"Most women at one time or another have faked it."

"Well, they haven't faked it with me."

"How do you know?"

"Because I know."

"Oh, right. That's right. I forgot, you're a man."

"What was that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. It's just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or another have done it, so you do the math."

- When Harry Met Sally

January, 1943

Harry just stared at him.

His face was flushed, and he looked downright embarrassed, beautiful but embarrassed. She—She'd seen moments where the other Tom Riddle, the younger one, had come close to this, but she'd never seen his face so red.

In some other universe, this alone would have been enough for her to wonder if she'd crossed into some strange parallel hellscape.

As it was, she could barely register what he looked like. All she could hear was those words.

"He fucked me many, many, many times."

Presumably, because the pair of them were standing in her brain, she actually was hearing them over and over again. As in, they just kept repeating, like someone had turned on a record player and every time the sentence ended there was a brief scratching noise and they'd start all over.

It was even painted on the walls.

Finally, desperately, she laughed.

It was the kind of sound she didn't think she had ever made in her entire life. This really forced, weird, desperate sound that barely even sounded like a laugh anymore. The kind of sound that shouldn't come out of a human mouth.

"What? No, no, that's not—" Harry started, only to stop abruptly on her own words. Waiting for him to say something, to give her a cheeky smile and say, "Just kidding, Harry, aren't I terrible?"

He didn't say anything.

His expression didn't change at all. He still looked deeply concerned, embarrassed, and more than a little panicked.

"No," Harry started again, desperately trying to pretend the last sentence he'd said had never been uttered, "No, he asked me, remember? Well, no, I asked him, but he made it really clear that—"

"He likely doesn't know."

Harry just blinked, blinked again, then asked, "How can he not know? Isn't that something you know?!"

"Not always," Tom said with a sigh as he sat in the chair across from her, looking like he desperately needed a strong drink. "Especially if it is not… acceptable."

At her confused look he said wryly, "Harry, has it never occurred to you that it's very strange just how few homosexual people you have heard of in the wizarding world?"

"Uh," Harry said slowly, not quite sure what to say, because honestly, she hadn't ever really thought about it.

Harry hadn't really thought about romance, period, until her fourth year. Even then, while Cedric Diggory had been very attractive, she probably wouldn't have thought about it much at all if the Yule Ball disaster hadn't happened. Suddenly, Harry had desperately needed a boyfriend, boyfriends were very important, and she had just started noticing guys around her in a way she hadn't before.

Well, sort of.

It'd really only been Cedric and then—

Well, the next year, she hadn't exactly been in the mood.

She wasn't sure if she would have ever thought about it again if 1942's Tom Riddle hadn't hit her over the head with a sledgehammer called his inappropriate feelings. Even Alphard had had to come out and say it. He was a good-looking bloke and all, but Harry just hadn't thought of him that way until he'd hit her with the tiny polite mallet called his feelings.

The point being Harry was so bad at noticing her own feelings that it didn't surprise her that she didn't notice anyone else's. Who had time to pay attention to any of that? Hermione dating Krum felt like it had come out of absolutely nowhere.

And—Well, Harry really didn't pay attention, but she guessed that it was always assumed that boy likes girl and girl likes boy. That was the way it went in the muggle world too, Uncle Vernon had very strong opinions about it. Harry couldn't say she cared, it was hard enough to get along with people in this world. Getting hung up on things like gender when real love was there just felt silly.

Still, given how little attention Harry paid to other people's relationships, they could all be having orgies in the Hufflepuff common room for all she knew.

She had enough trouble paying attention to her own relationships.

"It's strange, Harry," Tom answered for her when it was clear she wasn't going to say anything. "The Wizarding World, and especially pureblood society, has a deeply rooted homophobia that has gone back since the very origins of our nation."

"Huh," Harry said slowly, mostly out of a need to say something, "No one talks about that one."

"Not as controversial as blood purity," Tom said. "Or, rather, unlike blood purity, those who disagree with such notions are few and far between. Lineage, the idea of inherited magic, is such an important belief to these people that… Well, purebloods rarely marry for love, so why should someone be allowed the choice to marry a person they're sexually attracted to but can't provide an heir?"

"Seems kind of—" Harry didn't want to say stupid, but she'd never really gotten the obsession with inherited magic. Well, she thought blood purity itself was a load of trollop—just look at Hermione, or even Tom Riddle for that matter. She'd normally lump this in with that, except it felt maybe a little different?

She guessed for the purebloods it sort of made sense. It was Draco Malfoy's lot in life to breed another Draco Malfoy with whatever wife his daddy selected for him. Couldn't exactly do that if he ran off with Zabini, now could he? But people like the Weasleys?

The way Tom was talking he made it sound like they wouldn't be approving either. Which… couldn't be right, could it?

She shook her head; they were getting distracted. "Hold up, you said Alphard didn't know. Just because his family are judgmental assholes doesn't mean—"

"He wants to be attracted to women," Tom said without missing a beat. "After he graduates Hogwarts and establishes himself, he will be expected to marry a young, eligible witch of good standing. He desperately wants to be happy with whoever that is, or if not her, then someone his family or else society might accept. Not all of us, Harry, can so valiantly be who we truly are."

Tom then motioned to her. "He likes you. I suspect he admires you greatly. Likely, he's misconstrued that admiration into something that it is not. It doesn't matter that his family might disown him if it goes too far, it doesn't matter that they might view you as worse than if he embraced who he truly was, because for the first time in perhaps his entire life he has hope. But it will not work."

"Why not?" Harry blurted, feeling her own face grow uncomfortably red. "You can't know he doesn't like me! Maybe he's also attracted to women and—"

"I know because he never married," Tom interjected, pale eyes now flashing, oddly intimidating for this particular Tom Riddle. "He never married, despite the disapproval of his family, and to my knowledge he never took a female lover. That, Harry, is simply not done in pureblood society. You do not choose to remain a bachelor unless you have desperate reason to do so."

"Right," Harry said slowly, the word like lead on her tongue. "And you also know because he—I mean, he and you—you and he…"

Harry trailed off damningly.

His face was desperately red again. His eyes drifted away from hers to stare somewhere over her shoulder, as if the wallpaper had suddenly become very interesting. He didn't say anything for several seconds. She didn't either.

Unfortunately, the silence allowed her brain to start catching up to her.

Tom Riddle, Lord Voldemort, had had sex with Sirius' cool uncle. The two romantic leads in the ridiculous play that was her life had had sex with each other. Alphard Black, who just this morning had said he never wanted to hear about Tom Riddle again, had had sex with Tom Riddle. Many times.

He'd asked Harry on a date.

In some other world he'd be having sex with Tom Riddle.

Worse, she kept staring at this Tom Riddle, and while her brain was sputtering trying to picture any of this ever, she just kept thinking that somehow, she still liked this guy. He just confessed to sleeping with her boyfriend—sort of boyfriend, the very nice friend she'd asked out in the hope that sanity would prevail—a thousand times, and she still felt these weird butterflies in her stomach when she stared at brain Tom Riddle's beautiful face.

Which was bright red because this was embarrassing and terrible.

"Um," Harry said, desperately trying to break the silence.

There should be words that followed that. A question, perhaps, but nothing came out.

Just that single, useless syllable.

"Um," Harry tried again desperately, "I just—you know—um—"

Couldn't he have just let her go on her date?

Harry would probably screw it up anyway. That was kind of what she did. It was, in fact, almost guaranteed. They'd go to Madame Puddifoot's and he'd find it too girly, she'd spill butterbeer all over him, 1942 Tom Riddle would make good on his promise and ruin her date for her, or something would go wrong.

It always did.

When it was all over, Alphard would say, "Thanks but no thanks, Harry, old buddy, old pal," and she'd go, "Oh, it's cool, my man, thanks for giving it a good college try. See you next Tuesday?" Then they'd see each other next Tuesday, their study session would be weird, and they'd slowly but surely get over it and never speak of it again.

Just, did the Tom Riddle in her head have to go and drop this bomb on her?

She guessed it was one of those things she should know, just in case it had gone a little too well or if it kept going, because then it all would have blown up in her face anyway, but—

Now, she knew things that could never be unlearned. She would think this every time she saw either him or Tom Riddle. Every time either of them said hello she'd just hear, "Fucked him many, many, many times."

"Um," came out of Harry's mouth for what had to be the billionth time.

Tom Riddle said nothing back.

Finally, she managed to get out a full sentence, "Uh, not to be rude or anything, but how did that—you know—even happen?"

He looked away from her again, dragging a hand through his hair, and said, "You really don't want to know."

"Why not?" Harry asked, and then a terrible thought occurred to her. "Wait a minute, did you—Did you just make this all up?"

Granted, she had no idea why he would, she couldn't think of any motive. If it'd been the other Tom, maybe, except he'd never say it was he who did it. He'd just say he caught Alphard in a broom closet or something.

"No," he said perhaps a little too quickly, still unbearably red and oddly awkward looking, "But it's not a story—It, well, it's a little embarrassing for everyone involved. Well, perhaps not Alphard, but certainly for me it's—not my best moment."

"You were a dark lord and now you live in my brain," Harry said slowly, feeling a bit like she was talking to some alien wearing Tom Riddle's body as a meat suit, "You don't have good moments."

"Some are less dignified than others," he quipped.

"Less dignified than being stuck in my head?" Harry asked dubiously.

"Yes," he responded with unshakable confidence.

She just stared at him for a very long moment, then asked, "Is it because he's a bloke?"

"No," he said very firmly, "No, that doesn't bother me. In fact, that was… That was simply what gave me my in."

Because that wasn't cryptic or anything.

Finally, he seemed to break. He rubbed a hand through his hair, let out a very long sigh, and said, "Fine, just—don't say I didn't warn you."

That wasn't ominous or anything.

With that their surroundings changed.

Instead of the Gryffindor Common Room, they were in what looked like a shop. Well, that was too nice a term. The entire place had this ominous feeling to it, like if you weren't always on your guard someone would shank you as soon as you turned your head. Everything just seemed to ooze this air of menace.

In fact, narrowing her eyes, Harry recognized the place.

"Wait a second," Harry said as she scrambled out of her chair, "This is that store I accidentally wound up in. You know, 1992, when the Weasleys took me to Diagon Alley and I messed up the pronunciation. The place the Malfoys sold all their evil furniture, oh what was it, Borfin and—"

"Borgin and Burkes," Tom corrected as he came to stand next to her.

As he did, both of their chairs disappeared, leaving them standing in the middle of the shop.

"Of course, this is many years before you would enter the shop," he explained, "Only a few years from now, in fact, when I worked here as a purchaser and salesman."

And at those words a young Tom Riddle appeared, looking not too much older than he was now. Perhaps a little taller, a little broader in the shoulders, but that wasn't what had her double taking.

"Holy shit, your hair!"

Tom Riddle's hair had grown out and it—Well, the man could make a paper sack look good, but if Harry had to rate the hair styles she'd seen on Tom Riddle, then this was probably about the worst he could get.

It wasn't a mullet, exactly, but it was something very reminiscent of 1980's hair bands.

It was just to his shoulders, but as it had grown out, it seemed to have become curlier, and flew out unstyled in practically every direction. While the man at the counter was wearing your typical wizarding robes, not too nice but not too shabby either, the hair made it look like he should be wearing a pair of aviators and an ACDC or Led Zeppelin t-shirt.

"It was in style at the time," the Tom next to her explained with a wince. "Many adult pureblood men keep their hair long. Mine just—well, it didn't really work. Sadly, it took me a few years to admit as much."

"I mean, you don't look bad," Harry tried to mollify him. And he didn't, Tom Riddle could never look bad. He just looked—

"I look like some disaffected punk who is purposefully trying to piss off his father," Tom supplied.

And, well, that wasn't a bad description. Now that Harry thought about it, it was a very Sirius kind of look. In fact, this kind of was what Sirius had looked like in those old photographs before he'd been in Azkaban.

Sirius had just actually worn the ACDC t-shirts.

"Is this the embarrassing part?" Harry couldn't help but ask.

"Harry, my entire life from the ages of twenty to about…" he trailed off and appeared to be trying to do some mental calculation, "My entire life to date, is nothing but an embarrassment."

He glanced back at his younger self with a wince. "Though twenty to around thirty was particularly bad."

Harry considered the younger Tom again. "I don't know, I mean, your hair kind of looks like mine."

Oh, wait, that wasn't a good thing. Harry, after all, did not look like she stepped out of a shampoo commercial.

"The hair's not important," he said perhaps a little too quickly. "I am simply—setting the scene, as it were."

"Alright," Harry said with a slow nod, turning her attention back to the younger memory of Tom, "The scene, got it, Borgin and Burkes. Long hair."

"Not just long hair," the Tom next to her corrected, "I very much was disaffected and had entered into a period of utter shamelessness. Upon exiting Hogwarts, I had been denied the position I'd been hoping to attain, had been denied employment by the ministry itself, and was now working as a clerk for a pawn shop. You must understand that the Tom Riddle in front us has absolutely no dignity left."

He gave a grandiose motion over to the oblivious Tom Riddle at the counter, now leaning on top of it, looking like he was bored out of his mind. He looked like the clerk at your local video store, popping gum and reading through a magazine.

"This, Harry, is a man who without hesitation will go about seducing an old woman to get what he wants. He would probably have even slept with her to get what he wanted if it came to that. When she refuses to give it to him, he murders her, pins it on a house elf, and merrily flees to Albania thinking he's very clever."

Harry turned to look at the Tom next to her. "Wait, what?"

"Yes," he simply said. "As I said, not the greatest period of my life."

Harry just shook her head. The murder part, well, that did sound like Lord Voldemort. But sleeping with old ladies? What?!

"How does Alphard possibly fit into this?" Harry asked almost desperately.

At that question, none other than Alphard Black entered through the door. Like Tom, he looked a little older, though he'd kept his old haircut. Like Tom, Harry had to do a double take, not because of his hair but because of the look on his face.

Now, Harry didn't exactly have a keen eye when it came to interpreting other people's emotions, she'd be the first to tell you that. However, the look Alphard was directing to Tom Riddle's beautiful face… She couldn't possibly be misinterpreting that. You could practically see the heart shapes his silver eyes were making.

"Oh no," Harry said in growing horror.

"Oh yes," the Tom next to her said.

"No," Harry repeated as Alphard walked towards the counter, now blushing as he reached into his cloak to reveal a book, which he passed over to the suddenly charmingly smiling Tom.

"Yes," the Tom next to her repeated in turn.

The Tom Riddle at the counter reached out with a hand hand, ever so carefully in a way that screamed perfectly calculated, and brushed his fingers against Alphard's. Their hands touched for far too long.

"You see," Tom said slowly, "Lucretia, while not altogether that clever, as a woman she had been warned about this sort of thing. She knew that I would try to use her to gain access to the family library, to money, to something she could give me, and she never let it get that far. Alphard, on the other hand, was so desperate for affection and had always liked me—"

"He hates you!" Harry interjected.

"Well, now," Tom agreed with a small laugh. "But that's because the younger me has revealed himself to be an ass. Before that, I was perfection on legs."

"Wait," Harry said in growing shock and horror, "So, you slept with him for books?! For books?! Multiple times, for books?!"

Even Hermione, god bless her soul, would not have sex with someone just so she could get a book. Probably. It'd have to be the holy grail of books.

"Harry, I would have slept with a toaster for a decent breakfast."

"But, are you, did you—did you even like it?!" Harry spluttered in growing horror.

"Well, it wasn't entirely unpleasant," Tom mused, looking like he really had to think about this for a second. "If you're asking which way I swing, I can't say I really care. I've never been motivated by pleasure for its own sake, and in situations like this, one was as good as another."

Harry was choking on her own spit and dying.

Dying as she watched as Alphard, hesitantly, oh so hesitantly, reached across the counter to frame Tom's face in his hands, leaned forward, and kissed him. And while it started off chaste enough, within seconds, they were really sucking face.

Some unintelligible gargling came out of Harry's throat.

"How long—"

"A little under a year, if I remember right," the Tom next to her said, in a way that made it very clear that he did, indeed, remember right.

"He'd take me to dinner I couldn't afford," Tom said, "Got me very nice books and gifts and I—was hot, charming, and in his bed."

"Did he know?!" Harry spluttered in horror.

"What?" the Tom next to her asked, looking very bewildered by her question for a second. "Oh, oh no, no he knew we were doing it on the sly, we couldn't be a couple in public, but Alphard thought it all was very genuine. Alphard Black, remember, has integrity."

Harry just stared at him, looked back to the other Tom and Alphard, then looked back at him.

"I am a very good actor," the Tom next to her supplied, as if that was all the explanation she could ever need.

Both Harry and the Tom next to her continued looking at the pair. Harry with the firm proof she needed that Alphard had likely very enthusiastically slept with Tom Riddle.

The Tom next to her watched them with the strangest smile, something wistful, fond, nostalgic, and perhaps a little bitter. "In the end he left me. I was positively floored when it happened."

"One morning, he just looked at me and said that he could not keep doing this. He was tired of hiding away in flats and broom closets, tired of this false world we'd built for ourselves, and he simply could not do it any longer. He wished me well, hoped I would find happiness, and then walked out of my life."

He looked back down at her with that same fond smile. "I don't think he ever realized how disingenuous I was. Perhaps he sensed it, but regardless… In that moment he showed more dignity and courage than I ever had in my life. And I was left sitting there in my soiled bedsheets wondering why I felt like the world's largest scum bag. Of course, I brushed off the feeling two seconds later and continued working on wooing Mrs. Hezpibah Smith into forking over her goods."

And just like that, Borgin and Burkes disappeared, and only Harry's brain remained. Harry had no idea what to say to any of that. She felt like she should have something to say. Maybe, argue that Alphard wasn't really gay, or he was just mostly gay, and could very well be into her no matter what this Tom thought.

She felt like maybe she should say something about the young Tom Riddle. Note that while he'd always been a sleazebag, this felt like… It felt like a kind of low she'd never predicted in either Tom Riddle or Voldemort. The guy had always been… so proud.

She felt like maybe she should ask where she should fit into all of this.

Was she rebounding on a guy who was rebounding on being gay? Was she even rebounding? Did Alphard liking her but not really even upset her? What was she supposed to do about that date this weekend? Did she go? Did she cancel for no reason? And what about Tom (the older and the younger)?

Instead, the Tom Riddle in her brain just gave her a cheerful smile and said, "I told you that you didn't want to know the details."

"Harry, what happened to you?"

Normally, Tom would have made a point of saying something witty, something to catch Harry off guard and force her to notice him. It usually worked especially well in the mornings, when for about an hour or so Harry had all the energy and intelligence of your common inferi.

This morning, Harry not only was doing her typical inferi shuffle, but she looked as if she'd been run over by a double decker Knight bus.

Harry slowly, ever so slowly, looked over at him.

She looked as if she was staring… not at a ghost, as having those around in Hogwarts made them lose their charm, but like something that should not exist in this world.

She then slowly looked away and continued shuffling towards the Great Hall.

He easily caught up with her. This time, in a tone less shocked and a little more serious, he asked, "Harry, what happened?"

He didn't think Orion had made his move yet. That would be a little fast even for him. Orion talked big, of course, but he was going to make time to plan and do his best to act in such a way that he would not get caught and surely would not lose. That meant gathering backup and doing it when Tom wasn't watching.

It would be very unlike Black to do it the very day he threatened Tom to keep her in check.

He couldn't think of what else might have happened though. Of course, this was Harry Evans, and she seemed to get into improbable adventures every other week without anyone noticing. Perhaps she had merely found Hufflepuff's secret chamber and battled its evil giant badger before it could eat the students.

Harry just looked at him dully and said, "I don't want to talk about it."

"You look like you dug yourself out of your own grave," Tom explained.

At that, Harry gave him a look and said, "I discovered that my love life is even more of a dumpster fire of endless pain and embarrassment than I thought."

Well, that was not what Tom had been expecting.

His eyes narrowed dangerously as her words caught up with him. "If this is your way of slighting me, then—"

Harry didn't give him time to finish his threat, and instead supplied, "So first, I like this guy who is just not interested, at all. I thought he was, he made this hot tub comment one time, and then I tried to ask him to a dance and… I ended up having to go with my best friend instead, who spent the entire time glaring at my other best friend while I drank punch. Then he died."

"Your best friend?" Tom asked, eyebrows raising without his permission.

"No, the bloke I liked," Harry explained nonchalantly, as if it were only natural that this poor soul had died.

Tom wasn't sure if he should be pleased that it meant less competition or out of sorts as he always was when Harry told him a story about anything.

"Then, the next guy I like, doesn't even really exist," Harry said. "And he is also derived from the incarnation of all evil in this world. Well, maybe not all evil, but evil that's certainly bent on ruining my life. So, that's just not going to work out, and—I can't go there."

He wanted to guess, hope, that this might be him, except he very much existed. Also, the incarnation of all evil was a bit harsh, even if it did feed his ego.

Tom decided he was just going to wait until she finished.

"So, then this other guy says he likes me, and we're friends, and I like him well enough and I say, 'Sure, I can do normal relationships, it'll be fun'. Well, turns out, he's not interested either, he just doesn't know he's not interested. In fact, he doesn't know it, but he's actually interested in guy number two, and that guy would jump him for a piece of a toast."

Harry paused and looked at Tom in, if possible, number horror than before. "I might also be the toast."

Was that supposed to be him? Tom had certainly confessed to Harry, and they were friends, except she rarely admitted they were friends. More, Tom very much was interested, and he had no idea where Harry would get the idea that he secretly wasn't. More, he certainly wasn't going to be…

Jumping someone else for toast.

Tom stared at her for a moment, then confessed, "I followed none of that."

"I didn't either," Harry said.

Looking left, then right, Tom decided there was enough time to make it to class even if he had to skip breakfast. Besides, if she went to breakfast she'd just end up sitting with Alphard Black, and given their date in only a few days he simply would not stand for it.

He quickly shepherded Harry away from the Great Hall and the mob of hungry students. He directed her to one of Hogwarts' many unused classrooms and pushed her into a desk with no resistance.

"I think I need relationship advice," Harry finally said.

Well, that could certainly be supplied.

"Date me," Tom said easily.

Harry just stared at him dully. "I need relationship advice from someone who is not you."

"Just in case I was represented somewhere in that mad ramble," Tom said, "I will clarify that, yes, I am very interested in you. No, I am neither dead nor mistaken in my feelings, and I certainly would not leave you for—Who am I leaving you for?"

"You're not," Harry said, a spark of life returning to her eyes. "You weren't even in the bloody explanation!'

"Ah, see, that's your trouble," Tom supplied with a charming grin, the kind Harry had always seemed to loathe. "Had I been, you'd have realized that I am apparently your only decent option."

"You are the worst option," Harry retorted, but she didn't look quite horrified enough to pull it off. Somewhere in that thick head of hers, Tom was a possibility.

He just had to somehow beat out the rest of them.

Tom decided to take the seat next to her. "Now, that's unfair and unkind. From what you've said, your other choices are dead and uninterested, nonexistent and uninterested, or uninterested and delusional."

Then, realizing just how low a bar he'd set for himself, he added, "Not to mention I'm intelligent, ambitious, charming, very good looking, and three months ago everyone loved me."

"Dumbledore never loved you," Harry scoffed, flushing slightly and purposefully looking away from him.

"Dumbledore can kiss my ass," Tom said. "I am a very eligible bachelor."

"You are—" Harry started only to catch herself, "Why am I even talking to you?"

"Because I am your best friend," Tom said.

"You are not my best friend!" Harry gaped in horror, as if the very idea was akin to Tom announcing that he was going to eat her puppy raw.

"Are we not here discussing your love life comfortably?" Tom asked. "I certainly know you're my best friend; I can tell you anything."

"Please don't," Harry said, raising her hands as if to ward him off, then looking desperately around asked, "Shouldn't we go to breakfast?"

"No, you'll just ditch me for Black," Tom said. "We're skipping breakfast."

"Won't Slughorn kill you?" Harry asked, and then after a pause added, "And I never agreed to skip breakfast!"

"Well," Tom mused, "We could go to breakfast, then you'd sit stewing on your relationship problems all day, and eventually you'd do something catastrophically stupid. Or, instead, we could talk about it here and I could perhaps help you work through your problems and find a solution."

"You told me the solution was to date you," Harry said curtly.

"And it is," Tom agreed easily. "However, if you're not willing to be reasonable then I'm sure I can suggest something else."

Harry said nothing, and instead chose to glower down at her desk, looking as if she was trying to decide whether to bolt or not. Even this early in the morning, looking like death warmed over, scowling down at her legs, there was something about her. Something that he was certain no one else would ever see, but something precious all the same.

Eventually, he noted dryly, "I'm guessing that dear Alphard Black was represented somewhere in that ramble?"

"No!" Harry said, damningly quickly, which meant he was.

Well, Alphard certainly wasn't dead and to Tom's knowledge had not turned Harry down. He also certainly existed and was hardly the incarnation of any evil. Which meant that he had to be door number three and—

"Oh," Tom said slowly as the realization sunk in.

Oh, Alfie Black, how had Tom missed that?

Looking back there had been so many hints.

Little things Lucretia, Orion, and Walburga would drop now and then. Nothing explicit, but always something that never made much sense in context.

The way that Black had sometimes looked at him at the Slug Club, that shy little smile that was just a little too eager, the way he would sometimes become ever so slightly flustered when Tom looked at him.

In fact, now that Tom thought about it, that had only changed when Black had started talking to Evans regularly. Now, he smiled at her the way he used to smile at Tom when he thought Tom couldn't see it.

Except, somehow Harry had figured it out, and she realized that Alphard was all too likely to drop her for… Someone who apparently wasn't Tom. Tom had no idea who it could be; wracking his brains, he couldn't remember Alphard having made eyes at anyone other than him, but he supposed Harry could be mistaken.

The point was, Harry was nervous, and she had very good reason to be.

Oh, it was a beautiful morning.

"What do you mean oh?!" Harry spluttered, likely realizing that Tom had just clued in.

Tom couldn't help grinning back at her. "I mean, oh, if I were you, I might be very concerned about Alphard Black and that little date in Hogsmeade you have arranged with him."

"I'm not concerned!" Harry spat back, hair raising on end as her magic spiraled out of control.

"Really?" Tom drawled. "You expect your date to go well then?"

"It'll be great!"

"Then why were you so concerned this morning?" Tom asked, his smile not abating in the slightest. "Why, Harry, are you so convinced Alphard will leave you at the first opportunity?"

"He won't!"

"But he will," Tom corrected. "Perhaps not if all went according to plan, but what, Harry, if I were to show up in the middle of your date?"

"He can't stand you!" Harry said.

"He dislikes my personality," Tom corrected. "I can tell you from personal experience that he loves my face."

True, Tom had thought their dislike was entirely mutual. In recent months, the best they could manage was quietly tolerating one another, usually for something Harry was involved in. However, Tom was willing to bet that if he turned the charm back on then all would be forgiven.

Harry stood from the desk. "It'll be fine! It'll go great and even if we don't end up dating it'll still be fine! You'll see."

"Doubtful," Tom said dubiously. "Are you sure you don't want to save yourself a lot of embarrassment, admit to the inevitable, and start dating me instead?"

"Yes, I am very sure!"

"Good," Tom said, as if this didn't bother him in the least, "I love a challenge. You never make things boring for me."

"That was not a challenge!" Harry said, already stomping out of the classroom, only to spin on her heels and glare at him. "And if you even try to ruin my date this weekend, I will end you!"

"Looking forward to it," he called back, still smiling stupidly.

It wasn't really a step forward, perhaps it wasn't even progress, but as it was, Tom's outlook on things had greatly improved in the course of one conversation.

Tom could reach through the fabric of Harry's mind and strangle his younger self.

Thanks to Tom Riddle's pep talk, the weekend came, and with it, a Harry more determined than ever to see that her date with Alphard Black went well.

It didn't matter that Alphard probably didn't truly like her romantically, it didn't matter that in a sense she would be leading him along (or unintentionally vice versa), just so long as the other Tom Riddle wasn't right.

The boy had looked so unbearably smug, too. As if, by Harry unintentionally revealing the secret even Alphard wouldn't fully admit to, he had already won.

And all Tom could do was sit in Harry's head, watch, and wish he had some firewhisky.

"You tried," Harry's subconscious offered with a shrug and apologetic smile.

"I should have kept my mouth shut," Tom griped.

What had he even accomplished?

Whether he was motivated by selfish or selfless reasons still wasn't entirely clear to him, but on both accounts, surely, he'd done the opposite of what he'd intended. Harry was still entering a relationship that was ultimately doomed, still going on this date with Alphard Black, and Tom still felt uncomfortable with the whole damn thing for reasons he couldn't even explain.

He shouldn't even care.

Let it be a disaster! Maybe Harry would learn something. Wasn't that an important part of growing up?

"It's the thought that counts," the subconscious Harry continued. "Maybe, in the long run, it'll be important you said something."

"Well, good," Tom said. "I'm glad that, in the long run, we'll all figure this out."

In the meantime, he had to sit through this, and whatever happened afterward.

God, he was not looking forward to it in the least.

Author's Note: There could be a sitcom about Tom Riddle in his twenties, a loser in a pawn shop with delusions of grandeur, and it'd be just like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and would be terrible but hilarious.

Thanks to GlassGirlCeci for the wonderful job betaing the chapter. Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter