A/N: Okay, so I've missed Tom like a fat kid on a diet misses Ronald McDonald. It's probably dangerous for me to be so attached to a fictional character but hey, at least I know he's fictional...and that vampires don't actually exist. ANYWAY. Also wanted to use this note to say mega thanks to everybody who's reviewed the final chapter of Tempora Abducto so far, you've had me dancing round my flat all day long. But, back to this fic - it's in the same world as Wait for the Song to Stop and Promises, and it's set before both of those but ties in quite nicely. I hope you enjoy it, I know it certainly filled a void that I've been feeling for the last few days. =]
She approached the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom with a great deal of caution. She had been dreading this lesson ever since Professor Gildworth had announced it the previous week. The fact that Professor Gildworth was a competent teacher settled her nerves only slightly - under Lockhart's supervision, the Duelling Club had been a complete and utter disaster.
The thing that worried her most was her inevitable sparring partner. It seemed as the new girl, she always got landed with Tom. Whether this was because the other students were too scared of him, or because he was too advanced for them to keep up, she didn't know.
All she knew was that she most definitely did not want to have to duel him.
"Morning," his smirk was already there. They hadn't even set foot in the classroom, and for all he knew, Professor Gildworth might have had a last minute change of plan for their lesson. There was every chance that they would simply be referring to the text books, taking notes, or simply discussing the best course of action in a duel, rather than actually doing it.
Hermione forced a smile, though it did little to distract from the colourless hue of her face, which had grown paler by the minute since she had got out of bed that morning.
"Not feeling nervous, are you?" he asked, in a tone that was almost genuine, though the patronising edge gave him away.
"Not at all," Hermione replied primly, glancing at her watch. She pursed her lips impatiently.
"He's always late."
The classroom door opened, and a flustered Professor Gildworth appeared, red face and slightly breathless. "Come in, come in!" he gestured for them to enter, and they filed inside.
All the desks had been pushed against the classroom walls, leaving a large space in the centre.
"Just pop your bags under the desks, everyone," Professor Gildworth said, bobbing up and down on his toes at the front of the classroom.
The rest of the group were eager to get going, and for the first time Hermione could remember, she dragged her feet, trying by any means to delay the lesson and her unpleasant fate.
"I've split you into pairs, based on who I think you'll match up to ability wise," Professor Gildworth began, looking at a scroll of parchment through a pair of thin spectacles perched on the end of his nose. "Davina and Sabine, Marcus and Lilith, James and Terrence, Steven and Jill, and finally, Hermione and Tom. All right?"
It was most certainly not all right, but Hermione wasn't given a chance to argue, as everybody scattered to separate areas of the classroom, Tom giving her a gentle shove in the direction he wished for them to go.
"To warm up we're just going to do some gentle hexes to remind ourselves of the deflection techniques we learned last year. Verbal to begin with, if you please, then move on to non-verbal when you both feel you're ready."
Hermione skewed her lips to the side. She wasn't sure exactly how Professor Gildworth thought duels worked, but in her experience, Death Eaters didn't ease you in, they went straight for the kill. Unless they were like Bellatrix Lestrange and had a penchant for playing with their victims first, of course.
One glance at Tom told her that he had been ready for non-verbal spells since his third year. She was half tempted to get an early shot in, to wipe the smug smile off of his face, but Professor Gildworth was still talking, and regardless of his lack of punctuality, and the fact that she was about to duel the most evil wizard the world would ever see (the thought made her head spin) she still had uncompromising respect for the Professor, and so she would wait.
She was determined, however, to get him on the floor before the end of the lesson.
By any means necessary.
"On three, then?" Professor Gildworth asked, looking around the room, the crease of his brow giving away his concern that the entire classroom was about to be destroyed around them. "One, two - "
She sent a stunner at him, and blocked the hex he had fired at her in one swift movement.
"I did say on three," Professor Gildworth reminded them.
"He's a Slytherin, Professor," Hermione explained.
The rest of the class laughed, and even Tom chuckled, stroking his wand with his long fingers, as though he was soothing it, telling it to wait, its time would come.
"And verbal spells, remember?"
"Again, Professor, he's a Slytherin."
"Tom, play fair," Professor Gildworth said firmly, "You're Head Boy, you should be setting an example."
"She fired at exactly the same time I did," he said defensively, his eyes wide in that 'trust me, you know I'm telling the truth' way that always fooled so many people. "Perhaps she should be in Slytherin too? She's clearly too clever for Gryffindor."
"But I have a moral compass," Hermione retorted, before she could stop herself. There were a few sniggers, and Tom raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sure Tom has one too," Professor Gildworth said, before Tom even had a chance to take it further. "But if we could return to the lesson?"
"Sorry, Professor," Hermione apologised.
"On three, one, two, three."
Neither of them fired. The rest of the classroom was illuminated with flashes of colour, but the pair of them stood facing each other, wands held calmly by their sides. He was staring at her, and Hermione wondered if he was trying to read her mind. She had never learned Occlumency, despite her continual nagging at Harry to do so. Instead, she thought of one thing and one thing only.
He smirked, and a split second later he had shot a spell towards her, his lips murmuring the incantation so quietly she doubted she'd be able to hear him even if she was standing right next to him.
It was a close call. She managed to block the spell in the nick of time, then fired a stinging hex directly at his chest. It disappeared with one swift wave of his wand, and it was with an almost lazy expression on his face that he cast the next spell. Unsure of what harmful effect the jet of purple light contained, and unable to block it with her best deflection charm, Hermione dodged to the side, sending a tripping jinx at his legs. He made a mess of blocking it, and stumbled, though managed to stay on his feet.
"Wands down!" Professor Gildworth called, and Hermione grinned coyly as Tom was forced not to retaliate. He had lost the cocky, arrogant smirk, and now sported a serious look, as he turned half his attention to Professor Gildworth.
"Now, I imagine you're all suitably warmed up, so we'll step it up a notch. Nothing too nasty though ladies and gentlemen, we all want to leave here in one piece."
Hermione looked pointedly at Tom, whose stony expression fell easily into a smirk.
The first spells were cast again by the pairs around them, and Professor Gildworth wandered between them, analysing their skills. He ducked as a jinx almost hit him square in the face. It left a smoking scorch mark on the classroom wall, which the Professor fixed with a simple wave of his wand.
"Steven, you're going to have to try and block spells at some point."
Steven bit his lip and returned to his duel.
Tom and Hermione, again, were yet to start.
"What's the problem?" Professor Gildworth enquired when he reached them. "You couldn't wait to curse each other five minutes ago!"
"We're waiting for the right moment, Professor," Tom said, his eyes not leaving Hermione's. "You have to pick the moment when they let their defences drop, just a little bit. Lull them into a false sense of security..."
Hermione kept her mind free of thought. It wasn't an easy task. She had no idea what to do when the time came, but the fact that Tom had made it so obvious he was reading her mind meant that she had only a split second to make her decision.
"It's only practice, Tom. Not a matter of life and death."
Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione could see Professor Gildworth glance nervously between them.
"I'm aware Professor, but - "
He didn't finish his sentence. He was on the floor, Hermione having chosen her moment well, while he was half distracted. He shot a spell towards her, which she simply rebounded back at him, forcing him to roll out of the way, before shooting another spell towards her, and getting to his feet. She managed to deflect this one, and it ricocheted around the room, causing the other students to shriek, covering their heads with their hands, until it finally shattered a bust of Ethelred the Unready.
The shards of stone pelted towards Tom at the command of Hermione's wand, but a sharp jab of his own vanished them in mid flight.
"Enough!" Professor Gildworth shrieked. "Enough!"
Both Tom and Hermione lowered their wands calmly, looking towards the Professor for further instruction. He straightened his robes, his cheeks an even brighter shade of pink than when they had first walked into the classroom.
"Well, I can see that neither of you have any trouble when it comes to duelling. You may use this lesson to work on your essay."
Hermione didn't have much choice in the matter; her bag came flying towards her, as did Tom's to him. Professor Gildworth then chivvied them from the room, babbling about books and referencing, though none of it made much sense. He shut the door loudly behind them, and through the frosted panes of glass they saw him lean against it, as though he was relieved they were gone.
"Well done," Hermione said grumpily as she slung the strap of her bag over her shoulder and headed off down the corridor, Tom striding along beside her.
"Me? It was you that destroyed Ethelred the Unready -"
"It was your spell."
"You deflected it."
"Because it was too dark for me to block!"
"Well perhaps I wouldn't have resorted to dark magic if you hadn't played dirty."
"I didn't play dirty!"
"Tripping me when I was talking to the Professor?"
"And I suppose mind reading is perfectly acceptable!"
"What's all this noise?"
They stopped arguing immediately as Professor Dumbledore appeared in the corridor, his long auburn beard tucked into his belt, half moon spectacles sitting comfortably on his crooked nose. He waited patiently for an answer, his hands clasped together in front of him.
"Sorry, Professor," Hermione apologised. "We'll be quiet."
"Why aren't you in lessons? I believe you have Defence Against the Dark Arts now?"
"Hermione got us thrown out," Tom said smoothly. "She destroyed a bust."
Hermione's jaw dropped. "No I -"
"Tom?" Dumbledore prompted, and Hermione smirked. Dumbledore had seen straight through him, and Hermione could feel Tom bristle at her side, clearly irritated by the fact that he was unable to get anything past the Deputy Headmaster.
"Professor Gildworth is of the opinion that we don't need to learn anything else about duelling. Perhaps because there are people in our class struggling to block basic hexes, while Hermione and I are quite adept at it. He's sent us to the library to work on our essays."
Dumbledore turned to Hermione and she nodded in agreement. He seemed satisfied that Tom had told the truth.
"Well far be it from me to delay you in your studies, though I suggest next time a practical lesson is held you try not to get too competitive? I fear some of the teachers may be a little overwhelmed by your talents...particularly in such an enclosed space."
"Yes Professor," they said in unison.
"Very well then, off you trot!"
Hermione smiled, and Dumbledore returned to his classroom.
"Off you trot...honestly, does he think we're five?" Tom hissed as they continued their journey down the corridor.
"Oh stop complaining," Hermione sighed. "Let's just go to the library."
When they reached the library, it was to find an excitable huddle of seventh year girls crowded around the notice board.
"Shouldn't they be in lessons?" Hermione asked.
"Well, I know Withers has Herbology now, but I'm not sure about the others..." Tom strolled over to say something, bound by his Head Boy badge and desire to be seen as the model student by everybody in the wizarding world. After a few moments, the girls left the library, dragging their feet and glancing back at Tom desperately as he read the notice that had so intrigued them.
Hermione approached, her stomach twisting in the same way it always did when large groups of girls were getting excited. It was bound to be something unpleasant, perhaps a Valentines event, or something else sickly. Tom's ashen face told her she was on the right track, and when she reached the board, her eyes were drawn immediately to a bright purple poster.
"My thoughts exactly."
"A graduation ball? Really?"
"It's been the same for the last thousand years, what makes you think this year will be any different?"
Hermione sighed. "Well with any luck I'll be out of here before then."
Tom chuckled. "No, with your luck you'll have to drag yourself through this one, get back, and drag yourself through one in your own time."
Hermione turned away from the notice, and leant back against the wall, arms folded over her chest. She huffed, knowing he was probably right.
"Let's just get to work," he sighed, running a hand through his hair. For the first time he looked human. Tom Riddle, or Lord Voldemort, whichever your preferred, was worried about a dance.
Wishing to put it from her mind, Hermione agreed, and they raided the bookshelves, before finding an empty table where they could set up their base. A couple of sixth years eyed them nervously, and after five minutes they seemed to have completed their work, leaving as quickly and quietly as possible.
They worked in silence, which was best, if Hermione was being honest. If it was silent, they could both pretend the other didn't exist, but at the same time, she didn't feel the need to keep looking over her shoulder, because he was sitting right in front of her. She wasn't expecting him to attack her in the library, in plain view of students and staff, but she preferred to have him where she could keep an eye on him.
After a while, she looked up and saw that while his text book was open, he wasn't reading it, and his parchment was still blank. She frowned. They'd been sitting there for at least a quarter of an hour and he was yet to write a single word. He was twirling his quill in his fingers, the feather twisting easily to accommodate the movement, while his eyes stared straight ahead at Hermione, though it felt as though he was looking straight through her.
"What?" she asked.
"It's ages away, just do your essay, you're scaring me."
Normally he would have smirked at this, but it was as though he didn't even hear her.
"You're coming with me."
"To the ball."
Hermione shook her head.
He unscrewed the lid of his ink pot, dipped his quill inside and began writing.
"I'm not," Hermione told him. "I'm really not."
Tom merely looked up from his essay, held her gaze for a few seconds, smirked, then returned to work.