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Chapter 13 : Learning Curve
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John Avery had hair almost the precise color of a Galleon. I cocked my head to the side to see if it was only a trick of the light, but it seemed it wasn’t; the boy really had hair like spun gold. I considered telling him how much I liked it, but I figured now wasn’t the time.
He was talking to Tom, or rather, Tom was talking to him. Across the table from me, Avery listened intently, and judging from his face, he was both impressed and slightly intimidated.
But most definitely interested.
Tom was good. I didn’t have the faintest idea what he really wanted with Avery, but whatever it was, he had an extremely good chance of getting it. Tom had casually invited him to sit with us, and continued to chat with the boy in a way that was most unlike him.
How’s third year going? What subject are you best at? Tell me about your family.
Just as I was beginning to think Tom had gotten his mind swapped with an old woman taking tea, I realized what he was doing. He was so cool, so easy, that after only a few minutes John Avery had relaxed in his chair and was spilling anything and everything Tom wanted to know about his life.
Then the imposing details began to slip. Tom seemed to accidentally let it fall from his lips that he was proficient in the Imperius Curse. He carelessly mentioned that he knew the secret passages of the school. He even, for a moment, alluded to having some great ancestor.
It was perfect. Though I smiled and sat beside him like a faithful vice-president, my blood was burning up with envy.
God, why did he know just how to play everyone? How could he just snatch up the people he wanted and have them comply with everything he desired? He knew just how to intrigue, just how to talk so one would feel included yet in awe.
It made me want to backhand him and throw my arms around his neck all at once.
He was brilliant.
So anyway, John Avery was currently eagerly leaning across the table, ready for anything else Tom had to tell him. Which was apparently not much.
“It was a pleasure talking to you,” Tom said, sticking his hand out like he was making some sort of business deal. “I’ll see you soon, perhaps I can work with you on that Incarcifor Curse, it is quite useful, and I’d be happy to help.”
Avery looked surprised but pleased, taking Tom’s hand and saying that he would be very grateful.
Tom sat back down and pulled out his list. He put his quill above Avery’s name, but hesitated.
“Have we got ourselves another club member?” I asked.
Tom frowned, tapping his quill. A few moments passed before he said, to my surprise,
“What did you think of him?”
“I liked him,” I said immediately, though the shock of Tom actually asking my opinion on anything was so great I couldn’t help my eyebrows shooting upwards. “I mean, he listened well, and you’ve seen how good he is in Arithmancy. He must be smart.”
Tom nodded, then finally made his decision and circled Avery’s name.
“Are you going to try and get anyone else? Or is four enough?”
“I want another. One more.”
“But Tom really, what are we going to do?”
Tom raised one shoulder and let it drop, evasive as always, indifferent, his attention slowly slipping away from my grasp.
“This is so weird,” Marcella said, glancing around at the sea of Ravenclaw blue that surrounded us. “I feel awkward.”
“Don’t,” I decreed, shaking my windblown hair away from my face.
There we were at the second to last game of the year, the outcome of which would determine whose score we had to beat in the final. Marcella, Rachel and I sat among the screaming Ravenclaw supporters clad in cerulean.
“It’d be more awkward if we went over there,” Rachel pointed out, indicating the Gryffindor side of the stands with her gloved hand.
“That’s the spirit, Rachel,” I said, “We root for Ravenclaw so Gryffindor doesn’t win!”
“You root for Ravenclaw for one reason only, let’s not pretend,” Marcella said, grinning at me.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I responded primly, adjusting my muff and trying to peer over the tall boy in front of me and get a look at who had the quaffle.
“Cella’s right,” Rachel said, “Merlin’s pants, Anne, first Tom and now Joey McGill? How many boys do you have on the go now?”
I didn’t respond immediately, for a Gryffindor beater had come dangerously close to the stands in an attempt to corral a bludger; he was assaulted with jeers and shouts as he got back into the game.
“I do not have anyone ‘on the go,’” I said coolly. “I went to Hogsmeade once with Tom, and once with Joey. That’s all.”
“But you like Joey! Isn’t Tom jealous?”
I pursed my lips in annoyance. There really was no way to answer that one. I could lie again and say Tom was wilting with jealousy (as I wouldn’t have minded), but no one would believe it. Or I could admit he didn’t give a rat’s ass who I hung out with.
Rachel knew she had me; she went silent, but I could sense her triumph. Marcella noticed nothing, and chatted with both of us amicably until the game ended with a glorious snatch of the snitch by Ravenclaw’s seeker.
I assured them they could head back to the castle while I waited for Joey to come out of the locker rooms. His face lit up when he saw me, and it was impossible not to smile.
“You watched the match?” he asked, looking bemused. “Isn’t there some rule that Slytherins can’t support other teams?”
“Oh, stop,” I said, nudging him and receiving a warm hug in return. We began the ascent to the castle.
“Well I’m glad, Annie. Hope you enjoyed yourself watching the team that’s going to win the cup this year.”
I laughed. “Dream big, you guys wouldn’t have a chance even if—oh wow.”
I trailed off, pointing most obviously at a boy not far ahead of us. I couldn’t help it, he was huge. And I don’t mean huge as in tall or just fat; he was enormous, probably nearing eight feet tall, easily over three-hundred pounds…the only thing I could think of that he resembled was one of those muggle athletes Grandpa had liked to watch—American feetball players, or something.
“Oh, that’s Hagrid. Gryffindor,” Joey said, grinning slightly.
“How do you know?” I asked, watching in awe as the boy trudged up the muddy hill to the castle with the rest of his defeated looking house-mates.
Joey shook his head. “Bloke doesn’t know his own strength. I dropped my quill in the hall and he picked it up, just to snap it in half. Apologized for fifteen minutes afterward, too.”
“God, he’s huge,” I said, stating the obvious, but unable to contain myself. “I bet he’s been held back…it’s a wonder I haven’t seen him all these years.”
“He’s a first year,” Joey told me, laughing at my disbelief and taking my hand to direct me away from a large puddle of mud. “But enough about him…aren’t you going to swoon over me and my six goals?”
“The day I swoon over you will be the day you win the quidditch cup,” I snorted.
“If you want an easy one you can go back to McGonagall!”
Joey rolled his eyes, but I noticed he kept his hand on mine. I didn’t mind.
Back in the common room, Tom was nowhere to be found. I even checked the dungeon antechamber we used for practicing somewhat non-curricular magic, and found nothing. I figured he must be at the library, and almost resigned myself to heading off to dinner alone, but I paused.
Maybe Tom was in his dormitory. I mean, it was possible he had fallen asleep or was reading and simply lost track of the time.
So there was a reason for me to go up there, right?
Once the idea came to me, I couldn’t help but glance around and slip up the staircase leading to the boys’ dormitories. I couldn’t help it. I had never been up there before, and I found I was rather curious.
The boys’ dorm was the same as ours, except with fewer ruffles and less clothes strewn about everywhere. There were a couple pairs of pants hanging off the backs of chairs, a few books stacked up, but nothing like the mess of hair products and shoes that our dorm was buried in.
I knew Tom’s bed at once; it was made neater than all the others, and the trunk at the foot of the bed was the smallest in the room. A pang of pity hit me as I recalled my own enormous trunk, and all the expensive gifts and possessions I had inside it.
Knowing I was snooping but unable to reign in my insatiable nosiness, I glanced over my shoulder again and pulled Tom’s trunk toward me, easily popping the rusty clamp open. The only reason I was at ease enough to do so was the fact that everyone was at dinner, so I wasn’t likely to be caught.
There wasn’t much in there, as I had predicted. A few tattered books, some socks, and a Sneakoscope that had started whirring and flashing madly as soon as I opened the trunk. I stuffed it inside one of Tom’s pairs of socks.
Yes, thank you, I already knew I was being untrustworthy.
A little black box was buried under everything else, and I pulled it out, careful to remember exactly where it had been. To my chagrin, it was locked.
So naturally, I looked for the key.
I hope you don’t judge me too harshly yet. I mean, I did start to feel bad as I shifted things around under his bed in search for the key. But I knew even then, as a nosy fourteen-year-old, that I wasn’t exactly turning out to be a virtous young woman.
And hell, if you think poorly of me now…well, Merlin knows what you’ll think of me once you know the whole story.
Nagini lay sleeping in her cage, coiled upon herself and breathing slowly, completely unaware that I had just slipped a tiny silver key from beneath her prison.
Heart thumping in anticipation, I dug the key into the lock and turned it, popping open the top of the little black box.
It was a queer assortment of objects. A few marbles rolled around, a wristwatch ticked away. There was a fancy looking quill and a silver chain sitting atop a few oddly shaped white things. I shifted things around until I could pick up one; it was smooth and hard, slightly knobby at the ends…
It was truly a mark of how much I feared getting caught that I managed not to cry out when I realized what it was. What they were. Because the box was littered with them, these little bones. They could have been bird bones, rat bones, anything.
My stomach rolled sickeningly as I forced myself to pick up the one I had dropped and place it back into the box. I closed it back up, locked it, and pushed it underneath the socks where I had found it. Again I slithered under the bed on my stomach to replace the key beneath Nagini’s cage, careful not to disturb her. Then I closed his trunk and made my way down the stairs as quickly as I could, quickly, so I didn’t have time to discover anything else.
My mind threw out and rejected various reasons Tom would have animal bones locked away in his trunk. Each theory was less likely than the last. I could come to no satisfactorily innocent reason that one would keep the old bones of an unknown animal under lock and key in their trunk.
I had little time to ponder though, since the door to the common room began to flood with students back from dinner only moments after I came back downstairs. Tom was among them, and naturally, he picked up that something about my presence was less than perfect.
“What’s wrong with you?” he demanded, eying me as if he could deduce what was causing my distress by looking at me.
“Nothing,” I replied automatically.
“Good,” he said, clearly unconcerned with my emotions. “We’re going to the library.”
I followed him back out of the common room, on the one hand grateful he didn’t press me and on the other, irritated with his bossiness.
Tom wanted to research Grindelwald, of course.
He had already dropped the bombshell that he had been venturing into Hogsmeade alone and finding out all he could about what seemed to be a station for Grindelwald’s supporters.
Thinking about Tom sneaking into Hogsmeade alone in the dead of night and prowling around a building sure to be filled with deadly wizards produced an odd array of emotions inside of me. Hurt, that he had gone without me and left me behind. Anxiety, that he might have been harmed, and envy, that he was brave and smart enough to do such a thing.
In the library he had us pouring over newspapers from years and years ago. He wanted to know everything: where Grindelwald was from, how he came to power, what his strengths and weaknesses were.
Tom was meticulous in his research, tireless. I couldn’t find the strength to be so single-minded. My thoughts wandered, returning to Tom’s trunk often. I’d then force myself to look back down at the papers in front of me.
The pictures always caught me before I could read the articles. What we deduced to be Grindelwald’s sign stuck out at me whenever I saw it, glaring at me like a singular eye. I wondered why Grindelwald had chosen such an odd looking thing for his symbol, what had possessed him to draw the lines like that, to complete those shapes and meld them together.
Tom and I went back to the dungeons late that night, after Madam Pince had pushed us out of the library. I heard Tom muttering to himself, something about learning a Disillusionment Charm to evade her.
The next morning we had a quiz in Transfiguration, and I finished long before everyone else, having already written beautiful answers all about turning rocks into birds. I absentmindedly doodled on the back of my paper, and it was only after Dumbledore had collected the quizzes with a wave of his wand that I realized I had drawn Grindelwald’s sign on the back of my quiz.
Smooth, Harley. Really smart. All I needed was for Dumbledore to think I was a fan of the wizard currently demolishing half of Europe.
Even though I knew it was coming, I felt a wave of dread roll through me when Dumbledore called me up to his desk later in the class.
“Yes professor?” I asked, playing dumb even though I was pretty sure there was no explaining my way out of this one. No matter what I said, I incriminated someone.
“Yes, Miss Harley, I was just wondering about a bit of artwork I found on the back of your quiz,” Dumbledore said lightly, placing the quiz in question in front of me. He pointed at the sign with his wand. “Where did you come across such a marking?”
“Oh, I, er…” I stalled, feeling Dumbldeore’s eyes on me as I desperately raked the room for an answer. Tom’s eyes met mine quizzically. That was it. “I saw it in a book somewhere,” I said, repeating what Tom had once told me.
Dumbledore said nothing, but nodded. I stood there awkwardly, not yet dismissed.
“I do hope,” Dumbledore began slowly, “that while you may have come across many fascinating accounts of the quest for the Deathly Hallows, you realize it is nothing but a fairytale.”
“Er, yes Professor,” I said, bewildered. Agreeing seemed like the safest route though, so I nodded vehemently.
Deathly what? What was Dumbledore on about? I was expecting him to send me to Professor Dippet for being Grindelwald’s spy, but instead he was talking about fairy tales.
Dumbledore surveyed me with his blue eyes, and I looked away.
“Very well. If I may, I suggest you leave such nonsense far from your mind. Deathly Hallows have no place in an environment of…practical learning.”
“Of course, sir. Thank you.”
Yes, thank you Professor, for showing me that Grindelwald’s sign was apparently not his alone. Deathly Hallows. I had never heard of them. But thankfully much of my free time was spent in the library, and so next time Tom ordered me there, I had something to accomplish.
I was just about to set off to the reference section when Tom said:
“So, Nagini had interesting news for me this morning.”
“Oh?” I said, not really listening but instead trying to decide if I wanted to open Dictionary Wizardry or Encyclopedia of Magic first.
Tom was silent until I turned to him and, as always, took his bait.”What was it Tom? Please, do tell me.”
“It was about you, actually,” Tom said conversationally, cocking his head to the side. “She came to me with the most fantastic story that you were in my dormitory yesterday.”
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
I tried to think fast as Tom’s black eyes were on my face, the accusation thinly veiled behind them.
Shit. He was going to kill me. Why would I go through his things? What possible reason could I have to snoop around in his things that wouldn’t have him livid with me?
Think, Anne! Think.
I had to fess up, first of all. There was no way Tom would believe me over Nagini. I felt a bittersweet rush thinking of her; she was as loyal as I hoped she’d be. She served her master first and foremost, even if it meant betraying me.
“Oh, Tom,” I said, trying to buy some time. “I thought she was asleep.”
“Remarkable how clever she is, hmm?” Tom hummed, though his patience was wearing visibly.
I needed a story.
I racked my brains, and it was then that I was struck with an idea. Dumbledore had invaded my mind, and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could pull this off. If Tom caught me lying I’d be in this worse than if I told the truth. But if I convinced him…
“I just…I was so worried for you I couldn’t wait until you were back from dinner…” I said, stalling as I tried to formulate exactly what I was going to say.
His voice was sharp, unforgiving. I swallowed and did my best to look upset. Oddly enough, it wasn’t that difficult.
“I just didn’t want you to get in trouble, so I thought, if I made sure you didn’t have anything incriminating, he couldn’t do anything to you.”
Tom only stared at me, one dark eyebrow raised in suspicion.
“You see,” I started, heaving a sigh for dramatic effect, “I overheard Dumbledore in the staff room yesterday. I had been waiting for Professor Mazzaro to ask about my Ancient Runes homework, and he was talking to her about you. I heard him say that he wanted to keep an eye on you, he wanted to make sure you weren’t doing anything you weren’t supposed to be doing…”
I invented as I went along, creating a story based on what Dumbledore had told me about Tom and what Tom himself had shared with me about his first meeting with Dumbledore.
“And Tom, I was sure he meant he was going to make sure, he was going to check your things or, or spy on you. I got worried and so I couldn’t help but check your things and make sure he didn’t find anything he could use to get you in trouble…I’m sorry, Tom, I simply didn’t think, and I was so worried for you…”
I hesitantly peeked up at Tom, trying to gauge the effect of my performance. Had I hesitated too much? Had I acted too flustered? Was it even believable that Dumbledore would do such a thing?
Tom stared at me for a very long time. I stared back, willing a nervous, yet hopeful look onto my face. I was very heavily banking on the fact that, as far as I knew, Tom had not yet become a Legilimens.
“Dumbledore wanted to search me, you say?”
“I’m nearly positive,” I replied, controlling my voice carefully so it didn’t waver.
Tom looked down, and when he turned his face back to me, there was a smirk playing on it. “So that old man never got over it, did he? He never got over that day at the orphanage.”
I didn’t know exactly what had happened the first time they met, but Tom had complained enough times to me about Dumbledore thinking he was righteous and omniscient for me to assume he had reprimanded Tom in some way.
“If you ever, ever go near my things again, I will feed you to Nagini,” Tom threatened.
I giggled, almost sure he was joking. Almost.
“And when you hear things like this, you will come directly to me, do you understand?”
I nodded fervently. “I was just so worried for you, Tom. You know I would never want you in trouble.”
“While that’s…appreciated, I don’t want you running around doing whatever you please because you think it will help me. I don’t need you to protect me. I can handle things myself.”
I sighed. At this point, I would be an absolute idiot if I thought that Tom Riddle was anything but self-sufficient.
“I know, Tom. I know.”
I do believe I got back in good graces though, as I brought him my findings on the Deathly Hallows. I felt nothing but pride as I explained to him that Grindelwald’s sign actually represented a trio of magical objects, objects that together, would make the user master of death.
Knowing Tom’s unusual preoccupation with immortality, I thought he would appreciate that one.
I did my best to show him my findings but not make him bitter that I had bettered him in this research. I knew very well what I had discovered was far more valuable than anything else we had found out about Grindelwald. I was bursting in triumph.
I tried not to let it show.
And even when I had clearly been the one to make the advancement, Tom had a way of turning the tables to make it seem like the knowledge was his gift, that I was privileged in sharing this with him.
He had already deduced Grindelwald must possess the Elder Wand, first of the Deathly Hallows. He clearly didn’t have the cloak of invisibility, simply because “he wouldn’t be in so many pictures, would he?”
Tom was also sure Grindelwald lacked the Resurrection Stone. I made the stupid mistake of asking why he was so sure, and Tom snapped back at me.
“Obviously if he had a stone that could bring the dead back to life, he’d have a bigger army! Don’t you think he’d have just flipped it over a few times and bought back every one of his deceased followers? Don’t you think he would have taken over the world by now?”
“Sorry,” I said irritably. “I just didn’t think, okay?
“Its fine,” Tom said, unperturbed as long as he was the one enlightening me. “You’ll learn.”
And so I did. My third year went on in a flurry of my learning. If it weren’t for Joey, I hardly would have spoken to anyone else besides Tom Riddle, my ever present teacher. Joey was the relaxation to Tom’s hard lessons, the easy fun to Tom’s secretive brilliance.
With Joey, I was the Anne Harley most of Hogwarts knew; always laughing, up for a quidditch match, spilling wit and charm like a fountain. He blatantly adored me, and I couldn’t help but revel in it. I was happy with Joey.
With Tom, I didn’t have time for happiness. I was busy with him, persistent. There was no place for happiness when you were so preoccupied with becoming the best.
I made sure to match his development into a great wizard, spell by spell. The Imperius Curse became so second nature to us that we’d often curse people in the dining hall, out by the lake, in the middle of class, simply for the fun of it.
I do believe even the teachers noticed that in the last months of my third year, there were so many students acting strangely that it could have been an epidemic.
Tom and I had those we disliked dancing about like fools, stripping naked on the front lawn, or even having them throw spells at the teachers and reap the consequences.
I had to look away the time Tom had someone attempt to curse Dumbledore; I never quite got over my guilt in falsely incriminating him.
Tom was the guiding hand that directed our magical learning; he decided which spell books to crack open and conquer, how long we would practice until we were sufficient. As far as I knew, Tom didn’t spend his time with anyone but me; even those he had inducted into what remained simply, the club.
Tom did end up finding a fifth member. And thankfully, it wasn’t Rachel Burke.
Leonard Lestrange was an interesting choice: a fourth year, dark and rather surly, but a brilliant artist, and the heir to both a large fortune and scandal as the son of a notorious pure-blood playboy.
We had never once all met face to face. Tom preferred to talk to us separately, and so I wondered if I would ever know what the point of uniting us was.
But it didn’t really matter. So long as I was favorite, by Tom’s side always, always learning more and more.
I learned more than what he taught me though, I conducted my own research. I was so close to becoming an Animagus I could almost taste it, and I promised myself I would learn the art of Occlumency, since Tom seemed more interested in Legilimency. I took it upon myself to watch him and try to learn what made him tick.
I did learn.
I learned to hide my emotions and swallow shock. I mimicked the perfect way he moved, silently sweeping his robes behind his deliberate saunter. I made quite sure I could do any spell I needed to without speaking; able then to flick my wand and accomplish what most seventh years could not. I became Tom’s protégée, his perfect complement. I started to anticipate what he would think of what I’d say and reconsider accordingly. I learned how to manipulate everyone and everything around me to bend to my will. I learned control.
I learned to be just like him.
A/N Sooo what do you think? Do you hate Anne for her lying and snooping? Creeped out by Tom's trunk? Have any predictions as to what kind of trouble they're headed for with Grindelwald and the Hallows?
Haha whatever you're thinking you know I'd love to hear it :)
Thanks for reading!
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