Chapter 8 : Disease (March)
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The whole school was absolutely certain that Irene Taylor had snapped, though none of them had quite as much evidence as Tom Riddle did, even the girl- Hannah- that had seen her jump into a freezing cold lake during February.
It really shouldn't have bothered him this much, or it should have absolutely infuriated him. He was somewhere in the medium, somewhere that was not quite indifference. It was something somewhere so abnormally different from the normal emotions of Tom Riddle that he could not exactly pinpoint what it was.
There were the subtle gears of logic that could only produce true fact, and even though those gears were very worn for an eighteen year old this had been the first time in memory that they had begun to haywire. They had conjured the certain facts- Irene's father had died, and it had probably been that that had prompted her to jump into the barely frozen lake at the beginning of February. It had probably gotten her to go to Glasgow during a Hogsmeade visit with Margaret Keane and come back slightly tipsy.
It was after this that logic was rather rowdy and refused to work, and, like trying to determine a beginning and end of a circle, he simply could not see the connection between any of those things and her being shockingly brave enough to kiss him on the cheek.
Of course, it was normally around this time that logic became almost useless and he would have to go to the very ill-trained area of simple feeling and opinion combined. He had had opinions, of course, but those had come with either anger or bleak indifference.
This, again, did not seem to fit, and it would be this that would prompt him to begrudgingly ask how the two could in any way, shape, or form be connected. This took much less time; though it always seemed to be consistently incorrect and prompt another fresh batch of swear words and denial.
Because it wouldn't really come up with an answer, per se; it would seem to be about something much more trivial and frankly stupid like how he had somehow come to fancy Irene Taylor. It would come up with more of a question, like why he even bothered or why he even cared.
He didn't care, of course.
But this whole infuriating process seemed to continue itself throughout the day. At first, it had been after Irene began to continually kiss him on the cheek as if she knew that he wouldn't say a word. But then March came and it started to shift much more severely.
It had not been quite as noticeable in September and November. Sure, there had been some casual moments when he would notice something out of the ordinary, but other than that he had been fairly stoic. He was pretty sure it was because of the drunken fiasco at the party that had gotten him like this.
Her first kissing encounter had come at quite frankly the worst time imaginable. It had been a hard day- he had not gone to Hogsmeade because of some last minute recordings and even then he had a Prefect meeting to go to with Irene bloody missing and then rounds- so he had not been in the best of moods with her. And then she had come, past curfew, drunkenly chatting with Keane about some boy she had met in bloody Glasgow.
Strangely enough, that seemed to be the most unnerving thought of all, and he hadn't much elaborated on it at the time. It had been more on leaving him with the annoying Leslie and McGonagall and her going off and - well- meeting some fancy boy in Glasgow.
The balance didn't seem too fair, and that had mainly been the reason that he had been set off in the first place- that and she had spent her day getting drunk on gin and kissing bloody boys in Glasgow. He had felt that, even if he was not in some way jealous, he had still made the right call by fishing them out and trying to punish them.
Trying- Keane had gone away at Irene's chirping, and then Irene had found a way to weasel out of a punishment too. He should have expected it- she had weaseled out of Head Girl, than weaseled back in, and then weaseled out of doing any responsibility whatsoever. It should have been perfectly acceptable to believe Irene Taylor to get out of a punishment.
But she had absolutely no right to kiss him on the cheek.
Of course, every other false thing that she had said was equally insulting, but for some reason or another Tom could not really remember what was said and remembered trivial things like how she still, like January, smelled like chamomile. In fact, many other insignificant facts- like how when her hair was straightened there were shades of red in it- seemed to overshadow every thing she said, as if he was not in the conversation at all.
And that was just unnerving.
Because this absolute fascination with everything related to Irene Taylor seemed to be like a disease that had stretched throughout the entire year; there had been the initial hit, and then there had been the stretch of time that he only hardly knew it was there, and then, out of thin air, it erupted and refused to go back to how it was before.
That was about where he was now, and he had attempted to reclaim his original life back by harassing the Prefects and very nearly making strict McGonagall swear in front of the fifth years. He had researched more about complex magic by forging the Defense teacher's signature and going into the restricted section.
It had not worked, in the end.
Because a disease didn't let go- once it was there, it never really left, even after therapy and medication and surgery to get it away and gone. And if there was any form of treatment for the Irene Taylor disease Tom Riddle would take it as soon as possible, regardless of the consequences.
But this kind of a disease had never once been cured. It was the kind that had to be taken with ease and balance or else make the person suffer before they caved into what the disease needed. And even though the former was all and well, it did not last for very long. And then there was that pivot where you became absolutely crazy and had to get what the disease wanted.
And right now, the disease really rather wanted Irene.
This, unfortunately, was impossible at the present moment, as Irene Taylor had decided to take a step back further and attempt to ignore him as he had done to her. It was a hard feat, she had likely discovered, to ignore the Head Boy when she was the Head Girl; regardless, she seemed to be boding, writing down small notes in the corner of the room that they used for meetings and where he did rounds so that he could still understand that she had things to do even when she ignored him.
The notes were still just as nauseating as her actual presence, as both seemed to affect him greatly and the disease only seemed to want the latter all the more. Alongside, it made him almost in awe of the cleverness that only a girl could have; for how could a male think of this kind of mental torture? Guys weren't like that; even Tom, who considered himself the smartest, did not solve many of his problems mentally. Most of them were completed with pure determination and physical power.
It had been undeniably genius to plant the problem mentally. Those small bits of parchment, magically stuck to the wall around the school, had actually done their purpose and plagued Tom Riddle almost as much as Irene Taylor herself did to the point where she had begun to plague his subconscious with dreams that were less than logical and more than anything he had ever thought before-
"Miss me?" came a soft, almost sarcastic voice from his left, and Tom swung his gaze around to look at no one other than Irene Taylor, who gave him a quick peck on the cheek before continuing her pace as if absolutely nothing had happened.
After Irene had kissed him for the first time, it was as if she knew he wouldn't say a word about it. She had kissed him after every encounter they had, which had amounted to roughly three other times, not including the first kiss. And despite how many times she kissed him on the cheek it still had the acute ability to keep him speechless long enough for her to make her point.
"Great," she said, apparently taking his silence as a response, pulling out a wrinkled paper out of her bag. "It's almost time to start planning for Easter," Irene said with certainty, handing the paper over to him. "Those are the Hogsmeade dates, and I can get it approved by Dippet, but I need your opinion before I go to Dippet. I'd ask the Prefects, but they're not on best terms with me now." She paused, fingering one of her curls in her index finger. "Of course, you're not on best terms with me now," she reasoned, "but I need your signature, so just give me back the paper when you're done signing."
"April first," he chose randomly, and Irene frowned, snatching the paper from him in an almost deliberate fashion so their fingers slightly touched. She shook her head, pointing to the date she circled, which was a whole nine days away from his.
"Well," she pointed out, "April first is really far away from Easter, and March twenty-first is right before Easter break so everyone can go regardless." She looked over at it again, at April first, before looking up at Tom with astonishingly bright blue eyes. "What do you think?"
Tom recoordinated himself for a moment before turning back to stare at Irene with a dry look. "You don't really care what I think, do you?" he accused, and she flushed, looking down at the ground with a small smile on her face. "You just want my signature."
She nodded shortly, her face still a dark red and still downcast but a mischievous grin on her face. "Come on, Tom," she said in a matter-of-fact tone. "If we're going to be wholly honest, you don't really care about what happens, and I really care about what happens, and you're just contradicting me because you're mad at me."
"You contradicted me," he said in defense. "I didn't tell you to pick a ludicrous date after I had chosen mine, did I?"
"No, but I've had my date before I even told you about this," she sniped, looking up at him from under her eyelashes in an almost seductive way. "Can't you please just sign the form so we don't have to speak to each other anymore? You're mad at me because I ignored you at the party in December, and I'm mad at you because you let Minerva McGonagall take my place as Head Girl for about a half-month."
"I'm angry at you because you let Keane run off without a punishment," he lied smoothly. "She was out after curfew, and you were out after curfew, at Glasgow of all places."
With some pretty boy.
This was, of course, one of the reasons that Tom Riddle was very angry at Irene Taylor right now. It had absolutely nothing to do with Margaret Keane whatsoever. It actually had nothing to do with the party mentioned in December, though what had transpired between them had done more damage than what hadn't.
Tom Riddle was angry at Irene Taylor because she, of all people, was the sole vulnerability that he had right now, so much so that he could admit it almost openly. It didn't matter if he was ignoring her or she was ignoring him or he was angry at her or she was angry at him. In the pure end, it was all about the disease of Irene Taylor, the one that was eventually going to make him go crazy.
It was a case of how, and when.
"Margaret wasn't your responsibility," Irene said dimly, holding out a quill for him to take to sign the paper for March twenty first. "And I would like to think that you were angry at me for something that actually made sense. Inviting you to a party where I didn't talk to you 'till the very end wasn't a very kind thing to do, and I apologize."
"Don't mention it," he said sarcastically, refusing to take the pen. "And, no, I like an April Hogsmeade date."
"Please?" she begged, side stepping him so that she was standing directly in front of him. Her incredible sky blue eyes were looking at him with anticipation, and her mouth was curved downward in a sultry way that was not even intentional.
It was not hard to slip into this kind of stupor anymore, because, like the disease, it became stronger and more noticeable so that every attractive part of Irene Taylor was immediately brought to his attention.
"Fine," he said, rather breathlessly, and she smiled as he signed the paper shakily and handed it back to her. She rolled up the large piece of parchment, wholly satisfied with their conversation, and started to walk away from him- but not before she gave him a peck on the cheek and whispered "Thank you" in his ear.
And the disease still got worse.
It did not take much longer before Irene Taylor cornered him again, despite how she emphasized on wanting to ignore him. However, she seemed to think that talking to him was less of a punishment than doing all the Head Girl work by herself. When notes couldn't suffice they had to carry out a conversation; she didn't seem to mind this as much as he did, unfortunately.
She had, of course, picked the worst time to corner him again. It was around mid-March, so the weather was beginning to clear up. This did not seem to be a good thing, however, in Tom Riddle's mind; even though he enjoyed the new solitude in the castle when everyone else was outside, he also had to deal with rounds right near where groups of people would enter after curfew. At first, he had assumed it to be a mere coincidence; but after remembering just who had put him on this floor in the first place, he started to think more differently.
Because, even more than February, March had taken liberties to being much more romantic and happy. This was always a known fact to the cynicism that was Tom Riddle- but he had never had to experience it quite as much as he was forced to as March frolicked onward.
This was because about seventy five percent of people after curfews were couples, giggling, smiling, giddy couples, sneaking in after hours even though they were being so utterly loud it was a wonder they thought they were stealthy. It was because of this that the majority of couples were now serving detention with a cross Slughorn, a thought that while making Tom slightly happy- he enjoyed misery- was still rather nauseating.
So March kept on being a struggle to get through. Every day after rounds he was always in a murderous and exhausted mood, which didn't mix nicely with a sweet headache thanks to Leslie and McGonagall squawking about the most trivial things. These days were always the worst to get through- not just for Tom, but for everyone; he tended to have an amount of authority over everyone and having him in a bad mood did not help anyone.
It had just so happened that when Irene Taylor sought him out again it was the day after a night of rounds, leaving him, as planned, exhausted, angry, and donned with an elaborate headache. This headache became something of a migraine when rounds were on Thursday- going to class on Friday made up for Leslie and McGonagall's arguing and then some.
This was where Tom Riddle found himself now, walking towards the Great Hall where lunch was about to be served. There were two more classes after, of course, but they were both extremely simple classes with teachers that doted on his every word.
His headache was not calmed by this statement, however; moreover, it was very irritated at the clumps of people that insisted on walking to the Great Hall in their loudest, most outside voice in the entire universe. That, multiplied by about a hundred and fifty, did not bode well to his headache, and he scowled, walking towards the Great Hall with his head down and a demeanor that was so intimidating that the loud huddled masses gave him a sort of circle.
This was probably the most likely reason that he did not notice Irene Taylor approaching him; there was that and his headache, which absorbed all of the noise and made it into pain so much that he didn't notice her footsteps.
He supposed he noticed her when she was only about a foot or two away; she smelled sweetly and rather innocently like chamomile, unlike the other girls who sprayed themselves with some of the most atrocious scents that they probably considered attractive.
She didn't speak until she was directly next to him, matching his pace as they turned another corridor, a circle of space around them. "Miss me?" she said quietly, so much so that he did not hear it at first over the pain of his head; and then he did, and his head thrummed dazedly- even at her voice...
He groaned inwardly. The disease had been rather skipping these last few days, only hitting in thought and note, things that he was beginning to overlook in strength. It was only when Irene was anywhere around him when the gasoline met the flame and absolutely everything went haywire.
It wasn't even a pleasant feeling, anymore- it was shockingly vulnerable and shockingly foreign and strange; and the times when Irene didn't talk to him were some of the best he'd had lately. Of course, they were always doused with the unfamiliar twinge of missing someone, but that was heftily ignored.
So when Irene could stymie him with only her voice there was something very wrong. The mood, a gray cloud, had begun to thunderstorm, and even the crowds weren't cooperating anymore, inching closer and closer to where Irene and Tom were.
"No?" Irene questioned, shrugging lightly in response. "I guess not. Anyway, we've got a lot to do before Easter, and 'cause Dippet's looking at our decorations we're gonna have to put some work into it. Not that you're not doing work," she added, "It's just that you might be a bit of a slacker and Dippet's not going to write a recommendation for that."
Tom glared at her, and she shrunk slightly, though she did not hesitate on her pace. "Sorry," she said, and it was not the cute habitual 'Sorry' he had recalled hearing from September to somewhere around November or December.
It was bloody sarcastic.
This very much made Tom Riddle angry, and understandably; she had insulted him, definitely a result of his crude behavior in January, and had not even bothered to apologize in a genuine fashion. But the furiousness delved even deeper, like it had done in February because she had neglected his authority.
It was more or less the fact that Tom Riddle fancied Irene, really truly fancied her, and she would not even give him the courtesy of ignoring him at all costs. He had ignored her in January, and it had worked perfectly; but when Irene tried to ignore him- when she used notes with a fancy handwriting to communicate- it did not work. No, she needed to be either dead or long gone before he could even attempt to get over Irene Taylor, because she haunted this school with so much terror that it had almost ruined Hogwarts for him completely.
It was the almost that angered him, the fact that she had taken the two things he held dearest- Hogwarts and his sanity- and poisoned them with some odd kind of disease. His logic was likely the next thing that would get contaminated, and then his common sense, and finally his will, so that the only thing worth living for was-
Irene nearly shoved him, and he blinked, his eyes focusing on a piece of parchment that looked very worn, crumpled up and opened so that every bit of it was wrinkled. Many different suggestions were on it, all on different handwriting, and he vaguely sought out Irene's in the header and in a few of the lines where many seemed to have given their input.
"What is this?" he ground out, and Irene smirked, continuing to wave it. "And why is it in my face?"
"You weren't paying attention," Irene shrugged, handing the paper over to him in a formal matter. "It's your own fault that you weren't bothering to listen to anything I have to say." She paused, and he vaguely noticed that they were only steps away from the Great Hall. His headache prickled excitedly at the amount of noise surely to be there; Irene snapped her fingers in irritation, and he focused his eyes again. "See?"
"No, I don't," he disagreed, looking down at the paper. "I don't understand why I have to even listen to anything you have to- this is for Easter," he observed, looking at the heading at the top, which said, rather clearly, 'EASTER DECORATIONS'.
"Aren't you clever," she sneered, and he was vaguely reminded of when they had talked in November and he had thrown those words to her. At the time, he had had no idea that she would throw them back in his face when the balance between them was blown. Then again, he didn't think he would have lost his balance anyway. "I know this is for Easter. You should know this is for Easter. I told you about five minutes ago that it was for Easter."
He read over it, smartly choosing to ignore her words, which were more insulting than anything. They were about the decorations, and it had clearly been something that Irene had asked every other Prefect at a meeting where he hadn't been paying much attention.
And to think she had used to be the one that had a short attention span.
Regardless, there were possibly some of the simplest spells that Tom had ever seen on the paper. The fifth years were easy to find, as their spells were the least complex, even having the gall to put spells that they had learned in Charms and pretend it had use for decorations; the sixth years copied the same. The seventh years, however, had some of the most random spells he had ever seen, especially the obnoxiously scrawled handwriting of McGonagall and the overly cheery script of Gloria. Only Irene's made much sense, though he was sure he would have said that despite what she wrote- they were mostly transfiguration spells, anyway, and they, unlike McGonagall, did not require transforming the suits of armor into large rabbits.
"You want to hide Easter eggs?" He asked skeptically, looking down at what she had written. The idea seemed very mindless in his opinion, and she glared, evidently not thinking the same. "Do you realize how many students would start throwing them?"
"They can't throw them until they find them," Irene said confidently. "And even then most of them will disappear if someone doesn't put a counter spell on them. Anyway, it's better than your ideas, which you decided not to write."
"All of these spells are simple," he pointed out. "I could do all of these. They're just not good ideas."
"You can charm the whole castle front with decorations?" she asked disbelievingly, and he nodded, looking back down at the list. They were all, at most, OWL spells, and seeing as he had taken his OWLS two years ago and passed with flying colors...
"Okay, well, what about the Great Hall?" she asked. "Can you make a rainbow appear right by where the ceiling is?"
"Of course I could," he bragged. "I could keep it there all night, too," he added sarcastically.
"Do you have any ideas, then, if you hate all of mine, and theirs?" she said angrily, and he rolled his eyes at the irony of her being angry at him. It was almost unbelievable.
"Why don't we give all of the students Easter baskets that run away Easter morning?" he suggested with no amount of sincerity in his voice, and Irene groaned, snatching the paper from him in response.
"We can't do that!" Irene accused. "None of the Prefects or I know how to do that!" Despite how much his eyes rolled when she said that, he could not help noticing a faint blush on her face, either from anger or embarrassment at her tone.
Frankly, he was sure it was the second.
"I can," he pointed out. "And that was a joke. Anyway, just because Queen Irene can't do her job doesn't mean I can't."
"Yeah," she said, her tone rising slightly. "Yeah, 'cos you'd be such a great King, wouldn't you? Imagine you, on your high horse, everyone absolutely hating your guts except for the people that matter... You know what?" she said shrilly, "I'm bloody done here! Take care of the damn job yourself!"
She started to walk away in a huff, but Tom grabbed her arm as she began to go, twisting her around and glaring at her as if his hand on her arm wasn't luring the disease out of its sleep. She wriggled out of it, however, and glared at him with a ferocity that he knew would have never been on the face of the Irene he knew in September.
"You are just like Abraxas, you know that?!" she yelled angrily, and her tone almost muted out the fact that people on their way towards lunch were beginning to crowd around them. He could vaguely see some obnoxious fifth year boys at the way front, along with some first years that were looking too excited for their own good. "You think that you can always have your own bloody way!"
"Look," he muttered mutinously, "I don't give six Knuts whether your father died last month or not. I'm not going to walk around on eggshells just so you can do whatever the hell you want." He said this remorselessly, and some of the people closer by were gasping at the gall of his words. Irene, as well, gasped, her mouth opening at outrage, forming into a perfect O.
"Well, you know what," she breathed deeply, stepping up so close to him that the proximity was beginning to cue the disease, "I don't even know what happened to your parents, and I don't even know if they died or if they just didn't want you, but you can't pretend that Hogwarts is like your orphanage where all they probably did to you was spoil you rotten! Bloody hell, Riddle, I'm the Head Girl and I don't even want to hear you talk about my father one more time, you got that?"
And that stung very slightly, which only further mixed into the headache and the disease and his mood. It was likely the words that had made the initial sting- insulting his parents, misconceptions of his character and the orphanage- but it might have also slightly been because she had called him Riddle, disregarding respect, reminding him of his father, and loathing him so much as to call him by his surname.
"I'm gone," she sighed, turning back around and walking towards the Ravenclaw dorms in vigor, and the crowds groaned in unison, poking holes in his skull and making his migraine all the worse. They started to disperse, hardly noticing that Tom was still glaring at Irene's back and barely noticing that Gloria was coming up towards Tom to lecture him.
And then, all of a sudden, Irene Taylor stumbled from where she was walking. She shoved herself against the wall, sliding down so she was sitting, coughing so harshly and so severely that a trill of panic went through Tom's headache, through his head, all the way down to his stomach. Gloria stopped mid-step, running towards Irene. The crowds, which were entering the Great Hall, either screamed or watched with inappropriate interest.
Because in that instant Irene Taylor and Tom Riddle found themselves unable to breathe.
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