A/N Many thanks to my Sugar Quill beta, Ara Kane.
“Tom Riddle? Aye, I remember him. He was Head Boy when I was just a first year at Hogwarts. But I‘ve told you that already. I remember him alright - prefects and the like were expected to help us younger kids out with schoolwork back in those days. Did it myself when I was prefect for Gryffindor.
“Tom Riddle. We loved him. Everyone did. We didn’t care he was in Slytherin. Even to us eleven-year-olds, he stood out from the crowd. We could tell he was special-like. Exceptional, you say? Yes. There’s a good word for him. Exceptional. I can see him now, and it’s been fifty years since I last laid eyes on him. Black hair and skin that wasn’t just pale, it was white. Chalk white. And he had this way of looking at you, as if - only for a bit, but that was enough - you were the centre of his world. His universe, even. He made you feel important. How? I dunno. If you’d met him, you’d understand.
“Look. I’ll tell you something that happened when he was giving me a hand with me homework. It was only September, and I’d never spoken to him before. I’d seen him around school though, gliding through the corridors like a prince. To be honest, I was a mite scared of him...never dared meet his eyes when I passed him. Not that I could have, me being a little mouse of a first year and him being as close to seven foot as he was to six. Well, I was sitting in the library one evening, trying to write a Charms essay and not getting nowhere fast. And then I saw him doing the rounds. He’d stop and talk to some people and he’d smile at others. But whatever he did, their faces lit up - sure as if he’d put Lumos on them.
“He must have noticed me looking at him, ‘cos he came towards me and sat down on the chair next to me. ‘That looks hard,’ he said. I just nodded. He tried again, he was trying to get me to ask for help - ‘Learning the basics is the hardest part, don’t you think?’ he said. ‘Gngh’ I said. I was a shy boy back then. Not that you’d think that now, eh? But he kept at it. Asked was I enjoying school and the like. Asked me my name - I told him. ‘Same as mine’ he said. The usual questions. With him though, he didn’t seem to be asking them out of duty. Not like my housemaster. Tom sounded like he cared.
“He talked to me for about twenty minutes. Gave me tips on Charms and - you know what? - Charms has been my speciality ever since, to this very day. Only bloody NEWT I passed. And as he was going, he turned back - ‘By the way,’ he said, ‘what’s your team?’ ‘Puddlemere United,’ I said. He smiled - ‘Excellent choice,’ he said, and walked off. But this is the amazing thing. It was the next June and I was just coming out of my Charms exam feeling pretty chuffed. And there was Tom Riddle, waiting for me. First, he asked how it went - what did old Flitwick want me to Levitate? Did I do it alright? - and then he got out a copy of the Prophet from under his arm, and gave it to me, open on the sports pages. ‘Have you heard,’ he said ‘that Puddlemere have won the Cup? They are your team, aren’t they?’
“Well, imagine that! I hadn’t said a word to him about Puddlemere for months and months, and he remembered all that time. I don’t think he even cared for Quidditch much, Head Boy types never do. But then he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill Head Boy, was he? It may not seem like much to you, but it means a lot to a young lad away from home for the first time to know that someone’s taken notice of him. He doesn’t feel so alone. The school never seemed quite the same when he left at the end of that year, to go to Albania of all places. Research, he said. I still have the copy of the Prophet he gave me. Never felt right to throw it away.
“Wonder what became of him. Back then, I always thought he’d turn out to be a fine Minister for Magic or summat like that - Headmaster of Hogwarts, p’raps. That last day of my first year, I watched him going through the barrier at King’s Cross. Suddenly felt I had to thank him properly for the help he’d given me. But the crowd was packed so tight there was no way I could get through to him in time. When I got through to the Muggle side, he’d vanished. For good, as it turned out. I’ve scoured the papers looking for word of him - nothing. Not a trace. And he was the type you’d expect to be making front page news. I reckon, in the end, that he must have been done for in Albania. They say there’re some forests there that even an Auror wouldn’t venture into alone. But what a waste of a great wizard, if my guess is right.
“Ah, ruddy Merlin, is that the time? I’ve rambled on long enough. That’ll be five Knuts for the pie, and another two for the drink. And I hope we’ll be seeing you around the Leaky Cauldron next summer. It’s been nice talking to you - sent me back to happier times, you have. There wasn’t no You-Know-Who - curse him! - around then.
“You remind me of him a bit, Mr Potter, of Tom. Something in the eyes.
“Well, good-bye then. And take care of yourself!
“...Tom Riddle. Wonder why Harry asked about him?”