The boy from the train was, ironically, the first to be sorted. The group of huddled first years stood together in awe of the castle, eyes glistening as they fastened on the glittering gold of chandeliers and the spectral mists of the deceased. Tom himself, although no less amazed by his surroundings, also took time to analyze his peers. He was almost surprised to find that they seemed just like normal children, just like the children at the orphanage, similar to him in only the most rudimentary of fashions. He wasn't sure what he had expected but seeing them brought an unexpected ache in his chest, as if he had wanted something more from them.
Once or twice his eyes had lingered on his companion from the train; he seemed strangely aloof, as if walking through a great bout of fog, unconcerned for the illusions presented in his surroundings. There was a slight, almost nostalgic smile, on his lips but it did not gleam and his eyes did not stray from the path before him. He walked as if he knew, without looking, that the universe would extend itself before him if necessary.
Each time his eyes found the nameless boy Tom would look away in annoyance, he was just another one of the mob, worse than the mob even. At least the herd of school children had some semblance of sanity.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment of the night though lay in the fact that they were to be sorted by a talking hat. He wasn't sure what he had expected, he had known it couldn't be based on magical skill (the school promised to teach everything), and he hadn't expected a written test for the same reason, but still a hat. Surely they could have come up with something slightly better than that. He wasn't alone in his thoughts though, all the students, even those who had the air of being raised by wizards seemed shocked by the hat. In fact only one student didn't seem surprised, much to Tom's irritation, was the boy from the train. (He'd later find out that it was tradition to keep the hat a secret, for God knew what purpose, and that even in wizarding families it was considered in good form to let the children be surprised by the hat rather than walk in knowing exactly what to expect.)
Tom never did hear the boy's first name that day, only his last; he had not thought it would be necessary to know him by more than a few syllables. His one thought, as Dumbledore shouted that strange almost reverent name, was that he was correct the boy was most definitely foreign.
The boy had walked with solemn grace to where the hat sat, those shifting green eyes had caressed its worn features, and with pale fingers he placed the hat over his head where it quickly settled hiding the majority of his features.
There they waited and waited. Tom took the chance to observe the audience of older students, at first they watched with vague interest, but then as the minutes wore on their interest grew and soon all eyes were on the boy in the chair. It was taking too long, Tom thought distantly, and everyone knew it. Dumbledore himself, the wizard who had introduced Tom to the wizarding world by pretending to set his wardrobe on fire, began to look troubled and the spark that had been in his eyes after shouting that first name was fading into something far grimmer. No one moved to interrupt the sorting but everyone began to watch with wary eyes wondering if the hat had finally broken.
Before anyone could say the thought aloud the hat said, in a curiously solemn tone, "Hufflepuff."
The room let out a collective breath, the Hufflepuffs began to cheer more out of relief than any real enthusiasm. The boy faded back into obscurity with a small bow and wandered over to the table sporting yellow and black.
Later that hour, without much surprise, Tom was placed into Slytherin and told he would accomplish great things.
Months passed. The days grew shorter as classes wore on with Tom indisputably at the lead of each one. It was strange, how extraordinary he was even among magic users, he had suspected that might be the case but it was never the less bizarre. They all happily proclaimed that he was a prodigy, all except Dumbledore who would instead eye him with a wariness that shouldn't belong to an eleven year old, and Tom accepted it with as much humility as he could muster (which wasn't very much but he did put on a good show).
As for his peers they quickly proved to be little more than the orphans with glorified power. Rich, entitled, elitist brats whose sole worth was based on their fathers and their fathers' fathers they would sit and discuss their wealth in the common room sparing eyes for him only when it proved witty to insult the mudblood. After a few classes, where he had destroyed their academic standings, some had tried to find him and teach him his place. Tom had been playing that game for years.
They never did like it when the tables were turned; it always made him want to laugh.
Generally he was now left alone by members of his house as well as others, a situation he did not find unpleasant. He had never truly needed companionship, had learned very early that he could survive without it, could thrive without it even. So he allowed himself to be cast into the role of observer, the mudblood, who sat in the corners with thick books and watched the glittering archaic world that belonged to wizards with detached amusement.
Mostly the other students swarmed together in his memories but a few individuals stuck out for various reasons. Myrtle Stewart, his fellow first year outcast was one, although they had been cast out for different reasons. Tom Riddle was alone because he was a mudblood sociopath who had dared to be sorted into Slytherin, Myrtle Stewart was a social pariah because she was a shrieking banshee who whined at every given opportunity, her blood status didn't help either.
Slytherin shared Charms with the Ravenclaws and though Tom was quite proficient in the area and very eager to learn more he couldn't help but dread the period where he would have to listen to her insufferable whimpering and worse tears as she once again failed to cast a single spell. Tom was no stranger to the desire to hurt to take others and make them bleed, but he had never before wanted to mindlessly kill. Thankfully it was only once a week, the only other times she could be seen were those moments where she retreated to the girl's bathroom in the dungeons to sob.
Abraxas Malfoy had also made a bit of an impression. He was the ring leader of the purebloods in the first year. A thin blonde boy with grey eyes he lorded over the common room with his tales of wealth and social occasions. It was amazing to Tom that someone could be so confident, have so much pride, when they were an eleven year old living at the whims of their parents and traditions.
Perhaps what also made Malfoy notable was his crusade to bring down Tom's reputation with a word whose muggle equivalence in foulness would be whoreson. He had no doubt expected to be at the head of his classes, possibly having been taught the basics as a small child, and had been quite shocked when the uppity Slytherin mudblood had dared to surpass him. It was as if Malfoy believed that if he stated that Tom was worthless enough times he would suddenly become worthless and reality would reassert itself in a more pleasant order. Tom just smiled.
The oddest by far remained the boy he had met on the train, the Hufflepuff Azrael. Tom hadn't kept too close an eye on him, he hadn't seen the point. But he'd soon noted that Azrael had claimed for himself the outcast position in Hufflepuff, all they needed was a Gryffindor and they could have a little club, Tom thought to himself with a bitter smile. Azrael was not obnoxious like Myrtle nor was he a product of unfortunate birth like Tom, instead he was removed as if he was only physically within Hogwarts if there at all. Tom had never glimpsed him at meals, never passed him in the hallways; it was as if he existed only in the classrooms. He was very much foreign although no one knew quite where he was from, he didn't appear to be from Europe at least not France or Germany, for the words he occasionally would speak when he forgot himself did not sound Romantic or Germanic in the slightest. He would quietly sit among the students, hands placed before him wrapped in black so that only pale fingers were revealed, and watch as his professors lectured even as it was clear his mind wandered elsewhere.
It wasn't so much that the others disliked him or that he disliked others more that they drifted from one another trapped as if they were in separate planes. For the most part the strange boy was ignored or at least left as an unspoken curiosity, like the elephant in the room he would sit in solitude while everyone else looked everywhere but at him.
However, these were small observations, certainly nothing worth of Tom's time. He ended up spending more and more time in the library, nose in one book after another, as he attempted to make the best use of his time in this strange new world he had found for himself.
For the most part Tom did not think on his peers.
He felt the need with Azrael, more than any other student, to justify his disinterest. To remind himself that he was better than the boy from the train and that the boy was barely worthy of having a name. He'd dully note the oddities surrounding him and then almost immediately dismiss him from thought as if he'd already taken too much time to consider him.
However there was one particular incident that dwelled in his mind whenever his thoughts did turn to green-eyed Azrael.
It was the first Transfiguration class, shared with the Hufflepuffs, and Dumbledore was surveying the students with a jovial smile. There was something so inherently false about the man, everything far too well placed, as if this were little more than a show to convince himself of his own kindheartedness. When he first saw Tom his eyes flickered, they darkened slightly, the show came to a shuddering stop before they moved to someone else and regained that cheery twinkle.
Dumbledore went on at length to describe transfiguration, the basic process, what it could achieve, and its dangers when taken too lightly by foolish wizards. He ended his introduction by distributing matchsticks to each student instructing them to turn them into silver needles.
Tom had been focused on his task at first but that was accomplished easily enough, without much thought the match stick had turned into a shining needle. He set it aside and began to observe the rest of the class. It was then that he noticed something odd, Azrael held in his hands a glittering needle as well, holding it up to the light to inspect its authenticity.
No other student had come close to making a needle yet, the rest still struggling, Dumbledore was still inspecting the others work not even thinking to look for those who might have accomplished the task.
More than that though his eyes narrowed as he searched Azrael and realized, almost with alarm, that the boy didn't have a wand. Tom searched the table again, almost frantically, but again he saw nothing but the boys own hands holding the silver needle.
Dumbledore's eyes met his for a moment, saw his transformed match stick, and disregarded him. Despite Tom's own observations of the red headed professor he felt a slight sting, as if he had been unexpectedly slapped, and watched as the professor's eyes made their way to the other successful student. At first he smiled, that cheerful smile, and opened his mouth to congratulate Azrael and then he saw there was no wand in the boy's hand.
"Mr. Azrael," Dumbledore addressed the boy, the boy set down the match stick and turned his attention to Dumbledore. It seemed that until that moment the boy had not been focusing on the class at all because his eyes gained a certain sharpness as they turned to focus on the professor. Dumbledore paused slightly taking in the intensity of his student's gaze before continuing, "Where is your wand?"
The boy didn't answer right away; he seemed to be calculating something, perhaps remembering where he had misplaced it that morning, finally he said, "Vienna."
A few people laughed and Dumbledore's expression darkened, Tom did neither, somehow in spite of the ludicrousness of the statement he wasn't immediately writing it off as a joke, "Please, Mr. Azrael misplacing your wand is no joking matter. Do you remember where you left it last?"
Azrael closed his eyes and his hands unwittingly come out in front of him as he began to paint a picture using nothing more than words.
"Yes, it's lying on the bedside table in a dark hotel room. The wallpaper is peeling and its floral pattern has almost been forgotten beneath the stains and shadows, there is a stale taste in the air outside in the street automobiles make their way through the crowded streets and people go about their day. The blinds have been drawn and the light floats in on half-forgotten dust." He spoke in a soft tone and yet somehow he managed to command the attention of these school children and this one professor, the giggling stopped and silence pervaded the room as the Austrian city was laid bare before them, "In the shadows a man sits, regarding his own thoughts and plans in silence, his fingers tap a restless beat against the linen of his trousers. Unfamiliar muggle clothing, he hates that he is so comfortable in it, surely something so wretched should tear at his soul. He has grown used to it now, though, and he finds a man can grow used to just about anything..."
He was abruptly cut off by Dumbledore who seemed to have found enough willpower to break whatever enchantment Azrael had been attempting to create, "Is there a point to this story, Mr. Azrael?"
Azrael's eyes opened and his hands lowered back to the table, "You asked if I knew where it was, sir."
"Five points from Hufflepuff for your cheek, Mr. Azrael."
The Hufflepuffs turned to glare at their classmate and an undercurrent of displeasure made its way throughout the room. Azrael appeared not to notice, instead he picked up his needle once again with a sad but almost fond look in his eyes. It was never mentioned that Azrael managed to transfigure a matchstick into a needle faster than any other student than Tom without a wand and for a moment something burned inside of Tom for this other boy but the kinship soon died out.
It was the running gag of Hufflepuff, the case of Azrael's disappearing wand. The professors no longer bothered him with point loss or frowns, some even smiling as they come to realize that Azrael truly did not need a wand to be proficient. A few even come to join the joke along with the students, asking Azrael where his wand was on any particular day. It changed locations quite frequently, Rome, Berlin, Budapest, Leningrad, the travelling wand was making the most out of Europe.
One student said that you'd think after all that travelling around Europe the wand would eventually make its way to England, a joke, but the boy hadn't smiled and said with an air of foreboding, "It will come in its own time."
However in spite of Azrael's wandless abilities he was not considered the best in his classes. He did what was expected of him, performed tasks quickly, but would not rise to the occasion. He had no drive, no overwhelming desire to please either his teachers or himself. He allowed Tom to get ahead and that irked Tom to no end, to know that this other boy had talent, perhaps as much as him and wallowed in mediocrity simply because he would not try.
He was unworthy of Tom's notice, if only because of that small fact, and Tom let him sink into obscurity where he clearly belonged.
Every once in a while though his mind would flash to that image of pale fingers holding a gleaming matchstick to the light overhead and watching as it sparked.
Author's Note: This is a meandering kind of story, it will meander around to its point in due time, or something. Thanks to readers and reviewers you guys are awesome and probably part of the reason for this fast update, reviews are appreciated.
Disclaimers: I don't own Harry Potter