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Chapter 13 : Lionheart
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In the entry hall, I was greeted immediately with the murmured buzz of voices from the next room. I groaned inwardly; I forgot all about dinner plans. I didn’t notice my mother’s approach until she hurried over from the kitchen, heels clicking on the tiled floor, and touched my arm. Her hair, a few shades lighter than Finn’s, was tightly curled around her head, pinned with large sapphire clips.
“Hero, darling!” She pushed lightly on the small of my back toward the stairs, her elegant perfume reaching my nostrils. When I was young she would dab the same scent behind my ears as she readied for dinner and would call me her ‘little lady’. “Come, you must get dressed quickly.”
I looked past her shoulder to the dining room. “I just need to talk to Tom, I –”
“There’ll be plenty of time for that later; I’ve seated you next to him –”
I stopped in my tracks, the thought of having to sit beside him without being able to say anything filled me with dread. “Mother, I can’t. Can you put me with someone else?”
Mother’s dark eyebrows drew together. “Did you two have a fight?”
Not yet. “No, I just can’t talk to him about this over dinner.”
Mother nodded, but she still looked concerned. Probably worried I’d ruin the one relationship she finally approved of. “I’ll see what I can do. Now come, dinner is starting soon; our guests are already in the dining room.”
As we ascended the stairs, Mother chatted anxiously to two house elves on either side of her. It was all white noise to me, Darcy’s voice still at the forefront of my mind. Halfway up the stairs, someone appeared in front of us. Father, his light hair slicked back and black dress robes neatly pressed, stopped a few steps above us as he descended. He already towered over me – a gene Finn and I both missed out on – and I had to strain my neck to look up at him.
“Hero, you’re not even dressed!” he scolded, slipping his wand inside of his robes. “I told you how important this is to us. Why are you so pale?” He looked to Mother, who had dismissed the servants and mouthed what looked suspiciously like ‘Tom’ to him.
If only they knew.
“Do try to look more festive, Hero. With that look on your face, anyone would think you’d taken a Befuddlement Draught.”
I sighed, feeling like I had. I felt as if I’d been taking it since term started…
Because I had.
The realisation hit me in the stomach like a physical blow, and it took all my energy to not double over as if I was winded. Lovage was an ingredient in Tom’s chocolate I had been consuming for months. Lovage, one of the main ingredients of a Befuddlement Draught.
Father dismissed us and I let Mother pull me up the stairs to my bedroom as if in a trance. Everything swirled around me, the blood rushing to my ears in a loud rush. She closed my bedroom door behind me. I watched her cross the room, muttering to herself under her breath.
“Mother, I need to talk to Tom now.”
She ignored me, reaching across my neatly made bed to where she had lain out a dress. It was white, lacy and long sleeved – not unlike the emerald green one I wore to Slughorn’s Halloween party, but it was dotted with diamantes and finished with a thick silver sash around the middle. A silver wrap lay beside it and silver jewellery sat on the dressing table.
“Do you like it?” she asked, coming to wrap an arm around my shoulders. I felt stifled by her proximity, but I resisted pushing her off. The room was too hot, my head spinning, my breaths short.
“It’s lovely,” I said truthfully, “but this is really important.”
“Okay, okay. Merlin forbid I get in the way of young love. If you hurry, you’ll have time before we sit down to eat.” She gave my shoulders a squeeze before she left.
My stomach twisted in knots underneath my dress as I descended the stairs. I peered into the dining room. The long table was elaborately set, tons of people milling around it as they chatted to each other. Finn, drink in hand, saw me and winked. A handful of wizards were dressed in matching black and red dress robes; I assumed these were the Besmurten. I spotted Tom just past a group of my cousins. He was speaking with Mother’s brother, Caractacus Burke, smiling politely as he scribbled whatever my uncle was saying into a small black diary. My stomach lurched at the sight of it. I had seen it in his bag on previous occasions, but it was only now I recognised it; a style from a newsagent in London that Hangleton stocked.
All of it was true. I’d hoped, deep down, that Darcy had made a mistake. Tom was the boy from the orphanage Noah had seen before he died; he had to be. My hands curled into fists at my side as I watched him shake hands with Caractacus and the latter walk away with a satisfied smile. I caught Tom’s eye before he had time to slip away, and jerked my head for him to join me in the hall. He looked politely interested as he reached me.
Tom’s face turned amused, not intimidated as I had hoped. Without another word I turned on my heel and started up the stairs, not looking behind me to see if he followed. The sound of his soft footsteps told me he did, and relief flowed through me.
I went to enter an empty bedroom on the right, but Tom said, “No, in here,” and opened one on the left. After a second’s hesitation, I followed him in. The fire had been lit in this bedroom and the room was warm; it wasn’t enough to melt the ice in my veins. I moved to stand in front of the fire and wrapped my arms around myself as Tom shut the door.
“What is this about?” he asked, coming closer. He looked so calm, so at ease with himself. Once, I had admired that in him. Now, it made my hands shake. How could he look like that after all he had done?
I closed my eyes. It was easier to speak without looking at him. “I know.”
“You know what?” He sounded bored.
“I know what you did. To Noah. To both of them. Darcy – Amy – told me.”
There was a long silence, in which only the crackling of the flames could be heard Finally, I opened my eyes. He was smirking.
“So what, Hero?”
“How could you do it?” I whispered.
He leant his back against the door. “I am capable of a lot more than you think.”
I stepped closer to the fire, but it didn’t help the hair from rising on the back of my neck. “I know about the chocolate too, how – ”
Tom let out a short laugh that held no amusement. “Not that, you silly girl. A Befuddlement Draught is child’s play. Did you really not guess?”
I swallowed my retaliation in favour of asking, “Guess what?”
“I am the Heir of Slytherin.”
I heard my breath catch in my throat. How was that possible? “You released the monster?”
“A Basilisk,” he said softly, almost fondly, hands clasped behind his back. “Left behind to finish Salazar’s work under the control of the only person worthy enough.”
“What about Sebastian?”
Tom stepped away from the door. I took an involuntary step back. “An unforeseeable occurrence that could have ruined everything. Fortunately, everybody believes he caught dragon pox.” He ran a hand lightly over the wood of the vanity table. Over the crackle of the fire, an owl hooted outside.
“You killed Noah, didn’t you?” I whispered. As the owl hooted again, the image of the raven, of Tom’s owl flashed through my mind like another piece of a jigsaw puzzle slipping into place. The puzzle was one that I didn’t want to finish. The completed image was horrifying.
Tom leaned casually against the bedpost, crossing his arms in front of him. “I saw you get into his car that day,” he said. “I recognised him, and I couldn’t have him recognise me and risk him telling you about the orphanage. You would have gone straight to your parents, and my plans would have been subverted. You aren’t as good with secrets as you think you are.”
“You don’t know the first thing about me.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Really, Hero. I heard you talking to Talbot from the other end of the corridor the night of the first attack. The best friend and the boyfriend?” He clucked his tongue disapprovingly.
My hands started to shake. I hid them behind my back. “You told Emory.”
He didn’t answer this. He didn’t have to. “So, obviously, I wasn’t going to let any of that happen.”
I couldn’t form coherent words; my mind scrambled to arrange this information into an explanation I could comprehend. I was coming up short. “You – you practically ruined his life! He was getting better, and you killed him!” My voice shook.
Tom rubbed his chin, looking unconcerned.
“He was a person!” I shouted. “He never recovered from whatever you did to him in that cave. His life was not something for you to play with! He didn’t belong to you - and neither do I.” I stormed past him, reaching for the door handle, but it was locked. I turned around. “Open it, Tom.”
The coolness in his voice sent a shrill of fear through my body. I lowered my own voice. “Open it, now.”
Tom took a step forward, and I pushed myself against the door, longing for my wand in my bag downstairs. Did Tom have his beneath his dress robes? Another jolt of fear went through me. “They told me you would be difficult, but I had no idea just how much.”
My hand slid off the door handle. “Who told you?”
“Your parents, your family. Time after time you defy them. Why?”
I bunched my hands into my dress to stop them from shaking. “I never mean to. I – I just don’t agree with them on this. With Grindelwald. With any of it.”
Tom took another step. “Perhaps you were never right for this after all.”
“Right for what?” I asked nervously.
Tom turned his back, touching random objects on the table. “I thought that Muggle was a small act of rebellion after Talbot, that you would change after he died.” He turned back, raising one shoulder in a shrug. “Obviously you aren’t going to change your position.”
A sudden, awful thought struck me. “Did you want me to die that day as well?”
Tom cocked his head as he considered me. “Your parents already accepted me. It didn’t matter to me either way.”
“Oh my God.” My stomach swirled, and I leaned over and vomited into the wood bucket by the fireplace. I remained bent, heaving, as he came up behind me. Wiping my mouth on my sleeve, I straightened, only to have Tom grab my chin in a tight grip. I pulled back, lost my balance and fell onto my knees. He ran a thumb over my bottom lip before letting go, and I licked my lips instinctively. Immediately, my lips and tongue began to tingle and swell. Dread made my knees weaken and I slipped further to the floor. Tom’s grip on my arms tightened as he let me sink down.
“What -?” I began. I was shocked at how raspy my voice sounded. Breathing was becoming difficult. My throat was closing, searing like I had swallowed fire and I clawed at it as if I could scratch the burning itch inside from the outside. The sound of my breath was no more than a ragged gasp. My eyes darted desperately around the room; they seemed to be the only thing I could move. Then I saw it on the vanity: the little black body with a white stripe down its back, lying half crushed.
A mastilio spider.
I tried to speak, but my voice was no more than a whimper that escaped my lips. Tom lowered himself to the floor and held me in his lap, cradling my head tenderly as if we were lovers. He stroked my hair away from my face, tucking it gently behind my ear. I tried to raise my arms to push him away, to slap him, anything, but my arms wouldn’t move; the spider venom was like fire in my veins. I could feel it moving through my body. My heart slowed, every beat growing heavier and strained, like they knew they were numbered but trying desperately to hold on.
“Oh, Hero…” Tom sighed. “I’m going to rule the world. You could have had the honour to be at my side. You’re a foolish girl, to think the teeth of a lion are a match against the venom of a serpent.” He shook his head, which was now beginning to blur around the edges of his dark hair. “No matter, I will still have the loyalty of the Blishwicks behind me one way or another. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. I will be the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen.”
I felt cold, despite the heat of the fire and despite the warmth of his arms around me. Even despite the hot tears running down my skin. Mine, of course. Tom Riddle would never shed tears. I looked past him toward the door. It was as if my eyelids were the curtains of a stage, slowly lowering on the final act, until there was nothing but darkness and finality.
My name is Hero Blishwick.
That’s all there is.
A/N: Speech? Speech.
First of all...
THANK YOU to anyone who ever played a part in this story. Thank you Ysh, Chiara, Renee for your support, encouragement and listening skills. Thank you Jill for putting up with me for months and being one of the first to review every chapter. Thank you, reader, for making it through to the end; you inspire me. And thank you Julie for taking your time and energy to help me become a better writer and for making this story the best it can be.
Look out for the sequel - told in Finn's POV - in the next few weeks!
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