Chapter 16: Troubled Musings

Chapter 16: Troubled Musings

It took Minerva twenty-three minutes to find Tom. She found him three flights up from the library in the Charms corridor, swiftly sweeping the halls in a brisk pace.

Now, Minerva had never not liked Tom, but she had never liked him either. He was very smart, but she had always maintained that he was very odd, especially for a Slytherin. Secretly, if she was honest with herself, she rather fancied him. Smart, good looking, level-headed…

But there was still that air around him that made him appear untouchable and unreachable. That is, until Hermione Granger came along. This new girl was able to reach out far enough to touch Tom.

And for that, Minerva was jealous.

A part of her envied the girl, whereas another part almost pitied her. Tom Riddle did not strike her as an easy man to love and Minerva did not believe she would ever be up to the challenge. But this new girl…

Minerva had been content to sit back and watch the events unfold before her as if she were watching a play.

But now she had her own part in the play and as she skidded around the corner and collided with a warm body, Minerva was determined to do her best at her assigned role. She only hoped Hermione would be able to do the same.

A thin, pale hand came out to steady her, and Minerva McGonagall had never been so happy to see the Slytherin Head Boy.

His green eyes roved over her flushed cheeks and wide eyes, and Minerva watched as his eyes darkened and his lips thinned into a furious line. She didn’t have to say anything; he knew why she was there.

“Where?” he bit out, the single word coming out in a tight voice that spoke volumes of his anger and his control over it.

That was another thing about Tom Riddle. His perceptiveness was entirely unnerving.

“Library,” she huffed.

And without another word, he turned on his heel and made his way to the library in quick, rapid steps, Minerva having to jog to keep up with his near running pace.

While it took Minerva twenty-three minutes to find Tom, it took the two of them only five minutes to find Hermione. The scene that greeted them as they stormed into the library brought Minerva up short beside Tom.

Evan Goyle lay prone on the floor, most likely stunned early on in the fray. Orion Black was kneeling over an unconscious Devon Felton, nursing a broken arm and holding a broken wand.

But the sight that truly made Minerva’s mouth fall open in awe was that of Abraxas Malfoy and Hermione Granger. Blood was flowing from Malfoy’s broken nose and one eye was already swelled shut and turning a sickly yellow green. The eye that wasn’t swollen shut was opened wide and filled with anger and hate. He looked like one possessed.

Hermione, herself, looked nothing like the sarcastic, smart, and friendly girl Minerva had just worked with. There was a deep gash on her right shoulder and blood streamed down her arm in a sticky, wet red river. How she managed to hold her wand with the painful cut on her arm, and with the blood making her grip slick, amazed Minerva. Her hair was free of its earlier confining bun and it frizzed out around her as though electricity was shooting through her. She seemed to be favoring her left leg and when Minerva glanced down she winced. Her right ankle was clearly broken and the fact that she was standing at all had to be a miracle.

They didn’t seem to notice their presence for neither of them stopped in their duel. Abraxas managed to shout out three dark hexes, all of which Hermione either physically dodged or magically blocked, before Hermione began to fire back.

Minerva had never seen a person move with such a combination of grace and decisiveness, like she had known along which curses Malfoy was going to use and which spell she was going to counter with. In fact, Minerva could only think of one other person she had seen use magic in such a manner.

No wonder she and Tom are together, she thought as she watched the Slytherin girl confidently block a belated hex from Orion Black who had recovered Devon’s wand, wincing as another slicing hex aimed by Malfoy managed to cut across her back in the process. But she didn’t pause in her retaliating curse to Abraxas, and didn’t even flinch as she hit Black with a stunning charm.

This is a girl that has fought in a war, that has dueled with true dark wizards, Minerva watched, amazed and terrified at the sight.

He doesn’t stand a chance

She felt rather than saw Tom take out his wand and wave it silently, causing the scene before him to freeze. What a tableau they made, Malfoy looking wild and crazy and Hermione looking as though she was only barely being restrained by Tom’s spell.

Slowly, Tom walked in the middle of them, his eyes sweeping over Hermione to memorize every scrape, cut, and bruise on her form. As his eyes traveled her up and down, they darkened over every abrasion on her pale skin, the dim light of the library making them appear black and the moonlight filtering through the windows making them glitter dangerously. He turned his back to her after his perusal and faced Malfoy.

Minerva couldn’t see his expression, but she knew it had to be furious because Malfoy began to tremble before him.

He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. The dark shadows of the room seemed to gather around him, cloaking him in dark, angry waves of power that made Minerva shiver in apprehension.

“Leave us,” he commanded, his black eyes never straying from Malfoy.

Minerva did not have to be told twice. She quickly went to Hermione, throwing the girl’s arm around her shoulder and supporting her weight as she lead her out of the library and away from what was sure to be a very scary sight.

Unaware that she had been holding her breath, Minerva finally began to breathe easily once the heavy oak doors closed behind them with an ominous sense of finality.

“He’s going to kill him,” Hermione huffed as they painstakingly made their way to the Head’s dorm.

Minerva did not reply seeing as how she rather agreed with Hermione’s assessment and she could not help but notice the girl’s lack of worry over the fact.

“Should I take you to the Hospital Wing?” she asked in a grunt as they made their way up a flight of stairs.

“No, we have to keep this quiet,” she hissed painfully.

“I know a few healing charms, but I don’t know if there is much I can do about your ankle.”

Hermione was panting heavily as they rounded a corner. “No matter. Tom will fix it when he gets back. I don’t think I have the strength to do it on my own right now.”

“It was unfair of them to corner you like that, four on one,” she muttered angrily.

Hermione snorted. “A Slytherin would call it the most opportune moment, but I find myself agreeing with you. It was unfair.”

Minerva caught her as she started wavering on her feet. “Not that it mattered. You certainly handled the situation well.”

A smirk drifted across Hermione’s face. “I’m used to defending myself.”

“Clearly,” Minerva stated dryly. “They didn’t stand a chance, did they?”

“All it takes is one spell, Minerva. One lucky hit and I would have been dead. It was good that you showed up with Tom when you did. I might be able to handle four on one, but it is certainly tiring.”

A picture of Tom’s eyes flitted across her mind. “I’m not so sure getting him was a good idea,” she murmured.

“Not for them, anyway,” Hermione agreed.

Minerva glanced at her, but quickly looked away. “What do you think he’s going to do with them?”

Hermione’s mouth thinned. “I don’t think you want to know, Minerva.”

She gulped. “Right then. But, do you think I should get a professor, or something- just in case?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, it would only make matters worse.”

Minerva bit her lip, torn between her duty as Head Girl and her desire to see Malfoy and his friends disciplined for such a dirty, cowardly attack. She wanted to see them punished, but by Tom or the Headmaster?

She knew, though, that if she went to the teachers that there may be a possibility of them escaping justice. Slytherins were very slippery that way. But with Tom…

Tom would make sure they got what they deserved.

Could justice be found outside the system, Minerva wondered. Would it really be better to leave them to Tom, who would surely make sure they paid?

Hermione groaned in pain having bumped her ankle.

Yes, Minerva thought grimly with no pity, let Tom have them.

They came to a stop in front of the portrait of Helga Hufflepuff.

“Oh my dear! What happened?” she trilled, her kind eyes crinkled with worry.

“An accident,” Minerva claimed. “Carpe diem.”

Helga swung open and Minerva set a heavily panting Hermione on the couch, immediately setting to work on the gash on her back and shoulder. Time seemed to drip by like molasses on a stick, neither girl saying anything except for the occasional healing charm. It took Minerva far longer than she expected to heal Hermione. After healing one cut, she’d find another, and after that one, she’d find a bruise. Nearly an hour went by before Minerva set her wand down and declared Hermione healed.

Well, Minerva thought as she swept a critical eye over the girl, healed to the best of her ability.

Hermione laid back into the couch, her ankle propped up on the foot table and pillows. She was clean now, no sign of the blood that had stained her clothing and skin, and all of her minor scrapes were healed. The gash on her shoulder had been the trickiest to fix up, but after a combination of no less than three healing spells, the cut had stopped bleeding. It wasn’t healed completely. There was still an angry red line and the skin around it was raw and pink, but it was a great sight better than before.

“Thank you,” Hermione sighed, her head falling back on the sofa and her eyes rolling shut as she finally relaxed.

Silence stretched between them as Minerva stared into the fire merrily crackling before her. She didn’t like to think about how many charms it had taken to put Hermione back together. She had been working on her for almost an hour and the time and energy she had exerted meant that Hermione was not the only tired one in the room.

So they sat in silence, Hermione almost dozing off and Minerva staring into the flames.

That was how Tom found them. At the sound of the portrait hole swinging open, Minerva turned to see him walk into the room, staring at the odd picture they made. His eyes swept over her dismissively and went straight to Hermione. She watched as his eyes, still dark and filled with anger, studied Hermione’s sleeping form. He noted each healed cut and bruise and nodded slightly to himself as though satisfied with their progress.

He turned back to her. “You’ve done well,” he murmured in approval.

Minerva licked her lips, unaccountably nervous. “Her ankle still needs work, and I couldn’t get the cut to heal completely on her shoulder.”

He nodded again distractedly. “I can heal it.”

“I didn’t know healing was your specialty,” Minerva snapped without thinking.

His eyes narrowed on her and Minerva blushed. Tom opened his mouth to retort, but Hermione spoke first.

“Be nice, Thomas,” she snapped weakly, not even opening her eyes.

Thomas, Minerva frowned. She didn’t think she’d ever heard anyone call him Thomas before.

Anxiously, Minerva observed Tom to see if he was going to be upset, but his expression was devoid of all emotion. It was scary, really.

“And stop scaring her,” Hermione lifted her head up from the couch and fixed Tom with a stern glare.

Other than a casual lift of his right eyebrow, he gave no response to her. His lack of a scathing retort, however, spoke loudly of his affections. No one ever spoke back to Tom Riddle. They followed and obeyed, but never ordered him about, not in the manner Hermione was.

It was strange, watching the dynamic between the two strangest Slytherins. They weren’t even speaking, just staring at each other, communicating with their eyes, but Minerva was clearly the outsider.

She was tired of Slytherin intrigue. She had used most of her magical strength healing Hermione, and Minerva found that she didn’t have the will or desire to analyze every word and every glance shared with them.

Her soft, warm bed was calling her name like a siren from the sea. With a huff, Minerva hauled herself to her feet, causing the staring contest with Tom and Hermione to break.

“I’m going to sleep,” she announced.

Tom inclined his head as if he was granting her his permission.

“Thank you, Minerva, for your help,” was Hermione’s response, which was considerably warmer than Tom’s curt nod.

She smiled distractedly and made to move passed Tom, but his cold fingers shot out at her, wrapping around her wrist and squeezing tightly in warning. “Minerva,” he rumbled voice low and deadly. “You will not speak of tonight to anyone.”

It was not a request, but a command.

Gulping, Minerva nodded her agreement, angry at Tom for daring to order her about, but even more upset with herself for her compliance. She went into her chambers, quickly and efficiently readying herself for bed. She went through her routine mechanically, her mind far away from the task of changing into her nightclothes and brushing out her hair.

When she crawled into her bed, her body sighed in comfort and her eyes drooped. Her mind, though, refused to accept the dark comfort of a dreamless sleep, and instead replayed the night’s escapades over and over again.

It was a long time before sleep claimed Minerva, and when she went down to the Gryffindor table for breakfast the next morning and heard the Headmaster’s announcement, she knew she’d be in for an even longer day.

She thought that she should have been surprised when Headmaster Dippet stood to announce that Abraxas Malfoy was suffering from a mysterious curse that required serious medical attention more advanced than what Hogwarts’s infirmary could offer. She should have been concerned when he claimed that he would be roomed at St. Mungo’s for an indefinite stay until the mediwizards could find a counter-curse.

But when Albus Dumbledore fixed his blue eyes unerringly on her, Minerva could only look away at the Slytherin table, ashamed. Her Head of House seemed to follow her gaze and he, too, stared at the Slytherin table, his eyes connecting with Hermione Granger’s.

They looked at each other a long moment before Hermione looked away, her honey brown eyes settling on Minerva herself. She smiled half-heartedly, but Minerva could tell she was troubled. There was a dark cloud hovering in her sad eyes, and when she looked away to glance at Tom, Minerva unconsciously shivered.

Tom Riddle’s expression looked like it was carved out of marble, cold and unfeeling. When he looked at her, Minerva had the terrible sensation that he was looking inside her, his mind probing and prodding hers as though he was weighing her worth. She seemed to pass his test, though, for after a moment of his penetrating stare, his inclined his head ever so slightly in acknowledgment.

Minerva’s stomach churned in response. She didn’t know what was worse: Albus Dumbledore’s suspicion, or Tom Riddle’s approval.

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