Chapter 1 : Sharp North....
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Through the dense black of night, lit only by a fat moon, whom looked down at the world, watching the two who stood upon a hill closely. Watching as she reached up, to push his hood down, before he grabbed her hand, making her gasp, surprised at both the speed of his reaction, and how cold his hands were. His fingers, pale white in the moonlight, loosened their vice-like grip around her own, before he dropped his hand back to his side.
All she could hear was her own breathing, shallow and fast, the cold causing her to shiver, and his presence, his power almost humming in the night air, making her want to move to close the gap between them, but she kept herself from doing so.
He had not changed at all, still had that remarkable feeling that he emitted, making her want to be next to him, to let herself be drenched in it, let it sink into her skin until she was saturated with his power. She breathed out heavily. She would not allow herself to succumb to it as easily as she had done when she was young. She was older now - older, wiser, stronger.
But what was under that hood, she wondered? What horrors were so great that he would hide them from her? They had shared so much, and yet he gave so little to her; even now, even after all this time had passed, he would not give her what she most wanted to know. He never played his games that easily, always considered each move before he took it. She knew how much he loved to keep her on edge, waiting, always waiting. He liked to dominate her, she knew, she’d seen. And though she had played along before, life had shown her too much in the six years they had been apart for her to fall for it again.
“Tom…” she whispered, and she could sense him wincing from beneath the hooded robe.
“I have not heard that name for a long, long time,” he said slowly. It was barely a whisper, a little more than hiss.
She drew herself up, feeling those cold, cold eyes watching her, scrutinising her every action. Though she felt nervous, like a child again, she could not help feel some selfish need for his attention, his eyes on her. She would admit to herself at least that; she had always relished the fact he had spent so much of his time with her, as opposed to his many admirers.
“It’s your name, isn’t it?” she asked, smiling weakly; it was not the name he went by now, she knew. But he had always been Tom to her.
He gave a small chuckle, high-pitched, letting it roll across the deserted dales they stood upon. In the distance, over his shoulder, she could see her tiny cottage, windows lit up with candles, waiting for her to return home.
She glanced back at Tom; his eyes, a strange red tint in them that she did not remember from her last sighting of him, his last year at Hogwarts. She swallowed; so he was hiding under that hood. Though he seemed not to have changed his person, perhaps it was a physicality, perhaps…perhaps it was not something she wanted to see. Curiosity clenched her stomach, but she tried hard to ignored it.
“Minerva,” he hissed, and she took a sharp intake of breath; her name sounded so foreign, and yet so familiar on his lips. “I have missed you.”
How did he do that? She closed her eyes, trying to keep herself from swaying forward, his magnetic pull almost too much for her to bare. But they snapped open as she felt cold hands enclose around hers once more. He brought them up, to his hood, letting go as she took her own grip on the rough material.
“You will not like what you see,” he warned, and she could hear the whisper of a smile on his words.
He was ready for her fright, a thought that obviously amused him. Setting her jaw, she readied herself for the worst - perhaps his adventuring, the things he did that she heard so much about, had left him wounded, disfigured. With a shaking hand, she pulled it down.
Nothing could have prepared her.
She reeled backwards, disgust rising in her like bile, her stomach tightening. She did not want to look; she could not look away. With some kind of sick fascination, she stared, her whole body convulsing in a shudder.
His once handsome face was now white like his hands, smooth skin clinging to his skull, the moon’s shadows not helping his emaciated appearance. His cheeks were hollow, like voids pushed in so far she could practically see his teeth through his translucent skin. His eyes seemed too big for his face, giving him the appearance of a young, starving boy. His black hair was a contrast to this, thick as it had ever been, though it was lifeless, greasy upon his head now, hanging down over his forehead. His mouth was open, displaying white teeth that reminded her a little too much of fangs for her liking, as he laughed into the night.
“I disgust you,” he said, allowing his features to settle back into a slight grimace, though it was hard to tell what emotion he was displaying through the mask that was such a face. “How perfectly predictable.”
Predictable? Minerva frowned. She supposed that many had had her reaction. Certainly, she had not expected this, but she knew now that it was for good reason he had hidden; she would have not recognised that skeletal face, only ran from it. Her breath began to regain its normal rhythm, as did her beating heart, eyes still locked on that horrific sight.
What had he done to herself?
She felt anger rising suddenly, not even sure why it filled her so with fury. What had this man done to himself? So beautiful, once, and now his charm had given way to his thirst for power. No wonder it came from him so forcefully, seeping from his pores; he was teeming with it, every part of him filled to the brim with it. All of what he once was seemed to disappear in the instance, even her memories of him, young, so full of life, had starting to fade. She could feel it in her mind, as if a photograph that her fingers were being prised off, no matter how hard she held on. Soon, it would rip in two, and she would only be left with a torn and useless image that meant nothing to her.
“It isn’t like you,” he hissed, all his humour gone. “To be lost for words, Minerva.”
There was something sinister in his voice, as if he was growing impatient with her. She straighten up, running her hands along her robes, fingering the loose thread on the sleeve, trying to pull herself together so she could at last find her voice. Anything, anything, it did not matter what, she just knew she must speak.
“I--I didn’t expect…” she trailed off, voice cracking.
He gave another smile, though this caused more fear in her than a grimace might have.
She was struggling to read him, years of doing so now out of practice. She didn’t know what to look for, these new features like unchartered land to her. Where was the boy she once knew? Whose heavy jaw and bright blue eyes had captivated her, until she had learnt every line of his face, each quirk of his lips. She had known him off by heart, though she had known, had always known, that she was only able to do so because he allowed it. For when he was angry, when that fury began to build, she had seen him turn off, like the light at the end of the tunnel disappearing, he would snatch her ability away from her, leaving her stranded, groping for a way closer to him.
It seemed like he was going to say something, but instead, Tom reached across, finger tracing her jaw line, before it worked its way to her neck. She held back a shiver, letting him draw her nearer. She gave no resistance, wondering what he intended, what this changed man wanted with her.
“And yet,” Tom hissed at her, as if in response to her thoughts. “You have not changed a bit, Minerva.”
Minerva snapped her head way, causing him to lose his grip on her. He let his hand drop away again, and she felt a release from his powerful gaze, a weight from her stomach. There was something horrible hidden in there, something she recognised from her youth, but had chosen to ignore. It was intent. Intent to harm. What did he plan on doing to her, surrounded by darkness, where no one would hear her scream, perhaps not even find her for weeks? The thought suddenly struck terror into her, but she swallowed it down. She would not allow him to do this to her.
“You shouldn’t have come,” she whispered, after some hesitation.
He looked so much older now, she mused, looking back at him, awaiting a reply. In six short years, he had changed. Only a whisper of him remained. Now, she couldn‘t even tell what his words did to him, face stiff.
“No, I shouldn‘t have,” he replied, quietly. “But I did.”
She could have almost laughed. What was the point of such an enigmatic answer, of his little mysterious game? She could provide him with nothing he wanted, not now. She knew, though it hurt to think, that she was just a speck in the Wizarding World, something he no longer should have been bothering with.
But there he was, standing in front of her, flesh and bone, looking, searching for something in her.
“Why did you come?” she asked, finally, after silence had flooded the space around them, between them.
He waited a few moments before he answered, spider-like fingers clenching and unclenching. Was he angry? If he was, his eyes remained loyal, telling her nothing of this, blank and unyielding to her probing.
“I came to see you,” he said, words slow and taking their time to reach her. “I came to settle my curiosity.”
It was a punch in her gut. She wanted to choke on his words, feeling them like poison dripping into her. Curiosity? Was that all she was to him? An object he merely liked the look of, that he liked to play with when he had little else to do? Minerva bit back all her fury, instead letting herself whisper familiar words.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” she said, the common saying stopping her from screaming, allowing her to resist the urge to roar her anger at him.
Even if it was true, even if it was just curiosity, she felt wounded at this honesty, this blatant disregard for her emotions. She felt it leaking out of her as tears, pricking her eyes, but she refused to let them betray her. She saw the mask of a face stretch to a smile.
“Ah, but lest us not forget,” he whispered, drawing nearer to her. “That satisfaction, Minerva, brought it back…”
She swallowed. His words seem to dance around her, form chains that bound her to him. He was so close, his eyes still locked with hers, his robes brushing against her own. And those lips…somehow, they were still as they once were. So tempting, so close. Even as he looked, he seemed able to bring her down to a little girl begging for his attention. She struggled in herself, body swaying as it tried to resist him, to hold herself back…
She did not know why she did it. She would punish herself mentally for it later, but as she leaned in, letting her lips make contact with his, she thought of nothing but him. They were as cold as pewter. She could not brush from her mind the image of the dead, he so like ice despite the warm blood that ran through his veins, pumped around by that blackening heart she suspected he had. But as he allowed her entrance to his mouth, he was surprisingly warm, though still not hot, and she felt him return this kiss, his arms winding round her to bring her as close as he could.
He was intoxicating.
Though the thought of them even touching had disgusted her, now she felt as if she wished to be held there forever, him hands in her hair, and hers flat against his back, taking in every last breath that was his, consuming his very being as if it she wished to suck the very source of power from him. If only he was the same boy…
“Minerva…” he smiled, pulling away slowly, so they lips still touched, their movements spelling out the muffled words for her. “You were right…”
She frowned, eyes still closed. Right? What could she have possibly been right about, when everything was suddenly so wrong? She knew it was wrong, so, so wrong, but she could not find the strength to care, he so close to her that his eyelashes brushing against her skin as he closed them. He leant his forehead against hers.
“I shouldn’t have come.”
He pulled right back now, and she opened his eyes to take in that terrifying face that had just been so close to hers, as she tried to find the man she knew behind it, the smile now gone, as if it were the only thing she had ever known.
“I…” he began to repeat, before he stopped short. He let go, his arms releasing her, though it only made her feel more suffocated than ever, the night holding her back as he moved away. A few steps felt like too much, and she felt herself buckling forward, just as he turned.
A loud crack echoed around the hills, who leant back to receive it, so she could hear it back to herself a thousand times. It seemed to go on forever, the echo, each time as if he had left once more. Unexpected, unannounced.
If only she could hear him say her name again. If only she could wrap herself in every word that left his mouth, used it as a blanket to keep her warm when he was so very cold. His heart, his soul, his kiss, all so cold.
In the place he had been, she stared now into nothingness. Who had he been able to do that? Break her, so easily, when she thought she had become so strong. A few minutes, and she was tearing herself up.
She had let go of him, once upon a time, after he had left.
Now she would have mourn her loss once more.
Of course he shouldn’t have come. She knew that; he had come to realise that, if he hadn’t known it all along. But she had wanted him to come. Every day, after he had gone missing from her life, the slightest noise in the usually empty Yorkshire Dales had announced his arrival. But Minerva had given up hope, hope that he would ever return to her, to the folds of her sheet, where he had been so very many years ago.
She would have to come to terms with something she had denied, denied with all her heart to stop it from breaking; it was not she that he was in love with. It was power. And he would kill her, without question, if she ever stood in his way, like he would anyone else. Though she knew it, it seemed to tear her up inside like nothing else could as the thought ran through her mind, unstoppable.
Minerva couldn’t move, suddenly, letting herself drop to the floor, on her knees, the tears that had been waiting now shedding themselves. It dampened her robes, the grass in front of her as she leaned forward, as if bowing to the moon, who watched on, oblivious and unaffected by her grief, for that was all it could be described as.
Somehow, somewhere in her lifetime, she had allowed herself to fall for the one man she could not have.
Minerva had fallen in love with the man that would one day destroy her life, and even as she kneeled, totally alone, on the sunken hill, she knew it was true. And she would rather die than admit it.
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