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- Ben & Sebastian
Nervously Hermione observed the other students. No one seemed surprised that Professor Merrythought had magically moved all tables and chairs back to the walls, nor did anyone look frightened by the duelling stage she created in the middle of the classroom. She eyed Abraxas enquiringly.
“She’s always done this since fifth year. This is a test so she can evaluate the strength of all students,” Abraxas explained to her, “because she wants to pair us for the rest of the first semester. I guess we’ll end up with the same partners like last year, depending on whether our strength is still the same.”
“But what about me?” Hermione asked quietly. She shuddered just thinking about showing her duelling strength to anyone, let alone Tom Riddle. She knew all too well that with her experience from war and Harry’s lessons during the Dumbledore’s Army times, she was way more skilled than any seventh year student should be. She did not like the thought of arousing Riddle’s interest once more.
“I actually do not know. We’ll have to wait,” Abraxas whispered in reply just as Professor Merrythought entered the stage.
“Dear students, you all know by now what’s next,” she started her speech, “As is tradition by now, please stand next to your partners from last year. You will once again have to show your skill in another duel. If you are still at the same level as your partner, you will continue in the same pairs as last year.”
From the corner of her eyes Hermione noticed that Tom Riddle raised his hand. After a short nod by the professor, he said: “Professor, I have been working with Abraxas and Rufus for the past year, because we then had an odd number of students. Through the addition of Miss Dumbledore, that has changed. I would like to personally give her the opportunity to show her strength, and would happily oblige to be her partner if she is skilled enough.”
Hermione turned ghostly white upon hearing those words. The look Riddle gave her told a clear story: He had not liked her stubborn behaviour during breakfast and wanted to use this opportunity to show that she was indeed inferior to him. Surely he would not dare to use dark magic against her?
Thoughtfully, Professor Merrythought tipped a finger against her lower lip: “You raise a good point there, Mr Riddle, thank you for reminding me. Though I am not sure about you being Miss Dumbledore’s duelling partner. Your group has been the strongest last year.”
“Oh, I think it totally reasonable,” Tom immediately replied, “Miss Dumbledore has proven herself to be quite the formidable witch in all her other classes, I am sure she will not fail altogether.”
With obvious doubt the professor looked at Hermione, but as she did not want to delay the class any longer, she finally nodded. Hermione started to shake. She had no idea how strong Voldemort had been during his time at Hogwarts – only that he surely was more powerful than anyone else, of that she was sure. Should she show her potential? If Voldemort noticed that she was better than expected, would he take an even greater interest in her? Perhaps she should avoid that and pretend to be a weak witch.
But as soon as Hermione was thinking about that idea, she already felt that it would be impossible. Her own pride forbid that she would pretend to be weaker or know less than she actually did. She was ambitious at any moment. It was against her nature to pretend otherwise. A fierce smile appeared on her lips. Perhaps today was the day all of them got surprised. Perhaps Tom Riddle was not yet actually powerful. She knew she would never be able to beat Voldemort, but this man, this boy was only seventeen years old. She was eighteen, she had fought in a war. She knew what it meant to fight for survival, while everyone else here only fought for good grades and show.
The low whisper of Abraxas brought her back to reality: “Yes?”
His face showed obvious worry: “Is everything alright? When Tom suggested his idea just now, you turned white as a wall, but now you are smiling in a way that makes my blood run cold."
She gave him a warm smile: “I have to thank you for your concern, but really, I am fine. I just decided that I will not let Tom Riddle’s arrogant words from today morning slide. He is not taking me seriously, so I will show him that he better should.”
Doubt showed in Abraxas’ face, but he stayed silent. One look at his friend and he knew that Tom was looking forward to this duel just as much as Hermione did. Abraxas did not accept this lightly, but when he had duelled with Tom during their fifth year, he had lost miserably. He spent all year to catch up, only to discover that his best friend had an even easier time beating him the next testing duel around. He doubted that any student could compete with Tom, let alone a girl. Of course he did not think Hermione to be weak or stupid, but it was just a fact that girls were not as resilient and tough as boys – which was the only thing that mattered in a duel.
Meanwhile, Hermione watched as pair after pair went up on stage and duelled. At first she had been interested in watching, but quickly she realised that these children indeed were far inferior to her. If not for the fact that Voldemort was around during her own time at Hogwarts, she would not have been better than any of these students, of that Hermione was very aware. It had been a matter of life and death for Harry, Ron, and herself to be good at fighting. Watching these students duel, she could feel that they thought about every spell, always tried to look elegant or cool while casting, trying to mimic some posture or another they might have seen grown wizards do.
When it was finally her turn, Hermione was almost vibrating with nervous energy. Now she would face the future Dark Lord, would get to know his strengths and weaknesses, would discover whether or not she was able to beat him. A small voice in the back of her head accused her to have a death wish, but the far greater part of her was screaming in triumph to show this conceited boy that she, a girl, a mudblood even, though unknown to the rest, was better than usual.
Again Professor Merrythought explained the rules, again she lifted her hand to indicate the witch and wizard should take a duelling stance, then she made her wand spray sprinkles and the fight was on. Without hesitating Hermione cast a Tarantallegra against her opponent. Obviously Tom had not expected her to be so quick, because he had no time to react and the charm hit him with full force. Hermione watched on while he struggled to perform a counter-spell to stop his feet from performing ridiculous dance moves. When he finally managed to break free, his look was murderous.
“I have yet again underestimated the quickness of your wand, Miss Dumbledore,” he hissed, “it will not happen a third time.”
As soon as those words left his mouth, he cast a non-verbal spell in her direction. Hermione had no time to analyse it, so she just threw up a simple shield charm and blocked it. If he wanted to show off non-verbal spells, she would happily oblige. Pressing her lips firmly together, she cast a Stupor and immediately afterwards another Tarantallegra. It made her smile darkly when she noticed the shocked whisper by the other students who were obviously surprised that she was able to cast non-verbals at all. Standing with a wide stance, not caring whether she was elegant or feminine at all, holding her left arm up for balance, she cast spell after spell without moving too much. Tom was standing almost still himself safe for his never stopping wand hand. A glorious feeling began to spread in Hermione when she realised that he got more and more annoyed with her.
Their movements picked up in pace and slowly Hermione felt that she was getting to her limits. She had long lost track of what he actually threw at her, fearing there might be something truly dangerous in the mix, so she forced herself to match his pace. Sweat formed on her forehead, but Hermione ignored it. She already did not look ladylike, why should she bother now? Everything in her screamed to destroy the boy in front of her.
Suddenly a hot pain shot through her left eye and before Hermione realised that she had not been hit by a curse, but that her own sweat had dropped into her eye, she already had closed both eyes in reflex. The next thing she noticed was the familiar feeling of the first duelling spell she had ever learnt: A powerful Everte Statum hit her directly into the chest, pulling her from her feet and throwing her down from the stage.
With a groan Hermione opened her eyes again, only to see Tom Riddle standing directly above her, grinning maliciously: “You’re no match for me, Miss Dumbledore. For your own sake you do well to remember that from now on.”
He had whispered those words low enough for the other students to not hear them. Before she could give a sharp reply, he held out his hand to help her up.
“I am so very sorry to have hurt you just now, Miss Dumbledore,” Tom cried with the most innocent voice, “I just had not expected you to not block my spell like you have the ones before.”
Shaking with anger, Hermione pulled her arm out of his grip. She swallowed the nasty insult that had formed on her tongue, instead just nodded and turned to Abraxas.
“That was magnificent, Mr Riddle, Miss Dumbledore,” Professor Merrythought beamed, “Really, what a fine duel! I have never witnessed such skill and power in Hogwarts in my entire life! Ten points to Slytherin. You really were right, Mr Riddle, our new student seems to have outstanding talent in duelling. You two will be such a pair to work together this year!”
Shivering, Hermione accepted the arm her blond friend offered her. She had not succeeded in defeating Riddle. Even now she was no match for him. To make matters worse, she was forced to spend even more time with him thanks to the duel. She barely registered that Abraxas was considerate enough to pick up her bag when they left the classroom together.
That Tom Riddle gazed at her with cool, calculating eyes went unnoticed by both of them.
The news about Tom Riddle being hit by a Dancing Feet Spell travelled fast enough for every Slytherin student to have heard about it until lunch time. So, when Hermione sat down with Abraxas and Rufus Lestrange, many of the younger students came over to enquire further details.
“Is it true you have forced Tom Riddle to dance?” A sixth year student with black hair that reminded Hermione of Harrys godfather asked.
“He did not block my Tarantallegra, that is correct,” she replied.
The eyes of the boys around her turned big with respect, but Abraxas immediately interrupted the boy: “It’s rude to speak to a lady without introducing yourself first, Orion!”
The boy turned red and nodded: “Yes, you are right. I am sorry, Miss Dumbledore. My name is Orion Black.”
Hermione gave him a small smile while studying him more closely. It was hard to imagine that this shy young boy would someday disown his son, just because that son did not share their views on purebloods. That he also would be the uncle of Bellatrix Lestrange was even more astounding, because she could detect not a single hint of madness in his eyes. Chuckling Hermione wondered what Orion would think of her if he knew she was a mudblood.
“In the end she lost anyway,” Riddle now tuned into the conversation after sitting down across from her.
Within seconds the younger students made place and returned to the far end of the table, so that the Head Boy and his friends could eat undisturbed. Snorting Hermione noticed the amount of respect the younger students had for the elder students. She wondered whether this was a Slytherin thing or whether during this time even in Gryffindor seniority mattered that much.
Out of nowhere, Beatrix Parkinson, who sat next to Tom, turned to her: “For now you have been outstanding in every class, Muss Dumbledore. What do you think about the classes this afternoon, Transfiguration and Charms?”
Despite her pride, Hermione felt her cheeks heat up: “To be honest, Transfiguration is my favourite class, or perhaps Ancient Runes or Arithmancy. I’d like to think it’s my best, too. I do like Charms, though.”
Abraxas started to laugh: “Dear Merlin, Hermione. If what we witnessed before was not you at your best, I’m actually starting to fear you.”
Another blond boy that Hermione had spotted during classes before, though she had not yet talked to him, shot her a strange look while saying: “Indeed. I’m Avery, by the way, I don’t think we’ve been introduced before. I’ve got to admit it’s already hard enough to accept our dear Tom is so gifted, but hearing about a woman showing us all up is something else.”
Goosebumps travelled down Hermione’s spine. She remembered clearly that one Avery had been part of the group of Death Eaters that she had fought against in the Ministry back during her fifth year. This would be his father, she assumed, and he left just as bad a taste as his son. He had received a big compliment by Professor Slughorn the other day, so she was certain Avery was part of the Slug Club, too. Every student she got to know seemed to be a future Death Eater. Every new acquaintance reminded her of the fact that she was surrounded by enemies.
Suddenly she noticed that everyone was expecting a reply from her. Hastily she swallowed that lump down her throat: “School started only yesterday, you should not jump to conclusions like that. Perhaps I got lucky, because I already learned the things that you are taught now. I for one don’t think I’m as good as you all make me out to be.”
Tom raised an eyebrow and scoffed: “Such modesty, Miss Dumbledore? How very Hufflepuff of you. Are you sure you were sorted correctly?”
Hermione hid her shaking hands in her skirt. Riddle was right, she did not act like a Slytherin at all. How could she, when she was a Gryffindor at heart? She really had to be careful not to raise any more suspicions especially because her fellow Slytherins were not happy that she was a relative of Professor Dumbledore.
With as much condescension as she could muster, Hermione retorted: “I would like to remind you of your own words, Mr Riddle. Try not to make the same mistake thrice and underestimate me again.”
Silence spread through the students while they all stared at the new witch in shock. Only the student that had been the recipient of those words looked more annoyed than shocked. Trying to give off an air of nonchalance, Hermione took her fork to eat her salad. Determined to ignore the tension, she resolved to never grovel before Tom Riddle.
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