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Chapter 10 : Of Loyalty
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Tom didn’t say anything; he’d hardly spoken a word since we found Sebastian, his face hard and unreadable. He sat beside me, staring at the ground, and I could only assume he was as shocked as I was. I leant forward on my knees, chin propped in my hands. We were in the hospital wing, waiting for Madam Flint to return with news on Bash. The room was cold, the beds clean and empty; the petrified students were being kept in a room off the main wing. Light from the full moon streamed through the windows, having more of an effect than the candles Madam Flint had hastily lit.
I glanced over at the grandfather clock, its loud tick the only sound in the room. The pendulum swung in time to three of my thoughts: Sebastian. Blishwick. Muggle-born. The bitter smell of Pepperup Potion burnt my nostrils. I gave an involuntary shiver, accidentally nudging Tom’s arm. He stirred, finally, and glanced sidelong at me.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
His gaze lingered on me for a few seconds more before he raised his chin in the direction of the fireplace. With a quiet whoosh the fireplace burst into life, flames crackling like it had been burning for hours. I felt the warmth through the thin lace of my dress robes, but continued to shiver; for the second time, Tom had performed magic without a wand. The hint of a smirk played on his lips, as if waiting for a reaction. All I could manage was a wobble of my own lips in what I hoped looked like gratitude.
The door to the next ward opened and a tired looking Madam Flint came out, frizzy hair coming loose under her hat. She looked at us wearily.
“You two again,” she said with sympathy. “I am sorry it had to be this way. Miss Blishwick -” Madam Flint stopped, pulling her mouth into a tight line against what she was going to say. Instead, she sighed. “I’m sorry about your cousin. Your uncle is on his way, and the ghost of Lord Draben is speaking with Professor Dippet right now. He was nearby at the time.”
I nodded and thanked Madam Flint, and she disappeared into her office. No sooner had the door closed behind her than the fireplace flared in a burst of emerald green and my uncle Kagan stepped out, brushing ash from his robes, his brown hair dishevelled. He looked surprised to see me, bloodshot eyes widening. “Hero, honey.”
“Uncle Kagan.” I stood up and gestured to Tom. “This is Tom Riddle.”
Tom stood and shook Kagan’s hand. “A pleasure.”
“I’ve heard of you,” my uncle said. “My brother Jameson speaks very highly of you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I turned to Tom and asked quietly, “Do you mind if we have a moment alone?”
Tom nodded and took my hand in his. “Of course. Goodnight.” He kissed my hand, but the gesture felt stiff and cold. I furrowed my eyebrows at this behaviour but he was already walking toward the door.
“What are you doing here?” Kagan asked, once the door shut behind Tom.
“I’m the one who found Bash,” I told him, unable to stop a shudder running through my body.
His face turned hard. Abruptly, he turned and walked past me toward Madam Flint’s office.
“Uncle Kagan, wait -” I started, but he kept walking. “Kagan, I know.”
He stopped, then slowly turned around to face me. The moonlight washed out his features, making the lines in his face stand out stark. “What do you know?”
I took a deep breath. “I know about the monster. That it has been released by Slytherin’s heir to kill Muggle-borns.”
Kagan’s expression twisted and he took a shaky breath. With a small jolt I realised he was trying not to cry. I took a tentative few steps toward him. I could see it now, even in the dim light. His nose was longer than Sebastian’s, his eyes more narrow and deep set, the Blishwick blue Sebastian never inherited.
“Is it true?”
His shoulders began to shake. I closed the distance between us and pulled him into a hug, his tears dampening my shoulder. “Amata and I adopted him from Muggles when he was a baby,” he said thickly. “She’d been sick prior, and hardly left the house. It was easy to pretend she had been with child when no one had seen her for months.”
"Does my father know?”
Kagan pulled back and wiped his eyes, a look of horror on his face. “Of course not, and he never will. Sebastian doesn’t even know. He would be disowned.”
“Surely he -”
“You know better than anyone what your father is like,” Kagan said darkly. “Please, Hero. You must never tell anyone. The others -” He stopped, biting his lip.
Kagan just shook his head. The grandfather clock against the wall struck the hour, and as if this had been a signal, Kagan said, “Take care of yourself, honey,” and disappeared into Madam Flint’s office without knocking.
I stared at the closed wooden door for a long time, hearing the sound of muffled voices from the other side. I slowly backed into a bedside chair and sunk into it, my mind spinning with questions. Sebastian was adopted? What else was there to the story? What were the rest of the Blishwicks hiding?
I stared into the dying orange flames of the fire Tom lit, tiredness crashing over me like a wave.
Something told me the reveal of this Blishwick secrets was only the beginning.
I slept in the next morning; the sun was already high in the sky and flooding the dormitory room with light before I woke up. As soon as I opened my eyes, still itching with tiredness, it was the memory of Sebastian’s face I saw. I rubbed a hand over my face. Why did the monster have to go after sweet little Bash?
Because he’s Muggle-born said an unpleasant voice in my head. A Muggle-born in the line of pure Blishwick blood my grandfather had fought to keep respected. I could understand Kagan’s fear; if word got out, our family would be labelled blood traitors, expelled from the prestige circles my father worked so hard to make us all a part of. Not to mention Kagan himself would be disowned along with Sebastian by the patriarch of our family: my father Jameson.
I stretched out an arm and groped blindly for my bag for a piece of chocolate. Instead, my fingers brushed The Greater Good booklet. After a second’s hesitation, I pulled it out. I sat up, propping myself up on the pillows. From the creased white paper, Grindelwald stared haughtily up at me, light hair falling into his eyes. I flipped numbly through the pages, noting a recurring triangular symbol in each corner. Page after page of how Muggle-borns are thieves and inferior; I half-wondered if the creature in the castle wasn’t Grindelwald himself.
I had given up searching for the monster. Not only because there were professionals within Hogwarts doing it now, but because I believed Tom to be right. What would my parents think of me, trying to put a stop to behaviour they’d probably approve of? But, as I pulled the blanket up to my chin, I thought of the secret Kagan had covered for Sebastian, and the secret my own father had covered for me. My family wasn’t perfect. The attacks had to be stopped, before someone was killed. I knew something the Magical Creature Control didn’t: what all its victims had in common. If it was Muggle-borns the monster was after, then a Muggle-born was what I would use to catch it.
I threw back the covers, shivering at the chill that bit through the material of my dress robes I was still wearing from the night before; the burner had died during the night and no one had bothered to relight it. I pulled on a plain blouse and long floral skirt, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair was tousled, lips a faded red, and my lashes were still long and dark with cosmetics from collapsing into bed the previous night.
I heard no noise from the common room as I descended the dormitory steps, but for a Saturday, this wasn’t unusual. I paused at the bottom, seeing Emory. She had her head buried in a book in an armchair by the window. Her face was relaxed, as one’s often is when reading; but it was different to Tom’s, whom I had studied many times before. Where Tom’s eyes were filled with a hunger to absorb every word, Emory’s looked distant, immersed in a world I wasn’t seeing, her tongue darting out occasionally to wet her bottom lip. She looked regal in the mid-morning light streaming through the window, lighting the long bones of her face.
I took the necessary step to make myself visible and said softly, “Hey.”
She looked up, blinking in surprise. “Hi.”
I sat beside her by her feet and leant my head against the window, smiling at her bright mismatched socks.“Can I ask a favour?”
Emory placed her bookmark - a Muggle photo, strangely still, of her brother - into the page. “Sure.”
I took a deep breath. “You know how I told you the monster is after Muggle-borns?”
She turned wary. “Yes.”
“So, I was thinking, what if we set a trap? You can lure it out, if you come with-”
“No thank you,” Emory said coolly, setting her book down and standing up. “I don’t want to play your stupid game.”
Her tone took me by surprise. “What’s wrong?”
Emory stood up. “You have no idea, do you?” When I didn’t answer she continued; “Monster this, Tom that, ‘my family hates me’. It is not all about you, Hero!”
Something unpleasant wrapped itself around my stomach. I had never heard her raise her voice like this.“Em, what are you talking about?”
“I’m going through things too,” she said, her eyes glistening. “But did you ever ask? No. You’ve let stupid Riddle take over your life. Meanwhile, I’ve lost my boyfriend, I’m failing almost all my classes and Reagan, my only brother, is missing after a battle in Germany. He could be dead.”
Tears pricked my own eyes. “I didn’t know…”
Emory’s small pretty mouth was turned down at the corners. I longed to wrap my arms around her, but I felt if I moved I might vomit.
“I’ll do it,” said a voice.
Emory and I turned our heads at the same time. Morgan rose from a chair in the corner, where he had been sitting so low I hadn’t noticed him before. His hair was adorably tousled, his maroon vest sitting askew across his chest. My heart gave a squeeze at the sight of him; we’d hardly spoken since that day in Hogsmeade, not even during Quidditch training.
“I’ll be bait,” he said again with a small, crooked smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes.
Emory looked between the two of us, then shook her head. She grabbed her bag and disappeared up to the dormitory. She muttered, “Thou art crazy.”
I quickly wiped my eyes and looked at Morgan. “Come on,” I muttered, standing up. “I’m not going to let her be next. Or you, for that matter.”
Morgan and I headed for the dungeon corridor, where I knew the monster had lurked more than once. We stopped at the top of the stairs to the dungeons as a familiar voice drifted up to reach us.
“I’ll keep yeh safe, I promise,” came Rubeus’ voice.
“Hagrid, I cannot,” came a harsh voice I didn’t recognise. “You do not understand…”
I turned to Morgan and pressed a finger to my lips. He nodded his understanding and remained close behind me as we tiptoed down the stairs. Hagrid was still talking softly, but his voice was mingled with a high clicking sound that made the hairs rise on the back of my neck. At the bottom we stopped, the damp smell of the dungeons reaching my nostrils. I peered around the corner and glimpsed the back of Rubeus’ huge form, half concealed by the cupboard he was leaning into.
The clicking noise grew agitated and I fought the urge to cover my ears with my hands. “I have many eyes, Hagrid, you cannot understand what this means…”
“I will if you jus’ tell me, Aragog.”
I took a step toward Rubeus. His body blocked most of my view of the cupboard, but as he moved slightly, I caught a glimpse of a long hairy leg protruding from a box.
“Fuck,” I said, stumbling back into Morgan, who caught me by my elbows.
Rubeus whirled around with impressive speed for someone so large, and I got a full look at the wooden box. Eight glittering eyes stared at me, and bile rose in my throat.
Rubeus’ small eyes were wide as he stumbled over his words. “Hero! Morgan - I - He - It’s no’ -”
My skin was beginning to itch just by looking at it. I scratched at my arm absentmindedly, shocked by the size of the spider, which was about as big as a large dog. I felt faint; I couldn’t believe I found the monster responsible for attacking my cousin, that Rubeus of all people was its owner. Morgan took a tentative step closer, standing on his tiptoes to peer around Rubeus.
“Bloody hell. Is that an acromantula?”
The spider retreated out of sight into the box, but it only made me more nervous. I could still hear the clicking noise it was making.
Morgan threw a glance at me over his shoulder. “Can you stop swearing?”
I looked at Morgan, incredulous. “Rubeus is keeping a fucking big spider down here, a spider that talks and I’m not allowed to swear?”
“Well, it’s no’ nice…” Rubeus mumbled.
I pointed a finger at him. “You be quiet. You are in so much trouble.”
Rubeus dark eyes widened in fear. “‘Ero, please. You can’ tell anyone. ‘E’s only a baby.”
“Rubeus, it’s hurting people!”
“No, no! It’s not him!”
“I’ve never heard of an acromantula petrifying people before,” Morgan put in. “That’s what it is, right, Rubeus?”
When Rubeus nodded, I rounded on Morgan. “Whose side are you on?”
Morgan looked at me exasperatedly. “Calm down Ro. It’s not a mastilio, it’s not what’s petrifying Muggle-borns - look, I’m still moving.” He stretched out his arms.
Rubeus looked relieved, sniffing loudly. “It’s not him doin’ it, I swear. But I think ‘e has some idea what is,” he said, “only he won’t say anythin’ about it.”
“Could he help us, I wonder?” Morgan mused.
Rubeus looked expectantly at me and, after a moment, Morgan did too.
I sighed, defeated. “It’s bloody illegal, but if you promise it stays down here...”
“Oh, thank you!” Rubeus pulled me into a tight hug that crushed my ribs and lifted me off the ground.
“Rubeus!” I wheezed, and he set me down.
Once Rubeus had said goodbye to his creepy pet and closed the cupboard door, we headed for Gryffindor Tower. As we rounded a corner toward the stairs to the viaduct entrance, a beautiful, dark haired boy blocked our way, stopping us short.
“What is going on down here?” Tom asked.
“Nothing,” the three of us said in unison.
Tom blinked as he looked between the three of us. “Hagrid, Morris, leave.”
Morgan narrowed his eyes at Tom. He looked like he wanted to say something to him, but obviously thought better of it; he gave me a small smile before saying to Rubeus, “Come on, buddy,” and the two of them disappeared down the corridor. I felt an answering smile spread across my own face; I was glad he wasn’t still angry at me for turning him down in Hogsmeade.
“What were you doing with him?” Tom asked.
I snapped my attention back to him. “Who, Rubeus?”
I frowned. “Don’t call him that. Morgan is my friend.”
“I thought Baxter was your friend.”
“I have more than one friend, Tom.”
Tom took a step closer. He slowly traced his fingertips along my collarbone, making my skin burn like he was leaving a trail of fire. “You have me now.”
“Yes,” I breathed.
He murmured, “I need to know who you’re loyal to.”
I blinked, wondering if I’d heard him correctly, his finger still trailing along my neck, following the curve between head and shoulder. I tilted my head in response. “What do you mean?”
“Me and your family, or your friends.” He said this last word with contempt, but it was hard to concentrate when the thumb of one hand was softly touching my bottom lip and the other was now tracing my ribs. My eyes fluttered closed.
In one swift movement, Tom had me up against the dungeon wall, and my eyelids flew open. His fingers dug tightly into my arms, but before I had time to protest, his mouth was on mine and he was kissing me like he had never kissed me before. I found myself surrendering completely. He pressed himself against me, the stone at my back cold and damp, but I didn’t care. I should have been disgusted at my own behaviour, acting this way in the middle of a public dungeon corridor; but as each kiss grew in urgency - as if this thought had occurred to him too - I sunk further into the danger of it all. My hands were in his hair, urging him even closer, begging him not to stop. His fingertips teased the hem of my shirt until he was stroking the bare skin of my stomach.
Tom’s lips moved down to my throat. “Who?” he murmured against my neck. Before I could reply, his mouth was on mine again, tongue flickering against my own. I was pinned under him now, our hips grinding together, his mouth searching mine with a hungry desire. I gasped as his hands trailed further across my ribs.
As I walked into the Great Hall for dinner, I half expected all eyes to turn on me after the latest news of a Muggle-born in the Blishwick family. But when nothing of the sort came, I breathed out a sigh of relief and headed for the Gryffindor table. Theo was there, cutting roast lamb as he listened to a little girl who stood beside him, his expression serious.
The girl left as I approached, and I sat beside Theo, adjusting my badge. “What was that about?”
Theo swallowed his mouthful, green eyes looking dull. “Finn. Again.”
I groaned. I guess people really didn’t change. “Why didn’t she come to me?”
Theo looked suddenly uncomfortable. “Well… because he’s your brother, and…”
“Yes?” I prompted, spooning mashed potato onto my plate.
Theo raised one shoulder in a shrug. “She was afraid you’d tell him and the others that she came to you.”
“Is it? I saw you looking chummy with Finn after Herbology, no hexes or anything. I hardly see you with Emory anymore, and you’re always in the library with Riddle.”
I bristled, forcing myself to stay calm under this conversation that was beginning to feel like an accusation. Where did Theo get off, judging what I did and who I saw? He wasn’t exactly perfect either. “Okay, fine. I can’t help that Finn is my twin, and he always will be, no matter what he does. I don’t even know where Emory is half the time and Tom is helping me to study.”
“You’ve never needed help before,” Theo scoffed. “You’re always top of the class, Hero.”
I opened my mouth to retort, but nothing came out. How did I explain? How could he understand that I had been having trouble concentrating because I thought I had killed a Muggle with magic, only to find he was murdered, in what was possibly an attempt at my own life as well? As the notion came to the surface, I pushed my plate away, suddenly not hungry. I hadn’t realised before now how much the thought had been pushed to the back of my mind, until it was like a bruise that only hurt if you pressed on it. Theo wouldn’t understand; even when we were in a relationship, he had never been one to confide in. At least Tom knew when to drop a subject.
“I’ve got Quidditch training,” I said, and got up from the table.
“Fine,” I heard Theo mutter behind me, but I was already gone.
After our last Quidditch training session before the first game against Slytherin, I stood in front of the tiny smudged mirror, running a brush through my hair. I smiled and nodded at the rest of the team as they filed out, bundled in scarves and jackets. By the time I shoved my gear into my bag and pulled on my own gloves, it was only me and Leighton Mullins, one of our Beaters. She was looking at me with her arms crossed.
“Hey,” I said in surprise.
“I need to talk to you,” Leighton said in her husky voice I had always been jealous of, her long red hair coming loose from its ponytail.
I shut my locker. “Er, sure. What is it?”
Leighton waited until we had extinguished the change room lights with our wands and stepped out onto the damp twilit grass before she spoke.
“We’re doubting your capability to play tomorrow,” she said without preamble.
“What are you talking about?” I looked up at her; she was a head taller than me, and often had that air of talking down her nose at me, both literally and figuratively.
“I’m talking about you and your little Slytherin connections. Don’t think no one’s seen you getting cosy with Riddle. My sister saw you two at the Slug party.”
Suddenly, I hated her voice. “What, and you think I’ll go easy on them?”
She stopped. “I won’t let our team lose to Slytherin again. You have to choose. Or I’ll make Morgan kick you off the team.”
I shook my head at her haughtiness. “Morgan wouldn’t listen to you.”
Leighton examined her polished red-painted nails. “I wouldn’t be so sure. After you rejected him last week, he needed some cheering up, and I was there.”
I clenched my teeth as we ascended the stone steps to the castle, the unwelcome image of Morgan’s strong arms wrapped around Leighton in one of the common room’s armchairs flashed in my mind’s eye.
Leighton mistook my silence for deliberating the choice she’d given me, and skipped ahead to look down at me from the steps of the Entrance Hall. She wiggled her fingers at me in a wave. “See you tomorrow?” she said sweetly.
Blishwick smile in place, I waved sarcastically back at her before heading for the Slytherin common room.
I leant against one of stone walls of the dungeon - I knew the entrance was around here somewhere, after growing up surrounded by proud Slytherins - with no real idea of what I was going to say to Tom. I just knew I had to see him. At least he was a familiar face who wasn’t going to push me away. Footsteps echoed down the corridor and my cousin Briony came into view, running her hands through her hair, the lanterns throwing her shadow onto the walls, long and flickering.
She stopped when she saw me, lowering her hands. “Hero? What are you doing down here?”
“I was hoping to speak with Tom,” I replied, “or, at least, ask someone to bring him out for me.”
“Oh,” she said, scooting past me, “well, I can do that.”
I smiled gratefully. “Thanks. Hey, Briony -”
She stopped, turning her head. “Yeah?”
“Did you know? About Sebastian?”
Briony stared at me for a long moment, her expression unreadable. Then, with a tiny movement, she nodded, and cast her gaze downward. “It’s all going to fall apart,” she whispered.
“It’s not that bad, B,” I said. I reached into my bag for the chocolate, breaking off a square and handing it to her. “Here.”
The corner of Briony’s mouth twitched with the ghost of a smile as she took the chocolate from my hand and popped it into her mouth.
“Hero, you -” But she broke off, face paling as something like realisation flickered over her features.
Blood began to pour from her nose at an alarming rate, her eyes widening in alarm. I pushed myself off from the wall, my heart skipping several beats. “B, what is it?”
Briony began to shake, a stream of blood from each nostril cascading down the front of her robes, the Slytherin green quickly spreading into Gryffindor red. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. I was truly alarmed now. I must have made a noise, because a handful of Slytherins had emerged from the common room, looks of confusion that soon turned to horror on their faces as they saw the scene before them.
I stood, frozen, as a couple of the older students acted quickly; levitating my cousin, tilting her now stark white face forward while someone pinched her nose in an attempt to stop the blood flow, her long blonde streaked with red where it fell across her face.
As I watched them hover Briony down the dungeon corridor, I felt fingers link with my own. I looked down at them dully, then up, half expecting to see Tom, but it was Finn. I had time to note the unusual warm feeling that spread in my chest at the sight of him, and how the sweater he wore was as black as his hair, before tears blurred my vision.
A/N: Thank you Julie ♥
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