Chapter 1 : awoke in a violent dream one day
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He had no one else to turn to.
She understood that.
But standing bleary eyed at her front door, thin cotton dressing gown pulled tight around her, she was barely able to conceal her gasp, her face paling. Even the cold four o’clock morning breeze could not bring colour to her cheeks, and she let her face fall into an uneasy scowl.
Of course, once they were indoors, under the artificial lighting of Minerva’s front room, she realised quite how bad it was. Outside, the sun had not quite risen over the lines of terrace houses in the neighbourhood, she had only see the dark, shining material bunched up around his arm. Now she saw it properly, and it took much of her strength to stop herself from reeling back in disgust.
He had rolled his sleeve back, revealing white skin - almost grey now, as if carved from stone - that led slowly up to his elbow. Up past here, it looked almost like his flesh had rusted over, dark brown-red blood dried into his smooth arm. And then there was the wound.
It was deep, so deep Minerva thought she could almost see a flash of white bone - though she was sure afterwards that this was probably her imagination. The bleeding had begun to slow, only a thin trickle escaping the wound, but it was still sticky and shiny, the flesh jagged, raw.
“Oh Merlin,” she breathed, brow creased in effort to continue her inspection of it.
“Min…” he croaked at her, before slumping down into one of the old sofas in her front room. It was the closest to the door, right by her bookshelves, and she leant against them for a few moments to steady her swimming head, to straighten out her thoughts.
She was never any good at healing magic, but she knew that she would have to ensure it was not infected. Rushing into the kitchen, which was adjacent to the front room, she quickly located a bottle of vodka she kept in her cupboard. For purely medicinal purposes, of course - maladies not big enough for St. Mungos, but too big for her slim knowledge of medical charms. Although, she had to admit to have had a few drinks out of the bottle on nights when the wine had run out and she needed something stronger than a cup of tea.
“Hold still,” she ordered as she strode back into the living room, armed with the bottle, along with a clean dishcloth she had picked up. Getting down onto her knees before him, she felt almost like she was praying to an idol. Tom Riddle always had that effect on her, though, whether she was on her hands and knees before him or not. Swinging the bottle upside down on to the dishcloth, she wrapped her thin fingers around his elbow, holding him tightly. “This will hurt.”
He nodded, his face already curled into a pained expression. However, nothing seemed to prepare him for the searing pain of alcohol against bare flesh, because he cried out in agony, trying to wrestle his arm from Minerva’s grasp, but she would not let him go.
“Enough,” he gasped through the pain at her, his eyes squeezed closed, his hand on hers trying to riddle his fingers between hers to extract himself from her. And, perhaps, once upon a time, this pleading would have had her sympathy.
Not any more.
Tom had come to her for her to heal his wound, and she would do that to her best ability - and only that. If he wanted more, he would not find it in her home.
She was astonished, still, by her lack of emotions for him - as if a callous had formed on her heart where her feelings for him had once been, she could not feel a thing. Except, perhaps, pity. Pity that he had no one else in the world to turn to that cared about him instead of his power, and even she now would turn him away, once he had been bandaged up.
“Minerva…” he groaned at her, more desperately this time, and she suddenly snapped back to attention; she was pressing down harder than she had intended on his wound, the washcloth now completely soaked in his blood.
Without apologising - for she owed him none - she peeled it away from his arm slowly, looking in disgust as his blood blossomed across her cream upholstery.
“Wait,” she ordered, as if giving instructions to a particularly disobedient dog, before she lifted herself back onto her feet and fled from the room.
Outside in the corridor, the sun had begin to spill in through the glass panes in the door. She took a deep breath in, and pressed her forehead against the cold doorframe, hard enough that she knew it would probably leave an indentation on her skin. She was having to count her breaths steadily - breath in for five, hold for ten, out for five - every sense more muffled than usual due to her lack of sleep. If only it had been a bit later, given her a bit more sleep to be a little more alert. Now she could hardly begin to imagine what kind of charms and spells she would have to cast to do any good to the boy - or, rather, man, or so he thought of himself - sitting in her house.
She had not even left him for any good reason other than to allow her a few seconds where she could actually breathe. Even without a flood of emotions, his very presence seemed to suffocate her.
He was a selfish git.
He always had been. As he had got older, it had only got worse, too.
A long time ago, she might have been begging him to stay, at his feet trying to pry information out of him about the event that caused such a horrific wound - it took all her effort, now, just to care. Back then, she would be offering him a space next to her in bed, so pleased to even have contact with his skin. Now all she wished to offer him was the door.
She was too old for this.
They both were, even if he did not see it. She was weary of his games to put up with it now. Besides which, her lack of sleep had caused her head to begin throbbing quite violently. She could live with it, but it was enough for her to wince in the bright lamp light of the front room.
The dry voice made her jump as his face appeared right next to hers in the doorway. The disobedient dog had done as she had predicted - disobeyed - although it still caused her surprise.
“Min, I’m sorry…” he tried, licking his cracking lips as he gathered the strength to speak some more.
And they both knew he was not speaking of just tonight. Although she lived by the fact it was never too late to apologise, perhaps she was wrong. For some things, it was much too late. It was too late by the time it had been done.
“Magical or Muggle?” she asked bluntly, feeling uncomfortable, his face only inches from hers. But with her stubbornness, her pride, she refused to move away.
“Magic,” he said slowly, the single word pulled from his vocal chords lazily, to make him sound somehow intoxicated. A ghost of a smile appeared on his lips, but she did not try to decipher what was so funny about being hexed so violently. Evidently, someone had wanted to harm him.
“You need to go to St. Mungos, Tom.”
His name burnt like acid on her tongue, and it took all her will-power to stop herself from spitting out the taste on her carpet. Instead, she swallowed, allowing her featured to settle back into a scowl.
A cracking, humourless chuckle.
Even when it took all his energy, he could still not resist making her feel like a child saying silly things. He shook his head, lips still spread in a weak smile.
“Don’t call me that,” she said, her voice on edge. Ah - there it was! He was cutting the callous away, like a butcher slicing away fat, and now she began to feel it rising in her stomach. Back to their school days, back to the days where he could use her like his plaything - pick her up whenever he wanted, and she’d always be there, welcome and warm. Just grateful to have his attention.
How dare he.
“I think you should leave now.”
There was her Gryffindor attributes coming through, fury surging through her veins. There was her pride, the pride he stripped her naked of back in their Hogwarts years. He had seen it, known how to peel it back, peel it right away so he could do what he liked with her, and she would give him everything she had. Everything.
Confusion flashed across his face. It was subtle - a crease of his brow, a slight twitch of the corner of his mouth, a tweak of an eyebrow - but she caught it, and she found some vindictive pleasure from it, before he hid it under the same pained expression he had arrived at her door with.
She watched him, watched the wheels turning in her head as he tried to calculate the best way to play this. And she felt some satisfaction for the fact she knew whatever his next move, she would counter him with an angled blow.
“Minerva, I know you’re still angry,” he began, each word taking great effort to sound out. She almost pitied him - putting so much of his depleting energy levels on her, when it would not work. “But I was young…”
Tom paused, as if waiting for a contradiction, an interruption, but none came from Minerva. She was curious, wanted to see what he had to say. And above that, something cruel in her wanted him to go through with something that would inevitably fail.
“It was a long time ago,” he told her, and she could hear that he was beginning to be unsure of himself, watching her emotionless expression, unchanging with each word. “I’ve changed…”
She barked with laughter - laughter that surprised even her to hear it, him even more. He tried to hide it, but she saw his eyes widen in that split second. Had she gone mad? Was it a fit of hysterics? No, but she understood that he had told her that many, many times. And that, if she allowed him to stay this time, she would be told it many more times.
She was not prepared to allow him to do that.
“You cannot stay, Tom,” she repeated, voice firm, lips set in a thin, straight line. She wanted him to see she would not be moved.
There was a long pause, and he stared at her for a long time, eyes searching, searching for something in hers. Some kind of sign? She wasn’t sure, but she was determined not to allow him to find it. Was it a weakness? Some chink in the armour he was looking for? Probably. He sighed suddenly, his search fruitless.
“I’ll leave,” he resigned himself, his voice growing steadily weaker.
It was then that she almost gave in.
Hearing that weakness, seeing the resignation on his face, the disappointed look in his eyes. She almost broke.
What if he truly had nowhere else to go? Would she allow him to bleed to death?
No, this wasn’t up to her. If anything happened, if he was thrust out into the cold, it would not be her fault. He bought himself here, he delivered himself to her, weak and bleeding, expecting her to perform all the duties she used to. Now when it would not happen, he found himself without a paddle.
And who was to blame?
Not her. Not this time. She wouldn’t let him even make her believe any of this was because of her.
“Goodbye, Minerva, thank you” he whispered, a prolonged ‘th’ in his words making him sound as if he had a lisp. He leaned forward slowly, and she, too proud to withdraw, allowed his lips to brush against her forehead.
No reaction. She would not allow herself to react, although she felt a slight heat on the back of her neck trying to betray her. She thanked Merlin now that wore her hair out and long.
He limped passed her, his journey taking twice the time it might have any healthy man. It was painful, hearing him open the door, struggle onto the step outside. So much time to regret, so much time to turn and tell him to come back, to offer herself to him as part of her so wanted to.
But she held strong.
Until he was out of the door, until the door was shut and it was too late. Too late for her to call him back. Instead, she stood for almost fifteen minutes at the doorframe, gripping onto it as if it were her support, half expecting him to return. Then she turned, sleep beckoning her up the stairs, into her bedroom, back beneath the now cold, crisp sheets.
It was light outside, but she slipped into sleep easily, the events that took up only a half hour wearing her out beyond exhaustion.
She slept, and she dreamt. She dreamt her bed was surrounded by snake pits, and if she did not jump far enough as she made her way out, she would fall in and be bitten by the venomous reptiles. And as they ripped into her, teeth sinking deep into her flesh, they whispered in her ear three long, drawn out words. “Min, I’m sssssorry,” they chanted as they released their poisons into her blood, slowly killing her. “Min, I’m sssssorry.”
She woke up drenched in sweat.