Author's Notes: Written for the 2H option on Lady Phoenix Fire Rose's One Hour Challenge on the HPFC forum, with the pairing Tom/Myrtle, and the prompts "heartbreak" and "Ask the Lonely".

2 500 words exactly. Enjoy!

)O(

Myrtle ran out of the Great Hall in tears. Olive called something after her – maybe a final insult, or, more likely, if Myrtle was quite honest with herself, maybe an apology – but she didn't turn back or pause to listen. On the contrary, Olive's voice only made her run faster.

Get away, get away from them, get somewhere alone…

She glanced back over her shoulder to be sure that no one was following her (not that anyone would – who would bother following Myrtle, "moaning" Myrtle, when they all knew that she was just going off somewhere to cry and mope) and in that moment of inattention, she ran right into someone.

"Oh!"

Myrtle stumbled backwards and landed on the ground before she was able to catch herself. She blinked dazedly, trying to gather her wits, and looked up at the person into whom she had run.

Oh dear God.

Tom Riddle – Tom bloody Riddle, only the most idolized boy in the whole bloody school – was standing over her, rubbing his shoulder, which she had apparently crashed into, and looking down at her with an expression of cool bemusement.

"I'm s- s- so s- sorry…" Myrtle stammered. Her face went bright scarlet, and her stutter (just my luck to have it turn up when I've already run into a boy and I'm sitting on the ground in front of him like an idiot) wasn't helping matters at all. "I- it's- my- f- fault… I- I w- wasn't looking where I was g- going…"

"Clearly," he said calmly, then reached down and held out a hand. "I don't suggest being upset about it. You're quite forgiven."

She was practically shaking, but managed to take his hand. His hand felt cool and strong, and her hot, sweaty paw felt slimy and disgusting in comparison. She heaved herself to her feet quickly, trying to wipe her other hand discreetly on her skirt.

"Should I inquire as to what you were running from?" Tom asked politely. Myrtle's face went, if possible, even redder than it had already been. Her stomach was churning, and if she had eaten at dinner (not that she usually ate at dinner – too many chances to make an idiot of herself) she would have been afraid of vomiting all over him. As it was, she felt acid burning in her throat and swallowed it down hard before she managed to formulate an answer.

"I… I was just… leaving," she said lamely. "Leaving the Great Hall…"

"Well, that much is clear." He looked her up and down swiftly. "Perhaps you had best go up to the hospital wing. You don't look well."

"I'm all right," she murmured, twisting her hands together and looking down at her shoes. "I'll just… I can go to bed… I'm fine."

"Perhaps I should walk with you," he suggested. Myrtle's flush turned from one of pure mortification to one tinged with pleasure.

"That's very kind of you," she murmured, trying not to sound so very like she were talking to a teacher – he was only a few years older than her, after all.

Tom held out his hand quite formally, and Myrtle gave her hand one last quick swipe on her skirt before she took it. He flinched a little, but managed his usual tight-lipped, not too emotional smile.

"Thank you," Myrtle said in a very quiet voice as he started with her towards the stairs that led up to the Ravenclaw common room. "You… you really don't need to do this – it's…"

"There's no reason for me not to," he said politely. "It is, after all, my fault in part that you were injured."

"I wasn't injured," she told him, completely mortified. "And it wasn't your fault at all – I should have been watching where I was running…"

"I should have stepped out of the way," he said, and though his small smile was still firmly in place, Myrtle thought that she noticed his voice sounding a touch strained. "And now I'm taking you, so there's no reason for you to complain anymore."

"I'm not complaining," she said, then shook her head a little. "I'm sorry."

"Quite," he said, and now he sounded a touch impatient. "Now, I believe I asked why you were running out of the Great Hall, and you never properly answered. We have a bit of a walk, so you might as well tell me."

Myrtle cleared her throat, embarrassed. "It was nothing… stupid…"

"If it were nothing or stupid, then you would not have been running."

"There was just…" There was no way that Myrtle could think to say this without sounding foolish. "There was a bit of an argument… it really wasn't important at all, but I suppose things got a bit… a bit… well, heated, you know, and I got… upset, and ran off…"

"Mmm." Tom nodded a little. Myrtle fell silent, hoping that he would not pry further.

The two of them walked for some moments, Tom apparently knowing the way up to the Ravenclaw common room every bit as well as she did – though, surely, that was because he was Head Boy and it was his job to be aware of such things as where all the common rooms were – and then he suddenly spoke again.

"You are a very lonely girl, are you not, Myrtle?"

"What?" Myrtle froze on the spot. It felt as though her feet and grown roots and attached themselves firmly to the ground. "I… I don't know how you came to that conclusion," she managed, clearing her throat a little.

"Is that so?" He looked at her, raising an eyebrow sardonically. "You don't think that I can look at a girl who was running like a madwoman because of some fight, a girl who never seems to spend a minute with a friend, and not assume that she is lonely…"

"I'm not!" Myrtle insisted, though that was the brashest, most shameless lie that she had ever told in her life. "I have… I have friends!"

"Oh? Who?"

"Olive Hornby," she told him, hoping to god that he would not know that Olive and her did nothing but fight most of the time.

Tom looked unconvinced. "You do not act as though she is your friend."

"How would you know?" she demanded. The flush in her cheeks, which had been receding as the memory of running into Tom faded from the previous painful clarity in her mind. "Have you been watching me?"

"Perhaps."

Myrtle jerked her hand away from him and stepped backwards, regarding him warily. Why on earth would Tom Riddle want to watch her? She wasn't interesting, she wasn't exciting, she certainly wasn't attractive, and she wasn't the sort to break rules, so what could he possibly want from her?

"And I know that you're lonely, and unhappy…"

"Please leave me alone!" she told him, stepping back, away from him. There was a niggling voice in the back of her head that was telling her to stop! Stop telling him to leave! This is probably the only chance you'll ever get to be with him! but that voice was silenced by the far louder, far more worried voice that said to get as far away from him as she possibly could.

Myrtle cast him one more very nervous glance, then turned around and started resolutely for the stairs.

She was stopped in her tracks by what he said as she tried to go.

"You're not the only lonely one, Myrtle."

She had never heard him sound so… soft. It was almost – almost, though not quite – as though he was opening himself to her. She swallowed, turning back and looking at him with wide eyes, glazed in suspicion and, she was aware, already starting to fill with the ashamed tears that she had to battle any time anyone asked about her social life.

"Are you lonely, Tom?" she asked in a small, quavering voice.

He stared at her and she stared back, trying to figure out exactly what he was thinking. He looked a little suspicious of her – perhaps wondering why on earth she should ask that and thinking it a very stupid question – but she also thought she saw a touch of emotion in his eyes.

"No," he said firmly. "I'm not."

Myrtle bit on her lips as she watched him turn his back and start for the stairs.

It was a rash move, what she did next – a rash, stupid move that she would never fully understand nor forgive herself for. She raised her voice and called out, "I heard that you live in a Muggle orphanage!"

When she looked back, she supposed it did almost come out as a threat or a taunt, though she had not meant it that way. Perhaps Tom had heard that, his skeleton in the closet, the flaw in his perfect persona as Tom Riddle, Head Boy, and seen it as a challenge. Perhaps he had thought that Myrtle thought less of him for that, though nothing could have been further from the truth. Whatever the reason, he froze in his tracks, then turned around very slowly and glared at her through dark, dangerous eyes narrowed into slits.

"What did you just say to me?"

"I said…" Myrtle swallowed back the nervousness that had risen in her throat from the way he was looking at her. "I said that I heard that you live in a Muggle orphanage. In the summers, I mean. Is… that true?"

His lip curled back in a snarl and Myrtle immediately leapt to her feet and scrambled backwards. He looked so dangerous, so suddenly, like a wild animal that had been kept placid in the zoo, but had just been baited and now was read to attack.

"Where did you hear that?" he demanded, and when she did not answer, he raised his voice, bearing down upon her. "Where did you hear that? Who said that? Who told you that?"

"I don't know!" she squeaked, stumbling backwards and running into a wall, pressing herself against the stones and staring up at Tom in purest terror. "I didn't- I don't- it's just gossip–"

"Someone should teach you not to repeat gossip."

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be rude!"

"Good." He seemed to consider drawing his wand upon her, but then reached back and slapped her hard across her face instead – hard enough to knock her glasses askew and knock the breath out of her as her head cracked back painfully against the wall. "See that you improve your manners in future." He leaned down. "You filthy Mudblood."

Fresh tears prickled her eyes. "Don't call me that!"

"Don't tell me what I an and cannot call you!"

"I don't like it, it's–"

"I couldn't care less what you like, Mudblood," he hissed. For a second, he looked as though he were considering saying something more, but then he gave his head a quick side-to-side shake, turned, and stamped away.

Myrtle sank to the corridor floor, pulling her knees up to her chest and rocking back and forth, trying to soothe herself. She had not expected that outburst. Every time she had seen him – every time anyone had seen him, if the gossip that ran rampant in Ravenclaw was to be believed – he had always been calm, collected, charming and completely lacking in the human emotions of anger or upset. No one had, to Myrtle's knowledge, ever seen him get angry.

It had even become something of a game – half dare, half joke – among the Ravenclaws. Baiting Tom. They tried to get him angry, and it was understood among them that there was no like that could not be crossed in the spirit of the game.

The only rule, really, was not to get caught by the professors. They all doubted very much if Tom would turn them in, even if they managed to make him angry – he did not seem the sort.

Perhaps, Myrtle thought, if he ever caught them, he would do something worse than turn them in.

She did not like to think what that thing might be.

Myrtle had spent her fair share of hours sitting by the fireplace with the other students, discussing some plan to irritate him – or, rather, listening to others discuss it and nodding emphatically and laughing in all the right places – but she had privately always felt rather sorry for Tom. It was surely not his intent to be infuriating in his calmness, and he did not deserve to be tormented.

At least, that was what she had always thought.

Now, she though perhaps it was a good idea not to torment him, because if he ever got any angrier than he had, just then, for Myrtle suggesting that he lived in a Muggle orphanage (and it was probably true, she reflected), she doubted that whoever made him angry would survive.

Perhaps she could tell the other Ravenclaws that she had gotten him to slap her. That would win their admiration, surely. Perhaps if she told them that, then she would be Myrtle, The Girl Who Angered Tom Riddle, rather than just Myrtle, The Girl Who No One Liked.

Or perhaps they would only mock her behind her back for getting slapped.

She shut her eyes, leaning her head back. If she had been imagining the scene, and been able to decide how it ended, Tom Riddle would have told her that yes, he had been raised in a Muggle orphanage. And then he would sit down and break into sobs and tell her all about how terrible it was, and for once, Myrtle would be the one comforting him, instead of someone attempting to comfort her.

Of course, she thought, her lip curling into a sneer that she reminisced later was not unlike Tom Riddle's – or Abraxas Malfoy's, even. Of course he'd let me comfort him. And while I'm at it, maybe I'm his long-lost half-cousin, and my parents are both very rich wizards and my blood is just as pure as the driven snow, and being his half-cousin makes me just the right sort of blood purity and relation to marry him…

She blushed a little at that thought. Would she ever want to marry Tom Riddle? He was attractive, she supposed (supposed? He was the most handsome boy she had ever seen, the one that every girl fantasized about having in her bed…), but what use would she have for someone so very much better than her… it would only make her feel worse about herself.

But it was stupid to even consider it. Tom would never want to marry her, even if she really were his Pureblood half-cousin. And as it was, she was just a very stupid girl who had asked a very stupid question and insulted him.

It's a pity that he wouldn't want me, she thought miserably, taking her glasses off to wipe her eyes. Because then maybe we could be lonely together.

)O(

Fin