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A/N: I'm baaack! How've you all been? Hope you've had a good Christmans/Hannukah/New Year/blood sacrifice, thing. Tell you what, it sure is nice to see (figuratively) you all again. Enjoy!

There is a ridiculous amount of ferret-boy here.


Pretending To Live

Chapter 12: All Better

'...although to date no treatment has been discovered due to the limited number of sufferers. This inevitably leads to the patient's death.'

I stared disbelievingly at the yellowed parchment.

"No," I muttered, pressing my hands against the page as if to reach in and drag out more information from its unwilling surface. "No, come on, that can't be it!"

I threw the book away from me; it hit the bookcase across with a crash, landing on the floor with a noisy bang.

"That can't be it!" I shouted, breaking the dark stillness of the library. I buried my head in my hands trying to breathe past the lump in my throat as I battled with the part of me that wanted to shred every book in the goddamn library and burn it to hell.

I thought I had found my saving grace, my life buoy: some hope that people had gone through what I was experiencing and that it they'd been treated. But I hadn't expected to find out that they were only a face minority in the history of Time—that the numbers were so inconsequential, so insignificant that no one had even bothered to find a cure.

It wasn't a buoy I'd found; it was only a detailed and comprehensive guide to my death.

My eyes began to sting and I rubbed at them furiously. I wasn't going to die. I wasn't. I could get through this—

...no treatment has been discovered...

I could, I know I could—

...due to the limited number of sufferers...

Numbers don't matter, none of them were me. And I. Can. Do. Thi—

...inevitably leads to the patient's death.

Somewhere else in the library something gave a thud but I found I couldn't find it in myself to care. Not even for the quick, light footsteps that drew steadily closer, not for the whispered mutter of 'Lumos', not for the sudden ray of white light that fell across my slumped form. I felt numb.

"Ari?"

I looked up, squinting against the light; the person mumbled 'Nox' and suddenly Draco Malfoy was standing over me.

"Hey," I said. He didn't respond and we just stayed like that, not speaking. His silver eyes surveyed the wreck around me.

"What are you doing, Ari?" he said slowly.

I shrugged and held out an arm. Begrudgingly, he pulled me upright. I dusted myself off.

"You're bleeding," Draco said and I touched a hand up to my head, feeling the tender spot where it had been hit by the book. Sure enough, my fingers came away wet. It must have been the corner that got me. "What were you doing, throwing a tantrum...?"

I bent down and picked up Magical Maladies & Their Symptoms, tucking it under my arm. Draco took it off me and read the title; his cold eyes widened and darted to my face. "You're ill?"

"Take me back to the common room?" Draco frowned, but complied. As we exited the library, he threw something soft and light around us; Harry's Invisibility Cloak. Draco must have broken into the Slytherin dorms again.

He gave the password to the snoozing Fat Lady who snorted in her sleep and swung forward. Removing the Cloak off us once we were inside, he pointed to the nearest couch by the fireplace.

"Sit," he commanded. "I'll be back."

I did as he said, sitting cross legged on the lush red velvet couch. I stared into the dying embers of the fire, my mind blissfully blank. Something cold pressed into my head then and I gave an exclamation of pain.

"Ice," Draco said, giving the object to me. It was a mug filled with water frozen solid. "Keep that on your head—I mean it, Ari."

He took a seat on the coffee table in front of me, crossing one leg over the other and folding his arms. He set a bowl filled with water beside him and tossed a cloth the size of a handkerchief into it before turning back towards me. We stared at each other, the silence only broken by the occasional sputters of the smothered fire in the grate.

"Tell me."

"Page 457," I answered and taken aback, he did as I asked and began to leaf through Magical Maladies & Their Symptoms ,which he had brought with him. He found the page and read through it, while I studied the patterns woven into the carpet. When he finally looked up, his face was very pale.

"This—" he looked at the book again, "—corpus defessum, you...have it...?"

"Apparently," I said.

"But how do you...?"

"I know. I just do." And suddenly I found myself telling him everything; about my headaches, about the future-Riddle in the Forest, about the conversation I'd overheard with Sir Constantine, how the effort I'd put into taking all of the genealogy books had been in vain, the fear I had felt ever since the day at Gladrags Wizardwear. Everything came pouring out as if I had been storing it up, and when I was done I felt better, as though some of the weight had been taken off my chest.

"Ari, you idiot," Draco said, "What do you think you're doing, trying to hide all of this? Have you lost your mind?"

"If there was a chance..." I muttered, "...that maybe I was imagining all of it? That it wasn't real...I'd cling to that for as long as I could." Please understand. It wasn't pride, or selflessness. It was fear.

"What made you change your mind?"

"Riddle saw it." I answered. "Draco—"

"Be quiet, I'm trying to think." He began to wring the cloth in the bowl with careful hands and then to my surprise, put it against my head, expertly wiping away the small flecks of blood in my hair and on my face. His face looked drawn and pinched, and deep in thought. This struck a chord in me; I had never thought he would care. Or that he was even capable of doing anything other than smirking or sneering down his pointed nose.

"Can I ask you something?" I said; his eyes flickered to me.

"What?"

"Why were you at the Order of the Phoenix's Headquarters when I arrived in 1997?" He gave a jolt, visibly startled and his mouth curled into a sneer.

"Did Weasley tell you what horrible people my mummy and daddy were?" he said scathingly. "Did he tell you what a rotten person I was? That I deserved to be in Azkaban?"

"No."

He blinked and with a frown turned away, wringing the rag he held in his hands into the bowl. "Why do you want to know anyway?"

I simply looked at him. He sighed.

"My father's a Death Eater," he said dully. "Our family has served the Dark Lord for generations and no one has ever expected any less. Late last year my father was arrested and sent to Azkaban. The Dark Lord...he didn't like this, my father's...failure. He invited me to take his place and..." here he gave a snort, "redeem the Malfoy name.

"Naturally, I accepted. And then I received my assignment..." He glanced over to see me watching him wide eyed. "Don't ask, Ari. I won't tell what it was."

I didn't want to tell him that I already knew. "Go on, then."

"I was in Diagon Alley, looking for..." He glanced at me again, "...materials. I'd told my mother I was shopping for school supplies so she wouldn't worry and then...I met Dumbledore."

"Dumbledore?"

He nodded. "Outside Borgin & Burkes. I honestly had no idea why he started speaking to me—we've never done so at school, and he isn't exactly welcomed on our family's doorstep." Draco paused. "He knew. What I was going to do...and he offered me a way out. A chance to redeem my family, he said. He told me that if I accepted, my mother and I would enter the protection of the Order. It was...tempting."

"Did you accept, then?"

"No. Not at first."

"What made you do it?" I asked.

"He said something," Draco recalled, a crease forming between his brows. "Something that...I don't know. Familiar, but not. Maybe from a dream. Something that...when I heard it, I couldn't refuse."

"What was it?"

His cold grey eyes met mine. " 'It's never too late'."

A short silence fell between us.

"You're good at this." I said, as he wrung the cloth again and then Vanished it with an expert flick of his wand.

Draco snorted. "I should be. There are other spells beside the Cruciatus Curse that can cause pain, you do realize."

A sober silence fell across us; my mouth felt very dry and my eyes were stinging again.

"I don't want to die, Draco," I whispered. He glanced up sharply.

"You won't. Don't be ridiculous."

I didn't know what I wanted to do more—smile or cry. How our relationship had changed! Could it really be that only a few weeks ago I wanted to rip out his throat in annoyance? And now…he was comforting me. Telling me lies about my inevitable death.

I knew now that I could never, ever do anything in my life to deserve to know someone like Draco Malfoy.

"Draco?" He looked up. "This is…really nice of you."

He looked back down, but I could tell that his cheeks had pinked slightly. "Don't mention it," he said gruffly. I chuckled.

"No, really. Don't."


The next few days were hell.

On one hand, my headache had completely disappeared. I wasn't pulling a Harry Potter and collapsing/fainting around the place any more, which was a definite plus.

On the other hand, as if to keep everything balanced, my nausea had worsened. It became a routine ritual to leave immediately after class to the nearest bathroom and re acquaint myself with my previous meal. After one such episode, I was lying against the cubicle door, when I heard someone knock behind me.

"Ari?" Draco called out softly. "Are you in here?"

I made a sort of muffled grunt in reply and he seemed to take this as an affirmative. "I've got something for you..."

Making an effort, I stood up and unlocked the door; I saw Draco standing there with a familiar looking bottle in one hand.

"It's that tonic you mentioned one time," he explained, looking awkward. "I don't know if it'll help, but at least—"

The rest of his sentence was cut off when I threw my arms around him, nearly making him drop the bottle in surprise. He staggered backwards under my weight.

"Thanks," I muttered. The tonic he brought wouldn't help at all, I knew, but... he'd been doing his best to help me search for a cure for my disease ever since the night in the common room, even staying up nights to help me research. His concern was touching. "For everything."

Draco carefully put his hands on my waist and set me straight. "You're being melodramatic. It's not like you're dying, Ari."

"Mm," I said and this made him scowl.

"It'd be a pathetic way to die," he goaded, his mouth curling into a sneer. "Over a toilet bowl, de Lioncourt? I'd much rather snuff it in a duel or something—at least I'd still have my dignity."

"Love you, Draco," I mumbled and he flinched. I slid down to the ground again, leaning backwards into the front of the cubicle behind me. I wasn't sure why I let him know that—I hoped he wouldn't take it the wrong way.

"My God," he said amazed, "You've really lost it, haven't you?"

I chuckled weakly and stretched my hand out to him, curling my fingers up and down once. "C'mon, gimme the potion."

He passed it to me with a wary expression and I downed it in one, coughing at the slight sting it made down my throat. I leant my head back and closed my eyes. Gradually, the sharp, needling pains at the ends of my fingers and toes subsided; my stomach calmed somewhat. I opened my eyes. Draco was watching me.

"Better?" he asked.

I nodded. "Better."


"Ari?"

Lethargically, I turned around to see Harry hurrying towards me, his hair sticking up every which way as per usual.

"Hi," I greeted him.

"Hello. Where've you been?" he asked; he was speaking about our regular group 'meetings' in the Room of Requirement to discuss our progress on the Riddle agenda. "None of us have seen you in ages. Draco's been saying all sorts of things—since when does Professor Radvire give out detentions for 'sneezing too loudly'?"

"Er...I guess...he just doesn't like me."

"Ari," Harry said and unwillingly I looked up into his very clear, bright green eyes. "Are you in some sort of trouble? Is it Riddle...?"

"Why?" Alarmed, I reached out and gripped his wrist tightly. "Has he done anything? Is he angry? Has he tortured anyone?"

"No," Harry said, looking startled. "No, nothing like that."

I exhaled in relief; I had been incredibly anxious since the night Riddle and I had fought that he would take out his anger on the others...and yet it seemed strange that he was taking his embarrassing setback so well. "Oh, okay."

"Besides, it hasn't been him that's been on our minds lately...have you read the Daily Prophet recently?"

"No."

"They've been criticizing Dumbledore for not acting out against Grindelwald," he said and his eyes glittered with anger. "They're putting pressure on him to fight him in a Wizarding duel."

"What?" I said loudly that passers-by stared. "Why?"

"They're afraid," Harry said grimly. "The Ministry of this time hasn't encountered anything like this before, all the riots and raids. They want it to stop and they know that Dumbledore is the only one who can do it."

"But he can't just leave the school, can he?" I said. "He's the only one that's keeping it safe from Grindelwald's attacks in the first place! If he hadn't arrived in Hogsmeade, it would be burned to the ground by now!"

"I know, I know," Harry said. "But the Prophet doesn't seem to include those details in their articles..."

"Well that's just rid—" The word got stuck in my throat and I put a hand up to my neck. Oh, no, not now, not in front of him...

"Ari?" Harry said, looking thoroughly alarmed now.

"Bathroom," I choked out and began to sprint away in the opposite direction for the closest bathroom on the floor.

The strange feeling of something rising up in me was getting stronger—this was different from mere nausea but rather something more suffocating, and painful. It hurt to even breathe.

"Ari? Ari—wait! Let go of me, you silly girl—de Lioncourt!"

I burst through the door of the bathroom and threw myself at the sink. My whole body arched, convulsed as I hacked and spluttered, but nothing came out, save for a few drops of black liquid. When I tried to take a breath I found there was something thick and glutinous blocking my nose and my lungs.

Dizzy, I fell to my knees; my school bag fell to the floor and its contents scattered in all directions. My fingers scrabbled at the white tile as I fought to get oxygen to my starved brain but it was useless; black tendrils of shadow were creeping at the edges of my vision; red lights burst in front of my eyes and then I was going, going, gone...

I awoke to someone slapping my face, and calling my name.

"C'mon, dammit—Ari de Lioncourt!" I opened my eyes and took the full blow of the smack to my face.

"Ouch!" I sat up to face Draco, whose eyes were wide with shock. "That hurt!"

"You stupid woman," he hissed. "Why didn't you find me?"

"What happened?" I asked, appraising him. His blonde hair was in disarray falling over his face and he looked very pale. "Why are we on the floor?"

Draco pinched the bridge of his nose and took several deep breaths. There was a strange taste on my lips and my tongue darted out to get at the remnants of the odd flavour. It was bittersweet.

"Ari," he said when he had finally managed to keep his temper in check, "I found you on the bathroom floor, unconscious. You weren't breathing."

My hand flew up to my throat. "I remember that..." I whispered. "I thought that was it. How am I still here?"

Draco sat back on his heels, giving me a sharp stare. "I gave you the potion that fell out of your bag. It was only a few inches out of your reach—did you find another cure without telling me?"

Frowning, I took the small, empty vial from him and held it close, examining it. "You know, it looks like..." My eyes widened and I almost dropped the glass container. "Riddle!"

" 'It looks like Riddle?' " Draco repeated and I waved him away.

"No...I forgot to tell you..." I recounted my meeting with future-Riddle in the Forest of Hogsmeade to him and he hissed in shock. "The vial must have fallen out when I dropped my bag..."

"You were alone with him, de Lioncourt?" Draco hissed, gripping my shoulders so tightly it hurt. I winced and pushed him away.

"That's not the point, Draco!" I was panicking now and the pitch of my voice reflected that. Frantically, I scrambled to my feet and looked in the mirror. "He gave me a vial of some unknown substance—and I drank it!"

Now it was Draco's turn to look alarmed; he got up to his feet as well and stood behind me as I examined myself in the mirror.

"We have to get you to the Hospital Wing," he said in a low, urgent voice.

"Wait a moment," I said, peering closer at my reflection.

"Ari, we don't have time for this, you have no idea how quickly toxins act—"

"Wait!" I put a hand over his mouth and stepped closer to the mirror, my eyes wide with disbelief. "Draco...look..."

We both stared into the mirror and the shock registered visibly on the faces we saw there. I looked...different. The dark circles under my eyes had vanished, making me look wide awake and alert. There was color in my cheeks; even my hair seemed shinier.

"I look good," I said, amazed and Draco glanced down sharply at me. It wasn't just the appearance, as well—my head felt completely clear for the first time in what seemed like years. I tried a few practice breaths and found they went in and out of me with no obstructions, as freely and as lightly as...well, air. My hands and feet were completely still; not a single tremor ran through them. I was...fixed.

A smile spread across my face like the sun breaking through the clouds. I flexed my arms and fluttered my fingers; I wiggled my hips and stamped my feet. Finally I did a pirouette on the spot, my beam stretching from ear to ear.

"Are you just going to stand there grinning like an idiot?" Draco said irritably and I laughed. This only served to incense him; he gripped my forearms to stop my happy spinning. "Dammit Ari, are you mad? It could be poisoned!"

This sobered me slightly but not by much; after much arguing on Draco's part, I agreed to visit the Hospital Wing with him. But Madame Laroche only confirmed my hopes and aggravated Draco by announcing that there was nothing at all wrong with me.

Draco didn't speak to me as we returned to the Gryffindor Tower, which made me exasperated.

"What is your problem?" I demanded, rounding on him. "I'm fine now, aren't I?"

He gave me a look so angry I recoiled. "That's not the point, de Lioncourt! Are you really going to trust the Dark Lord so much that you'd practically eat out of his hand?"

"He saved my life, Draco," I said quietly. "Once, when he killed the Grindelwald soldier, and again, now, with the potion."

"And he tried to kill you again shortly afterwards!" Draco yelled, startling several first years who were watching us at the side.

"We're rehearsing for a play," I told them and turned back to Draco. "Okay, okay you're right. I'm sorry, I got carried away. But if it really was poison that he gave me, what are we going to do then? I already swallowed it."

"We wait," he said seriously. "If anything comes up...so help me God, I'm going to take leaf from Potter's book and shove a bezoar down your throat."

But days passed and nothing happened: I didn't drop dead in the middle of classes, foam didn't shoot out of my mouth, I didn't start convulsing at the dinner table. Draco didn't buy it; he still insisted that something bad was going to happen. He was a blond version of Professor Trelawney.

But he was right.

I massaged my aching temples gingerly as I took notes from the board with my other hand. I closed my eyes as a particularly vicious spike of pain drove through my head and my hand curled into a fist on the paper.

"What is it?" Hermione asked, not pausing as she continued to scribble furiously on her parchment. I shook my head.

It was back. Everything was returning—the loss of feeling at the ends of my fingers and toes, the headaches, the lethargy. Soon I'd be spending all of my free time in bathrooms again, just like the good old days.

The thought made me want to cry with sheer frustration.

Riddle's potion hadn't cured me, as I had thought, but rather only let the symptoms subside for a while. A very short while. And I had finished all of it when Draco had tipped the entirety of the vial's contents down my throat while I was out cold.

What was I going to do? No cure hadn't been invented for corpus defessum, no other tonic or potion that Draco and I had tried or researched had worked even remotely to the effect that Riddle's had. And then there was that dangerous idea, growing like an abhorrent plant at the back of my mind...

I bit my lip. No. I can't. I shouldn't even be thinking about it.

But I did, and the more my mind flashed to it, the more attractive it became to me. Not to mention...the more things began to make sense. How the future-Riddle had known there was something wrong with me ("How have you been feeling, Ari?"), why he had a potion that seemed tailored specifically for my disease...

Had I asked him to help me?

I put my head in my hands. I hated this—to be bound, cornered, walled in by Fate. If I asked, would it be because Fate dictated I would ask? Is it my free will? What would happen if I refused?

I will die unless I find an antidote, I reminded myself harshly. I have to do this.

But when? When could possibly be the right time to ask the Dark Lord himself to…oh.

Right.


I cocked my head to one side, looking carefully at the mirror. Then I twisted around so that I could see my back. I turned to the side and tried to stand up straight; the answering crack from my spine told me that it wasn't going to happen.

Sighing, I twirled around again; the gold fabric caught the light and shimmered. At least the dress is nice...

"For God's sake, Ari, are you finished yet?"

"In a second!" I yelled out down the stairs of the girls dormitory and returned to the mirror, chewing on my lip.

It wasn't that I was nervous about my appearance, or the fact that I haven't worn a dress since the day of my parents' funeral. Or even about Slughorn's party in general; mingling was never really my schtick.

It was the fact that I would speak to Riddle for the first time since I spat in his face and did the Wizarding equivalent of kneeing him in the crotch that worried me.

How would he react? Would he curse me? Jinx me, hex me, kill me? Or would he try to pretend as if nothing had happened?

I snorted. That'll be the day.

"Bloody Merlin, de Lioncourt—"

I stomped down the stairs and presented myself to Draco with a twirl and a flourish. "Ta-da!" I said proudly. "What do you think?"

I felt pretty good about myself; I was wearing a pretty dress, my hair wasn't too awful today. I'd even borrowed Draco's magical razor to shave my legs (not that he knew).

He folded his arms and eyed me critically for a moment. "That's your dress?"

"Yeah," I said warily. "Why, what's wrong with it?"

Draco shrugged. "Oh, nothing. But if you really wanted to advertise the fact that your blood status is lower than a sack of dung at a pureblood party, then you're doing wonderfully."

I snorted, carefully arranging the skirt that billowed out at my waist, stopping just below my knees. "What, and I'd expect they'd be wearing all their fine furs, gloves and tiaras...?"

"Yes," Draco said bluntly. "Yours is more a...housedress, than anything else."

"Well up yours," I grumbled, stomping to snatch my purse (i.e. my schoolbag that I had gotten Draco to shrink to an acceptable size for me) off one of the armchairs on the other end of the room.

"Ari..." Draco sounded disbelieving, "...whose shoes are you wearing?"

I blushed and looked down at the 3-inch heeled dark brown clogs I wore, complete with laces and buckles. "Professor Dumbledore... offered to lend me his... I didn't have any other pairs beside the ones I use for school...and I thought they looked nice..."

I peeked at Draco's face and saw that it was completely blank. "Oh."

"Uh-huh. Well, anyway, I said I'd meet Hermione at the West Tower so I'm gonna go now—" I checked the clock that hung above the Gryffindor fireplace. "Yep, definitely have to go—I'll see you later!" I shouted as I ran out of the room.

Ah, I forgot! I popped my head back in. "Love you, Draco."

"For God's sake, stop saying that!" he yelled back and I grinned to myself as I moved down the stairs that led from the Fat Lady's portrait two steps at a time.

I found Hermione at the base of the Tower, looking resplendent in cerulean dress robes. Her hair was shiny and straight.

"Oh hello, Ari," she greeted me. "You look nice. Er...lovely shoes."

I rolled my eyes. "Thanks, you too."

We walked to Slughorn's office together, chattering excitedly about the party. Despite myself, I felt eager to see my first Wizarding shindig and I told this to Hermione who kept a smug expression on her face the whole time.

"Well, I think it'll be fascinating to meet the famous witches and wizards of this time," she said, beaming. "I heard that Elladora Ketteridge will be there, she's a really famous potioneer; I've only read about her in books..."

I knocked on the door to Slughorn's office and it opened to reveal Slughorn himself, already quite red, and smelling strongly of brandy. "Ah, Miss Granger, Miss de Lioncourt! I'm glad you were able to come—enter!"

He introduced us to people who were obviously quite famous but whose names I'd never heard before—Jakob Fitzwilliam, an author of some sort, Jasper Standorf, a famous Quidditch player, and then to Hermione's absolute delight, Elladora Ketteridge.

"I've read about you!" she told the short, round faced woman with curly blonde hair. "You pioneered the way for women's rights in academic community!"

"Excuse me?" Ketteridge said, looking genuinely offended. "Whatever are you talking about? Women have no place in academics!"

I had to stifle a laugh at Hermione's blink. "But…you're a potioneer! You're famous for the countless spells you invented—"

"Household spells, dear," Ketteridge cut her off. She sniffed. "Our rightful place is behind a cauldron, everyone knows that!"

I missed Hermione's heated reply as I was distracted by the figure glad in deep green dress robes at the far end of the room. Riddle. As I watched him, he laughed and bid a goodbye to the curvy witch he had been speaking to. He looked up and over the sea of heads our eyes met: grey against brown.

Then he turned and vanished through the open doorway behind him.

"I'll catch up with you later," I muttered to Hermione, who ignored me as she continued with her politically correct rant to Ketteridge. I slipped through the crowd and into the doorway Riddle had gone through.

It opened into a long, stone corridor; I looked left and right and caught the swish of the tail of his robes down the latter. I followed and hid behind the corner.

He was staring at the view of the inky night sky through the open archway before him, his hands clasped behind his back.

Alright. Here we go. I took one deep breath to steel myself and stepped out of my hiding place. But Riddle was no longer there, to my confusion.

"Looking for anyone in particular, Miss de Lioncourt?"

I jumped and whirled around to see him leaning against the archway I had just passed, his arms cross over his chest and staring at me intently.

"I don't—" I stopped. "Yeah. Yeah, I was. I was looking for you, Riddle."

He was silent and I began to pace slowly, wringing my hands. "I know that you know there's something…not quite right with me. My…sickness. Right?"

Riddle didn't reply, merely listening to my inane chatter.

"I know you know how to cure it, Riddle. So…that's why I'm here, even I know it's completely insane, I…" I took another deep breath. "I need your help."

Just when the silence that had fallen after my words made me want to crawl out of my skin, Riddle pushed himself off the archway and

Just when the silence that had fallen after my words made me want to crawl out of my skin, Riddle pushed himself off the archway and stood in front of me, his expression curious.

"My help?" he said quietly. Throat tight, I nodded. He smiled a frightening smile. "And what would you give me in return, Ariadne?"

"In ret—" I stopped. "I don't know. I don't know."

"Then I'm afraid I can't help you, Ariadne," Riddle said, smiling broadly. He turned on his heel and left; I panicked.

"It's going to kill me, Riddle!" I blurted desperately. The blood was roaring in my ears and my throat felt so dry—I was going to be sick again, surely…

Riddle stopped and then turned around, his steely eyes meeting mine. "I know," he said simply.

And then he left.

I fell to my knees, coughing. Tears streamed down my face as my body convulsed in agony as red flew out my mouth again, spattering thickly on the floor.

I, could, not, breathe.

And then—

I was standing, dizzy and disoriented. The pain was gone. I whirled around, turning circles on the spot. I was in the same place, but it was different...daylight streamed through the glass windows; I could hear students' voices just around the corner.

What...?

I felt around; arms, elbows, fingers. Nothing important had changed. I was even still wearing the same gold dress. But where was I?

Then, someone called out my name from behind me. "Ariadne?"

I turned around and then hissed, recoiling in surprise and shock. "Riddle?"

He stood at the end of the stone corridor, a thick and heavy textbook under his arm. He looked slightly surprised to see me standing there. To me, seeing him cleared all the confusion I felt immediately—I knew this was somehow his doing and I became angry. "What did you do? What have you done? Where am I?"

Riddle gave me a scrutinizing look, his expression unreadable. "Follow me." He turned away and began to walk, his robes billowing out behind him and I stared at him in disbelief. Did he really expect me to just follow...?

"Wait!" I ran forward until I was beside him, hurrying to keep up with his long strides. "Riddle, what on earth are you—"

He stopped abruptly and pulled me close to him, moving to the side so that we were behind one of the marble pillars that adorned the sides of the walkway. It was almost an embrace: his arms were around me in and his lips were very close to my ear. I struggled to get out but he only tightened his grip, which didn't make sense until I heard the sounds of a chattering group walk past us.

"Ron, that's ridiculous, you can't just say that house elves honestly enjoy being treated the way they do—" I gave a jolt of surprise as I recognized Hermione's haughty voice as they walked by. But that's impossible, because I just left Hermione back at Slughorn's party...

My breathing hitched. I was time travelling.

"Did you use the Locket again?" I whispered and Riddle snorted quietly, adjusting our position against the wall.

"This is by your own fault, Ariadne." He paused, listening to the sounds of Hermione and Ron's retreating footsteps; he removed his arms from around me and began to move once more. I followed him.

He stopped just outside the familiar stretch of wall that led to the Room of Requirement and after a beat a handle formed on its surface. Hesitantly, I went inside after him, closing the door behind me.

The Room looked completely different than the one I used with the others from 1997; it was roughly the same size, but it was littered with long, wooden desks similar to those down in the dungeons where we had Potions. A number of strange apparatus sat on their surfaces, and in the desk closest to where I stood sat a medium sized black cauldron, which Riddle currently presided over. He glanced upwards and moved briskly towards me, stopping only inches away.

"What are you...?" My voice trailed away as he scanned my face in a manner that reminded me of the Riddle I had met in the Hogsmeade Forest. He stepped back.

"Two milligrams of hellebore, maybe three..." he muttered and turned away to pick his way through the equipment set up around him. He addressed me while examining a conical flask filled with a strange, gold liquid. "You've travelled in time, Ariadne."

"I figured that out already, funnily enough," I said, approaching the desks. "What did you do to me?"

Riddle turned to face me, giving me a cold look. "I did not do anything to you," he said shortly, turning back to his work. "It was your corpus defessum."

I started at the name; how did he...? "My...but how—"

"Your molecular makeup has been rendered unstable by your affliction, and because of your affiliation with Time, this caused you to lapse forward."

"Forward?" I repeated, amazed. "I'm in the future?"

Riddle gave a short nod and stunned, I sat down in the chair that had conveniently materialized behind me. "Then...I must have convinced you after all," I whispered and Riddle glanced at me sharply. "I didn't think that would be possible."

A short silence fell between us. Riddle was still watching me and with a Herculean effort, I pulled myself out of my thoughts. "So that potion that you're making over there...is that for me?"

Riddle nodded curtly. "It is what we have accomplished so far. It's...complicated."

That's why I need you, I thought. "How long have we been doing this?"

"A week or so," he answered, dropping something into the cauldron in front of him. Bright yellow spirals of steam issued from the pot and he waved it away with a long hand. He then proceeded to add five more unrecognizable ingredients in succession to the mixture; it hissed a shower of green sparks.

"Riddle...how did I convince you?" This made him stop working; he set his wand down on the desk and met my eyes.

"You made an offer," he said quietly. "An offer that was...very, very hard to turn down."

"What was it?"

Riddle sighed and dipped a flask into the cauldron. He picked his way out of the maze of desks and brought the glass towards me, holding it at eyelevel. After a moment, he offered it to me. "Drink this. I don't know how long its effects would last, or its potency, but I believe it should prevent any further time lapses for a while."

I took it from him. "It's the wrong color."

A crease formed between Riddle's ink-black brows. "What?"

"It's supposed to be black. Like oil, or tar," I recalled. "And viscous."

Riddle stared down at me with an impenetrable expression. "How do you know that?'

"On the day that Grindelwald attacked Hogsmeade, I met you in Forest," I recounted. "Your future self, I think. You gave me a vial of something...when I drank it, everything went away. It wasn't complete...but to me it seemed very close."

I watched as Riddle's aristocratic profile as he looked out the window at wall to his left; his hands clasped behind his back. He appeared to be deep in thought. "I see."

An uncomfortable (at least on my part) silence ensued while Riddle continued to look out the window. I shuffled my feet awkwardly and attempted to break the suffocating quiet. "So...how am I doing in the future?"

"Badly." Riddle responded, much to my shock. "I don't know how much longer you'll last."

"You...really don't mince words, do you?"

He only looked at me in reply. "Drink the potion. Slughorn will be looking for you at the party."

"How did you know I'm from that time?" I asked, peering into the contents of the flask.

His answer sounded unimpressed. "You're still wearing that ridiculous dress."

I winced and smoothed down the skirt of my dress self consciously. "Well I like it," I muttered and he gave me a pointed look. I sighed. "Alright, I'm gone." I held the flask up to my lips and paused. "Riddle, this better not kill me..."

"I assure you, it won't." A thin smile found itself on his lips. "Immediately."

My chuckle died away when I saw that his face was completely serious. I cleared my throat. "I'll see you...around, then."

Riddle turned away as I flung the potion down my throat; I gasped, doubling over as my gut twisted—

"Miss de Lioncourt?"

I whirled around, my hands still clutched to my throat as I met the confused faces of Slughorn and Hermione standing before me.

"Professor!" I croaked out. "How are you?"

He eyed me warily. I noticed that his ginger moustache was slightly speckled with sugar from his favourite crystallized pineapple. "Are you alright, dear?"

"Yeah, I'm wonderful!" I said cheerfully. I grabbed Hermione's arm and dragged her back through the doorway, into…Slughorn's empty office.

"What on earth…?" I muttered. "Where did everyone go?"

"Where did you go?" Hermione asked. "You've been gone for over an hour!"

An hour? It had felt like only fifteen minutes that I had been away. But I couldn't tell Hermione about my little detour…

"Oh yeah, well…the buffet got me," I said, shrugging. "That pecan pie, man…" Hermione didn't look deterred so hurriedly I asked her, " How was your um, talk with Ketteridge?"

It worked; Hermione gave a violent shudder. "Oh—don't even talk to me about that!"

"That bad, huh?"

"She is such a—cow! I can't believe I once idolized that delusional—" I smiled as she continued her rant as we left Slughorn's office.

What an interesting night.


"How are you feeling?" Draco asked me as I lounged in my beanbag. We were in the Room of Requirement again, and Harry, Ron and Hermione were talking quietly in the other corner.

"Better, thanks." It was true. Now that I knew that I had somehow convinced Riddle to help me had improved my mood marginally. But I still didn't know what I had said!

Why couldn't he have just told me? God!

"Ari!" Draco waved his hand in front of my face. "Have you been listening to a word I was saying?"

"No," I answered truthfully and he looked offended. "Sorry, Draco. I just have a lot on my mind right now. What is it?"

"I need my book back."

"Book…?" I murmured.

He snapped his fingers in front of my face, annoyed now. "Yes, my book, you cow! The Herbology text you borrowed from me last week?"

"Oh, right…" I reached into my bag beside me and began to rifle through it. "It's just in here-"

My sentence cut off as I stared at the book I held in my hands. It wasn't Draco's Herbology book—it was something that I, in all my panic about my illness, had so stupidly forgotten…

I leapt to my feet. "I have to go to the Library!" I yelled and darted out of the Room.

"That's got to be the most convincing impression of you I've seen yet, Hermione," Ron said behind me and I slammed the door shut, sprinting down the corridor.

This was wrong. I knew that. It went against everything, everything all of us had been working towards—against everything I fought for.

But goddammit, I was not ready to die yet.

Dumbledore's book in my hands, I pushed open the Library doors and looked around. There he was. How had I known he'd be there? I don't know.

I walked towards him; hearing my footsteps, he looked up and snapped the book in his hands shut. He frowned at me, as if I were a particularly difficult puzzle he wanted to solve.

Huffing slightly from my run, I told him, "We need to talk. Somewhere private."

He raised an eyebrow and pulled the chain of the First Locket around his neck so that its pendant hung out in the open. He held my gaze as he turned it; it flashed silver and suddenly…

Everything stopped.

I looked around. A girl that had been about to sneeze sat with her face contorted, as if she were sucking on the world's sourest lemon. A boy stood with his arms raised protectively over his head as a heavy textbook hovered above him, stopped in midair. A teacher's arms were outstretched as an ink bottled permanently teetered on the edge of a desk, about to spill.

Nothing moved, nothing breathed. Just us.

Shakily, I turned back to the boy in front of me.

"I can help you," I said, and my voice sounded as though it was coming from a great distance.

"With what, Miss de Lioncourt?" Riddle whispered in a voice that was almost a purr.

I counted the beats of silence that ticked past in my head until I forced myself to look up into Riddle's scarlet eyes.

"With your Horcruxes."

A/N: Ah, this character. I LURRVED this chapter so hard! Hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think, please! I do appreciate your reviews.