"Don't stare at your feet so much," Riddle instructed. A hand moved to nudge his chin up, lingering a moment longer than necessary.
It had been two weeks. Two weeks of learning how to be a host, putting up with the ridiculous antics of the Hogwarts Host Club, and Tom Riddle in particular.
He could begin to admit – but only to himself, of course – that though the Host Club were a bit ridiculous, most of them weren't as bad as he'd initially assumed either.
Okay, Draco was a bit of a spoilt prat and the Lestrange twins were somewhat sadistic … but Prince seemed alright. So did Zabini. As did Black, from what little he'd talked with him.
They were hardly devil spawn.
Neither was Tom Riddle.
Tom Riddle was no saint either, but … he wasn't completely terrible.
At least, not whilst Harry was in his company alone. When they were with other people, the bastard was insufferable.
He had a feeling this would have all been so much easier if he was actually straight though.
'This', currently referring to dancing lessons.
The Host Club ball was dawning on them at the end of the week, and preparations were more complicated than Harry could ever have imagined.
Once the lesson finished he apparently had a fitting for formal clothes, just to start off with, and Harry was going to try not to think how much that was going to cost because then he might cry.
"Would you prefer that I stepped on yours?" Harry muttered, raising his brows. He sneaked a glance down again to check that his feet were going in the right direction. "And, you know, seeing as I'm presumably dancing with girls wouldn't it be easier –"
"No?" Harry repeated. Tom's hand nudged his chin up again, away from their shoes.
"You have a rather diminutive stature, Harrison. Chances are you're going to be dancing with someone taller than you, firstly." Harry huffed at that comment, even as Tom continued as if there had been no interruption. "Secondly, you need to be able to dance with men and women alike. To lead and to be led depending upon the preference of the person you are hosting."
The Dark Prince twirled him around on the spot, one arm drawing him in closer. Harry swallowed.
"Harry," he corrected, again. "My name is Harry."
"Of course, Harrison. Straighten your shoulders, you cannot afford to slump your posture. It's not proper." Hands deftly adjusted his stance, before returning to their previous position and continuing to lead their dance fluidly.
Harry would have expected Tom's hands to be cold, but they radiated warmth through the material of his school uniform. It pissed him off.
He was about to snap something annoyed and scathing about Riddle's refusal to use 'Harry' as his name when he caught the amused gleam in Riddle's eyes.
Tom was teasing him.
Harry's planned insult caught in his mouth and a flush spread a little on his cheeks, which only made him more livid. He deliberately stepped on Tom's foot, but the only response to that was a chuckle that rumbled through his bones in the most infuriating way.
Harry repressed a sigh.
How long did it take to learn how to waltz?
Honestly, Evans wasn't so bad a dancer as he'd thought he'd be.
He was hardly entirely incompetent, or as clumsy and undignified as his generally poor attempts at flirting had suggested. But he supposed such things and skills did take practice for most people – though Tom had always found that such things came naturally to him.
Charm was by far the most socially acceptable form of manipulation.
They were at Twilfitt and Tattings, the tailor's, now; after several hours in which Harry didn't so much master the waltz, but he was at least able to perform it to a satisfactory level.
He should probably have already gone to do some more work for his company; he was actually quite a busy man, after all, but maybe he was in an indulgent sort of mood.
And Harry Evans was interesting. Annoying, but interesting.
He'd made sure his schedule would be cleared for this outing, though Harry was too oblivious to such things to appreciate the gesture.
Had he mentioned that the smaller boy really did remind him of a younger version of himself?
They even looked something alike.
So maybe he'd come to the conclusion of taking Evans somewhat under his wing. He needed something to work on that wasn't his actual company. The Host Club was his way of venting his extra, less corporately suitable energies, and Harry seemed a perfect extension of that.
A fun sort of project to work on. Something different, that would keep him refreshed for his actual business.
Of course, it helped to diffuse tension Tom didn't need right now, considering his lifestyle.
Harry was staring at the shop around him, wide-eyed.
Tom hadn't quite done that, but he remembered the awed sort of intimidation when he first set foot in such an establishment.
Maybe it was that too – the novelty of being able to do this. To have the power and wealth and influence to pluck up someone and transform them, to be able to pull stunts like this and snap his fingers to simply see something done.
All the fabrics in the store were of the finest quality, and came in various colours and styles and sizes.
There weren't any price tags, and he could practically see Harry shift uneasily on his feet at that fact – starting to take a step back. Tom placed a hand on the small of his back, to prevent him from bolting.
Harry's gaze snapped to his at the touch, and he gave a thin smile. Mr Twilfitt, the tailor, was already making his way over to them with a courteous smile.
"Ah, Mr Riddle. It's a pleasure to see you again; what may I do for you today?" He saw the man sneak a glance at Harry, noting the now polished and well-fitting school uniform but also the shabby, fraying school bag.
"I'll be needing a suit for my friend," Tom stated. "Tailored, though unfortunately you will have to simply adjust something as we are low on time."
He imagined Harry had always frequented the more affordable and more homely stores of Madame Malkin's, if he'd ever had need.
"Of course, Mr Riddle. I'll be in the fitting room for when you're ready, or if you need any assistance on the matter."
"I can't afford this," Harry hissed at him, the second that Twilfitt was gone. His cheeks were flushed. Tom couldn't resist reaching out a hand, tousling Harry's messy hair. Mostly because of the indignant reaction he got for the gesture.
The look vanished at his next words.
"It's on me. I'll pay," he stated, already plucking various items off the racks. Harry blinked at him.
"I don't need to add another thousand on my debt, thanks," the boy replied.
"It's on me," Tom repeated, amused. Harry eyed him even more uncertainly now, looking for a catch. Of course, if there was a catch, Tom wouldn't be sharing it, but … "I was deprived of dress-up dolls as a child," he continued dryly. "Indulge me, Harry."
The words did the trick, because the tension snapped as Harry snorted.
"Well, it's not like I can stop you if you want to spend your money on ridiculous things."
"No, you can't," Tom said, his amusement only growing as he thrust the expensive fabrics into Harry's chest and arms. "So, go strip. There's a good boy."
He didn't expect Harry to go so far as to pale at the comment.
As Harry huffed and gave him another look, scurrying towards the fitting room, his head tilted slightly.
The money wasn't even the biggest issue – and on the scale of things, that level of money being tossed in his direction so frivolously was a huge thing. He honestly didn't know what Riddle's deal was … or what to make of the older boy's general attitude towards him.
It was the scars.
There weren't a lot of them, but life with the Dursleys hadn't necessarily been the kindest. It was embarrassing. It raised too many questions that he had no desire to confront or answer. It was just plain awkward.
His only saving grace was that he could insist Tom wasn't in the room. It was a perfectly normal request, after all. It was normal not to want to be practically naked in front of someone he knew from school, let alone someone who was in some distorted way acting almost like his boss.
With most people, it wouldn't be an issue. Most people wouldn't barge in on someone in the middle of them being measured for a tailored suit.
He didn't know Tom well, but he knew enough to know he wasn't most people and that barging in like that was precisely the weird thing that Riddle would do.
And he had no real excuses to give that didn't sound suspicious, if the money issue had been obliterated. He still expected some type of catch, but still. If Riddle thought he was going to feel obligated to return the favour in any eager-to-please way that he could, he was mistaken.
There was no way he was going to be so stupid as to open himself up to smacking a blank cheque on himself, when Riddle had made no demands. It was Riddle's own loss. If he wanted to play with obscene amounts of money on tailored suits, that was Riddle's problem.
Twilfitt went very still for a moment, as he shucked off the shirt of his school uniform. Eyes moved over him steadily, and Harry's jaw clenched. There was something horribly like pity in the tailor's eyes.
Maybe he had been raised Evans instead of Potter, and maybe he was poor and didn't know how to dine posh or do the waltz, but … he cleared his throat, a little pointedly. Pulled his best aristocratic expression.
The man practically tripped over himself to regain his professional front. He caught himself fast at least, and didn't linger on the issue.
It got even better when Tom didn't, in fact, barge in as per Harry's request.
So maybe this would be alright.
The past would stay the past, without pity or problematic interferences or noses where they shouldn't be.
The fabric felt like heaven against his skin.
Tom studied him closely for a moment, when he finally stepped out again. Used a hand to make him spin for him, slowly, before hooking an emerald green tie around his neck and knotting it elegantly. He pulled it in a fraction too tight though; Harry could feel the expensive material pressed against his windpipe.
It wasn't enough to impede his breathing in any way, but he could definitely feel it there. His hand moved to his throat, but Riddle slapped it away and smoothed his hands down the front of the suit instead.
The air was crackling. Riddle was watching him with dark, somewhat hooded eyes. Harry resisted the urge to clear his throat. That annoyed him too.
"So, do I make a suitable dress-up doll?" he asked in a mild tone of voice. The tension receded, thank god. Amusement immediately flared in Riddle's eyes at the comment.
"Oh, I don't know," Tom murmured, expression perfectly straight. "I'm still very fond of the idea of the maid costume. But I suppose you'll do."
Harry spluttered, going scarlet with rage and mortification. The bastard's amusement only seemed to grow; never mind that Mr Twilfitt was standing right there and heard every word.
Never mind Hermione's and Bella's comments on why Tom recruited him into the Host Club in the first place – the implications of his role within the club dynamics.
"Wow, thanks," he said flatly.
Riddle was already talking to the tailor – measurements, cuts, adjustments. Lots of fancy jargon Harry could only half keep up with, and he was hardly stupid.
Bloody hell, they really were talking about him as if he was some kind of doll and not actually standing there at all.
"Harry, go change," Tom said finally. "I still want you to try the cream and ivory shirts. And the charcoal jacket instead of the black."
"They're both just black and white!"
The two men looked at him – Twilfitt professionally appalled. Harry sighed.
Maybe he should write a letter to Damien Hirst about the obscene price range of his jeans. He'd never hated clothes so much in his life.
But seriously, he was already getting bossed around by Riddle in his school hours, how was it fair that he had to do it in his free time now too?
The suit was very nice though.
Hermione Granger had never imagined herself as the type of girl who would be in any way, however vaguely, affiliated with a Host Club.
She wasn't the type of girl to spend loads of time on her appearance. She preferred books, as a rule, to Host Club balls and dances.
She didn't think she was ugly, or anything – but she couldn't be bothered with the effort of makeup every day, with trying to tame the frizz of her hair.
It was nice to feel desirable though. Attractive. She could see why the Host Club appealed to so many people.
The night had started out great too. She got lots of compliments on her new look, flattering Cinderella-style looks of awe at her 'transformation'. Everyone was really nice.
She knew he didn't like her spending time around any of the Host Club (regardless of if it was to keep an eye on Harry and ensure they were treating her other best friend alright).
Maybe he liked her, but she didn't see how he could ruin her night like this if he honestly cared about her. Maybe he simply had the emotional range of a teaspoon, but still.
She'd fled to the bathroom, feet aching in her heels and a hollow feeling in her chest.
She dabbed at her eyes, trying to ensure that her mascara wouldn't run.
It would have been nice to feel beautiful for one night, without any of this. There was a thick lump in her throat.
The arrival of Bellatrix and Narcissa Black, with their company of Slytherin girls, only made things worse.
For a moment, they stared at each other through the reflection, as Hermione's shoulders stiffened and she began to brace herself for feeling even worse about herself.
The Slytherins were hardly known for their kindness, and Bellatrix was the most ruthless of them all. She'd seen the stunt she tried to pull with Harry.
Either way, she was outnumbered, and though she felt she could stab someone with these heels, she simply headed for the door as Bellatrix eyed her, applying a fresh coat of blood-red lipstick to her mouth.
Narcissa, pale as diamonds in comparison to her sister, touched up her hair.
Bellatrix's voice stopped her as she reached the door.
"He's not worth it. Boys are better as toys. You look fantastic."
Hermione's eyes widened. Had the world tilted across its axis? Had she fallen through the rabbit hole to an alternate universe?
She saw Narcissa's eyes flick between them, expression unreadable, before she gave the singularly lovely, polite smile that she was known for.
"Come, we'll help you show him what he's missing."
Harry was surprised by many things that night.
He was surprised by how beautiful Hermione looked (he'd never given much thought to her appearance before, she was Hermione), when not buried in books and a mane of bushy hair.
He was even more surprised to see Hermione with the Black sisters, not looking like she'd had her soul crushed by their general proximity. Bellatrix was probably planning something. It didn't reassure him.
He was surprised by the attention and compliments that he himself got.
He was surprised to find he was actually enjoying himself. The Hogwarts Great Hall looked great, lit up with lights and polished to perfection. Cleared of its four tables, with only a large exquisite buffet to the side.
He wasn't surprised that the Riddle git looked handsome in his bespoke suit, and had everyone swooning around him.
He wasn't surprised when the older boy dragged Harry to dance with him, to perpetuate and add a fresh angle to their normal act. He was surprised that people bought it, and that they seemed to like the idea of him dancing with Tom if they apparently fancied him themselves, but that wasn't the point.
He was surprised by the way Tom treated the situation. Surprised by Bellatrix too.
Riddle didn't even react at Hermione apparently suddenly being friends with the Slytherins.
To put it simply – he was surprised by how Tom treated Ron. To put it even more simply, he was surprised that their oh-so-lofty Dark Prince bothered to involve himself in commoner business at all.
One second, he was trying to (unsurprisingly) break up the brewing fight between his best friends as the party dispersed, and the next second they were surrounded by Slytherins.
Orion, in all of his intimidating bulk, stepped up next to Hermione; Bellatrix materialized on her other side, with a dangerous expression on her face.
Scenting bloodshed, Harry had stepped forward because, sure, he didn't agree with Ron's behaviour, but this wasn't looking good for his best friend and the redhead didn't deserve to be ganged up on either, and the next second a hand had hooked tight around his waist and yanked him straight out of the general crowd of hosts.
He twisted his head, to see Tom behind him. Started to protest the manhandling and sudden surge of involvement, only for the bastard to slap a hand over his mouth while Ron and Hermione were preoccupied with the situation.
He was dragged off to the side, and pushed towards a quiet corridor in which Riddle was immediately in his space again.
Harry blinked at him, utterly startled and bewildered.
"What the hell?" he demanded. "You can't just manhandle people. The party is over, I'm not on host shift anymore, and in case you somehow failed to notice, I'm a bit busy with –"
"So, I did some research on your background."
Ron Weasley was having a horrible night.
He just felt … stupid. Worthless. He didn't even know. Angry, and he couldn't shake it, even when he knew he shouldn't be doing this. That he was just making things worse.
Everybody's life seemed to be going on so much better than his.
Sure, Harry had been blackmailed into the Host Club, but it hardly seemed like he was doing terrible for himself. Among other things, he'd initially bonded with Harry over their mutual lack of funds.
And now Harry was dressed up, dapper in what looked to be a suit more expensive than Ron's entire wardrobe put together, with everyone loving him.
Hermione was being flirted with by the whole bloody Host Club, and suddenly everyone in the room was all into her and falling over themselves to be with her or something.
He just felt like he was going to be left behind.
One second, he was arguing with Hermione because he just couldn't stop himself – maybe if he got angry enough, it would burn the feelings in him to a crisp, or fill him up in some way that he too glowed bright enough for everyone to see.
The next second, heat seared across his face as Bellatrix Black slapped him hard across the cheek, cutting through all of it.
His only consolation was that Hermione looked about as shocked at the gesture as he felt. But what did that matter, when she was surrounded by her new, rich, handsome host friends?
Whilst he stood alone.
His jaw clenched, and he just turned and shoved his way past Malfoy – the arrogant little snot.
The next second, Hermione was chasing after him.
Harry felt like his ears were ringing at that comment.
He stared at Riddle, had no idea what to say. His instinct was to deny it. But Riddle's face was uncharacteristically serious.
The hand smoothed down the front of his suit again, but there was less of Riddle's normal mode of constant charmed flirtation to the movement this time, and more something else entirely.
Harry sucked in a sharp breath, mouth sour as he shoved Riddle's hand away and started to shove past him too. He couldn't breathe. When Riddle's hand caught hold of his arm, tightly, he nearly snapped and pounced.
Tom gave him a slightly warning squeeze.
"From now on, you will stay with me at my home." There was no room for argument in the older boy's tone. Harry gaped. Found himself spluttering again in too short a time, albeit for an entirely different reason. "It is not up for debate," Riddle added. "I assume you'd prefer that option over me paying for your own place?"
Harry stared at him, astonished. Speechless.
"I – I don't stay with them –"
"You work at the Three Broomsticks. I know. As I said, I finally got around to doing a background check."
Did that mean Tom knew he was a Potter too? He had no idea. Riddle hadn't mentioned that part. And yet, if he knew of the scars, how could he not know about the Potter thing?
"I couldn't possibly –"
"As I said, it's not up for debate," Tom stated. "You will be living with me from now on."
"That's starting to sound ominously like a threat," Harry muttered – partially because it was true, and partially to break the tension.
He just … he didn't understand the sudden switch in Tom's behaviour. Why he would feel like he had to do this.
It wasn't even like Harry wanted to go back, but … his chin started to jut up defiantly again.
"If you feel it would cause too much of a debt, you can pay the debt with household chores," Tom said. "Same as your arrangement with the jeans. If you are still going to insist on refusing me, I will be forced to take more drastic actions on the matter."
"I don't understand. It's not your business, why are you –"
"Maybe I just really want to see you in a maid costume."
Harry figured it was a mark of vague hysteria that he nearly laughed at that remark.
"Oh, well. That clears everything up," he said.
"Precisely. So come along with me. I'll have someone bring your belongings over in the morning."
Harry still paused, because this was too sudden, too mad. He barely knew Riddle, and for all he knew, the older boy actually could be a mafia boss or something even crazier.
"Tom –" he began.
"Which part of 'you don't get a choice in the matter' isn't computing to you?" Riddle raised his brows. "Would you rather child services got involved? All the newspapers? All the people knowing?"
Oh, that had to be unfair. Harry blinked. Looked down at their shoes. After a moment, Tom nudged his chin up again with one hand.
"So … do I need to bring out the chloroform or something?"
"You are joking. Aren't you?"
"Dark Prince," Tom said, not entirely reassuringly. The Slytherin did have a twisted sense of humour though, from what Harry had seen, so maybe…
"Is living with me really worse than them?" Tom continued, after a moment of him not saying anything in response. Soft, gaze intent.
"Ron! Wait up!" Hermione rushed after Ron, grabbed tightly to his arm. She yanked him to a halt, both of them breathing heavily.
The Hogwarts grounds were lit up around them. People leaving the party. The damned ball.
She'd been hurt, had maybe even wanted to slap him herself … but she hadn't wanted this.
She hesitated, because she knew this was a terrible time, and this was all such a mess and –
He leaned forward and crushed their mouths together.