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The Closest Thing To Caring by fashionist
Chapter 2 : Uncomfortable Truths (September)
 
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]---[

Tom Riddle

To describe Tom Riddle would be comical.

In fact, if anyone tried to place an adjective that truly rang with his personality, they would most likely end up stammering angrily at whoever was listening sympathetically. Only Slughorn could attempt, listing words like 'clever' and 'charming' if anyone bothered to ask, but even those didn't quite round Tom out.

To put it quite simply, no one really knew what Tom was. Most of them considered him intimidating, though he normally kept a half-civil persona to impatient and intolerant juveniles. Some others braved at calling him misunderstood, which fit easily enough if anyone tried to understand him, and considering they didn't want to know they never tried.

There were many other adjectives Tom rung on himself, self-supporting adjectives that made him more arrogant than some of the other students; these words were things like advanced, charming or clever, and, sometimes, just simply better or the best.

But, then again, there were the Gryffindors and the rejected who observed Tom Riddle with a negatively biased eye. They thought he was either pure evil or some spawn of Grindlewald's. The competitors in wit thought him a cheat and a scam, and the purebloods who disliked him simply named him halfblood and nothing more, as if that passed as a never-ending scorn, and it was only this adjective that validly described Tom, though reluctantly he took it.

But yet Tom's personality was battled over by the Slytherins, most being ignorant purebloods trying to make a living off of their blood type and their predecessor's wealth, trying to find a legible husband to successfully continue their family's name. Tom was looked down upon in this quest, for he was neither pureblood nor wealthy, and so they turned their noses upward at him, calling him poor and scum.

The only people that positively described him were teachers, save for Albus Dumbledore, who looked down at him with a stern and watchful eye. These teachers were struck by his apparent easygoing manner and his ability to pretend to enjoy himself in the midst of everyone around him. Consequently, they joviality thought him an 'adorable and absolutely charming young man who will go very, very far'.

There was really only one adjective that could round out this mysterious teenager, though the only people that were aware of it did not use it as an adjective. In fact, the only people that would eventually accustom to this adjective were ones that could hardly mutter it.

That adjective was Voldemort , and the word screamed what every adjective did not.

]---[

The meeting with all the Prefects was mandatory.

Of course, the meeting with all of the prefects was mandatory, because if it wasn't Tom Riddle would not have found himself sitting between a redheaded, overweight man and a shock-still and extremely pale brunette, who sat on his right.

To put it in bluntest terms, the lady on the right had introduced herself already as the Head Girl, though considering that she seemed afraid of leadership he could not imagine how she had earned herself the position. It could have been, perhaps, her predecessors, or chemistry with Dippet- either way, the brunette was clearly not eligible.

Slughorn also occupied the compartment, sitting nearest to the window opposing him, with a blonde haired girl animally engaging him in conversation. In fact, the whole room seemed abuzz with conversation, causing the atmosphere to already peeve the boy and threaten him with a headache.

However, the only person not taking advantage of this situation was the brunette, who instead of relaxing was clenching her fists nervously and attempting to bring her fingers through her extremely curly hair, though not succeeding, as her hair was rather tousled. She moved her gaze from Slughorn to the compartment door to the ceiling, and sighed frequently, the only contribution to the wave slowly bringing the wall to prevent a headache down.

Apathetically, Tom brought himself to open a book he had read and reread a great number of times. It was the only way to amuse himself, though it would be quite a feat to amuse him anyhow, for he had nearly memorized the book in front of him.

The book was titled, in beautiful calligraphy that aged many years, Hogwarts, A History .

The book had been obsessed again and again by Tom, who enjoyed literature to an extent, especially books about wizardry, and Hogwarts, A History satisfied that enjoyment. It attempted to list every secret of the school, though Tom had over the years acquired a grand knowledge of Hogwarts.

The book itself was Tom's, with various pages marked for future reference, and he carried it around frequently, generally just a book amidst a collection of educational reads that informed him of spells he had learned four years ago. He had gotten it from Flourish and Blotts in its less popular days, though the book had been the last in frequent production.

It had come across as kind of a personal entity to him, and if anyone had witlessly asked what he would take with him on a deserted island the book would probably be it. He had had it for seven years, and it had barely lost its luster from the first read, being a book that with his cleverness he could use as an ally to find every secret passageway in the building.

Sighing, Tom flipped a page, simultaneously looking upward towards the compartment, though he admitted to holding little patience for the group as a whole. Conversation had seemed to gradually slow, before coming to a near silence, the brunette embarrassingly finishing an answer to a very confused lanky young boy.

Tom leaned back on the rigid wooden chair, watching in silent amusement as everyone in the room stumbled for a reason as to their silence, looking from one person to another as if that would help resolute their question. The girl on the right, particularly, switched her gaze from the lanky boy to Slughorn and then back to his self, as if they would start talking to stifle the awkward silence.

"Welcome to the Prefect's compartment!" Slughorn greeted enthusiastically, shaking each person's hand, his grip slimy and disconcerting, a fake smile gracing his face and his eyes narrowed as if he was examining each person thoroughly. "I can't stay very long, unfortunately, but I would like to talk over some of the rules of being a Prefect if you're scared and you're not quite used to it yet. After that, I'll answer any of your questions and I'll leave you to these two lovely leaders!" he gestured to the couple, and beside him the girl involuntarily winced and out of the corner of his eye turned a slight red.

"Now, first I'd like for us do go around in a circle and introduce ourselves," he started pompously, pointing to himself in pride. "I, as you all know, am Professor Slughorn, and you have seen me as your Potions master. Now, I know you must be wondering: why would I be here? It's not like I'll teach you an antidote on the ride!" he chucked at this, the only noise in the silent, unamused compartment. Slughorn's chuckles slowly died, and he looked around to the blonde haired girl next to him, gesturing for her to start the exercise.

"I'm Dana," she greeted, fingering a bit of her fringe as Slughorn smiled fondly and shook the girl's hand. "I'm in fifth year and I'm a Hufflepuff, along with my other associate, compadre, and friend, Andrew, who, yes, is also a Hufflepuff too." She grinned toward the lanky boy, and involuntarily Tom rolled his eyes at the never ceasing optimism that all Hufflepuffs had for everyone and their joyful charisma that frankly made Tom wish that Hufflepuffs did not exist at all.

One by one, the students in between the gap introduced themselves, most of them being fifth years that wanted reassurance with their own friends. The boy sitting next to him was named Lawrence Weasley, and then Tom introduced himself, reluctantly choosing not to outright deny Slughorn's wishes due to the mere fact that he did not want to lose Slughorn's affection for him and his apparent blindness to every and anything he did.

And then, finally, came the introduction Tom had been silently wondering about, betting about, perhaps, what house she was in. At the time, he thought her to be a Hufflepuff, because she was absolutely cowardly, showed only slight hints of sarcasm, and not an ounce of originality or wit, though he could only guess (though most of his guesses came correct).

"Er," she elegantly stated, trying to comb her extremely pale hands through her mess of hair, though she did not succeed, sighing. "My name is Irene Taylor, and I'm a seventh year Ravenclaw." She said all of this with her eyes towards her own feet, and Tom internally snickered, slight disappointment radiating from the fact that for once he had been wrong while judging a person, though that was a feat he did quite a lot.

Soon after came the introductions from a Scottish boy with bright red hair (Robert) and one boy with dark brown hair and olive tones that Tom had seen before in his dormitory (Marc-Andre Devous). Finally came the lanky, nervous boy who had questioned the brunette- sorry, Irene - and he was named Andrew.

Slughorn smiled, clapping enthusiastically at the introductions he had received, and he looked around the room, mentally checking off everyone's last name to see if there was any student he could see in his Slug Club. He observed Marc-Andre for a few seconds and nodded, a wide, greedy smile appearing on his face.

"Now, I'm about to go to the other compartment to have lunch with my 'Slug Club'," he smoothly recited, ending with a impish grin. "Before I go, does anyone have any questions?- Yes?- Dana?"

"Well," she started, a curious, know-it-all tone in her voice, though a cheery smile had been set upon her face, "Well, why are you here? I mean, my older sister- you might know her, her name was Helen-" Slughorn nodded, though he did not seem happy and probably did not recall this woman- "She was a seventh year last year and she was a Prefect, and she was only with the Head Boy and Girl at the time as authoritive figures. So, what's the need for you to be here?"

It was definitely apparent now- Slughorn had lost his joyfulness and instead took on a somber tone when he answered Dana's question. Of course, Tom's face had taken on a variety of expressions, from an amused smirk to his lips straightening to an expressionless line, his curiosity and amusement slowly disintegrating from the conversation.

"Oh... well..." Slughorn stuttered, smoothing his balding head, "Well, after the events that ... transpired... last year, the Ministry wanted to make sure that everyone knew... er... standard rules for the school year, along with adult supervision... you know, just in case..."

"Sir," a Slytherin named Leslie interrupted, "sir, some of us are adults, so why do the Prefects need you here to answer any of our questions when the Head Boy and Girl could answer them? I mean, c'mon, sir, all they've done is sit and look cozy." She sent them a glare, and Tom scowled.

Generally, Tom was a quiet person, seeing as he was more observant than not, but he was also someone who took amusement in other people's worries and sorrows. It was a cynical thing to enjoy, he had duly noted much earlier in his existence, but it was nonetheless something that he leeched upon, and considering so many disasters fell upon themselves like waves, he was hardly ever unamused.

Seeing a petty girl like Leslie ruin his entertainment and make silly insults about him (and, well, Irene) could be taken as amusement for this cynical humor, but Tom was also an egotistical, arrogant jerk, and he wanted to listen in on his own doings- because Tom wasn't stupid. And, if he got the majority of his predictions confirmed, then Slughorn was referring to, yes, his own doings.

Oh, how proud he was. He had gotten the ever unintelligent and bumbling fool Hagrid expelled, even if news had spread that he had employment under Dippet- of course, this action was due to Dumbledore. Nonetheless, he had still had one of his selfish deeds answered, and he was satisfied.

Tom wasn't exactly nice , but he wasn't someone to recklessly pick battles. He believed that a person should know what battles to pick, and with this philosophy he won many of the battles he was engaged in. He had been able to face Hagrid's black record and Dippet's biased opinions and Dumbledore's lack of evidence. It had just been a matter of putting pieces together.

Tom wanted opportunity. Picking a battle with Hagrid that he was sure to have won had not damaged his armor at all. Even with his own father's demise he had smoothly hid himself from any evidence- the only chink in his armor was the loss of his diary of misdoings, but even that bronze weapon had been replaced with a steel one- his first Horcrux.

He looked at the ring on his finger smugly, before turning his gaze back to Leslie. Oh, yes, he had made himself 'cozy' enough in these surroundings, but Tom wanted something more than first class had to offer. And when he was there... well, he wasn't going back.

"A-okay, any more questions?" Slughorn inquired, looking around the room in fervent desire to leave before standing up soundly and patting his belly. "Well, I'm going to go to the other compartment for the Slug Club luncheon... Riddle, Devous, feel free to come; I wouldn't want to invite any newcomers, so I apologize to you all." He laughed freely, as if everyone believed this to be true.

"But, sir-" Marc-Andre began, but Slughorn shook his head good-naturedly, waving to everyone as he simultaneously waved the Devous boy off, and escaped the compartment before anyone else could ask any more revealing questions.

Silence settled once again around the compartment, children beginning their routine of looking from one person to the other in reassurance. Irene, instead, looked at Tom and at Andrew, again and again.

Apparently, she expected him to control the meeting, and such a thought came as ridiculous to Tom, and he leaned back even more so, smirking in amusement as this disaster played out before him. She sighed deeply, furrowing her eyebrows at his lack of support, scowling, before moving her gaze towards the rest of the group, who, in turn, stared back at her.

While Irene again winced next to him, she took another deep breath, wringing her fingers and pushing a piece of hair behind her ear, attempting to comb through it as she had done before. She exhaled, looking back down at the ground for a mere second before looking at the students with what could possibly be considered determination.

"Okay," she breathed, glaring back at Tom with something that resembled dislike, "okay, well, hi, everyone, I guess you all want to- er- leave, so I'll just hand out the night rounds and we'll go. Er, Dana Amsing, Andrew Clearwater, first floor and dungeons until two-thirty, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Marc-Andre Devous and Hannah Donneham, first floor and dungeons until two thirty on Wednesdays and four thirty on Fridays-"

" Wait ," Leslie interrupted, scowling deeply as Irene looked up from her parchment, a long strand of curly hair flitting its way onto her face, a frazzled expression making up her composure. "Wait, wait, wait. This is in alphabetical order."

"Well- yes ," Irene stuttered, pulling the strand of hair behind her ear. "Yes, it's alphabetical until Christmas holidays. Then we'll go by house and year pairs until Easter, and then, I guess, we can just do partners-"

" No! " Leslie complained, crossing her arms and pouting slightly. "I am not working with Lawrence and Michael-bloody-Greengrass! That's ridiculous! Why should I have to waste my nights patrolling with those two? I mean, it's all fine and well that Dana and Andrew are both friends, but what about me, and what about... Hannah Johnson? She's a Hufflepuff, she's not going to want to work with Blair James! He's going to rip her apart!"

"Thanks, Leslie," Blair commented, winking in her direction.

"Yeah, ... Slytherin's right, I don't want to work with Blair! He's a jerk!"

"Hey, don't call him a jerk!" Leslie screeched, flipping her hair towards Hannah in anger. "You're just a filthy mudblood, aren't you, you're not worth a cent-"

" Excuse me ," Irene attempted to interrupt, her eyes widening at the turn the conversation had taken. "Please no name-calling or I'll have to assign detentions-"

But whatever power Irene had had was completely out of her hands.

"You can't speak! " Leslie yelled, her eyes narrowing as whatever Irene was going to say evaporated into her own embarrassed silence. "You're just as bad as she is! Who are you to even talk back to me like that?!"

And, just like that, whatever balance that had been with Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins vanished as they found common ground with their newfound enemy. There was not a person who wasn't enraged in the room; whether it was the debacle of the alphabetical night patrols or Irene's blood type... or, in Tom's case, his growing headache, which teased into becoming a migrane very soon.

"Leslie, don't you dare talk to me like that-"

"You're a blood traitor, Weasley-"

"I'm not working with bloody-"

"What, you have a problem with me?-"

" Stop. Do any of you think before you speak?"

Instantly, every argument and every insult in the room paused, and Leslie, who seemed to be the leader of the strange group, pursed her lips on her words, her nose scrunching up in distaste in an action that almost made Tom want to smirk.

Almost- his head was ridiculously tortured.

"Oh... okay ," Irene sighed, looking up at him in skepticism, her eyebrows furrowing slightly before she turned her attention to the rest of the group. "Okay, so, I'll just, uh, post this up on every house's bulletin board and we'll see each other again on the first of October, okay? It's been a pleasure." She folded up the list and stood up hurriedly, exiting with almost as much distaste for the room as Tom had.

"Thank you," she muttered, before raising a hand in farewell and fixing her pace faster, walking towards a compartment near the end. Tom glared at her back as she left, offense glowing from his expression.

How dare she talk to him like that?

]---[

There were quite a lot of things to learn to be eligible to be what was basically the head of the school. You had to know your way around the place, for one, which hadn't been a problem for Tom to accomplish. You had to hold some kind of patience for Dippet, a clumsily-thinking man with a rather sickening optimism that made you agitated at once (this one had taken a while to accomplish). You had to be able to hold responsibility. You had to remember schedules for various Prefects. These things Tom and Irene both had, and that was most likely what made them eligible for the position.

Unfortunately, no one had informed them of something that could only be described as insecure, frightened, brainless wonders that were Prefects. From what Tom remembered, he hadn't been much of a trouble as a Prefect, and considering that, thank Merlin, he held some sort of influence over the rest, they hadn't been too annoying to the Head Boy and Girl.

As it turned out, no one had the wit or leadership to set everyone in line, and it was this factor that had a fifth year Slytherin Prefect - Andrew - wake Tom Riddle up at exactly three o' clock am on a Monday morning with a quiz that day.

"Excuse me, er, T- Head Boy, but we have a problem with the prefect rounds and we didn't want to wake Dippet up to see what was the, erm, problem-" The boy ended this stammering in a near-whisper, wringing his hands nervously as his wand was clumsily passed from one hand to the other. He had dark rings over his eyes- most likely from the strain of rounds- and cracked his knuckles frequently.

Of course, none of these absolutely pleasant attributes ceased Tom from thinking of him as an insecure, frightened, brainless wonder. The boy cringed automatically, even when Tom finally retired from actual peace and went to follow the boy to the corridors where by no doubt idiocy was ensuing.

As Andrew led him on to where the apparent scene of the crime was, Tom could hear faint voices that increased as small cracks did, Andrew becoming more and more nervous. He walked with a quick pace, and Tom rolled his eyes, deciding instead to keep a light saunter.

There were many uncomfortable truths that everyone was about to learn that night, mainly for the reason that any meeting at three o' clock held some significance for anyone involved. The first one that came to everyone's mind- especially the Head Boy and Girl- was that Prefects were overreacting, frightened, and extremely insecure dolts.

"Hey, Andrew," a girl with curly blonde hair- Dana - greeted as he rounded the corner, and he fiddled his hands even more nervously, exhaling a deep breath as he nodded in her direction.

The second uncomfortable truth of the night was that despite the apparent suaveness of Andrew and the compete discreetness between the two, it was extremely obvious that Andrew fancied the lady, and a boy standing next to him snickered and put his hand up for a high-five.

Tom came up from the back scowling, the whole group of eighteen forming into a circle, as a redheaded boy with a Scottish accent leaned in and began to explain. "Well," he started, "well, it started with me and Mary doing our rounds together, and we were up on the seventh floor, and everything seemed okay, so we were going to go to bed. But , but, you see, and this is the tricky part, we ran into some second and third years with some Firewhiskey, and we didn't know what to do, if we should give them separate punishment and take them to Dippet-"

" No, " interrupted an extremely livid female. "I - I refuse to believe that you woke me up because you were inept at taking points off of a House. That's just- completely-" The girl took a deep breath, and it was between that and her next sentence that Tom Riddle's eyes flickered to Irene Taylor, eyes narrowed and all.

The uncomfortable truth about Irene Taylor was that if you interrupted her in something important and dire- such as sleeping- she really became kind of a bitch. This truth was not only amusing and unexpected, it was actually rather frightening, though no one dared think so considering no one called Irene 'frightening' as much as 'frightened'.

Tonight, however, the Prefects could make an exception, and they winced as she took another deep breath to calm herself. "I'm sorry," she muttered, running a hand through her hair, before taking another deep breath and narrowing her eyes once more, as if the apology had never occurred.

" What the hell were you thinking? " she began, rubbing her eyes in clear distaste. "Did you ever consider the aftermath of calling everyone off of their rounds and waking up two seventh years? I mean, Merlin- I could take off points, just-" she interrupted herself again, meeting her colleague's gaze briefly before grazing her eyes over the group, sighing.

"I'm sorry," she repeated, muttering under her breath, uneasily tugging at a strand of hair.

Tom Riddle wasn't quite sure how someone could succeed in becoming quite as bipolar as Irene Taylor, though it was nonetheless extremely amusing, and he leaned against the wall, clearly entertained. The whole scenario, while extremely exhausting, was humorous, and while Tom hadn't taken any initiative to lead them, he could at least take solace in the fact that every second he didn't he could amuse his own sense of humor.

"Gosh, look, just-" she stuttered, angry at the teenagers for their moronic nature and her own cowardice in lecturing. "Just, Andrew, Dana, keep on doing your patrols and if you see anyone write their name down on a pretty little list and their offense so you never have to annoy me again. Everyone else, if you even think about waking me again, I'm taking fifty points from your House and giving every single one of you detention. And Leslie don't you dare. Have just a fantastic night, all of you, and I hope I don't fail my History of Magic exam because of the lot of you." She glared, taking a deep breath at her lack of apologizing, and backed away from the scene-

"Excuse me, um, Irene-" Andrew stuttered, rubbing his eyes tiredly and looking at her with a worried expression. "It's already two-thirty, should we just go...?" At this question, Irene stopped in her tracks, her eyes widening in disbelief, anger, and whatever energy she still had.

"Ten points from Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw," she finally muttered, as everyone's face morphed into devastation and anger as they absorbed the lack of justice in her extremely fatigued tone. Apathetically, Tom smirked from where he was.

After all, misery loves company.

The group shuffled awkwardly after that, partially wanting to leave so Irene wouldn't snap and partially afraid to do so because if they did she would be angry. They looked at her with expectancy and she sighed, grumbling something inaudible under her breath.

"I'm sorry," she concluded, yawning slightly and shifting her footing. "Everyone, try to have a good night. Tomorrow we have Marc-Andre and Hannah to cover these corridors, and considering these are closest to the Quidditch pitch and have an abundance of empty rooms-" she impatiently paused as some fifth years chanced to snicker- "I strongly encourage you never to have this situation repeating itself or I'm going to Dippet. All right? I'll see you all October first." She groaned, leaning against the hard wall in frustration, shutting her eyes. The group slowly dispersed, and Tom himself began to walk towards the dungeons-

"Hey, Tom," Irene called, her tone dripping with sarcasm and exhaustion, and impatiently, Tom turned around, an intent want to go to sleep and leave the idiots at Hogwarts be strong in his mind. When he finally brought his gaze to her, Irene frowned, leaning away from the wall with a push of her foot and walking towards him, a piece of parchment in her hand.

"The next time something like- that -" she pointed towards a disappearing Leslie, and it was then Tom noticed that she was close enough to make the whole situation uncomfortable. They both stared at the disappearing Prefects for a second more or two before Irene turned her head towards Tom again. "The next time something like that happens, I'm not going to dictate it. And, I know , I probably will again, but can you at least pretend that you're not a bloody Prefect and all you have to do is rounds? Anyway," she continued, fingering her hair again in what could only be described as a graceful gesture, "anyway, you're scheduling the October first meeting. I don't care where it is, I don't care what time it is, as long as you cover Halloween and Hogsmeade." She glared, crossing her arms after she had handed the slip of paper to him, and she narrowed her eyes in a tired and angry expression. She scowled as she strode past him, accidentally bumping his shoulder in an unusually aggressive way.

And that was when he noticed it.

It was, most definitely, a trick of the night, a strange oddity that had been conjured from the darkness and silence of the night. It, of course, had not been expected, so it was a very confused Tom Riddle that walked back to the Slytherin dungeons, even though Tom Riddle hated vulnerability.

But vulnerability had surely come into play somewhere, as it was dead in the middle of the night and the whole conversation that had taken place earlier with the Prefects had been boring enough for his own exhaustion to only climb. So it was only with a tired mind that Tom Riddle could feel any form of vulnerability at all, and with some kind of confusion making entrance vulnerability only seemed to pivot upwards.

Tom's eyebrows furrowed as he continued walking, a small frown on his face and dark lines beginning to form under his eyes. The time ticked closer to four than three now, and the restless time he had spent there added on to the strain of whatever this was.

It was understandable.

However, Tom Riddle lived in enigmas and mystery, riddles and phrases that originated on the tip of his tongue being just one reason why he was considered so intimidating. In fact, it seemed as if every time he engaged himself in conversation he added a tone that begged a suspicious one to accompany it.

It was kind of a cover to live under, mystery, and as mystery was as dark as the night itself it had not been difficult at all. He had done it out of impulse, simply because Tom Riddle had been born with a mysterious past and a mysterious persona.

So it was understandable.

But even if it was a simple sentence to read over, it seemed to be in a different tongue, and Tom couldn't understand it at all. No matter what fact deemed itself understandable, in this strange fantasy would, it came out being scribbled in a foreign language.

And just like that, another uncomfortable truth became abundantly clear.

Why in the world couldn't he feel his shoulder?

]---[


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