Nobody at Hogwarts has ever quite known what to do with Cornelius.
Example: It would be a positive trait in a Slytherin, naturally, to have green for a favorite color. But not garish, fluorescent, lime green. Cornelius goes to the House games, and cheers very hard for Slytherin, and all his housemates look at that horrid green thing on his head, with the little sparkling illusions of snakes circling it at high speed, and edge a little further that way.
Conversely, Cornelius has never known quite what to do with them.
Example: He would have thought that the Slytherins were interested in power. He was, after all--wasn't that why he was there? And so he doesn't understand why everyone stares at him when he curls up in an unobtrusive armchair in the common room with his own autographed copy of Prefects Who Gained Power. Obviously he's conducting some research.
And obviously, to them, he is not cool--and more than that, he is publicly demonstrating his ambition for a prefect's badge come next fall, come his fifth year. It is simply not done.
Bartemius Crouch, at least, likes him. But Barty Crouch is a mere second-year, and Cornelius knows he will get nothing from that. Cornelius knows he must curry favor with somebody above him in status. It says so in the book. And he is terribly sure that he must be a prefect, that he has to be a prefect. He has nearly perfect marks, after all, and he is going to go into the Ministry and wear pinstripes and perfect shoes because he wants it with all his heart. Barty Crouch agrees with him on this matter, so they do have furtive little conversations and lend each other books and occasionally even smile; but Barty Crouch is not going to do Cornelius any good.
But being a prefect in Slytherin House is not just about grades. People become prefects here because they're ruthless, or blue-blooded, or have simply mastered the subtle art of making people both love and fear you, which is something Cornelius has never gotten the hang of. Fear, perhaps. Any Slytherin would fear a wizard who wore lime green, but it is not the kind of fear which gains said wizard respect. Cornelius does not fully understand this, because he does not see what lime has to do with anything, and it is still his favorite color.
So he has locked the book in his little green trunk and gone off to find his fortune. Prefects are supposed to support the other students, after all, and counsel them. Not that it's done much in Slytherin, but it's one of the meanings of that shiny little badge, and Cornelius is confident at least in that.
Slytherin prefects have separate rooms, because that is the sort of respect their House gives them. In Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, the prefects are expected to mingle with the other students and provide constant moral support, so they still live in the common dorms. In Ravenclaw they get separate rooms because those prefects are selected purely by intellect and like having their own desks. In Slytherin too, they get separate rooms, because they have climbed to the top in the snake pit, and no sane person wants to sleep in the same room as one who's managed that.
So this is why Cornelius is standing outside the room of the sixth-year prefect, clammy-handed and desperately determined.
He agonized for hours over this, of course. Not just visiting a prefect, but which prefect. The obvious choice would be one of the seventh-years, but Warrington openly despises Cornelius, and Goyle terrifies him. And, besides, this sixth-year prefect has more influence than them, because he is brilliant, utterly brilliant, charismatic, everything.
So he finally knocks.
After a moment's pause, the door glides open, and the dark-haired boy at the desk turns to look.
"Riddle." Cornelius nods.
"The doorway is not for conversation, Fudge." Tom turns for a moment to add another note to the parchment before him, and close two books from the Restricted Section that had lain open on his desk. Then he rises with a brisk swirl of robes. "You're here to ask about being a prefect, no?"
Cornelius blinks, in a way almost relieved. So much of the work has been taken from him. And he had been beginning to fear that the speech he'd been formulating for the past three days wasn't quite the right thing after all.
"I expected as much. And you didn't visit Warrington or Goyle?"
"Better played than I might have expected. I am, after all, going to be Head Boy next year." Spoken with utter, careless confidence. Cornelius wants to worship him. "It would be simple for me to put a word in with Coulter when the selection comes. But it would not be simple to make them like you."
Cornelius watches him on tenterhooks. He couldn't have imagined that being alone with Tom Riddle would make him shake like this, make him feel like he couldn't string two words together if his life depended upon it.
"But it could be done." Tom sticks one hand in his pocket, then shrugs. "But I have no reason to do it. Coulter might well consider you for the position with but a word from me. That is easy enough. But there is much I will have to teach you if you expect to have any respect from the House, and without respect, a prefect has no power. And I yet have no reason to teach you to earn that respect. Do you understand?"
Numb, Cornelius nods. And then there is silence.
"Well?" A purely wicked glint in Tom's eyes. "Cat got your tongue, Fudge?"
Cornelius opens his mouth, but nothing comes out, for he has nothing to say. Nothing he has could possibly interest Tom Riddle. He straightens, feeling almost ready to cry, and manages to say, "I'm sorry, Riddle. I don't think I can give you anything."
That glint reaches the corner of Tom's mouth.
"Everybody has something to offer, Fudge. Would you really do anything for me?"
"Then a simple exchange of services shall suffice." Tom takes another step forward, brushes long fingers through Cornelius' soft, curling hair, and Cornelius freezes. Tom is smiling now, and it is as sharp as the blade of a knife. Then those fingers brush down Cornelius' cheek and nudge his head up, and then Tom kisses him. One frozen moment of shock; then Cornelius parts his lips in surrender.
"Do you understand?" Tom murmurs as their mouths part.
"Yes." A mere whisper.
"Now..." Tom pauses, a faint smile still on his face, and starts winding Cornelius' robe in his hand. Cornelius shivers. Then Tom yanks hard, yanks him off balance, slams him against the tapestried wall, and Cornelius cries out and tries to squirm away as Tom pins him very tightly against the stone. "The first lesson. Never, never again, do you acquiesce to such an agreement so quickly, and never, never again do you offer anything with such blithe naivete." Cornelius merely stares, on the edge of gibbering, and Tom tightens his fist in his robes, almost lifting him off the ground. "Do you understand?"
"Yes," Cornelius whimpers, "yes, please..."
Abruptly, Tom lets him go, and Cornelius staggers, off balance, and clutches at the wall for support. Tom backs off to stand in the center of the room again, utterly calm.
"I want you to leave now, Fudge, and I want you to come back tomorrow at this time. Between now and then, I want you to simply remember that Slytherin is about power, and power is more than mere politics and wing-tip shoes. Perhaps you will understand this one day; perhaps not."
Cornelius edges towards the door; Tom waves his hand and it opens.
"One more thing," Tom says, a little more quietly--almost gently, even--as Cornelius backs through the door. "Lime really doesn't suit you, you know."
Cornelius feels that like a punch to his gut, and scurries out, and closes the door.
He will be a prefect. He will enter the Ministry. And he will let Tom Riddle twine fingers through his hair and kiss him possessively six nights a week. He will also wrap Prefects Who Gained Power in a little slipcover so nobody knows he's reading it in the common room, and that cover will be green. A very garish lime.