The next time I awoke, sunlight was filtering weakly through the emerald curtains. I blinked a few times, feeling very groggy. As the events of the previous evening began to trickle into my mind, I sat up carefully and looked around the room. I couldn’t see Tom anywhere, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t there. “H – hello?” I rasped, cringing as pain seared my throat. There was no response. I scanned the room one more time, trying to see into the shadowy corners before slowly drawing the thick covers off of my body. I was relieved to see that I was still dressed in the clothes I had been wearing the day before, although they did look a little cleaner. I supposed Tom had used a spell to clean off the owl droppings so that his silk sheets wouldn’t be ruined. I smirked slightly at the thought, and swung my legs over the side of the bed. They sank into the soft carpet once again as I stood, and I steadied myself against the bedpost. Gingerly, I took a step forward, still feeling slightly dizzy.
“You should stay in bed, you know,” said a smooth male voice from behind me. I whirled around and promptly fell to my hands and knees as dizziness overtook me, and found myself face to face with Tom Riddle. He had been sitting on the floor right against the head of my bed, where I couldn’t possibly have seen him.
I let my breath out in a whoosh and hung my head, trying to overcome a wave of sudden nausea. I heard him rise and glanced up at him through my curls. He regarded me for a moment, and then to my immense surprise, he held out his hand. He didn’t grab me roughly and throw me on the bed, he didn’t smirk and order me to get back on the bed, he actually offered to help me. I eyed his long, pale fingers dubiously, letting my gaze drift up his arm and into his indigo eyes. Behind the indifference, I could detect the slightest amount of apprehension. He was afraid that I wouldn’t take his hand. My lips parted in surprise and the emotion in his eyes vanished. Frightened that he would revert to past behaviours, I quickly placed my hand in his. A look of surprise flitted across his face, but he pulled me smoothly to my feet and guided me back to the bed. He held the covers up for me while I slid my feet beneath them, and even added more pillows at my back so that I could sit up. “You should eat,” he muttered suddenly, breaking the silence. Without waiting for my consent, he turned and strode through the door.
Before I could wonder at his strange behaviour, he was back with a steaming bowl on a tray. He placed the tray on my lap, carefully avoiding my gaze. “Let me know when you finish. You need to take a few more of these.” He gestured to the potions bottles that still littered the bedside table. He turned away and walked across the room to a black, winged armchair. Settling himself in it, he picked up a book and appeared to immerse himself in its pages. After a few seconds, I realised that I was staring. I dropped my eyes and inspected the contents of the bowl. It smelled delicious. I spooned up some of the broth and tasted it. After the first bite, I suddenly realised how hungry I was. I took a huge spoonful and nearly choked as pain stabbed through my throat. My eyes watering, I glanced up at Tom, who raised an eyebrow and went back to his book. Feeling distinctly hot around the ears, I went back to my soup and finished more slowly, not stopping until I had finished every last drop. I glanced at Tom. His dark hair was hanging down into his eyes as they raced eagerly across the pages. I watched him for a few moments, unwilling to have his fervent eyes turn cold at the sound of my voice.
My stomach grumbled loudly, and I noticed suddenly that I was still famished. I took a deep breath and decided that I had to break the comfortable silence. “Um – Tom?” I whispered tentatively. He met my gaze and raised his eyebrows. “Um – can I – may I – please – have some more?”
A smirk graced his lips and he pulled out his wand. I couldn’t help but flinch as he pointed it in my direction, but he simply caused the bowl to refill. He placed his wand on the table next to him beside another wand that I recognised as my own. I opened my mouth angrily but he sent me a dangerous look and I closed it again, and applied myself to the soup instead. I supposed I should have expected him to take my wand.
I finished the second bowl and placed the spoon down on the tray with a small clink. As though this were the sign he was waiting for, Tom placed a marker in his book and put it down. He rose from the chair and approached me calmly. “You can leave as soon as these last potions take effect,” he said quietly, handing me a bottle. “Drink all of that,” he added, picking up a second bottle.
I sniffed the potion in my hand and wrinkled my nose; it smelled disgusting. So disgusting I thought I might vomit if I tried to drink it. “I – I’m actually feeling quite a lot better. If I need to, I can just go to the hospital wing late – arrg!” I grunted as he pinched my nose and forced the potion down my throat. Coughing and spluttering, I glared at Tom, who was smirking annoyingly.
“And this one,” he said, pushing the last bottle toward my lips.
“I can take it myself!” I said loudly, and was pleased to notice that my voice had returned to its proper volume and clarity. “I feel fine now anyway! Tell me what it does and I’ll decide whether to take it or not!”
Tom regarded me critically. “I think I liked you better when you couldn’t talk. Have it your way. Your voice will fade and the pain will return in a few hours if you don’t take this potion. It prolongs the effects of the healing draught.” He corked the bottle and stood up.
“Wait!” I said reluctantly, remembering the amount of pain I’d been in before. He turned and waited expectantly. It went against everything I wanted to do and say, but I knew I had to give in and take the damn potion. “Can I have it? Please.” I said irritably.
As he approached me, I wanted nothing more than to smack the irritating smirk right off his face. He uncorked the bottle and held it to my lips. I tried to take the bottle from him but he pushed my hands away impatiently. “Just drink it!” His face was very close to mine, and I could see the amusement in his eyes as I reluctantly took the potion. “There,” he whispered, his breath tickling the bridge of my nose. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“N – no,” I breathed, realising that we were in almost the same position as we had been in a few days ago, and that I was quickly losing control once again.
“Let me see,” he said softly, placing his long, cold fingers on my chin and tilting it up. He examined my neck, running his fingers over my skin gently. I struggled to keep my breathing even. “Does it hurt anymore?”
“N – no,”
“Good,” he said quietly, locking my gaze for a few seconds before pushing himself away from me. Feeling slightly breathless, I pushed myself back into a sitting position and watched him stride to the door. “You may leave. Your Transfiguration class begins in one hour. There are clean robes on the chair.” With that, he turned and disappeared.
Slowly, I got off of the bed and moved softly to the chair, peering out the doorway as I went. I saw no sign of Tom, but I closed the door anyway before changing into the clean robes.
A little over an hour later, I sidled nervously into the Transfiguration classroom, avoiding Dumbledore’s light-blue gaze. He stopped speaking for a moment as I took my seat, but when I did not acknowledge him, he continued with the lesson. I scribbled notes and ignored the stifled whispers surrounding me until there were only five minutes left. Dumbledore cleared his throat. “You may leave a few minutes early. Everyone except Miss. Cortes, who will stay to make up her lateness.”
I settled back into my seat, from which I’d been preparing to vacate, feeling very nervous. I kept my eyes downcast until the last student had left, casting curious glances back at me as they disappeared. I heard Dumbledore rise and walk to the door. He shut it and locked it magically, and then put a silencing spell over it. I hunched down in my seat as the telltale swish of his robes announced his approach. My hair hung forward over my shoulders, exposing the back of my neck, which was still a little sore. Dumbledore stopped behind my chair and brushed his fingers over the back of my neck. I flinched. “How did you get these bruises, Miss. Cortes?” he asked gently. I could not answer. I was far too terrified of what Tom would do to actually go through with my plan. I hung my head lower. “Would you like me to heal them?” Dumbledore asked even more softly.
“It’s nothing,” I muttered, trying to flip my hair back over my shoulder, but the old professor pressed the tips of his fingers to the back of my neck. A wonderful warmth spread over my skin, and I felt all the remaining pain leave my neck and throat.
“Miss.Cortes – Maura,” he said softly, coming around to the front of my desk so that he could look into my face. “Please tell me who did this to you,” I shook my head. Dumbledore sighed. “Is this the reason you missed our meeting last night?” I looked up at him quickly, and then back down again. How had he known it was me that sent the note? Should I acknowledge him, I wondered? Slowly, I nodded. After a few moments of silence, I chanced a glance up at him and instantly became locked in his light-blue gaze. I felt like I was being X-rayed. “Did Tom do this to you because he found out about the letter you sent to me?” Dumbledore whispered. I felt my eyes widen. I slid sideways out of my seat and strode to the door.
“I’m sorry, professor, I have to go, I’ll be late for potions,” I reached the door and gave it a futile tug. “Could you please unlock the door?”
Dumbledore regarded me carefully. “Maura, I want you to know that you can tell me anything. Whatever you say to me will not leave this room.”
I met his compassionate blue eyes and nearly blurted out everything that was on my mind, but the image of Tom’s furious face and the memory of his hands on my neck made me hold my silence. “Thank you professor,” I managed. “I will remember your offer.”
Dumbledore looked slightly disappointed. “Very well,” he said finally, and I heard the lock click on the door behind me.
“Goodbye Professor,” I murmured as I pulled open the door and left.
Once outside in the hallway, I stopped for a moment and composed myself. I knew that what I should do is turn right around and tell Dumbledore everything, but I just couldn’t do it. I was both too terrified and too intrigued. There could be no doubt that Tom frightened me, but he was also like a problem that I wanted to solve. His hint of guilt beneath his rage, and his compassion toward me when I was injured just didn’t fit with my idea of Tom Riddle, and I was determined to investigate further. I wanted to meet the person he kept hidden from the world.
After a few minutes, I set off down the hallway toward my dorms to grab my potions things. As I rounded the corner, the tall, powerful form of Tom Riddle himself strode toward me. He got closer and closer, and I felt nervousness begin to stir in the pit of my stomach. What was I doing? Why wasn’t I running? I should be terrified of him; he tried to kill me after all! He was within speaking distance, and I wondered if he was a faster runner than I was. Then he was within reach and it was too late!
“Miss. Cortes,” he said, nodding curtly, and then he was past me. I was watching his retreating back with my mouth hanging open stupidly. Passing students gazed curiously at me, and I suddenly became aware of where I was. I shut my mouth and joined the flow of Slytherins heading for the common room. For some reason, I was feeling slightly annoyed. Who did Tom think he was? Why was he pretending that he barely knew me, acting as if we hadn’t shared several life-altering experiences? I felt a strange longing for his eyes, and his touch…and then I realised what I was thinking about.
“Eurgh!” I said out loud, causing my peers to once again send me looks that suggested they were concerned about my sanity. I quickly cast my eyes about, looking for someone who I found more attractive than Tom. My eyes settled on the burly captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. I had had him, of course, but it hadn’t meant anything. He caught my stare and winked cockily at me. I gave him a withering look and continued on, feeling slightly placated.
After retrieving my books, I made my way to the potions classroom. Only as I walked through the door and met Professor Slughorn’s irritable eyes did I remember my detention. The detention that I had failed to show up for because I was lying half-dead in the Head Boy’s bed. Excuses and alibis raced through my mind, each more feeble than the last, but none sounded so unbelievable as the truth. “Er, professor?” I said softly, wishing I still had some of my rasp. “I – I’ve been ill. I’m sorry I couldn’t make my detention.” I arranged my face into my best innocent young schoolgirl look and hoped for the best.
“Hmm,” Slughorn said dubiously. “I suppose you can make it up tonight.”
“Thank you sir,” I said, giving him a smile. It wasn’t perfect, but at least he didn’t give me a week of detentions. I slid into my seat glumly and pulled out my notes.
“Are you feeling better?” drawled a voice. I looked up and met Abraxas Malfoy’s cold, grey eyes. He slid into the seat beside me, chuckling to himself.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I muttered, shifting on my chair so that I was further away from the arrogant blonde. He was one person I couldn’t stand. He was so obsessed with blood purity that he regarded muggle-borns as the scum of the earth and wouldn’t even give half-bloods the time of day. He thought he was God’s gift to women and automatically assumed that he had an all access pass to any girl he wanted. At least, that’s what he thought until I deprived him of that impression. He had received nothing from me but a slap in the face. I smirked with the remembrance. The look on his face had been priceless. The only downside was that he had subsequently made it his personal goal to ‘conquer’ me, as he referred to it, and had been tirelessly trying to seduce me for months. I had almost forgotten about his advances in all the excitement with Tom, but his hand on my arm brought it all back.
“Tom said that you had a little,” he smirked, “accident.” He leaned back in his chair draping his arm across my shoulders. “He asked me to remind you to keep your mouth shut. He said if you refused, there would be – unpleasant – consequences.” He stroked my shoulder suggestively and I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “He also expects you to meet him at the front doors at eight o’clock.”
I spluttered and shrugged his arm off of my shoulders. “He expects me?” My anger at Tom’s earlier indifference was surfacing. “Well you can tell Tom that if he would like to ask me to meet him, he can ask me himself instead of sending one of his ass-kissing little minions!”
Malfoy looked livid. He grabbed my chin and brought his face so close to mine that I could feel his breath as he spoke. “A Malfoy serves no-one. How dare you suggest that I am Tom’s minion?” he spat.
“Let go of me.” I said in a soft dangerous voice.
He narrowed his eyes and tightened his grip painfully. “I’d be careful if I were you, Cortes. You already have Riddle to worry about. You don’t want me as your enemy as well.” I glared at him and tried to wrench my face out of his hand, but he held on tightly. “Don’t forget what I said,” he whispered softly, running his thumb along my cheek. I felt the first traces of fear stirring in my stomach. He was right. I couldn’t deal with Tom and Malfoy if they decided to gang up. Hell, I couldn’t even deal with Tom alone. I had been able to deal with Malfoy before, but I had never really made him angry. I had a feeling he could hurt me if he really wanted to.
His lip curled as he looked into my eyes, and then he let me go and went to sit with his other Slytherin cronies, who eyed me suggestively. I straightened my shirt and went through my notes, trying to get rid of the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. What had I gotten myself into?
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