But Commodus ended up losing his hundred Galleons and Nefarian Zabini would have lost his fifty too, if they had shaken on his initial bet, for Tom Riddle, it appeared, had no intention of dying. However, he had no intention of living either and simply lay stationary throughout September and October. Harry had heard from along the grapevine (meaning from Abigail Brown and company), that Riddle was in a ‘coma’. He had no problem understanding this term, nor did Hermione, Ginny or Luna, but Ron and Draco were finding a little harder to grasp the concept that is brain-deadness.
“But then how is he breathing, Hermione?” Demanded Ron, looking imperiously up from the chessboard at all of them, as if he just proved an immensely complicated point. “If his brain’s not working then he can’t breathe. Simple as that.”
They were going over it for the ten-thousandth time, sitting the Room of Requirement on a dreary Saturday evening in November, recovering from the excitement of the first Quidditch match of the season, in which Slytherin had annihilated Hufflepuff five-hundred and sixty points to thirty.
Hermione was putting the finishing touches to her Transfiguration essay; something that Harry had, surprisingly, already done. He guessed that not having regular Quidditch practices three evenings a week was a factor in him begin more up-to-date with homework than he could ever remember being. Another factor was the subject itself: Transfiguration, the way Dumbledore taught it, was becoming one of Harry’s favourite subjects.
The classes were fun (if you could associate that word with lessons) and it was most amusing to watch Hermione as she almost burst a vein through trying, and succeeding, in Transfiguring her socks before Abraxas Malfoy did. Abraxas, as Harry came realise, was not at all like his older brother. He was extremely handy at wand-work, dismal at theory and had a permanent, good-natured smile on his face. Harry supposed his mother had a pivotal role in that – while Abraxas’s older siblings had been at away at school and his father off on political business, Abraxas had become (judging by Commodus’s constant taunts of “Oh, mummy won’t approve of that, Braxie!”) quite the mummy’s boy. However, he was liked throughout the year and by a lot of the staff.
But Abraxas wasn’t Hermione’s only problem. Alastor Moody and, to his great surprise and delight, Harry himself were competing with her for Defence Against the Dark Arts. But in all other subjects, Hermione streaked out ahead of everyone else, even the Ravenclaws, and Harry felt a certain part of him wanting Riddle back – just to see Hermione’s face when he (most likely, seeing as he had won a medal for Magical Merit) did something astonishing. However, a large of part of him wanted Riddle to remain where he was, where he could do no harm.
Harry was sitting on pile of cushions with his arm around Ginny’s shoulders as she whispered instructions to him and for once in his life he was beating Ron at chess. Harry was very glad Ginny was in Slytherin as Draco had began to fit right in with the old crowd of similar-minded aristocratic Slytherins, who now laughed with him instead of at him, but he, Harry, was still out on his own a bit. Being the first Potter ever to be sorted into Slytherin made all houses, in a time when traditions were more important than personalities, a little wary of him, thinking that he would one day wake up and kill them all for he must be evil to bone to be a Potter and sorted into Slytherin.
Ginny, however was going from strength to strength in both classes and life as a whole. She had become, once again, in Harry and Ron’s minds, too popular for her own good. Harry was extremely glad that she and he had reunited at Bill’s and Fleur’s catastrophic wedding, and were still an official item, as she had already received countless courting invitations from everyone from blushing First Year Hufflepuffs to Slytherin Third Years. She had struck up a friendship with Jericho Zabini, who wasn’t half-bad, after you got to know her, and her other two Slytherin Second Year dorm-mates: Ginny slept with the Second Year girls as she was only the First Year one and seemed to be more than happy with this arrangement. Ron, however, was not and had only stopped his constant muttering when December came rolling in. They now had only three weeks left of school before the Christmas break and no one, Harry could sense, was looking forward to that more than Ron.
“I’m hungry. Can we please go for dinner?” Ginny wheedled and grudgingly Harry abandoned his game and accompanied her down to the Great Hall with Draco and Luna at their heels. They were halfway through a pudding of apple crumble when a frantic Madam Shepard, the school matron, hurried up to the Staff Table between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables. She reached the Staff Table and immediately made for Professor Dippet, bending to whisper in his ear. To Dippet’s left, Harry saw Dumbledore stiffen. When Madam Shepard was finished speaking, Dippet nodded gravely and got quickly to his feet, motioning Dumbledore to follow him and the matron out of the hall.
By dinner time on Wednesday, due to Commodus Malfoy’s ‘accident’ with his cauldron during potions the previous day, the whole school knew that Tom Riddle, that little First Year, was awake; sleeping, yes, but conscious. Harry seriously doubted Commodus had accident in potions, seeing as his reputation as a potion maker was almost as big as his ego.
Upon hearing this news, Fiachra MacMurragh, the Irish boy whom everyone could not help liking, and Abraxas Malfoy had hurried up to the Hospital Wing to visit their friend. Harry wondered why they bothered; they could have only known Riddle for a few hours and he had been absent from their lives for three months. Harry made a mental note to ask them when they returned.
But when they did return, they were beckoned over by Commodus and his gang of fellow Fifth and Sixth Years and Harry never got the chance to question them. People, meaning the whole remainder of the Slytherin population, weren’t welcome in that corner, unless, of course, they had been invited and to be invited you needed to be a straight-blood relative who was a junior by at least three years, for Harry noticed that Orion Black, who was the Sixth Year male Prefect (Walburga, the only Slytherin girl in her year was his partner) didn’t call over either of his cousins, Alphard, who was in Forth Year, or Cygnus, who was in Third Year.
Seating in the Slytherin common room, as Harry quickly learned, was rigidly controlled and organised in reflection to the social status of the student. The Seventh Years got the best seats by the fire; the Sixth and Fifth Years got the secluded corners; the Forth and Third Years sat in the middle of the common room, around the long central table; the First Years got to sit by the Seventh Year who liked to look down on them with a sort of vindictive pride while the Second Years were the lowliest, having the spare seats dotted in twos and threes around the room.
If someone joined a seating group uninvited, there would be Hell to pay, so when Abraxas, Fiachra and Jericho returned to their year mates from their prize seats with their relatives (and in Fiachra’s case) and mutual friends, they were besieged with questions. There were no windows in the Slytherin common room and even if there were one or two lurking behind the velvet green curtains, it wouldn’t have mattered as the curtains were shut at all times. The fire was always burning low and the ornate chandeliers dangling above their heads were bedecked with what looked like century-old cobwebs.
But Harry did get a chance to talk to Abraxas when they were paired together in potions the following Tuesday. They were chopping up some sort of potato-esque root and Abraxas was chatting amicably to Harry, earnestly awaiting his instruction on every step, eager to no mess up. Despite himself, Harry had to admit he liked Abraxas, and Fiachra wasn’t a complete dead-beat totalitarian either.
When Harry had asked why everyone treated Fiachra like a practical legend, Abraxas had said that he was the first MacMurragh to come to Hogwarts in about seven generations – Donnacha Óg MacMurragh, you see, had a fight with the British Minister of Magic of his day and as a result of this, he had sent his sons to be schooled in Australia’s Aire’s Rock Academy for the Talented Youth, as a snubbing of Britian as a whole. Fiachra’s father, however, had married an English girl (Heléna Rosier) after a fairytale romance and had begun re-building bridges by sending his children to Hogwarts.
“Me sister’s Éireann’s cumin’ next year.” Fiachra was leaning back on his chair, green tuber juice smeared across his face. “Interested, Potter?” He grinned and swung back to his table as Slughorn looked their way. He frowned and Harry glanced over at Fiachra’s table himself: the whole tabletop, along with Fiachra and Ginny, were covered in green tuber juice. Neither of them got in trouble, as both of them were members of the Slug Club, something which Harry had yet to be asked to join.
“Eh …” Harry turned his attention back to Abraxas. “How’s Tom Riddle? You’ve been visiting him, right?” Abraxas nodded, his grey eyes wide. It was in a moment like this when you would never have guessed that Draco and Abraxas were related.
“Yes, Rafiki– ” Harry didn’t know what on earth a ‘Rafiki’ meant or was, but, by process of elimination, he had deduced it to be Fiachra, for, number one, Rafiki sounded a little like Fiachra and, secondly, Commodus already had a nickname (Roman; another puzzling one) “ –and I go and visit him every night and Tom’s doing great. He’s still a little, you know, disorientated sometimes – he didn’t know who we were went we first went in! Says he didn’t even know who he was, when he first woke up! That was about a week ago; he slept for a few days, see – but now’s he fine. He’s read all our books already, don’t ask me how! Madam Shepard said he should be out in time to go home for Christmas, which is good, because Rafiki’s coming over to my house for the holidays and I want Tom to come to, because Commodus will be having all his friends over ...”
Merlin, Harry thought, did Abraxas ever shut up?
“Who thought of the name ‘Rafiki’?” he asked with a grin, which Abraxas returned over his half-chopped root.
“Well, I knew Fiachra before we came to school – his father and my father are old friends – and my older sister Prosper is allergic to calling anyone by their given name! She thought up Roman for Commie, as well, but she sometimes still calls him Commie and mummy calls him that all the time– ”
“Bet he doesn’t like that!” Snorted Harry and Abraxas rolled his eyes, tossing his root into the cauldron. The potion bubbled and turned a little darker than Hermione’s (and Luna and Ron’s) perfect lime-green, but it looked good enough and Slughorn gave it a genial nod as he passed by their table.
“No, he doesn’t!” Confessed Abraxas. “But he doesn’t really talk to mummy; he only talks to father because father gets angry when anyone calls him anything less than Commodus. Father says if he had meant for him to be called ‘Commie’ than he would have put that name down on the birth cert! My father’s a bit of a head-case, see? But I think he’ll like Tom.”
Harry frowned, something Abraxas didn’t notice, as his head was buried in his potions textbook. The words slipped out of Harry’s moth before he could stop them. “Why’d you think that?”
Abraxas looked up and shrugged. “He’s a genius. He was talking to some Ravenclaw Seventh Year about Marxism – whatever that is! – for like an hour last night. Rafiki and I were just sitting there, pretending to understand.” Harry nodded and went back to his own textbook. He hadn’t the faintest idea what Marxism was either and resolved to ask Hermione.
Though he didn’t need to ask Hermione, for when he walked into Transfiguration the next morning, lounging on his chair at the back of class and surrounded by a group of people was Tom Riddle himself. He was painfully thin, with skin so pale that it made his uniform shirt look a greyish-white in comparison. Riddle’s hair had been cut to industrial shortness, probably to aid the matron in tending to his head, though short hair didn’t make him look half-bad. If it was possible to look both amazing and awful at the same time, Riddle would have done so. His sleeves, Harry noted with surprise, were rolled up and he was swinging gracefully on his chair. Then Dumbledore entered the room and the hubbub died down.
“Welcome back, Tom.” He said, looking a little surprised at Riddle’s presence. “Forgive me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you meant to start attending classes after Christmas?”
Riddle landed his chair with a soft clunk and looked up a Dumbledore, a thoroughly catching sideways grin on his face. “That’s right, but I got bored so she let me out. So I guess you’re stuck with me.” Only his words came out like Tha’s righ’, bu’ I go’ bored so she le’ me ou’. So’s I guess you’s stuck wiv me
Harry stared at him and so did Dumbledore. The Riddle they were seeing was no way near the one Harry had seen in the Pensive or in the Chamber of Secrets. He sounded like a Londoner: born, bred and proud. Dumbledore recovered from this shock before Harry and nodded calmly.
“Well, if you’ll come and take this match– ” Dumbledore procured a match from nowhere and held it out to Riddle, who sauntered up to top of the class to take it followed by the eyes of every girl but Ginny. “ –and I’ll be with you shortly ... That’s a nasty scar, you’ve got there Tom.”
And he was right. Riddle’s short hair revealed a jagged three-inch red line down the left side of his head. It looked like it had been stitched. No we’ve both got one each, thought Harry savagely. Riddle, however, didn’t seem abashed at all. He laughed darkly and turned his head very slowly to look at Dumbledore.
“Pret’y, ain’ i’?” Pretty, ain’t it? Harry shivered. He sat down with Ron and Hermione and pulled out his wand as Jennifer and Emma Abbot began handing out the teacups they were meant to turning into oranges. But Harry wasn’t fussed with his teacup, he was looking to his left where Riddle was sitting with Fiachra and Abraxas.
Riddle picked up the match and played with it a little, sending it expertly up and down his long fingers as a poker player would flick his chips. Then he flicked it up into the air and caught it deftly with a catching grin. He certainly wasn’t looking at the Ravenclaws, but they were looking at him and, to his left, Aurelia Fudge was giggling.
Riddle held the match up between his thumb and forefinger and inspected it with what (if it hadn’t Tom Riddle doing it) could have been described as camped incredulity. With another slick finger movement he closed his fist around it and looked around at Fiachra, his Devilish side-ways grin back on his face.
“I’ a’pears tuh be a match.” He stated obviously. It appears to be a match Fiachra laughed and poked his own wand at his teacup, which turned orange but stayed resolutely porcelain. Riddle opened his fist and glanced down at the match again.
“An’ I’m s’posed tuh … Wai’! Don’ tell me! We’re in transfig’ration, so I’m s’posed tuh tran’figure i’, righ’?” And I’m supposed to … Wait! Don’t tell me! We’re in Transfiguration, so I’m supposed to Transfigure it, right? Fiachra smacked himself over the head sarcastically. Riddle stuck his tongue out at his friend cupped his hand into a fist around match again and, Harry may have been imagining it, but he though he saw something flicker behind Riddle’s eyes. “Watch fhis …” Watch this …
He shook the fist containing the match and blew into like a Muggle Magician at a child’s birthday party. The look on his face suggested that he was simply messing and had no idea what he was really doing. Then he rapidly clenched his fist tight, turned his hand upside down and opened it. No match fell from it and Abraxas clapped. Fiachra shook his head.
“Very flashy, like, Tom, but yeh were meant to Transfigure it, not lose it, yeh plank, yeh!” Riddle was scowling, not at Fiachra’s, but at the absence of the match. He looked under the table for it but it wasn’t there. Then Hermione screamed. Dumbledore whipped around from where he was helping Henry Bagman. Harry did to and saw Hermione, white as ghost, pointing at Riddle.
Dumbledore too looked at Riddle, who looked confused, as did most of the class. Then Fiachra muttered “Íosa Croist!” and Riddle followed his friend’s eyes down to his hand. There was a needle sticking right through his hand.
Riddle giggled horribly and, with his eyes glowing, pulled out the needle with his teeth. Ron winced but Riddle just smiled and held out the needle to Dumbledore. “Would you mind, Sir? I’sa bi’ bloody an’ I don’ know no cleanin’ spell.” Would you mind, Sir? It’s a bit bloody and I don’t know a cleaning spell
Dumbledore threw Riddle a piercing look with his blue eyes and Riddle didn’t look away, he just held aloft the needle until Dumbledore flicked his wand at it and the blood disappeared. Riddle smiled in thanks and wiped the blood from his hand on his sleeve and wrapped the handkerchief Fiachra threw at him around it. Harry shuddered and turned back to his own table and concentrated hard on his teacup, leaving Dumbledore to talk to Riddle. His skin crawled any time he thought of the needle.
Then, seconds before the bell rang, Riddle turned Hermione. “Cheers. Prob’ly would’ve lef’ i’ in all day, uhverise.” Cheers. Probably would’ve left it in all day, otherwise
“You didn’t notice?” Asked Ron, perplexed and disgusted. Riddle shook his head, grinning horribly.
“‘Tween you an’ me, I’m on so much medication I prob’ly wouldn’ notice if you chopped my arm off! … Doesn’ mean we ‘ave to try i’, fhough!” Between you and me, I’m on so much medication I probably wouldn’t notice if you chopped my arm off! … Doesn’t mean we have to try it, though!
“Damn.” Ron laughed, a little less disturbed.
“‘Ere.” Here Riddle pointed his own wand at Ron’s abomination of an orange, which righted itself instantly. Both Ron and Hermione (who had tried fixing the orange-teacup seconds before) stared and Riddle grinned.
Don’t worry, I’ll explain why Tom is suddenly so nice. R ‘n’ R, if you know what’s good for you. ‘Íosa Croist’ is Irish for Jesus Christ.
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