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Chapter 6 : The Days of Complications
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Minerva very much wanted to tell her to shut up, but she’d known that Jane was going to be nervous. What she hadn’t known was that she’d be pulling on some Gryffindor Quidditch robes that didn’t fit her very well, feeling the weight of a beater’s bat in her hand and walking out onto the pitch. Jane’s quiet muttering was almost reassuring compared to the look Tristan had just sent her, the hum of the crowds and the fact that Walter Davis was still in the hospital wing.
Jane’s question of ‘can you even play Beater?’ was still ringing round her head. Minerva wasn’t entirely sure. She suspected that, given she’d never even attempted it, the results weren’t going to be wonderful, but she was hoping that things wouldn’t as brutal as her imagination had painted out to be.
“Good luck.” Tristan muttered seconds before the whistle, fixing his cold eyes on her for a few long seconds. He didn’t look tired, yet Minerva had never felt so exhausted. Her friends had found her slumped by the window, still clutching a quill and a half finished letter in her hand this morning and then she’d had to explain about the Slug Club meeting, about Walter and about the Quidditch match.
The whistle blew. Minerva pushed off from the ground, feeling the weight of the beaters bat pulling her down to one side and feeling all too aware of the people staring at her. Minerva couldn’t remember there ever being so many girls playing on the Quidditch pitch at once and she supposed that was partially down to her conversation with Dumbledore – a glance towards the Gryffindor stands told her that he was watching her, his hands folded in his lap with the usual serene grace the Dumbledore seemed to possess.
She was supposed to be watching the bludgers.
Her first clumsy hit had virtually no effect on the bludger, which continued to fly as though nothing happened. She felt her face heat up as she heard one of the Slytherin players jeering at her – not that she blamed him, because it truly had been a terrible attempt. The second wasn’t much better; although she sent the bludger wobbling off in a different direction, the effect of the hit sent her spinning and nearly caused her to drop out of the air. She swallowed.
“Crosby in possession, passes to Henderson – narrowly avoids a bludger sent his way by Burke – passes back to Crosby, Crosby reaching the goal posts and a goal for Jane Crosby of Gryffindor!”
She was determined to give no one any reason to laugh at her. She knew she liked feeling superior (she didn’t need Tom Riddle to tell her that), but that didn’t nearly come close to her hatred of being deemed inadequate – especially when it was true. She stretched out her arms and dipped downwards, watching the flight of the bludger and anticipating it’s arrival to her. This time, she was aware of the weight and the force it would require to make an impact, and she threw all the weight of her weary body into the hit, swung the bat and... her arms screamed in protest but she didn’t care because she’d done it. It was a decent hit. Admittedly, it was nothing compared to what Walter was usual capable of, or Cuffe for that matter, but it was reasonable.
Black had to drop out of the air to avoid the collision, losing possession of the Quaffle and allowing Henderson to snatch it up once more.
Minerva was mentally celebrating the victory when the other bludger collided with her right shoulder. She swore under her breath, swerving in the air to get out of the way, reaching up and pressing her cool fingers against the skin. She daren’t move her right arm, the one still clutching the beaters bat, for fear of the knife like pain getting any worse.
Burke was laughing at her, sending the bludger back in her direction again. She ducked and gingerly tried moving her arm, swearing under her breath as she realised how much it hurt.
“Stop messing around, Minnie,” Tristan yelled at her from across the pitch, “you wanted to play...”
Minerva wanted to hit him. She wanted to send a bludger in his direction and watch him fall to the ground. It was, apparently, already on some people’s minds that the reason she was playing today was because she was some love struck idiot who couldn’t stand the thought of anyone replacing Walter. Of course, Tristan had probably started the rumour, perpetuating it would only be more enjoyable for him.
Minerva swore at him, but the degree of colour in her language seemed to amuse Tristan further. She rolled her shoulder backwards, closing her eyes to ignore the pain before looking for the bludger again.
By the end of the game she had her own mantra: do not cry, do not cry, do not cry.
They landed in a sea of red and green robes three hour later and she was the first off the pitch, throwing her broom to the side and stalking back up to the dormitory before the crowds started to escape from the stands.
Minerva did not want to talk to anyone. The humiliation of the defeat mixed with the number of bruises she had sustained over the course of the match (she was entirely sure that she wouldn’t be able to move her arm properly for a week) and the growing feeling of numbness whenever she thought of Walter meant that she was ranking the day as one of the worst of her life.
It had been hours since she had exiled herself to the library, systematically working through her homework before beginning extra research into the transfiguration of animals to provide her with more opportunity to keep her brain occupied, pausing only at sporadic intervals to answer letters from Peter, which had continued in a solid stream since she’d stripped herself of the Gryffindor Quidditch robes. The statute of secrecy be damned, she needed to talk to her best friend. All the bird watchers around Peter’s house would just have to live with the confusion.
“You’ve got the book I wanted.” Tom Riddle said, nodding towards the book at the top of her pile. Transfiguration of magical mammals was heavily featured and, as much as Minerva was simply not in the mood of Riddle’s mind games and the feeling of giddy unease he caused, there was also a certain satisfaction in the fact that he probably hadn’t managed to transfigure his Niffler properly.
Minerva shifted the books on her table, slipping the parchment containing her letter into the transfiguration book to prevent Tom Riddle from reading it. That was the last thing she needed.
“Your spider still searching for gold, then?” Minerva asked primly.
“An incorrect number of legs,” Riddle admitted. Minerva almost smiled – Tom Riddle wasn’t better than her, then, “Black pointed it out.”
“I’d have thought there’d be too much excitement in the Slytherin Common room for any attention to be paid to your almost-spider.”
“Are you referring to the Quidditch win or the illusive camber?”
Minerva felt her lips thinning and did not answer. It irked her that students could be so cruel that they might be celebrating the fact that Walter Davis had been petrified. Then, Hogwarts was full of fanciful fanatics who were deluded into believing in blood purity and elitism – and Tom Riddle was one of them. It was hardly surprising: Riddle seemed to be attracted to any system that promoted elitism, providing he could find a way to make it to the top.
“Don’t joke about that.”
“Why so touchy?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” Minerva said curtly, “it’s not in your range of capabilities.”
“Neither, it seems, is playing Beater in yours.” Minerva didn’t answer and instead folded her arms and turned back to her neat roll of parchment, littered with her handwriting as she continued her research. “And given we’ve already established you hate looking incapable...”
“Really, Riddle, why don’t you take your keen intellect elsewhere? I’m busy.”
“Why did you agree to play?” Riddle asked, narrowing his eyes slightly. “Sentiment?”
“I thought you were cleverer than that.”
“You were threatened, then. By who? With what? Did the potions flask have anything to do with it?”
Minerva felt a familiar jerk of annoyance: of course Riddle would have noticed that moment when she really could have done with him not noticing. The moment settled over her stomach again – with Walter’s cold body stretched out in front of her and she’d been so unfeeling as to notice the potions flask, and Tom Riddle had actually helped her. It made her feel sick.
“Tristan Peakes.” Minerva responded, rolling up her piece of parchment and making to shut her books – she had no desire to stand around to be dissected for any longer than necessary. She suspected he’d already connected these pieces together all ready, Tom Riddle was just that clever, and she hated the fact that if she’d been in his position, it would have taken much longer for her to work it out.
“You irritated him yesterday,” Riddle said slowly, nodding, “and then... Davis was his friend, the potions flask, his potions ability... he was brewing something for you? Something you couldn’t do yourself.”
Minerva paused in shutting her book, feeling a lump rise up in the back of her throat. Tom Riddle’s always carefully devised persona grated on her nerves and the emotions surrounding the humiliating Quidditch defeat and what she had to face when she eventually dragged herself back to the Gryffindor Common room (absolute hatred, she suspected – even though it wasn’t her fault, really, that they’d lost... it was just that she’d had been truly abysmal) meant that there was a distinct possibility that she might burst into tears any minute, something which she simply would not do in front of Tom Riddle.
“Are you quite finished?”
“Healing Potions,” Riddle said finally, “you stole the healing potions from the infirmary, which means you were around the castle the night that cat was attacked – you would have been in the infirmary. You would have heard them.”
Minerva wanted to roll her eyes. Of course that was why he was bothering her.
“Of course,” Minerva said primly, finally shutting her book and standing up, “you’re not going to ask who might need the healing potions. You’re lack of emotion really is startling, Riddle. Did they not teach you how to care in the orphanage?”
“I could brew them for you.” Tom Riddle said lightly, his expression twisting into something akin to satisfaction at the site of Minerva getting personal.
“I’d rather be a petty thief.” She snapped, stowing her books back into her bag and standing up.
“Pre-emptive?” He suggested.
“Healing potions,” He said, gesturing towards her arm with a raise of the eyebrow, “avoiding the infirmary, are we?”
“It was an attempt to avoid everyone,” she returned starkly, “then you showed up.”
“Talking to someone cleverer than you? You’re thoroughly enjoying it, Minnie.”
“Really, Tom?” She asked, using the same condescending manner as she spat out his first name, “one of my friends has been petrified, I have been blackmailed into making a fool out of myself, I can barely use my arm. I am not in the mood to talk to you.”
“What did you hear?” He asked, placing one of his long fingers on top of the Transfiguration book and raising an eyebrow at her. “About the chamber of secrets.”
“Fancying yourself as a detective, now? Why would I feed you more information – you’re quite obviously of the same mindset as whatever scum attacked Walter, if you’re so desperate to lend a hand you’ll have to find all that out by yourself. Not that they’ll accept you, given your heritage. Just because you’ve deluded the other Slytherin’s into accepting you, doesn’t mean the heir of Slytherin is going to be satisfied with an orphan.”
“You could help me transfigure my Niffler and I could brew healing potions for you – you’re obviously quite desperate.” It wasn’t entirely a mark of how much Peter meant to her that she was seriously considering the situation, there was a part of her that was fascinated by the charismatic, enigmatic Tom Riddle who revelled in the mark of approval that would be studying partners. Mutually beneficial, as was always the case when it came to Tom Riddle. Except, a matter of a spider with an irregular number of legs was an entirely different matter to a case of brewing healing potions. She would be giving him power over her – the fact that he knew about the blackmail and the potions was bad enough, but there was no poof in that. Admittedly, she was sure that he could find some (she’d have to be more careful now), but letting herself become dependent on his silence and his potion brewing was unthinkable. She didn’t trust him for a second.
“It helps if you practice the spell in reverse,” She said finally, “returning the spider back to the Niffler form every time you get it wrong – your grasp of the spell increases.” She threw her bag over her good shoulder and held out an arm for the final textbook.
“I can help you.”
“I’m not ignorant enough to believe that you want to help anyone but yourself. You want to know what I heard. That’s between Walter and me. You might have better luck with him, even if he is petrified.”
“So Walter Davis helped you steal from the hospital wing?” Riddle asked, his twisted smile widening slightly. “Interesting.”
Minerva wanted to hit herself. She hated the fact that she’d just offered an incriminating sentence towards Walter, who’d been nothing but lovely to her – and if Tristan was right his little confession to her about his heritage was the reason that he was petrified in the hospital wing. She narrowed her eyes and retracted her expectant hand.
“Keep the book,” Minerva spat, “I don’t need it anyway.”
She walked off, trying to ignore the throbbing ache in her shoulder. It was startling how much it actually hurt.
“McGonagall?” Riddle called, she whirled around with her eyebrows raised and her lips thing – all her features at sharp, impenetrable angles. He pulled out a single piece of parchment from between the pages of the textbook and she felt her expression drop slightly. He seemed to measure her reaction. He couldn’t read the letter to Peter. He just couldn’t.
“Sentiment?” He suggested, unravelling the piece of parchment.
“A family friend.” Minerva said quickly. She was acutely aware that letting Tom Riddle know she was writing long, intimate letters to a muggle was a very bad idea. He was still a Slytherin and it was still dangerous for her to be known as a muggle sympathiser.
“I’m sure,” Riddle said, sending her a calculated look that made her stomach freeze and turn in knots, “so you do have real friends. Not the carefully selected Hogwarts friends, designed to make you look more brilliant, but an actual friend.” Minerva made a grab for the letter, feeling like Riddle had already won by causing her to try something undignified. “Do you find it strange, Minerva, that for all this talk about how unfeeling I am, you chose to be closest to someone you can only write to?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand. I doubt you’ve ever written a proper letter to someone in your life. You can pour out your soul through words.”
“Your soul?” Tom Riddle asked, and something seemed to have lit up his cold, unfeeling features. A spark of interest, perhaps. The disgust that followed was mixed with a sense of achievement.
“I see no reason to justify myself to you.” Minerva said sharply.
“And yet,” Tom Riddle countered, “you were doing such a beautiful job.”
Minerva pulled out her wand and summoned the letter before he could react, stuffed the damning piece of parchment in her pocket and staked out the library.
She detested him.
Her fist was still clutched around the piece of parchment, the crisp edge digging into her skin, when the tears came. She wasn’t surprised by their appearance given she’d spent a large part of the past twenty four hours crying (mostly whilst writing letters to Peter, actually), but she was struck by how incredibly inconvenient it was for her to start weeping in the middle of the corridor. She brought a hand up to her face to brush it away, but moving her arm so suddenly sent a ripple of pain through her shoulder. She bit down on her lip and swallowed.
It had been a horrible, horrible day.
“McGonagall?” A voice called. Minerva whipped around, cheeks still wet with tears, and found herself facing Professor Dumbledore. There was a certain comfort in that: she’d come to associate his piercing blue gaze and auburn hair with a sense of calm. Once again, Tom Riddle was not wrong in picking up exactly how much she admired the man –irritatingly enough.
“Professor.” Minerva blurted, making a second attempt to wipe her face clean of tears –wincing as she did so – whilst attempting to look as though she hadn’t been crying in the first place.
“I saw the match.” Dumbledore said. It was a question, rather than a statement – Dumbledore knew her well enough to know she wasn’t one for purposefully making a fool of herself. He wanted an explanation from her.
“I wanted to chance to play.” Minerva said, gritting her teeth at the lie and not looking in the direction of his piercing blue eyes in case he saw straight through her.
“You didn’t visit the infirmary after the match.”
Dumbledore sent her a twinkling smile. “I’m sure,” he said, pulling a flash of potion from his robes, “but just in case.”
Minerva looked up at him, startled by her sudden turn of good luck. Professor Dumbledore was handing her what was doubtlessly a healing potion – one that was almost identical to the ones she had stolen. She reached out and took the flask.
“Professor,” Minerva began, “Walter will he... will be all right?”
“Headmaster Dippet has ensured that we begin growing mandrakes immediately. In a few months, Mr Davis will be perfectly fine.”
Minerva had expected something sooner than a few months and felt the threat of tears stinging her eyes again. Dumbledore tactfully looked away for long enough to give herself a chance to compose herself again.
“Thank you Professor.” She said finally, clutching the flash of healing potion tightly in her bad hand and offering him a tight lipped smile before continuing her walk down the corridor. It seemed she could put returning to the Gryffindor Common room to be laughed at, mocked and hated upon by her classmates any longer.
Minerva McGonagall gritted her teeth, pulled her bag further up her shoulder and strode towards the portrait of the fat lady.
She had another healing potion to send to Peter. If she was careful she could play up her injury more and secure at least another flask, meaning she wouldn’t have to worry about stealing more potions for at least another week. If she could keep Tom Riddle away from her (although now she had information he wanted, she doubted she’d manage that very well), somehow persuade Tristan Peakes not to tell the world Walter had been brewing illicit potions for her and not be attacked by the Heir of Slytherin in that time, everything would be fine.
She wasn’t wholly optimistic.
So this update took a really long time. For which I am greatly greatly sorry. It's funny because I really love everything about this story, so I'm just going to blame lack of time and lots of stories as per the standard excuse. Thanks to anyone who's sticking with this! And reviews are always really lovely and greatly appreciated :)
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