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Chapter 8 : The Descent into Hell
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Boyfriend. It was strange to think, even though the term wasn’t a new one to me. I sat up in bed, raising a hand to my lips, the memory of Tom’s touch from last night lingering. I felt my lips stretch into a smile against my fingertips, and couldn’t help but think of how happy my parents would be when they found out. I swung my legs over the side of my bed, the drawn curtains tickling my feet, and picked up the invitation to Slughorn’s Halloween party. It felt heavy as a Bludger in my hands. Would Tom and I go together? Was he going to ask me?
Excitement bubbled in my stomach at the thought; I had to tell Em. I opened the curtains of my four-poster, and blinked when I found Emory’s bed empty. Looking around, I saw the other girls’ beds were empty too, Leighton Mullins’ as messy as always. I checked my watch and let out a groan. It was already mid-morning; I was running late for class.
I jogged under a dark grey sky to Greenhouse Three, where we would be tending to the sleeping Mandrakes our class had been assigned to as both revision, and for the need to revive the petrified students. I flung open the glass door, already feeling stifled by the heat, the humidity causing my hair to curl at my temples.
Class had already started; everyone was at a bench with a Mandrake or two before them, trimming the leaves or gently turning the soil. Professor Beery turned as I entered, his jolly face looking relieved, the gold buttons of his coat straining over his protruding belly.
“Ah, there you are, Miss Blishwick. I’m glad to see you here; we need all the help we can get. But I’m afraid I’ll be taking five points from Gryffindor for your tardiness.”
“Yes, Professor.” I sighed and looked around the greenhouse.
Theo was at a bench to himself, opposite two Hufflepuff girls. Emory was nowhere to be seen, so I went to stand by Theo, who let out a low whistle when he saw me.
“Hello to you too,” I said, dropping my bag and nudging it under the bench with my foot.
“What happened to you last night?”
“What?” My hands flew to my mouth, even though I’d used a light freezing charm to reduce the swelling on my lips before I came down.
Theo raised an eyebrow. “You look tired.”
I lowered my hand. “Oh… yeah. Late night.” I gently pulled the pot of a quietly snoring Mandrake toward me and picked up a pair of scissors.
“Hi Hero,” said a voice.
I looked up. It was one of the Hufflepuff girls, Brindley McCroy. She was very pretty, her dark long lashed eyes crinkling as she smiled at me.
“Hi,” I said, unable to keep the uncertainty from my voice; she had never spoken to me before.
She seemed satisfied by this and turned back to her Mandrake. Theo nudged my shoulder with his.
“You monster hunting today?” he asked quietly, green eyes holding a spark of amusement.
I snipped at a brown leaf. “Unfortunately no. I’m off duty.”
“Um, how’s Emory doing?” Theo asked.
I directed my gaze back to him, wondering why he was asking me, but he was looking determinedly at his Mandrake, all mirth gone from his face.
I raised an eyebrow. “She’s okay, I suppose. I think there’s something bothering her recently, though.”
Theo blinked in surprise. “You haven’t spoken to her? We aren’t dating anymore.”
His words hit me like a blow to the stomach. “W-what?”
Theo furrowed his brow. “I ended it last week. She really didn’t tell you?”
I swallowed. “I guess I… I haven’t really spoken to her lately. I’ve been -”
“Busy?” Theo said grimly.
I met his gaze, guilt and shame washing over me so strongly I felt nauseous. Had I really been that distracted with Tom and the monster that I neglected my best friend? We worked in silence for the rest of the lesson, until the bell sounded for the end of class.
“Thank you, fifth years,” Professor Beery said, looking around at us all, his expression uncharacteristically serious. “Your help is very much appreciated to restore the petrified students back to their normal selves. I’ve been asked to remind you that everything is under control; we have experts searching the castle and patrolling with your Prefects. Just keep to the curfew and don’t walk the corridors alone, yes?”
When I stepped outside, tightening my coat against the fine drizzle of rain, I glanced toward Greenhouse Five, from which the Slytherins and Ravenclaws were filing out, but I didn’t see Tom. I did see Finn, however, standing by the greenhouses with his girlfriend, a blonde girl in green robes. Their heads were bent close together, the girl’s bottom lip was trembling. As I watched, she drew a hand back and slapped Finn across the face before tossing her hair over her shoulder and storming away.
Finn straightened and looked around, slightly dazed. When he spotted me, he began walking over, an uncharacteristically bleak expression on his face.
“That didn’t last long,” I said, bracing myself as he came closer, ready for whatever he was about to hurl at me.
But nothing came. He only shrugged, a gloomy expression relaxing his features. His face was strangely vulnerable with all trace of wickedness gone. He almost looked as he did when we were children.
“It wasn’t working anymore,” he said as we walked side by side toward the castle, our feet sinking into the wet grass.
“Really?” I said in mock surprise. “Because she has breasts and is a Slytherin, I thought she was perfect for you.”
Finn rolled his eyes and gave me an exasperated look, so I gave him a Blishwick smile. There was something friendly about the way he looked at me, sarcastic though it was; I could almost forget everything he had done recently. I wondered if Tom had said something to him.
“She’s not - well, there’s...” he hesitated, and sighed. “He wouldn’t approve.”
I didn’t have to ask to know he was referring to our father, and I glanced at him in surprise. Drops of rain had caught in his eyelashes, glistening like tears. My brother had a secret? “You can’t do wrong in their eyes as long as I’m around. You know that.”
Finn brightened as we climbed the stone steps into the Entrance Hall. “True, especially since that Muggle of yours turned up on their doorstep the other day.”
I stopped dead. “What Muggle?”
He stopped too and gave a one shoulder shrug. “Dunno. Darcy something?”
My mouth went dry. Darcy. Darcy Roland, Noah’s roommate.
“Come on, you’ll like her, I promise,” Noah said, slipping his hand into mine. I could feel the rougher patch of skin that ran across his palm; a now-healed scar from long ago.
I eyed the tiny apartment dubiously. We were on the outskirts of Little Hangleton, staring up at the dingy, grey stone building. Rubbish littered the street and I wrinkled my nose against the smell, but Noah looked at me with such expectant excitement that I forced a smile on my face.
The inside of the apartment was small, but cosy. It was clean, I was relieved to find; I had half expected it to look like the outside. The couches were covered in flowery cushions and the lampshades fringed with tassels. Tea cups and books littered every available surface space.
“Gambit,” came a sing song voice from the next room.
Noah smiled, glancing sidelong at me. “Queen to L1,” he called. “I’ve got someone I want you to meet, Darce.”
I heard footsteps, then Darcy stepped into the room, the smell of peppermint accompanying her. My heart sank to find she was attractive; large bright blue eyes, wavy brown hair that spilled over her shoulders and a small upturned nose. She wore a green tea dress that made me feel plain in my overalls. Noah had described her as being like his sister, but I still felt a small stab of jealousy at the fact he lived with this beautiful girl.
“Hero, this is Darcy,” Noah said. “We grew up together. At the orphanage. Darce, this is Hero, the girl I told you about.” He grinned as he looked eagerly between the two of us.
“Hello,” I said with a small wave.
Darcy crossed her arms as she regarded me, a shrewd expression on her face. Her eyes trailed up and down my body, lingering on the pocket in which I kept my wand. I swallowed, resisting the urge to place my hand there, but it was definitely out of sight.
Without looking away from my face she said, “Bishop to B2.”
I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion, but after Noah sighed next to me I realised she had spoken to him.
“I’ll be right back,” he murmured to me. He and Darcy stepped into a room off the short hallway, the door clicking shut behind them.
I walked around the tiny living room as I waited, picking objects up at random, most of them strange Muggle objects. I heard Darcy’s high voice rise in volume, followed by Noah’s softer tone, though their voices were muffled. Curiosity got the better of me and I tiptoed to the room, pressing my ear against the door.
“...need me too?” Darcy was saying. She sounded agitated.
“W-Well, I…” Noah sounded uncertain. I was strangely pleased to hear it; he still sounded timid around me, even after we spent everyday of the past week together. I was glad to know it wasn’t just me.
“She won’t understand you, De- Noah. I’m the only one who can do that.”
“I don’t think that’s true anymore.” Noah was speaking so quietly I had to strain to hear it, the wood of the door smooth beneath my cheek. “I’ve been… remembering things lately. Being with Hero helps.”
There was a short silence. Then, “What things, Noah?”
Another silence. I pressed myself even further into the door, anticipation making my heart race. “I-I don’t want to do this right now. Not with y-you.”
“What does that mean?” Darcy asked sharply.
There were footsteps coming toward the door and I leapt back, dashing into the living room, so that when Noah emerged from the bedroom, he found me innocently examining a coaster. His pale face looked troubled, but he smiled when he saw me, and reached out a hand.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, blue eyes sparkling.
I took his hand, feeling the thin bones under his skin, and we left the apartment, but not before Darcy emerged from the room to narrow her eyes at me.
“Check,” she said.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to Darcy since Noah died. I licked my lips as I thought of her; she must have been the one to arrange his funeral. Did she find out about my involvement? Did she blame me?
My voice was hoarse as I asked, “Did mum and dad say what she wanted?”
“Nah. Just that she was looking for you. You okay?”
I tore my gaze away from the ground to look at him. His eyebrows were furrowed slightly in worry. A warm feeling spread from my chest despite myself at this display of brotherly concern; the first I could ever recall seeing. I could get used to this new Finn. Maybe he finally had changed.
I smiled at him. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Finn began walking again, calling over his shoulder, “Okay. Later, ugly Mudblood lover.”
Then again, maybe not.
I met with Tom in the library that afternoon to work on our Defence Against the Dark Arts essay, taking our usual half-hidden table in the corner.
“Pass the chocolate? It’s in my bag.”
I pulled Tom’s bag toward me and rifled without looking up from my parchment. My fingers brushed the familiar feel of a chocolate wrapper and I pulled it out, triumphant, but I had accidentally grabbed what appeared to be a small booklet. I flipped it over to look, my mouth going dry as I read the title: The Greater Good.
“Why do you have this?” I whispered.
Tom looked up, eyes narrowed as he read what was in my hand. “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked, unabashed.
I spluttered in disbelief. “Because it’s wrong!”
“I don’t think so,” Tom said calmly. “Neither does your family. Your father gave me that.”
I sat back, stunned. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn my parents supported Grindelwald. I had so many things I wanted to say to Tom, and as they all vied to be first, I ended up opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water. He reached over and lay a hand gently over mine. I watched it warily.
I raised my eyes to his. Confident I wasn’t moving my hand, Tom intertwined his fingers in my own.
“Wasn’t it magic that killed your Muggle? If he knew about you, he wouldn’t have been scared by your wand. We could protect the Muggles this way, under Grindelwald’s rule.”
In the dim light of the lanterns, the pupils of his eyes blended into the iris, creating a dark sphere between the whites. This time, I didn’t see a star reflected lake. Instead, I was reminded of Noah’s recurring nightmare, of that dark cold abyss that haunted his memories.
“He’s created a war,” I said in hushed tones. “He’s killing people.” But all the same, I couldn’t help thinking that if Noah had never met me, he would still be alive.
Tom was searching my face. “Trust me,” he murmured. “Your parents would want this. Don’t you want to make them happy?”
He slowly slid the paper toward me, Grindelwald’s attractive, proud face blinking up at me. I remained dubious, my skin prickling. Tom leaned close so that I could feel his breath on my face. “Don’t you want to make me happy?”
I didn’t realise I had been holding myself tense until I felt my shoulders relax. Of course I wanted to make Tom happy. There was something inside me that craved his approval, that made me want to be the one to make him smile. With only a slight movement of his hand, Tom slipped the paper into my bag. Before I could say anything, he closed the distance between us and pressed his lips to mine. I closed my eyes, letting my worries melt away. His hand cupped my cheek, fingers trailing across my jaw. His movements were soft, always so soft.
“So,” he said after a while, “I’ll escort you to Slughorn’s party at eight?”
I waited at the base of Gryffindor Tower for Tom, bunching the lace of my dress robes in my hands before smoothing it down again, trying to dispel the butterflies in my stomach. I heard footsteps coming down the corridor, and I was surprised to see Emory walk into the light, her beige cardigan hanging a little too loosely over her body. She smiled when she saw me, and held out her arms.
“Oh Hero, you look beautiful,” she said, embracing me. “Like a Bennet sister at a ball. If they were witches, of course.”
“I don’t know who that is, but thank you,” I replied, pulling back to look at her properly. She still looked listless, her eyes not as bright as they usually were. I took her hands in mine. “Why didn’t you tell me about Theo?” I asked quietly.
Emory’s eyes widened. “Did he tell you?”
I nodded. She looked down at our clasped hands and gave a small shrug. “We were never right for each other. He still had feelings for you… and I guess I found out he wasn’t the white knight I thought he’d be.”
I squeezed her hands. “You’ll find your prince, Em. They don’t just exist in books, you know.” I’ve found mine.
There was the sound of someone softly clearing their throat, and Emory and I looked up in unison. Hovering in the shadows was Tom; the sight of him took my breath away. He wore elegant dress robes the same emerald green as my dress, his dark hair swept neatly back. As he nodded in acknowledgement, hands clasped behind his back, he was the picture of self-assuredness. I couldn’t help but think that if anyone should be Slytherin’s heir, it was him.
I smiled at him, gesturing for him to wait. Emory pulled me further out of earshot and lowered her voice. “You’re going to the Slug Club party with him?” she asked.
“Well, yes,” I said, uncertain at her accusatory tone. “I - we - kind of…”
“What?” she breathed. “Look, Hero, Riddle’s cute and all but he’s friends with your brother, and Avery and Lestrange and those other awful Slytherin boys.”
“Tom’s different,” I said defensively. “And something’s changed in Finn lately, too.”
Something in Emory’s eyes flashed and she dropped our hands. “Oh, really?” she said bitterly, still low voiced. “Because I don’t believe that for a second. There is something haunting the school, something attacking Muggle-borns. Does that sound like an animal acting on its own? Who does that really sound like?”
“You can’t possibly be suggesting -”
“I am. And in case you’ve forgotten, I am Muggle-born. I could be next.” Her voice cracked and she turned on her heel, walking toward the Fat Lady.
“Emory...” I began helplessly. I made to follow her, but Tom came up behind me, and snaked a hand around my waist.
Emory paused at the entrance to the common room, then turned around. She narrowed her eyes at Tom over my shoulder. “Hell is empty,” she said, “and all the devils are here.”
The portrait swung shut behind her. I let out a shaky breath, my chest tight. Tom leaned forward.
“You look beautiful,” he whispered in my ear, his breath sending a shiver down my back.
“Thank you,” I said, turning around and adding before I could stop myself, “So do you.”
His mouth quirked. I looked back in the direction Emory had disappeared, longing to follow her. I wanted to console her, to reassure her that she was just upset over Theo, but Tom pressed his lips to my temple. “Let’s go, or we’ll arrive late.”
We walked down to the sixth floor corridor in silence, for which I was glad. It allowed me to process everything Emory had said. I glanced at Tom out of the corner of my eye. He looked like a dark haired angel; not a devil. But he was just a boy, same as Finn and the rest of them. Where would any of them have gotten the power to control a monster left by Slytherin himself? Emory was just scared, I tried to reassure myself, and who could blame her?
The buzzing sound of chatter grew louder as we walked hand in hand down the corridor, but it wasn’t until we neared that I realised the hum of voices was tense, with none of the gaiety of a party. We rounded the corner onto the corridor of Slughorn’s office. There was a crowd of people at the other end, gathered around the top of the stairs that led down to the fifth floor. I recognised some of the people as students from the Slug Club, dressed elegantly in dress robes and evening dresses. I glanced at Tom, but he looked as confused as I felt.
As we neared, a familiar, irritating cackle sounded loudly, and Peeves the poltergeist floated above the steps and over the heads of those gathered. My stomach flipped in apprehension. What had he done now?
I dropped Tom’s hand and squeezed between two students, one of them Brindley McCroy, the Hufflepuff girl who had been smiling at me during Herbology. I ducked as Peeves swooped over. His dark eyes were wicked as he cackled madly.
“Oh it was terrible,” he was saying delightedly.
I pushed my way to the front of the crowd and saw a young boy, eyes wide and blonde hair dishevelled, standing beside Professor Slughorn, who had a hand on his shoulder. The boy’s chest rose and fell in quick succession as he stared at the floor, with what looked like an orange strip of cloth in his hand.
“Professor,” came Tom’s voice behind me. “What happened?”
Professor Slughorn opened his mouth to reply, but it was Peeves who answered.
“A great big beastie, it was, yes!”
“It seems Peeves here has taken a joke too far,” Professor Slughorn said, raising his voice to be heard over the voices of the other students.
“I didn’t do nothin’!” Peeves sounded affronted. “It was that wicked long beastie!”
I looked at the boy. He was very pale, his eyes darting toward the bottom of the stairs. I inched closer to peer over the balustrade. There was another boy lying on his back at the bottom of the stairs. He had the same strip of orange cloth wrapped around his eyes like a blindfold, arms outstretched, mouth open in a silent scream.
“Holy hippogriffs…” I whispered.
“Peeves blindfolded both boys before pushing them down the stairs,” Professor Slughorn said grimly, leaning forward so that only Tom and I could hear him.
“But… the boy,” I said, my mouth dry. “He’s been petrified like the others, hasn’t he?”
“It wasn’t Peeves,” said a tiny voice. The boy beside Professor Slughorn was talking to his feet. “There was s-something. I heard it. Saw the outline of it through this.” He feebly lifted the blindfold. “But I ran, and now M-Mikey…” He broke off, head hung low.
Professor Slughorn sighed heavily. “Madam Flint has been alerted and is on her way. In the meantime,” at this he raised his voice, “everybody can make their way to my office. The show must go on!”
Slowly, still chatting in a mixture of horrified and excited voices, the students dispersed into Professor Slughorn’s office. After a moment, Tom and I followed.
Professor Slughorn’s large office had been extravagantly decorated with low hanging black curtains across the ceiling, and twinkling orange light from the skull-shaped candles that scattered the room. Eerie violin-like music came drifted through the room, but I couldn’t see the source. When Professor Slughorn entered, he immediately snatched Tom from where he and I were standing by the punch bowl, marching him away to meet with one of Professor Slughorn’s many outside guests. I smiled at the apologetic expression Tom sent my way. He took the introductions in his stride; nothing but courteous and respectful as he shook hand after hand, Professor Slughorn clapping him on the back and beaming proudly. I watched Tom for a moment before turning to strike up a conversation with Marnie Wright, a Ravenclaw in my year.
After my third drink, which left me feeling light headed and flushed, I looked around for Tom, only to discover he was nowhere in sight. I placed my empty glass onto a silver tray that one of the house elves carried around the room, and weaved through the students, craning my neck for any sight of him.
Something grabbed my elbow and I squeaked in surprise. I turned to find Tom offering a hand.
“Dance with me,” he whispered.
I swallowed as I placed my hand in his, dizziness forgotten. He led me toward the front of the room, where other couples were revolving slowly to the melancholy music. Tom pulled me close, one hand around my waist, the other clasped in my own. I placed a hand on his shoulder, and we swayed gently for a few minutes before I heard whispered voices. I looked up to find a couple of the students staring, criticising expressions on their faces.Leaning my face into Tom’s shoulder, I closed my eyes, breathing him in, and his grip on my waist tightened. Let them judge; they didn’t understand. I may have been sorted into Gryffindor, but I was still a Blishwick. Tom was the type of boy my parents had always wanted me to be with. The type I had always wanted to be with.
There was a tugging at the bottom of my dress and I looked down. Loddy, obviously one of the house elf servers, was staring up at me, blue eyes huge. “Miss Hero!” she squeaked.
“Oh, hey, Loddy.” I crouched down to her level, then noticed the tears swimming in her eyes. “What’s the matter?”
“Miss must come with Loddy,” she said, clinging to my hand.
“Where? Loddy, what’s happened?” I asked, but she just shook her head, pupils huge, squeezing my hand.
I glanced up at Tom, who shrugged. With a sigh, I straightened, letting Loddy pull me from the room, Tom following close behind.
The muffled sounds of music and conversation faded from Slughorn’s office as Loddy led us down the dim sixth floor corridor. There was no one around; not since the curfews were put in place. I asked repeatedly for Loddy to explain where she was taking us, but each time she just shook her head, muttering fearfully, “Loddy can’t. Loddy can’t!”
We rounded a corner and I stopped dead. Loddy was squeezing my fingers so hard they were crushed, but I hardly noticed, nor when Tom laid a hand on the small of my back. Because lying on the ground before us, impossibly still, a frightened look frozen on his face was another student. But it wasn’t the discovery that made ice run through my veins, it wasn’t because I recognised him, but because it was impossible.
It was Sebastian.
A/N: Chapter title borrowed from Virgil's The Aeneid. A quote from Emory borrowed from William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Thank you so much to my gorgeous beta Julie (banshee), and also to Jill (dreamgazer220) who is a great help with simply everything.
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