Chapter Eleven: Tom's Tarts
Friday, September 11th, 1943
There were far too many girls in her dorm, Hermione thought as she irritably spread jam on her toast. Far, far, too many giggling, chattering girls who apparently were unaware thatthere was a war going on judging by their vapid conversations. She hadn't even known that the dormitories could become so large; Hogwarts, a History had never mentioned the magically expanding rooms. There had to be at least twenty girls in her year alone in Gryffindor Tower. It made for an extremely crowded common room at night, that was for sure.
Last night she had escaped the vast herd along with Marion Hinsley, by going to her refuge, the library. The other girls had groaned, proclaiming that there were now two of them, and had proceeded to tease them mercilessly.
"At least someone takes their academics seriously around here," Marion had sniffed, effectively ending the conversation.
There was something about the statuesque brunette, something in the stern lines of her face, that reminded Hermione of someone, and it was driving her batty that she could not figure out whom. No matter, it would come to her.
She didn't particularly like Marion; although she couldn't tell exactly what it was about her cold, no-nonsense manner that was off-putting. Perhaps it was because of the unnamed person she reminded Hermione of, or perhaps it was the unnaturalness of such reserved behavior in one so young. Either way, Marion set her on edge. And the feeling of unease was more than reciprocated, which Hermione had learned last night, most to her displeasure.
"You're staring," Marion informed Hermione in a low tone.
"What?" Hermione looked up from her Transfiguration textbook.
"You keep staring at Tom Riddle," Marion said, her eyebrow raised.
Against her will, Hermione's gaze rested on the boy in question, the only other person in the library, who was sitting alone at a table fifty feet away, surrounded by stacks of books, scribbling notes furiously.
"I am not," Hermione snapped, annoyed.
"Oh, you're good at hiding it, I'll give you that, but you keep sneaking looks at him when you think I'm not paying attention. I wouldn't have thought you were one of Tom's Tarts."
"Tom's Tarts?" Hermione echoed incredulously. (It had undoubtedly been capitalized.)
"It's what we call his little groupies," Marion said contemptuously. "They follow him around, sometimes, and they giggle and blush if he even so much as looks their way. The bolder one's flirt with him, of course, but Tom is completely oblivious to it," Marion was gazing at Riddle in contemplation. "They even have a club, although they think the rest of us don't know about it," her gaze switched back to Hermione. "Thinking about joining?"
"Of course not," Hermione said coolly, having regained her composure. "But you seem to know a lot about it. Perhaps you should consider becoming a member. That is, if you aren't one already."
Marion hadn't so much as blinked at the insult.
"There's something about you," she said consideringly, eyeing Hermione, "something wrong. You might have managed to fool everybody else, but not me. And I'll find out what it is."
Hermione glowered at her toast, before crunching a massive bite out of it. After she had sniped back at Marion, the two of them had worked in an icy silence for the rest of the night. She was infuriated that her sanctuary, the library, had been infringed upon like that. Well, she wouldn't let that stuck-up ice-princess drive her away! Just let her try. Hermione could blow her to pieces if she wanted to.
She picked up her goblet of orange juice and took a swig as a pretense, instead glaring at Marion out of the corner of her eye. She was sitting farther down the table, next to Moody and Marlene. It was too bad the only group that had been very friendly with her thus far included Marion as a key member. Now the friends she had been on the verge of making were all gone. Presumably, Marion had already poisoned them all against her. She had been sorely tempted to sit over at Ravenclaw next to Igneus Malfoy this morning, when he had waved at her. Instead, she had sat next to Wyatt Corsington, the boisterous Gryffindor from Potions.
"I can't imagine what that poor toast did to deserve that look," Wyatt said teasingly, breaking into her thoughts.
Hermione was saved from replying when the morning owl post arrived, swooping and hooting to their respective targets. She didn't even glance up; no one would be sending her post, so why bother?
"Hello, what's this?" Wyatt said, surprised as murmurs of noise started rising in pockets at the tables.
Hermione craned her neck, observing that the kerfluffle was coming from the groups whom had at least one member clutching a copy of the Daily Prophet. An owl flew in, dropping a copy of the newspaper at the boy to her diagonal, a Seventh year boy with messy hair who had introduced himself as Richard Potter.
"Oi! Potter! What is it?" Wyatt questioned, as Richard turned a ghastly white.
He didn't answer, his gaze transfixed on the front page, his mouth open in horror.
A loud commotion broke out at the Hufflepuff table and a girl clutching a copy of the Prophet, sobbing, ran out of the hall, her friends hot on her heels.
"Potter? Helloooo?" Wyatt snapped impatiently. When not receiving a reply, he snatched the paper right out of Richard Potter's slackening grasp.
Hermione leaned over Wyatt's shoulder, as he smoothed out the front page.
MISSING FAMILIES FOUND DEAD
DARK LORD GRINDELWALD SUSPECTED
Last night, hearing a disturbance on her front porch, Ms. Glynn Thompson of Number 8, Clavert Lane, went out to investigate. There, she made a gruesome discovery; the dead and mutilated bodies of three missing wizard families. The Hectors: William, 40, Elvira, 39, and their two children Smythwick, 8, and Rosengard, 10; The Lowells: Mary, 82, and Reginald, 81; and The Ferrars: Beverly, 65, her son and daughter-in-law Jim, 43, and Constance, 43, and their children Winifred, 3, Lester, 6, and Sarah, 10. The Hectors and Ferrars both have children who are safely attending Hogwarts at this time. "At first, I thought it was just Mr. Fluffernutter, knocking over his cream bowl," Ms. Thompson stated, "but then I heard a lot of thumps that one little cat can't make by its lonesome."
The families had been missing since
Hermione looked away in horror from the article. She just couldn't get away from it, could she?
She looked over at the Slytherin table, at Riddle. He was reading the Daily Prophet as well, his dark eyebrows furrowed, his mouth drooping in a frown.
Hermione glowered, gripping her fork tightly. The nerve of him, to look sad. Hypocrite! He should just stand up on the table and do a little dance, like he really wants to do, the lying sack of-
Almost as if Riddle could feel her heated gaze, he looked up at Hermione. Immediately, she dropped her eyes to her breakfast, only partially listening to the murmurs of conversation around her.
Second Floor Corridor
Hermione wandered aimlessly around the second floor corridor, pretending to be lost, as she gazed at her schedule. Ancient Runes was next, and it would look incredibly suspicious if she knew where everything was her first week at a new school. The rest of her Gryffindor 6th year mates were still at lunch, (the ones she recognized out of the herd, anyway) and she wasn't sure if any of them took Ancient Runes in the first place. It had never been a popular choice of electives, and if her previous experience with the course was any indication, all four houses would be stuck in one class together. This meant a chance for Riddle to have Ancient Runes with her. She had not had a glimpse of Riddle since Tuesday, apart from at mealtimes.
A curious battle was taking place in the pit of her stomach; the Red Army was advancing, flags waving, teeth bared and weapons aimed, ready to take down Riddle. The Red Army was desperately praying for Riddle to be in the class; their motto was "know thy enemy." The Yellow Army, who was currently huddled in a muddy, dug-out pit, hiding from the crazed Red Army, was fervently hoping for Riddle to be somewhere, anywhere elsewhere. Their motto was "don't get killed trying to tangle with the Dark Lord, moron!" Hermione told both armies to shove it, and do something useful, for a change.
Just as she was in the middle of arguing with herself and her metaphorical contradictory feelings, she smashed into a squishy body, and went down, hard.
"Oof," she moaned awkwardly from the stone floor, her skirt riding up alarmingly.
"Oh! Oh my!" a feminine voice said above her. A tiny redhead was standing over Hermione, a delicate hand clasped over her mouth in horror. Riddle was standing next to the redhead, looking concerned.
Oh, of course, Hermione thought nastily. Typical.
"Are you all right, miss?" the red-headed munchkin gasped. "I can't believe how clumsy I can be," she babbled, bending down to gather up Hermione's scattered pile of books.
Tom Riddle held out his hand to Hermione.
Hermione hesitated only the briefest of seconds before clasping the pale, long fingers, and standing to her feet none too smoothly, tugging on the hem of her skirt.
Riddle held on to her hand for a few moments longer before letting go. Oddly, it wasn't slimy, cold, or covered in scales. She was withholding judgment on whether it was poisonous.
"Thanks," Hermione said to the two Slytherins. "It really wasn't your fault, I wasn't watching where I was going," she added to the girl.
"A kindred spirit, Belinda," Riddle said, his eyes dancing, a smile playing around the edge of his mouth.
"Oh, hush, you," Belinda huffed, and slapped Riddle on the shoulder. She handed Hermione her books. "Tom always says I am the biggest day dreamer," she said to Hermione confidingly, "but he's worse than anyone I have ever met! You can barely get his head out of a book."
"Guilty as charged," Riddle said, slightly smiling. "Belinda, I don't believe you've met Miss Granger, have you? This is Hermione Granger," he nodded at her, "and Hermione, this is Belinda Harper."
The girls shook hands, exchanging the typical "nice to meet yous," and "oh no, the pleasure is all mine."
"Tom!" A voice jovially boomed from behind Hermione. She spun around in alarm, and encountered the grinning, pointy face of Igneus Malfoy. "You scoundrel, you! First you break my heart by stealing the lovely Belinda from me, and now, NOW, when I have finally licked my wounds, gathered my courage, and found the light of my life, you take her as well! For shame!" he said, shaking his head in disgust.
Igneus grasped Hermione's hand, and held it to his breast, as he kneeled at her feet. "And you, the lovely Miss Hermione, I had hoped you would see my charm, and not succumb to the tempting wiles of Mr. Riddle, like every girl before you. But, no! You have crushed my delicate heart underneath your cruel, unfeeling feet. Did you hear it crunch?" Igneus demanded of Belinda and Tom, the former who was shaking with suppressed laughter. "I do believe I heard a crunch! Like the breaking of a piece of toffee into two pieces! Like—"
"Alright, Igneus, alright," Tom broke in, half-amused, half- exasperated. "I certainly have not stolen the heart of Miss Granger, nor have I stolen Belinda's heart. There is no need for such theatrics."
"Do you hear him?" Igneus moaned, leaping to his feet. "Do you hear the fiend? Making light of our love, my darling! Tainting it with his sarcasm, with his ill-disguised pity!"
"My love for you remains the same, Igneus," Hermione responded, "non-existent, and completely terrified."
Tom laughed, loud and hard, and with a look of surprise at his own laughter. Belinda was giggling helplessly, turning a reddish purple.
Igneus drew back from her in melodramatic horror. "Tom, I think you have met your match!" he gasped, his eyebrows raised, "the girl is unmovable! She is stubborn, and pig-headed, and all things Gryffindor!"
"Perhaps I have," Tom said, his eyebrow cocked at an angle, his expression unreadable.
Before anyone could respond the bell rang for the first class of the day.
"Oh, there's the bell, and I don't know where the Ancient Runes classroom is!" Hermione said, only half putting on her distress. Riddle was thoroughly unnerving her. He could have at least had the decency to cackle evilly or something, for goodness sake.
"That's where we're going, Hermione," Belinda said, "we'll show you the way."
"I suppose I will go back to my room, draw my curtains, and lay in a ball of misery at this cruel, vicious rejection," Igneus uttered sadly. With that, and a ridiculous puppy dog face he shot at Hermione, he marched in the opposite direction, as the three sixth years stared at his back.
"Is he ever… serious?" Hermione asked.
"No," Belinda and Tom chorused.
"Well….," Belinda said thoughtfully, as they began walking to class, "he doesn't like bullies. If he sees bullying, he can get scary."
"That's true," Tom nodded, as they passed a chattering group of second years and the Fat Friar.
"And he's really rather serious about his studies, underneath it all," Belinda added, as the trio ducked a cackling Peeves, and continued up a spiraling staircase. "Ah, here we are," she added cheerfully.
The three of them entered the room, which had only five or so students in it at the time, and a much younger Professor Efferguard sitting behind her desk.
Riddle and Belinda strode straight to the front middle table and sat down together. Hermione hesitated, uncertain. Marion Hinsley was pointedly ignoring her from the left of the classroom and she didn't recognize anyone else in there. She was about to sit at an empty table, when Belinda turned around, perplexed.
"Hermione, over here!" she called, waving her over.
Hermione gratefully sank into the seat next to Belinda, placing her heavy book bag on the floor.
Six or so more people entered the room, including one of the Malfoy twins, before the bell rang. Professor Efferguard was beginning to stand up when the door banged open, emitting a flustered girl, with long, stringy blonde hair, who sped into the classroom and heavily sat next to Hermione.
"Sorry I'm late, Professor," she said breathlessly.
"Quite alright, Miss Meadows," Professor Efferguard said cheerfully. "It is, after all, the first week. Just try not to make it a habit."
As the Professor began her lecture, Hermione's mind uncharacteristically wandered. Meadows? Dorcas Meadows? Why was that name familiar? Something to do with… Hermione frowned in thought. That was it! The Order, Dorcas Meadows had been in the Order. And Voldemort had killed her personally, Harry had told her. She shuddered. Sitting at the table with a dead-girl-walking and the person who murdered her, while being taught by a Professor whose death she had witnessed in Diagon Alley with her own eyes! It was enough to give anyone the willies.
Hermione rubbed the goosebumps on her bare legs, and Belinda gave her an odd look.
"Cold?" she whispered out of the side of her mouth.
When Efferguard turned around to write a sequence of runes on the board, Belinda nudged Riddle and muttered something to him. Both of them looked at Hermione, and Riddle nodded, and took off his robe. Hermione, who had been paying attention to Efferguard, gave a start when Belinda tapped her on the arm.
"Here," she whispered, handing her a robe.
Hermione looked at the girl in surprise and did a double take when she realized just who had given her their clothing. Hastily, she attempted to shove the offending garment back at Riddle, while the two Slytherins shook their heads and shoved back in her direction. Professor Efferguard turned around and Hermione was forced to keep the robe. She gingerly placed it on her shivering legs, hoping she didn't look as revolted as she felt. That's it. If Riddle was poisonous, she had certainly caught it by now.
"As I started to tell you on Monday," Professor Efferguard said, "I want you all working on a project in groups. Each group of four will be creating a new runic language, alphabet, grammar, and all. Then, you will each receive a copy of the other groups' new runic language and will have to translate a series of clues leading to your final destination. First group to your destination is guaranteed an O on the assignment, 25 house points apiece, and a small prize from myself."
The class looked at each other excitedly. Hermione herself was on the edge of her seat. She had almost forgotten how much she loved Professor Efferguard.
"I will be splitting you into groups, so I will try to make it fairly matched. I want one of each house in each group, if at all possible."
The Professor rummaged through a drawer and picked out a scroll. She unrolled it, clearing her throat.
"Miss Hinsley, Miss Pinesap, Mr. Gordon and Mr. Malfoy are group one. Group two is Miss Higgs, Mr. Clay, Miss Baker and Miss Jonesville."
Assorted mumblings greeted each new name in the groups, as did gleeful smiles and deadly, mutinous looks. The Malfoy twin was sneering spectacularly. Probably pissy about having to work with the other houses, Hermione thought. She had her own problems to worry about; a growing, horrible suspicion was building in her gut.
"Alright, settle down," Professor Efferguard said sternly, "there's no use complaining, I won't be changing the groups. Ahem. Group three is Miss Harper, Mr. Edgars and Mr. Hodgepodge. The last group is Mr. Riddle, Miss Meadows and Mr. Miller. Now, Miss Granger," the Professor peered over her spectacles at her, "I wasn't sure which group to place you in, but Mr. Riddle is the best student in Ancient Runes, and I figured he could help you catch up. You will be in group four."
Typical. Bloody typical. Sure Riddle would help her. Right off a cliff he would help her.