-Time Or Manner-
It seemed that Hermione harboured no interest in what was concealed beneath that horrible animal. Taking a cue from her, Tom decided to feign disinterest himself. So the next morning when he sat down at their table in the Great Hall, he was prepared when Weasley leaned with an air of conspiracy.
"Last night was mad, wasn't it?" the red-head asked, seeming to think the episode had made them friends.
Tom set his eyes on the boy before glancing furtively at Potter, who was looking back at him. Tom turned away. "I don't think 'mad' does much justice to what happened yesterday."
Weasley seemed to find this funny. "Harry and I thought the whole thing was brilliant! We were wondering what you think is under that door."
Tom froze. It was obvious that Potter was executing a strategy to see how much he knew. He wouldn't interrogate him directly, but he would use his subordinate to casually question him. Tom looked back at Weasley, searching his eyes for a possible hint of deception. Weasley was as transparent as glass; it was possible that Potter wasn't completely informing him, which, in Tom's opinion, was a good idea. Tom had two choices: either to show interest, but offer no information, or to pretend to be curious but allow Potter to see that he had in fact a pretty good idea as to what was going on.
His pride made him want Potter to know how easily he had seen through him, but it just wouldn't be sensible to make his intentions too obvious. It was imperative that he keep everything close to his chest. So, with a pale smile, he nodded at Weasley. "I did wonder what was there, but I've been thinking about it and it seems best if we don't get involved." He refused to look at Potter with his next words. "I can imagine students who take too much interest in business much bigger than they are would attract the attention of a few suspicious onlookers."
Potter sat forward, appearing to want to catch his eye. Tom gave an inward sigh and looked at the boy. "The thing is, T-Tom. I might know what's in there. At least, I know where they once kept it and how big it is."
Tom was appalled. What did Potter want from him? Was he trying to get him interested? Could it even be possible that Potter wanted to recruit him? He stared at those green eyes for a long moment. "Okay," he heard himself breathing after a minute.
Potter nodded. He was looking at him with an expression like expectation. "It's no bigger than two inches. I was there when Dumbledore had the thing moved. It was originally in Gringotts, and someone broke into that same vault the same afternoon after the thing was brought here."
It seemed a deep and unsurprising frustration entered Tom just then. "Why are you telling me this?" he demanded.
Potter just looked surprised, but Weasley seemed seriously affronted. "Look, Harry just thought you'd be interested. You don't need to be all snotty about it," he snapped.
Tom frowned at him. "I just don't care to waste my time listening to conclusions you know very little about."
"And do you know any better?" Potter's voice was quiet, questioning, and unassuming, but this annoyed Tom a great deal.
He wanted to throw the accusation right in his face and watch him quake in the light of his discovery. He wanted Potter to know how he was on to him; that he was going to stop him at all costs, and that the fame Potter claimed so unjustly would be his. He stared irritably for a long time at Potter, ignoring Weasley's glare, just absorbing that dark gaze. As usual, that irritating feeling that he'd overlooked something returned; a feeling that if he thought hard enough and if he looked at Potter long enough, he would find a hidden truth revealed. But the boy's eyes revealed nothing, and Tom felt his theories must be correct.
"Nothing," Tom said, dragging his eyes away from the answer that was too obvious to accept. "I never said I knew anything."
By mid-October, Tom had all of The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts memorised, and he would often run through his mind certain quotes from the book. He could frequently be found in the library seated next to Hermione as he perused companion articles to the subject. Madame Pince saw him so often, and liked his quiet and respectable way of studying that there had not been much of an issue against his wanderings towards the Restricted Section where he picked up many an article from the other point of view. He browsed through books written by former Death Eaters, journals on the relation between earlier Dark wizards and Voldemort, and detailed discussions on the layout of Gringotts. He was proud enough to assume that he had evaded detection on his biased reading material until Hermione leaned over the small table one evening after dinner.
"How does Memories of Shadow: a Journal of Shady Recollection relate to chapter three?" she asked curiously looking down at his book.
Tom had a lie ready. "The Thinning Charm is said to have been used in Dark Circles, and I want to know just how. Perhaps that is something to be included in our next essay."
Hermione seemed appeased. "I don't suppose it will hurt to integrate some legend along with it. I wonder if Professor McGonagall will approve..."
"There's only one way to find out," he murmured, returning to his book.
"But Tom," Hermione pressed, reaching past him again. "Dark Objects of Value can't possibly have to do with Transfiguration. Or even Gringotts Banking: Goblin Security!"
Tom laid his quill down slowly, his back rigid as he turned carefully to look at Hermione. She stared back at him, her lips parted, and her front teeth touching her bottom lip in an expression of enthrallment. He valued her company because she was intelligent. Also, because she didn't have any friends, he could sway her opinion against anyone. Yet, in her intelligence, she saw what Neville would never see, and in her friendless state, she pushed and pushed until Tom could mercifully have ended her life by asphyxiation rather than by impalement. He decided that she needed to be distracted.
He smiled at her, warm and friendly so that his eyes slightly squinted. He had practiced this smile earlier, and he was certain it was very congenial. "Hermione…" he began slowly.
"What is it?" she replied, smiling back.
"I don't know if I should tell you. I don't want to hurt your feelings."
She leaned back from reaching across him, and settled her narrow brown gaze on him. "Get hurt? What are you talking about?"
"I thought it would be better if I told you. It's just… the others have been saying things…things I could hardly repeat. Basically, they're saying you're a know-it-all."
Her mouth fell open a little. "Wh-what do you mean?"
Empathy. He wanted his sigh to sound like empathy. "I know it sounds impossible, but I heard the other girls in our year saying so. They said you're always talking about books, reading, and things. They hate you for it."
Her expression was blank, and for a moment, Tom thought that this is what she would have looked like had she been a little less intelligent.
"Hate me? B-but why? I never-I didn't…."
He rested his arms over the table, looking at his hands. "No, you didn't do anything to them. We've both been very nice to everyone, and then they talk about us behind our backs."
She seemed to be thinking about this for awhile.
"It's obvious they're jealous, aren't they?" he said quietly. "At least, I know who really is."
Her little hands were white as she clenched them around her quill. "Who?" It wasn't louder than a whisper.
Tom wondered if she'd buy it, but he knew that if he put it the right way, he would have one more on his side. "Doesn't it seem unfair that Potter breaks rule after rule, yet is so highly regarded? Don't you think that's a bit strange?"
She didn't reply, but he knew she was listening.
"He revels in that attention, but he hates when others steal his limelight. That's why he and Weasley are so mean to you."
She bit her lip quickly. "You think that's what it is? I wondered…."
"Watch Potter closely. You'll notice what I mean," he replied. "You've only ever wanted to help them, am I right in saying so?"
"Y-yes. Just today when Harry got his broomstick, I…oh! That can't be it! Why would Harry think that way?" Tom watched with detached interest as she lowered her head into her hands, her fingers tangling in her own messy hair.
"Hermione," he whispered quickly, as if relating a secret. "I think there's something extremely wrong about Potter. And if the Hero of the Wizarding World has something wrong with him, then we should be careful about trusting him, right?"
She raised her head again, her eyes still alert. Tom knew this was going to be difficult. "But Harry's not expected to do anything any longer. You-Know-Who is gone!"
"You think so?" he asked, with just enough intrigue in his tone.
Hermione's mouth opened to reply, but it was just at that moment that Neville rounded the corner of a bookshelf. "Hullo, Tom," he began, immediately sitting down. Tom resumed his usual expression of polite interest as Neville looked at the two of them. Tom glanced at Hermione, whom he was pleased to see, looked pale and anxious.
"You all right, Hermione?" Neville inquired worriedly.
She sat up, and quickly offered a faint smile. "Yes, I was just thinking about something." She returned to the book she was reading. Tom watched her at this for a moment. He was pleased to see that he had clearly distracted her as well as insured that she would not be pulled into Potter's wealth of blind well-wishers. He turned to face Neville again, closing his book.
Neville quickly reached into his bag for his Standard Book of Spells: Grade One. "I was able to do the composition on the Thinning Charms, but you told me that we would be doing the Levitation Charm in a week. You have to help me, Tom. There's no way I'll be able to learn it. The instructions on page two hundred-thirty five aren't that clear."
Tom opened his notebook. "You don't have to worry, Neville. There's no one else in the class who has even looked at the chapter beside Hermione and me. By the time next week arrives, you'll be able to do it just as well as we can."
This was usually Hermione's cue to remark how nice a person Tom was. Tom found he did like that. But Hermione only burrowed deeper in her book, and he frowned in her direction. It was an unfortunate and displeasing fact to him that he had distracted her a little too much.
"All right, so let me see…" Neville sighed, chewing on his quill. "The incantation for the Levitation Charm is 'Wingardium Leviosa'. The theory of Levitation charms is 'the control of atomic matter surrounding the object of concentration in an effort to infuse force into each particle.' That doesn't mean anything to me!" He pulled out his wand, setting down his quill. "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Tom was appalled to notice that Neville had accidentally jabbed the wand at a bookshelf behind Hermione. The spell took obnoxious effect and three books shot high into the air. Neville's disbelief was evident as his mouth fell open, and he dropped the wand. This caused the three books to plummet down straight at Hermione.
She wasn't looking, and she should have been paying attention, but she wasn't, and Tom knew what would happen before it could, and he found he didn't at all like the idea. He drew his wand, not knowing the words, but knowing precisely what he wanted done.
As those books seized their angry journey and floated calmly above Hermione's head, Tom was furious. He whirled on Neville, his eyes blazing. "What were you thinking, you unbelievably mindless idiot?!"
Hermione got up from her chair abruptly, staring in surprise at the books. Neville stared at Tom, his face bloodless with fear and shock, and Tom was still poised, his wand raised with his angry gaze fixed on Neville. A very strange and unfamiliar moment of awkwardness fell upon them and Hermione stepped forward, her hand moving to Tom's arm. Before her fingertips could so much as brush his sleeve, he jerked away and the books fell to the floor with a sudden cacophony of thumps. Neville quietly picked up his things and brushed past Tom as he left the library in a hurry.
It was when Hermione carefully and slowly said, "Tom?" that Tom realised that he was breathing a little heavily. He lowered his wand, thinking how incredible it was that he had been left with the most useless of them all for a companion. Neville was clearly a trying subject, and though Tom sensed a great deal of loyalty in him, he did not care to have to put up with such incompetence.
Now certain that Tom was all right, Hermione was clearly angry. "You didn't have to shout at him," she hissed because Hermione, being sensible, still remembered they were in a library.
He turned on her in incredulity. "If you don't want anyone to be worried about you, then pay more attention to your surroundings!" he spat back.
"That doesn't even make sense! You're the one dangling information over Nevilles head, lording it over him! As if there wasn't opportunity for you to actually help him learn how to really learn!"
Tom could have hit her. Lording it over him? Doesn't she see that Neville is getting better because of me? Instead he used great self-control on that trigger of magic that would have done much worse. He sneered instead. "As if you knew how!"
She began collecting her books, red-faced and furious. "Any idiot could see it, if you actually took the time to observe him rather than burying your nose in Dark Arts books all day long. Clearly, I do know how; you can't lose your temper when things don't go the way you'd like them to, and I don't believe what you said earlier about Harry!"
Tom stared after her in disbelief as she rushed from the library.
Tom had just braved all of six minutes in the company of the other boys, and his head ached. It had put his companionship with Neville in perspective. When Tom went upstairs, Neville was alone in the dormitory, pouring dead flies into Trevor's box, his round face focussed intently on the toad's bleary yellow gaze. Tom looked at Trevor, who slipped a tongue-full of flies into his mouth, croaking lethargically.
What was it Neville could really do on his own besides fumble things up completely? Why did it seem there was nothing, no promise in him? Tom looked at him often, and he never felt any potential, but for the fact that he could probably at some point, make Neville do whatever he wanted. Hermione's words came back to him then. You're the one dangling information over Neville's head, lording it over him. But that had been the point, hadn't it? He knew what people liked to see in other people. He had learned that at an early age just from attending school. Teachers awarded meaningless papery-gold stars, coloured stickers, tiny novelties, which, in the long run meant nothing, yet the true concept behind it was the merit for the ego: the child's ego. In the end, it spurred a sense of separation between the classes of student. There would be those whose egos were repeatedly rewarded due to their hunger for recognition, while the others could only watch, wondering what it felt like, wondering why it was so difficult to just get the teacher to look at them like that.
Neville was of the second class most definitely. Tom's initial theory had been that if he were to have Neville awarded the metaphorical coloured stickers a few times, Neville would take the lead and begin to needthem. In so doing, Tom would create a fighting heart in him to batter down Nevilles unfortunate lack of confidence. It appeared he had miscalculated.
His thoughts settled as he looked again at Neville, who was now seated on the edge of his bed, his corduroyed legs swinging. That round face had a lot of simple honesty and his feelings were there for Tom to pick apart. Feeling ridiculous, Tom raised his chin an inch. "Your attempt at the Levitation Charm this afternoon was, obviously, a disaster. I am going to help you practice so that an accident like that will not happen again."
Neville looked at him with some unease, but Tom pressed on, looking out the window so as not to meet that newly distrustful gaze. "It won't be as hard as you think. We'll ignore the theory for now then work on the mechanics of it-"
His gaze snapped to Neville, who didn't blink. "Why?" he echoed softly, looking askance at the other boy.
Neville stood up from his perch, quickly stashing Trevor's meal back in his trunk. "Yes. Why? I-I just don't understand. "
Tom decided to stop standing at the doorway because it made him feel cornered. He moved forward and seated himself on his own bed as Neville remained where he was, holding the post of his bed and looking down at Tom like he was some kind of otherworldly being he was trying hard to comprehend.
Tom narrowed his eyes at him. "What don't you understand?"
"You; why do you want to help me? You seem like you want to help me, but...sometimes I feel like..."
"What? You feel like what?"
"Like we're pretending, or something, but I don't know what."
"Pretending?" Tom whispered, looking down. "Pretending what?"
"I don't know!" Neville burst out, stepping forward. "That's the problem. I don't know why it feels so weird to be your friend; why I still feel alone!"
Tom paused; amazed that Neville could actually say that. Neville took his expression to mean injury and quickly back-tracked. "You're really nice and everything, but you seem like you're angry about something, and I'm worried it's me."
He didn't know what to say to that. Yet, he had to rectify things. "You don't understand, Neville. We're friends. Friends help each other right?" He searched quickly for the right words. "Maybe your friend will get angry at you for mistakes and other things, but you can still choose to be friends. Don't you see? I chose you because you think the way I do. It's why we can get along. Let me know when you feel alone...and...and I'll fix things. I can always fix things like that, so you don't have to worry."
There was a very loaded silence as Neville gazed at Tom warily.
"Okay," he finally said quietly.
Tom found he had to really force his next smile as he folded his arms and replied, "Good."
"Today, we shall be learning the Levitation Spell, which I know you've all been anticipating since the very beginning," Flitwick squeaked, his diminutive person bobbing about the room as he handed out feathers. "I will be pairing you up so that you can help each other with your formation, and pronunciation."
Tom shot Neville a smirk, and he was pleased to see Neville manage a healthy one of his own. He would have looked at Hermione as well were it not for the fact that Hermione had been refusing to speak to him since the library incident, which, Tom thought, must not have been very hard as she seemed to be refusing to speak to Potter, Weasley, and everyone else who had crossed her within the last month. Tom almost felt sorry that she was not aware of how few people she would be on speaking terms with by the end of the year.
"Now for those of you who checked the index in the text for your reading assignment, you will have seen that the mechanics of the spell is mostly in the manner with which you use your wand. An incorrect movement of the arm can cause drastic effects!" Flitwick continued. "Now, you two together and you-Weasley over there with Miss Granger, yes-and Neville...ah yes, I see you've...erm-Mr. Burrows, please move over to the front and work with Mr. Dribs. You've all got your partners? Excellent! Now, begin practicing. The incantation is Wingardium Leviosa! Swish and flick!"
Tom shook his head suddenly at Neville who had his wand ready to execute the spell with enthusiasm. "Wait," he muttered, as the other students began to practice. Tom looked around at Hermione, who had been paired with Weasley. She looked bitter and vengeful whilst Weasley's expression matched hers.
"Look, let's just get this over with," Weasley snapped, pulling out his wand and pointing it at his feather. "Wingardium Leviosa!" He swished and flicked, but to no avail. "Wingardium Leviosa!" Tom felt the corners of his mouth twitch as the expression on Hermione's face grew more strained. As much as she pretended she didn't believe what Tom said, Tom knew that she was doing all her best to act as if she didn't care that she had read more or knew more. It was nearly comical watching her eyes narrow and her teeth grit.
"Tom? What do you want me to do?" Neville murmured from behind him. "I can handle the feather! You had me floating books last night!"
"I know," he hissed back, trying not to reveal his irritability at someone interrupting this new development. "It's not the feather I want you to levitate. Remember how I told you anyone would be able to learn to float tinier things. We have to give them a show!"
Neville, heartened, nodded his head vigorously. He sat back patiently, waiting for Tom's word.
"What does it take to get through to you? You're saying it WRONG! Just read the text and it will tell you! Is that so difficult?! It's Wingardium Leviosa! The 'gar' is much longer and take your emphasis off the 'i'! Do you not get that?! Wingardium Leviosa!"
Several heads turned to join Tom in gazing at Hermione, who was breathing heavily and glaring with venom at Weasley. Weasley's expression went from shock to anger quite quickly. "Oh yeah? You do it, then, if you're so clever!"
It was perfect. Flitwick was coming their way, and Hermione was already rolling up the sleeves of her robe with relish. She swished and flicked and said her incantation. Tom didn't mind that her feather rose four feet in the air above their heads; he turned to Neville quickly.
"The two desks in the front row on the count of three," he said.
Neville nodded, raising his wand just as the Professor made his way towards their chairs. Flitwick looked up at Hermione's feather and his miniaturized features twisted up in delight. He had just opened his mouth in exclamation when Tom whispered "three" and Flitwick had to turn at a large clatter.
Tom stood in his seat, his wand raised, and his chin lifted with Neville standing right beside him, his own wand poised. And in the front of the classroom, two desks had risen to the ceiling.
"Oh! Brilliant! Look at that, both Neville and Tom has done it! With desks too; that's fourth year magic, isn't it? Oh, you've been practicing, haven't you?"
Feeling overtly pleased, Tom nodded.
"Take twenty points for Gryffindor, Tom and Neville," Flitwick gasped.
It appeared that in the little professor's excitement, he had quite forgotten to by-pass Tom's presence. Flitwick had looked him right in the eye as he awarded the twenty points. Slowly, Tom signalled to Neville to let the desks down, and as they settled to the floor, the room was silent.
Flitwick was still beaming. "And you, Neville; I've never seen such improvement in a student within such a short time. What's happened?"
Neville straightened his shoulders like Tom had told him to as he replied carefully, "I am capable of anything; there is no reason to think I can't do it."
As Flitwick's smile faltered, Tom congratulated himself on a job well done. He was in such good spirits that he didn't mind when Hermione approached him after class, her expression a little sheepish. "I'm sorry," she sighed. "I shouldn't have said what I said. I can see you're really trying to help him."
"Of course I am," he replied stolidly, as they began walking into the crowded corridor, but he smiled at her.
She smiled back as Neville sped up to join them. "At least tonight's the Hallowe'en feast," she went on, "I've heard from Lavender Brown that they serve all sorts of desserts."
"I got a look at the decorations, and they're really great!" Neville piped up.
There was a pause as the rush of students pressed them against the other year-mates. The resigned and bitter part of Tom was not surprised when he was nearly ploughed into Potter. He caught himself just in time, but he did manage to catch their conversation.
"A bunch of show-offs, the lot of them. Especially her," Weasley was snarling in Potter's direction. "Mad little know-it-all, that she is. It's no wonder no one can stand her. She's a nightmare, honestly."
Tom quickly turned to see if Hermione had been fortunate enough to miss all that, but there was no mistaking the expression on her face when Tom looked at her. She was staring at Weasley with something like despair before her eyes met Tom's.
"Well, you were right, weren't you?" she began, her voice trembling. Finally, unable to suppress whatever it was that seemed to climbing up her throat, she ran past Potter and Weasley down the hallway a hiccough echoing behind her even in that horridly noisy crowd.
Neville, who had been oblivious to all this as he stepped quickly around a group of Seventh Years, turned and looked around. "What happened to Hermione?"
Tom sighed, and took a moment to marvel at how gifted he must be to be able to predict and sense things with such precision. It was human nature to hate those better than you. That's why it never bothered Tom when someone hated him with such venom; it was merely a confirmation that he was far better than they were. This idea often pleased him during moments like these.
The afternoon passed, and Tom didn't see her again. He was pleased because she had seen that he had been completely right, but he was slightly vexed because she was wasting time sulking over the issue. He was now considering informing her that he intended to deal with Weasley in a fitting manner, if he only knew where she was. It was time for the Hallowe'en feast too; he assumed she would turn up in time. When he was upset, he much preferred to be alone and he could sympathise.
Now Tom had never really taken to Professor Quirrell. In all honesty, Quirrell was the one he liked least of all the teachers. He was twitchy and he exuded a strange familiar fume, and apart from avoiding him like the rest of the teachers, Tom often caught Quirrell gazing at him, rapt with something like wonder. Tom ignored the man, and often skipped his classes. However, it was not an easy thing to dismiss a man who pelts his way into the Great Hall, screaming the words, "Troll! In the dungeon!!!"
Several students began to yell, and Dumbledore had to suppress the pandemonium. Tom watched Quirrell lying unconscious on the floor with an expression of absent interest. Neville grabbed his arm, and he raised an eyebrow at him. "We have to follow Percy, Tom."
He nodded and got up, looking around the Great Hall at the useless panic on the other students faces. He was just heading up the stairs after Neville when something caught his eye. He squinted. Off toward the Hufflepuff corridor, Tom saw Potter and Weasley sneaking off. What was Potter up to? As he hesitated on the steps, he gripped the banister. Then, it hit him. Potter had successfully distracted the whole school so as to head to the third-floor corridor. He had to think fast.
"Neville!" he hissed.
"Go on upstairs. I have something to take care of."
"What? But there's a troll in the school!"
"Shut up! Just go upstairs. This won't take long!"
Neville hesitated, but at Tom's expression, he gave a half-shrug and continued on up the stairs.
Tom whirled around and made to blend with a group of Third Year Hufflepuffs. He was tall enough, anyway. He nearly missed Potter as a flash of black ducked around a corner. He followed after them. When he turned the corner, they were both crouched behind a statue, watching something and muttering to each other. Tom stepped back, and watched the scene warily.He saw the troll just as a horrible smell filled the hallway. It wandered up the hall and stopped near a doorway. Pausing in some simple form of contemplation, it went inside.
Potter suddenly bounded forward and locked the door, casting the key to the floor. Then, not pausing a moment, they both turned around and ran straight towards Tom's place of hiding. Tom, having watched with obvious confusion, stared and was not in a position to move as Potter crashed into him. They both slammed to the floor and Potter's head knocked against his. They both cried out in pain, and just as they scrambled away from each other, a high, terrified scream filled the hallway. It suddenly occurred to Tom that Potter had just locked the troll in the girls' toilet- and someone was trapped inside with it.
Flinching at the sting on the side of his head, Tom pulled his wand out quickly from his robes and pointed it at Potter. "Don't move!" he snarled at him, getting up. Potter was still wincing from the strike to his forehead, and Weasley started forward. "What are you doing?!" he demanded.
"Who've you locked in there?" Tom shot back at them.
Potter got up, looking dazed. "It's Hermione," he slurred, pushing past Tom in the effort at heading towards the door. Not thinking, Tom tripped him, but Potter only stumbled a bit as he rushed back to the door. Tom and Weasley careened after him towards the girl's toilet. Potter grabbed the key and unlocked the door, and Tom stepped back in case Potter had any intention of locking him in there as well.Without any hesitation, Potter swept inside drawing his wand.
Tom followed, thoroughly nonplussed as to what was going on. It didn't help that his head was throbbing. He raised his wand regardless as he pushed inside past Weasley.
It was Hermione.
Tom looked on in terrible shock as the troll began advancing on her, knocking sinks to the floor in a dim-witted fury. Not sure what to do just then, he looked at Potter who turned on him and yelled, "Confuse it!"
Tom ran for the creature, his wand raised. Ducking, he slid under the troll's legs and hit the wall beside Hermione. She was too scared to speak, but only looked at him in surprise. Potter threw a faucet at the thing, and as it turned away to go after the boy-hero, Tom hauled Hermione to her feet, and made to pull her towards the door, but she was frozen stock still, mouthing wordlessly at the sight the troll made lumbering after Potter.
Weasley yelled and threw something. The troll rounded on him with a roar that shook the room, and the red head stumbled backward into a corner. A callous part of Tom's mind focussed on getting to the door, but as he moved his feet slipped in the water, and before he could right himself, he was to be found sliding towards the monster at top speed. His feet struck the Troll's ankle, and the Troll, at hearing the thumping noise turned. The troll's expression of annoyance might have been comical under other circumstances, but Tom's blood froze as it raised its club overhead and swung it straight down at him. Tom could only raise his arm in defiance as the Troll's club swung his way.
When the expected impact didn't occur, Tom opened one eye. Potter was dangling helplessly from the troll's shoulders with his wand stuck up the thing's nose. The troll began to howl with pain as it flailed and tried to strike at him. Potter looked desperate, Hermione had sunk to the floor in complete terror, and Weasley was just looking on with a horrified expression.
Tom reached for his wand, but realised that he'd dropped it when he'd fallen. Narrowly avoiding the troll's pounding footsteps near him, he scrambled back to where Hermione was kneeling. He had only just touched his wand when he heard the most remarkable thing.
He turned to see Weasley brandishing his wand, whilst levitating the monster's club above its head. And like Neville, Weasley's shock made him forget the spell and the club crashed down on the beast's head sending Potter flying to the other end of the room and another resounding crash was heard as the troll slammed to the floor.
Tom couldn't stop shaking, and for this he was unimaginably angry. He reached for his wand, his hand trembling as he looked back at the mass of green lying there. Potter was now on his feet, shaking just as much and Weasley was still frozen in shock from what he had done.
"Is it dead?" Hermione whispered.
"I don't think so," Potter returned, but Tom wasn't about to let him brush this situation off so easily.
"Who cares if it's dead? Why did you lock her in here with it?" he demanded, getting to his feet.
Hermione looked puzzled.
"I didn't know she was in here!" Potter shot back at him, most likely still angry about being tripped up earlier. He turned away and fetched his wand from the unconscious troll's nose.
"It brings to mind the question as to why you were following us, Tom," Weasley spoke up angrily. "This isn't the first time you've shown up suddenly where you shouldn't have been."
Tom glared at him, thoroughly disgusted. "Don't get the wrong idea, Weasel! It's obvious you're up to something far worse."
Potter's head snapped up to reply, but they were interrupted by a sudden slamming and loud footsteps.
Hardly a moment passed before McGonagall burst in along with Snape and Quirrell. Quirrell reacted as expected by offering a swoon at the sight of the troll. Tom realised that he really disliked that man. He looked away from Quirrell to McGonagall and Snape, who both looked as angry as could be. Tom wasn't worried, however; he only needed to tell them exactly what happened and it was likely that he would be exonerated, even along with Hermione.
"What on earth were you thinking of?" McGonagall gasped, her expression tight with cold fury. Tom realised that Snape was looking at him quite piercingly. He met his gaze proudly and unblinkingly. He really had nothing to hide at the moment, and to look away would most likely give Snape reason to believe that he had orchestrated the entire episode.
Tom slipped his wand in his pocket and faced McGonagall blandly, contemplating how best to make a convincing accusation that Potter had intentionally locked another student in a room with a large troll and then tried to conceal his guilt by pretending to rescue the aforementioned student.
He was thwarted by Hermione of all people. She stepped forward bravely, but spoke quietly when she said, "Please, Professor McGonagall- they were looking for me."
The shock on her face was nearly comical as she stared at Hermione. "Miss Granger!"
"I went looking for the troll because I-I thought I could deal with it on my own. You know, because I've read a lot about them."
An incredulous silence followed. Tom was staring in outrage at Hermione. This is ridiculous! Why would she lie on their behalf? Hermione saw his expression and gave him a quick pleading look. His teeth grit together, and he stared at the wet stone floor in marble-like silence.
"If they hadn't found me, I'd be dead now. Tom distracted it, Harry stuck his wand up its nose, and Ron knocked it out with its own club. They didn't have time to come and fetch anyone. It was about to finish me off when they arrived."
Tom listened to this with an all-consuming rage and he determinedly looked at the wall behind McGonagall's head. How could she? What on earth had altered her view about those two? Were they not guilty of shunning her just four hours earlier? I don't understand how this could happen! Unless...
Tom surreptitiously looked at Potter, whose expression was affected neutrality. There was an entire chapter in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts that addressed the Unforgiveable Curses. The Killing Curse and the Imperius had had Tom lying awake at night, cautiously watching Potter sleep just to make sure he wouldn't use one of those on Tom. He was ninety-nine percent certain that Potter had used Dark Magic on her. He had to uncover the Dark Lord before the entire school was overtaken by the plot.
He stepped back against the wall as Hermione was ordered to the Common Room, and it occurred to Tom that he was beginning to hyperventilate. What had he gotten himself into? No. I can't think like that. You can solve this; you can stop this. You just need to catch him at it; catch him doing something you can prove.
"Mr...erm, Tom, I said you may go."
He jumped, startled out of his reverie. Snape, Quirrell, and McGonagall were looking at him with familiar expressions. Snape's was shrewd, McGonagall's was guarded, and Quirrell's was that same wonder. Not making eye contact with any of the professors, he left the room in a hurry."Why did you do it?!"
Hermione frowned over her plate of pumpkin pie. "I knew you were going to be horrible about it. I know it was wrong of me to lie, but they saved my life!"
Tom sat forward, ignoring his mincemeat. "He also locked you in there!"
"Why do you keep saying that?" Hermione sighed, spooning up a piece of her dessert and chewing thoughtfully.
"Because it's true!" he shot back at her. "I saw them. Potter watched the troll go in, and then he jumped forward and locked the door."
"It's possible that like Harry said, he didn't know I was in there," she returned quietly.
Aware that her calm made his tone sound aggravated, he quickly softened his voice. "It's also possible that he's fooled you somehow."
Hermione's expression after that became resolute, and Tom had to think about it for a moment as she said, "Look at him, Tom."
He followed her gaze to the temporary buffet table in the middle of Common Room where Potter stood. Percy Weasley handed him a slice of pumpkin pie, saying something amiable. Potter responded with a polite, but warm laugh, his expression absent, but happy.
"How can someone with his personality do something like that? No one is that marvellous a liar," Hermione concluded.
He opened his mouth to disprove this fact. How it was easy for someone to pretend to like you, and how your belief in their charade might be satisfying to that person. Yet, his own familiarity with that pretence made him uncomfortable and although he knew Potter's deception ran deep, he decided there was no point in continuing the discussion.
As December loomed ever closer, the weather grew colder, and the fireplaces in Hogwarts blazed throughout the day. Hermione had found herself a clique, and no one seemed bothered that she was a walking encyclopaedia as she began to spend more time with Potter and Weasley.
It was only in the evenings that Tom would go to the library and find her already there, buried in her books. She would give him a brief smile before going back to her studies, and Tom was slightly pleased to see that she must certainly have been falling behind in her grades due to the two new influences on her life. She was staying up longer than she used to, and Tom came down to the Common Room often to find her there with her books open and her expression furrowed.
He shrugged this off.
It was at this point in time that Tom realised that whatever it was the large three-headed dog was guarding, it wasn't a newly-developed magical object. In the lexicon of all such items, Tom had learned that most newly developed magical objects were created and studied by the Ministry in the Department of Mysteries. This meant that the item in question was relatively old, and already past the phase of investigation, or even beyond the boundaries of research.
He concluded two things from this bit of knowledge. One was that the item was truly a powerful, unique thing, perhaps the only one of its kind in existence. The second was that, judging from the patterns he had construed from Voldemort's reign, the Dark Lord had made a habit of pursuing rare texts and seeking objects of power. In 1974, he was said to have stolen several unicorn horns from the Ministry as well as five or six ancient annals describing unused and discarded Dark Magicks. This meant that whatever new thing that Voldemort sought to acquire from the school through Potter must go above and beyond all his past acquisitions, and that led to Tom next theory: Potter's part in Voldemort's restoration.
Tom had frequently tried to put himself in the Dark Lord's position, and tried to channel Voldemort's way of thinking. At first, this experiment seemed extremely foolish as Tom could hardly derive the Evil Wizard's entire personality merely by having read about him from texts that were so blatantly biased. Yet, after he had tried to think in those terms for a while, he gradually began to understand.
His thoughts during those days mostly began with the words, "If I were Voldemort..."
And an idea had struck him one day when he contemplated how Voldemort's strategy of using Potter didn't make as much sense to him as it did when he first formulated his hypothesis, although it still seemed the only explanation. Voldemort's plans had after all come to nothing with his supposed death. "If I were Voldemort," he thought aloud, "I would have tried to find a way to stay alive, to live no matter what, so that I wouldn't have to go through the trouble of assuring my power." People would realise that I couldn't die, and fear me even more because I would be invincible.)
He smiled a little at this thought, but pushed it aside as a new revelation came upon him. "What if Potter had not been among his plans; what if he had intended to kill the child, but since there were no witnesses, no one would have known if perhaps Potter's mother made an attempt on his life and he used this strategy to save himself?" What that would mean is that Voldemort definitely wanted restoration and on top of that, immortality.
What could possibly achieve both these things and is no bigger than two inches?
Tom knew that Potter would talk to Hermione about him. Tom had made the foolish mistake of making his feelings over Potter all too clear. Yet, when he overheard the three of them talking one evening, he knew he had to do something soon before Potter tarnished his name completely.
He had stepped into the noisy and crowded Common Room with the intention of asking Hermione whether she had borrowed his notes from last week's Astronomy lecture when he saw her in her usual spot, seated with Potter and Weasley. Weasley's head was bent towards Potter, who was speaking rapidly and making frantic gestures. Hermione was looking at the two of them with something close to incredulity.
Tom stepped up near the fire beside a group of Second Years practicing their Charms and was just in time to hear Potter explain breathlessly, "You know what this means? He tried to get past that three-headed dog at Hallowe'en! That's where he was going when we saw him-he's after whatever it's guarding! And I'd bet my broomstick he let that troll in, to create a diversion!"
Tom couldn't help it, he started back in alarm as Hermione's eyes widened and she insisted with a severe lack of conviction, "No-he wouldn't," she said. "I know he's not very nice, but he wouldn't try and steal something Dumbledore was keeping safe."
He didn't know what else he might have heard had he remained, but he knew he had heard entirely enough. Potter had set his plans in motion and he was near to convincing Hermione that he was the culprit of Potter's own actions.
He walked slowly back up to the dormitory, his face blank with thought. He had to think of something!
"Does she have the notes?" Neville asked as he entered.
He didn't reply as he seated himself on his bed, his mind whirring through different strategies he could take, but he found his mind wandering to the first and the most drastic. If Potter/Voldemort was determined to turn the entire school against the one whose mind he seemed to fail at controlling, then he would most likely succeed, which would restrict Tom's movements. He had to move and do something before Potter succeeded.
He had to find out what was under that dog, and he had to find out when Potter wanted to retrieve it.
It was the very reason why he did not attend the Quidditch match the next day.
Instead he was a lone figure at the end of a hallway, standing in front of the door to the Third Floor Corridor, his breath coming in slow deep intervals. Tom rested his hand on the doorknob, seeming to prepare himself mentally for what he would now face.
He had developed an idea as to how he might gain access to that trapdoor, and it required learning much more about the beast guarding it. Unfortunately from memory, Tom could not describe it beyond the fact that it was a black, drooling three-headed thing. He had to know precisely what the creature was and in so doing he would be able to know how to control it. After all, Tom had never had any problem with controlling the actions of an animal with the right stimulus.
In the distance, he could hear the cheers of a crowd and the wind rising, and he turned the door knob, and slipped in quickly.
Sleek, black fur, wide eyes of piercing red, each head full of a complete set of horribly sharp teeth. Tom's nerves shook his insides, but he stood steadfast against the door as the beast reared its head to pounce, and soon Tom would be nothing more than a bloody mass between its two sharp claw-like paws.
The sound of the door slamming behind him, and the dogs bark echoed through the castle. Tom leaned against the cold stone, sliding to a sitting position, and waiting for his heart to slow. That had been entirely too close, and he had nearly lost his presence of mind to leave the room as he had caught sight of that awful thing. His irrational reactions made him realise, though, that it was not the beast that frightened him, but the idea that he could have been killed within a second.
Still trying to regain his breath, he pulled from his pocket a small notebook and pen. He quickly noted the beast's appearance with a more detailed description of its fur colour, fangs, and size. And shaking, he pushed himself up from the floor and he ran upstairs to the library.
As he entered, Madame Pince gave him a knowing look as if to say that she knew he could never be so silly as to put a Quidditch game before his daily reading.
He smiled at her, and headed quickly for the reference shelf. If he was correct, he had once read about a three-headed dog, but he could never really be sure that the definitions in the Muggle myth were as it would be here in reality. The dog reminded him of something in the Psuedo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca where it said,
As a twelfth labour Herakles was to fetch Kerberos from Haides' realm. Kerberos had three dog-heads, a serpent for a tail, and along his back the heads of all kinds of snakes."
At the time, he had written off the description of such a beast as another bit of mythological drama, but could it be possible that the mythological Kerberos was in fact the same animal type as the frightening dog in that corridor. If that was so...
He found it. A book quite old and frayed, but still in fair condition entitled Taming the Fiend: A Guide to Demonic Dealings by Pavlov Bridlen. He picked it up and moved to his usual spot behind the bookshelves where he opened to the index immediately. It took three searches, but finally he found it under "c" rather than "k" where Kerberos was spelt Cerberus.
By the time, four o' clock rolled by, Tom walked out of the library, thinking of and identifying ways in which to acquire a musical instrument.
"He did it, Tom! He won the game!" cheered Neville as they stood in an empty classroom. On Saturday evenings, Tom had decided to set aside some time so as to keep Neville up with his new reputation of being something of a magical genius. This ensured that he was never hindered by Neville's ineptitude, and that Neville had need for him as he slowly began to see Neville's purpose for his time being here.
However, Neville's obvious Potter-worship that annoyed Tom more than usual. As much as he felt the need to cause the boy pain whenever he mentioned Potter in conversation with that awed and impressed expression, Tom forbore.
"Yes, so I heard from the noise up in the Common Room. Are we going to practice this spell or not?"
Neville nodded, still beaming over the Gryffindor victory. "He practically swallowed the snitch, Tom. It was incredible!"
Tom raised his wand, feeling more and more irritated. "Neville, I find nothing impressive about someone swallowing something he should have caught with his hands," he replied. Without preparation, he pointed his wand at the glass taken from the Great Hall at dinner. "Perfringo!" he called, and the glass shattered, its shards spreading over the wooden desk.
Neville laughed a bit and shrugged, raising his own wand. "Reparo!" Without any hesitation, the glass sprang back together, and stood where it once was.
Tom raised his eyebrows at Neville.
"I've been reading ahead. You showed me that if I did exactly as the index says while reading the spell, I can make any of them work. I never knew it had to do with how I waved my wand."
Tom rolled his eyes. "Neville, Flitwick and McGonagall mention it every class."
Neville appeared sheepish, but he raised his wand again. "I like that one you used to break the glass. That was cool; I suppose it means you'll always be a step ahead, right Tom?"
Tom smiled at him. Neville could really be good company when he complimented Tom like that. "Just move your wand like you're slicing through the item and say the word, 'Perfringo'."
Neville paused, but after a moment, he moved quickly back to his book bag, and wrote a small note on his Spell notebook. It was a habit he had recently acquired when dealing with spells. If there was one thing both he and Tom could admit and that was the fact that Neville would never have an excellent memory. It would be his curse forever to be forgetful, but he did have a hidden courage to take risks and for that Tom had more patience with him when otherwise he wouldn't have wasted his time.
It was a bonus that with his studies he could keep Neville busy as he did his own research. So far the arrangement of what Neville had termed "friendship" was working for Tom, and he didn't care to part with the concept as long as it continued to prove worthwhile.
Tom looked at the blasted chair now lying in different awkward pieces on the floor. He sighed. And then again, Tom was never very good at spending that much time on anyone other than himself, which he termed a more promising investment.
"I believe I meant for you to attempt the spell on the drinking glass," he sighed, sitting on a nearby desk and opening up their textbook.
Neville cast the Reparo Charm on the chair, and as it sprang back to life, Tom was aware of Neville watching him. He obviously had something to say so Tom turned to look at him, but Neville turned away. Such behaviour perplexed Tom to the point that he chose to ignore it.
It was between lessons, and Tom wanted to get in a bit of reading before the next class at 2:30pm He didn't know what brought it about, but he was more than disconcerted to arrive at the library one snowy afternoon to find Potter there. What was more was that he was seated in Tom's usual spot between the bookshelves. If he had known his nemesis would be there, Tom would have taken his books elsewhere, but his favourite table was situated behind a corner and he'd had no warning before he found himself stopping dead just as Potter looked up from the pile of books in front of him.
They both looked at each other for a minute, until Potter made the ridiculous gesture of moving his books out of the way as if under the mistaken impression that Tom intended to sit with him. There didn't seem enough room for both of them and Tom, and Tom hesitated. Yet, if Potter was doing something as irregular as research, there had to be a reason besides a sudden keenness in the advent of winter.
Tom walked, straight-backed to the table, and set his bag down, spilling his books onto the table. He had now moved onto possibilities of conjuring up music as there did not appear to be a single musical instrument in the whole school so his booklist had altered from Dark Magic and magical items to Artful Magic: A Study in Musicianship of Wizards among several others.
Despite this fact, though, no kindness in Tom could possibly excuse Potter shooting his book selection a furtive look, then saying, "You want to be a musician?"
Tom did play with the prospect of feigning deafness, but from the way Potter didn't seem to show any shame whatsoever at posing such a ridiculous question, he had to turn to him and reply.
"No," he said.
He trailed off as Tom looked at him. "May a person not read anything he likes?" he inquired sharply.
Potter's expression was blank, as he laid his own book down giving Tom time to look at the title. Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century. He looked at the others with a renewed interest. They were all autobiographies and recent discoveries. What on earth was Potter researching at such a strange time? Potter caught him looking, and he turned his gaze to his own books.
There was a long, heavy silence.
Tom turned a page.
Potter shifted in his seat.
Tom turned another page.
Potter shut a book.
Tom scribbled a note in his book.
Potter tapped his fingers.
Tom turned back to his book.
Potter sighed, and leaned forward.
He could even hear the minutes tick by on Potter's watch, and this only served to vex him further. Finally, with a sound of frustration, he set his quill and book to fix his gaze on the other boy, ready to berate him for God-only-knew-what. What he did not expect was to look up to find that Potter was staring at him, his books forgotten.
"What is the matter with you?" Tom exclaimed in his best muted voice.
Potter had jumped at Tom's sudden outburst, but now he only seemed indecisive and shifty. "Oh! I-erm-I wanted to ask you a q-question," he stammered, sounding like their DADA teacher. He paused, green eyes still fixed on Tom's now withering expression. Interpreting the incredulous silence for acquiescence, he ploughed on.
"Suppose, I mean just pretend for a moment that you knew someone was trying to steal what was through that trapdoor. Supposing he could get past that dog, but you don't even know what he's after or what else is guarding it. What would you do?"
There was a moment before Tom realised he had been looking at Potter with open-mouthed silence. Another test? What had brought this on? He had to be very careful with his answer or the other boy would see immediately through him. He knew he was being given a warning in some sense, so he contrived to do the same. "Hypothetically?" he asked, resting his chin in his right hand as he placed his elbow on the table. "
"Y-yeah. Like what if?"
Tom disarmed him with a polite smile. "Well, first of all, I would let the person know not to think of it. It's a lost cause to chase after something so heavily guarded, and I expect his intentions will be easily thwarted by whoever put that dog there.
Potter appeared frustrated for a second, and this seemed to make him more articulate. "What if it was impossible to make anyone else believe that he's after it? What if everyone trusts him too much? And all you have is little clues as to what the object is, just a name..."
Now Tom was really thinking. "It would be important to learn as much as possible about the object in question so that he would know exactly how well it's guarded and how long he has before his enemy succeeds."
"Well, it's just that dog right? I don't think it will be long before he gets past it."
"I suppose...then, it would be too easy...there would have to be something more."
"Yes, exactly! A regular student may not feel completely confident about getting past the dog, but someone stronger than that would!"
Tom's eyes narrowed. What a give-away! "Someone stronger?" he inquired lightly, hoping Potter would keep to this hypothetical discussion. "Like whom?"
Potter paused, and Tom was pleased to see he had put the other boy in a tight situation. Potter seemed to want to know Tom's plan of action, but with Tom's questioning he might just give out some more fascinating tidbits in regards to his true nature. "I mean...well, you know, anyone other than just the students. Wh-what about a teacher?"
A misleading idea or theory was Tom's reaction, as he sought to reply in such a way to coerce the truth from Potter. "Interesting theory," he returned softly, looking down at his hands. "Well, I guess we could think on this for a moment. If the item was transferred out of Gringotts to Hogwarts, and there was said to have been an attempt at robbing the impossible-to-rob bank the same day you were there,"- he added, relishing at the sight of Potter blanching- "then the object is both extremely valuable in that it is also very powerful. Not expendable enough that Dumbledore could keep it a secret. This means that a teacher at Hogwarts is required to know that the school is protecting something, not necessarily what. Now we have a group of educated witches and wizards who know that something is being protected, and that it is guarded by a large, three-headed dog. Of course theyll know how to get past it. You're right; it would be too easy for a teacher to take it."
Potter leaned forward. "Wouldn't that mean the teacher would be more likely to take it?
Tom thought on this for a quick moment, then, coming to stunning realisation, he looked at Potter. "Isn't it obvious? That isn't the only protection on the object!"
The other boy's expression mimicked his own, and for a moment their heads touched as Potter leaned closer over the table. Tom imitated the movement as he didn't want to risk any possibility of being overheard. "Of course! What else would Dumbledore put up? He's a powerful wizard, after all; there's no way anyone could guess," Potter breathed.
"Yet, something is amiss," Tom countered, pulling out a sheet of parchment and his quill. He drew a long line, and at the end of the line, he scribbled the words, "mystery object". He then put the word, "Cerberus" in front of the line.
"What's that?" Potter demanded, squinting at the parchment.
"Shh!" he hissed. It was absolutely vital that nothing break this new train of thought. "If Cerberus waits at the front and you get past him through the trapdoor; that means you would be going underground. This, then, means that either the object is sitting there or you've to encounter something just as bad as Cerberus. Another animal stronger than a hellhound would take up about as much space, and the idea of finding something far more powerful than that dog is daunting, I think. Dumbledore has his work cut out for him..."
Potter was listening to this contemplatively. "Funny, if I were Dumbledore, I'd get others to help me protect it."
Tom sneered. "Why would you do that? You can't trust them not to take it."
"True, but...I've been thinking about how one animal can be defeated by one person, but if you create obstacles that not just one person could get through...I mean, no one's good at everything."
Tom didn't reply immediately. His mind was stuck on the word, "obstacles". He scribbled once more on his sheet, dividing the line into sections and writing atop of it, "obstacle course (?)". Did this mean that Dumbledore used different concepts of magic to guard the thing? Yet, if it were being protected for private use, Tom would understand, but this was being protected from private usage. What did that mean? Potter's words and his thoughts blended in his mind as he rested his elbows on the table, pushing his face into his hands.
Another silent moment passed.
Slowly, very slowly, like a drop of dew falling off a leaf, the idea struck him. "If he has the professors helping him protect it each with their own individual obstacles, this ensures that Dumbledore can protect it from himself if necessary, and that each employs his skill of choice to ensure that no one teacher can make it through without consulting the others. That's why they're keeping it at Hogwarts! It's situational; the students are incapable of getting at it, the teachers wouldn't dream of it, and Dumbledore is not in complete control of the protection!"
Potter looked doubtful, but Tom didn't care. This was a breakthrough, and he was certain to find out just what the thing was before any adversary.
"Well, that took us full circle, and still didn't answer any questions," Potter fumed, folding his arms over his book.
Tom was looking at him, convinced that he must have been exceedingly blessed, to prove himself against the most feared Dark Wizard of all time. "It answered mine," he muttered, smiling quickly.
Potter was still leaning forward, and Tom watched a frown appear as he opened his mouth. "What do you...?"
Their locked gazes broke apart. The newcomers stopped just as Tom had frozen upon finding Potter there. Tom turned away, certain that it was a perplexing thing to find Potter and him in the throes of philosophical debate with their heads bent over a small sheet of parchment. Who knew what Hermione must have thought? Time was up, though, and the next class would be starting in fifteen minutes. He stood and began packing his bag as Hermione moved toward the table, eyeing Tom warily.
He offered her a frank smile, feeling no pity at all for her fate at being the servant of an ignorant Dark Wizard. Tom would bring him down by the end of the year.
He met that wide gaze behind its spectacles once more.
"Thanks...you know, for ...er...supposing with me," Potter murmured.
Tom's new smile wasn't warm at all because he didn't like the fact that Potter still seemed confident that he would win. He did not say, "You're welcome," because, in Tom's eyes, Harry Potter was really not.[1 This is an actual book, however the book mentioned a paragraph later is a figment of my imagination.]
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