarts has only taken one full scholarship student in, what, twenty years? I don't even know who it is, either."
"Yeah," agreed the black girl. "It's on their website. You must be brilliant! I'm Zara, by the way. Zara Johnson. Spelled with a Z." She pronounced it like 'Sara'.
Hermione heaved a sigh of relief. The two girls were just impressed, which was flattering. She hadn't realized Hogwarts scholarships were so rare. "Well, I – thanks," Hermione said. "Shall we board now? We don't have assigned seating, do we?"
Mafalda laughed. "No. There's a lot of freedom at Hogwarts. Lord knows my parents pay enough for me to get some leeway."
Hermione tugged her trunk over the gap, suddenly feeling better about its dilapidated condition. The three girls entered a compartment and shoved their trunks into the overhead rack as Mafalda waved to a boy outside the door.
He walked in. The boy was short, blond, and muscular, with a perfectly white grin on his face. "Hello, all! And thanks for waiting, Mafalda. Although I suppose you're used to reneging on promises, eh?"
Mafalda rolled her eyes, waving a hand vaguely in his direction. "This is Trenton Bode."
"You lovely ladies can call me Trent," he said.
"Sleaze check," Mafalda said. "Trent, this is Zara Johnson and Hermione Granger. You two had better get used to him. Once he's got his claws in you, you'll never get rid of him."
Bode slung his trunk into the overhead compartment and flopped into a seat, checking the door before pulling out a lighter.
"No, you are not getting high on the train ride over," said Mafalda firmly, holding out a hand for the lighter.
Bode sighed and placed it in her hand. "Why? You know I'll be spending all my time in Huff'n'Puff. It's my last year, for fuck's sake."
Hermione exchanged a questioning glance with Zara. Mafalda caught the glance. "Stoners," she explained. "Practically everyone who owns a bong goes to Huff'n'Puff to light up."
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "Lovely."
Mafalda chuckled. "Well, it's better than Slither's Den. A bit dodgy, that place – down in the basements. Wouldn't recommend it."
Zara was drinking in every word, her eyes bright. "Anything else we should know?"
Mafalda looked pleased at the attention. "Well, there's a place called Griffin's Door Archway, and behind that is a courtyard. The people who dorm looking out over that courtyard are usually the kids who play a sport. Then there's the people who host Raven Club, up in the tower dorms – that lot are sort of snooty and elite."
Hermione sighed. Same old differences, but now they were sorted into sleeping location. "Where are you?" she asked.
"Me?" Mafalda said. "I room past Griffin's Door, myself. I play football, and most of the team is on the same hall."
As the train juddered into a start, Hermione sat back in her seat, worrying about where she would end up. She wasn't athletic, and she didn't do drugs – but she certainly didn't want to be around anyone snooty, or dodgy people in a basement.
Maybe, she privately hoped, she wouldn't have to pick her own room at all.
The train made several more stops throughout the day, and the train filled up bit by bit. Another of Mafalda's friends, a vaguely Italian-looking boy named Nick Abbott, joined their compartment. He was fourth in the class, apparently. He was also a frequent attendee of Raven Club – but that didn't stop him from getting along with Mafalda and Trent, to Hermione's relief.
Just when her fear of the social scene was starting to fade altogether, unpleasantness struck with the smell of cigarette smoke. The compartment door slid open, revealing two boys in the opening. They wore jeans that were torn enough to look woeful, but made of such richly dyed denim, it was clear that some designer had ripped them. The first was tall, slim, and blond, with a casually unpleasant look about his face. The second was a little shorter, a vicious edge to his brown eyes, an odd pin on his plain black t-shirt. Both were impossibly attractive, and it briefly occurred to Hermione that money could indeed buy looks.
"Would you all mind moving?" said the blond. "This compartment has better ventilation than most."
Mafalda shot him an are-you-serious look. "As if," she snorted.
The dark-haired one gave everyone in the compartment a once-over, his hands in his perfectly distressed pockets.
"You should move," the blond one said, and something suddenly appeared in his hand – a small Swiss pocketknife. Hermione eyed it with alarm.
"Oh, give it a rest, Malfoy," sighed Trent, rolling his eyes. "The compartment across the hall is exactly the same, and you know it."
Hermione recognized the name. Malfoy. That family had used to handle most of VoldeMart's affairs, including overseas business, like, say, selling jobs to China. This year, though, there'd been a power shift within the ranks of VoldeMart, although the media hadn't really been able to discover much about it. The whole company was annoyingly closed-up about all its affairs. Hermione's lip curled involuntarily in dislike.
"You got a problem?" said a cool voice. Hermione glanced up. The dark-haired one was talking to her.
"No, I don't 'got a problem'," she said coldly.
The two boys in the door exchanged amused glances.
"Hey, don't get so angry, sweetheart," drawled the blond, brushing back his perfect hair. "Nice shoes, by the way."
Hermione looked down at her worn-down boots and swallowed. Here was where it started. This was what she'd expected.
But the dark-haired one intervened, and she didn't really know why. "Please, Abraxas. It's not her fault if she doesn't choose to wear shoes worth more than the average house."
Yet there was a tone to that almost-joking sentence that was definitely derogatory, and Hermione picked up on it.
"Yes, Abraxas," Hermione said, lips pursed tight. "Just like it's not your fault that you can't manage to afford any manners."
Zara grinned widely at that. Hermione felt a sense of victory.
"What's your name?" asked Abraxas.
"Hermione Granger," Hermione said, looking him in the eye with a lot more confidence than she felt.
"I have a feeling you're going to have an interesting year," Abraxas said calmly. "If I were you, I -"
"Let's go," said the dark-haired one, not seeming to care that he'd interrupted Abraxas. Weirdly, Abraxas didn't seem to mind much either. His mouth closed and he followed the other without complaint.
"Damn, Hermione," said Nick as the door slid shut. "Someone's got a temper."
Hermione let out a measured breath, unclenching her fists. She hadn't been planning on letting it get out of hand her first day. At least, not where people could see. "I can't stand prejudice," she said shortly, and crossed her legs, looking out the window once more.
"Malfoy's a pain in the arse," said Bode. "Riddle's not so bad, though. He seems like he'd be all right if he didn't mix in with those idiots down in the Den."
Riddle – the dark one, then. Hermione stored the information away.
"I like their jeans," Zara said dryly, "though I think they'd look better on me, personally." Hermione laughed.
"You definitely have better legs," said Trent, with another sleazy grin.
Mafalda sighed and shook her head with a bounce of the pigtails.
It took a few more hours for the rolling hills to end. The nine-and-three-quarters pulled into a stop at a castle. A lake glimmered out front. There were a few tennis courts around back, a football field around the side, and woods off on the opposite side of the school. "Home sweet Hoggy," said Mafalda, reaching up for her trunk. "So good to be back. You'll love it, I promise."
She yanked her things from the overhead compartment and wheeled them out the door, closely followed by Bode and Abbott. Zara and Hermione trailed after.
Most of Hermione's anger had dripped away on the ride over, replaced with curiosity. She, along with the other new students, had to visit the Headmaster's office first. He was an infuriating man named Armando Dippet, who managed to talk for twenty minutes and yet give them no information at all. Then he told them to wait a moment – he had to call a couple of helpers to help orient the new students.
"These are our best and our brightest." Dippet sighed proudly, as if he had birthed them himself, and opened the door with unnecessary dramatic flair. Two people walked in, a girl and a boy. Hermione didn't recognize the girl, although she did recognize the Lilly Pulitzer dress she wore and the Ralph Lauren shoes on her feet. But the boy was familiar. Riddle, from the train compartment, black shirt and ripped jeans flattering on his tall body. He looked, if possible, even more utterly bored than before.
"This is Caroline Longbottom," said Dippet, "and Tom Riddle. They are our Head Girl and Head Boy, and second and first in the class, respectively." He gave a gray smile. "Tom, how about you take these two, and Caroline, these two?"
Zara and Hermione were ushered into Riddle's care, while the other new students, an Egyptian-looking pair of twins who looked like they'd be going into first year, were ferried off swiftly by Caroline.
"Much obliged, Tom," said Dippet, with sickening appreciation in his tone.
"Good afternoon, Headmaster," said Riddle, and shut the door behind Zara and Hermione as they left. He led them down the hall. "I'm supposing that neither of you two has visited?" he said. "The ones who've been before usually don't visit Dippet."
Zara and Hermione both shook their heads.
"Well, then, let's start with the grounds," said Riddle, beckoning them out a wooden side door. "That's the Forbidden Forest. You're not allowed to swim in the lake, either – don't know why you would, frankly; it's disgusting." He pointed to the edge of the building, beyond which a tennis net peeked out. "The tennis courts are in the back. There's a swimming pool for lengths next to the football field, which is also the rugby field, in case either of you... well, you probably wouldn't be rugby players."
Riddle gave them a reserved smile. Hermione found herself agreeing with what Trent had said – Riddle didn't seem that bad.
"All right," said Riddle. "Let's move onto rooming. There are some doubles and some singles, depending on where you choose your housing."
He led them back inside and down a set of spiral stairs. The lights underground were warm fluorescents, making everything seem smooth and dark, and the ceilings hung low over their heads. Riddle led them around a few turns, before opening a big walnut door. Inside lay a luxurious common area with a large television and several black sofas. Everything else was a wash of green. "This is Slither's Den," he said. "Parties on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, if you have a pass."
Riddle showed them the Great Hall, for meals, and then led them up a huge set of staircases. "On the next floors, it's all classrooms, but up at the top, there are a few towers. Raven Club meets the same days as the Den, but they're a bit more... reserved." A smirk curled the edge of his lip. "Anyway, you can take these lifts, or the stairs," he said, nodding over at the clear glass lifts whose cables were strung up through blank space. It would be like flying to ride those, Hermione mused.
They left the main section of the castle. "This is the side housing," said Riddle, pointing a few hundred yards away, at a small but stately building to the side. "There's a common room fondly nicknamed Huff'n'Puff right in the middle, so if you don't fancy your dorm smelling like weed all the time, you might want to room on the outskirts."
Last, Riddle led them around to the tennis courts. Through a large, weathered stone arch, which had a griffin perched at its apex, was a small courtyard. "These rooms are for Griffin's Door people. Conveniently close to the courts and fields, if you need easy access to sports."
He nodded, thought for a second, and then turned back to them. "That's all you need to know, really. Breakfast starts at eight in the morning; class starts at nine. We're out by half-four in the evening. Dinner at half-past seven. If you need anything, the Head Boy and Head Girl rooms are the doors on the left on the First Floor, right off the lift." He gave a thin smile. "Hogwarts is a great place. You'll have a good year."
Then he stuck his hands in his pockets and strolled off. Zara and Hermione watched him go. "Wow," said Zara under her breath. "He's gorgeous. And he's first in the class?"
Hermione nodded. So that was her competition …
Zara cast a glance at Riddle's distant back. "Ah, well. I'll bet there are some good guys who aren't utterly out of my league."
Hermione scoffed. "You are completely in that league. Look at you."
Grinning, Zara looked up at the dorms. "You're rooming here, right? Even if you're not much into the sports, these rooms have a great view."
"I think so," Hermione said carefully. "Yes, the view looks relaxing. Good for homework."
"Homework, eh?" Zara chuckled. "If you ever have time, I could use a good bit of help with maths..."
Hermione was used to helping people with homework. "I suppose I could try to help," she said. "Which classes are you signed up for, do you know?"
Now eagerly chatting, the girls pulled their trunks into the Griffin's Door dorms to find Mafalda.
"He's angry," was the whispered rush around the Den. Girls stopped preparing to get his attention. Boys swallowed, slouching lower in the squashy sofas. How was he already in a bad mood? It was the first day of term, for Christ's sake.
But they would never voice those thoughts aloud, not as Tom Riddle opened the door and shut it quietly behind him. With a stiff jaw, he looked around the dimly-lit room, and then walked past sofas and congregated students, only a faint suggestion of a frown on his face. He pulled open the door at the back of the room. It connected to a nearly-black chamber, where music thudded dangerously, where the only lights were spinning lasers and strobes. Riddle glanced around. Around one of the round wooden tables sat several boys, and he made his way over to them.
They slowly looked up, dread evident on a few of their faces, turned chaotic by the spiraling lights. He stood with his thumbs hooked into the frayed loops of his dark jeans, practically-black eyes moving from person to person. "I'd like to know why the numbers are like they are," he said, his voice hardly traveling over the music, "and that doesn't mean I want excuses. I'd like to know what you're doing to fix them. I'd like to know why the shareholders are angry. I'd like to know what the issue is, and why there is something that is out of my control. I'd like to know by eight o'clock."
He turned on his heel and left silence behind him.
Riddle's hand made its way through his feathered dark hair, his other hand absentmindedly flicking the Head Boy pin on his soft t-shirt. This was not a good way to start the year, or to end the fiscal year. There was no adequate explanation as to why everyone in the world seemed to have problems with simple economics except for him. This was hardly rocket science. He wasn't asking them to make a time machine, for God's sake. He wasn't asking them to smuggle firearms through airport security; he wasn't asking them to fix global warming; he wasn't asking them to bomb Big Ben. They had everything they needed, so why was he the only one who seemed to be able to do anything right?
Something twitched in Riddle's mouth as he made his way back into the lounge of the Den. The effort he was exerting to keep himself some semblance of reserved was utterly lost on the cretins of Hogwarts. They were probably worrying about classes, probably worrying about social lives and passes to the Den and who had the newest designer wardrobe, all this petty stuff that couldn't matter less. He was trying to run a worldwide corporation. And he would graduate as valedictorian, and then go public as the inherited CEO – a perfect mark to start a perfect record on what would be a perfect life, even if all the morons around him were apparently determined to ruin it.
Riddle lurked around the back, where a few kids were lighting up. Picking up a silver lighter, he lit a piece of paper on fire in his hand, watched it reddening and curling and blackening, watched the singing orange edges of it approach his hand. Then he dropped it to the stone floor and crushed it with his heel.
He lit himself a cigarette, threw himself into a sofa, and kneaded his forehead, letting out a tired sigh. There would be time for all this worrying later. It was the first day of the school year; he didn't want to get off on a bad foot.
"Hey, Tom," said a voice. Two pretty girls sat down next to him. He looked over at them with an appreciative eye.
"How was your summer, then?" asked one of them, a blonde, stretching out her long, tan legs.
He let his eyes wander away from them to the blaring television. "Fine."
The redhead played with her hair. "Better make the most of your last year," she said.
"Of course," Riddle said, a confident smirk making its way onto his mouth. "I don't doubt I will."
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