The Importance of Chemistry
Disclaimer : The Harry Potter Universe belongs entirely to J.K Rowling and her publishers, i own none of it.
A/N : This is an AU piece of writing, in which Harry decided never to attend Hogwarts, and instead he is enrolled in the local muggle comprehensive. There will be strong language throughout and likely Harry/Voldemort slash in the future, so pay attention to the rating. It pretty much jumps straight in, so please leave a comment to tell me what you think.
September 29th 1997
"Good morning class. I took the liberty of marking your essays on chemical solutions this weekend. As expected, you all failed. Congratulations." The sarcasm in Dr Riddle's tone was apparent. He was leaning back against his desk; behind him laid a pile of papers littered with angry red marks. Their essays, presumably.
There was a collective groan in the room, and a muttered 'For fuck's sake,' from one corner. Riddle's eyes sharpened, honing in on his least favourite student.
"That's a warning Polkiss. Swear in my classroom again and I'll have you suspended from this course."
Harry smirked into his hand as the other boy scowled, not even trying to defend himself.
Piers Polkiss was one of Harry's least favourite people. Along with Harry's cousin Dudley, Piers had been bullying Harry for as long as he could remember. He had originally been at Smelting school along with Harry's cousin Dudley, but been forced to transfer to Stonewell high the previous year due to an unfortunate incident involving his smeltings stick and a younger boy, which had led to his expulsion. Piers had consoled himself with the idea he would be able to bully his best friend's scrawny little cousin once more. Unfortunately for Piers, Harry, who was quite popular at Stonewell high, had turned the majority of the year against him before he had even arrived. It had not been a pleasant few months for the lanky boy, who had spent the past year with his head being stuffed down toilets, his locker raided and his schoolbooks vandalized.
Riddle turned to the blackboard, chalk in hand, and scribbled a calculation on the board.
"Moles. This is GCSE level; you should know this equation back to front. Apparently, none of you can even correctly work out the atomic number of an element." Riddles eyes were cool as he surveyed the class, his neutral expression betraying none of the annoyance lacing his tone.
Harry knew that he really shouldn't find his Chemistry teacher quite so attractive. The man was a complete bastard. He gave out detentions for not answering questions correctly; he always arranged experiments so his students would have to work late after school and he had a nasty habit of, without any prior warning, setting extremely difficult tests first thing on Monday morning, when he knew the majority of his students would be hung-over. Three students had already dropped the subject, despite the fact they were only five weeks into the autumn term.
"Potter." Harry flinched internally as Riddle's eyes met his. "What is the equation used to work out the concentration of a solution?"
Harry swore under his breath.
"What was that Potter?"
"The number of moles multiplied by the volume?"
Riddle smirked. "Detention Potter, after school. With me."
"But sir I have football practice—"
"Your chemistry qualification is far more important than any silly little playground game you and your friends play in your spare time," Riddle cut off Harry's protests abruptly, turning back to the board.
"The answer to the question which Mr. Potter just incorrectly answered is the number of moles present in the solution divided by the volume…"
Harry's best friend Sam flashed him a sympathetic look, miming throwing a pen at Riddle's head. Harry snorted.
"Detention Barnaby, for attempted assault of a teacher. With Mrs. Wilkins." Riddle's baritone rung clearly through the room. So did Sam's groan.
Harry was hovering outside his Chemistry teachers office, trying to delay going in as long as possible.
"Stop dawdling Potter. Come in."
Harry entered, glancing around the room. It was sparsely decorated, and the main feature of the room seemed to be a large, dark, wood desk at the far end of the room, with a chair on either side. Riddle was standing next to it, rifling through a paper. Harry was suddenly struck by their height difference. Harry had always been a little small, no doubt due to the malnutrition he had suffered during his early years at the Dursley's; but he was usually only a couple of inches smaller than his peers. By contrast, Riddle was one of the tallest men Harry knew, standing at around six and a half feet. He couldn't help but feel intimidated.
Riddle didn't bother looking up from his paper, instead indicating to the plastic chair in front of his desk.
After a moment of hesitation harry sat down, fiddling with his jacket.
A few minutes later, his teacher dropped the paper into the bin beside the desk, sitting down in the much more comfortable looking chair opposite Harry.
"So, Potter. You know why you're here."
"Yes, sir. I answered your question wrong—"
"And what was the question?"
"How you find out the concentration of a solution."
Riddle stared at him, something strange in his eyes that Harry couldn't quite pick up on.
"Why did you decide to attend Stonewell high, Harry?"
Harry started, not only at the change of subject but also at the sudden use of his name.
"Well, it was the local comprehensive. My guardians don't have the money to send me to a private school."
That was a lie. His aunt and uncle were more than capable of paying private school fees for him, and they did so annually for Dudley, but Harry had no desire to discuss the dynamics of his family relationships with his teacher.
"You don't live with your parents?"
"No," Harry refused to elaborate.
Riddle was silent for a few more minutes, and Harry tugged on his shirt collar, beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable.
"Sorry sir, but i really don't see how this is relevant—"
"You see Harry, I was under the impression you were offered a place at a different school,"
Harry's head jerked up, suddenly fearful. Was it possible that this man, this apparently non-magical man, know about his… affliction? Riddle wasn't a wizard. Harry knew he wasn't. He had always been able to sense other sorcerers with his magic, and Riddle's aura was decidedly ordinary. He attempted to pull himself together.
"I don't think so sir, I don't recall getting any offers for any other schools."
Riddles gaze was intense, and Harry was unable to hold it, casting his eyes to the floor.
"That is most strange Harry. I'm talking of course about the school your parents attended,"
"Your parents were very honorable people,"
Was Riddle joking? Taking the piss? Harry knew his parents had been pretty pathetic; his father an unemployed alcoholic and his mother, as aunt Petunia called her, a freak. They had been, by no stretch of the imagination, admirable. However, Harry's curiosity was peaked.
"You knew my parents?"
A small smirk formed on Riddles face. "Not personally."
Harry looked away, and felt the sudden temptation to run. Riddle would be unable to prevent him leaving, he could be persecuted if he tried to physically stop him—
"So keen to get away Harry. We still have fifty minutes of detention left, leave now and I'll have you in here every evening for the remainder of the year."
Riddles tone was calm, but had an underlying steeliness to it. Harry gulped.
Riddle spoke again.
"You never answered my question Harry—"
"Yes I did—"
"Let me rephrase that. You never answered my question correctly."
Silence again stretched between them. Harry was torn, he was tempted to lie again, but Riddle seemed to somehow know the truth already. The man seemed to know far too much. Why was he asking for Harry's confirmation then, if he already knew the answer? Harry's fear was starting to fade into anger. Riddle may be incredibly attractive, and have a PHD in chemistry, but that didn't give him the right to pry into Harry's private life like he knew him—
"I'm waiting, Harry,"
"I'm not fucking required to answer you!" It had slipped out before Harry could contain it, and he internally kicked himself as Riddles look turned dangerous, waiting for the abusive tongue lashing he was sure was coming.
However, Riddle remained silent. Harry almost shat himself when the man started to chuckle, a deep, rich sound which Harry made Harry a little uncomfortable.
"So spirited, Harry. A Gryffindor at heart I see…"
Harry had no what on earth a Gryffindor was, but he was more than grateful the man seemed to have calmed down.
"So, you don't recognize this, then?"
A sharp intake of breath gave Riddle his answer. Between the older man's fingers dangled an envelope, made of thick, yellowing parchment. The wax seal on the back was more than recognizable to Harry, but it was what was written on the front in swirling, neatly inked script that damned him entirely;
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Yes, Harry remembered that letter. He could recall the day when received it perfectly.
July 21st, 1991
"Dudley, get the post."
"Make him get it."
"Harry, get the post."
"Make Dudley get it!"
"Boy! Post! NOW!"
Harry scampered off as fast as his little legs would take him, not keen to incur his uncle's wrath. He had realized long ago that pushing his uncle too far would lead to a couple of days locked in his cupboard without food.
He picked up the small pile of post lying on the doormat, and he sifted through it as he walked slowly back into the kitchen. A travel brochure, two take-away menus, and four letters. One was a postcard with a large, dribbling bulldog holding a frog in its mouth on the front. Three guesses who had sent that. The next two looked like bills, one of which had URGENT stamped unforgivingly across the front in red ink. The last one, Harry was surprised to find, was addressed to him.
He dropped the rest of the mail in front of his uncle, who picked it up with greasy fingers, smearing ketchup on Aunt Marge's postcard. He began to read the contents out loud to the room, but Harry ignored him in favour of starting to break the seal on his letter. Unfortunately for Harry, his cousin had other ideas.
"Dad! DAD! Look! He's got post!"
Before Harry could react, the letter had been pulled from between his fingers and thrust out of his reach by Dudley.
"Hey! Give that back, it's addressed to me—"
"Who would be writing to you?" sneered Vernon, grabbing the letter from Dudley's fist and flipping it over, fingering the seal with stubby fingers.
Petunia took a break from washing the dishes to wander over and see what the fuss was about.
However, as soon as she caught sight of seal she gasped, clutching a bony hand to her chest.
"Vernon, it's, it's… it's from them," The last word came out in a hushed whisper, as if she was afraid someone may hear.
Vernon dropped the letter as though he'd been burned, jumping back from the table in a way Harry might have found amusing if he wasn't so intrigued by his aunt's reaction to the letter. Petunia moved to clutch at his shoulder, and they both stared at the letter as if it were a bomb.
"What is it?" Dudley's childish voice cut through the tense silence in the room, and seemed to spur Vernon into action.
He grasped both Harry and Dudley by their collars and shoved them into the hallway in a surprising show of strength, slamming the door behind him.
Dudley and Harry had a brief fight over who could listen through the keyhole, but Dudley quickly won, and Harry was forced to lie on the floor, ear pressed to the crack between the door and the floor.
It was difficult to make out what was being said, and after just a couple of minutes Dudley gave up, retiring to his bedroom to play video games. Harry took over the post at the keyhole, desperately trying to hear what the contents of the letter were.
"We can't let him go… freak… parents…. Don't know what they may do… school… should have beaten it out of him… how were we to know he would be a Wizard..."
Harry started. A wizard? He must have heard incorrectly. Magic didn't exist, something that Vernon had assured him all his life. He couldn't be a wizard; it didn't make any sense. He pushed his ear against the keyhole once more.
"Strange… burn it… we shouldn't tell him…. Where… but then…" It was impossible; Harry had no idea what was being said. He was about to give up, when suddenly he heard a sentence, a sentence that would change the course of his life.
"If we let him go to that freakish school and learn all sorts of strange magic tricks and become a wizard, he'll turn out to be just as much of a waste of space as his parents!"
Harry froze. He couldn't hear them anymore; he supposed Petunia had hushed Vernon. Unfortunately for her, Harry had already heard. He tiptoed into his cupboard, shutting the door behind him before curling up into a ball on his makeshift bed.
A wizard. So he was a wizard. Magic did exist? Men with long, white beards like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, wielding staffs and wearing tall pointed hats. He giggled at the image, it all seemed so silly. But a school, a school full of people just like him, that perhaps had also turned their teachers hair blue and teleported onto roofs; a place where he could learn to control his abilities. He had always ignored these strange occurrences; to think that he wasn't alone was a wonderful feeling.
However, as Harry thought about it, he realized how much this magic of his had separated him from those around him. Years of bullying at school, of being beaten up in the playground, of being verbally abused by the Dursley's had taken their toll. He couldn't help but be aware of all the pain, all the suffering magic had caused him, and how it had separated him from the world around him.
His parents, too. He didn't want to go the way they had, to become a bad person. He knew the Dursley's weren't the best of people themselves. They weren't kind people, and they weren't particularly generous people. But they weren't irresponsible enough to get themselves killed in a drunk driving incident. And there was always the possibility that, if he refused this school's offer, if he didn't go off to study magic, that the Dursley's might like him better. Maybe even one day come to see him as family. He might fit in at school, have friends. To Harry, who had been starved of love and attention all his life, there was little that was more appealing than the thought of just being normal.
So, half an hour later, the crept out of his cupboard, and knocked on the living room door. There was complete silence for a moment, as the panicked whispers behind the door ceased. Suddenly the door was wrenched open, and Vernon stood in the doorframe, bearing down upon Harry looking furious. Before he lost his nerve, or his uncle could scream at him to go away, he blurted out;
"I want to talk about the magic school."
Vernon froze, a look of anger on his face. Petunia appeared over his shoulder, her expression stony.
"I've told you not to eavesdrop on conversations—"
"I don't know what you heard boy but know that there is no such thing as magic—"
"I don't want to go!"
Petunia and Vernon immediately stopped talking, shock written all over their faces.
"You…You don't want to go?" Petunia broke the silence, the disbelief apparent in her voice.
"No, I—I just want to be normal."
There was silence for a few minutes, before Vernon's face broke out into a beaming smile, and he slapped Harry on the back.
"Knew we brought you up well boy. Knew that you'd see sense!"
Harry stumbled as pain blossomed across his back, but he couldn't help but smile. Vernon had only ever slapped Dudley on the back before, never Harry. He knew, in that moment that he'd made the right choice, and that things could only get better.
And over time, they did. That afternoon Harry penned a response to the letter, and sent if off in the post with an address Petunia had locked away somewhere. The next morning, there was no rapping on Harry's cupboard door before seven o'clock, and no shouting for him to get the breakfast ready. The following week, he moved into Dudley's second bedroom, and, instead of making Harry wear Dudley's old cast-offs as school uniform, Petunia bought a second hand one for him from the local charity shop. Of course, he still wasn't treated nearly as well as Dudley – The Dursley's would never have considered footing the bill for him to go to Smeltings, or buying him thirty-seven birthday gifts – but Harry's life was better than it had ever been before. When he began school, he made friends for the first time in his life, and had his first ever girlfriend. He became the star of the football squad and his grades were even a little above average. As Harry continued to be completely normal, doing increasingly normal things, the Dursley's became increasingly tolerant of him. However, every now and again, Harry couldn't help but wonder exactly what it was he had given up.
September 29th 1997
"I take it from your reaction that you do recognize this. What I want to know Harry, is why you chose to ignore it." Riddle's tone had a little more bite to it than it had before, his gaze heavy.
"I have no idea what you're talking about sir."
Riddle continued to gaze at him, expression unchanged. When it became clear Harry was not going to say anything else, he pushed a thick textbook across the table at him.
"Do exercises nine to twelve on page fifty-two. When you're finished, feel free to leave." With that, Riddle picked up a book, and promptly began to read.
Harry did as he was told, struggling over some of the harder questions but he thought he answered the majority of them correctly.
Half an hour later, he pushed the paper back across to his teacher, before turning to leave.
"Detention, Potter. Tomorrow night, same place, same time,"
Harry stopped in his tracks, outraged. "What for?"
"For failing to answer my question."
Harry slammed the door behind him.