A/N: Hi there. Back with another installment. Thank you SOO much for all the love, guys! I can't believe this story has nearly 100 reviews and over 12,000 views! You people are amazing and beautiful and I am so grateful! You give me the motivation to keep on writing and to test my limits. Speaking of testing limits... As for a life update of sorts, the anxiety I had about school waned and was immediately replaced by an extremely close relative having to be rushed to the hospital. How fantastic. Honestly, it could have resulted very very very badly, but it didn't. I'm so happy that my they were able to pull through and return home.
On a different note, big thanks to everyone who reviewed my new story, Show Me Your Teeth! I was so worried about posting it because I thought it was completely bonkers, but you guys seem to enjoy it, so bonkers must be a good thing, ha ha. Part 3 of Show Me Your Teeth will be posted very, very soon so if you haven't checked it out and reviewed already, what are you waiting for? GO DO IT!
Thanks for all the love, once more! And with that said, onto the new chapter!
A Pinch of Salt
Hermione Granger was never one to wallow in misery or mope around. Simply because it was not a productive thing to do. On her worst days, Hermione preferred to keep herself busy by doing mindless, yet stimulating activities. So, on that Sunday morning, to diffuse the urge to slap herself, Hermione – completely sober and no hangover in sight – untangled herself from her duvet and hopped out of her bed not yet bright but definitely early at seven sharp. She quickly completed all of her daily morning routines and promptly busied herself by whipping up a batch of carrot cake cupcakes. After popping them into the oven and setting the timer, Hermione gazed around her apartment and decided that it could use a quick dusting. So, she grabbed her feather duster from a closet and sashayed around the flat, ridding it of the pesky dirt particles. She finished in record speed had enough time to impulsively vacuum her bedroom rug and scrub the toilet. When the timer chimed that the cupcakes were done, she pulled off the rubber gloves she donned to complete the task and made her way into the kitchen to retrieve the treats from the oven.
Placing the muffin sheet onto the counter with a mitt clad hand, she set to work on the cream cheese frosting. She hummed along to a rather upbeat tune that she had heard from Zumba class while she beat the ingredients together in a bowl, but was interrupted by the ringing of her phone.
"Hullo?" Hermione greeted, balancing the phone between her neck and shoulder, pausing her mixing for a short second.
"Good morning to you too, Ginny," she rolled her eyes.
"You left me! I thought you were my friend, Hermione! I can't believe you just upped and left me in the hospital!" the ginger whined through the phone.
"First off, I am your friend, Ginny. Second, you act as if I left you all by your lonesome. You had Harry! And I was not going to be rude and intrude on your examination. That's something your husband should be there for, not me."
"Are you telling me that if Harry hadn't showed up, you would've left anyway?"
"No, Gin, you're missing the point. I–"
"Missing the point?! Blimey, 'Mione, the point is you abandoned me!"
Hermione was exasperated, but conceded and offered, "How about I make it up to you with some cupcakes?"
Sometimes being Ginny's friend meant giving into her dramatics, however authentic they were.
"Hmm… I guess that would make me feel a bit better. It would be even better if I hadn't run out of that green tea I love so much. How can I possibly enjoy cupcakes without tea? You know, the fancy one that you can only get at that place across from Honeydukes?"
Hermione sighed heavily, sitting the bowl of whipped frosting on the counter.
"You're sooo lucky that I love you and that you are heavily pregnant with my godson, or else–"
"Or else what? You know, Hermione, both James and I are beyond disappointed in your recent behavior. I just find it so hard that my friend would desert me and then treat me so harshly."
"You hear this, James? Auntie Hermione can't be trusted."
"Oh, cut the crap, Gin. I'll be there in thirty. With cupcakes and the bleedin' tea."
"Love you, 'Mione," Ginny teased, stressing her nickname.
Rolling her eyes, she hung up the phone. Hermione was actually extremely grateful that Ginny had called and given her a list of errands. There was only so much for Hermione to do at home and her shift at Phoenix didn't begin until late in the afternoon. If she didn't keep her mind busy, then she'd be forced to confront what she was trying oh-so hard to repress.
She put the frosting she whipped into a piping bag, rapidly piped all twelve cupcakes, and then sprinkled some dark brown sugar. Reaching into her cabinet, Hermione pulled out a bag of walnuts, hammered them with a mallet until they were crushed into tiny pieces, and scattered some onto each cupcake, placing them into a cake container. She then headed for the door with the container of cakes resting on her hip but paused to wrap a scarf that was laying on the couch around her neck to protect her from the early morn's crisp air.
When Hermione reached the Potter's house, she fumbled in her pocket to find the spare key that Ginny had given her in case of emergencies and once in, slammed the door shut with the heel of her foot since her arms were filled with cupcakes and shopping bags. Walking around the ground floor, Hermione saw no Ginny in sight and immediately navigated up the stairs and barged into the master bedroom.
"Bloody hell, Hermione!" the redhead shouted, glaring at her friend, "You scared the shite out of me! You could have… I don't know… Knocked?"
Hermione ignored her sarcasm, "I come bearing gifts!"
And with that, she dropped all the weight of the shopping bags from her arms onto the bed and walked closer to Ginny who was wrapped up under her duvet to place the large cupcake container on her swollen stomach.
The nasty glare from Ginny's face dropped and a look of utter joy was replaced.
"And may I present to you," Hermione began, removing items from one of the shopping bags, "One box of Lancashire Assam Tea – your favorite – and one box of Yorkshire Gold, your second favorite."
"Oi, Hermione, you slag! Are you trying to win me over? Redeem yourself?"
"Is it working?" she raised a brow.
"…Maybe," Ginny answered, grabbing both boxes from her hands, "What's in that bag?" She asked, gesturing with her blanketed foot to the last shopping bag.
"Well, I was right around Honeydukes and I thought I'd stop by..."
Hermione smirked and retrieved an extra-large bag of licorice snaps.
"You do love me!" Ginny declared, staring at the bag of sweets teary-eyed.
"Of course. I feel like I should be upset that it took a two boxes of tea and licorice to prove it to you, but I'll agree to overlook that."
"Tea, licorice, and cupcakes. Never forget the cupcakes," Ginny said, sitting up and popping open the container resting on her stomach. She picked up one of the cupcakes and peeled the wrapper off.
"Blimey, 'Mione this looks scrumptious," she complimented, taking a huge bite and moaning. Cheeks stuffed, she chewed and spoke around the cake, "Good lord, this is delicious! You know how hard it is to find a proper good cupcake nowadays?"
"Thanks, Gin," Hermione smiled, plopping down onto the mattress, "Now tell me what happened yesterday. What did the doctor say?"
Ginny swallowed before speaking, "Well, they did an ultrasound and found out that apparently, I have this thing called placenta previa. It's when–"
"The placenta is abnormally covering the opening of the cervix, when it's supposed to be at the top or the side of the uterus. Goodness, Gin, this is serious! You and the baby could have died!" Hermione gasped.
"I know. The doctor explained it all to me. He said that it was a good thing that I had gotten there so quickly – thanks for that, by the way – because I could have gone into labor. Thank the heavens that didn't happen," Ginny let out a breath, "But he said that experiencing contractions and light bleeding was normal for this condition. This just means that I can't give birth the natural way like I wanted to. My mum was a bit upset over it because she had me and all my brothers quite easily. According to her, I 'slipped right out of her'."
Hermione scrunched her nose in slight disgust. That was something she never planned to nor wanted to hear come from Molly Weasley.
"Said that I may bleed a bit throughout and can reach a full term pregnancy, but if it gets more serious then I have to get an emergency caesarian," Ginny said, looking down and placing a hand on the side of her large tummy.
"Oh, Gin, I am so sorry," Hermione sympathized, covering Ginny's hand on her stomach with her own.
"I'm just glad that the baby is okay."
"Absolutely. And you, of course. James needs his mummy."
"Mhm…" she hummed in agreement, resuming the devouring of her cupcake, "So, Harry told me Padma drove you home last night? That was nice of her."
Hermione grimaced. While Riddle was driving her to his house last night, she had gotten a text from Harry asking for her whereabouts. She quickly texted back, using Padma as her cover. Hermione considered lying to Ginny but thought better of it; she needed advice terribly and Ginny was the best person to get it from.
"Well, she didn't exactly…" Hermione trailed off, playing with the long sleeves of her hoodie. Ginny's eyes narrowed as she unwrapped her second cupcake.
"Explain," the ginger demanded. She had a spot of icing on the corner of her mouth and it immediately reminded Hermione of how she had stupidly wiped at Riddle's chin – when he had absolutely nothing on it in the first place – just to hide the fact that she was ogling him, which resulted in… a slip-up, so to speak.
Taking a deep breath, she started, "I ran into Riddle last night."
"Wha–?" Ginny questioned, but got cut off by a piece of cupcake clogging her throat. She sat up further and coughed as Hermione gently patted her back before she was able to hack it up.
"What?" she repeated, this time successful.
"Well, I got hungry while in the sitting room, waiting for both you and Harry to be finished. I found a vending machine and the piece of shite ate my pound, but when I turned around, he just… materialized out of nowhere. Said he was there to visit Grindelwald and he invited me to come along."
"Hold up. Let me get this straight – you had both your sexy genius chef and your sugar daddy in the same room?" she began to smirk slowly, "Damn, 'Mione, I didn't know you got down like that."
"I assure you, there was no 'getting down' in that room whatsoever."
"Sure there wasn't," Ginny grinned mischievously, waggling her eyebrows, "Please do, continue."
The redhead could not stop cackling.
"Gin, it's really not that funny."
"Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha!"
"You can stop now," Hermione tried.
"Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha!"
"Ginny," she warned.
"Oh my Lord, Gin, I swear I will never cook for you again if you don't SHUT UP!"
The laughter suddenly stopped.
"Now that's just cruel, Hermione," the ginger spoke seriously, wiping the tears from her eyes.
Hermione glared at her, "It really wasn't that funny."
"Bollocks!" she cursed, a giggle erupting from her mouth again, "Y-you told him that . . . you had to go feed your cat! HAH! You don't even have a fucking cat!"
"You don't think I know that? I panicked, Gin! It was the first thing that came to mind."
"The first thing that should've come to mind is that that fine piece of ass was snogging you senseless. You're top priority should have been snogging him right the hell back."
"And what? Forget that he's my professor? Crickey, it's bad enough I initiated it, but encouraging that type of inappropriate behavior is – is, well, inappropriate!" Hermione uttered.
"He isn't actually your professor, though, 'Mione. Just a substitute. Which is why you agreed to go with him in the first place. Plus, I don't see anywhere in Gryffindor's student handbook where it prohibits you from making out with a fill-in."
"Even so, it states specifically on Hermione Granger's Makeshift List of Morals, page ten, number 67, 'Thou shall not fraternize with your superiors,' and he is my superior. For now."
"You and your moral high grounds," Ginny shook her head in disappointment, "Screw that list. You should be living by Ginny's Three Commandments. Number one: do what makes you happy. Two: to hell with the haters. Three: never stop eating cupcakes."
"Those rules do not sound foolproof at all. And are you trying to make me diabetic?"
"You get the point, though. Riddle sounds like a good guy – a bit stuffy – but obviously he must like you. He's intelligent and has his life together and challenges you and would probably make beautiful curly haired babies with you. What's holding you back? I know it's not Ron."
To be honest, Hermione hadn't thought of Ronald since they broke it off officially. And even before then, she knew that she desired something more that Ron couldn't offer her.
Hermione thought of the real reason she was holding back – the fact that Riddle unsettles her. He had motivations that were unknown to her. He said that no one should leave The Hallows dissatisfied, yet was he so set on that goal of his that he all but cornered her into going there? Ginny hadn't actually helped her out there, either, agreeing on her behalf to dinner. But Riddle even persuaded her into going to his house under circumstances Hermione found could possibly be seen as inappropriate. Yes, she did agree to it, but not without hesitation. He was just so damn mysterious and interesting that Hermione couldn't resist. But why had he tracked her down like that? Was it because he was interested in her? The way they ended the night together certainly points to it. But that kiss was unplanned and unexpected to them both. And Riddle didn't exactly seem like a guy who had enough time to chase down a partner – she'd bet all the money in her checking account that Riddle is used to countless offers from both sexes. So why her? Was it situational? Hermione was extremely suspicious of him but the sense of guilt and embarrassment she had from prompting that kiss triumphed any suspicion.
"No, it's not Ron," she finally answered Ginny. "I don't know what it is. I've never met a person quite like him before."
"All the more reason to pursue him," Ginny said.
". . . I'll think about it," Hermione agreed half-heartedly and glanced at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand, "I should be leaving. My shift at Phoenix starts in an hour and I have to catch the Tube."
"I feel bad. I'd drive you, but I'm on bedrest. Harry'll kill me if he finds out."
"It's no problem, Gin. You stay here and rest. Both you and the baby need it."
Hermione gave Ginny a quick hug before picking up her bag and disappearing out her room, down the stairs, and out the Potter's home.
Hermione was a bit lost. She didn't know where the nearest Tube station was, but a quick search on her phone's GPS led her down the street. The air had warmed up significantly but there was a slight breeze that made Hermione shiver. April weather in England was never predictable. Minutes later, she had left the residential area part of town and was passing by little cafes and boutiques left and right. She reached finally the block that held the nearest Tube station but stopped in her tracks when she spotted a certain store.
Magical Menagerie: London Animal Shelter.
She would have passed it for sure if a certain furry animal hadn't caught her attention through the window. A small black munchkin kitten with bright slate colored eyes stared at her through the glass and she stared right back. Its gaze was curious and it eventually cocked its head to the side, whiskers twitching, and placed one tiny weeny paw on the glass separating them. Hermione nearly melted at the cuteness and decided to enter the shop - she had some time to kill before going her train was supposed to show.
The bell on the door jingled as she entered and Hermione was immediately met with the slightly foul odor of the shop. She wasn't revolted, however, the scent actually reminded her of the time she had went with her parents to buy Crookshanks, her old, funny looking tabby that had kept her company for quite some time before she left for university. He was quite the clever cat, more so than any others she had met, and was deeply affected when she got the call one day after class at Hogwarts that her furry friend had to be put down. After that, Hermione had planned to get another cat to supplement the feeling of loss she had, but didn't since they weren't permitted on campus at university.
She passed by multiple cages of creatures that either purred, barked, squeaked, or hissed at her before she reached the cage of the small kitten she lost the staring contest against. It had turned around and faced her by time she found it, as if they were waiting for her to come.
"Hello there," she whispered to the cat. The kitten back up against its cage and opened its mouth wide to give a high pitched roar that actually came out as a tiny meow. That made it Hermione grin. It was so darn cute. It was on alert, its small tail sticking up and looked like it was ready to give another roar to scare Hermione off.
"He tends to bite people."
Hermione nearly screamed. Turning around, she settled a palm over her racing heart.
"Luna? What are you doing here?" Hermione breathed out, shaken up and confused at the same time.
"Today's my day off. I volunteer here whenever I have free time," the dreamy blonde explained, "Are you interested in that cat?"
"I was just browsing, actually," she began, getting ready to leave, but Luna had taken a pair of keys out the fanny pack she had around her waist and unlocked the cage that held the kitten.
"He's quite the monster," she stated, picking up the cat who was currently hissing at her, "He has caused a lot of trouble around here, but only when he feels threatened. Their previous owner was cruel and nearly starved all of them to death. He suffered the most, however, because his curiosity was mistaken as disobedience and was given less than the rest of the litter."
"How old is he?" she asked, disgusted by the horrible treatment of his previous owner had displayed.
"Around a month. A friend of the owner found out about how bad they were being treated and dropped them off here. Unfortunately, his three siblings didn't make it, even after being cared for. But Cori, here, pulled through."
"His name is Cori?" Hermione asked.
"Short for Coriander," Luna repeated.
How fitting, she thought.
"Would you like to hold him?"
"Um… sure? He won't bite me, will he?" she asked, readjusting her bag on her shoulder.
"If he doesn't like you, yes."
Before Hermione could protest, Luna shoved the teacup sized cat into her arms. He looked up at her from her arms and peered at her distrustfully before clawing his way up to her shoulder. Cori hesitantly sniffed at her neck before coming back down into her arms and snuggled in the crook of her elbow.
"I think he likes you, Hermione," Luna observed, "He's never done that to anyone. Not even me, and I've been with him since his arrival."
Hermione was tempted to buy the cat right then and there, but decided against it because now she was definitely late for work and probably missed her train.
"Thanks for introducing us Luna, but I've got to be getting down to Phoenix," she said, handing the back to Luna. Little Cori protested being in Luna's arms and hissed at Hermione for giving him up. She felt bad for the tiny cat.
"I'll be back to see you, Coriander, I promise," she said to the cat and he simply gave an angry meow back.
She waved goodbye to Luna and rushed to the Tube station to catch the next train.
For the first time in his life, Tom Riddle was unsure.
For the second time in his life, Tom Riddle was unsure. The first time had been when he was merely an eleven year old boy, facing strife everywhere he turned. Brilliant, yet unappreciated and hated, young Tom decided to take his life into his own hands. He was unsure what the consequences of his actions would be, but in the end they are what led Tom to where he was today. And this is a much more satisfying position to be in than his childhood environment.
Nonetheless, today proved to be a very trying day in the sense that he was unsure of how to proceed with his plans for one Hermione Granger. The girl was unpredictable. He originally mapped out all of the steps he would take to gain her trust and eventually her help with that little project of his, of which he was presently whipping up in the deserted kitchens of The Hallows. He minced three cloves of garlic ferociously and added it to his bowl of ingredients.
Two months ago, when Hermione Granger made her first splash in the professional culinary world with her ingenious dessert, Tom was livid. He was supposed to be London's hot topic – not Hermione Granger, or should he say Helen Tansley? She stole his thunder and had made Phoenix rise up from their descent in popularity, effectively putting them back on par with The Hallows. Tom had worked his arse off to get ahead of Dumbledore and all that hard work was for naught.
Nevertheless, the problem Tom was currently struggling with was how to approach Miss Granger after last night's… rendezvous, if you could call it that. Before Granger nearly attacked him, Tom had never really thought of the chit in that way. Yes, he could admit that she was rather brilliant, nearly as brilliant as himself.
Not to mention, he hated to admit, that she was not bad to look at. With her caramel skin, chocolate eyes, and riotous head of curls, her beauty was rather hard to not notice. Understated, yet still a force to be reckoned with. And when her full, soft lips met with his own and engulfed him in an atmosphere of frizzy hair and vanilla…
Yes, Hermione Granger was quite the catch, he conceded.
He'd never tell a soul that, though, especially not Slughorn. The fat man was a menace. If Horace weren't so useful for networking, Tom would have cut him out of him life long ago.
Literally speaking. And with a steak knife, preferably.
But never mind that, Tom was never one to dwell on the past.
His head shot up.
"What are you still doing here?" Bellatrix asked, throwing her black trench coat on over her shoulders.
"I have to finish these horcruxes, Bella. You know how important they are and Skeeter is due very soon," he answered, kneading a large ball of dough he had put together earlier.
The black haired woman rolled her eyes.
"You work too hard, Tom. Why don't you let me help you?"
"Unless you find that secret ingredient that seems to be missing from this, then I prefer to work alone."
"I'm sure I can find something to spice it up," she grinned manically.
"Bella, you know how much I find your enthusiasm in cookery to be… inspiring, but we must actually follow the rules for this to succeed. The last thing I need is for an investigation to take place here."
"That only happened once, Tom!"
"And once is quite enough. Or did you forget that that is the reason why you are prohibited from preparing any food. You could have been my head chef."
She pouted. Bellatrix had quite the… er, unique flavor pallet.
"Well if I can't help you cook, then why don't you let me help you… loosen up?" she suggested, smirking.
"Now is not the time for nonsense, Bellatrix," he scolded, pushing his glasses further up his nose with his elbow. "We need to win Skeeter's vote."
"Skeeter this, Skeeter that," Bellatrix complained, "What about me?"
"What you about, dear?" he said, focusing wholly on his handiwork.
"You've been neglecting me, Tom. We don't spend enough time together."
Tom paused his ministrations and sighed. They never spent any time together. Because they weren't a couple, never have been, and never will be.
"Bella, as much as I enjoy humoring you, I highly suggest you leave now."
She was cut off by a butcher's knife being hurled towards her. It landed in the bulletin board she stood in front of, narrowly missing her neck by centimeters.
Bellatrix smiled devilishly. "Oh, Tom, you do know how to keep things exciting between us, don't you?"
The woman was mental. Clever, but absolutely mental. She winked and blew him a kiss before strutting out of the kitchens, leaving Tom to his thoughts once more.
Hermione Granger's attack of his mouth while not altogether unwelcome, was completely uncalled for and inappropriate. His goal was to fascinate her, befriend her – to become colleagues with her and eventually pull her into the ranks of his staff at The Hallows. Tom hadn't meant to start such an intimate relationship with her. Should he feign interest and continue? Or should he ignore the mishap and continue as planned? Yes, one drunken kiss in the scheme of things wasn't a big deal, but Tom was a detail oriented person and he'd be damned if this situation spiraled out of his control.
So the question still remains: how shall one proceed?
I might literally explode if this reaches 100 reviews. So review with caution.