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Tom sat dumbfounded at the Slytherin table while the chatter about the happening dominated the conversation in the Great Hall.  With Sarah gone he had almost no one of any use to help in what he needed to do.  Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were more or less pathetic replacements for the girl as she would easily have been able to defeat the three of them in a duel, even if fighting them at the same time.

               

With Molly now out of his court and Carol seeming to be in the process of strengthening her hold on things he was at a severe disadvantage.  There was very little reason to believe that others would come to his aid and all that it would take was for a concerted effort by the members of Hufflepuff, with Molly and Carol in the lead, to have him removed from the school.

               

Whatever Sarah was accused of had no doubt been devised by that House and its members and they had been very successful in what they had wanted to achieve. 

               

A despondent Tom Riddle did not pay much attention to the meal that appeared before the students and this did not go unnoticed by Albus Dumbledore.  That the wind had been taken out of the sails of the boy was certain, he had none of the normal brash mannerisms that were normally present and was actually speaking to no one.  He stared off into space or at the spot that the girl that was now absent from Hogwarts normally occupied, the loss of Sarah Jenkins had hit Tom Riddle hard.

               

Molly glanced carefully at Tom because she had no reason to want either Carol or the boy to notice.  Carol would have gone mental had she even had an idea that Molly was having a change of heart where the boy was concerned while a glance at the wrong time might have given Tom a reason to hope that things had changed. 

               

The girl really did not want Tom to think that she had feelings for him once again, because there was no chance of it happening.  Her parents, especially her father, had been quite adamant that she was to have nothing to do with the boy.  His behaviors had put him in a very poor position with them and he had only barely escaped being expelled from school at Ministry insistence.  Only the fact that Molly had pled on his behalf had prevented it.

               

She did have very fond memories of the boy, especially the wondrous first kiss that they had shared.  Although she at times thought him to be quite vulgar she also could see the charming side of Tom Riddle, a side that her best friend could not even imagine.  But then again, she had just seen a side of Carol that she had never imagined could exist.

               

Carol had almost seemed to enjoy the pain that she had inflicted on Tom when she had broadcasted the fact that Sarah had been permanently told to leave the school.  There had been a tinge of cruelty in her voice that Molly had never thought could be possible.

               

Had she been wrong about Carol Markham all along?  Could she offer some measure of solace to Tom without everyone learning about it?  Would Tom even accept the offer if it was made or would he react strongly against it? 

               

Molly knew that she had acted abominably to him, that she had almost wished that he be expelled, but she had had time to calm down and to remember the kind, intelligent boy that she had met during the time before their first year at Hogwarts had started.

               

Did that kind, intelligent Tom still exist or had he been banished forever from existence?  She decided that, if a chance presented itself, that she would make an attempt to speak to him.  Of course, she had to make certain that Carol and her parents never learned about this because it would mean no end of trouble for both she and Tom.  Her father would never ask for her expulsion from Hogwarts, but Tom would be certain to be removed.  She would offer help, a kind person to listen to him and is worries, but nothing more than that.

               

Carol glanced at her friend and worried.  Had she gone too far in announcing the expulsion of Sarah Jenkins to everyone that could hear?  Certainly she had done considerable damage to Tom, but had she done damage to her own standing with Molly?  There had been little doubt, given the sudden change in the expression on her friend’s face that Molly had not been happy about what had happened.  There were definitely some fences to be mended to ensure that Molly did not migrate back into Tom’s inner circle.  If the worst happened, if her friend did go back to the boy, then Carol knew that her only option was to inform Joseph and Lorraine Porter of their daughter’s activities.

               

This option had the very real possibility of ending their friendship forever and Carol did not want that to happen, but if it had to happen it had to happen.  Tom Riddle was dangerous in a way that naive Molly could never understand and Carol felt that it was her responsibility to defend the girl in any way that she had to. 

 

She just wondered if Molly would be open to all of this.

 

With tears escaping her eyes, Carol thought about how she would right the note that she felt that she had to.  Could she simply open it by telling her friend’s parents what she felt Molly was planning?  Would this be too abrupt?  Or would it be better to ease the subject into her letter?  Either way it was certain to bring a response from the protective pair. 

 

Carol glanced up again at Tom and could only see pain within him.  She had scored a telling blow against him and wondered if he would resort to old habits.  Would Tom Riddle have his friends come after her again as they had before, or would he take a more direct approach?  She had seen him in action and it rather terrified her.

 

The boy was more than a bit capable of creating pain within an opponent; she knew that for a fact.  She had seen things that frightened her, both in person and in her mind.

 

Carol wondered if she was not a natural Legilimens.  She could see things sometimes that others were thinking although she had never actively tried to probe the mind of another.  The girl was not certain where to begin if she wanted to do something like that but knew that it could have disastrous effects if something went wrong.

 

Could Tom strike back if she tried and just how capable was he in this respect?

 

Molly glanced once more at her friend and noted that Carol seemed to have fixed her gaze upon Tom.  What was she planning to do next?  Would her friend do what she had to do to try to get Tom expelled next?  The girl also wondered if Carol would go so far as to make contact with her parents.  Would her friend tell them if she made an attempt to console Tom over the loss of his friend? 

 

Certainly, if Carol did something like that, Molly knew that she could expect a visit from her parents and it would not be a pleasant one at all.  They had forbidden her to seek him out as strongly as they had warned him to stay away from their daughter.  Would her parents remove her from Hogwarts if she disobeyed them and did something in an attempt to rekindle some form of friendship with the boy?  There was no doubt that there could never be anything like what they had had before, that was pushing things entirely too far.  But could they be friends again?  Was that too much to ask?  Would her parents allow their child to push past their directives even a tiny bit?

 

As much as it frightened her, Molly decided that she needed to contact her parents and let them know what had happened as well as what she wanted to do.  Yes, they would no doubt be angry, but she would be certain to make them understand that he had not approached her.  That way if there was any sort of repercussion it would be against her.  She could only hope that they would not decide to send her to Beauxbatons to keep her away from him.

 

She idly wondered what her friend’s next move would be.  Would Carol contact her parents?  There was no choice, Molly decided; she needed to get an owl to her parents and fast, before Carol did.  Without thinking Molly rose from her seat and then was beginning to leave when she felt a tug at her robes.  She looked down to see Carol’s hand on them and a confused expression on the faces at her table.

 

“Are you mental?”  Carol hissed.  “Everyone is looking at you, what are you so on about?”

 

“There are just some things that I have to see to.”

 

“Molly, please tell me that you are not going to do something stupid and show some concern for him.”

 

“And what if I do, Carol?  What are you going to do about it?  Are you going to contact my mother and father?”

 

Carol could see everyone at their tables as well as other eyes fixing on them and knew that the conversation had reached a point where more than just those in close proximity could hear it.  The professors at the High Table were eyeing them uncertainly and she knew that very soon one of them would leave that table to approach them.

 

Molly tugged her robe from her friend’s grasp and then hurried from the room, leaving everyone present more than a bit confused. 

 

‘I am so sorry, my friend Molly, but now you leave me no other choice than to contact your parents.  I intend to let them know what you are up to and hopefully get Tom Riddle removed from Hogwarts, and our lives, forever.’

 

Carol Markham added to the confusion at that moment when she too rose and hurried from the Great Hall. 

 

Tom watched all of this with confusion and more than a tiny bit of hope.  With Sarah gone he was largely on his own, but had Molly decided to help him?  Had she decided to move against her parents as well as Carol to come to his aid?  Was she willing to risk that much to help him, to become his friend again?

 

He rose from his seat and then left the room, leaving all curious.  Albus Dumbledore watched, like all others, but he watched with concern.  Tom was, at this very moment, likely rather dangerous.  Carol Markham had made an incredible error in announcing what she had to the entire of Hogwarts student body.  Tom was more than likely to strike back at her, an act which could remove him from the school permanently, especially if he inflicted any sort of harm to the girl.  And what did Molly Porter have in mind?  Would she go as far as to contact her parents to try to sway them to allow her to have more liberal contact with the boy?

 

Carol arrived in the library to find her friend already sitting at one of the tables writing furiously on a piece of parchment.  Molly glanced up for a moment and then returned to her task.

 

“What are you doing, Molly?”

 

“I am writing an owl to my parents, Carol, if that is any of your business!”

 

“What are you so on about?  Please tell me that you are not seriously thinking about helping Tom Riddle get back into the good graces of your parents.”

 

“And what if I am?  What are you going to do about it, Carol?”

 

Carol sat down across the table from the other girl to look into the blazing eyes of Molly Porter.

 

“Molly, if you do not come to your senses I will have to write an owl of my own to your parents.  Do you realize what that will cause?  Your father and mother will go mental and ask for Tom’s removal from Hogwarts!  You know that all that it will take is a letter from your father, a member of the Ministry of Magic, to accomplish this.  They will have Tom on the next train back to London and he will not be coming back!  He will spend the rest of his life with Muggles as a squib.  Is that what you want me to do, Molly, do you want me to write that owl?  I will if you force me to…”

 

The statement was cut short by the sound of the palm of Molly’s hand slamming against the ancient wood top of the table where they were seated and her nearly shouted response.

 

“ENOUGH!  I HAVE HAD ALL THAT I AM GOING TO TAKE OF YOUR CONSTANT INTERFERENCE, CAROL!  Go ahead, write that owl if you feel that you need to, but it is the end of our friendship if you do!  The moment that you place a blot of ink on a parchment you can forget ever speaking to me again because I will not listen.  I forgave you once, but it will not happen again.  Make your choice, Carol, but be aware that it WILL have lasting consequences.”

 

Carol could see the conviction in the eyes of the other girl and wondered if she had already gone too far.  She could see that Molly had begun a owl to her parents and realized that they would read it and then, if another owl arrived from someone else, be forced to decide which action to take.  There was little doubt in her mind that Joseph and Lorraine Porter would respond; likely with a personal visit to Hogwarts, but what would they do when they arrived?

 

Would they order the removal of Tom Riddle?  Or would they listen to their daughter and show compassion?  Molly had clearly already thought all of it out and was prepared to go head to head with her parents and friend. 

 

But were they still friends?

 

Molly’s glare turned back to the parchment and Carol could only watch as the quill moved across the surface.  Her swift and sure script nearly rocketed across the parchment and there was no doubt that the other girl was throwing all caution to the winds.  She had already made the decision to defend Tom, regardless of what she had said about him earlier.

 

Carol silently rose from where she was seated and then turned to leave the room.  She stopped short when Molly’s voice reached her ears, but did not turn around to face the blonde.

 

“Carol, I am totally serious about this, if you contact my parents we are finished as friends.  There will be nothing that you can say that will make me even think about changing my mind.  Decide what you are going to do, Carol, but make the right decision.”

 

Carol Markham felt the tears running down her face as she lowered her head and then answered the other girl.

 

“I already have, Molly.”

 

Molly stopped writing and then looked up at the still form of the other girl.  She did not respond as Carol walked out of the room and then into the corridor before disappearing from her view.  A tear began its journey down her cheek from a brown eye and she reached up with irritation to wipe it away, only to decide to let it reach its intended destination.

 

Let her parents see the reminder of her anguish.

 

She was nearly finished with the parchment when an unexpected voice reached her ears.

 

“Miss Porter, you appear to be more than a little upset.  Is there any way that I can be of assistance?”

 

The girl looked up to see Albus Dumbledore standing at the almost exact spot that Carol had occupied and then shook her head before speaking in response.

 

“Professor Dumbledore, I am about to send this owl to my parents.  It is about someone that I know that they do not approve of but I have decided that many have been wrong about him, myself included.  Tom Riddle is a kind person who merely needs to be surrounded by the right sort of people and I refuse to deny him that.”

 

“Your father was quite adamant about him staying away from you, Miss Porter.  Are you prepared for the reaction that you will receive from him?”

 

“I am,” she responded.

 

“And if he decides to have Mister Riddle removed from Hogwarts, what shall you do then?”

 

“I will do the only thing that I can, Professor Dumbledore.”

 

Albus Dumbledore looked into the set brown eyes of the girl and knew what she intended to say before he asked.  He sighed and then asked her what he had to.

 

“And what is the only thing that you can do at that point, Miss Porter?”

 

Molly took a deep breath and then responded as she looked into the kind eyes of the wizard that had become her favorite professor.  She felt the pain within her but knew what she had to say.

 

“Professor Dumbledore, if my parents demand his removal from Hogwarts the school will lose two students on that day.  I will withdraw from Hogwarts as a student, the opinions and orders of my parents be damned.”

 

“Miss Porter, you are beginning to tread down a dangerous path.  Be quite aware of the ramifications if you decide to continue with your intent.”

 

“I already have, Professor Dumbledore.”

 

“Very well, I shall leave you to your writing.”

 

Molly finished her owl and then read it carefully before placing it in an envelope, rising and walking to the Owlery.  Her owl sat quietly on its perch and, after being rewarded with a treat, accepted the envelope containing what she hoped would not be the beginning of the end of her time at Hogwarts.  She watched as the owl took flight and then held it in her sight as long as she could before it was lost to her in the sky.  They she turned and walked back to the castle wondering if Carol would carry through on her threat to send an owl to the same destination.  She really hoped not but was fully prepared to carry out her threats as well as accept the consequences of her actions.

 

Carol had hurried, in tears, back to the Hufflepuff Common Room where she sat down at a writing desk and pulled a piece of parchment out of a slot before picking up her quill.  So much would change as soon as this communication made its way to the parents of her friend.  It bothered her that Molly had made the threats that she had and wondered if there would be any recovery for their friendship once Joseph and Lorraine Porter received her owl.  Molly had made her feelings very well-known and Carol fought back tears once again as she began to write the owl to the other girl’s parents.  Something had to be done and, although it would likely cost her a great deal, Carol intended to save her friend from herself and the threat that Tom Marvolo Riddle represented.

 

‘I am so sorry, Molly, but someone needs to deal with him and since you will not I will have to.  Please do not hate me forever for what I know that I must do.’

 

She wrote quickly and soon was placing the letter within an envelope before making the same journey that the other girl had only a short time ago.  Carol, as Molly had done, watched as her owl flew swiftly away and knew that what was done was done.  There was no way to withdraw her letter and she knew that the Porters would be infuriated by what their child had done in going behind their backs. 

 

There would be repercussions, Carol knew that, and she could only hope that Tom Riddle would be the one that paid the cost.  Otherwise she had destroyed a friendship that she doubted could ever be resurrected.

 

Tom sat quietly in the Slytherin Common Room not knowing anything about what has occurring and the titanic struggle that was preparing to begin on his account.  Two close friends were now at odds, letters were winging their way via owl to Molly’s parents and very soon things would change.

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