Chapter Twelve

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When Hermione stepped into Deus Lestrange's study, she was immediately confronted with the sight of Lord Voldemort. The Dark Lord was sitting behind the enormous mahogany desk, tapping his fingers against the rim of a whiskey glass, as though contemplating whether to drink.

"Good evening," Hermione said quietly, closing the door behind her.

Lord Voldemort placed the glass of amber liquid on top of the papers in front of him.

"Sit down Miss Black."

Hermione moved stiffly forwards, her limbs feeling half frozen with nerves as she sank into the leather chair in front of the desk.

"So...you are the new Black girl."

Lord Voldemort steepled his fingers beneath his chin and simply observed her. Hermione noticed the gold ring with the black stone on his right hand, and made sure her eyes didn't linger there.

"Yes, I am."

"Yes my Lord."

"Forgive me. But you're not my Lord yet, are you sir?"

For a long moment Hermione was sure that she was going to pay for her insolence, as Lord Voldemort narrowed his eyes at her.

"No, I am not. But the Blacks have always been strong supporters of mine. I would be very interested to learn how a new daughter could appear out of, seemingly, thin air. Particularly one with a taste for murder."

"People appear out of thin air all the time," Hermione said softly. "This is war, after all. Sometimes they disappear too."

"You are walking a very dangerous line," Lord Voldemort hissed, and it took everything Hermione had not to shrink backwards.

"I apologise. I didn't realise until after the matter with Avery that he was one of yours."

Lord Voldemort eyed Hermione for a long moment.

"What would you have done if you had known?"

Hermione noted that Lord Voldemort appeared to have no interest in her motives, and looked at the dark wooden desk in front of him as she answered.

"I'm not sure."

The legilimency invasion would no doubt happen soon. Hermione focussed on walling up all concepts of who she really was, hiding them so far beneath torrents of falsified memories that she almost lost her grip on herself for a moment.

"You know who I am, don't you?"

Hermione looked up to find Lord Voldemort staring at her intently. Up close it was apparent that in spite of his handsome features, there was a slight blurring to them; a distortion that gave the first hints of the monster he would become.

"You are Lord Voldemort."

"That is true, but not what I was looking for Hermione Black. Answer me!

"You are the wizard who is going to change history," Hermione said quietly, speaking with absolute truth. "One way...or another."

The provocation was enough, and with a hiss of irritation, Lord Voldemort stretched out a pale, long-fingered hand across the desk and jerked Hermione's head up until he met her eyes. Then without warning, he entered her mind.

No incantation!

Hermione was surprised, but erected hasty barriers as she had planned. Also as planned, they shattered almost immediately.

Although Hermione had deliberately made the barriers weak, the force and speed with which Lord Voldemort bypassed then startled her, and she knew there was a strong chance her best occlumency walls would not have lasted long against this man. She had made the right choice to protect herself differently.

Not bad Miss Black. But not good enough.

Then with all the finesse of a scrubbing brush, Voldemort began rifling through every single of of Hermione's memories. From the earliest days of her childhood, he took his time and studied them all.

Hermione felt every memory as he studied it, and she knew her plan had worked. Her memories were not very different, but certain things had changed. Like setting a virus loose in her head, Hermione had super-charged specific memories, and spelled them to spread until they infected everything.

Hermione's mother was directing an elf to prepare a meal in the kitchen. But when she turned around her gentle face had been changed, ever so slightly. It was like somebody had seamlessly bled Walburga Black's features into her.

The elf which looked like a combination of Dobby and Kreacher was moving around the kitchen, levitating dishes onto a table that looked quite like the one from Grimmauld place.

"Hurry up Hermione!"

Six year old Hermione stumbled through the door.

"I'm here!"

Hermione could feel Lord Voldemort's restlessness, the tedium of the memory not appealing to him and he shifted abruptly several years into the future.

Twelve year old Hermione was running through the park, being chased by a man that looked like her father, but had the long black hair and grey eyes of Sirius Black.

"Get back here young lady!"

"No! I won't!"

In the original memory, Hermione had been giggling. It was such an easy sound to turn into sobs, until she looked to be truly fleeing something fearful.

Memory by memory, Voldemort saw it all. Dazed, Hermione was barely aware that the memories had been altered anymore. This was her childhood, these were her parents. It was her conviction that allowed her to convince the legilimens in her mind.

Voldemort saw Hermione learning spells and potions, being tutored by her mother at home in a lab space. Mother and teenage daughter sat at the kitchen table and read together, books with titles like Secrets of the Darkest Arts and Magick Most Evile.

"You have to be ready for this world," the mother said fiercely. "We cannot protect you forever."

As Hermione became a teenager, they duelled ferociously. Memory after memory finished with Hermione's mother - who almost resembled Bellatrix Black - kneeling above her daughter holding a knife.

It was dangerous, scrambling memories like this. But there was no other way, when your mind was going to be scoured by a master legilimens. Nobody could construct an entire artificial childhood - the best Hermione could do was change and mix her existing memories to make them produce the impression she was looking for.

The impression that Hermione Black was somebody the Dark Lord just had to have in his ranks.

Hermione was watching her parents through a crack in the kitchen door. The Black-Granger hybrids were reading a newspaper, and talking in low, urgent voices.

"She needs to be ready! Certain factions are growing even more powerful."

The memory shifted, and fifteen year old Hermione was in a stone room, duelling her father.

Hermione and her father spun and danced as they cursed, and time after time Hermione was knocked to the ground or hexed unconcious, before being ennervated to start over again.

"Faster Hermione! Don't let yourself get taken out so easily!"

"I'm trying!"

The memories became more vicious over the months. Hermione grew stronger and faster, but still not enough to satisfy her parents.

"This world is dangerous. You need to be able to fight."

"Please, let me rest!"

"You can only rest when all your enemies are dead."

The final night. Facing off against her mother and father at the same time. Both parents throwing spell after spell, until Hermione was bleeding profusely from cuts across her arms and face, and staggering from a shattered ankle.

"Stop! Please!"

"In the real world, nobody will stop when you ask."

Hermione's rage and fury, her betrayal boiling up inside her until she wanted to kill. Lashing out until both were unconscious.

This memory had been the most difficult to construct, because it was entirely fictitious. Hermione had done her best, but was still relieved when it felt every bit as authentic as the others.

The hard, blazing moment when she burst through the front door, and magically sealed it behind her. Setting the house alight, and watching as it burned to the ground with her parents inside.

Interesting, Miss Black, very interesting. Let's have the rest.

Coming to Hogwarts, lying to Albus Dumbledore and everybody else about how her parents had died. Joining Slytherin, meeting others, her amusement at their pitiful efforts at spells. The fight with Avery, and Hermione's fury at the lack of control and focus, the disgrace of his attack on the child.

Planning, plotting, acting carefully. Murdering Avery.

When Lord Voldemort had seen everything Hermione wanted him to see, he withdrew from her mind, panting slightly. Hermione slumped back into the chair in front of Deus Lestranges desk, and tried to look outraged.

"You invaded my mind!"

Lord Voldemort stared at her, his reddened eyes boring into her own.

"That's right Miss Black, I did. And it was a very interesting place. You also just lied to me. You were aware that the young Avery boy was one of my recruits."

"I was aware," Hermione said, looking down slightly.

"And yet you killed him."

"I'm not under any restriction not to kill him. I'm not one of yours."

Lord Voldemort laughed suddenly. "No restrictions except for the usual laws about murder of course. How would you feel if I released that memory to the Ministry."

"Please don't," Hermione said, making her voice whispery as though she was afraid. She was afraid, her heart pounding heavily. But not afraid of that particular revelation.

Lord Voldemort sat back in his chair and stared at Hermione for several long moments. It was as though she was a tool, and he was deciding whether or not she would be useful to him. The silence stretched on for so long that Hermione wondered if she should run for it, before he finally spoke again.

"That was a very interesting childhood. Tell me about your parents."

"You saw," Hermione said bitterly.

"In your own words."

"They were crazy," Hermione said, her lip curling. "For as long as I can remember they raised me to fight, to use magic as a weapon, and to value power more than anything else."

"Who were they?"

This was where the story could unravel, and so Hermione acted ignorant.

"I don't know. Isn't that ridiculous? They were just mother and father to me, I was Hermione Black, and they raised me in virtual isolation. I think they must have seen what happened with Grindelwald, and decided to make sure I was prepared."

Lord Voldemort eyed Hermione for several long minutes, tilting his head on one side as though he was considering her.

"What did they think they were protecting you from?"

"Anything that might be a threat. I don't think they followed any specific ideology, they were just paranoid."

"But you killed them."

"I was angry. I was in pain, and I thought they were going too far."

"And yet it was that childhood that made you...so capable."

Hermione shrugged. "They were efficient at what they did. But I wouldn't take it any longer."

"You have an extremely careless attitude towards human life."

"Don't you?"

For a long moment Hermione thought Lord Voldemort was going to curse her, but then he tilted back his head and laughed. The sight was so bizarre that she stared.

"I think you might be even more useful to me than Bellatrix."

Hermione lifted her head, to stare at the man incredulously. "What ?""

Lord Voldemort laughed again, but this time it was a cold and merciless sound.

"You heard."

"What are you talking about?"

Lord Voldemort nodded decisively, his cold eyes boring into Hermione.

"I could not let you live, outside of my ranks. You are too unpredictable, too likely to kill again."

"Would that be a problem?" Hermione dared, leaning forwards and resting her elbows on the desk.

"Hardly a problem. But such a waste. So young, and yet so powerful. There's a lot of anger in you, Miss Black."

Bucketloads.

"A desire for power too. You want to make others fear you, make them fall before you. I can offer that."

"What are you saying?" Hermione asked, keeping her voice steady.

"I think you know what I am saying."

"Humour me."

Lord Voldemort laughed again, and picked up his whiskey glass. He tilted it towards his lips, and drained it in one swallow.

"So defiant! I almost don't want to curb it. Bella will enjoy working with you."

"What are you talking about?"

Lord Voldemort stood, and Hermione stood with him. He was tall, and towered over her as he walked around from behind the desk, and looked her up and down. In her tight black dress she felt exposed, but there was nothing lecherous about his gaze. It was like a man deciding which knife would work best for the particular meal he was cooking.

"I accept you, Miss Black. This summer I will summon you, and you will take my mark."

Hermione swallowed, feeling her mouth grow dry.

"Now, I suppose I must call you Lord."

"Yes, you must. And now you are one of mine, you are under my protection but also my orders. I will overlook Avery, but you will not kill again unless I order you to."

Hermione nodded, and Lord Voldemort stepped backwards, gesturing towards the door.

"You may leave. I will be in contact before the summer."

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Hermione left the room shakily, breathing deeply. Her mind was very confused, and the memories she had doctored were spinning through her head. She was aware that they were not real, but couldn't summon the truth. The compulsion to return to her room was so strong that she didn't fight it, but left her feet carry her up the stairs towards her bedroom.

There was nobody in the corridors, and Hermione followed her instincts until she finally reached the bedroom door. Then she stepped through, and without realising it, triggered the cascading ward she had set for herself.

A surge of magic rushed through Hermione like an electric charge, and she barely managed to shut the bedroom door behind her before falling to her knees. Every memory in her head was dividing, splitting, peeling apart and resticking in a different order. It took several minutes, but finally everything was back the way it was.

Hermione Granger. Dentist parents. Time traveller. Harry Potter. Tricking the Dark Lord.

With her mind reassembled in the right order, Hermione burst out laughing manically. The relief was overwhelming. She had done it, and there was very little chance she would have to submit to that kind of examination again. Her mind was safe. And she had succeeded.

I fooled Lord Voldemort.

Hermione laughed harder, almost gleeful with relief. Everything had worked, and she was in. The first step was complete.

Pulling out her blue notebook from her bag, Hermione opened it and flicked to the page she needed. Then, triumphantly, she added a tick against the page to indicate phase one had been successful.

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Thanks for reading,

Cas