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The Closest Thing To Caring by fashionist
Chapter 6 : A Flurry of Feeling (January)
 
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Author's Note: Well, here's January to fit the season. After this is up, I'll quick go through the rest so I can post up another one of my stories from Quizilla.



Tom Riddle


British socialites were a very traditional group, so it was learned. These parties had taken place every year for as far as any participant there could remember. The same appetizers littered the table, and the same songs played with the exact same orchestra. Everything had been planned and done before in tradition.

But, despite the supposed tradition of the night and the worn tracks that the night followed, Tom Riddle found himself for once in his life completely and horrendously intoxicated.

Not that it had been his fault - the party had been mediocre - and some juvenile child had thought of the gracious idea to infuse all of the drinks with alcohol. In fact, when the facts were there, it was surprising that everyone was still conscious- though, he duly noted, acting outrageous to the point of humiliation, with random arguments beginning and pathetically embarrassing events ensuing.

Of course, he could have easily avoided the alcohol - it wasn't like he had been forced to drink it, anyway - but it still wasn't his fault. Because he wasn't idiotic to on his own accord drink something that had the ability to make people vulnerable. In fact, the thought of him doing it on his accord was ridiculous, not thought of- preposterous.

Then again, getting intoxicated was ridiculous, too.

It was not like he had done it out of boredom, or nerve, or with no reason whatsoever, though the reason that he had done it was not very clear. He had done it, simply, because he-

It had started during one of the waltzes, and Tom, thankfully without an escort, stood conveniently nearby where the punch was, which had long past been filled with firewhiskey and was blatantly obvious to anyone there partially sober. Seeing as nearly everyone was on the dance floor, there was little more to do than watch-

And he had remembered Irene, who had happily ignored him the whole night, thank Merlin, and so he happened to look over in her direction-

- and she was kissing Abraxas Malfoy. He could not see either of their expressions but was satisfied to find that he did not care, that maybe whatever had commenced in September had truly been a late-night disaster, he knew it-

But, even as he thought it, an image appeared in his head- it was very similar to the one he saw through his eyes, except that Abraxas was nowhere to be found and Tom had taken his place-

- and, so, he had a glass of punch, pushing the image out of his head-

- and it disappeared for a moment, but then he unwillingly thought of their close proximity-

- and so he drank another glass of punch -

- and his mind forgot about the image, but it was soon replaced with how her arms would be wrapped around his neck-

- and so he drank another glass of punch -

- and this terrible process continued, one attribute over another, glass after glass, every attractive part of Irene glaring at him quite obviously as he drank, and he scowled, for hadn't she certainly looked attractive tonight -

And he drank another glass of punch, and as he finished it Tom Riddle found himself for once in his life completely and horrendously intoxicated.

When you are terribly inebriated, there's a strange opposite that the world tries to throw on you. It tries to convince you that everything bad is good and everything good is bad, and, likewise, there was that effect to some extent. But he had too strong of a grip on himself to believe that Mudbloods were honest and caring people.

There were some precautions though. The one exception from the rule was Irene Taylor, who he had taken to carefully avoiding from the waltz to the midnight countdown. And what a mess the midnight countdown was- drunken people shooting their wands for the ceiling without an ounce of sense? It was bound to become chaotic, after all, and he took his first opportunity to take leave.

Unfortunately, it was his own loss that he had so conveniently forgotten the aspects of Irene Taylor. The fact that she didn't like what most people considered good fun and more than anything wanted to get as far away from them as possible had slipped his mind.

But, in a world where up was down and white was black, who really knew, anyway?

She was leaning against the wall of the large building, snow slowly building up past her feet. Her robes, only dimly registering the glimmering dress beneath, were hugged closely around her, her arms tightly crossed and her mouth shivering from the cold. The snowy wind had disheveled her hair, though it fell in perfect place, wisps of snow stuck in her hair. She was looking at everything, looking at nothing, just staring and hardly ever blinking, her cheeks a light pink likely due to cold and tipsiness.

When she seemed to hear a presence- it was hard to be light on your feet at twelve 'o clock when you were drunk- she very nearly jumped, changing her posture so her left shoulder was leaning against the brick. Her eyes- thankfully light blue again (the darker had actually been a stab at intimidation- as if Irene Taylor could be) widened slightly, as if she did not expect him to even be there.

"Hey," she breathed, hugging herself tighter at the change of position. "So, um, did you enjoy the party at all? I guess it's getting a little more ... hectic..." She grimaced very slightly at this, but continued nevertheless. "I mean, I wouldn't have had fun in there anyway. I like it out here." She paused as another extremely cold breeze flew by, and she looked up at the sky, taking a deep breath that, because it was so cold, could be seen. "It's cold, though."

Another chilly gust came though, and Irene shivered, her hair flying up around her face in an eerie way of grace before perfectly aligning itself back on her shoulders. "And I'm tired," she said suddenly, leaning her back again against the cold wall. "Yeah, I'm tired."

Tom looked over at her. At the sight of her face, which he had been thus avoiding, a question came to mind, along with the image of Abraxas Malfoy and Irene Taylor kissing, which was much more pacifying than the delusion he had conjured earlier. "Did you have fun with Abraxas?" he asked abruptly, and she looked over at him, her face burning a deep red, as if she had not expected him to still be there.

There was a very strange, peculiar pause, as if that question did not know itself it was being asked, and Irene looked straight up at the sky, which had continued blowing with vengeance and was now bearing small snowflakes. She looked up at the sky for a long time, and it was maybe a few minutes after the question had been asked that she looked at him.

And the oddest thing happened.

She started to giggle.

A laugh at all from Irene Taylor was something to be weary about, but at the category of Abraxas Malfoy a giggle was almost unheard of. It ended very quickly, though, as if she felt awkward laughing, and she said, something akin to a smirk on her face, "Um, yeah," she said, and her voice sounded a pitch higher than usual, as if she was incredibly nervous. "Yeah, I had fun."

And, even though Tom should have expected it, it still took him by surprise when some stab of irritation set over, as if that fact in itself was greatly annoying. The image of Irene and Abraxas was not quite as pacifying as it had been just a few minutes ago, and so he satisfied himself by trying to get out of his head.

Unfortunately, that was where Irene was.

"But, um," she started, and her face was a very deep red, "yeah. It was nice." She paused, as if she were looking for a different way to describe it, before sighing, putting her back on the frigid cold wall and looking instead towards the sky.

They stayed like that, silent, for a long time; it could have been an hour, or ten seconds, or maybe even a lifetime; Irene resumed her position of looking ahead of her, at nothing, for some period of time. The only time the two of them bothered to move was when a frigid wind interrupted the silence, or when Irene chanced a sigh, clearly deep in thought. This was not a good thing- without conversation there was nothing else to think of but Irene.

It was after this unknown period of time that Irene moved her eyes from everything, yawning very slightly and looking upwards towards him. "I'm cold," she said awkwardly, taking her hand out from the protection of her robe and waving. Silently, tiredly, she took her weight off the wall, starting to walk toward the entrance back into the colossal house.

It could not have been two steps before a sudden jerk occurred, mainly with Irene's height, which was suddenly a few inches shorter on her left side. A snap made an appearance at this, and, simultaneously, Irene fell sideways, falling towards the wall where he stood.

This effect was very abrupt, but made a lasting effect- every place she touched sparked, nervously, feeling very vulnerable but also extremely pleasant. Her hair, seductively curly, fell, for the slightest second, on his hand, and although she hastily recomposed herself, he could not help noticing how she smelled, amazingly, disastrously, like chamomile.

She looked down, picking something up from the grass embarrassedly, as if she would love to spend hours avoiding him. However, it had to have been shortly before she picked up something square- about four inches in height.

"My heel broke," she said flatly, looking at it with distaste. "Sorry about that, too." She added, backing up instinctively. "I'm going to go off to bed. Have a nice night." And, putting her hand on the wall, she started to leave, walking with dependence of the wall before turning a corner.

And Irene Taylor was gone.

It took a few moments, however, to register this, as he was still looking at the spot where she had left with some expectancy, as if he believed she would appear to tell him she had forgotten something- and maybe, hopefully, grant him a kiss- wait, what?

It was around then that the struggle between soberness and drunkenness began. He had begun to walk away, towards a secluded area, so he could Apparate without wards being set off. Were he still fully drunk, he wouldn't have stopped himself. If he were fully sober, he wouldn't have even started.

There was a headache coming already- as if every speck of alcohol was consumed specifically for this reason- and along it came, slowly, shreds of soberness, abrupt, like he had only been drunk so he could be aware of her and maybe realize he fancied her.

But a fancy wasn't caring. Tom Riddle was sure that he did not care about Irene Taylor, and if he did surely only for Head Boy and Girl responsibilities. A fancy was something that was fleeting, and it would likely be gone before the morning turned bright. But this was contradicted by his still intoxicated side, which still reigned over being sober. Because even though Tom Riddle had never fancied anyone before he could not be as arrogant as to think it would just go away.

But he was.

He didn't really know why, either - Irene was definitely not a very attractive person, at least most of the time. She was a lazy person that didn't bother to do anything useful and instead went along and kissed boys like Abraxas Malfoy so he could be thinking about this now, be getting a headache now.

She was not funny, she was not clever, she was not athletic or strong or outgoing- she was not useful, she was not relatively smart, or pretty, or any of those things. She was nothing, just a human entity, just living, not bothering to take opportunity.

So there was no concrete reason, really. She was Head Girl, so that had to account for something. Maybe, at times, she was opinionated, but that passed for long periods of time. The only time she had ever really stood up for herself was in late September, when he had first started to fancy her- though that memory was shoved to somewhere compact so it would never be seen again.

Why couldn't he feel his shoulder? He hadn't known, hadn't given it much thought, because he had gone to bed and the memory had faded into something akin to a dream- brimming on the surface of reality but not quite. It had been a question he had evaded, because he had more important things to do, more important things to set his life up for.

Even, in November, the moments when they actually spoke didn't really even hint at anything more than mutual dislike. Her handwriting was sloppy- she had yelled at him for that too, and, in typical Irene Taylor fashion, had apologized immediately after. But even that wasn't anything, didn't mean anything.

Even when she had invited him- maybe it was some flurry of feeling, maybe it was some dormant memory from late September occurring, or maybe it was just a trick of the light. He had evaded that too, pretending that he was going to this party for the powerful pureblood socialites which he had hardly ever spoken to. And his intoxicated 'side' knew some kind of uncomfortable truth, even if his sober side didn't.

But it was around then that the sober, clear, stubborn side finally won over drunkenness, and, finally reaching the set location, he realized about two things in his subconsciousness, registering them dimly before leaving the castle area and going back to Hogsmeade.

He didn't care about Irene Taylor, and - if he did- he would simply have to evade it, like he had done so many times before, evade her, so no memories would pretend to be dreams. Who really dreamed about silly things like that anyway?

Certainly not Tom Riddle.

]---[

It was snowing to the point of a blizzard outside Hogwarts. Some of the students nearby were looking at it in interest, while some were looking down at stray papers in their laps, like Ir-

It was the middle of January, and Christmas Break had ended a few weeks ago much to the dislike of all the students. Alongside this was the mutual agreement that they would swap partners, going by year and house, and would continue that until Easter break, which was fortunately a short distance away. The year was almost over. And while he would miss Hogwarts, maybe he could teach there when he was older. He did not want to part with the school just yet. The people, on the other hand, he would be glad to leave.

The group in front of him were the Prefects, bumbling as they were. In one corner were the two Hufflepuffs, Andrew and Dana, holding hands and laughing at some joke told by Marc-Andre. This disturbing scene- of young love and silly things like that- was morphed into something more disturbing at the concept of a Slytherin humoring Hufflepuffs.

In another corner was another Hufflepuff, Gloria, who was looking out at the window, a bright smile on her face. She looked ridiculously optimistic to the point where it was disturbing, and it did not take long before he quickly left her in peace.

He avoided the last corner pointedly.

Ever since the disastrous Christmas Break, he had taken to working alone, even in matters like being Head Boy. It was, of course, terrible to have to waste time on Head Boy things when he could have gone over NEWT homework (which he had finished with ease), but without someone else to do it for him he assumed to do it alone.

The balance had been like this for the days in January. Tom Riddle had taken most of the work and done it, forgetting he had a partner who had hardly done anything for the last few weeks. There were times when he wished someone would scold her, but then he would forget about it and focus on more important things.

It was not as if he did not have to take time to avoid it. He had to make sure that whenever she talked he wasn't in the premises. He had to ensure that wherever she was he certainly wasn't. He not seen Irene Taylor for the whole of January.

Because, even at the mention of her name, he could not help but think about that fateful January first, and when he thought of January first he thought of chamomile and jealousy. And the combination in itself was so irritating that he could not bear to think of it.

The whole situation had been so very Gryffindor.

He inspected everyone else closely over these days, however. He paid close attention to their weaknesses, their strengths, their enemies and friends and even just names. He knew Gloria never looked disheveled, never looked sad, and if she did he had not seen it, as he had taken to not looking at such a bright face after it had first come into his sight.

There was McGonagall, too, who was so sickeningly Gryffindor that it was hard to find any strength in her. She was an arrogant, proud, stubborn, selfish mess that he could hardly handle even when she was not talking about him. Even her voice- always in a tone of knowing more than everyone else- was annoying to behold.

Dana and Andrew, a new, happy couple, were also part of observation. Marc Andre Devous, who disregarded Slytherin's strict rules about anyone lesser than them, was noted duly. Even annoying Leslie, who was great friends with McGonagall, was looked over and observed.

Everyone- anyone- except for Irene.

The whole got very quiet then, and he alerted his attention, though quickly dimming as an all too reminiscent voice started speaking. From what there was to gather- he had taken to pointedly not paying attention- it was about switching partners and round times, and that took less than two minutes to go over. Thankfully, this would be over soon enough.

"Okay," she sighed, looking down at a grouping of papers on her lap, which were not many, and looking up at the rest of the Prefects. "That's basically it. If any of you want to contribute, you can help take decorations down during your rounds and give them to Hagrid. Or at least leave them nearby, please," she insisted strongly, for at the mention of Rubeus Hagrid, assumed killer, everyone grimaced.

"Okay, so we can meet again on the tenth of February," Irene continued steadily, "unless any of the clubs interfere. If they do, stay after the meeting's over and I'll talk to you about it so we can reschedule. We'll post something up on all your House bulletins if that's the case. Otherwise, is February tenth okay with you all? Tom?" She looked over to the side, as if to look at him, but before she could there was a loud cough interrupting her.

It had been Leslie, who had changed the spotlight from him and Irene to her and Irene, though it did not seem to be a happier atmosphere than it would have been with him. She was glaring, her red hair held behind her ears by a barrette, and Irene looked over at her slowly, as if she did not really think that Leslie had interrupted the conversation at all.

"Leslie," Irene said with forced patience, "if you have a club to go to on the tenth, just-"

"It's not that," Leslie supplied, sneering slightly as she continued on. "I'm just appalled that someone like you was ever chosen to be a Head Girl, is all."

"Excuse me?"

And, like that, Leslie's floodgate of everything negative about Irene Taylor came out in one fell swoop.

"You're pathetic! You have not once done something- something beneficial to us! You've given us rounds, sure, but how hard could that really be? From what I see, it's him-" and she pointed at him- "that's doing all the paperwork, and you're just in it for the title, aren't you? Think your mum and dad would appreciate you as Head Girl? Make your head even bigger than it already is?"

During this whole rant, many of the Prefects' attention swung from Leslie's expression- angry and slightly red- to Irene's, who, throughout the whole speech, had gaped at Leslie in shock. As she continued, Irene had begun to flush a dull shade of pink, increasing in vigor as Leslie jumped over the line separating dislike and disrespect.

There was an awkward silence, almost eerie, when no one bothered to supplement or defend the rant. They all simply turned to the window and pretended nothing possibly happened, except for Irene and Leslie, who were both looking at each other, one with dislike, one with shock.

"Okay," Irene said slowly, when she had finally regained her dignity, and Leslie's eyes focused, as if she were determined to stare Irene down instead of talking with logic and common sense. "Okay, well, if you don't like me so much- all of you-" she gestured to them all, and continued vaguely- "well, then, I'll go to Dippet's office now and ask to resign."

She stood up, her attention turned towards McGonagall. "Would you like to take over? I'll put in a word for Dippet." McGonagall, at this, grinned happily, as if the travesty of Irene's resignation did not matter now that she was the appointed Head Girl.

"Good regards to you all, really," she farewelled, raising a hand up in goodbye. "I hope, really, that I never have to see any of you again."

She picked up her papers, handed them to Minerva, and walked out of the room, her shoes clicking all down the hallway, where they were not heard from again. And, as Irene had predicted, they did not see her for the rest of the night, though Tom could not help noticing the lack of Christmas decorations around the school.

]---[

Minerva McGonagall was everything wrong with Hogwarts.

It was not that she was stupid, or ditzy; it was the simple fact that she was Gryffindor, and all Gryffindors tried to delude themselves into thinking they were the best. With Irene Taylor gone from the Head Girl post, Minerva took it with vigor and happiness, and talked to all of the surrounding Prefects with much more excitement and leadership qualities than Irene Taylor had, though she also had an edge of thinking they were younger than her.

Leslie didn't talk back to her.

Regardless, McGonagall made much more of an effort on 'teamwork' and 'making an equal effort, so that the school can be balanced on a strong system of people'. It was absolutely irritating, because these two virtues required McGonagall to come up to him and ask him questions about what to do for this or what to change for that.

McGonagall was not, as it were, the official Head Girl- Dippet, on Irene's request, made her a temporary, as he claimed that there was too much paperwork through half the year and despite Irene's wishes otherwise she still continued to be part of the Head Girl-Boy grouping, even if she didn't speak at all during meetings and instead did paperwork.

McGonagall did not acknowledge this, instead living it to the fullest, bossing even Irene around, who would nod meekly as if she were one of the Prefects and turn another page in the strong pile of paperwork in her lap.

This cycle continued all throughout January, McGonagall's reign of absolute terror and annoyance, and Tom had taken to avoiding her, instead grabbing the papers in her hand and walking away, even if she would run up ahead of him and continue speaking like nothing had happened.

Along with McGonagall's love of being a Head Girl was the threat of apprenticeships. There were many offers for him, though he, under deliberation, simply preferred to decline them, wanting a job at the school instead so he could continue to stay at Hogwarts.

It was like there was a very large storm around Hogwarts, though Hogwarts continued to be struck with blizzards. There was the supposed threat of Grindlewald, killing families in Bulgaria but never fully going into Britain, and the rumor that Albus Dumbledore should defeat him. There were these-these apprenticeships- that were shaking all the seventh years from their drawn out stupor of NEWT studying and complaining about homework.

And for Tom Riddle, it was Irene Taylor.

And that storm was ready to crash.

]---[


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