Sorry for taking so long to get this out, guys. I've been having extreme difficulty with this chapter, trying to get the tone right, and trying to figure out how I want Ginny's character to develop. Huge thanks to Daughter of the Black for beta-ing through this. But now it's out… and filled with Riddle goodness :3 Yay?
Anyways, I've set up a new blog where I'll be posting updates of how things are coming along with writing, or previews of future chapters : intricacy(dot)webs(dot)com. We'll see how well this goes :3
Please do remember to tell me what you think of the chapter – critiques are always loved! And hey, while we're at it, maybe let me know where you'd like to see this go – I could always use some inspiration xDD
Thanks for reviewing the previous chapters, guys. Means the world to me. Have a hug, and enjoy this next chapter!
We are defined by what is not
With respect to one, and what it's got
Chapter Nine: Different
The room was quiet, in the hauntingly unnatural way that photographs were – that there should be sound, but was none. Evalis sat on her bed, crouching over the worn book that she always seemed to be reading, and Ginny was sitting on the floor, leaning against the bed frame, eyes closed. She was tired, but she refused to let it get to her. She was done with being exhausted.
"I heard you weren't always like this."
Evalis glanced up briefly when Ginny spoke, only to duck down lower behind her tome.
"Is it too insensitive to ask what happened?"
When the silver-haired girl didn't respond, Ginny released a slow sigh. "I wasn't always like this, either," she finally said. "I used to be more… well, I was louder, I suppose. I don't really know what happened," Ginny shrugged. "I guess eventually, there was no one listening so I stopped talking." Jail cells were vacuums for sound. Her demonstrations and protestations were ignored. Considering the small rations she was given, Ginny had learned to conserve the limited energy she had by sitting in the dark in brooding silence.
"And after that," Ginny continued, "I never really got my voice back. I miss her, sort of. The old Ginny. She was much stronger. Much more… vivid, I guess you could call it."
Evalis' soft whisper broke Ginny's ramble, "You're not a typical Slytherin."
Ginny paused, a small smile settling over her lips. "I should hope not."
"You shouldn't… say so much about yourself," the girl's words were unevenly rushed then drawn out, as if she had words in her mouth eager to escape – but they were words she didn't want to let go. "And – and you shouldn't… shouldn't talk to me."
Ginny sat a little straighter, "Why not?"
Evalis' face whitened as her jaw clenched slightly, and she raised her book a little higher. "I'm a Mud Dreg," she said finally.
"That's not really a reason."
Evalis shook her head in contradiction.
"You shouldn't let yourself be defined by what others want," Ginny said. "You should let others see you as you define yourself."
They sat in silence for a few more minutes until Ginny collected herself and then collected her books. She had another tutoring session scheduled that she couldn't miss.
How Ginny had gotten Riddle to be her tutor was something she'd rather not think about. It went something like this – he found her, she shifted awkwardly from foot to foot, he questioned her, and she plunged in head first, bullshitting her way through. Long story short, she insulted him. They discussed her pitiful spellwork and she said that was the reason he couldn't tutor her – because she was a lost cause, and he wasn't good enough to fix a lost cause.
He had accepted the challenge, so she now had a tutor for Charms (and for Potions and for just about every other class but Transfiguration, for which she had McGonagall). It had been almost smooth, that bit of manipulation. Almost, except for the bit where Ginny certain that he saw right through her act and was mocking her inwardly.
Ginny huffed as she dropped her bag beside him on the grass, checking the clock. "Sorr – I'm early by two minutes," she said incredulously, cutting her automatic apology off short.
"I was kept waiting, and therefore you are late," Riddle responded evenly, watching her as she unpacked her books.
What irritated Ginny most was that he spoke those words without laughter's lilt – like he actually believed them. And Merlin, she couldn't stand his arrogance when he paraded around his metaphorical Council badge that apparently authorized him as the center of society. Pausing, Ginny responded dryly, "I apologize to your overinflated ego," and resumed pulling out her texts.
Riddle scowled. "It would do you well to respect someone who's helping you, Ginevra," he said lightly.
There was something about the way Riddle spoke that always caught Ginny off guard. His tone of voice was always impeccable – always sounded exactly as he wanted it to sound. But nevertheless, she still felt an undercurrent of something jagged, a thorn beneath the petals... It was a texture that constantly reminded Ginny that he was different from everyone else, a texture reminiscent of a predator playing with its food. "I apologize to you as well," she said finally, and seated herself beside Riddle.
He didn't buy her apology for a moment, Ginny could tell. His jaw tightened fractionally, however, he remained silent on the topic and said instead simply, "I thought we'd review Charms first, so – "
"Actually," Ginny interrupted hastily, "I was hoping we could go over Potions today." A short silence fell, in which Riddle pursed his lips together and regarded Ginny with a slightly cool air. "I don't – "
"I was under the impression that you were learning about phase changes in Charms. Which you were having difficulty with," Riddle cut in smoothly.
"I did – am – I am having trouble with the phase changes, but Cuttlebridge took a detour in curriculum. Now we're covering appearance changes, which I've been doing rather well in." Ginny could sense a growing irritation on Riddle's part, and despite the pride she felt for aggravating him, something in her chest shifted uneasily. She wasn't sure what he would do if she pushed him too far – and she still needed to remain in his good graces if she wanted to be able to mold him, as per her mission. Hastily, she tried to appease him with flattery. "Of course, Cuttlebridge thinks that the improvement is due solely to these tutoring sessions that we haven't had yet. When he passed me, he told me to, and I quote, 'tell Mr Riddle that he has outdone himself once again'."
It was true, that bit. Of course, at the time she had promised herself to never tell Riddle of that, partly out of fear that his ego would explode, and partly out of a grudge – that her own success had been attributed to someone else.
"And I suppose you corrected him."
"I didn't say anything."
Tom studied her for a moment – an intense moment, in which Ginny frantically tried to practice the little Occlumency she had so far managed to learn from Dumbledore, just in case – before he turned away and shook his head. "No. You have it wrong."
"What do you mean," Ginny demanded.
He waved his hand. "Your impression of Cuttlebridge – you have the pitch, but your words need to be more clipped." He paused, a corner of his lips tugging upward. On anyone else, Ginny would've said it was the beginning of a teasing smile – but this was Tom Riddle, and Tom Riddle did not smile. "Try again," he beckoned.
"I – " Ginny faltered, surprised. Was it actually a teasing smile? Was this – was this Riddle, with a sense of humor? Where had that come from? She dearly wished to know what was going through his head – what he had determined when he studied her, and why he decided to completely change his demeanor.
Clearing her throat, Ginny decided to play along and tried again. "I see much improvement, Miss Ginevra. Tell Mr Riddle that he has outdone himself once again," she quoted in a mimicry of Cuttlebridge's voice before her facial expression soured as she shook her head. "This is stupid. You just wanted to hear yourself complimented again." At Riddle's smirk, her annoyance increased and she shoved a tome at his chest. "Now, are you going to tutor me in Potions, because I didn't ask you to tutor me in the fine art of imitating Cuttlebridge."
He pushed the book aside. "I'll tutor you in Charms today, since that's what I prepared for. Since you're already adept at glamour charms, we'll increase your repertoire of spells to include something more than just beauty spells."
Infuriated at his derisive implications, Ginny started heatedly, "On the contrary – " She frowned and once again cut herself short. It would do no good to inform him that she was only decent at glamour charms because she had used them so often in disguises. Redirecting her statement, Ginny finished her thought, "On the contrary, I'm adept at some simple hexes too. Would you like me to demonstrate those on you?"
He ignored her and carried on as if he hadn't heard at all, except for the corners of his lips, which twitched – as if he was amusing himself with her antics. Pride insulted, Ginny sniffed as Riddle spoke.
"We'll start with these phase changing spells that you're having difficulty with." Conjuring up a cup and filling it with water – in a controlled manner, not at all like the jet stream Ginny tended to produce – Riddle continued, "Begin with evaporation."
The goblet exchanged hands, and Ginny tentatively lifted her wand. "Tempurator hoch," she recited.
Nothing happened, as usual. Ginny looked up at Riddle in expectation, he shook his head. "Again."
"Tempurator hoch!" Her second try was met with the same results as the previous. "Tempurator hoch!"
When she paused, Riddle motioned in the air with his hand, "Keep going."
She repeated the spell multiple times until at last, she set her wand down with a sigh. "This isn't working. Are you going to fix what's wrong with me, or just watch me suffer?" McGonagall generally gave her pointers after attempting to cast the spell the very first time.
His eyes were hard and focused as he studied her for a moment longer. "Cast a simple spell that you've no problem with."
Ginny frowned. She didn't see where he was headed with this, but she complied regardless. Pointing her wand toward the lake, Ginny summoned a rock, presenting it when it easily flew into her hand.
"Do it again, but focus this time on how you feel. Did you feel a surge of power along your wand arm, or was it completely mindless?" he asked. Though he still tended to fall into his usual habit of ferreting information without posing inquiries, Riddle was, Ginny had noticed with some small amount of pride, more natural at asking her questions now than before.
"Accio rock." She paused, considering it, pursing her lips as she searched for words. "I never really thought about it," she admitted slowly. "There's no rush of power. It feels natural, I guess. I can feel the magic, but it's very faint – I wouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't told me to focus on it."
Riddle nodded as if he'd expected such and made move as if to speak, but Ginny continued in a slightly dazed tone, "At the same time… there's a sort of comfort hanging in there. A vague sort of familiarity, like greeting an old friend whose name you've forgotten. A happy nostalgia."
For a moment, Ginny thought she saw a crease line his forehead, but his expression was so soon smoothed that she doubted she'd seen it at all. "Good," he said. "Now, cast a hex at the tree over there - to your right - and tell me how you feel."
It was different this time, when she cast the Bat-Bogey. There was the unmistakable trail of magic that left her wand arm aflame - tingling with the excited whispers of adrenaline.
"Now," Riddle instructed, "try casting the phase-change spell again."
She did. "Nothing," there was none of the warmth, however little, she felt when casting the summoning charm.
"I thought so," he fixed his gaze on her, startling Ginny with the intensity of it. "There was nothing particularly wrong with your annunciation or wand movement. The major problem is in your control of magic. When you hit the proper amount magic, it should feel natural – like how you felt when you summoned the stone. But, you have this tendency to let your magic explode forward – when you hexed the tree – or to smother the magic completely. When you tried to trim the broomstick for tryouts and ended up setting the lawn aflame, you were channeling too much energy. Fire is a common result of trying to force too much magic into a spell.
"First years generally have this problem. They've never had a wand before, and are only starting to learn to control their magic. It's also more difficult to control your magic when you're physically, emotionally, or mentally affected."
His words continued in an endless flow, washing over her and pulling at her skin with its ghostly tingles. There were so many words, with so much to say, so much about her… It was disquieting to hear Riddle dissect her so thoroughly – and still it was clear that he was withholding some information. Something in Ginny's chest shifted uneasily. Troubled, she wondered how much Riddle knew – how much of her weaknesses and strengths he had already charted out, how much of her he already deciphered.
Riddle was still speaking, "Physically speaking, when you're weakened, sometimes the body tends to hold the magic back – to conserve energy. And mentally speaking, your mind can forget magic, or at least blockade it off if it associates magic with something your mind doesn't want to remember…"
She felt like an open book, naked under his scrutiny – and it frightened her. How much more would he learn about her over the course of the year? Would he manage to unravel her before she managed to untangle his character?
She barely noticed it when Riddle finished speaking. Shoving her fears aside, Ginny tossed out a frivolous comment with a teasing smile not quite as genuine as it would have been moments before, "So," Ginny started dryly, priding herself in how strong her voice was, "you're saying I have the magical aptitude of an incompetent first year."
"No," Riddle disagreed. "You have the magical aptitude of an extremely powerful witch, if you would only let your magic flow. If you would let me train you..."
If you would let me train you… Try as she might, she couldn't push away the discomfort that murmured in the pit of her stomach. For some reason, those words slightly alarmed her with each syllable graying her mood a little more. Uneasy, Ginny shot him a scrutinizing look, lips pursed together. But why would the question be anything but innocent? She came here so that he would teach her, train her – surely he was only reestablishing their goal? But still a foreboding storm churned inside of her.
"Yes," she finally allowed, drawing the word out warily.
He wasn't perturbed by her open trepidation and shifted closer to her, angling himself to face her directly. "In which case, you'll need to be completely open and honest with me," he continued earnestly. "I need to know what you're feeling, your thoughts – I need to know, so that I can guide you."
Her breath hitched. Perhaps it was merely her post-war paranoia, but she felt a trace of something sharper behind the sincerity of his tone, something heavier, something urgent –
She stopped herself. It wasn't post-war paranoia, it was Riddle, Tom Riddle. Riddle, who could manipulate angels into dancing with devils, to pirouette in a forbidden tryst. He always had an ulterior motive. Today, looking into her mind was written on his agenda – to peek into the memories he couldn't see, the memories she wouldn't let him see.
He read the calculating look in her eyes, and she pulled her gaze away, turning her head downwards toward the grass. She didn't want him reading her so easily.
With a quiet sigh, Riddle ducked his head under to recapture her gaze and continued in a softer tone, "You're always so guarded, Ginevra. I don't know where you're from, nor will I ask – but if it has you casting hexes at anyone who approaches, if it has you so mistrustful of everything, it must be a horrible place."
His words were too sweet for Ginny's taste to. It left a somewhat bitter aftertaste, something sticky - something she wasn't quite sure she liked…
"But Hogwarts," Ridddle said, lifting himself slightly higher, "Hogwarts isn't that place. Hogwarts is beautiful, and you can relax here. The way you're living isn't a way of life, you know that. I only want to help you, train you. But to do that, I need you to lower your defenses, so I can connect with you. Understand you. I need you to let me in. Only after that can I completely recognize how to best help you."
And suddenly she placed that bitter taste – it was the taste of black ink, acidic against the muted flavor of smooth, crisp paper. Ginny shut her eyes, the churning in her stomach worsened. She didn't want to listen to his carefully crafted words.
"You're clinging onto a place you escaped. You need to let it go. Hogwarts is your new home – "
Slowly, an image flickered in from the black against her will, against her attempts to stop them. She saw Hogwarts blackened with ash, a great lake ignited, a cacophony of wails coming from every direction. She saw ghosts in the flames, shadow puppets on their pyre.
Ginny swallowed, trying to repress the thought that followed. One of those shadow puppets was Lupin.
" – and it's one of the safest places – "
Walls crashed down. Its rubble soared into her back as she tumbled forward, winded. She tried to Apparate, but a shield slammed against her magic and for one sickening moment, she couldn't breathe. She blinked, and she was being corralled into a cage, pushed by bodies slick with sweat, and spells were descending from the sky like shooting stars –
" – for you to hold onto your worries – "
- a child, only eleven years old, a first year who was caught in the open, clutching his wand, as if magic could save him – could save them all – but they needed more than magic, they needed a miracle –
" – release – "
" – follow – "
"Stop," Ginny commanded roughly.
Riddle fell silent mid-word, looking at her with a bemused expression.
She stood up, arm outstretched and trembling, pointing an accusing finger at him, "Stop." Her mind was buzzing and spinning in circles, intoxicated by the adrenaline that came with the flashes of battle. She felt her lungs collapsing in on her, and she tried to push aside all thoughts for air to breathe. Because right now she was suffocating, and she couldn't focus, and she needed to relax – calm down – stop – control herself – and breathe…
With eyes now open, the grass and the trees and the lake slowly focused, though her ears were still ringing with the echo of screams. "I can't let you into my mind," her voice shook, and the words scratched her throat as she choked them out. "I can't."
Riddle didn't respond, and for a while they engaged in a silent battle of wills, holding each other's gaze – until at long last, when the fire blazing in her ears had calmed, Ginny sighed and ran a hand through her hair, collapsing back down on the ground beside him. Inhaling deeply, she let the crisp air of autumn turning to winter soothe her before she spoke.
"You say you won't ask me about where I came from," she said.
"No," Riddle agreed quietly.
Her eyes were focused out at the horizon, where she could see edge of the Forbidden Forest. "Why not?"
For a moment he paused, mulling over how to answer. "It would be intrusive."
"Huh," Ginny said with a short, humorless laugh. "If you're curious, you should ask."
Another silence settled as he attempted to decipher her motives behind the statements. "All right," Riddle said slowly, his eyes narrowing slightly with apprehension. "Where did you come from?"
She looked down. "Someplace else," Ginny answered at long last with some difficulty, returning her eyes onto Riddle. "A place even hope itself fled. Do you understand what it's like, when you have nothing? Nothing. To have no family, or friends. To have no home. To have no ambition, aspirations, hope. No love, no desires, not even your own magic. To not even have fear. You don't even fear death, because you're already living it. And do you know why your world is like this?"
As she paused, she noticed a beautiful quality to his eyes, something enticing behind the glassy blue - something beyond the normal mask of indifference. She found it calming to watch the turbulence as something blinked from behind a curtain of dark lashes. It was strange that she had never noticed how alluring his eyes were before.
In his silence, she continued, "Because once upon a time, there was a boy who thought he had nothing. He could have reached out and found so much, but instead he barricaded himself away and dreamt of having everything he didn't – of ruling the world that he thought had granted him nothing. In his ambition, he stretched magic – and life itself – beyond its limits and tore the world apart with its power. Destroyed." She choked on the last word.
Her eyes flickered closed as she shook her head, a sad smile haunting her lips. Instinctively, she reached out to grasp his hand, her hand hovering slightly in the air when she hesitated, remembering who he was. It was a habit of hers, reaching out for a small physical contact as a simple reminder that someone was there, alongside her. That she wasn't alone. When she had been alone during those years of isolation, she had reached out to the air and imagined her family. But now, there was someone –
- but that someone was Riddle. Riddle, who she'd never feel comfortable with. Riddle, who'd she'd never seek comfort from. Who she didn't want to be comforted by.
Opening her eyes, she found him focusing on her suspended hand as it ghosted millimeters above grass. The air around her was thick, but the air in the cavity of her chest felt thicker. She couldn't. She couldn't just reach out and –
But at the same time, she wondered… What if…?
Tentatively, she bridged the void that stood between them and dusted her fingertips across the top of his hand, which tensed as they touched. His skin was cold, chilled by the frosty October air.
She felt the timbres of the surrounding atmosphere shift slightly at contact, but she pushed her awareness aside and struggled to remember what she'd been talking about. "Destroyed," she repeated finally, her voice almost fading into a whisper. "Completely consumed by one man's power. There's a reason why I fear power, you know."
Riddle was serious in his response. "But if you had power, you wouldn't need to be afraid in the first place. You could retaliate, fight back. You could defeat your threats and fears."
"No," Ginny shook her head. "You can't simply have power. Power isn't an object to claim possession over. I've seen what happens to wizards and witches who think they own power, and I've learned – a wizard doesn't control power. Power controls the wizard."
When he didn't respond, Ginny said, "If I'm to be open with you, you owe me the same favor. Honesty is a two-way street."
He frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well," Ginny said, sitting up a little straighter, "what are you thinking? Tell me."
He raised his eyebrows at first, before nodding once and said, "That you're an exceptionally different individual."
She smiled and leaned back against the tree, silent for a moment before her gaze fell back to her fingers, still grazing slightly above his. Slowly, experimentally – with the air of an infant exploring the dexterity of their hands for the first time – she flattened her palm against his, which remained absolutely rigid. Against his hand, her hand looked small.
Looking up, she found Riddle studying her with furrowed brows. She laughed slightly. "Your hands are cold," she informed him.
"Yours are no better," he retorted, retracting his hand.
"Come on," she said, standing. "It's getting chilly out. Let's go to the kitchens for some warm butterbeer."
It was nice, she mused as she watched him follow suit. This…mission… It was nice to have real goals for a change, to have something more than nothing.
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