The Sugar Quill
Author: Seaspray  Story: Tom Takes Advice  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

The ivory tower

Disclaimer: Horace Slughorn and Tom Riddle, and their world is the exclusive property of JK Rowling. And to be honest, she’s welcome to them. Having Tom on loan was scary enough.

A/N: Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Lone Astronomer and to all the 87 Rolls of Parchment readers who commented on the original version of this.

 

Horace leaned back further into his comfortable arm chair and with two fingers fished for his last piece of crystallised pineapple. He would have to buy another box next weekend. Or else hope that someone else would. Horace sighed. Faustus Lestrange had bought him a box of peanut brittle last week. Peanut brittle! Slughorn had been most disappointed in the boy. If he truly wished to get anywhere in politics he would have to be more discerning than that. Slughorn licked powdered sugar from his fingers. Of course, they all seemed to want to get into politics this year, even little Fenrir Greyback who really didn’t have the subtlety. All of a sudden everyone was eager to change the world. The backlash from the recent Muggle Rights Bill had stirred a great many Pureblood families into a sharpened political awareness, and Slughorn wasn’t surprised it had rubbed off on the children. Still, it made the career sessions, ordinarily one the most interesting times of the year, rather predictable. Slughorn picked up his schedule again, running his eyes over the list of candidates still to see. Mildred Parkinson… oh dear, that girl hadn’t a spark of originality in her. And that oaf McGibbon, perhaps he could persuade him into the security troll line. He certainly had the build for it. And this afternoon….

Horace stopped, smiling. This afternoon would be an interesting experience. If Horace had learned one thing in his five years as Head of House,  it was that there was always one student capable of surprising him. True to form, Slughorn heard a quiet tap on his door.

“Come in!” Slughorn called, hastily crumpling the empty pineapple box into the bin. The door opened, and a dark haired boy entered with a charming hesitancy.

“Tom, my boy! You’re early.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I was eager not to miss any more than I could help of Professor Merrythought’s class, and I knew that you would not be busy at this time.”

“Have you had your lunch?”

“I asked one of the House Elves to fetch me a sandwich.”

Slughorn nodded appreciatively at this. The boy was alert. He knew exactly how Hogwarts was run and how he could exploit this knowledge to his advantage. It was hard to believe he had been brought up by Muggles.

“So, my boy, have you given any thought to your future career?” Slughorn asked.

“A little,” the boy said innocently.

Slughorn smiled, amused. An ambitious lad like Tom, he was sure, would have given little thought to anything else.

“To be honest, sir, I have not found any career yet that I feel would be suited to me. I was hoping you would be able to give me some advice.”

The boy spoke so earnestly that Horace felt quite flattered. A boy like this with such brains on him could certainly make quite a mark whichever direction he went in. It was rather satisfying to know he still felt dependent on him, Horace Slughorn.

“Well, now,” he considered aloud. “You’re a bright boy, Tom, no doubt about that, ambitious, too. You’ll be looking for a challenge, am I right?”

The boy nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Your skill in potions is quite exceptional. Have you ever thought of going in to research?”

“I had considered it.”

“It’s a fine line of work for a boy like you, academic and practical. And, of course, there’s the chance of making your name as the discoverer of some life-saving new potion, or charm if you feel that’s more in your line.”

Tom’s eyes glowed briefly at this idea, but then he frowned. “Don’t you need an apprenticeship for that sort of work?”

“Well, yes, that could be considered a drawback. It would mean seven years under a qualified worker with reduced wages, but still you can learn a lot in that time. If you like, I could put in a word for you with Elspeth Mercer, you know, inventor of the Forgetfulness potion, or Hector Dagworth-Granger-”

“It seems rather a waste, though,” Tom said thoughtfully. “Serving someone else all that time instead of doing your own research.”

Horace smiled indulgently. “You must have guidance, my boy.”

“I always learn best when I teach myself,” Tom dismissed.

“I hope not, my boy, or else all my hard work with you has been in vain,” Slughorn said, amused. The boy had the grace to look abashed.

“Oh, I didn’t mean you, sir. I’ve learned an awful lot from my professors at Hogwarts, and I’m grateful, it’s just….”

“You don’t want another seven years of it.” Slughorn laughed. “Well, I can understand that, Tom. And, of course, I’ve heard you study a good deal alone. Vera Libergrath used to complain you never left the genealogy section in the library.”

“Did she?” Something told Slughorn Tom’s smile was not quite genuine, and there was a reddish flash in his eyes.

“Well, yes,” Slughorn said, feeling little disconcerted. “Well, nothing wrong with that. The history of Pureblood families is quite fascinating to read about.”

“Yes, isn’t it? Did you have any more suggestions to make regarding my future, sir?”

“Er, yes,” Slughorn said, with the uncomfortable sense that in spite of all superficial deference on Tom’s part it was not Horace who was controlling the conversation. “Well, Galatea was telling me how good your defence work is. Ever thought of becoming an Auror? They’re quite exclusive in their selection program, of course, and you would have to do some extra years of training, but that shouldn’t be any trouble, not for a boy like you….”

“I don’t think I’d like to be an Auror,” Tom said, decisively. There was the faintest hint of amusement playing about his mouth.

“No? It is rather dangerous work, although Galatea informs me that your shield charms are quite remarkable. If you’re sure?”

Tom nodded, still with that almost-smile pulling at his mouth.

“Well, how about politics?” Slughorn inwardly sighed. Still, if anyone could reach the top of the tree in that particular field, it was Tom. The boy was charming, and most intelligent. Slughorn had always fancied being a personal acquaintance of the Minister of Magic.

“Perhaps,” said Tom without enthusiasm.

“I have some brochures here for the various departments. Read them, and see what takes your fancy.”

Tom accepted the leaflets docilely. “The thing is, sir, whatever career I choose I still mean to take the full range of courses offered at Hogwarts.”

“Well,” said Slughorn, reluctantly. “There may be some problem with that.”

“Oh?”

Slughorn got on rather well with all his colleagues, and indeed, was known to spend many happy hours debating the relative merits of Muggle sweets with the Transfiguration teacher. Today, however, he felt he positively disliked Albus Dumbledore.

“Professor Dumbledore, you see, has been raising doubts about children being given Time Turners to help them in their studies. I don’t know why; he’s never mentioned it before – although, mind you, I’ve only ever known of one incidence of it happening. Still, it seems he’s worried about students misusing them.”

Tom’s eyes flashed. “Do you think I’d misuse them, sir?”

“Oh, no, of course not, but Albus can be such a fusspot, you know, and Professor Dippet thinks very highly of him.”

“Does he?” Tom looked thoughtful. “Well, at any rate, I’d better be going, sir. I’ve already missed the first ten minutes.”

“Of course, my boy,” Horace said genially. “Come and see me any time, you know, any time you please.”

The boy nodded gratefully and stood up.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I brought you something, sir,” Tom Riddle rummaged in his bag and brought out a white cardboard box tied with violet ribbon. Horace smiled widely.

“Why, thank you Tom, this is kind. And I hope you will be attending our little meeting on Friday, I thought we might continue that discussion on invisibility charms we were having last week.”

“Of course,” Tom smiled. “I’m looking forward to it.”

After Tom had left Horace made quite a business of untying the violet ribbon and picking a small sugar covered square from the box. Popping it into his mouth Slughorn closed his eyes, savouring the taste. Crystallised…ginger. Slughorn opened his eyes again abruptly. It seemed Tom Riddle did still have some things to learn, after all.

 

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