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Hero by victoria_anne

Format: Novella
Chapters: 13
Word Count: 43,491
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Horror/Dark, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Voldemort, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 02/16/2016
Last Chapter: 06/03/2016
Last Updated: 04/30/2017

Summary:



Fifth year is not what Hero Blishwick expected it to be.

As she navigates the stormy waters of OWL year, friendships are broken, mysteries aren't hard to come by, the line between good and bad blurs and Tom Riddle becomes her anchor. But new loves can be dangerous.
And not all monsters have terrible faces.

banner by Fireheart @ tda | beta'd by banshee
Keckers 2016 WINNER: Best Historical & Best Wielding of a Major Canon Character


Chapter 1: One Day at a Time
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image by Fireheart @ tda


-

September 1, 1942

I was the last of my family to run through the brick barrier between platforms nine and ten. I waited a little way back from the entrance, leant against my luggage trolley, and counted to twenty.

One Gryffindor… Two Gryffindor… Three Gryffindor…

Other witches and wizards were passing through, running by me without so much as a glance in my direction. Perhaps out of the corner of their eyes they thought I was just a Muggle. Appropriate, seeing as I was no better than one, according to my parents. I watched them numbly, wishing I shared in their enthusiasm of a new school year.

Eleven Gryffindor… Twelve Gryffindor… Thirteen Gryffindor…

I shifted my weight to the other side. Maybe I could just go home and not bother with this year at all. But then, I belatedly realised, I would have to be around my parents for longer than I could stand, and my grades wouldn't remain perfect if I didn't turn up for school. I fiddled with the thin leather bracelet around my wrist.

Eighteen Gryffindor… Nineteen Gryffindor… Twenty Gryffindor.

With a deep breath, I ran through the wall and onto Platform 9 ¾.

Instantly, I scooted to the left in a sharp manoeuvre of my trolley. I had fought Finn for this trolley – the only one with all four wheels working – for this exact purpose. But a rough hand on my shoulder stopped me.

“Not so fast, Hero,” the gruff voice of my father said.

Damn. I let my shoulders droop, defeated. Obviously taking this as a sign that I wouldn’t run away again, he let go, and I turned slowly to face him. The stern blue eyes of Jameson Blishwick looked down at me.

“I’m willing to forget what happened over the summer if your grades continue as they have been,” he said quietly. “You’re a prefect now, and your mother and I are pleased with that accomplishment. Even if it is for… Gryffindor.” His face didn’t exactly screw up like he had eaten a lemon, but I could see the strain he was under by resisting the urge to do so.

“Yes, Father,” I said in barely more than a whisper.

"But know how disgusted we are at your behaviour," he continued harshly, and I fought the tears that sprang to my eyes. "And stay away from that blood traitor boy." Without another word, or even a change of his hard expression, he turned away. I looked past his shoulder at my mother. She was fighting a never ending battle with Finn’s hair, trying to smooth it down with her deft hands while he batted her impatiently away.

I sniffed and watched as my mother gave up and leaned in to kiss his cheek in farewell. My father shook his hand. Neither mum nor dad so much as looked at me, and then they stepped through the barrier and were gone.

Finn spotted me and pushed his trolley over. He searched my face. “Geez, who died?”

I looked at him in disbelief.

Finn grinned. “Too soon?”

I shook my head slowly in bewilderment, fighting down the anger that began to boil in my stomach. “Fuck off, Finlay,” I said, low voiced. My voice shook slightly with the effort to not scream at him.

He shrugged, unperturbed, and practically bounded away toward the train.

I followed him at a much slower pace, keeping my head down. I took a deep calming breath, and when that didn’t work, I took another. I needed to be mentally prepared to pretend that my summer had been like everybody else’s.

“Hero!” a voice called.

I looked up. Through the steam of the Hogwarts Express, I saw Emory walking toward me. My stomach dropped like I had missed a step, but she was smiling and waving. Theo mustn’t have told her.

Great. More secrets.

I gave a small wave as she approached and put on my best Blishwick smile. It was the same smile my brother used to charm girls into trusting him. The same smile my dad used on the Muggle police when they came with questions. The same smile my mother gave me when she said it was an accident; that it will be alright.

Emory wrapped her arms around me, her long hair tickling my face. I stiffened slightly for a split second, but she seemed genuine - she really didn’t know - so I hugged her back.

She took hold of my shoulders to pull back and search my face with eyes as dark as her hair. “You okay?”

“Yeah, of course.”

She dropped her arms from my shoulders to cross them over her chest. “Thou art a liar, Hero Blishwick. Why didn’t you reply to my owls over the summer?”

I took a deep breath and recited my well-practiced story. “My aunt in Inverness caught a bad case of dragon pox,” I said, trying my best to sound miffed. “Mum volunteered me to look after her kids – my cousins - and do the cooking and cleaning. I was practically a live-in nanny for weeks.” I finished by throwing up my hands in a what-can-you-do kind of way. “By the end of the day I was too tired to shower, let alone write.”

“You are the milk of human kindness,” Emory replied, linking my arm in hers. “Did you hear about Theo?” she asked of her boyfriend as she pulled me toward the train.

At the mention of Theo my mouth went dry, but I shook my head.

“He’s a prefect!” Emory informed me, beaming.

I swallowed and forced a smile. “That’s great,” I said, but it wasn’t. My plan to avoid Theo as much as possible just got a little bit harder.

“I wonder who the other one is,” she mused, craning her neck to look around the platform at the tarrying students as if the other Gryffindor prefect would make themselves known.

“It’s me,” I said, putting her out of her misery.

Emory squeaked in surprise and squeezed my arm. “Oh Hero, congratulations! Theo will be thrilled, he’s on the train already, finding us a compartment.”

We stopped in front of the entrance of one of the carriages. I pulled my arm out of Emory’s. “I have to go to the prefect’s carriage first.”

Emory blinked. “So does Theo.”

“Yeah, but…” I grasped wildly for an excuse, but came up with nothing.

“You can go together,” Emory said cheerfully, placing a firm hand on my back.

“But –”

“The lady doth protest too much methinks,” Emory said, and shoved me up the stairs.

-

I refused to look at Theo as we walked side by side down the train to the prefect carriage, although I could feel his eyes on me. I stared determinedly out of the window as rolling hills flashed past in a green blur.

"Look who's quiet for once," he finally said. "Is this your parents' idea or did you decide this all on your own?"

I glared at him and continued my stony silence.

“So that’s it?” he asked. “You won’t talk to me at all?”

I sighed and said quietly, "I can't."

“You can. You can do whatever you want, Hero. I think you forget that sometimes."

I looked up at him, my heart giving a small squeeze, but I ignored it. I had to. His eyebrows creased as his eyes searched mine. A memory of them flashed before me, when that lovely pale green had locked with my own eyes as he gasped my name. I hastily looked away, heat rising up my neck.

We stopped outside the prefect’s carriage, my hand hovering over the handle. “Fine. We can be friends -"

"How generous," he said dryly.

"-but we never speak of what happened end of last year," I said firmly. "It was one night. One mistake. ‘What’s done is done’ and all that.” Like everything else.

Hurt crossed his features briefly, but he nodded. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You quoting Emory now?”

“Shakespeare’s growing on me like a skin disease,” I said, my own lips twitching, and opened the door.

Theo and I were the last of the new prefects to arrive. All sixteen pairs of eyes already seated in the roomy carriage turned to us as we stood uncertainly in the doorway.

“Ah, the Gryffindor prefects. Welcome!” said an older girl with a blue Head Girl badge pinned to the front of her robes. She gestured for us to sit on the large U-shaped seat. “We were just about to introduce ourselves,” she continued as Theo and I settled ourselves next to the Slytherins. “Why don’t we start with you?”

Theo glanced nervously at me before saying, “Theodore Talbot.”

“Hero Blishwick.”

“Caylee Diggory.”

“Dahlia Fawley.”

The names continued to be recited around the compartment until finally, a soft voice on the other side of Theo said, “Tom Riddle.”

The name made the breath catch in my throat. Theo’s brawny form obscured the speaker from view, so I leaned forward as casually as I could, elbows on my knees, to look.

It was him. The friend Finn had brought home for a few days over the summer. He had the same pale skin paired with dark hair and eyes, the same smirk that played on his lips like he knew something you didn’t. The last time I had seen Tom Riddle, my eyes had been swollen from crying, and my family had been acting like I didn’t exist. Would he know who I was?

I mentally cursed myself; of course he knew, I had just introduced myself. He didn’t look my way, however, and I leaned back again against the seat, hidden from view by Theo. I tried to concentrate on what the Head Boy and Girl were saying, but being in the same room as Riddle was bringing back ghosts. One ghost, particularly.

Noah.

I looked down at my hands, clenched in my lap. My nails were digging into my palms so hard my knuckles were white.

Theo gently nudged my arm with his. “You alright?” he whispered.

I nodded, because I would be.

-

When it came to my turn to patrol the train, I stopped in front of a Slytherin compartment. Finn was inside with five of his friends, Riddle included. They were all laughing idiotically at something one of them had said, Finn was even slapping a knee with his hand. But Riddle, who wore a mild, relaxed expression, wasn’t laughing. He looked up and spotted me hovering on the other side of the glass. Leaning closer to Finn, he said something in his ear and Finn looked up. When my brother caught my eye I jerked my head.

Finn stepped out and slid the compartment door closed behind him. “Yes, little sister?”

“You… didn’t tell Riddle, did you?” I murmured.

“That you made out with a Muggle or that you killed him?” Finn didn’t bother to keep his voice down.

“What is wrong with you?” I hissed, my hands bunching into fists at my side. I glanced around, but we were alone in the corridor.

“Oh, calm down. Of course I didn’t tell him. We had more important, super-secret things to do.”

I shook my head. “What are you talking about?”

"Here - have some chocolate." Finn pushed a few squares of dark chocolate into my hand and ruffled my hair, making the short blonde strands fall across my face. “Splish splash, little sister,” he said, then he winked and retreated back into the compartment.

My bottom lip trembled and I bit down on it, hard, then shoved the chocolate into my mouth for good measure. Finn had sat back down next to Riddle, who, I noticed with a jolt, was staring at me, that same smirk was back on his face. It made the hairs on my arms rise and I rubbed at them self-consciously before turning on my heel and continuing my patrol of the corridor.

Fifth year was going to be easy, I reassured myself. All I had to do was avoid Finn, Riddle, conversations about the past few weeks, large quantities of water and being in the same room as both Theo and Emory.

My name is Hero Blishwick, and I would survive this year.

-

A/N: A huge thank you to Julie (banshee), Spencer (lunarlumos) and Jo (Jo Raskoph), without whom this chapter would be a mess of words.



Chapter 2: Riddles in the Dark
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-

“‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’”

I looked up from my Herbology homework at Emory and Theo, who were lying on one of the couches with their legs intertwined. It was late, the Gryffindor common room empty save for the three of us and another student snoring in an armchair in the corner.

Emory was half in Theo’s lap, nuzzling his neck as she continued to murmur. Her eyes glowed with adoration and she sighed contentedly, but even through the shadows cast by the dying fire, I could see the tension in Theo’s arms and the way his eyes kept darting in my direction.

Stop looking at me, Theo, I thought desperately as I averted my eyes to my parchment. She's your girlfriend now.

As Emory’s giggling became too much to ignore, I sighed and put down my quill. My eyes itched with tiredness, but this particular assignment was due first thing tomorrow. I had already written it twice, but both drafts became no more than black splodges of notes and lines in my attempts to make them perfect.

We’re so disappointed in you, Hero…’

I picked up my quill again and forced myself to concentrate.

We expected so much better. You’re no more than an embarrassment to this family…’

“It’s not like you to leave an assignment this late, Hero,” said Theo, breaking through the memory of my father’s voice.

I blinked and looked up. Theo was leaning forward on the couch, no longer entwined with Emory, head propped up by a hand under his chin. Emory was gazing into the embers of the fire.

I stifled a yawn. “Just want to get it perfect.”

“For Professor Beery or for your parents?”

I said tersely, “For myself.”

“Come on Hero, you usually know all the new textbooks by heart by the time term starts.”

Emory’s dreamy expression faded from her face as she joined us. “Well she was busy in Inverness all summer, wasn’t she? Looking after her aunt.”

Theo looked at me abruptly. “You don’t have an aunt in Inverness."

“I do too,” I said, affronted. “I don’t tell you everything, Theo.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Clearly.”

“Oh, stop it, you two,” Emory said fondly, standing up. “I’m off. Goodnight.” She leant in to kiss Theo’s cheek and disappeared up the girl’s dormitory steps.

Well I certainly wasn’t going to stay down here alone with Theo. I rolled up my parchment, stuffed it away and threw my bag over my shoulder. As I walked toward the common room entrance, Theo called out to me. I ignored him, letting the portrait swing shut behind me and block out his voice.

Lumos.”

The castle was quiet as I made my way to the library; even my soft footsteps seemed too loud. My wand briefly lit the portraits that scattered the hallway, but their inhabitants were sleeping peacefully in their frames. I envied them their dreams.

Noah once told me of a recurring nightmare of his about a large space filled with impossible coldness and dense darkness. The look on his pale drawn face as he’d told me had made the hairs rise on the back of my neck at the time. He told me I was the only one who knew about it, that he hadn’t even told the doctors. I had squeezed his hand in reassurance that I wouldn’t tell anyone. Now, in the dark and drafty hallways of Hogwarts, my skin prickled with apprehension as I recalled his words. I longed for someone to squeeze my hand in reassurance.

The library wasn’t empty. There was a dim light at a desk in the far corner, where a shadowy figure sat hunched, arm moving slightly as they wrote. My stomach gave a small lurch at the presence of a stranger late at night, but they didn’t look up at my appearance. Another last minute crammer, then. I headed for the opposite corner, unable to stop glancing over my shoulder.

My insides still felt chilled with thoughts of Noah, so I lit as many lanterns as I could find and scattered them around the desk, as much for the light as for the feeling of safety it brought. Monsters were easier to imagine in the dark.

With parchment and ink set up, I settled myself comfortably in the chair. The tip of my quill was poised just above the parchment, but nothing came to me. The words I had already written began to blend together and I read the same sentence three times. What was the question again? I chewed on the leather bracelet around my wrist that had once belonged to Noah.

Something tickled the back of my hand and I looked down. A small black spider was crawling over my skin. I shrieked and flung myself backwards, sending two lanterns and the ink pot smashing to the floor. Where had it gone? I quickly backed up, wanting to get as far as possible from the spider, but I tripped on the overturned chair and landed hard on my backside.

I winced, eyes watering as pain shot sharply through my lower back. “Shit.”

“Blishwick?”

I whirled my head around, heart leaping into my mouth. The student from the other side of the library was walking over, and as he stepped into the light from the remaining lanterns, I saw the glint of a green Prefect badge. Tom Riddle. Stopping in front of me, he slid his hands into his pockets as he took in the sight of me tangled in the legs of the chair, surrounded by glass and ink. He smirked.

“You okay down there?”

I hoisted myself up onto my elbows, careful of the glass. “No, I am not bloody okay. Is the spider gone?”

Riddle flicked his eyes lazily around the mess on the floor. “This is about a spider?” he asked nonchalantly.

I pushed my hair out of my face with the back of my hand, my cheeks beginning to burn.

He took his hands out of his pockets and offered me one. After hesitating for a second, I took it; his hand was cold, like he had been outside, but soft. The moment he hoisted me back on my feet, I let go in favour of rubbing the base of my spine.

“Only one in particular,” I told him defensively, stepping gingerly around the glass. “The mastilio spider. One bite and –” I ran a finger across my throat in illustration.

Riddle raised an eyebrow and lit the tip of his wand. He squatted in front of me, wand to the ground. After only a few seconds, he said, “Here.”

Looking over his shoulder, I saw the fat little spider sitting by one of the legs of the desk, pretending to be innocent. It didn’t move when Riddle approached it with the light from his wand, but as soon as he reached toward it with his other hand, the spider scuttled away. I scooted closer to him.

Riddle glanced at me and let out a breath of amusement through his nose. “It’s not a mastilio,” he said. His voice was like velvet.

I let my shoulders drop slightly in relief. “Oh… Good.”

He straightened and turned to face me. The irises of his eyes were so dark they blended with the pupil. “It’s Hero, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I call you that?”

I nodded.

“You can call me Tom.” He glanced down at my parchment on the desk, thankfully clean of any ink splotches. “What are you working on this late?”

I stepped around him to pick up the chair and began to siphon the spilled ink with my wand. “Herbology,” I replied, eyes on my task.

“Oh, me too,” he said. Riddle – Tom – peered down at my essay. “You know you’ve written Canadian Chewing Carrot instead of Chinese Chomping Cabbage?”

I stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes wearily. “Dammit.”

“The climate is wrong, too. Hang on, I’ll grab my book.”

By the time Tom returned, I had cleaned the mess and was sitting back at the desk, looking down at my parchment and rubbing my temples. How had I managed to get this draft so wrong?

Disappointment…’

Tom sat beside me with a copy of Sakura Borealis’ Encyclopaedia of Magical (or Otherwise) Flowers and Herbs and started flipping through the pages. I could smell him; cologne, more exotic than Theo’s. Or maybe it was just that I was so used to the way Theo smelled that any other guy scent was exotic. Without looking up Tom casually asked, “Did your boyfriend drown?”

I froze. Did Finn tell him after all? That asshole. “What do you mean?” I tried to ask offhandedly, but my voice sounded hoarse.

He looked up from the book, a lock of hair falling into his eyes. “Leander from Hellespont? Hero in her tower? Don’t tell me you don’t know the origin of your own name.”

I let out a shaky but silent breath in relief. “Of course. Sorry. My parents were just into mythology at the time, I guess.” I shrugged. Yet somehow Finn, born only a few minutes before me, escaped on being called Apollo or Hercules.

Tom’s eyes lingered on me for longer than I was comfortable, and I shifted in my seat. “What did you get for question four?” I asked with a nod toward his own homework.

“I think names are important,” Tom said, ignoring me. “You’re lucky to have one that is so… unusual. It stands out.”

I fiddled with the feather of my quill. “I wanted to change it once,” I admitted. “When I found out that was possible. I – I knew someone who did it.”

“Why didn’t you?”

I was Dennis Bishop, then,’ Noah’s voice echoed in my mind. ‘Not Noah Sheckler.’

I swallowed. “I guess I just decided it wasn’t so bad after all.”

Something in Tom’s black eyes softened as he looked at me. “You have ink in your hair,” he said quietly. “May I?”

I didn’t move as he reached out a hand and tugged gently at a strand of my hair, his knuckles grazing my temple. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t do this. Not after Noah.

I stood up abruptly. “It’s really late. I should go.” I hastily shoved my things back in my bag. “Thanks for your help.”

I left the library without looking back.

-

“What happened to you last night?” Emory asked as we stepped outside, blinking into the dazzling morning sunshine. "After I went to bed?"

“I… went to the library.”

Emory glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. “You had tiny bits of glass in your cardigan and ink in your hair.”

Busted. “I had an accident with my Herbology essay,” I said, as we crossed the huge lawn. “And, ah… Tom Riddle was there.”

Her eyes widened with excitement. “Hero! Riddle? Oh, he’s so cute.” Her expression changed to mock stern. “But a Slytherin! Hero, get thee to a nunnery.”

“You’re one to talk,” I said, fixing the strap of my bag more comfortably on my shoulder. “You and Theo were all over each other last night.” Well, it was half true. Guilt rose in my throat like bile as I remembered the distance in Theo’s expression but I pushed it down.

Emory pursed her small mouth, the amusement vanishing from her face. “I don’t know…” she said slowly, clutching her books tighter to her chest. “He seems distracted lately. I can’t help but wonder if there’s something going on he’s not telling me.”

My stomach did a summersault of regret but I said, “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“You would know, I suppose,” she sighed. “Paranoia, thy name is Emory.”

We just passed Ogg’s Hut toward Greenhouse Five when a scream pierced the air. I looked at Emory, but her expression was as startled as I felt, and we rushed forward. Ogg’s vegetable patch lay just behind his hut, and two small girls who had to be first years stood just in front of it, looks of horror on their faces. It wasn’t hard to see what had them so stricken. On the far fence, past the pumpkins and large green leaves of other vegetables, were about six roosters, lying limp on the spikes of the fence. Blood ran down the wood on which they had been impaled, pooling at the bottom. It looked dry in some places, but the coppery smell was still strong in the air.

My stomach heaved at the sight, but I reached a hand out to the girls. “It’s okay,” I said as soothingly as possible, but my mouth felt dry. “I’m a Prefect. Come here. It’ll be okay.”

The girls ran to me and clung to an arm each. One began to cry softly, her tears running down my arm. I could hear the gasps and murmurs of the other students beginning to gather behind us, also drawn by the scream.

The hushed voices tripped over each other.

“What could have done such a thing?”

“Do you think it was a student?”

“Is it some kind of early Halloween prank?”

“Look at the mud. There’s no footprints or anything.”

I turned to Emory, unable to close my mouth.

“Double, double, toil and trouble,” she said under her breath.

Thou art can say that again.

-

A/N: Couple of quotes in there credit to William Shakespeare. A million thanks to my wonderful beta Julie (banshee)!


Chapter 3: Something Wicked This Way Comes
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-

Hero,

We hope you’ve settled in and are enjoying your fifth year. Remember to study hard, we want to see the continuation of your good grades.

Your uncle Caractacus will back from his antique hunting trip in Spain late next month and will be staying with us over Christmas.

Keep busy and forget about that Muggle. We’ll do the same. Forgiveness depends on your O.W.L. results.

From, Mum and Dad.

P.S. Make sure Finlay brushes his hair.


A bad imitation of a rooster’s crow sounded and I looked over my shoulder across the Great Hall at the Slytherin table. Finn was squatting on his seat, flapping his arms like wings to the raucous laughter of his delighted green and silver audience. A handful of startled Hufflepuffs were looking around from the next table, alarmed at the noise.

“Hello,” Emory said, sitting down opposite me. She screwed up her nose as she looked at Finn. “Your brother is obnoxious.”

“I know,” I said, stuffing the letter into my pocket. “Don’t tell anyone we shared a womb.”

Theo dropped down next to Emory; she grabbed his hand, but he pulled it away and grabbed a piece of toast instead. “Did you hear the latest about what happened with the roosters?” he asked.

My eyes darted to Emory. She looked dejected. I put down my orange juice. “No. What?”

He leaned in close over the table and lowered his voice. “Edward Waldron – he’s a fourth year Hufflepuff – had detention that night, and McDuffy was making him clean the house point hourglasses. He said he was there almost all night and saw no one enter or leave.”

“So it wasn’t someone in the castle,” I said, unconvinced. “That doesn’t tell us anything.”

“Maybe it was an animal?” Emory asked, but she sounded doubtful.

I gave her a look. “What animal do you know would pick up roosters and shove them on spikes for fun?”

“Well here’s the other thing,” Theo said, his green eyes bright with the excitement of mystery as he brandished his toast. “Ogg was in his hut all night and didn’t hear a thing.”

Emory and I were silent.

Theo nodded, pleased. “You’d think six roosters being murdered would make even the smallest of sounds.”

I shivered despite my sweater. The rooster noises at the Slytherin table started up again and I closed my eyes in exasperation. Theo looked past my shoulder as he chewed, eyes narrowed. “Is Finn crowing?” he asked incredulously, then he shook his head. “Your brother is a beast.”

“Don’t remind me,” I said, letting my head fall into my hands.

-

The Tapestry Corridor was quiet and, although it was late and I was alone, I didn’t feel scared, despite the image of the roosters still at the forefront of my mind. Even despite the sharp metallic scent of the blood that was distinct in my memory. I had never seen that much of it in my life. There had been no blood when Noah died, apart from my own. The deep gash on my forehead had been healed almost the moment I stumbled into my house, screaming for my parents, and my stained wet clothes discarded. Maybe it was the feeling of safety being in a room full of people (even if they were portraits) or maybe it was being amongst the beauty and elegance of the detailed tapestries, nothing could be wrong.

I glanced at my watch and stifled a yawn with my other hand. Only ten minutes left of my rounds. There was a sudden scuffle of shoes, and I quickly shut my mouth, startled out of my yawn. I peeked around the corner, squinting into the dimness of the viaduct entrance. “Hello?” I called, my voice echoing slightly.

A huge shape loomed before me, and I took a step backward, heart leaping into my mouth. My mind screamed, Fuck, I’m going to be murdered like those roosters, but as the shape stepped into the light of my wand, I relaxed, my fear quickly turning to irritation.

“Rubeus, what are you doing here?” I asked the young half-giant.

“Sorry Hero, I didn’ mean to disturb yer,” Rubeus Hagrid said, peering at me through the huge mass of hair that fell into his eyes.

“It’s okay,” I assured him, my annoyance diminishing. “But you shouldn’t be out this late. Go to bed.”

“Yes, miss,” he mumbled, and shuffled down the corridor and out of sight.

I stopped in front of a classroom and pulled the letter from my parents out of my pocket as I waited for my heart to slow. I scanned it again, as if expecting the words to change. Forget. Easy for them to say. I folded the letter again and put it away with a sigh. Looking around, I blinked. I recognised this classroom.

I pushed gently on the door. It swung inwards with a quiet groan of hinges. Soft moonlight from the high windows lit the room with a pale blue glow, and the room appeared cold and impossibly still; even the dust motes in the sliver of moonlight seemed stationary. I gazed around, subconsciously searching for… what? My eyes found one of the desks in the middle of the room. Even under the influence as I was at the time, I could still remember the feeling of the smooth wooden desk under my thighs, cool on my hot skin, and Theo’s tight grip on my hips. I swallowed and pushed the thought away. It wasn't appropriate anymore.

Was I searching for a way to turn back time? Well, if I had the power to do that, I’d use it in a heartbeat, and not drag Theo here after the party.

And tell Noah not to take the road over the bridge to Hangleton.

The door creaked and I swung around, my stomach clenching in fear at the shape that had appeared in the doorway.

“Hero?” it whispered.

“Merlin!”

“No, just Theo,” said the boy from the shadows.

I rubbed my sweaty palms on my robes. “God, what is with everyone scaring me tonight? There are easier ways to kill me than by trying to give me a heart attack.”

“Sorry,” Theo said, coming in. “What are you doing in here?”

“I, um…” I struggled to form a coherent thought. Between my racing heart and the embarrassment that he probably knew exactly where we were, my mind was spinning. “I thought I heard something. What are you doing here? I thought you were patrolling the third floor tonight.”

He shrugged. “I finished. Thought you might be lonely.”

I folded my arms in front of my chest, pulling at a loose thread of robe on one of my elbows, waiting for him to tell me the real reason.

“And I need to talk to you,” he admitted.

I let out a breath, butterflies of apprehension exploding in my stomach. Uh oh.

“It’s about what happened here. What we did.”

“I thought we agreed to forget about it,” I said. “Go about like nothing happened.”

“I know, and I’ve tried. But I can’t go back to the way we were,” he said. He stepped closer to me, eyes pleading. “I thought I could, but I… think I –”

I braced myself. Don’t say it.

“ – still love you.”

He said it. “Theo, please,” I said, closing my eyes. “It's not real anymore. It was all a mistake –”

“Stop saying that.” He took another few steps.

I opened my eyes again. He was so close now I could feel his breath stir my hair as I looked up at him. I longed to wrap my arms around his neck for comfort as I used to, but firmly pushed those feelings aside. It wasn't what my parents wanted.

“I haven't stopped feeling this way about you,” Theo said, his voice no more than a whisper. He reached up and ran his hand tenderly down my ribs to my hips, making my breath come short. “And I know you haven't either.”

“Yes, I have.” I raised my hands to his chest and pushed him away. “I've moved on. You should too. What about Emory?”

Theo grabbed my waist as leverage and leaned in again, bringing his face close to mine.

“Theo, please, I can't,” I said, my efforts useless against the bulk of his chest.

“Take your hands off her,” said a familiar, velvety voice.

We turned in unison toward the doorway, where Tom stood, materialising so silently it was as if he had appeared out of thin air. My stomach flipped at the sight of him.

Theo dropped his hands and took a swift step back. “What the hell are you doing here, Riddle?”

“Looking out for Hero. Good thing I am, too.” His eyes narrowed as he looked at Theo with distaste.

Theo looked back at me, his eyebrows creased cynically. “Riddle? Really, Hero?”

I was silent, trying to determine whether my gut was telling me I was pleased for the disruption or pleased to see who was doing the disrupting.

Theo shook his head as if in disbelief, then walked toward the door where he stopped in front of Tom. Theo was over a head taller than him and almost twice as wide, but Tom looked anything but small as he met Theo’s glare.

For a second I thought Theo might hit him; his jaw was tense and the fingers on one hand were clenched into a fist, but he only pushed past Tom with a shoulder and left.

Tom straightened himself again and a noticeable tension relaxed in his shoulders; only now did I realise how rigid he had been holding himself. I let out the air in my lungs slowly and leant back against a desk. Tom walked over to stand in front of me. In the moonlight, his dark eyes and eyebrows stood stark against the paleness of his face. “Are you alright?” he asked.

I hugged myself as a shiver ran through me, looking down at my feet. “Yeah. Thank you.”

Tom noticed the movement and unwound the green and silver scarf he wore. Taking the necessary step closer, he reached over and wrapped it around my own neck. I looked up slowly to his face.

“Hero!” called Theo’s voice faintly from the viaduct entrance. He sounded alarmed.

I bolted from the room without a second glance at Tom, but the sound of his footsteps behind me told me that he followed. We skidded to a halt just outside the carpeted entry of the Tapestry Corridor. Theo had his back to me, but by the mirror hanging opposite, I could see his mouth open in shock.

On the floor, with arms raised up toward her head and terror on her face, was the body of a young girl lying utterly still.

-

The coffee in my hands did nothing to warm me.

Theo, Tom and I sat in the hospital wing, waiting for news on the girl. Theo, on my right, fidgeted in his seat, his coffee untouched. Tom, on my left, sat perfectly still, hands clasped in his lap and wearing a peaceful expression as if he were merely at the theatre. He had declined a hot beverage, but offered me a square of chocolate he pulled from his bag, the same dark chocolate Finn had given me on the train. I accepted it gratefully.

The nurse, Madam Flint, approached us, shoes clicking on the floor. “Miss Howard should be okay,” she informed us. “Though she’s been petrified. It’s very Dark Magic, and I must ask you, as school prefects, to keep this to yourselves for now, at least until we know more.”

I nodded numbly without looking around to see Tom and Theo had done the same.

“I expect Professor Dippet will want a word with you later, also,” she added. “But for now, I can write you an exemption letter from today’s classes, if you so wish.”

The three of us assured her we would be fine and she walked away. I unwound the scarf around my neck and gave it back to Tom with what I hoped was a grateful smile. It felt like more of a weak tug on one side of my mouth.

“We have Potions first thing,” Theo said to me through a yawn. He stood up and stretched, joints popping softly, then reached a hand down out to me. “Come on, I’ll walk you to breakfast.”

I looked at his hand, then up at him. I said coolly, “I’d rather you didn’t.”

Theo dropped his hand to his side. I expected him to be hurt, and looked down to watch the sun’s rays creep across the tiles to avoid seeing his face. I tentatively glanced at him out of the corner of my eye; he looked furious. He snapped, “What, you’d rather stay with your stalker?”

I flinched but met his gaze. “Yes.”

His face faltered as the hurt I expected finally flickered across his features. He left without another word.

Tom stirred next to me. “I almost forgot,” he said, reaching into his pocket and speaking as if he hadn’t just been insulted. “This is why I came to find you. When you ran out of the library the other night, you left this.” He dropped something into my palm and curled my fingers around it, letting his own long hands linger for a second longer than I thought necessary. “It must have fallen off when you upended yourself.”

I grimaced at the memory and opened my hand. It was my leather bracelet, but it had snapped, so that it just dangled in my hand. I ran a finger over the indentation that spelled ‘Wool’s Orphanage’. Where Noah had grown up. I hadn’t even noticed it was missing from my wrist. “Thank you,” I whispered.

“Will you let me walk you to the Great Hall?” Tom asked. “Or, if you prefer, I’ll give you a head start and stalk you there.”

I made a small noise of amusement, and after a moment’s hesitation, I nodded.

We walked to the Great Hall in silence, which allowed my mind to spin, images flashing one after another. The roosters and their blood. Theo, his attitude, and the nerve of him. The girl and her look of terror. Tom and his – well everything. I hastily pushed aside thoughts of both boys, though I felt terrible over Theo. It hadn't been his fault.

Could the horrible things happening really be a student playing a sick joke, trying to scare the others? Well if it was, it was working. I was terrified. Even now, my hands started to shake, but I was surprised to find it wasn’t in fear – it was in anger. The last time I was this angry, I slammed the front door in my parents’ faces after a fight. That had been the day of the accident.

Tom nodded politely at any staff member we passed, his smile charming and handsome, but I was only half aware of my surroundings. Would my parents be proud if I found out who or what was responsible for the petrification of the Howard girl? I shook my head, I was getting carried away. Better to focus on my school work like mum and dad wanted.

But as we walked, I made a mental list of what my life had become. I was responsible for Noah’s death. I had broken one heart and could still possibly break another. I was sinking under the pressure of OWL year already.

It was as if the universe decided I should have drowned that day after all.

-

A/N: Many thanks to Julie (banshee) for her wonderful beta help!


Chapter 4: Mystery
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image by Fireheart @ tda


-

“Something wicked this way comes,” Emory said without opening her eyes.

I looked up from my book, blinking against the reflection of the afternoon sun off the lake. Emory, Theo and I were sitting beside it doing our homework. Well, Theo and I were. Emory had decided to take a nap. I saw nothing wicked, but I did see Tom, walking past us toward the castle with his bag over his shoulder, uniform neat as always. Our eyes met and he gave a small wink. If he was any further away I probably would have missed it. I did hope he wasn’t close enough to see how red my face felt; my cheeks were suddenly on fire.

“You’re kidding me,” Theo said hotly.

I jumped, partly because I forgot he was there and partly because I thought he caught me getting hot and bothered over Tom Riddle. But Theo was looking between his parchment and potions book, frowning.

“What?” I asked.

“I thought it was sage you put in the Calming Draught, but it’s not. It’s adder’s fork.” He looked up, pouting. “Can’t I just copy yours?”

I leaned over to flip through his book. “You can actually use sage instead of the adder’s fork if you add a boom berry. See?”

Theo squinted at the book, then up at me. “How did you know that?”

I hesitated. “Tom told me.”

Theo snatched the book away from me, as if my touch might contaminate it. “If that’s what teacher’s pet says, then never mind,” he snarled.

I opened my mouth to protest, but thought better of it and shut it again. Tom and I had only met twice since last week to study; since exams weren’t until the end of the school year, I had a long time yet to put up with Theo’s attitude. In fact, I was sure before long I’d have to put up with the whole school giving me attitude about it; I already received dirty looks (and not a few jealous ones) by sitting with Tom at the library. But for now, everyone had something better to talk about.

Just over a week after she had been found, the whole school knew about the petrified girl.

The castle was abuzz with theories and rumours, despite the efforts the teachers must have taken to keep it quiet. I heard them whispered (or not) throughout the corridors: a student from Durmstrang had snuck in and was on a Dark Magic rampage, the girl was actually dead and the petrification story was a cover up, a magical object gone wrong.

Only this was for sure: Marcy Howard, the second year Muggle-born student in Ravenclaw, was petrified, and it wasn’t by the hand of a Hogwarts student.

I sighed and looked to the greenhouses, silently willing the Mandrakes to grow faster to revive little Marcy Howard.
“You want to have dinner before our round this evening or after?” Theo asked.

I turned back and watched Emory twirl a leaf between her fingers, examining it intently as she did. If only she studied for her OWLs like that. “I’ll be having it before,” I told Theo. “I swapped shifts with Dahlia Fawley.”

“Why?”

I tore a blade of grass out of the ground. “Just wanted to check out the viaduct entrance.”

“Why?” he asked again, slower this time.

“Because I keep thinking about Marcy Howard. And the roosters. Don’t you want to stop who or what is terrorising the castle?” I asked in an ardent tone.

“The teachers have already scanned the area for clues,” Emory said. “It’s not up to us.”

“But what if they missed something?”

“You just want another late night rendezvous with Riddle,” Theo said resentfully.

Instead of the death stare I would ordinarily give Theo, I flashed him my best Blishwick smile. It worked; after a moment he looked away and muttered, “Don’t give me that shit.”

I dropped the smile. “It’s too late for me to change it, anyway.”

The sun sunk lower on the horizon, casting long shadows across the grass. I stood, brushing dirt from my robes and looked over the grounds. Rubeus Hagrid was on all fours; it looked like he was digging for bugs. A few metres away from him, Finn was half hidden behind bushes by the castle wall, huddled with Radbourne Lestrange, Benedict Avery and my younger cousin Sebastian Blishwick. Knowing this could be nothing good, I muttered an excuse to Theo and Emory and walked over, adjusting my prefect badge as I did so.

Finn had his back to me. As I approached, Sebastian, Lestrange and Avery instantly straightened and whispered to him hastily, but Finn seemed unconcerned as he turned around, wearing a lazy grin. “Well, if it isn’t the evil twin,” he said, hiding his arms behind his back.

“Speak for yourself. What’s that you’ve got?”

“Nothing,” he lied.

I made a grab for whatever he had in his hands. Finn quickly pushed me back but lost his grip and something dark and square landed on the grass with a soft thump. It was a book: Secrets of the Darkest Art by Owle Bullock. It fell open to the front page, where the Blishwick family crest was stamped. The five of us stared at it.

I narrowed my eyes at my brother. “Why have you got that?”

Finn stooped to pick it up, but this time I was quicker. I snatched it out of his reach and clutched it triumphantly to my chest. “Confiscated. Now tell me why you brought this from home.”

It was not Finn who answered me however, but Lestrange, his dark eyes narrowed. “Tom wanted to read it.”

I looked back down at the book, but the title remained the same. “What for?”

Finn looked at me with his chin raised, like he was challenging me. “Do you want that to be your concern, Hero?” His eyes were the same dark blue as mine; the only resemblance we shared.

I looked away. “Yes, since it’s currently in your possession and not his. If people are going to get hurt…”

“Oh… They won’t,” Finn said lightly.

He pushed past me then, followed by Sebastian, whose uncharacteristically-Blishwick brown eyes darted nervously toward me, then Lestrange and Avery. As Avery passed me, I heard him say under his breath, “Much.” It was so quiet I thought maybe I imagined it. However, as I watched the four of them swagger away laughing, I thought maybe not.

-

Back in Gryffindor Tower, feet curled under me on an armchair, I tried to concentrate on the Herbology book Tom suggested for me to read, but my mind kept wandering to the book I had hidden in my drawer upstairs. What would Tom want with a Dark Arts book? Research? But for what?

“Hero?” said a tiny voice.

I looked up, blinking. Two little girls, identical from their long brown plaits to their left shoe untied, were standing before me. One had her eyes to the floor, fidgeting, but the other looked at me with her chin raised.

“What is it, honey?”

The one looking at me, who had spoken before, said, “We just wanted to tell you about something that happened yesterday. In the dungeon corridor.”

I sat up straighter. “Tell me.”

The girls glanced at each other. The nervous one said, “W-well, we had to go back to the Potions classroom after we f-forgot our book and… we heard s-something.”

My heart began to beat faster. “What was it? Don’t be scared, it’s okay.”

“It was just like… something moving,” the other girl said. “In the walls. Something big. And the pipes – or something – were creaking… It was loud and scary.” She shivered.

I suppressed a shiver myself, but I nodded and thanked the girls. I watched them walk away, holding hands. Why couldn’t I have a twin like that? I fidgeted in the chair, my curiosity in the dungeons had piqued. After reading the same sentence five times, I sighed and closed the book, slipping it into my bag. I intended to finish reading it on my prefect round.

It was dark in the corridor as I stepped through the portrait, but I didn’t bother lighting my wand as I walked; the moving staircases would be lit. Then I stepped on something unpleasantly squishy and took a hasty step back. I frowned and looked down; I didn’t have to light my wand to see the darker patch surrounding my feet.

I swallowed. “Lumos.”

Two dead roosters were by my feet, blood seeping out from under them. My mouth opened, but I was too stunned to scream. Then I heard the sniggering.

A trick? My initial shock was diminishing but my knees felt weak from the aftereffects of fear. I could see now the rubber instead of feathers, and the thick, shiny quality to the blood. I looked around. There was movement around the corner and I raised my wand. Finn, Lestrange and Avery were crouched together on the floor, laughter escaping around the fists they had stuffed into their mouths.

“Finlay!” I said shrilly, unable to keep my voice down. “What the fuck is your problem?”

Finn stepped out, his black hair sticking up in every direction. “It’s just a joke, Hero.”

“Are you even a human being? This is not FUNNY!”

I ran a shaking hand agitatedly through my hair, my stomach going from hollow with fear to bubbling with rage. Finn approached me until we were almost nose to nose. His breath was warm on my face as he whispered, “Splish splash.”

I took a swing at him, but he was quicker; neatly stepping out of the way and driving his fist into my stomach. It wasn’t hard, but hard enough. I stumbled backward and fell, more from the shock than pain. The boys ran away as I clambered to my feet, their obnoxious laughter echoing down the stairs. I winced; now it was hurting, just under my ribs. The small spot throbbed painfully in time with my heart.

The Fat Lady was scoffing and muttering behind me, but the noise was lost as she swung open and Theo came out. He stopped abruptly as he saw the mess on the floor, his face paling in the wand light.

“Christ, Hero…” he said faintly.

“It’s fake,” I said, nudging a rooster with my toe. It squeaked weakly like a dog toy. “Slytherins being dicks.”

Even in the dim light, I saw Theo’s throat move as he swallowed, and he tore his eyes away from the scene on the floor with visible effort. “Look, Hero, are you sure you want to go to the viaduct entrance on your own?”

“Yes,” I said, using my wand to levitate the fake roosters to the bin. “It’s just a prefect round.”

“Why are you so obsessed?” he asked. “You think it’ll win your parents approval or something? Because it won’t, nothing will. You’ll just end up getting hurt as well.”

I reeled at the sting of his words and refused to look at him.

He must have seen the hurt in my face, because he continued, “I’m saying this because I care about you.”

“Well don’t.” Under my breath, I muttered a spell to remove the fake blood from the floor. “I don’t want you feeling this way. It’s not fair to Emory.”

“Don’t get high and mighty with me,” Theo said indignantly, folding his arms in front of his chest. “She’s your best friend.”

I glared at him. “She’s your girlfriend.”

He sighed and shuffled his feet, suddenly gloomy.

“I miss you, that’s all,” he said softly. “You know yesterday would have been our two year anniversary?”

I swallowed and shook my head.

Theo shrugged, the corners of his mouth turned down. “Like I said, nothing – and no one – will win your parents approval. Your family doesn’t make you who you are. You should be the only one who controls your life.”

And with that, he turned and disappeared back into the common room.

-

I stood in front of the mirror at the end of the Tapestry Corridor where Theo had found Marcy Howard. The maroon carpet was soft beneath my feet, the portraits breathing deeply in sleep. There was nothing to suggest anything sinister had happened just over a week ago.

As Theo’s words echoed in my ears, I raised my eyes to look at my own reflection, framed by an ornate gold border. Honey blonde hair hung just below my chin and eyes that looked more grey than blue in the wand light. One too many freckles, perhaps. How was I supposed to control my own life when mum’s wide mouth and dad’s small nose stared back at me as a constant reminder? The bags under my eyes may be all my own, but that was no consolation.

A muffled clang startled me out of my observations. I ran through the viaduct entrance and down the spiral steps to the dungeon, stopping just at the bottom. Blood was pounding in my ears, from both the exercise and adrenaline. It was quiet and still in the dungeon corridor; I could hear nothing over the sound of my breathing. Then another sound came through, and I strained my ears to listen.

Drip, drip, drip.

I walked further down the corridor, wand held aloft. The air became cooler, as if often did in the dungeons, but now it was tainted with dampness. I followed the sound of dripping water as it grew steadily louder.

I rounded a corner and stopped. The noise from the water was definitely coming from this passage. It was joined by another sound, coming from behind the stone walls themselves. A quiet rumbling was moving across the wall. I had no doubt that this was the sound the twin girls had been referring to. But what was it? An influx of water flowing through the pipes? I pressed my ear against the wall, the stone cool beneath my flushed cheek. A rumble sounded, then the wall started to vibrate. I took a hasty step back as the rumbling grew louder. At the other end of corridor, a chunk of stone from the wall burst free under the pressure of the flood of water that now cascaded onto the corridor floor.

I stood, stunned. Then another burst of water pushed free of the wall, then another, closer toward me each time. I watched, frozen in horror, because I suddenly wasn’t in the corridor, but in Noah’s car, clawing in terror at the door as the car filled with water, rushing in as it was doing now. Another jet of water burst free, just in front of me, and I felt the cool droplets on my face. The stones right beside me began to shake, but still I couldn’t move –

Something big wrapped itself around my waist and yanked me out of the way, just as the stones broke free right where I had been standing a second ago.

“Hero! Alrigh’ are yeh?”

I turned and blinked up at the large form of Rubeus. His baby-faced cheeks were flushed as he pushed his long hair out of his face. “Rubeus, you saved me.” My voice sounded oddly calm, I was hearing it as if it belonged to somebody else. “What are you doing down here?”

“Oh! I – er – I got los’ and then – um – heard you down ‘ere…”

Footsteps were echoing down the next corridor, growing louder until Morgan burst in. “Ro!” he cried, seeing me. At the sight of him, my knees wobbled, threatening to collapse underneath me. Morgan rushed forward and caught me under the arms, lowering himself beside me. “Thanks Hagrid, buddy. I’ll take it from here.”

I heard Rubeus’ shuffling footsteps recede and disappear, then it was just the steady sound of flowing water, Morgan’s gentle shushing as he cradled me in his arms, and my quiet sobbing.

-

“Is it the canines of the Fanged Geranium or the molars used in the making of an Erumpent Potion?” Tom quizzed me.

We were sitting on opposite sides of a desk half hidden by one of the huge bookshelves in the library. It was private, especially at the late times we’d had to schedule. Now that a few of the other students had noticed our meetings were becoming a regular thing, they had taken to staring and whispering. Finn had somehow convinced Lestrange and Avery to wolf whistle on his behalf when they saw us, since Finn never actually made it to the library to do it himself.

“Er… molars?” I guessed around the piece of chocolate in my mouth.

“Canines.” Tom shook his head dismally.

I swallowed the chocolate and blew my breath out in a raspberry. I shifted in my seat, grimacing as the movement hurt. My side was still tender where Finn had hit me and my entire body ached from starting Quidditch training after no practice over the summer.

Tom looked up from his book, one eyebrow raised. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah. Finn hit me night before last, but it’s nothing.”

“He what?” Tom frowned and stood up. He came around the desk to stand beside me, offering a hand. “May I?”

I took it and stood up. With a brief intake of breath, I lifted my shirt to just under the edge of my bra, belly button half hidden by the rest of my shirt. The bruise wasn’t very big, and although it was purple, it was fading already. He bent his head slightly; I noticed for the first time how soft his hair looked, and fought back the sudden urge to run my hands through it.

Tom touched the tips of his fingers lightly over my stomach, and the skin all over my body was suddenly very sensitive to his touch. My heart quickened as his fingers rose to my ribs, still so lightly, and my breath caught in my throat with an audible sound. I felt the heat rise in my neck in embarrassment; he must have heard it. But then I saw the pulse fluttering in his neck, and it was beating as fast as mine. He stepped back then, and pointed his wand at the bruise.

Vulnera livorem.”

I watched as the bruise faded from purple to brown to yellow and finally disappeared altogether, as did the pain. I pulled my shirt down. “Thank you.”

Our eyes met and he swallowed visibly. It was oddly satisfying to know he was as nervous as I was. He sat back down at the desk, and the tension between us was broken.

I sat back down as well, trying to steady my breathing. “I do question your friendship choices, sometimes.”

The corner of Tom’s mouth twitched in amusement. “They have their uses.”

“For important super-secret things?” I asked, remembering what Finn had told me on the train.

Tom furrowed his eyebrows slightly before he raised them in recognition. “Are those your brother’s words?”

“How did you guess?”

He put down his quill and rubbed his eyes. “Your family’s library is quite substantial. I was after a particular book and Finn said I was welcome to search. I have distant family in Hangleton, too, so I stayed a few days. I… don’t know if you remember…?”

I shifted uncomfortably. What must he have thought of me, holed up in my bedroom, hated by my family? “Yeah. I saw you once or twice. So your parents are from Hangleton, then?”

Something flashed in his eyes. “My parents are dead. I grew up in an orphanage.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” My name is Hero Blishwick, and I have a thing for orphan boys. “Were they both magical?”

“Only my mother.” Tom sounded bitter, picking up his quill again. I took the furrow that remained in his brow as a signal to drop the subject, and picked up my own quill. For a few minutes, there was only the sound of scratching as we wrote.

“I don’t mean to pry,” Tom said finally without looking up from his parchment. “That is to say, I do, and stop me if it’s personal, but what did you see in the Muggle boy?”

I froze. I raised my eyes to his face, but he was still writing as if he hadn’t spoken. My heart sunk; so he knew after all. “How much do you know?” I asked quietly.

He met my eyes then, his expression unreadable. I wished my face could look like that; I was an open book most times. “Finn told me a little bit,” he admitted, sounding apologetic. “That your parents were mad at you for seeing a Muggle but he died just before I came to stay. I wondered, why him?”

I swallowed, my heart feeling tight in my chest, but I forced myself to speak. “I met him in town and… he was going through some stuff and I wanted to help.”

“What kind of stuff?”

Careful, Hero. “He went through something as a child. It was really traumatic and I know he was in the hospital for it, but he hardly spoke about it. I think he was lonely.”

Our heads were close together as we spoke in hushed voices, even though nobody was around to hear us. A few inches was all I would have to lean forward to place my lips on his, and my heart thumped wildly in my chest at the thought. Tom cocked his head, as if trying to understand. “So it was a pity thing?”

“No, of course not!” I felt my cheeks flush.

Tom shook his head like he actually didn’t understand. I sat back, feeling suddenly irritated. Abruptly, he began to pack his things away in his bag as he said, “I think that’s enough for tonight.”

He rose and came around to stand behind me. He placed one hand gently on the curve of my neck and shoulder, and although his hands were warm this time, I shivered. He leant down, kissed my cheek softly, lingering for a moment. Before I knew it, he was gone.

-

A/N: More credit to Shakespeare in here, as well as JK Rowling, from whom I borrowed the Dark Arts book. Thank you to the amazing Julie (banshee) for her help on this chapter and her comments that make me laugh.

Chapter 5: Wake Me Up
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image by Fireheart @ tda


-

I ran down the street, heedless of the beads of sweat that formed on my brow and upper lip from the exercise and the heat. Noah’s grey-blue Morris Minor was parked and idling around the corner at my request, hidden from the eyes of my parents. I threw myself into the passenger seat and slammed the door. Noah looked at me, blue eyes wide.

“Hello. What -?”

“Drive,” I growled.

“Hero –”

“Just go!” I glanced anxiously behind me. There were no signs of pursuit.

Noah, bewildered, obligingly put the car into gear and drove onto the road.

We were silent for a time as houses flashed past, the only sound between us was the hum of the tyres on the road, since the radio was long since broken. My fingers were tapping irritably on my thigh, where I had hidden my wand in my pocket. It was vibrating softly and growing warm, so I quickly moved my hand.

Noah glanced side-long at me. “Do you want to talk about it?”

I leant my head back against the seat and closed my eyes.
“Is it your family again?” he asked quietly as the houses became fewer and the trees became thicker. “I don’t need to tell you again how lucky you are to actually have one, right?”

I sighed. If only he knew. I opened my eyes, turning my head toward him. He was concentrating on the road, so I studied his profile. Light blonde hair that stuck up at the back, a long nose, ears that stood out slightly. A pleasant shiver ran down my spine just looking at him. His mouth was turned down, as it often did when we spoke about family. Noah didn’t know my family. But they knew about him.

I thought about the words my parents and I screamed at each other and dug my nails into my palms. I felt hot and wondered dimly if it was from my wand again or my rage.

“You look beautiful when you’re angry,” Noah said softly, turning to look at me.

I blushed, feeling my temperature rise once more, but pleasantly this time. I turned my head back to the front as we crossed the bridge, and that was when I saw the large black bird in the middle of the road. My warning was lodged in my throat as my wand burned a hole in my pocket.

It all happened so quickly. Noah swore, I yanked my burning wand out of my trousers, black feathers covered the windscreen, and then we were falling
.

My mind, though asleep, changes the memory after we fall. After we hit the water, the door doesn’t budge no matter how hard I claw at it or how loud I scream. My lungs burn like fire as water completely fills the car and black spots dance in my vision, and that’s when I know I’m dreaming.

In all my dreams I drown.

-

As the classes after lunch were due to start, I descended the girl’s dormitory steps, fluffing up my hair on the way. Morgan was waiting for me at the bottom of them, hands in his pockets and cheek dimples on display. “Hey, Ro. How you doing?”

“Yeah, good, Mo. Just on my way to Charms.”

He nodded, rubbing the back of his neck, which was growing steadily red. “Good, good, I won’t keep you. Look, I wanted to give you some space after what happened in the dungeons, but… well, if you ever wanted to talk – about anything… I just want you to know I’m always here.”

I smiled. “Thank you. I might take you up on that offer.”

His face brightened instantly, big hazel eyes sparkling. “That’s great. Hey, I also wanted to talk to you about some tactics I’ve planned for the team. Want to come to Hogsmeade this weekend? Talk about stuff then?”

I hesitated for a second, raising a hand to my face. The past three times I’d spent in the library with Tom, he’d kissed my cheek at the end. I could still feel the touch of his lips. But what harm was there in grabbing a coffee and talking about Quidditch? It was only Morgan, after all.

I nodded. “Sure.”

Morgan grinned and disappeared up the dormitory steps.

I turned to continue to class, only to find my way barred again by a short young boy, with hair so blonde it was almost white. “Are you Hero Blishwick?” he asked.

“Yes,” I sighed, and glanced at the grandfather clock.

The boy, Nate Melrose, picked at a spot on his robes. “Um, a group Slytherins stole my Gobstones this morning, and – and they’re important, we have a big game coming up this weekend, but I-I don’t want to…” he trailed off.

I didn’t have to ask which group of Slytherins he was referring to. I rolled my eyes inwardly and scooted past him, calling over my shoulder, “I’ll talk to my brother about it!”

I had time to see his face break into a relieved smile before the portrait closed behind me.

-

By the time I made it to the Charms classroom, the only spare seat was next to Finn. I groaned inwardly as he grinned and patted the seat.

“Could you not steal from the third-years?” I muttered, sliding into the seat next to him.

Finn opened his mouth in exaggerated shock. “I would never!” he said in a stage whisper.

“Well Melrose says you did and I have the power to give you detention now.” I glanced around the classroom for Theo and Emory. They weren’t sitting together, which was nothing strange in itself, but Theo was slumped low in his chair, and Emory’s nose and the rings around her eyes were red. Uh oh.

Finn flicked a lock of my hair with the feather of his quill. “That a threat, little sister?”

I batted his hand away. “Yes.”

Finn pulled a face at me – I saw it out of the corner of my eye – but I ignored him, trying to listen to Professor Bakewell. She had asked a question and now looked around the classroom expectantly. Tom, with his teacher smile on, raised his hand.

Finn elbowed me. “You dating him or what?” he asked in a loud whisper as Tom correctly answered the question. “I heard about your little late night study meetings.”

Professor Bakewell tittered and set us writing revision notes for the Mending Charm.

“He’s just helping me study for OWLs,” I said, over the shuffling of paper as books were opened. My face felt hot. “Why don’t you try it sometime?”

Finn leaned back, chair balancing on two legs as he wrote a rude word on the corner of his parchment. “I’m too pretty to study.”

I shook my head, not looking up from my parchment, even though I was finding it hard to concentrate. “You should be locked away.”

“What, like your Muggle? You gonna lock me in a madhouse or in a car?”

My hand froze mid-word. “What did you say?” I asked in barely more than a whisper.

Uneasiness flickered across his face, the front legs of his chair hitting the ground again. “What?”

“Did you just say Noah was locked in the car?”

Finn ran a feigned casual hand through his black hair; he was shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “No… Well, yeah, I heard the Muggle police – no one could - Look, whatever. He’s dead. Get over it.”

I dropped my quill and sat back, numb. I wanted to hit him, to scream at him, ask him if he really just indicated it wasn’t my fault after all, that Noah needn’t have died? But I didn’t. I only sat as the classroom spun around me.

Professor Bakewell approached our desk, her grey eyebrows knitted together in concern. “Are you alright, Miss Blishwick? You’re dreadfully pale, dear.”

My voice sounded hollow as I said, “No, I… I’m not feeling well, Professor. Might I be excused?”

Professor Bakewell nodded. “Of course.”

I shoved my things into my bag, dimly aware of eyes that had started to glance my way, and walked quickly from the room. I got as far as the Gunhilda of Goresmore corridor before my legs started to wobble. I threw myself down behind the hump-backed statue of Gunhilda and put my head between my knees. Was Finn telling the truth? It was exactly the kind of thing he would say, but then he backpedalled, and now I wasn’t so sure.

“Hero?”

I raised my head. Tom was hovering tentatively behind the statue. I hastily blinked back the tears that were threatening to spill over. “Sorry,” I mumbled.

Tom came to sit beside me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, pulling me close. “Don’t be sorry,” he said.

I sniffed, taking deep breaths as I rested against his chest, the knit jumper soft beneath my cheek. I breathed in the now-familiar scent of him, a mix of soap, cologne and boy. His heart beat a strong and steady rhythm under my ear.

Tom’s chin rested on top of my head; I felt it move as he softly asked, “What’s the matter?”

I deliberated, wondering how much to tell him, but as he started to rub small circles into my back, I relaxed against him. “Noah – the Muggle boy I told you about? I, um… I thought I had a hand in the accident, but now I’ve just found out it might not be my fault.”

“Why would think it was your fault?” His voice vibrated in his chest against my cheek.

“I was angry when I left the house, and – well, it’s a blur, that’s what’s frustrating, but I think my wand reacted to my feelings. The sparks scared him – he didn’t know about me - and the car swerved off a bridge. But Finn just said his door was locked, that not even the Muggle police could open it. But what does that mean? What if he could have gotten out after all?”

“You think someone tampered with it?”

I shivered. “I don’t know.”

As we sat on the cold stone floor behind the hump-backed statue, a memory of Noah floated to the forefront of my mind.

“Do you know why he took you there?” I asked. “The boy?”

“Not a boy,” Noah whispered, his thin hands shaking. “A monster. And he wanted only to scare us. To hurt us.”

I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him close.

Noah gripped me tightly, and into my hair, whispered, “I’m so scared he’ll come back, Hero.”

“If anyone wants to hurt you,” I said. “They’ll have to go through me first.”

He leaned back to look at me, blue eyes glistening, and gently pressed his lips to mine
.

Now, Tom shifted slightly and sighed, his breath tickling my hair. “I wouldn’t dwell on it, if I were you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, he was just a Muggle.”

I wrenched myself out of his arms and turned to him. Surprise flittered across his features. “How can you say that?”

“What?” He looked genuinely confused. It made my blood boil.

I stood up and threw my bag over my shoulder. “He was a person. I – You – How dare -” I had to take a deep breath to steady myself, my words tripping over themselves in my anger. “You know what, I don’t think I’ll be requiring your study help anymore. See you around.” I spun on my heel and stormed down the corridor, leaving Tom sitting on the floor behind the statue.

-

I stomped through the common room and all the way up the stairs to the dormitories. Then I stomped to my bed, threw myself onto it and screamed into my pillow. How could I have been so stupid to think that Tom was different from the other Slytherins? To think that he was kinder and more sensitive than Lestrange, Avery and Finn? He was just as arrogant and cruel, like everyone else in my family, and I was left ignorant, gullible and angry.

And Noah. I sighed and rolled onto my back, clutching my pillow to my chest. Had his door been sealed on purpose? Was it the boy from his past? What if it was something my wand had done, and it remained my fault after all? That was just as well; I had grown used to living with guilt.

I rolled over, still clutching the pillow. I was facing Emory’s bed now, her side table littered with copies of the Muggle newspaper she had her parents send her every week for news on their war. I was more interested in the wizarding war I’d heard spreading across Europe, or the war I faced with my parents every day. Thinking of my parents, I was struck by an idea. Grabbing parchment and a quill, I scribbled a note to them, asking for the details from the accident I had never asked about before. I glanced at the clock on the wall; if I hurried, I could make it to the Owlery and back in time for Quidditch practice.

I shoved the letter and my flying gear into my bag. Drat, where was my other glove? Yanking at the drawer of my own bedside table, three objects slid toward me. Noah’s old leather bracelet, my other glove and Secrets of the Darkest Art. I touched the bracelet softly, then lifted the book out, staring down at the black cover with grey lettering. I had wanted to bring it up to Tom on more than one occasion, but was never quite sure how. And if I was being honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Perhaps books like this were how he taught himself to move things using his mind. Then there was the fact that I was never sure if Finn was bullshitting me or not, trying to make Tom look bad in my eyes for whatever reason.

Bag packed, I hurried to the door and flung it open. Emory was standing on the other side, her hand raised as if reaching for the door handle. “Mistress, what cheer?” she asked, taking in my appearance.

I tucked my hair behind my ears and scooted past her. “Gotta send a letter before training,” I said, heading for the stairs.

“Wait, Hero.”

I stopped and turned, one foot on the stairs. “Yeah?”

“Let’s go to Hogsmeade this weekend, just you and me.”

The soft pleading in her voice squeezed my heart like a fist. “Sorry, Em, I already said I’d go with Morgan. But I’m sure you’d be welcome to come, if you’d like.”

She looked down at her feet. “Oh… No, that’s okay. I don’t really know him that well.”

“We’ll talk tonight, I promise.” I reached over and tugged gently on a lock of her long dark hair. A smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. I ran down the stairs, calling up, “I’ll grab some ice cream from the kitchens!”

But as I rushed through the portrait, I realised I forgot to ask her why she had been crying.

-

Briony and Tinley, two of my cousins, were at the base of the Owlery when I arrived. Both Blishwicks and both Slytherins, of course. They were talking in hushed tones, and I smiled at them as I hurried passed, until a snippet of their conversation reached my ears.

“…and whatever it is escaped from that Chamber, apparently.”
“But how is it attacking without being seen?”

I stopped and wheeled around.

“What’s this you’re talking about?” I asked as I approached them.

Tinley pushed her straight black hair over her shoulder. With her pale skin and protruding canines, I always thought she strongly resembled a vampire. In her soft lilting voice she said, “Didn’t you hear? Another student was found petrified a few hours ago.”

My jaw dropped. “No,” I said faintly. “What happened?”

Briony’s smile was full of malice. “Professor Tagg’s class came out of their lesson for lunch and saw the boy on the floor, same as that other girl. Got the shock of their lives apparently.”

Tinley shook her head. “How can you be so blasé? The poor child comes from a Muggle family, his parents must be worried sick.”

Briony smirked. “That’s what’s so funny.”

Honestly…” Tinley sighed and adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder. “See you in the common room,” she said to Briony. “Later, Hero.”

As Tinley walked away, I turned to Briony. Her hair, pulled back in a long ponytail, was the same shade as mine, and we had the same small nose, but where she was tall and athletic, I was middle height and not.

“Did you say something about a Chamber?”

Briony’s smile was back. “Oh, you know how people talk –”

“I know how you do,” I muttered.

“- and apparently there’s a secret chamber somewhere in the castle with a beast inside, and that’s what’s attacking students.”

My stomach lurched like I had missed a step. “What kind of beast?”

She shrugged. “No idea.”

I swallowed, my throat dry. “How’s Scout?”

“Yeah, she’s fine,” Briony replied quickly, eager as always to dismiss talk of her younger sister. Scout Blishwick was on an extended exchange program at Ilvermorny, and I often thought Briony was jealous that she had not been chosen.
The sun had sunk lower behind the mountains. I glanced at my watch and let out a yelp of surprise at the time. “Gotta go, see you Briony!”

“Whatever.”

I dashed up the steps of the Owlery two at a time, glad for the exercise as the air turned cool in the twilight. I burst inside, startling a few of the sleeping owls close by.

As I searched for Villain, a large black raven caught my eye. No, not raven; Tom’s owl, watching me with its wide yellow eyes from the perch near me. I waved a hand at it irritably, but it didn’t move. I sighed and coaxed Villain down from a higher perch. Stroking her soft brown feathers with the back of my finger, I attached the parcel to her leg.

The black owl flapped suddenly from its perch as if spooked, though the other owls remained sleepy-eyed. It soared through the window and I followed with Villain on my arm. It flew toward the ground, where a lone figure was waiting with an arm outstretched, standing where Briony and I had stood moments before. Even without the owl as a clue, I would recognise that dark hair and pale skin anywhere.

Tom turned his face up toward me, and my heart rate quickened. I quickly looked away, gave Villain a little kiss on the head and released her. I didn’t look back down as I stepped away from the window.

-

After training, I lingered in the changing rooms after everyone left, leaning on the sill of the open window. It was clear night; there must have been a thousand stars set like diamonds in a navy blue background. There was a cool wind, but for now it was welcome on my still flushed cheeks. I was waiting for a patch of stars to flicker, as if something had flown in front of them, carrying a reply. I knew it was foolish, that Villain probably hadn’t even made it the house yet, but I couldn’t help scanning the skies for the flapping of her little wings, hoping they were strong enough to carry the weight of the truth.

There were footsteps behind me and I turned to see Morgan, pulling a grey sweater over his head, hair as messy as ever. “Oh, you’re still here,” he said. “I was just about to head up.”

I pulled myself away from the window. “Me too, I’ll walk with you.”

The walk back to the castle was a quiet one. Without the wind whistling in my ears and my eye on the Quaffle, my mind was free to ponder Briony’s information. That poor boy, petrified like Marcy Howard. Had he looked into the eyes of a mysterious beast before it attacked him? Had he even had the time to feel scared? Or was his face found frozen in terror as well?

“Penny for your thoughts?”

I sighed. “I doubt they’re even worth a Knut.”

“Well that’s convenient, seeing as I have no amount of money on me at all.”

I smiled begrudgingly. “I was just thinking about the poor petrified kids.”

“I heard it was a magical creature,” Morgan said grimly as we climbed the castle steps.

“Apparently.”

Morgan went to walk up the stairs in the Entrance Hall, but I stopped, remembering my promise to Emory.

“I’ll see you later?” I said to him. “I’m going to try my luck at snagging some ice cream.”

Morgan’s foot hovered on the step. “Oh, well I’ll come with you. I’m friends with one or two of the house-elves.”

I couldn’t help a laugh. “What are you talking about?”

“’Make friends in high places’, isn’t that how the saying goes? I thought who better than the elves who make our food.” He winked.

“I like the way you think, Morgan Morris,” I said, but couldn’t help thinking of what my parents would make of him; a Muggle-born who considers servants his friends.

“Why thank you, Hero Blishwick.”

Morgan hadn’t been lying. Stepping into the huge kitchen, we were greeted by two house-elves who rushed forward and bowed low. I did a double take at one, recognising the gold flecks in her blue eyes when they straightened.

“Loddy?” I asked incredulously.

“Good evening, Mistress Hero!” Loddy squeaked, wringing her hands.

“What are you doing working here? Why aren’t you at Uncle Garson’s?”

“Loddy likes to visit and help Rooby sometimes, Miss,” Loddy replied, gesturing to the house elf next to her.

I noticed the purple bruises on Loddy’s large ears, but before I could ask about them, she and Rooby had already scuttled off, returning with tubs of ice-cream which they pushed into our hands before shooing us out of the kitchen. Morgan quickly grabbed two spoons from the tray by the door and we sat on the Entrance Hall steps, opening one of the tubs.

“So what’s your deal with Riddle?” Morgan asked, licking the back of his spoon.

“Nothing anymore,” I replied. “He was helping me study, until I found out he was an arrogant, prejudiced arse.”

“Well I could have told you that.”

I sighed and dug into the chocolate ice cream. The sound of running footsteps made us turn out heads in unison. They sounded light, but grew louder until a small girl, with a face as red as her hair, came barrelling into view. Her eyes were as round as saucers as she saw us and skidded to halt.

I pushed the ice cream aside and stood up quickly.

“Are you okay?” I asked as soothingly as I could manage over my hammering heart. “My name’s Hero, I’m a Prefect.”

The red-headed girl – a Hufflepuff by her robes – was breathing heavily, her grey eyes bright. “Oh!” she squeaked. “I, um, got lost trying to find my common room, and then I heard a noise –”

I knelt down to her level. “What kind of noise? Where?”

The girl pointed behind her. “Over there, like big, but I’m Muggle-born, I didn’t know if it was normal – Oh don’t leave me!” she cried as I made to move in the direction she had come from, followed closely by Morgan.

I stopped, Morgan nearly bumping into me. I looked up at him. “Mo, can you take her to the Hufflepuff common room? If you go just around there, she should remember the rest of the way.”

Morgan eyed me warily. “And what are you going to do?”

“I’m just going to have a look…”

He gave me a stern look. “Wait here. I’ll be two seconds.”

I nodded, but as soon as Morgan and the girl had disappeared around the corner, I continued in the other direction. The lit kitchen corridor ended abruptly into a wide room, but I couldn’t see further than a few feet in front of me before the rest was swallowed by darkness. The hairs prickled on the back of my neck, like I was being watched from the shadows. Was it the creature, hiding in the dark? My fingers itched to reach for my wand and light it, but something kept me rooted to the spot.

I sensed, rather than saw, something moving in the shadows, big but low. A rumbling sound, similar to what I heard in the dungeons, was growing fainter, but I still felt like I had swallowed an ice cube, and hardly noticed when Morgan came up behind me. I imagined this was what being in the presence of a Dementor felt like; cold, hopeless, sucked of any happy thought.

It’s how I felt when I drowned in my dreams.

-

A/N: I cannot thank Julie enough for this chapter! X



Chapter 6: The Wolf and the Sheep
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image by Fireheart @ tda


-

As I stepped into the Great Hall with Tom, the warm smell of bacon washed over me, making my mouth water. The Hall held only a scattering of students; stragglers with pitiful expression who lifted their bags as if they were full of bricks. But the breakfast dishes were still out, and that was all I needed. Tom directed me toward the empty end of the Slytherin table with a gentle push on the small of my back.

“Come sit,” he said, his voice always sounding so controlled. “You shouldn’t be alone.”

I sat, feeling uncomfortable, and glanced around nervously across the other three long tables. Fortunately, there were no Gryffindors in sight and none of the other students looked our way, so I turned back to where Tom was filling a plate of eggs and bacon for both of us.

I watched him, biting my lower lip. Wasn’t he supposed to be arrogant and mean like Finn’s other Slytherin friends? “Why are you being so nice?”

Tom blinked, handing me my plate. “I don’t understand.”

“Well, I’m… Gryffindor…” I mumbled.

Tom nodded slowly, but waited until he had chewed and swallowed his sausage before he answered. “It’s not the house crest you bear,” he said. “It’s who you are.”

I stared at him sluggishly. “What?”

“But, if you want to talk houses,” Tom continued. “You’re not like other Gryffindors.”

“Smarter?” I asked, jokingly, picking up a piece of toast. “Bigger swear word vocabulary? Better looking?”

“Darker.”

I froze. My appetite was gone so I set my toast down. He was looking at me, I could feel it, but I wouldn’t meet his eyes. My heart was beating so hard against my ribcage there’d surely be a bruise there later. I watched my wrist instead, where Tom had lightly lain his long fingers.

“I see it in you,” he murmured. “It’s… intoxicating. You’re dangerous.”

I looked at him then. And it wasn’t the intensity of his dark eyes that made my breath come short. It wasn’t the feel of his skin on mine. It wasn’t even that I found myself wondering if his lips felt as soft as they looked. It was that I couldn’t quite find the words to tell him he was wrong. What kind of Gryffindor came from a family of Slytherins? What kind of daughter disappointed her parents?

“Hippogriff shit,” I said under my breath.

Tom looked startled. “What?”

I moved my hand out from under his. “Can we go to class now?”

-

We were late to Potions, of course. As Tom and I stood together in the doorway, we were met with every pair of eyes from the rest of the class, already seated with their notebooks out. Tom apologised to Professor Slughorn with a smile. It was the smile I was beginning to refer to as his teacher smile, because that’s the only time I saw it. It looked rather like a Blishwick smile.

“Not at all, Tom, Hero,” Professor Slughorn nodded to each of us. “Take a seat. It’ll have to be that one there.” He pointed to the only free desk in the back corner and turned back to the blackboard, where the words resumed writing themselves with a flick of his wand.

I didn’t look at Tom as we obediently took our places at the desk. To look at him was to remember him calling me intoxicating. It made something under my skin shiver, but not unpleasantly. That was the problem.

Half the class was still watching us. The other half probably was too, and just weren’t as obvious about it. I smoothed my hair down self-consciously and looked around the classroom as boldly as I could. Theo was glaring at Tom. Emory looked at me excitedly. Finn began making out with his hand.

Throughout the period, I brewed the Calming Draught we were working on with half a mind. I couldn’t stop thinking of the girl petrified on the ground. Dark Magic, Madam Flint had said. But what student could really be capable?

Tom leaned past me to grab the bowl of poppy seeds and brushed my arm with his as he did so. My arm prickled as if an invisible energy source surged between our skins, and I flinched. He didn’t seem to feel anything, his concentration dedicated to his cauldron. Maybe I was over tired, my senses hyper aware. After all, he was the intoxicating one. The dangerous one. I was just a teenage girl with a temper and a troll for a twin.

“…but I think two or three should suffice. Hero?”

“Hm?” I looked up, startled out of my reverie. Tom was looking at me expectantly.

“Have you heard a word I’ve said?”

“Ah… no. Sorry.”

The sound of whispers reached my ears and I looked up. Across the classroom, two of my Gryffindor classmates had their heads bent close together, shooting glances my way. They hastily straightened when they caught me watching them. I sighed and stared down at my cauldron. Its contents resembled thick mud. A disheartening glance at the recipe said it should be a pale blue.

“And how are you two getting along?” Professor Slughorn boomed from across the classroom as he headed toward us.

In a series of hand movements so quick his fingers were a blur, Tom dropped an assortment of ingredients into my cauldron, and hissed at me to stir it. I did so, dazed, and my potion turned a pale blue. Professor Slughorn reached us and peered into each of our cauldrons. He clapped his hands delightedly in front of his red waistcoat.

“I expected nothing less from two of my star pupils!” he beamed. “OWLs will be a breeze for you, I’m sure.”

OWLs. I couldn’t let my parents down. Not again. I looked sadly back down at my potion and slouched lower in my chair, rubbing my eyes against the tiredness that washed over me.

“Professor,” Tom began cordially. “I wonder if you might excuse Hero. She’s had a long night. I’m sure you heard, sir, a trusted member of staff such as yourself…”

“I did, I did,” Professor Slughorn said heavily.

I’d meant to look at Tom with appreciation; a kind of silent thank you that showed Professor Slughorn that I wasn’t behind Tom’s asking, but it turned into more of a gape.

“You may go, Hero,” Professor Slughorn said. Then, lowering his voice so just the two of us could hear; “Watch for my owl, you two. I’m planning the finest Halloween party for my most gifted students!” He walked away rubbing his hands.

“See you in Transfiguration?” Tom whispered to me.

I nodded and mouthed, ‘Thank you.’

Climbing Gryffindor Tower, I expected the common room to be empty, but, once the Fat Lady let me in, I saw a boy lounging on the couch with a book. My heart warmed as I recognised him. Messy brown hair, constantly in a state that suggested he had just stepped off his broom, even when he hadn’t, and friendly hazel eyes that could only be described as puppy dog: Morgan Morris, fellow Chaser of the Gryffindor Quidditch team of which he was our new captain.

He looked up as I entered, face splitting into a grin. “Hey, Ro.”

“Hey, Mo. Why aren’t you in class?”

“Free period. What’s your excuse?” He moved his legs to the floor and patted the cushion next to him in invitation.

I walked over and threw myself onto the couch next to him, depositing my feet in his lap. “Just needed to get away.”

Morgan looked at me sympathetically. “The demands of fifth year catching up to you already, are they?”

I draped a hand over my face, hiding in the crook of my elbow.

“And Quidditch practice hasn’t even started yet,” he added brightly.

I groaned. I had almost forgotten about Quidditch. I closed my eyes against my arm; the crackle of the fire and the easiness of being with Morgan was lulling me further into drowsiness.

He drummed his fingers on my ankle. After a short silence he asked, “Finn been expelled yet?”

“Unfortunately no, but it’s still early.”

“I bet your parents would still favour him more than you.” He didn’t say it maliciously – I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad thing come out of his mouth – he just said it as the fact it was. “Are they breathing down your neck in double time?”

“And then some.” Especially after seeing a Muggle in secret. I sighed. I’m the ultimate Blishwick black sheep.

Darker.’

“Sometimes,” Morgan mused. “I’m glad both my parents are Muggles.” He patted my leg. “You’ll be okay, Ro. You always are.”

I hoped he was right.

-

“I’m telling you, it’s nothing,” I whispered, but I really needn’t have bothered; the classroom was full of chatter and owl hoots. “The three of us are prefects that happened to have rounds at the same time.”

Emory went back to doodling on the corner of her parchment. “Okay then,” she said; she sounded disappointed and a little bit unconvinced.

I wanted to say more to her. I wanted to gush about what Tom had said and how it made me feel, but I couldn’t do that without telling her about Noah. I wanted to scream why I was scared, but I couldn’t tell her about the petrified girl. I wanted to admit how I had come to spend the better part of the night with Tom, but I couldn’t tell her about Theo.

So I settled for poking my owl, Villain, with my wand instead, trying to transfigure her into a pair of opera glasses. Villain. Isn’t Finn hilarious? But the little brown owl and I get along fine, I don’t think she minded when she was replaced with a big white owl and handed down to me. I don’t think she minds the joke behind her name. Villain knows it’s not personal.

She did mind being poked with my wand, though, and eyed me agitatedly. I looked around the classroom for Professor Dumbledore, poised for attempting the spell for real should he be near, but he was at the back of the room, hovering around Tom’s desk, his blue eyes intent. Tom had his own wand poised before his owl.

His owl was so black that, were it not for its bright yellow eyes and tufts of feathers on its head, it could have been a raven. Something about it had me repressing a shudder, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why.

There had been a raven on the road before Noah swerved off the bridge.

I closed my eyes, suddenly feeling nauseous, but whether it was from the memory of the raven or the memory of falling I wasn’t sure. Perhaps both. When I opened them again, Tom’s owl had become a perfect pair of black opera glasses, complete with a gold ornate trim.

“Excellent work, Tom,” Professor Dumbledore said, pleased.

Tom didn’t smile his teacher smile as he nodded once in thanks. In fact, none of the familiar friendliness he showed Professor Slughorn was evident on his face. But Professor Dumbledore said nothing more as he drifted toward the front of the classroom. I turned back, chin in my hand and poked at Villain again.

“Miss Blishwick, Miss Baxter.” Professor Dumbledore stopped in front of our desk and gazed down at us through his half-moon spectacles. “How are you coming along?”

“Nothing yet, Professor,” Emory said, subtly inching her hand over to cover her idle drawing.

“Show me.”

We obediently recited the incantation and performed the wand movement. Mine almost worked; Villain transformed into what looked like a pair of opera glasses, but were still covered in feathers, so they resembled more of a fancy masquerade mask. Emory’s owl didn’t change at all.

“Practice,” he said. Then, lowering his voice, “And try the manoeuvre more slowly.” He gave a tiny wink and walked away.

I dropped my head into my hands. I never struggled with magic and now I was being shown up by Tom Riddle. How did he stay so focused? Did he really have nothing else bothering him in his life? I cast a glance over my shoulder at him.

“He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf,” Emory said casually, flipping through her transfiguration book.

“I’ll take my chances,” I said dryly.

-

I found him sitting at the same desk in the corner of the library, dark head bent, intently reading. I almost felt bad as I approached, ready to interrupt. Almost.

“I need help.”

He looked up, his eyes trailing up and down my body as if it were physical help I was referring to. “Can you elaborate?”

I huffed and sat opposite him. “I have to pass my OWLs. With colours of the flying kind.”

One of his eyebrows twitched in amusement. “And you want me to tutor you?”

“Unless you want to find out just how dark I am inside if you refuse, yes.”

He smiled. It wasn’t his teacher smile, it was a smile that made my heart skip a beat. “I wouldn’t dare refuse,” he said, closing his book and pushing it aside. A quick glance at the spine told me it was Great Wizards of the Nineteenth Century. “Okay. We’ll start with Transfiguration. You’ll need that book by Dusty Laroux - No, wait.” He held up a hand to stop me as I went to rise from the chair.

He flicked his eyes to the bookshelf behind me and I turned. A large tattered book had wiggled itself out of the shelf and was floating toward me. Once it was in reaching distance, I grabbed it. I looked from him to the book to him again. His wand was lying on the desk, untouched, next to a small block of dark chocolate he appeared to always have on him. Had he done that with his mind?

Tom’s smile widened at the confusion that must have been plain on my face. I had time to note he had very straight teeth before I raised my eyes to his. They were so dark, and had his lashes always been that long? My heart skipped another beat.

You’re dangerous.’

But I wasn’t the only one.

-

A/N: A quote (from Emory, who else?) borrowed from William Shakespeare's King Lear and a lot more thanks to Julie (banshee) for her incredible help!


Chapter 7: The Kiss
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When I returned to the common room with Morgan, we found Theo still up, gazing into the dying fire. The reflection of the orange glow danced in his eyes, making them look large and sad, and my heart gave a small squeeze at the sight. They were like Noah’s eyes. Morgan looked like he wanted to stay; he was hovering, bending down to tie his shoelace, but I bid him goodnight, and with a small smile that didn’t reach his eyes, he disappeared up the dormitory steps. I dropped down beside Theo.

“What are you doing up?” I asked. I picked up The Daily Prophet left on the table, scanning the front page. More attacks in France, led by Grindelwald. More Muggles dead without reason. I shivered despite the warmth of the room, glad his movements hadn’t yet reached Britain.

Theo stirred sleepily, as if I had pulled him out of a trance. “I had rounds,” he replied. “I need to talk to you, actually. About your cousin.”

“Which one?” I asked wryly, thumbing through the pages of the Prophet.

“Sebastian.”

I snapped my head up, paper forgotten. Sebastian wasn’t the cousin I had been expecting. At thirteen, he was kinder, quieter and more sensitive than the other Blishwicks put together. He wouldn’t hurt a flitterby.

“What’s he done?”

Theo rubbed his face with his hands. “The usual blood traitor gibe, that I’m the brother of a dirt-blood whore and Bonnie’s no better than the Muggle she married.” He picked at a spot on his trousers. “But I’m not mad at him. It was a half-hearted effort. I think Finn put him up to it.”

I sighed. “Most likely. Sebastian would never say that on his own.”

Theo continued to stare into the fire, a forlorn expression on his face. I tentatively laid a hand on his back.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

Theo was tense under my hand, but I felt him relax after a moment, and he gave a small smile. He sat up and jerked his chin toward the dormitory steps that Morgan had just climbed.

“I don’t think your parents would approve,” he said, a wry smile on his lips.

I followed his gaze. “We’re just friends.”

Theo quirked an eyebrow. “I don’t think he sees it that way.”

I gave him an exasperated look. Theo could think what he liked. It wasn’t the thought of Morgan’s face that made my skin prickle; it was Tom’s, even after he had made his views on Muggles known. I rubbed my arms, a shiver passing through me despite the fire. I wished I could use a vanishing spell to rid myself of the feeling Tom gave me; it left me confused and hurt. After a short silence, Theo rose and said goodnight with a squeeze of my hand.

It was my turn to stare into the coals of the dying fire.

-

Hero,

Thank you for returning the book. What Finlay says is true, the Muggle police couldn’t get the driver door of the car open. You know how primitive Muggle transportation is. The strapping device on his side was faulty and stuck, too, which also goes to show.

We hope you’re keeping on top of your studies. You don’t need us to tell you how important OWL year is.

From Mum and Dad
.

Villain nipped gently at my arm, so I fed her a bit of bacon from my plate as I stared at the letter. Apprehension threatened to bring up my breakfast but I fought against it, my mind buzzing with questions like the excited weekend chatter of the students around me. For Noah’s door to be locked and seat belt to stick seemed like too much of an awful coincidence. Was it a result of crashing into the water? Was my wand really capable? I thought of how Noah must have struggled, how trapped he must have felt, like I did in my dreams. Did someone else have a hand in this? I swallowed the lump in my throat, my eyes burning. Hands shaking, I took a hasty gulp of orange juice, as if I could swallow the feeling down. Why hadn’t I gone back? What if I could have saved him?

Emory sat down beside me and I jumped. As she reached for a plate, I quickly wiped my face with my sleeve. She had already been asleep when I returned to the dormitory last night and she hadn’t been there when I woke up this morning. Her brown hair hung in messy waves and when she turned to look at me, I saw the purple bags under her eyes. Her eyebrows furrowed in worry and she asked, “What’s the matter?”

I leant my head against Emory’s shoulder so she couldn’t see my eyes, giving them a chance to dry. She smelled faintly of sweat, not her usual flowery perfume.

“I could ask the same of you,” I said.

“You’ve been crying.” She pushed food around her plate, her shoulder moving under my cheek.

I ignored her comment. Beside me, Villain stretched her wings and took flight. I lifted my face to follow her movements, keeping an eye out for Morgan, as we were going to Hogsmeade today. She flew over a small, familiar figure standing in the entrance to the Great Hall. Sebastian.

“I’ll be right back,” I murmured to Emory as I rose from my seat. I hastily shoved the letter into my pocket as I approached my cousin, who was rifling through his leather bag, dark hair sticking up at the back.

“Hey Bash.”

Sebastian looked up, brown eyes wide. “Oh, hey.”

I slipped my hands into my pockets. “How are you?”

“Er, fine.”

“How’s Uncle Kagan?” I asked of his father.

Sebastian looked wary. “He’s fine too.”

“Alright, look,” I said briskly, “Stay away from Finn, okay? You’re so much better than his crowd of idiots.”

Sebastian looked startled. “I don’t -” He broke off as two men and a woman in matching purple uniforms approached us, grim expressions on their faces. They carried small silver cases, and as they passed us and entered The Great Hall, I glimpsed at the words on the back of their shirts: Magical Creature Control. Sebastian’s dark brown eyes were wide as he watched them disappear into the room behind the staff table.

I lowered my voice and crossed my arms over my chest. “Theo told me what you said to him. Just stay away from Finn, alright?”

Sebastian looked up at me and said in a small voice, “I just want to be friends with Tom Riddle. I-I want to be like him. You should hear how my dad and Uncle Jameson talk about him, after he stayed at yours.”

I bit my lip. I hardly saw Tom during his stay over the summer, but I could imagine all too well how much my father would approve of someone like Tom. Especially compared to someone like me.

“Uncle Jameson would never talk about me like that,” Sebastian said glumly to his feet.

“Hey,” I said gently, and he looked up. “That’s not a bad thing, you know. My dad has a pretty shallow view on what makes a person worthy of his time, and Tom’s not perfect.” I thought of our conversation by the statue. “You’re in Slytherin at the very least, it could be worse.” I gestured to myself.

“Hero!”

I turned to see Morgan walking down the stairs toward us, jumping the last one. I smiled at him in acknowledgement before turning back to Sebastian. I ruffled his dark hair affectionately, earning a weak smile.

“You and I have to stick together,” I said. “We’re different from everyone else in our family, and that’s okay.” I hoped I sounded convincing; it was something I desperately wanted to believe.

Sebastian’s smile grew wider as he nodded, hitching his bag over his shoulder and disappearing among the throng of people in the Great Hall.

Morgan reached me and grinned. “You ready?”

I glanced across to the Gryffindor table for Emory, but she was gone. With a shrug, I turned back to Morgan. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

As we stepped through the castle doors, the cold air outside bit through my coat. The sky was filled with slate-grey clouds, and thunder rumbled behind the mountains as we walked along the road to Hogsmeade. We kept up a conversation about O.W.Ls, under the workload of which I was slowly catching up, until we were passing through the main street. Morgan grabbed the end of my red scarf and tickled my face with the tassels. “So, where do you fancy?” he asked.

I pulled my scarf out of his hand and elbowed him playfully. “As long as it’s warm and sells coffee, I’m easy.”

He grinned. “Is that so?”

I punched his arm. “How rude.”

The Bean and the Pod was at the end of the street, and as we entered, the warm smell of cinnamon and coffee washed over me. I breathed it in deeply. Morgan sat down at a table by the window, but I remained standing, my eyes fixed on a black dot with eight legs on the window sill. Morgan furrowed his brow at me before following my line of vision. He saw the spider, clucked his tongue and trapped it under one of the empty water glasses from the table.

“You know how rare mastilios actually are, right?” he asked.

I sat down cautiously, eyeing the spider in its glass prison. “When one is as allergic as me, one cannot be too careful.”

Morgan rolled his eyes good-naturedly and tapped at the glass, making the spider scuttle around the tiny space. I shivered, remembering the first time I had been bitten, as a child. Thankfully my parents had been nearby, so that when my throat began to close and my skin began to burn, they had Floo’d me to St Mungo’s. I pushed the memory of the pain firmly out of my head.

We ordered two coffees off the young waitress who approached our table, and when she left, I leaned back comfortably in my seat.

“What are these new Quidditch tactics, then?” I asked.

Morgan waved a hand vaguely. “Plenty of time for that. Did you hear about the latest attacks in France?”

The waitress returned with our coffees and we continued to talk about Grindelwald until our second cups were empty. Morgan pushed his cup and saucer to the side, took a deep breath, and said slowly, “There’s something I wanted to ask you actually…”

He reached over and covered my hand resting on the table with his own. A sinking feeling began in my stomach as I realised, perhaps too late, the meaning behind Morgan asking me to Hogsmeade, and that Theo had been right.

“I was wondering… if you’ve ever considered being more than friends. With me.”

I licked dry lips. Of course I had considered it once or twice; when I’d glimpsed the smooth hard muscles of his arms through his Quidditch uniform or tried deliberately to make him laugh because it was such an infectious sound. But he was Muggle-born. If my parents wanted me to end my relationship with Theo just because his sister had married a Muggle, what would they say if I brought Morgan home? So, I lied.

“Oh… I’m really sorry Mo, but no. I’d rather we just be friends.”

Morgan’s face fell and my heart gave a painful squeeze in my chest. He shrugged and one side of his mouth lifted up. “It’s okay. Was worth a shot, right?”

I smiled and squeezed his hand still in mine. Loud laughter sounded outside and I turned my head to look, and instantly regretted it. Finn, Tom, Lestrange and Avery were walking past, and Finn caught my eye. He stopped, a zealous look crossing his face. I snatched my hand away from Morgan’s, but too late; Finn waggled a finger in a ‘No’ action. My stomach did a backflip.

“Excuse me,” I mumbled, and quickly stepped outside the café.

Finn grinned maliciously as I approached him.

“Tut tut, Hero,” he said. “Up to your blood traitor tricks again? I wonder what dad would say?”

“Finn, please, don’t,” I begged, low voiced.

Morgan had followed me out of the café and now focused his gaze on me, apprehension dawning on his face. “Is that what this is about? Your parents?”

I said, “No,” at the same time Finn said, “Yes.”

I glared at my brother, then looked at Morgan helplessly.

Morgan shook his head and turned away without another word. He headed back up the street, shoulders hunched, feet crunching on the gravel. I made to follow him, but a hand on my shoulder stopped me.

“Let him go,” Tom said softly.

I shrugged out of his grip and took a step back, as much to get away from him as to discourage the traitorous heat that rose in my cheeks when he touched me. I watched as Morgan’s back grew smaller.

“Fucking Mudblood,” Finn spat.

My hands began to shake. I drew my wand from my pocket and aimed it at Finn, but my spell missed, shooting past his shoulder to hit the brick wall behind him in a shower of sparks. Caught by surprise all the same, Finn stumbled back, but before I could get closer to him an arm slipped around my waist and yanked me swiftly back.

I thought I heard Tom say my name - it was him holding me back - but I couldn’t hear over the blood pounding in my eardrum.

Lestrange and Avery had their wands drawn too, but Tom called them off, his voice full of warning. Finn straightened, wiping his nose on his sleeve as he looked at me.

“I’d be careful if I were you,” he said.

“And why is that?” I was aware of Tom’s arm still around me and quickly stepped away, adjusting my scarf as I did so.

“Making friends with the little Mudbloods like you do.” Finn came closer to me but I stood my ground. “You’ll end up with no friends at all.”

“What in Merlin’s name are you talking about?” I asked. I couldn’t help swallowing nervously.

Finn’s eyes, amused, darted to Tom again, then back to me. “Make way for the Heir of Slytherin,” he whispered.

Avery and Lestrange sniggered. I narrowed my eyes at them, but thought better of asking. I shook my head, turned on my heel and stalked back to the castle.

-

I sat with Emory in Defence Against the Dark Arts. She was quiet, staring out of the window to the raincloud-filled sky more than she usually did, but I didn’t have the chance to speak with her before class started, when Professor Merrythought walked between the desks of the classroom, giving every second student a folded piece of blank paper.

“In a moment,” she said returning to the front of classroom, footsteps clicking on the floor. “You will open your paper and the name of your practice partner will appear. It is completely random and there will be no swapping in order for you to be paired with your friends.” She stood at the front of the classroom, hands behind her back and looking sternly at us down her long nose. “I don’t care if you don’t fancy your partner; perhaps it will motivate you all the more to defend yourselves against them.”

I looked down at the piece of paper, feeling dread in my stomach. I knew exactly whose name would appear once I opened it.

“Alright, you may find your partner now.”

The sounds of ruffling paper, mingled with whoops of joy and groans of dissatisfaction filled the room, but I waited a long moment before I finally unfolded the paper, staring grimly at the name that appeared.

Tom Riddle.

I glanced over my shoulder at him. Tom was scanning the classroom, and when his eyes rested on me, I held up the piece of paper. The corner of his mouth turned up. Emory murmured a “Fare thee well,” to me, and no sooner than she left to sit with her partner, Tom slid into the desk next to me. I refused to meet his eye, busying myself with lining up my books and quill into a straight row.

“Hero.”

The sound of my name on his lips sent a pleasant shiver down my spine, but I ignored it.

“Look at me. Please.”

I did, chiding myself for noticing that his hair was slightly more tousled today than it usually was.

“I want you to know that I’m sorry,” Tom murmured. “For what I said about the Muggle. It was thoughtless of me. Do you forgive me?”

I chewed my bottom lip as I regarded him. He looked genuine; his dark eyes pleading as he searched my face. The way he had dismissed Noah’s life was wrong, but he seemed to know that, more than my family did anyway. Apologise was a word in a language most Blishwicks didn’t speak. I sighed, inwardly swore at myself, and nodded. He smiled and looked so relieved that I found myself relaxing as well. Professor Merrythought began explaining our assignment - practicing three offensive and defensive spells of our choice and an essay on the wand movement of each. As we opened our books to decide on spells, I lowered my voice and asked, “What was Finn talking about the other day? The Heir of Slytherin or something?”

Tom didn’t look up from his book. “What do you know?”

“Only that it sounds better than the Heir of Blishwick,” I said, “and that they’re probably more intelligent.”

One side of Tom’s mouth curled upward. “When the school was built, Slytherin created a secret chamber to hide a monster. A monster designed to dispose of Muggle-borns.”

My mouth went dry. “Dispose?” My thoughts went to Emory and Morgan. I glanced over my shoulder at Emory, her pretty mouth nibbling on the end of her quill as she listened to her partner, Libby Mackenzie.

When I turned back, Tom’s mouth still held the hint of a smile. “It is said that his heir would one day return to the school and release it.”

I swallowed. “So it is a student, after all?”

Tom looked up from his book, stern as he said, “Hero, I know you’ve been involving yourself in finding who’s behind it, but please stop. It could be dangerous.”

I looked at him slyly. “I thought I was the dangerous one?”

He shook his head, seriousness on his handsome face. “Not this time.”

As class finished and we were packing our things away, Professor Merrythought called Tom over. As I watched, distracted, Finn passed by my desk, latest girlfriend in tow, and knocked my bag to the ground with a snigger. The contents of my bag scattered around the floor, and with a defeated sigh I stooped to pick everything up. By the time I straightened, the classroom had emptied but for Tom and Professor Merrythought, who were speaking at the front of the classroom in low voices. I lingered, but they had clearly finished their conversation. Professor Merrythought walked to the classroom door, smiling at me as she passed, her long grey hair swinging down her back. The door shut silently behind her.

“What was that about?” I asked Tom as he joined me by the desk.

“She gave us permission to use the classroom for practice. We have a free period now, want to start?”

I felt a stab of jealousy so fierce it surprised me. I was working to be the student he was, receiving privileges for being the teachers’ favourite, so that my parents would be proud. I bit my lip as I thought on what I said to Sebastian. If dad approved of Tom, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. He had helped me study in the past, after all. I nodded.

We set up cushions to practice stunning jinxes, one of the offensive spells we had chosen. After half an hour of practice, one of Tom’s spells rebounded off my shoe, making me stumble back and fall onto my backside on the cushions. Tom let out a snort of amusement as he looked down at me, and I was reminded of that night in the library, the first time we had spoken. Instead of offering me a hand up, Tom sat down beside me, so close our shoulders touched. The movement sent a lock of hair into his eyes. He drew his knees up and rested his chin on them, head turned toward me. Without thinking, I raised a hand and pushed his hair back, the skin on his forehead smooth and warm. I flushed, suddenly aware of what I was doing. But, before I could yank my hand back, Tom caught it in his and turned to kiss my palm.

My skin burned where his lips touched it, as if they were made of fire, and my heart raced in my chest. He leaned closer, his breath stirring my hair, and pressed his mouth to mine. The kiss was small and gentle, and his lips were as soft as they looked. I closed my eyes, letting everything about him wash over me. He tasted faintly of chocolate, the kind he always had with him; not sweet, not bitter, but always leaving you wanting more. Like Tom himself. His fingers tenderly pushed my hair back over my ears, and all too soon, he he broke the kiss.

“Are you free tonight?” he asked quietly.

I shook my head softly, fighting to keep a goofy smile off my face. “I have patrol.”

“Where?”

“First floor.”

“Skip it.”

I let out a short burst of laughter. “And you a Prefect!”

“I’m serious. The school has magical creature experts patrolling the castle at night now. I’m sure they can manage without you for one night.”

I tried to look at him dubiously, but my eyes kept darting to the fullness of his bottom lip.

“Okay,” I whispered.

-

I couldn’t stop glancing behind me as I climbed the steps to the Astronomy Tower. Not only was I skirting my responsibilities and wandering the castle on my own with a beast on the loose, but the Tower was out of bounds at night. My palms were sweaty despite the warmth of my coat and I wiped them on trousers. I shuddered as I thought of what my parents would say if they found out about my rule-breaking.

As I climbed the final step, I saw Tom standing by the parapet on the balcony, hands clasped behind his back as he stared up at the sky. A small thrill went through me at the sight of him. I smoothed my hair down and went to stand beside him.

“Why did you choose to meet here?” I whispered, still looking over my shoulder nervously.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

I had to agree with him as I followed his gaze; the view from this high up took my breath away. I couldn’t see the ground in the dark, nor the outline of the forest. The blackness gave the illusion of being in space, surrounded by thousands of stars, twinkling like light caught in diamonds.

“Come here,” he said softly, pulling me gently by the shoulders to stand in front of him. I placed my hands on the cold stone of the parapet.

“Can you see Corvus?” he asked.

“I’ve never even heard of it,” I replied, scanning the stars all the same.

“Apollo’s raven,” Tom said from behind me. “Cursed from white to black for not protecting Apollo’s wife.”

I shivered, then asked impatiently, “Where?”

“It’s right there.” He pointed over my shoulder. “Next to Virgo.”

I turned around and raised an eyebrow at him exasperatedly. Tom sighed and took a step closer to me. He crouched slightly so that his chin was just above my shoulder, but not quite touching. Butterflies erupted in my stomach at our close proximity. I was having a hard time making out any constellations while his hair was tickling my cheek.

“There,” he whispered. His breath was warm in my ear and I suppressed a shiver, goosebumps erupting over my body.

Tom stepped back, but before I had time to feel disappointed, his hands came up to rest on my shoulders. The warmth from them seemed to travel all the way down to my toes. Then, the pressure on my shoulders increased as he turned me around to face him. In the moonlight, his pale face almost glowed, like he was a light in the dark.

“You’re trembling,” he said softly. A light breeze ruffled through his hair and mine, a lock of it brushed across my face. Tom raised a hand and pushed it tenderly back behind my ear and let his hand rest there, cupping my cheek.

“I’m just… cold,” I said breathlessly. My heart was beating so loudly, there was no way he couldn’t hear it. It quickened as he leant forward, then stopped altogether when he pressed his lips to mine. It was gentle at first, as it had been in the classroom, his mouth soft and firm. But this time, I didn’t want gentle. I nipped his bottom lip and was rewarded with a gasp. His mouth opened against mine and the kiss deepened. His hands trailed from my shoulders down to my waist, and I lifted my arms around his neck, fingers wrapping around the hair that curled at the nape of his neck. It felt like minutes, hours, or days had passed before we finally broke apart. He looked down at me and said quietly, “Hero Blishwick.”

“Yes, Tom Riddle?” I replied, sounding breathless.

His grip on my waist tightened, but only fractionally; I thought I imagined it. His voice was husky as he asked, “Will you go steady with me?”

My heart spun in my chest like a sneakoscope, a wide smile spreading across my face. “Yes,” I said, surprised and pleased at how steady my voice sounded. The starlight reflected in his eyes like it would on the surface of a dark lake, and I thought I could swim in them forever.

“I don’t have anything to give you,” he said apologetically.

I unclasped my hands from around his neck and brought them down to either side of his face. “You’re enough,” I whispered, and kissed him again.

I had my back to the stunning view of the night, but it didn’t matter, nothing did. The sky could keep its stars. Because the two of us were individual balls of light, burning where our skin came into contact, and when our lips met, we became a supernova, so blinding and beautiful I shut my eyes against it, until there was nothing but him and me.

What were the stars when you belonged to Tom Riddle?

-

A/N: Julie, this is for you, because you are amazing.


Chapter 8: The Descent into Hell
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My name is Hero Blishwick, and Tom Riddle is my boyfriend.

Boyfriend. It was strange to think, even though the term wasn’t a new one to me. I sat up in bed, raising a hand to my lips, the memory of Tom’s touch from last night lingering. I felt my lips stretch into a smile against my fingertips, and couldn’t help but think of how happy my parents would be when they found out. I swung my legs over the side of my bed, the drawn curtains tickling my feet, and picked up the invitation to Slughorn’s Halloween party. It felt heavy as a Bludger in my hands. Would Tom and I go together? Was he going to ask me?

Excitement bubbled in my stomach at the thought; I had to tell Em. I opened the curtains of my four-poster, and blinked when I found Emory’s bed empty. Looking around, I saw the other girls’ beds were empty too, Leighton Mullins’ as messy as always. I checked my watch and let out a groan. It was already mid-morning; I was running late for class.

Again.

-

I jogged under a dark grey sky to Greenhouse Three, where we would be tending to the sleeping Mandrakes our class had been assigned to as both revision, and for the need to revive the petrified students. I flung open the glass door, already feeling stifled by the heat, the humidity causing my hair to curl at my temples.

Class had already started; everyone was at a bench with a Mandrake or two before them, trimming the leaves or gently turning the soil. Professor Beery turned as I entered, his jolly face looking relieved, the gold buttons of his coat straining over his protruding belly.

“Ah, there you are, Miss Blishwick. I’m glad to see you here; we need all the help we can get. But I’m afraid I’ll be taking five points from Gryffindor for your tardiness.”

“Yes, Professor.” I sighed and looked around the greenhouse.

Theo was at a bench to himself, opposite two Hufflepuff girls. Emory was nowhere to be seen, so I went to stand by Theo, who let out a low whistle when he saw me.

“Hello to you too,” I said, dropping my bag and nudging it under the bench with my foot.

“What happened to you last night?”

“What?” My hands flew to my mouth, even though I’d used a light freezing charm to reduce the swelling on my lips before I came down.

Theo raised an eyebrow. “You look tired.”

I lowered my hand. “Oh… yeah. Late night.” I gently pulled the pot of a quietly snoring Mandrake toward me and picked up a pair of scissors.

“Hi Hero,” said a voice.

I looked up. It was one of the Hufflepuff girls, Brindley McCroy. She was very pretty, her dark long lashed eyes crinkling as she smiled at me.

“Hi,” I said, unable to keep the uncertainty from my voice; she had never spoken to me before.

She seemed satisfied by this and turned back to her Mandrake. Theo nudged my shoulder with his.

“You monster hunting today?” he asked quietly, green eyes holding a spark of amusement.

I snipped at a brown leaf. “Unfortunately no. I’m off duty.”

“Um, how’s Emory doing?” Theo asked.

I directed my gaze back to him, wondering why he was asking me, but he was looking determinedly at his Mandrake, all mirth gone from his face.

I raised an eyebrow. “She’s okay, I suppose. I think there’s something bothering her recently, though.”

Theo blinked in surprise. “You haven’t spoken to her? We aren’t dating anymore.”

His words hit me like a blow to the stomach. “W-what?”

Theo furrowed his brow. “I ended it last week. She really didn’t tell you?”

I swallowed. “I guess I… I haven’t really spoken to her lately. I’ve been -”

“Busy?” Theo said grimly.

I met his gaze, guilt and shame washing over me so strongly I felt nauseous. Had I really been that distracted with Tom and the monster that I neglected my best friend? We worked in silence for the rest of the lesson, until the bell sounded for the end of class.

“Thank you, fifth years,” Professor Beery said, looking around at us all, his expression uncharacteristically serious. “Your help is very much appreciated to restore the petrified students back to their normal selves. I’ve been asked to remind you that everything is under control; we have experts searching the castle and patrolling with your Prefects. Just keep to the curfew and don’t walk the corridors alone, yes?”

When I stepped outside, tightening my coat against the fine drizzle of rain, I glanced toward Greenhouse Five, from which the Slytherins and Ravenclaws were filing out, but I didn’t see Tom. I did see Finn, however, standing by the greenhouses with his girlfriend, a blonde girl in green robes. Their heads were bent close together, the girl’s bottom lip was trembling. As I watched, she drew a hand back and slapped Finn across the face before tossing her hair over her shoulder and storming away.

Finn straightened and looked around, slightly dazed. When he spotted me, he began walking over, an uncharacteristically bleak expression on his face.

“That didn’t last long,” I said, bracing myself as he came closer, ready for whatever he was about to hurl at me.

But nothing came. He only shrugged, a gloomy expression relaxing his features. His face was strangely vulnerable with all trace of wickedness gone. He almost looked as he did when we were children.

“It wasn’t working anymore,” he said as we walked side by side toward the castle, our feet sinking into the wet grass.

“Really?” I said in mock surprise. “Because she has breasts and is a Slytherin, I thought she was perfect for you.”

Finn rolled his eyes and gave me an exasperated look, so I gave him a Blishwick smile. There was something friendly about the way he looked at me, sarcastic though it was; I could almost forget everything he had done recently. I wondered if Tom had said something to him.

“She’s not - well, there’s...” he hesitated, and sighed. “He wouldn’t approve.”

I didn’t have to ask to know he was referring to our father, and I glanced at him in surprise. Drops of rain had caught in his eyelashes, glistening like tears. My brother had a secret? “You can’t do wrong in their eyes as long as I’m around. You know that.”

Finn brightened as we climbed the stone steps into the Entrance Hall. “True, especially since that Muggle of yours turned up on their doorstep the other day.”

I stopped dead. “What Muggle?”

He stopped too and gave a one shoulder shrug. “Dunno. Darcy something?”

My mouth went dry. Darcy. Darcy Roland, Noah’s roommate.

“Come on, you’ll like her, I promise,” Noah said, slipping his hand into mine. I could feel the rougher patch of skin that ran across his palm; a now-healed scar from long ago.

I eyed the tiny apartment dubiously. We were on the outskirts of Little Hangleton, staring up at the dingy, grey stone building. Rubbish littered the street and I wrinkled my nose against the smell, but Noah looked at me with such expectant excitement that I forced a smile on my face.

The inside of the apartment was small, but cosy. It was clean, I was relieved to find; I had half expected it to look like the outside. The couches were covered in flowery cushions and the lampshades fringed with tassels. Tea cups and books littered every available surface space.

“Gambit,” came a sing song voice from the next room.

Noah smiled, glancing sidelong at me. “Queen to L1,” he called. “I’ve got someone I want you to meet, Darce.”

I heard footsteps, then Darcy stepped into the room, the smell of peppermint accompanying her. My heart sank to find she was attractive; large bright blue eyes, wavy brown hair that spilled over her shoulders and a small upturned nose. She wore a green tea dress that made me feel plain in my overalls. Noah had described her as being like his sister, but I still felt a small stab of jealousy at the fact he lived with this beautiful girl.

“Hero, this is Darcy,” Noah said. “We grew up together. At the orphanage. Darce, this is Hero, the girl I told you about.” He grinned as he looked eagerly between the two of us.

“Hello,” I said with a small wave.

Darcy crossed her arms as she regarded me, a shrewd expression on her face. Her eyes trailed up and down my body, lingering on the pocket in which I kept my wand. I swallowed, resisting the urge to place my hand there, but it was definitely out of sight.

Without looking away from my face she said, “Bishop to B2.”

I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion, but after Noah sighed next to me I realised she had spoken to him.

“I’ll be right back,” he murmured to me. He and Darcy stepped into a room off the short hallway, the door clicking shut behind them.

I walked around the tiny living room as I waited, picking objects up at random, most of them strange Muggle objects. I heard Darcy’s high voice rise in volume, followed by Noah’s softer tone, though their voices were muffled. Curiosity got the better of me and I tiptoed to the room, pressing my ear against the door.

“...need me too?” Darcy was saying. She sounded agitated.

“W-Well, I…” Noah sounded uncertain. I was strangely pleased to hear it; he still sounded timid around me, even after we spent everyday of the past week together. I was glad to know it wasn’t just me.

“She won’t understand you, De- Noah. I’m the only one who can do that.”

“I don’t think that’s true anymore.” Noah was speaking so quietly I had to strain to hear it, the wood of the door smooth beneath my cheek. “I’ve been… remembering things lately. Being with Hero helps.”

There was a short silence. Then, “What things, Noah?”

Another silence. I pressed myself even further into the door, anticipation making my heart race. “I-I don’t want to do this right now. Not with y-you.”

“What does that mean?” Darcy asked sharply.

There were footsteps coming toward the door and I leapt back, dashing into the living room, so that when Noah emerged from the bedroom, he found me innocently examining a coaster. His pale face looked troubled, but he smiled when he saw me, and reached out a hand.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said, blue eyes sparkling.

I took his hand, feeling the thin bones under his skin, and we left the apartment, but not before Darcy emerged from the room to narrow her eyes at me.

“Check,” she said.


I hadn’t seen or spoken to Darcy since Noah died. I licked my lips as I thought of her; she must have been the one to arrange his funeral. Did she find out about my involvement? Did she blame me?

My voice was hoarse as I asked, “Did mum and dad say what she wanted?”

“Nah. Just that she was looking for you. You okay?”

I tore my gaze away from the ground to look at him. His eyebrows were furrowed slightly in worry. A warm feeling spread from my chest despite myself at this display of brotherly concern; the first I could ever recall seeing. I could get used to this new Finn. Maybe he finally had changed.

I smiled at him. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

Finn began walking again, calling over his shoulder, “Okay. Later, ugly Mudblood lover.”

Then again, maybe not.

-

I met with Tom in the library that afternoon to work on our Defence Against the Dark Arts essay, taking our usual half-hidden table in the corner.

“Pass the chocolate? It’s in my bag.”

I pulled Tom’s bag toward me and rifled without looking up from my parchment. My fingers brushed the familiar feel of a chocolate wrapper and I pulled it out, triumphant, but I had accidentally grabbed what appeared to be a small booklet. I flipped it over to look, my mouth going dry as I read the title: The Greater Good.

Gellert Grindelwald.

“Why do you have this?” I whispered.

Tom looked up, eyes narrowed as he read what was in my hand. “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked, unabashed.

I spluttered in disbelief. “Because it’s wrong!”

“I don’t think so,” Tom said calmly. “Neither does your family. Your father gave me that.”

I sat back, stunned. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn my parents supported Grindelwald. I had so many things I wanted to say to Tom, and as they all vied to be first, I ended up opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water. He reached over and lay a hand gently over mine. I watched it warily.

“Hero, please.”

I raised my eyes to his. Confident I wasn’t moving my hand, Tom intertwined his fingers in my own.

“Wasn’t it magic that killed your Muggle? If he knew about you, he wouldn’t have been scared by your wand. We could protect the Muggles this way, under Grindelwald’s rule.”

In the dim light of the lanterns, the pupils of his eyes blended into the iris, creating a dark sphere between the whites. This time, I didn’t see a star reflected lake. Instead, I was reminded of Noah’s recurring nightmare, of that dark cold abyss that haunted his memories.

“He’s created a war,” I said in hushed tones. “He’s killing people.” But all the same, I couldn’t help thinking that if Noah had never met me, he would still be alive.

Tom was searching my face. “Trust me,” he murmured. “Your parents would want this. Don’t you want to make them happy?”

He slowly slid the paper toward me, Grindelwald’s attractive, proud face blinking up at me. I remained dubious, my skin prickling. Tom leaned close so that I could feel his breath on my face. “Don’t you want to make me happy?”

I didn’t realise I had been holding myself tense until I felt my shoulders relax. Of course I wanted to make Tom happy. There was something inside me that craved his approval, that made me want to be the one to make him smile. With only a slight movement of his hand, Tom slipped the paper into my bag. Before I could say anything, he closed the distance between us and pressed his lips to mine. I closed my eyes, letting my worries melt away. His hand cupped my cheek, fingers trailing across my jaw. His movements were soft, always so soft.

“So,” he said after a while, “I’ll escort you to Slughorn’s party at eight?”

-

I waited at the base of Gryffindor Tower for Tom, bunching the lace of my dress robes in my hands before smoothing it down again, trying to dispel the butterflies in my stomach. I heard footsteps coming down the corridor, and I was surprised to see Emory walk into the light, her beige cardigan hanging a little too loosely over her body. She smiled when she saw me, and held out her arms.

“Oh Hero, you look beautiful,” she said, embracing me. “Like a Bennet sister at a ball. If they were witches, of course.”

“I don’t know who that is, but thank you,” I replied, pulling back to look at her properly. She still looked listless, her eyes not as bright as they usually were. I took her hands in mine. “Why didn’t you tell me about Theo?” I asked quietly.

Emory’s eyes widened. “Did he tell you?”

I nodded. She looked down at our clasped hands and gave a small shrug. “We were never right for each other. He still had feelings for you… and I guess I found out he wasn’t the white knight I thought he’d be.”

I squeezed her hands. “You’ll find your prince, Em. They don’t just exist in books, you know.” I’ve found mine.

There was the sound of someone softly clearing their throat, and Emory and I looked up in unison. Hovering in the shadows was Tom; the sight of him took my breath away. He wore elegant dress robes the same emerald green as my dress, his dark hair swept neatly back. As he nodded in acknowledgement, hands clasped behind his back, he was the picture of self-assuredness. I couldn’t help but think that if anyone should be Slytherin’s heir, it was him.

I smiled at him, gesturing for him to wait. Emory pulled me further out of earshot and lowered her voice. “You’re going to the Slug Club party with him?” she asked.

“Well, yes,” I said, uncertain at her accusatory tone. “I - we - kind of…”

“What?” she breathed. “Look, Hero, Riddle’s cute and all but he’s friends with your brother, and Avery and Lestrange and those other awful Slytherin boys.”

“Tom’s different,” I said defensively. “And something’s changed in Finn lately, too.”

Something in Emory’s eyes flashed and she dropped our hands. “Oh, really?” she said bitterly, still low voiced. “Because I don’t believe that for a second. There is something haunting the school, something attacking Muggle-borns. Does that sound like an animal acting on its own? Who does that really sound like?”

“You can’t possibly be suggesting -”

“I am. And in case you’ve forgotten, I am Muggle-born. I could be next.” Her voice cracked and she turned on her heel, walking toward the Fat Lady.

“Emory...” I began helplessly. I made to follow her, but Tom came up behind me, and snaked a hand around my waist.

Emory paused at the entrance to the common room, then turned around. She narrowed her eyes at Tom over my shoulder. “Hell is empty,” she said, “and all the devils are here.”

The portrait swung shut behind her. I let out a shaky breath, my chest tight. Tom leaned forward.

“You look beautiful,” he whispered in my ear, his breath sending a shiver down my back.

“Thank you,” I said, turning around and adding before I could stop myself, “So do you.”

His mouth quirked. I looked back in the direction Emory had disappeared, longing to follow her. I wanted to console her, to reassure her that she was just upset over Theo, but Tom pressed his lips to my temple. “Let’s go, or we’ll arrive late.”

We walked down to the sixth floor corridor in silence, for which I was glad. It allowed me to process everything Emory had said. I glanced at Tom out of the corner of my eye. He looked like a dark haired angel; not a devil. But he was just a boy, same as Finn and the rest of them. Where would any of them have gotten the power to control a monster left by Slytherin himself? Emory was just scared, I tried to reassure myself, and who could blame her?

The buzzing sound of chatter grew louder as we walked hand in hand down the corridor, but it wasn’t until we neared that I realised the hum of voices was tense, with none of the gaiety of a party. We rounded the corner onto the corridor of Slughorn’s office. There was a crowd of people at the other end, gathered around the top of the stairs that led down to the fifth floor. I recognised some of the people as students from the Slug Club, dressed elegantly in dress robes and evening dresses. I glanced at Tom, but he looked as confused as I felt.

As we neared, a familiar, irritating cackle sounded loudly, and Peeves the poltergeist floated above the steps and over the heads of those gathered. My stomach flipped in apprehension. What had he done now?

I dropped Tom’s hand and squeezed between two students, one of them Brindley McCroy, the Hufflepuff girl who had been smiling at me during Herbology. I ducked as Peeves swooped over. His dark eyes were wicked as he cackled madly.

“Oh it was terrible,” he was saying delightedly.

I pushed my way to the front of the crowd and saw a young boy, eyes wide and blonde hair dishevelled, standing beside Professor Slughorn, who had a hand on his shoulder. The boy’s chest rose and fell in quick succession as he stared at the floor, with what looked like an orange strip of cloth in his hand.

“Professor,” came Tom’s voice behind me. “What happened?”

Professor Slughorn opened his mouth to reply, but it was Peeves who answered.

“A great big beastie, it was, yes!”

“It seems Peeves here has taken a joke too far,” Professor Slughorn said, raising his voice to be heard over the voices of the other students.

“I didn’t do nothin’!” Peeves sounded affronted. “It was that wicked long beastie!”

I looked at the boy. He was very pale, his eyes darting toward the bottom of the stairs. I inched closer to peer over the balustrade. There was another boy lying on his back at the bottom of the stairs. He had the same strip of orange cloth wrapped around his eyes like a blindfold, arms outstretched, mouth open in a silent scream.

“Holy hippogriffs…” I whispered.

“Peeves blindfolded both boys before pushing them down the stairs,” Professor Slughorn said grimly, leaning forward so that only Tom and I could hear him.

“But… the boy,” I said, my mouth dry. “He’s been petrified like the others, hasn’t he?”

“It wasn’t Peeves,” said a tiny voice. The boy beside Professor Slughorn was talking to his feet. “There was s-something. I heard it. Saw the outline of it through this.” He feebly lifted the blindfold. “But I ran, and now M-Mikey…” He broke off, head hung low.

Professor Slughorn sighed heavily. “Madam Flint has been alerted and is on her way. In the meantime,” at this he raised his voice, “everybody can make their way to my office. The show must go on!”

Slowly, still chatting in a mixture of horrified and excited voices, the students dispersed into Professor Slughorn’s office. After a moment, Tom and I followed.

Professor Slughorn’s large office had been extravagantly decorated with low hanging black curtains across the ceiling, and twinkling orange light from the skull-shaped candles that scattered the room. Eerie violin-like music came drifted through the room, but I couldn’t see the source. When Professor Slughorn entered, he immediately snatched Tom from where he and I were standing by the punch bowl, marching him away to meet with one of Professor Slughorn’s many outside guests. I smiled at the apologetic expression Tom sent my way. He took the introductions in his stride; nothing but courteous and respectful as he shook hand after hand, Professor Slughorn clapping him on the back and beaming proudly. I watched Tom for a moment before turning to strike up a conversation with Marnie Wright, a Ravenclaw in my year.

After my third drink, which left me feeling light headed and flushed, I looked around for Tom, only to discover he was nowhere in sight. I placed my empty glass onto a silver tray that one of the house elves carried around the room, and weaved through the students, craning my neck for any sight of him.

Something grabbed my elbow and I squeaked in surprise. I turned to find Tom offering a hand.

“Dance with me,” he whispered.

I swallowed as I placed my hand in his, dizziness forgotten. He led me toward the front of the room, where other couples were revolving slowly to the melancholy music. Tom pulled me close, one hand around my waist, the other clasped in my own. I placed a hand on his shoulder, and we swayed gently for a few minutes before I heard whispered voices. I looked up to find a couple of the students staring, criticising expressions on their faces.Leaning my face into Tom’s shoulder, I closed my eyes, breathing him in, and his grip on my waist tightened. Let them judge; they didn’t understand. I may have been sorted into Gryffindor, but I was still a Blishwick. Tom was the type of boy my parents had always wanted me to be with. The type I had always wanted to be with.

There was a tugging at the bottom of my dress and I looked down. Loddy, obviously one of the house elf servers, was staring up at me, blue eyes huge. “Miss Hero!” she squeaked.

“Oh, hey, Loddy.” I crouched down to her level, then noticed the tears swimming in her eyes. “What’s the matter?”

“Miss must come with Loddy,” she said, clinging to my hand.

“Where? Loddy, what’s happened?” I asked, but she just shook her head, pupils huge, squeezing my hand.

I glanced up at Tom, who shrugged. With a sigh, I straightened, letting Loddy pull me from the room, Tom following close behind.

The muffled sounds of music and conversation faded from Slughorn’s office as Loddy led us down the dim sixth floor corridor. There was no one around; not since the curfews were put in place. I asked repeatedly for Loddy to explain where she was taking us, but each time she just shook her head, muttering fearfully, “Loddy can’t. Loddy can’t!”

We rounded a corner and I stopped dead. Loddy was squeezing my fingers so hard they were crushed, but I hardly noticed, nor when Tom laid a hand on the small of my back. Because lying on the ground before us, impossibly still, a frightened look frozen on his face was another student. But it wasn’t the discovery that made ice run through my veins, it wasn’t because I recognised him, but because it was impossible.

It was Sebastian.

-

A/N: Chapter title borrowed from Virgil's The Aeneid. A quote from Emory borrowed from William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Thank you so much to my gorgeous beta Julie (banshee), and also to Jill (dreamgazer220) who is a great help with simply everything.





Chapter 9: Players in the Game
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Finn tapped a finger impatiently against the yellowed pages of the book. How did Tom expect him to learn this spell when the writing was too small to even read? He shut the book with an angry snap, and threw it across the floor, mentally cursing Hero. He was stupid enough to flaunt his parents’ book in public, but where did his sister get off, confiscating books from him, like the goody two-shoes she was? Walburga and Lucretia Black glared at him from the other side of the common room. Finn showed them a Blishwick smile and a certain finger. They turned back to their homework with equal looks of disgust on their haughty faces.

With a sigh, Finn stretched out his leg until he could kick the book back toward him. The Black cousins - or whatever the hell they were - could think what they liked. Finn was a Blishwick, and the Blishwicks were about to rise above every other pureblood family. Finn leaned forward to pick the book up, and flipped through the dog-eared pages to the section on the Stinging Jinx. He squinted at the words, actually wanting to learn, but it still felt like homework. Finn blinked, willing himself to concentrate. How else would he become good enough to join his parents, to join Grindelwald? This year and the next, his father had said, their family would shine, chosen to support Grindelwald from inside Britain. For Finn, Tom and, to some extent, Radbourne and Benedict, it was a few curses, a bit of duelling practice. What harm was in it, really?

The common room door swung open and Tom walked in, immediately drawing the attention of the sixth year girls, their faces changing from affronted to admiring. Finn held back an eyeroll at this predictable behaviour, threw the book to the side and checked his watch. Tom was back from the Slug Club Halloween party much later than Finn expected.

Tom glanced at Finn before he approached Walburga and Lucretia. Finn couldn’t see his face, but knew exactly how it looked as he leant down to the Black girls’ eye level and said in a soft tone, “Leave us, please.”

The girls exchanged glances, but, not to Finn’s surprise, they left. He and Tom were alone.

Finn watched as Tom took a seat opposite him and rested his elbows on his knees, staring into the fire. Tom’s face was expressionless, but Finn had known him long enough to notice that the muscle twitching in his jaw and the rigid set of his arms indicated something was the matter.

Finn slouched lower and propped his feet up on the arm of the chair. “That bad?”

Tom didn’t move for a long time. Finn was about to ask again, afraid he hadn’t been heard the first time, when Tom abruptly rose from his chair and began pacing in front of the fire. There was something stiff in the way he held himself, a dangerous energy crackling around him like the fire in the grate; Finn had to resist the urge to recoil. Tom was angry.

He stopped pacing to look coldly down at him, and this time Finn really did shrink into the chair. “Sebastian Blishwick is a Muggle-born.”

Before he could stop himself, Finn started to laugh; what Tom said was simply absurd. Tom’s eyes - empty of amusement - flashed dangerously, and he drew his wand from his dress robes. Finn quickly shut his mouth, his stomach knotting in apprehension. “W-what?”

Tom’s shoulders relaxed fractionally, but he didn’t withdraw his wand. “He was attacked tonight, but petrified. Like the others have been.” He was staring at Finn, but Finn was too dazed to remember to look away. The common room was spinning around him. Sebastian wasn’t a Muggle-born. It was impossible; Uncle Kagan and Aunt Amata were both purebloods. Tom began pacing again, the lamps lighting the tips of his hair in green.

Why?” he hissed to himself, for which Finn was glad, since he was only listening with half an ear. “Why are the Muggle-borns not dying? What am I doing wrong?”

Finn swallowed, but his mouth remained dry.

Tom stopped in front of him. “Did you know?”

“Know?”

Tom clucked his tongue in agitation. “About Sebastian.”

“Of course not!” Finn felt suddenly cold. He stood up, passing Tom to stand before the fire. The skin on the back of his neck prickled with the knowledge that he had his back to Tom when the other boy’s wand was in his hand, but he ignored it.

“So, the Blishwicks are not pure,” Tom mused quietly, as if he were merely trying to solve an Arithmancy equation.

Finn whirled away from the fireplace to face him, hands curling into fists at his side. “We are too! There - there must be some mistake. The Basilisk maybe, you just said -”

A vase on the mahogany table beside the fire shattered in an explosion of glass and water. Finn raised his hands to his head instinctively, the sweet smell of white lilies hitting his nostrils as they landed in a soppy mess by his feet.

I am the Heir of Slytherin!” Tom said, resuming his pacing. His knuckles were even whiter than usual around his wand as he waved it irritably and the vase mended itself. “It is no fault of the basilisk that they are not dying. It is doing as I command. There must be something I'm missing.”

“I don’t know ‘bout all that, but we’re a pureblood family,” Finn said firmly. “My father saw to that years ago, I told you. There’ll be some explanation.”

“I hope that’s true,” Tom said. “Or my plans will come to nothing.”

“Speaking of,” Finn said, moving to sit back on the couch. He rifled under the cushions for where he had carelessly left the letter from his parents. Pulling it out from where it had slipped down the side of the couch, he handed it to Tom. “This came today.”

As Tom read the letter, Finn watched his face. He could tell by his facial expression which parts of the letter he was reading. Pleased where he saw the name Gellert Grindelwald, disappointed where it became clear Grindelwald would not actually be there, satisfied where the purpose of the party was written.

Tom nodded, eyes fixed on the letter. “Will Hero be attending?”

Finn pulled a face. He wasn’t as repulsed as he thought he would be at his best friend and sister going steady, but it was still odd to think. He was glad Tom rarely spoke about her. “Depends.”

“On?”

Finn shrugged. “Whether mother and father reckon she’ll behave or not.” This was true enough. Their father wanted them in this as a family, but - for reasons only Merlin knew - Hero sympathised with Muggles and Muggle-borns.

For now.

“Oh, she’ll behave,” Tom said, looking up from the letter, “I’ll make sure of that.”

-

At breakfast the next morning, Finn sat at the Slytherin table opposite Tom, vaguely listening to Radbourne and Benedict talk about a Halloween party they snuck out to attend in Hogsmeade. As they chatted animatedly over their toast, Finn couldn’t stop himself from glancing over his shoulder at Brindley McCroy at the Hufflepuff table. She was laughing with her friend, the one Benedict might have snogged once on a dare - Saffron or something equally stupid - and tossing her thick dark red hair over her shoulder. Finn wondered what it would feel like to bury his hands in that hair…

He quickly turned back, face burning, and was met directly with Tom’s gaze. His expression was relaxed, with a hint of something that might have been amusement, but something cold went through Finn all the same. He quickly looked down at his plate, knowing this guilty behaviour probably incriminated him further. He also knew, where the others didn’t, of Tom practicing legilimency; Finn didn’t want to repeat the experience of being test subject.

Tom smiled mildly at Finn. “I want to practice a spell this afternoon. Will you join me?”

Finn nodded, still avoiding his gaze, and spooned cereal into his mouth.
-

Care of Magical Creatures had become Finn’s favourite class. He wasn’t particularly interested in magical creatures - apart from the Basilisk, of course - and had only chosen the subject because the other class options were either boring or dumb. But Care of Magical Creatures was with the Hufflepuffs, and that meant seeing Brindley.


Finn inwardly shook himself for feeling like this. They had been randomly paired to study Thestrals, much to Finn’s initial disgust, but Brindley had soon proved to be a valuable partner, especially since he couldn’t be bothered to do the work. She was passionate about magical creatures, expressing her desire to become a magizoologist, gesturing wildly with her hands all the while. She possessed an air of confidence that surprised him. It rivaled his own, but Finn was born to it, entitled. Brindley wasn’t. Whoever heard of an influential Hufflepuff?

As Finn watched how her face lit up as she read the textbook, he was increasingly glad Tom was not in this class.

“...just fascinating, isn’t it?” she was saying, trailing a finger down the textbook. Her long lashes swept downward as she read and she impatiently swept back the long strand of dark red hair that had come loose from its ponytail. She glanced up at him and he quickly looked away. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

Finn cleared his throat. “Er, fine,” he said, picking up his quill and pretended to concentrate on the list of questions in front of them. “What do I write for question two?”

Brindley leant forward to look, and Finn caught a whiff of her sweet vanilla perfume. “The properties of Thestral hair? Finn, you know the answer to that.”

“No, I don’t.” He ignored the thrill that went through him at the sound of his name on her lips.

“Yes, you do,” she said airily, looking back at her book.

Finn stared stubbornly at the parchment, but when it became obvious Brindley wasn’t going to say any more, he grudgingly wrote the answer down.

“They’re beautiful,” she said softly, looking toward the trees of the forest.

“They’re creepy as fuck,” Finn said, suppressing a shiver. Brindley was the only student in the class who could see the Thestrals. He wondered vaguely if Hero could see them now too. He didn’t know if she had actually seen the Muggle die, and he hadn’t cared enough at the time to ask details. Finn hadn’t even cared at first who Brindley had seen die; he had just been pleased that they had an advantage on their assignment. But today, as he watched her glance up occasionally to smile at something that wasn’t there, curiousity got the better of him.

“Whose death did you see?”

Brindley looked up at him, her eyes a warm chocolate brown. “My grandfather.”

“How’d he die?”

She furrowed an eyebrow. Finn was half expecting her to scold him for the blunt tone he was using, but nothing of the sort came.

“He was injured in the Blitz,” she said quietly. “I held his hand as he passed.”

“In the what?” he asked blankly.

“The bombings over the country last year? In the Muggle war?”

“He was a Muggle?” Finn said, watching Brindley’s mouth. She had very full lips, dotted with one or two of the freckles that covered her face.

“Both my grandparents are,” Brindley replied, picking up her quill again, “on my mother’s side. She was one as well.”

“Was? She dead too?”

Brindley ignored him. Finn began plucking at the feathers of his own quill. “And your dad? Are you Muggle-born?” His chest felt tight as he waited for an answer.

Brindley sighed. “I don’t know. I never knew my father. I could be, for all I know.”

Finn doodled on the edge of his parchment, unable to stop himself from thinking that if Brindley wasn’t careful, the answer would be known sooner rather than later.

-

That evening, before dinner, Tom caught Finn as he was heading to the Great Hall.

“Follow me,” he said, and begun walking through the Entrance Hall doors without checking if Finn was behind him. He didn’t need to.

Tom led Finn out onto the grounds. Dusk had fallen; a handful of stars dusted the violet sky, and their breath was just visible as a puff of white mist. They headed to a clump of bushes at the bottom of a hill, where they had a clear view of the courtyard, flaming torches lighting the way to the castle. They ducked behind the bushes, and peered through the wide spaces of the leaves up at the castle.

“Tom, what -?”

“Be quiet.”

Finn fell silent, watching the entrance, his heart beating faster as the seconds ticked by. When the two girls they were obviously waiting for came into view, his blood turned to ice.

Brindley was laughing with Saffron, the sound warming his heart despite the feeling of cold realisation that was beginning to wash over him. He could feel Tom’s eyes on him, waiting for his reaction, so Finn forced himself to adopt a neutral expression. Tom was baiting him, Finn knew it. So for Brindley’s safety, and for his own, Finn tried for an air of curiosity.

Slowly and deliberately, Tom pulled out his wand and aimed it at the girls. The blood was pounding in Finn’s ears, but he stood his ground, determined to not look at Tom and betray his feelings.

Tom’s stunning spell hit Brindley’s friend in the chest with a jet of red light. She fell, and Brindley turned to her with a look of alarm, but this quickly relaxed, her face taking on a mildly dreamy expression. Finn furrowed his brows at this odd behaviour, until he saw Tom still had his wand pointed in her direction, a look of intense concentration on his face. The Imperius Curse, Finn realised with a jolt. He had Imperiused Brindley. Anger coiled itself around Finn’s stomach; this was his fault. What did he have to go and like Brindley for? Why couldn’t he have just stayed with Kenna? Hero was right: breasts, Slytherin - what more did he need? But Finn had been a fool, had allowed Brindley to chip at his walls until cracks formed.

Tom made Brindley walk toward one of the torches that lined the wall, stopping her when she was standing right in front of it, the orange glow dancing across her face. It made her skin look smooth as porcelain in the soft light, and Finn’s breathing quickened in both longing and fear.

He watched in dread as Brindley raised a hand and placed it in the fire. Her beautiful face remained expressionless, so different without the laughter that was constantly etched on her freckled features. She kept her hand there, the flames licking across it, as rage bubbled in Finn’s stomach. Her expression remained that eerie calm, even when her hand turned red and blistered. Finn felt sick, nausea rising in him so strongly he closed his eyes against it.

Just as Finn couldn’t stand it any longer, Tom relaxed his wand and the spell was broken. Brindley’s scream pierced the air, but Tom turned to Finn and murmured, “Excellent.” Finn didn’t know if he was referring to the effectiveness of the spell or Finn’s resistance. Tom rose from his position and approached Brindley, the calm Prefect voice he adopted drifting back to Finn where he remained hidden behind the bushes. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a shaking hand, listening to Brindley’s sobs grow faint as Tom walked her away to the hospital.

Finn stood unsteadily and brushed at the dirt on his robes. He headed back to the castle, barking at a little Gryffindor girl to “Fuck off,” as he crossed the courtyard because she walked past too close.

Tom was more interested in the Dark Arts than Finn originally thought. It was more than a desire to learn; it was a force that was consuming Tom’s every waking hour. It had been a game to Finn at first; finally something he was actually interested in studying, something to make him worthy of supporting and eventually joining Grindelwald. But there were no rules to this game, and now that Brindley was a piece on the board, Finn didn’t think he wanted to play anymore.

-

A/N: Bit of an experimental chapter here. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Thank you to my beta Julie for getting it off the ground and for all her support.


Chapter 10: Of Loyalty
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“I just don’t understand,” I said in a hollow voice. “You said the monster is only attacking Muggle-borns. Why would it attack Sebastian?”

Tom didn’t say anything; he’d hardly spoken a word since we found Sebastian, his face hard and unreadable. He sat beside me, staring at the ground, and I could only assume he was as shocked as I was. I leant forward on my knees, chin propped in my hands. We were in the hospital wing, waiting for Madam Flint to return with news on Bash. The room was cold, the beds clean and empty; the petrified students were being kept in a room off the main wing. Light from the full moon streamed through the windows, having more of an effect than the candles Madam Flint had hastily lit.

I glanced over at the grandfather clock, its loud tick the only sound in the room. The pendulum swung in time to three of my thoughts: Sebastian. Blishwick. Muggle-born. The bitter smell of Pepperup Potion burnt my nostrils. I gave an involuntary shiver, accidentally nudging Tom’s arm. He stirred, finally, and glanced sidelong at me.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

His gaze lingered on me for a few seconds more before he raised his chin in the direction of the fireplace. With a quiet whoosh the fireplace burst into life, flames crackling like it had been burning for hours. I felt the warmth through the thin lace of my dress robes, but continued to shiver; for the second time, Tom had performed magic without a wand. The hint of a smirk played on his lips, as if waiting for a reaction. All I could manage was a wobble of my own lips in what I hoped looked like gratitude.

The door to the next ward opened and a tired looking Madam Flint came out, frizzy hair coming loose under her hat. She looked at us wearily.

“You two again,” she said with sympathy. “I am sorry it had to be this way. Miss Blishwick -” Madam Flint stopped, pulling her mouth into a tight line against what she was going to say. Instead, she sighed. “I’m sorry about your cousin. Your uncle is on his way, and the ghost of Lord Draben is speaking with Professor Dippet right now. He was nearby at the time.”

I nodded and thanked Madam Flint, and she disappeared into her office. No sooner had the door closed behind her than the fireplace flared in a burst of emerald green and my uncle Kagan stepped out, brushing ash from his robes, his brown hair dishevelled. He looked surprised to see me, bloodshot eyes widening. “Hero, honey.”

“Uncle Kagan.” I stood up and gestured to Tom. “This is Tom Riddle.”

Tom stood and shook Kagan’s hand. “A pleasure.”

“I’ve heard of you,” my uncle said. “My brother Jameson speaks very highly of you.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I turned to Tom and asked quietly, “Do you mind if we have a moment alone?”

Tom nodded and took my hand in his. “Of course. Goodnight.” He kissed my hand, but the gesture felt stiff and cold. I furrowed my eyebrows at this behaviour but he was already walking toward the door.

“What are you doing here?” Kagan asked, once the door shut behind Tom.

“I’m the one who found Bash,” I told him, unable to stop a shudder running through my body.

His face turned hard. Abruptly, he turned and walked past me toward Madam Flint’s office.

“Uncle Kagan, wait -” I started, but he kept walking. “Kagan, I know.”

He stopped, then slowly turned around to face me. The moonlight washed out his features, making the lines in his face stand out stark. “What do you know?”

I took a deep breath. “I know about the monster. That it has been released by Slytherin’s heir to kill Muggle-borns.”

Kagan’s expression twisted and he took a shaky breath. With a small jolt I realised he was trying not to cry. I took a tentative few steps toward him. I could see it now, even in the dim light. His nose was longer than Sebastian’s, his eyes more narrow and deep set, the Blishwick blue Sebastian never inherited.

“Is it true?”

His shoulders began to shake. I closed the distance between us and pulled him into a hug, his tears dampening my shoulder. “Amata and I adopted him from Muggles when he was a baby,” he said thickly. “She’d been sick prior, and hardly left the house. It was easy to pretend she had been with child when no one had seen her for months.”

"Does my father know?”

Kagan pulled back and wiped his eyes, a look of horror on his face. “Of course not, and he never will. Sebastian doesn’t even know. He would be disowned.”

“Surely he -”

“You know better than anyone what your father is like,” Kagan said darkly. “Please, Hero. You must never tell anyone. The others -” He stopped, biting his lip.

“The others?”

Kagan just shook his head. The grandfather clock against the wall struck the hour, and as if this had been a signal, Kagan said, “Take care of yourself, honey,” and disappeared into Madam Flint’s office without knocking.

I stared at the closed wooden door for a long time, hearing the sound of muffled voices from the other side. I slowly backed into a bedside chair and sunk into it, my mind spinning with questions. Sebastian was adopted? What else was there to the story? What were the rest of the Blishwicks hiding?

I stared into the dying orange flames of the fire Tom lit, tiredness crashing over me like a wave.

Something told me the reveal of this Blishwick secrets was only the beginning.

-

I slept in the next morning; the sun was already high in the sky and flooding the dormitory room with light before I woke up. As soon as I opened my eyes, still itching with tiredness, it was the memory of Sebastian’s face I saw. I rubbed a hand over my face. Why did the monster have to go after sweet little Bash?

Because he’s Muggle-born said an unpleasant voice in my head. A Muggle-born in the line of pure Blishwick blood my grandfather had fought to keep respected. I could understand Kagan’s fear; if word got out, our family would be labelled blood traitors, expelled from the prestige circles my father worked so hard to make us all a part of. Not to mention Kagan himself would be disowned along with Sebastian by the patriarch of our family: my father Jameson.

I stretched out an arm and groped blindly for my bag for a piece of chocolate. Instead, my fingers brushed The Greater Good booklet. After a second’s hesitation, I pulled it out. I sat up, propping myself up on the pillows. From the creased white paper, Grindelwald stared haughtily up at me, light hair falling into his eyes. I flipped numbly through the pages, noting a recurring triangular symbol in each corner. Page after page of how Muggle-borns are thieves and inferior; I half-wondered if the creature in the castle wasn’t Grindelwald himself.

I had given up searching for the monster. Not only because there were professionals within Hogwarts doing it now, but because I believed Tom to be right. What would my parents think of me, trying to put a stop to behaviour they’d probably approve of? But, as I pulled the blanket up to my chin, I thought of the secret Kagan had covered for Sebastian, and the secret my own father had covered for me. My family wasn’t perfect. The attacks had to be stopped, before someone was killed. I knew something the Magical Creature Control didn’t: what all its victims had in common. If it was Muggle-borns the monster was after, then a Muggle-born was what I would use to catch it.

I threw back the covers, shivering at the chill that bit through the material of my dress robes I was still wearing from the night before; the burner had died during the night and no one had bothered to relight it. I pulled on a plain blouse and long floral skirt, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair was tousled, lips a faded red, and my lashes were still long and dark with cosmetics from collapsing into bed the previous night.

I heard no noise from the common room as I descended the dormitory steps, but for a Saturday, this wasn’t unusual. I paused at the bottom, seeing Emory. She had her head buried in a book in an armchair by the window. Her face was relaxed, as one’s often is when reading; but it was different to Tom’s, whom I had studied many times before. Where Tom’s eyes were filled with a hunger to absorb every word, Emory’s looked distant, immersed in a world I wasn’t seeing, her tongue darting out occasionally to wet her bottom lip. She looked regal in the mid-morning light streaming through the window, lighting the long bones of her face.

I took the necessary step to make myself visible and said softly, “Hey.”

She looked up, blinking in surprise. “Hi.”

I sat beside her by her feet and leant my head against the window, smiling at her bright mismatched socks.“Can I ask a favour?”

Emory placed her bookmark - a Muggle photo, strangely still, of her brother - into the page. “Sure.”

I took a deep breath. “You know how I told you the monster is after Muggle-borns?”

She turned wary. “Yes.”

“So, I was thinking, what if we set a trap? You can lure it out, if you come with-”

“No thank you,” Emory said coolly, setting her book down and standing up. “I don’t want to play your stupid game.”

Her tone took me by surprise. “What’s wrong?”

Emory stood up. “You have no idea, do you?” When I didn’t answer she continued; “Monster this, Tom that, ‘my family hates me’. It is not all about you, Hero!”

Something unpleasant wrapped itself around my stomach. I had never heard her raise her voice like this.“Em, what are you talking about?”

“I’m going through things too,” she said, her eyes glistening. “But did you ever ask? No. You’ve let stupid Riddle take over your life. Meanwhile, I’ve lost my boyfriend, I’m failing almost all my classes and Reagan, my only brother, is missing after a battle in Germany. He could be dead.”

Tears pricked my own eyes. “I didn’t know…”

Emory’s small pretty mouth was turned down at the corners. I longed to wrap my arms around her, but I felt if I moved I might vomit.

“I’ll do it,” said a voice.

Emory and I turned our heads at the same time. Morgan rose from a chair in the corner, where he had been sitting so low I hadn’t noticed him before. His hair was adorably tousled, his maroon vest sitting askew across his chest. My heart gave a squeeze at the sight of him; we’d hardly spoken since that day in Hogsmeade, not even during Quidditch training.

“I’ll be bait,” he said again with a small, crooked smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes.

Emory looked between the two of us, then shook her head. She grabbed her bag and disappeared up to the dormitory. She muttered, “Thou art crazy.”

I quickly wiped my eyes and looked at Morgan. “Come on,” I muttered, standing up. “I’m not going to let her be next. Or you, for that matter.”

Morgan and I headed for the dungeon corridor, where I knew the monster had lurked more than once. We stopped at the top of the stairs to the dungeons as a familiar voice drifted up to reach us.

“I’ll keep yeh safe, I promise,” came Rubeus’ voice.

“Hagrid, I cannot,” came a harsh voice I didn’t recognise. “You do not understand…”

I turned to Morgan and pressed a finger to my lips. He nodded his understanding and remained close behind me as we tiptoed down the stairs. Hagrid was still talking softly, but his voice was mingled with a high clicking sound that made the hairs rise on the back of my neck. At the bottom we stopped, the damp smell of the dungeons reaching my nostrils. I peered around the corner and glimpsed the back of Rubeus’ huge form, half concealed by the cupboard he was leaning into.

The clicking noise grew agitated and I fought the urge to cover my ears with my hands. “I have many eyes, Hagrid, you cannot understand what this means…”

“I will if you jus’ tell me, Aragog.”

I took a step toward Rubeus. His body blocked most of my view of the cupboard, but as he moved slightly, I caught a glimpse of a long hairy leg protruding from a box.

“Fuck,” I said, stumbling back into Morgan, who caught me by my elbows.

Rubeus whirled around with impressive speed for someone so large, and I got a full look at the wooden box. Eight glittering eyes stared at me, and bile rose in my throat.

Rubeus’ small eyes were wide as he stumbled over his words. “Hero! Morgan - I - He - It’s no’ -”

My skin was beginning to itch just by looking at it. I scratched at my arm absentmindedly, shocked by the size of the spider, which was about as big as a large dog. I felt faint; I couldn’t believe I found the monster responsible for attacking my cousin, that Rubeus of all people was its owner. Morgan took a tentative step closer, standing on his tiptoes to peer around Rubeus.

“Bloody hell. Is that an acromantula?”

The spider retreated out of sight into the box, but it only made me more nervous. I could still hear the clicking noise it was making.

Fuck.”

Morgan threw a glance at me over his shoulder. “Can you stop swearing?”

I looked at Morgan, incredulous. “Rubeus is keeping a fucking big spider down here, a spider that talks and I’m not allowed to swear?”

“Well, it’s no’ nice…” Rubeus mumbled.

I pointed a finger at him. “You be quiet. You are in so much trouble.”

Rubeus dark eyes widened in fear. “‘Ero, please. You can’ tell anyone. ‘E’s only a baby.”

“Rubeus, it’s hurting people!”

“No, no! It’s not him!”

“I’ve never heard of an acromantula petrifying people before,” Morgan put in. “That’s what it is, right, Rubeus?”

When Rubeus nodded, I rounded on Morgan. “Whose side are you on?”

Morgan looked at me exasperatedly. “Calm down Ro. It’s not a mastilio, it’s not what’s petrifying Muggle-borns - look, I’m still moving.” He stretched out his arms.

Rubeus looked relieved, sniffing loudly. “It’s not him doin’ it, I swear. But I think ‘e has some idea what is,” he said, “only he won’t say anythin’ about it.”

“Could he help us, I wonder?” Morgan mused.

Rubeus looked expectantly at me and, after a moment, Morgan did too.

I sighed, defeated. “It’s bloody illegal, but if you promise it stays down here...”

“Oh, thank you!” Rubeus pulled me into a tight hug that crushed my ribs and lifted me off the ground.

“Rubeus!” I wheezed, and he set me down.

Once Rubeus had said goodbye to his creepy pet and closed the cupboard door, we headed for Gryffindor Tower. As we rounded a corner toward the stairs to the viaduct entrance, a beautiful, dark haired boy blocked our way, stopping us short.

“What is going on down here?” Tom asked.

“Nothing,” the three of us said in unison.

Tom blinked as he looked between the three of us. “Hagrid, Morris, leave.”

Morgan narrowed his eyes at Tom. He looked like he wanted to say something to him, but obviously thought better of it; he gave me a small smile before saying to Rubeus, “Come on, buddy,” and the two of them disappeared down the corridor. I felt an answering smile spread across my own face; I was glad he wasn’t still angry at me for turning him down in Hogsmeade.

“What were you doing with him?” Tom asked.

I snapped my attention back to him. “Who, Rubeus?”

“The Mudblood.”

I frowned. “Don’t call him that. Morgan is my friend.”

“I thought Baxter was your friend.”

“I have more than one friend, Tom.”

Tom took a step closer. He slowly traced his fingertips along my collarbone, making my skin burn like he was leaving a trail of fire. “You have me now.”

“Yes,” I breathed.

He murmured, “I need to know who you’re loyal to.”

I blinked, wondering if I’d heard him correctly, his finger still trailing along my neck, following the curve between head and shoulder. I tilted my head in response. “What do you mean?”

“Me and your family, or your friends.” He said this last word with contempt, but it was hard to concentrate when the thumb of one hand was softly touching my bottom lip and the other was now tracing my ribs. My eyes fluttered closed.

“Um…”

In one swift movement, Tom had me up against the dungeon wall, and my eyelids flew open. His fingers dug tightly into my arms, but before I had time to protest, his mouth was on mine and he was kissing me like he had never kissed me before. I found myself surrendering completely. He pressed himself against me, the stone at my back cold and damp, but I didn’t care. I should have been disgusted at my own behaviour, acting this way in the middle of a public dungeon corridor; but as each kiss grew in urgency - as if this thought had occurred to him too - I sunk further into the danger of it all. My hands were in his hair, urging him even closer, begging him not to stop. His fingertips teased the hem of my shirt until he was stroking the bare skin of my stomach.

Tom’s lips moved down to my throat. “Who?” he murmured against my neck. Before I could reply, his mouth was on mine again, tongue flickering against my own. I was pinned under him now, our hips grinding together, his mouth searching mine with a hungry desire. I gasped as his hands trailed further across my ribs.

“You.”

-

As I walked into the Great Hall for dinner, I half expected all eyes to turn on me after the latest news of a Muggle-born in the Blishwick family. But when nothing of the sort came, I breathed out a sigh of relief and headed for the Gryffindor table. Theo was there, cutting roast lamb as he listened to a little girl who stood beside him, his expression serious.

The girl left as I approached, and I sat beside Theo, adjusting my badge. “What was that about?”

Theo swallowed his mouthful, green eyes looking dull. “Finn. Again.”

I groaned. I guess people really didn’t change. “Why didn’t she come to me?”

Theo looked suddenly uncomfortable. “Well… because he’s your brother, and…”

“Yes?” I prompted, spooning mashed potato onto my plate.

Theo raised one shoulder in a shrug. “She was afraid you’d tell him and the others that she came to you.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it? I saw you looking chummy with Finn after Herbology, no hexes or anything. I hardly see you with Emory anymore, and you’re always in the library with Riddle.”

I bristled, forcing myself to stay calm under this conversation that was beginning to feel like an accusation. Where did Theo get off, judging what I did and who I saw? He wasn’t exactly perfect either. “Okay, fine. I can’t help that Finn is my twin, and he always will be, no matter what he does. I don’t even know where Emory is half the time and Tom is helping me to study.”

“You’ve never needed help before,” Theo scoffed. “You’re always top of the class, Hero.”

I opened my mouth to retort, but nothing came out. How did I explain? How could he understand that I had been having trouble concentrating because I thought I had killed a Muggle with magic, only to find he was murdered, in what was possibly an attempt at my own life as well? As the notion came to the surface, I pushed my plate away, suddenly not hungry. I hadn’t realised before now how much the thought had been pushed to the back of my mind, until it was like a bruise that only hurt if you pressed on it. Theo wouldn’t understand; even when we were in a relationship, he had never been one to confide in. At least Tom knew when to drop a subject.

“I’ve got Quidditch training,” I said, and got up from the table.

“Fine,” I heard Theo mutter behind me, but I was already gone.

-

After our last Quidditch training session before the first game against Slytherin, I stood in front of the tiny smudged mirror, running a brush through my hair. I smiled and nodded at the rest of the team as they filed out, bundled in scarves and jackets. By the time I shoved my gear into my bag and pulled on my own gloves, it was only me and Leighton Mullins, one of our Beaters. She was looking at me with her arms crossed.

“Hey,” I said in surprise.

“I need to talk to you,” Leighton said in her husky voice I had always been jealous of, her long red hair coming loose from its ponytail.

I shut my locker. “Er, sure. What is it?”

Leighton waited until we had extinguished the change room lights with our wands and stepped out onto the damp twilit grass before she spoke.

“We’re doubting your capability to play tomorrow,” she said without preamble.

“What are you talking about?” I looked up at her; she was a head taller than me, and often had that air of talking down her nose at me, both literally and figuratively.

“I’m talking about you and your little Slytherin connections. Don’t think no one’s seen you getting cosy with Riddle. My sister saw you two at the Slug party.”

Suddenly, I hated her voice. “What, and you think I’ll go easy on them?”

She stopped. “I won’t let our team lose to Slytherin again. You have to choose. Or I’ll make Morgan kick you off the team.”

I shook my head at her haughtiness. “Morgan wouldn’t listen to you.”

Leighton examined her polished red-painted nails. “I wouldn’t be so sure. After you rejected him last week, he needed some cheering up, and I was there.”

I clenched my teeth as we ascended the stone steps to the castle, the unwelcome image of Morgan’s strong arms wrapped around Leighton in one of the common room’s armchairs flashed in my mind’s eye.

Leighton mistook my silence for deliberating the choice she’d given me, and skipped ahead to look down at me from the steps of the Entrance Hall. She wiggled her fingers at me in a wave. “See you tomorrow?” she said sweetly.

Blishwick smile in place, I waved sarcastically back at her before heading for the Slytherin common room.

-

I leant against one of stone walls of the dungeon - I knew the entrance was around here somewhere, after growing up surrounded by proud Slytherins - with no real idea of what I was going to say to Tom. I just knew I had to see him. At least he was a familiar face who wasn’t going to push me away. Footsteps echoed down the corridor and my cousin Briony came into view, running her hands through her hair, the lanterns throwing her shadow onto the walls, long and flickering.

She stopped when she saw me, lowering her hands. “Hero? What are you doing down here?”

“I was hoping to speak with Tom,” I replied, “or, at least, ask someone to bring him out for me.”

“Oh,” she said, scooting past me, “well, I can do that.”

I smiled gratefully. “Thanks. Hey, Briony -”

She stopped, turning her head. “Yeah?”

“Did you know? About Sebastian?”

Briony stared at me for a long moment, her expression unreadable. Then, with a tiny movement, she nodded, and cast her gaze downward. “It’s all going to fall apart,” she whispered.

“It’s not that bad, B,” I said. I reached into my bag for the chocolate, breaking off a square and handing it to her. “Here.”

The corner of Briony’s mouth twitched with the ghost of a smile as she took the chocolate from my hand and popped it into her mouth.

“Hero, you -” But she broke off, face paling as something like realisation flickered over her features.

“Briony?”

Blood began to pour from her nose at an alarming rate, her eyes widening in alarm. I pushed myself off from the wall, my heart skipping several beats. “B, what is it?”

Briony began to shake, a stream of blood from each nostril cascading down the front of her robes, the Slytherin green quickly spreading into Gryffindor red. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. I was truly alarmed now. I must have made a noise, because a handful of Slytherins had emerged from the common room, looks of confusion that soon turned to horror on their faces as they saw the scene before them.

I stood, frozen, as a couple of the older students acted quickly; levitating my cousin, tilting her now stark white face forward while someone pinched her nose in an attempt to stop the blood flow, her long blonde streaked with red where it fell across her face.

As I watched them hover Briony down the dungeon corridor, I felt fingers link with my own. I looked down at them dully, then up, half expecting to see Tom, but it was Finn. I had time to note the unusual warm feeling that spread in my chest at the sight of him, and how the sweater he wore was as black as his hair, before tears blurred my vision.

-

A/N: Thank you Julie ♥


Chapter 11: Choices
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Finn kept a hold of my hand the whole way to the hospital wing. I could hear the other students with Briony ahead of us. “What happened?” he asked in a tense voice as we passed a stained glass window depicting Mungo Bonham in a green garden.

“I don’t know! We were talking about Sebastian and I gave her some chocolate, and then…” I raised my free arm in a helpless gesture.

“Well did it have lovage in it? Didn’t you remember she’s allergic?”

Our footsteps echoed through the corridor. “Of course I remember,” I said indignantly. “But I didn’t exactly have an ingredients list.” Lovage, though a type of fruit, was an unusual ingredient in chocolate - I wasn’t supposed to know, was I? Guilt was a lead weight in my stomach all the same.

Finn’s grip on my hand tightened painfully, and I gave a sharp intake of breath. He mumbled an apology and loosened his grip. When we reached the white double doors of the infirmary I pulled my hand out of his and reached for the handle, but he beat me to it. He led the way in with slouched shoulders and tousled hair. He looked older than his fifteen years, and I wondered if I looked the same. I felt it. Sighing, I stepped in after him, already accustomed to the smell of the ward after the amount of time I seemed to be spending here lately.

Briony was already in a bed toward the end, unmoving, as Madam Flint bustled around her with a flourished wand. The students who brought her in were leaving, and I smiled in thanks at them as they passed. Finn and I hung back, but after a few minutes of muttering under her breath and slipping potions down Briony’s throat, Madam Flint straightened, looking satisfied.

“I’ve given her something to help her sleep,” Madam Flint informed us as we approached the bed. “She had an inflammation of the brain, but she should be fine now and ready to return to classes come morning.”

We thanked her and took a seat at Briony’s bedside while the matron disappeared into her office. “Hogwarts will have to start paying us soon, for keeping the hospital in business,” I tried to joke.

Finn snorted. “There has been a lot of Blishwicks here lately.” His eyes, the colour of the night sky in the lantern light, darted to the closed door of the next ward, where the petrified students were being kept.

I followed his gaze. “Remember when Sebastian was seven and cut his knee pretty bad after falling off his broom?” I said quietly, looking at Briony. “He refused to let anyone take him to the hospital, not because he was scared, but because he was so determined to fix it himself… that he didn’t need anyone’s help.”

Finn let out a soft chuckle. “Yeah, he was a tough kid,” he said wistfully.

“How could we not know?”

He didn’t need to ask what I was referring to. He shrugged, his arm grazing mine. “I dunno, but it’s bloody reckless of them.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just… you know.” He rubbed his face tiredly, his next words sounding muffled. “Father wants our whole family in support.”

“In support of what?” I asked warily, but I didn’t really want to know the answer.

Finn leant forward and, resting his chin in his hands, turned his head to look at me. He was silent for a moment, studying my face, before he finally said, “A couple of Besmurten are staying with us over Christmas.”

My mouth went dry at the mention of Grindelwald’s followers. A group well known for Dark magic. And worse, they were going to sleeping under the same roof as me for a few weeks. “W-what for?”

“What do you think? Grindelwald wants to make our manor his British headquarters. They’re just checking it - and us – out, I guess.”

I licked my dry lips. “I don’t know about this, Finn…”

“I don’t think you have a choice, Hero,” he said, but not unkindly. He stood, stretching his arms to the ceiling. “Well, I’m going to bed. Briony doesn’t need us, and I’ll see her in the common room later anyway.” He lightly punched my shoulder. “Night.”

“Night,” I replied, my voice hoarse. Finn left, and it was just my sleeping cousin and me, watching the moon climb high into the sky through the window.

-

Sharp pain in my neck woke me, and I blinked against the dazzling light of the sun reflecting on the white tiles of the hospital. I straightened in my chair with a groan, rubbing my neck and feeling lightheaded as I remembered both why I was here and that my stomach was empty. In the bed before me, the curtains half-drawn, Briony lay sleeping. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically. She looked okay, if a little pale, her honey blonde hair spilling over the pillow. There was movement out of the corner of my eye; I turned my head and jumped at the appearance of Tom in the chair next to me.

“Merlin!” I pressed a hand to my heart. “You gave me a fright.”

Tom leaned forward, resting his chin in his hands, his olive green jumper neat and straight across his torso. “What were you doing outside the common room last night?”

“Oh! Um…” With Briony falling ill, I had forgotten all about Leighton’s stupid ultimatum. I fidgeted in the uncomfortable plastic seat and glanced around the room, avoiding Tom’s eyes. Madam Flint was changing the bandages on the hand of a Hufflepuff girl sitting on a bed at the far end. As the matron moved to reach a better angle, I caught a glimpse of Brindley McCroy, her right hand a deep pink. As our eyes met over Madam Flint’s shoulder, her freckled face stretched into a smile.

“Look at me, Hero.”

I bit my lip and looked to him, feeling that ever present pull his eyes seemed to have. The morning light that streamed through the large windows accentuated his cheekbones, and my stomach twisted again, though not unpleasantly.

“Thanks again, Tom,” said a sweet voice, drawing our attention. Brindley, hand neatly bandaged, walked past us toward the door with a small wave of farewell, her red and white polka dot skirt swishing around her legs.

Tom nodded, then once she was out of earshot, he asked me again, “Why were you there?”

I sighed, my grip tightening on the edge of the seat. “To talk to you. Apparently the team thinks I’ll go easy on Slytherin today, because of my family all being in that house, and… and because of you. They wanted me to choose a side.”

Tom rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb. “I see. What do you intend to do?”

I folded my feet under me on the chair, taking them off the chilly tiles. “Well of course I’m not going to favour them. I’m on the Gryffindor team. It’s ridiculous.”

Tom’s face hardened. “Have you not learnt anything?”

I rubbed my eyes, half a mind still on Quidditch. “What?”

Tom stood up abruptly and looked down at me. “You know, the time will come soon when you need to make a choice. Decide what side you’re on.”

I was perplexed. “Tom, it’s just a game.”

His eyes flashed. “No. It’s not. If it’s too difficult for you, let me make the choice easy,” he said. He turned on his heel and left.

Speechless, I watched as he crossed the hospital and disappeared through the doors, which swung shut behind him.

-

The game wasn’t until the afternoon, and since I was woefully behind on my Defence Against the Dark Arts essay, I headed to the library after leaving the hospital. My insides twisted as I thought of the assignment; Tom was still my partner. It was going to be awkward to work together when he didn’t want to see me anymore.

He was already there when I arrived, at our usual table in the corner. My heart sunk at the sight of him at the mahogany desk, surrounded by books. I sighed and sat at a desk against the opposite wall. I was concentrating on unpacking my bag when footsteps approached and someone clicked their fingers in front of my face. I looked up just as Finn pinched my nose.

I smacked his hand. “Finlay. Please. Not now.”

He grinned smugly down at me, black hair sticking up at the front. “Ooh, we are touchy today.”

I blinked rapidly, forcing back the tears that sprang to my eyes and busied myself with choosing a quill. Finn hovered, but I refused to look at him. After a while, he ruffled my hair and was gone.

I irritably pushed my hair out of my eyes in time to see Tom sit in the chair opposite.

“Are we sitting over here now?” he asked, already unpacking his bag.

I watched him. “Oh, I… I thought -”

“You thought what?” His eyes bore into mine, unblinking.

I looked away, opening my book slowly. “Um… Never mind.”

A pause, and then Tom said, “I said I would take care of it.”

As I opened my mouth to ask what he meant, a familiar husky laugh sounded from the other side of the library. Leighton was scanning the shelves with a manicured finger, tossing her hair back and looking like a preening peacock, the silver bracelets that adorned her wrists jangling loudly. I chewed my bottom lip as I watched her.

"I hate Leighton,” I said before I could stop myself.

“Oh?”

“She was a right bitch to me yesterday. She’s the one who told me to choose.”

“Why don’t you teach her a lesson?” Tom asked without looking up from his book.

Amused, I asked, “What did you have in mind?”

“That depends.” He looked up at me, blinking.

I stared at him, waiting. When it was clear he wasn’t going to answer straight away, I prompted, “On what?”

Tom lowered his voice. “How far you’re willing to go.”

I began to laugh, but quickly stopped when he didn’t join me. Swallowing, I said, “I - I couldn’t really…”

"She thinks you’re beneath her,” he said, “but you’re a member of the Blishwick family, the daughter of its patriarch. What is she?” He jerked his head toward where Leighton was leaning suggestively over a desk, talking to Morgan, who was laughing good naturedly at whatever she was saying. The sight made my blood boil.

“You know her father’s side are completely Muggles?” I said quietly, the words pouring out of my mouth. “Three of her uncles have been in prison at least once.”

“You see?” Tom said. “Put her in her place.”

I flipped distractedly through my book, so deep in thought about Leighton that it took me a minute to realise it was a Herbology textbook. I sighed, about to close it, when the word ‘lovage’ caught my eye, in the recipe for the Befuddlement Draught. I inwardly winced at the reminder; I couldn’t believe my carelessness put my own cousin in the hospital.

“I know what you could do,” said Tom, breaking me out of my reverie.

“What’s that?”

“Take those infernal bracelets from her.”

I grimaced as the bracelets in question jangled again, almost drowning out Leighton’s husky voice replying to Morgan. “I couldn’t do that. Some of them are family heirlooms apparently.”

One side of Tom’s mouth curled. “Even better.”

-

Sitting on my bed in the dormitory, my skin prickled in excitement as I eyed Leighton’s trunk. Adrenaline willed my hand to reach for the clasp and after a moment, I did, wondering what the heck I was doing. I rummaged through her clothes, finding a couple of those annoying silver bracelets at the bottom of the trunk. As I turned them over in my hand, I doubted they were heirlooms, tarnished as they were. She wouldn’t miss these. I straightened, then noticed Emory standing in the doorway. I jumped guiltily. How long had she been standing there? She watched me, her hair a long braid down her back, the buttons of her yellow cardigan not in line, as if they had been carelessly done up.

“Oh, Em! I was just…” I stopped; something in her eyes making my stomach flip unpleasantly.

“Et tu, Brute?” she whispered.

“What?”

She took a step forward and wrapped her hands around one of the posts of Leighton’s bed. “You slept with Theo. At the end of term party.” It wasn’t a question.

My insides turned to water. “I - How - Who told you?”

She blinked quickly a couple of times. “Does it matter?”

My heart was pounding. No, it didn’t. Fucking Theo.

“You always take whatever you want, Hero,” Emory said, but her voice was sad, not angry. Somehow, that was worse. “Not all of us were born with every opportunity handed to us, you know.”

“I know, I just-”

“What’s done is done,” she said, and turned with a swish of long brown hair.

I dropped the bracelets onto Leighton’s bed – what was I thinking? - and followed Emory down the dormitory steps.

“Emory - wait!”

She turned at the base of the stairs, looking like she really didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.

“I’m so sorry.” My voice wobbled.

Emory turned without a word again into the common room, which was a bustle of pre-match activity. She pushed through a couple of students and disappeared through the portrait. Theo was nearby, watching her leave with a quizzical look on his face. I stormed up to him.

“How could you?!” I pushed him, but my efforts were useless against the bulk of his chest. He swayed, then caught my wrists to stop me from hitting him again.

“Hero, what are you doing?” He glanced around nervously; we were attracting a few curious looks.

“You told Emory! Why would you do that?”

Theo’s face paled as comprehension set in, and his grip on my wrists tightened. “But I didn’t.”

“You’re full of shit Theodore, like the rest of your blood traitor family.”

I don’t know what made me say it. My anger, I supposed; the desire to hurt him as he had Emory. As we had hurt her. Theo’s eyes narrowed dangerously. He all but threw my wrists down, and a tiny thrill of fear went through me; I had never seen him this angry before.

His shoulders relaxed fractionally and he jerked his head. “Come on, let’s find her. Explain.”

“I’ve got the Quidditch match,” I said grudgingly, and I doubted explaining to her would do much.

“Wait,” he said, grabbing my wrist again, “if you didn’t say anything either, how does she know?”

I bit my lip. “I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.”

-

When I walked into the Quidditch changing rooms, Leighton looked smug to see me there. The team was ready with broomstick in hand, red and gold colours blazing, dancing nervously on the spot or pacing in front of the lockers.

“What are we waiting for?” I asked Lindon, our Seeker, as I pulled on my gloves.

“Morgan,” he answered. “He hasn’t been down yet. No one’s seen him.”

“Well has anyone gone to look for him?”

Lindon nodded. “Professor Dumbledore was just here. He’s gone back to the castle.”

I had just shoved my bag into a locker when Professor Dumbledore stepped into the room, long magenta robes swishing around his feet. His eyes held none of their usual sparkle; instead they were grave, making my stomach do a backflip. “I’m afraid,” he said softly, “there will be no Quidditch today. Mr Morris has been petrified.”

Hushed gasps sounded throughout the room, questions overlapping one another as they fought to be heard by Professor Dumbledore. He held up his hands and the small room fell silent. “Christmas break will begin earlier this year, to allow for a thorough search of the school. The Hogwarts Express will be leaving tomorrow morning; I suggest you all be on it. Your parents have been notified.” He dismissed us then, to pack our trunks in preparation for tomorrow. As I went to retrieve my bag from the locker, he added, “Miss Blishwick, may I have a moment?”

Confused, I nodded, taking a seat on the cold metal while my teammates left the room.

“No need to look so alarmed, Hero, I wish only to talk.” He sat opposite me and clasped his hands loosely in his lap. “If you’ll pardon me for being so keenly observant, but I have noticed you spending time with Mr Riddle of late.”

Wondering what this was about, I replied, “Yes, sir.”

Professor Dumbledore looked at me over his half-moon spectacles. There was a pregnant silence, in which I tried hard to not squirm under his gaze like a guilty child, though I had done nothing wrong. Finally, Professor Dumbledore said, “Keep an eye on him, won’t you?”

I blinked in surprise. “Y-yes, sir.”

“I fear he grows lonely at the orphanage, and will be unhappy to learn of this extended leave. Perhaps you could write him?”

My parents probably already had plans to invite him over for Christmas; my father had said this year’s would be a large one. Now I knew the reason why; the Besmurten. Grindelwald. A temptation of power Father could never resist. The prospect of Tom staying both thrilled and terrified me for these reasons. “Of course, sir,” I said to Professor Dumbledore.

“Very well. Happy holidays, Miss Blishwick.” He left then, and I watched the end of his magenta robes disappear through the door.

Happy holidays, indeed.

-

A/N: Where would this story (and my sanity) be without Julie? ♥






Chapter 12: Hangleton
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I stopped outside a newsagency and lifted my hair from my neck, hoping to attract a cool breeze. There was no shade along the main street of Great Hangleton; even standing under the shop’s overhang was stifling.

“Come on, Hero,” Finn called from further up the street, his arms as tan as mine in his Muggle attire striped shirt.

I shouted back that I was coming and took a step, but stopped as something crunched under my foot. I frowned and looked down. There was a folded piece of white paper under my sandal, so bright in the sun I had to squint against it, and bent to pick it up. It was a formal letter, a logo of two horses crossed hooves in the corner told me it was from ‘St Emilie’s Psychiatric Hospital’. My frown deepened as I scanned it, catching the words, ‘depression, schizophrenia, hallucinations’ before a shadow fell over the paper.

“Excuse me,” came a timid male voice.

I looked up to see a blonde haired boy, cheeks flushed, eyes staring to his feet as they shuffled against the pavement.

He said, “That’s m-mine.”

"Oh! I’m sorry!” I handed the paper to him, feeling a flush in my own cheeks that had nothing to do with the sun.

“Hero!” shouted Finn again. He was looking at me, arms raised in a gesture that said, ‘what are you doing?’ I waved irritably at him, my short temper directly linked to the heat.

“Is that your name? Hero?” the boy asked.

I turned back to him with a grimace and nodded.

“That’s… different,” he said. “I wish my name was something like that.”

I smiled. “Trust me, you don’t. What
is your name?”

The boy grinned. “Noah.”


-

Christmas at the Blishwick Manor was always an extravagant affair, but Mother outdid herself this year in preparation for our ‘guests’. I wrinkled my nose at the term as I gazed up at our large white house. It sounded too polite for who they were. The house-elves must have worked twice as hard to decorate the outside – which they normally didn’t. Wreaths hung from the eaves, from the upper balconies, and even across the windows of the upper story rooms, including the ones we hardly used, and there were a lot of them.

Finn let out a whistle after we arrived by Side-Along Apparition into the driveway, expressing my thoughts. “What’s the occasion?” he asked.

Father gave him an exasperated look as we dropped our hands from his arm. “Once we’re inside, there’s something I need to discuss with you two.”

“What is it?” I asked, lifting my trunk with a grunt.

Father flicked his wand and my trunk started levitating. I gave a sigh of relief. “We’ll talk inside,” he said, “I won’t say anything out here.”

I rolled my eyes at Finn behind his back, but received none of the agreement at our father’s obsession with security that I expected. Instead, Finn was chewing his lip as he pulled his coat tighter around himself. I arched an eyebrow before following Father and our trunks inside.

I stepped into the large entry hall of the manor, letting the familiarity wash over me. I had to admit the house looked great, no matter whose benefit it was for: green and silver tinsel was weaved through the railing of the grand staircase, wreaths of holly finished with big white bows were placed in even intervals across the upper balustrade. A massive Christmas tree towered in the middle of the hall. The house’s usual smell of lilies and cleanliness was overpowered by the smell of gingerbread, which was wafting through the house from the kitchen. I wasn’t hungry, but my mouth watered as the smell reached my nostrils.

I stopped in front of a photo of Finn and I on a side table in the hall. We must have been about six, Finn on a swing with me on his lap. I couldn’t help a smile from tugging at my mouth at the glee on our faces as Father used his wand to make the swing rise impossibly high, his arm looped around Mother’s waist. Fifteen-year-old Finn walked past me, squeezing my shoulder briefly as he did so. After a moment, I put the photo down and followed him into the dining room.

“Welcome home!” Mother squealed, smiling as she rose from her seat at the dining table. She was impeccably dressed, as usual. Heavy-looking earrings dangled from her earlobes and her pale yellow silk dress was wrinkle-free. She pulled the both of us into a hug. Finn reached behind her to pinch my arm and I punched him in return.

After we greeted Mother, we sat at one end of the long dining table. Our house elf brought tea, biscuits and numerous pastries which Finn dug into eagerly. I reached for a mini éclair, nibbling at it while I waited for Father to start, my stomach clenching in apprehension and not allowing room for much else.

“This is an important time for our family,” he began. “The Blishwicks have been chosen to represent Gellert Grindelwald in his campaign from within Britain. We will be assisting him in whatever he needs.”

This was not news to me or Finn, but it still felt like a kick in the gut to hear it from my father’s lips, as if speaking aloud about the Besmurten made them real. I glanced at Mother; her expression betrayed nothing, though her mouth was a thin line.

My father continued, “Some of Grindelwald’s most intimate followers of the Besmurten will be staying with us for a few days over Christmas. I expect both of you to be on your best behaviour.” He looked straight at me as he said this last part. I tried not to squirm, afraid he would see the uncertainty in my eyes. “If all goes to plan, by this time next year Grindelwald’s revolution will be achieved, with us by his side.”

I set down the half eaten eclair and wiped my hands on my skirt, unsure if I was ready for the holidays after all.

-

The next morning dawned cold but clear. I rose early, the only sounds coming faintly from the kitchen as the house elves prepared breakfast. Dressing quickly and quietly, I slipped outside into the crisp air before Father got the chance to speak with me. I’d feigned tiredness the night before when he’d shown signs of attempts at a persuasive argument.

Great Hangleton this early was quiet, but a few signs of life were beginning to emerge. Delivery trucks ambled by carrying Muggle goods, a few men in funny Muggle hats walked dogs down the main street. One of the cafés I recognised was open and, for lack of anything better to do, I stepped inside into warmth.

I slid into a booth and pushed the sticky plastic menu aside, ordering a coffee from the waitress. I stared out the window without really seeing anything as I waited. Noah had brought me here over the summer a few times. A girl walked past, and I was so deep in thought I almost missed her. Darcy.

Heart pounding, I bolted from my seat and outside, calling her name. She turned at my voice, and a mixture of emotions fought for dominance on her pretty face as she saw me. Wariness, sadness, shock. I couldn’t help the shock that must have been plain on my own face. Darcy had always been thin, but now she looked unhealthy. Her hair, once thick and shiny, was now greasy, pulled back into a messy up do, with strands floating around her face.

“Will you join me?” I jerked my head in invitation toward the cafe door, my hand holding it half open. After a moment’s hesitation, her shoulders dropped, despondent. She nodded and followed me in.

She sat with her back to the door in the booth, looking like she’d rather be anywhere else. Her eyes were fixed on the salt and pepper shakers.

I twisted my fingers together in my lap and asked, “Are you okay?” even though I already knew the answer.

She cleared her throat and shrugged. I caught a whiff of the peppermint I used to smell in their - her - apartment. “Not really.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling the guilt I had pushed down for so long rising to the surface once again. As the last one to see Noah alive, I felt as if I had taken something away from Darcy, as if she were more deserving of spending Noah’s final moments with him. But then, I wouldn’t wish the feeling of falling from a bridge into water on anyone.

A rush of cold air swirled through the café as the door opened, and Finn and Tom walked in. My heart skipped a beat at seeing Tom out of the usual school environment. From the way they walked purposefully toward us, I guessed they had seen me through the window.

“Hey hey.” Finn threw himself into the booth next to Darcy, and donned a Blishwick smile as he looked at her. I rolled my eyes, then glanced at her. I expected the batting of eyelashes and twirling of hair that usually accompanied Finn, but Darcy was staring at Tom, who seated himself next to me. She was suddenly very pale.

Tom laid a hand on my leg. I went to lay my own hand on top of his, but he squeezed my knee lightly before removing it. He was looking at Darcy, a mildly curious expression on his face. “Hello, Amy,” he said.

I looked between the two of them awkwardly. “Er, Tom, this is Darcy.”

Tom’s expression didn’t falter. “She wasn’t born Darcy, though. Were you Amy?”

Darcy was silent, her pretty eyes wide as she stared at Tom. Then she stood up abruptly, yelled, “Move!” at Finn - who scrambled out of the seat - and rushed from the cafe.

I stared after her in astonishment as Finn returned to the booth, muttering under his breath. I turned back to Tom, who was reading the menu with disinterest. “What was that about?”

"Hm?” He looked up. “Oh, Amy was at the orphanage in London with me. Left a few years ago.”

"What?” I gasped. “You know her? Well - but - that must mean you knew Noah? He was there too, but he was Dennis Bishop then.”

Tom furrowed his eyebrows in thought. “It doesn’t sound familiar,” he said. “There are a lot of children there, Hero. I can’t be expected to know all of them.”

I slumped in my seat. “No,” I said faintly. “I suppose not...”

“You’re not going to see her again.” he said.

“What? Why not?” I stared at him in disbelief.

“She’s a Muggle, for one thing,” he said.

“And she’s insane, for another,” Finn added.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped. “She’s just… sad."

Finn sighed like he was bored. Tom slipped out of the booth and looked to him. “We’re leaving. Are you coming?” he added to me.

I remained in my seat. “I just need to grab some things from the market first, but I won’t be long.”

With a nod from Tom and a wink from Finn, they left. I peered out the window, watching them until they disappeared down the street. Then I rose, Noah and Darcy’s apartment my destination.

-

The apartment wasn’t far from town. I pulled my coat tighter around myself as I walked, flakes of snow beginning to drift softly from the sky. The town had settled into a steady flow of traffic now; the usual morning rush beginning. Further down the main street, I stopped into front of the newsagency Noah used to work at, recognising one of the workers through the dirty window.

I stepped into the dingy newsagents, the smell of newspapers and ink filling my nostrils, and I breathed in deeply. It reminded me faintly of Flourish & Blotts in Diagon Alley. A short, stocky boy with dark clipped hair and a good natured face was bent over the counter, writing an order with a slight frown between his brows. A lump rose in my throat just to look at him, a wave of memories rising to the forefront of my mind.

“Zeke.” My voice sounded stronger than I had expected, for which I was glad.

The boy looked up, his eyes widening. Without a word, he came around the counter to the front and pulled me into a tight hug. I relaxed against him, letting his arms envelop me.

“Hero,” Zeke said softly, pulling back to look at me easily, as we were the same height. “Want me to take a break?”

“It’s okay, Zeke. I won’t be long.” I took a deep breath. “I was just wondering if Noah ever mentioned anything to you before he died.”

He looked confused. “Like what?”

“Like a person. Anyone he’d had a fight with maybe?”

Zeke’s expression turned wary. “What is this about, Hero?”

I bit the inside of my lip. “I don’t think the crash was an accident,” I said quietly. “I think someone tampered with his car. So that he couldn’t get out.”

Zeke’s eyes widened. “What?” he breathed. His eyebrows furrowed in thought, and he rubbed a thumb along his bottom lip. “Actually… the day before he died, something did happen that freaked him out.”

“What?” I stepped aside to let a lady pass.

Zeke squinted slightly as he tried to remember. “We were working together, and I was out back when he burst in, hiding behind the filing cabinet. He was trembling, pale as a ghost. I hadn’t seen him like that for a long time, Hero.”

“What happened?” I whispered, suppressing a shiver.

“He saw someone,” Zeke said, staring out the window, eyes glazed. “A boy he knew from the orphanage I think he said. But he didn’t say anything else.”

I furrowed my brow. My skin began to prickle, but I wasn’t sure why. There was something so wrong about all of this, so I thanked Zeke, gave him a hug goodbye and continued to Darcy’s.

-

The apartment hadn’t changed. There were a few more weeds and scattered rubbish out the front, but it was still the same dreary place. Stepping over a broken chair, I reached the door and knocked on it. For a brief, anxious moment, I didn’t think she was home. Or worse, was ignoring me. But before long there were muffled footsteps, the lock clicked, and Darcy peered through a small crack in the door.

“Oh. It’s you.” Her eyes were ringed with red, her cheeks blotchy.

“Can I come in?”

She didn’t move, long enough for me to grow anxious again, but then she sighed and nodded. I followed her inside. The apartment was as messy as the outside, as I had first imagined it would be. Dirty cups and clothes littered every surface. I was concerned to see the amount of empty wine bottles were in the room. I sat on the couch, facing her, discreetly pushing a pair of ripped stockings to the side, trying to ignore the underwear on the arm of the chair that clearly belonged to a man. It was awkward enough to be with her in this room without Noah.

“Why did you leave?” I asked.

Darcy shrugged. “Didn’t feel well.”

No use wasting time with falsified preamble. “Tom told me you were at Wool’s Orphanage together.”

She nodded slowly, looking down at her hands. “We were, before Noah and I were relocated.”

“Why?” I asked as softly as I could, afraid she would run like a skittish animal if I pushed her too hard.

She shook her head. “I can’t tell you, Hero. You’ll think I’m crazy. Everybody did.”

“I won’t, I promise. Please, Darcy. I need to know.”

She looked up and gave me a sardonic smile. “Darcy Roland isn’t my real name. It’s Amy Benson.”

I’d guessed this, after what Tom said in the cafe. I nodded and said, “I know Noah wasn’t Noah’s real name either.”

She exhaled quietly. “No.” She paused, picking at her fingernails. “Did he ever tell you why we changed our names?”

“He told me something happened to him as a child. Something someone did, and he was afraid they’d come back.”

"Tom Riddle happened to him as a child.”

Her words felt like a kick to my stomach strong enough to wind me. For a moment I struggled to breathe. “What do you mean?” I managed to choke out.

“How well do you know him?”

I deliberated telling her while I concentrated on getting my breathing back to normal. Once I was steady I went with the answer that would get me the truth. I said, “Not very well, he’s just a friend of my brother’s.”

Darcy wasn’t looking at me anymore. She was staring at the floor, her eyes distant, seeing something far from the apartment.

“It was my fault,” she whispered. “I… was never nice to Tom. He was just so quiet, weird. I’m not proud of it,” she added defensively, looking up at me, “but when you’re twelve…”

I nodded, urging for her to go on.

“Noah followed me everywhere,” she continued in a hushed tone, her eyes beginning to glaze as she resumed her staring at the floor, “and he became guilty by association for whatever I did. He never did no wrong, he was too sweet for that.” She took a deep breath. “When Noah was ten - and so was Tom - the orphanage took us to the seaside. A bi-yearly treat, you know,” she quirked an eyebrow cynically. “Noah and I were in the water. Tom was on his own, like usual, and when he started walking away from the group… well, I had to follow. He was always up to something, you know.”

I thought of the Dark Arts book, and the countless late hours Tom spent pouring over books in the library. My skin prickled with new understanding.

“Of course Noah followed me. I tried to tell him to go back to the others, but he wouldn’t listen. He never really did.”

I smiled sadly to myself as I thought of a little Noah disobeying orders. Darcy took another deep breath.

“We followed Tom, keeping far enough back so he wouldn’t notice, until he disappeared around a curve of cliff face. By the time Noah and I rounded the corner, Tom was nowhere to be seen.”

An icy finger slid down my spine. Was she really describing the handsome, charming, polite boy I was dating? “What happened?”

Darcy bit her lip. “God, Hero, I can’t…”

I lay a hand gently on her arm, but she pulled it away. “Nothing you can tell me is too crazy, trust me.”

She glanced up at me, tears in her eyes. It still surprised me; I never thought she’d be one to cry. Her voice was thick as she continued, “The cliffs were right by the sea, all sharp rocks and shallow pools, but the tide was out, so it was pretty easy to climb them. Tom was on the other side, see. And I thought: if he could do it, so could I.

“There was a cave. I don’t know how he found it ‘cause the entrance was so tiny. But Tom disappeared into it and I wanted to follow. Noah was scared; he’d scraped his knees on the rocks and was wet and cold after slipping into the water a few times. He begged me to turn back, but I – I forced him to come with me.” She stopped, swallowing. I longed to touch her in comfort, but didn’t dare.

“We stepped inside. It was dark, but I could see the cave was huge.” She paused. She was speaking so quietly now that I didn’t dare breathe in case the sound drowned out her words. “Tom… he did things, Hero, and I can’t even tell you, I can’t explain, but I know it was him!”

“It’s okay,” I said softly, not sure I wanted to know.

“He hurt us,” she continued anyway. “Physically, at first, but he never touched us. Like, the pain was inside - right in my very veins. I’d heard similar things happening to the other kids at the orphanage. I’d call them looneys, but –” She shook her head. “Then there were… thoughts. I-I was thinking things - horrible things - but it wasn’t me. I - You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

I shook my head, hoping she wouldn’t see the goosebumps rippled up my arm. “No. I believe you. What happened then?”

“Well... Mrs Cole asked what happened, sure. But I couldn’t say anything. Not out of fear - though that was the case at first - but because I physically couldn’t. Every time I tried to say something about it, my throat c-closed and I couldn’t breathe until I stopped trying to talk.”

“Darcy…”

“It was magic, Hero,” she said, her eyes bright with desperation as she grabbed my arm. “There’s no other explanation! All of it was supernatural! Magic is real, it exists!”

I tried my best to look shocked, and found it was surprisingly easy.

“I kept quiet about it, but Noah wouldn’t. He was so scared. He… he blamed me when we were alone, and soon he didn’t want to see me anymore.” She swallowed before whispering so quietly I almost missed it, “He tried to kill himself once. I got there just in time, when I was trying to apologise for the hundredth time.” The words were spilling out of her mouth now, as if she couldn’t stop them. “I took him to the hospital, but he was hysterical, telling the doctors what happened when we were kids, but of course they didn’t believe him. They finally used electroconvulsive therapy on him.” She shuddered.

I didn’t know what meant – probably some Muggle term – but it didn’t sound pleasant. I felt hollow inside; the Noah I knew hadn’t been like this. I had seen glimpses, had heard of the flashes of the cave that came to him in nightmares, but he had been getting better. I blinked back tears; this made his death all the more tragic.

Darcy continued, “After that, he didn’t remember anything about it. He didn’t even remember that he blamed me, and I was more than happy to keep it that way. So he came to live with me. It might have been selfish, but I wasn’t as lucky to have a carefree mind. I needed him.”

I wiped my sweaty palms on my stockings. “And you thought I’d take him from you.”

“Maybe at first,” she admitted, “but he was remembering, I could see that. It would have happened eventually.”

“And Tom?”

The lines around her mouth tightened. “Like I said, we couldn’t say anything. I don’t know what he told Mrs Cole. Probably that we were exploring. He could spin any tale, and she would believe it. He’s a fucking… freak.”

I flinched. Magic made me a freak in her eyes as well. Rising, I felt lightheaded; I’d heard enough. “I should go. But thank you. For telling me everything.”

Darcy remained sitting, looking sad. “He was all I had.”

I nodded, my heart giving a painful squeeze as I thought of not just Noah, but Morgan and Emory as well. “I miss him too. And… if you ever need anything, I’ll be here for you.”

She opened her mouth, obviously thought better of whatever she was going to say, and closed it again. Finally, she said in a tight voice, “Thank you.”

I lifted one side of my mouth before I left. At the door I paused and turned back. “Darcy… are you still scared? Like Noah was?”

"I was,” she said from the couch, with a smile that held no humour. “But I’m not scared anymore. I’m angry.”

-

A/N: Thank you to ever amazing Julie and thank you for reading this far - the second to last chapter!





Chapter 13: Lionheart
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I walked back to my house in a state of numbness. Darcy’s words were repeating in my ears, banging like a drum painfully against my skull. I’d managed to avoid returning home all day – managed to avoid Tom – but now the sun was setting fast behind the hills of Hangleton, my shadow stretching before me as if it were leading me home.
 
In the entry hall, I was greeted immediately with the murmured buzz of voices from the next room. I groaned inwardly; I forgot all about dinner plans. I didn’t notice my mother’s approach until she hurried over from the kitchen, heels clicking on the tiled floor, and touched my arm. Her hair, a few shades lighter than Finn’s, was tightly curled around her head, pinned with large sapphire clips.

“Hero, darling!” She pushed lightly on the small of my back toward the stairs, her elegant perfume reaching my nostrils. When I was young she would dab the same scent behind my ears as she readied for dinner and would call me her ‘little lady’. “Come, you must get dressed quickly.”

I looked past her shoulder to the dining room. “I just need to talk to Tom, I –”

“There’ll be plenty of time for that later; I’ve seated you next to him –”

I stopped in my tracks, the thought of having to sit beside him without being able to say anything filled me with dread. “Mother, I can’t. Can you put me with someone else?”

Mother’s dark eyebrows drew together. “Did you two have a fight?”

Not yet. “No, I just can’t talk to him about this over dinner.”

Mother nodded, but she still looked concerned. Probably worried I’d ruin the one relationship she finally approved of. “I’ll see what I can do. Now come, dinner is starting soon; our guests are already in the dining room.”

As we ascended the stairs, Mother chatted anxiously to two house elves on either side of her. It was all white noise to me, Darcy’s voice still at the forefront of my mind. Halfway up the stairs, someone appeared in front of us. Father, his light hair slicked back and black dress robes neatly pressed, stopped a few steps above us as he descended. He already towered over me – a gene Finn and I both missed out on – and I had to strain my neck to look up at him.

“Hero, you’re not even dressed!” he scolded, slipping his wand inside of his robes. “I told you how important this is to us. Why are you so pale?” He looked to Mother, who had dismissed the servants and mouthed what looked suspiciously like ‘Tom’ to him.

If only they knew.

“Do try to look more festive, Hero. With that look on your face, anyone would think you’d taken a Befuddlement Draught.”

I sighed, feeling like I had. I felt as if I’d been taking it since term started…

Because I had.

The realisation hit me in the stomach like a physical blow, and it took all my energy to not double over as if I was winded. Lovage was an ingredient in Tom’s chocolate I had been consuming for months. Lovage, one of the main ingredients of a Befuddlement Draught.

Father dismissed us and I let Mother pull me up the stairs to my bedroom as if in a trance. Everything swirled around me, the blood rushing to my ears in a loud rush. She closed my bedroom door behind me. I watched her cross the room, muttering to herself under her breath.

“Mother, I need to talk to Tom now.”

She ignored me, reaching across my neatly made bed to where she had lain out a dress. It was white, lacy and long sleeved – not unlike the emerald green one I wore to Slughorn’s Halloween party, but it was dotted with diamantes and finished with a thick silver sash around the middle. A silver wrap lay beside it and silver jewellery sat on the dressing table.

“Do you like it?” she asked, coming to wrap an arm around my shoulders. I felt stifled by her proximity, but I resisted pushing her off. The room was too hot, my head spinning, my breaths short.

“It’s lovely,” I said truthfully, “but this is really important.”

“Okay, okay. Merlin forbid I get in the way of young love. If you hurry, you’ll have time before we sit down to eat.” She gave my shoulders a squeeze before she left. 

-

My stomach twisted in knots underneath my dress as I descended the stairs. I peered into the dining room. The long table was elaborately set, tons of people milling around it as they chatted to each other. Finn, drink in hand, saw me and winked. A handful of wizards were dressed in matching black and red dress robes; I assumed these were the Besmurten. I spotted Tom just past a group of my cousins. He was speaking with Mother’s brother, Caractacus Burke, smiling politely as he scribbled whatever my uncle was saying into a small black diary. My stomach lurched at the sight of it. I had seen it in his bag on previous occasions, but it was only now I recognised it; a style from a newsagent in London that Hangleton stocked.

All of it was true. I’d hoped, deep down, that Darcy had made a mistake. Tom was the boy from the orphanage Noah had seen before he died; he had to be. My hands curled into fists at my side as I watched him shake hands with Caractacus and the latter walk away with a satisfied smile. I caught Tom’s eye before he had time to slip away, and jerked my head for him to join me in the hall. He looked politely interested as he reached me.

“Upstairs. Now.”

Tom’s face turned amused, not intimidated as I had hoped. Without another word I turned on my heel and started up the stairs, not looking behind me to see if he followed. The sound of his soft footsteps told me he did, and relief flowed through me.

I went to enter an empty bedroom on the right, but Tom said, “No, in here,” and opened one on the left. After a second’s hesitation, I followed him in. The fire had been lit in this bedroom and the room was warm; it wasn’t enough to melt the ice in my veins. I moved to stand in front of the fire and wrapped my arms around myself as Tom shut the door.

“What is this about?” he asked, coming closer. He looked so calm, so at ease with himself. Once, I had admired that in him. Now, it made my hands shake. How could he look like that after all he had done?

I closed my eyes. It was easier to speak without looking at him. “I know.”

“You know what?” He sounded bored.

“I know what you did. To Noah. To both of them. Darcy – Amy – told me.”

There was a long silence, in which only the crackling of the flames could be heard Finally, I opened my eyes. He was smirking.

“So what, Hero?”

“How could you do it?” I whispered.

He leant his back against the door. “I am capable of a lot more than you think.”

I stepped closer to the fire, but it didn’t help the hair from rising on the back of my neck. “I know about the chocolate too, how – ”

Tom let out a short laugh that held no amusement. “Not that, you silly girl. A Befuddlement Draught is child’s play. Did you really not guess?”

I swallowed my retaliation in favour of asking, “Guess what?”

I am the Heir of Slytherin.”

I heard my breath catch in my throat. How was that possible? “You released the monster?”

“A Basilisk,” he said softly, almost fondly, hands clasped behind his back. “Left behind to finish Salazar’s work under the control of the only person worthy enough.”

“What about Sebastian?”

Tom stepped away from the door. I took an involuntary step back. “An unforeseeable occurrence that could have ruined everything. Fortunately, everybody believes he caught dragon pox.” He ran a hand lightly over the wood of the vanity table. Over the crackle of the fire, an owl hooted outside.

“You killed Noah, didn’t you?” I whispered. As the owl hooted again, the image of the raven, of Tom’s owl flashed through my mind like another piece of a jigsaw puzzle slipping into place. The puzzle was one that I didn’t want to finish. The completed image was horrifying.

Tom leaned casually against the bedpost, crossing his arms in front of him. “I saw you get into his car that day,” he said. “I recognised him, and I couldn’t have him recognise me and risk him telling you about the orphanage. You would have gone straight to your parents, and my plans would have been subverted. You aren’t as good with secrets as you think you are.”

“You don’t know the first thing about me.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really, Hero. I heard you talking to Talbot from the other end of the corridor the night of the first attack. The best friend and the boyfriend?” He clucked his tongue disapprovingly.

My hands started to shake. I hid them behind my back. “You told Emory.”

He didn’t answer this. He didn’t have to. “So, obviously, I wasn’t going to let any of that happen.”

I couldn’t form coherent words; my mind scrambled to arrange this information into an explanation I could comprehend. I was coming up short. “You – you practically ruined his life! He was getting better, and you killed him!” My voice shook.

Tom rubbed his chin, looking unconcerned.

“He was a person!” I shouted. “He never recovered from whatever you did to him in that cave. His life was not something for you to play with! He didn’t belong to you - and neither do I.” I stormed past him, reaching for the door handle, but it was locked. I turned around. “Open it, Tom.”

“I won’t.”

The coolness in his voice sent a shrill of fear through my body. I lowered my own voice. “Open it, now.”

Tom took a step forward, and I pushed myself against the door, longing for my wand in my bag downstairs. Did Tom have his beneath his dress robes? Another jolt of fear went through me. “They told me you would be difficult, but I had no idea just how much.”

My hand slid off the door handle. “Who told you?”

“Your parents, your family. Time after time you defy them. Why?”

I bunched my hands into my dress to stop them from shaking. “I never mean to. I – I just don’t agree with them on this. With Grindelwald. With any of it.”

Tom took another step. “Perhaps you were never right for this after all.”

“Right for what?” I asked nervously.

Tom turned his back, touching random objects on the table. “I thought that Muggle was a small act of rebellion after Talbot, that you would change after he died.” He turned back, raising one shoulder in a shrug. “Obviously you aren’t going to change your position.”

A sudden, awful thought struck me. “Did you want me to die that day as well?”

Tom cocked his head as he considered me. “Your parents already accepted me. It didn’t matter to me either way.”

“Oh my God.” My stomach swirled, and I leaned over and vomited into the wood bucket by the fireplace. I remained bent, heaving, as he came up behind me. Wiping my mouth on my sleeve, I straightened, only to have Tom grab my chin in a tight grip. I pulled back, lost my balance and fell onto my knees. He ran a thumb over my bottom lip before letting go, and I licked my lips instinctively. Immediately, my lips and tongue began to tingle and swell. Dread made my knees weaken and I slipped further to the floor. Tom’s grip on my arms tightened as he let me sink down.

“What -?” I began. I was shocked at how raspy my voice sounded. Breathing was becoming difficult. My throat was closing, searing like I had swallowed fire and I clawed at it as if I could scratch the burning itch inside from the outside. The sound of my breath was no more than a ragged gasp. My eyes darted desperately around the room; they seemed to be the only thing I could move. Then I saw it on the vanity: the little black body with a white stripe down its back, lying half crushed.

A mastilio spider.

I tried to speak, but my voice was no more than a whimper that escaped my lips. Tom lowered himself to the floor and held me in his lap, cradling my head tenderly as if we were lovers. He stroked my hair away from my face, tucking it gently behind my ear. I tried to raise my arms to push him away, to slap him, anything, but my arms wouldn’t move; the spider venom was like fire in my veins. I could feel it moving through my body. My heart slowed, every beat growing heavier and strained, like they knew they were numbered but trying desperately to hold on.

“Oh, Hero…” Tom sighed. “I’m going to rule the world. You could have had the honour to be at my side. You’re a foolish girl, to think the teeth of a lion are a match against the venom of a serpent.” He shook his head, which was now beginning to blur around the edges of his dark hair. “No matter, I will still have the loyalty of the Blishwicks behind me one way or another. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. I will be the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen.”

I felt cold, despite the heat of the fire and despite the warmth of his arms around me. Even despite the hot tears running down my skin. Mine, of course. Tom Riddle would never shed tears. I looked past him toward the door. It was as if my eyelids were the curtains of a stage, slowly lowering on the final act, until there was nothing but darkness and finality.

My name is Hero Blishwick.

That’s all there is.





A/N: Speech? Speech.

First of all...

I'm sorry.

THANK YOU to anyone who ever played a part in this story. Thank you Ysh, Chiara, Renee for your support, encouragement and listening skills. Thank you Jill for putting up with me for months and being one of the first to review every chapter. Thank you, reader, for making it through to the end; you inspire me. And thank you Julie for taking your time and energy to help me become a better writer and for making this story the best it can be.

Look out for the sequel - told in Finn's POV - in the next few weeks!

 



 


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