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Chapter 2 : Riddles in the Dark
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image by Fireheart @ tda
“‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’”
I looked up from my Herbology homework at Emory and Theo, who were lying on one of the couches with their legs intertwined. It was late, the Gryffindor common room empty save for the three of us and another student snoring in an armchair in the corner.
Emory was half in Theo’s lap, nuzzling his neck as she continued to murmur. Her eyes glowed with adoration and she sighed contentedly, but even through the shadows cast by the dying fire, I could see the tension in Theo’s arms and the way his eyes kept darting in my direction.
Stop looking at me, Theo, I thought desperately as I averted my eyes to my parchment. She's your girlfriend now.
As Emory’s giggling became too much to ignore, I sighed and put down my quill. My eyes itched with tiredness, but this particular assignment was due first thing tomorrow. I had already written it twice, but both drafts became no more than black splodges of notes and lines in my attempts to make them perfect.
‘We’re so disappointed in you, Hero…’
I picked up my quill again and forced myself to concentrate.
‘We expected so much better. You’re no more than an embarrassment to this family…’
“It’s not like you to leave an assignment this late, Hero,” said Theo, breaking through the memory of my father’s voice.
I blinked and looked up. Theo was leaning forward on the couch, no longer entwined with Emory, head propped up by a hand under his chin. Emory was gazing into the embers of the fire.
I stifled a yawn. “Just want to get it perfect.”
“For Professor Beery or for your parents?”
I said tersely, “For myself.”
“Come on Hero, you usually know all the new textbooks by heart by the time term starts.”
Emory’s dreamy expression faded from her face as she joined us. “Well she was busy in Inverness all summer, wasn’t she? Looking after her aunt.”
Theo looked at me abruptly. “You don’t have an aunt in Inverness."
“I do too,” I said, affronted. “I don’t tell you everything, Theo.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Clearly.”
“Oh, stop it, you two,” Emory said fondly, standing up. “I’m off. Goodnight.” She leant in to kiss Theo’s cheek and disappeared up the girl’s dormitory steps.
Well I certainly wasn’t going to stay down here alone with Theo. I rolled up my parchment, stuffed it away and threw my bag over my shoulder. As I walked toward the common room entrance, Theo called out to me. I ignored him, letting the portrait swing shut behind me and block out his voice.
The castle was quiet as I made my way to the library; even my soft footsteps seemed too loud. My wand briefly lit the portraits that scattered the hallway, but their inhabitants were sleeping peacefully in their frames. I envied them their dreams.
Noah once told me of a recurring nightmare of his about a large space filled with impossible coldness and dense darkness. The look on his pale drawn face as he’d told me had made the hairs rise on the back of my neck at the time. He told me I was the only one who knew about it, that he hadn’t even told the doctors. I had squeezed his hand in reassurance that I wouldn’t tell anyone. Now, in the dark and drafty hallways of Hogwarts, my skin prickled with apprehension as I recalled his words. I longed for someone to squeeze my hand in reassurance.
The library wasn’t empty. There was a dim light at a desk in the far corner, where a shadowy figure sat hunched, arm moving slightly as they wrote. My stomach gave a small lurch at the presence of a stranger late at night, but they didn’t look up at my appearance. Another last minute crammer, then. I headed for the opposite corner, unable to stop glancing over my shoulder.
My insides still felt chilled with thoughts of Noah, so I lit as many lanterns as I could find and scattered them around the desk, as much for the light as for the feeling of safety it brought. Monsters were easier to imagine in the dark.
With parchment and ink set up, I settled myself comfortably in the chair. The tip of my quill was poised just above the parchment, but nothing came to me. The words I had already written began to blend together and I read the same sentence three times. What was the question again? I chewed on the leather bracelet around my wrist that had once belonged to Noah.
Something tickled the back of my hand and I looked down. A small black spider was crawling over my skin. I shrieked and flung myself backwards, sending two lanterns and the ink pot smashing to the floor. Where had it gone? I quickly backed up, wanting to get as far as possible from the spider, but I tripped on the overturned chair and landed hard on my backside.
I winced, eyes watering as pain shot sharply through my lower back. “Shit.”
I whirled my head around, heart leaping into my mouth. The student from the other side of the library was walking over, and as he stepped into the light from the remaining lanterns, I saw the glint of a green Prefect badge. Tom Riddle. Stopping in front of me, he slid his hands into his pockets as he took in the sight of me tangled in the legs of the chair, surrounded by glass and ink. He smirked.
“You okay down there?”
I hoisted myself up onto my elbows, careful of the glass. “No, I am not bloody okay. Is the spider gone?”
Riddle flicked his eyes lazily around the mess on the floor. “This is about a spider?” he asked nonchalantly.
I pushed my hair out of my face with the back of my hand, my cheeks beginning to burn.
He took his hands out of his pockets and offered me one. After hesitating for a second, I took it; his hand was cold, like he had been outside, but soft. The moment he hoisted me back on my feet, I let go in favour of rubbing the base of my spine.
“Only one in particular,” I told him defensively, stepping gingerly around the glass. “The mastilio spider. One bite and –” I ran a finger across my throat in illustration.
Riddle raised an eyebrow and lit the tip of his wand. He squatted in front of me, wand to the ground. After only a few seconds, he said, “Here.”
Looking over his shoulder, I saw the fat little spider sitting by one of the legs of the desk, pretending to be innocent. It didn’t move when Riddle approached it with the light from his wand, but as soon as he reached toward it with his other hand, the spider scuttled away. I scooted closer to him.
Riddle glanced at me and let out a breath of amusement through his nose. “It’s not a mastilio,” he said. His voice was like velvet.
I let my shoulders drop slightly in relief. “Oh… Good.”
He straightened and turned to face me. The irises of his eyes were so dark they blended with the pupil. “It’s Hero, right?”
“Can I call you that?”
“You can call me Tom.” He glanced down at my parchment on the desk, thankfully clean of any ink splotches. “What are you working on this late?”
I stepped around him to pick up the chair and began to siphon the spilled ink with my wand. “Herbology,” I replied, eyes on my task.
“Oh, me too,” he said. Riddle – Tom – peered down at my essay. “You know you’ve written Canadian Chewing Carrot instead of Chinese Chomping Cabbage?”
I stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes wearily. “Dammit.”
“The climate is wrong, too. Hang on, I’ll grab my book.”
By the time Tom returned, I had cleaned the mess and was sitting back at the desk, looking down at my parchment and rubbing my temples. How had I managed to get this draft so wrong?
Tom sat beside me with a copy of Sakura Borealis’ Encyclopaedia of Magical (or Otherwise) Flowers and Herbs and started flipping through the pages. I could smell him; cologne, more exotic than Theo’s. Or maybe it was just that I was so used to the way Theo smelled that any other guy scent was exotic. Without looking up Tom casually asked, “Did your boyfriend drown?”
I froze. Did Finn tell him after all? That asshole. “What do you mean?” I tried to ask offhandedly, but my voice sounded hoarse.
He looked up from the book, a lock of hair falling into his eyes. “Leander from Hellespont? Hero in her tower? Don’t tell me you don’t know the origin of your own name.”
I let out a shaky but silent breath in relief. “Of course. Sorry. My parents were just into mythology at the time, I guess.” I shrugged. Yet somehow Finn, born only a few minutes before me, escaped on being called Apollo or Hercules.
Tom’s eyes lingered on me for longer than I was comfortable, and I shifted in my seat. “What did you get for question four?” I asked with a nod toward his own homework.
“I think names are important,” Tom said, ignoring me. “You’re lucky to have one that is so… unusual. It stands out.”
I fiddled with the feather of my quill. “I wanted to change it once,” I admitted. “When I found out that was possible. I – I knew someone who did it.”
“Why didn’t you?”
‘I was Dennis Bishop, then,’ Noah’s voice echoed in my mind. ‘Not Noah Sheckler.’
I swallowed. “I guess I just decided it wasn’t so bad after all.”
Something in Tom’s black eyes softened as he looked at me. “You have ink in your hair,” he said quietly. “May I?”
I didn’t move as he reached out a hand and tugged gently at a strand of my hair, his knuckles grazing my temple. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t do this. Not after Noah.
I stood up abruptly. “It’s really late. I should go.” I hastily shoved my things back in my bag. “Thanks for your help.”
I left the library without looking back.
“What happened to you last night?” Emory asked as we stepped outside, blinking into the dazzling morning sunshine. "After I went to bed?"
“I… went to the library.”
Emory glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. “You had tiny bits of glass in your cardigan and ink in your hair.”
Busted. “I had an accident with my Herbology essay,” I said, as we crossed the huge lawn. “And, ah… Tom Riddle was there.”
Her eyes widened with excitement. “Hero! Riddle? Oh, he’s so cute.” Her expression changed to mock stern. “But a Slytherin! Hero, get thee to a nunnery.”
“You’re one to talk,” I said, fixing the strap of my bag more comfortably on my shoulder. “You and Theo were all over each other last night.” Well, it was half true. Guilt rose in my throat like bile as I remembered the distance in Theo’s expression but I pushed it down.
Emory pursed her small mouth, the amusement vanishing from her face. “I don’t know…” she said slowly, clutching her books tighter to her chest. “He seems distracted lately. I can’t help but wonder if there’s something going on he’s not telling me.”
My stomach did a summersault of regret but I said, “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“You would know, I suppose,” she sighed. “Paranoia, thy name is Emory.”
We just passed Ogg’s Hut toward Greenhouse Five when a scream pierced the air. I looked at Emory, but her expression was as startled as I felt, and we rushed forward. Ogg’s vegetable patch lay just behind his hut, and two small girls who had to be first years stood just in front of it, looks of horror on their faces. It wasn’t hard to see what had them so stricken. On the far fence, past the pumpkins and large green leaves of other vegetables, were about six roosters, lying limp on the spikes of the fence. Blood ran down the wood on which they had been impaled, pooling at the bottom. It looked dry in some places, but the coppery smell was still strong in the air.
My stomach heaved at the sight, but I reached a hand out to the girls. “It’s okay,” I said as soothingly as possible, but my mouth felt dry. “I’m a Prefect. Come here. It’ll be okay.”
The girls ran to me and clung to an arm each. One began to cry softly, her tears running down my arm. I could hear the gasps and murmurs of the other students beginning to gather behind us, also drawn by the scream.
The hushed voices tripped over each other.
“What could have done such a thing?”
“Do you think it was a student?”
“Is it some kind of early Halloween prank?”
“Look at the mud. There’s no footprints or anything.”
I turned to Emory, unable to close my mouth.
“Double, double, toil and trouble,” she said under her breath.
Thou art can say that again.
A/N: Couple of quotes in there credit to William Shakespeare. A million thanks to my wonderful beta Julie (banshee)!
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