Over the course of the next few months, Hermione found herself in constant fear of losing her mind.

She had locked the diary away in her trunk once more with no desire to pull it back out until she knew how to destroy it. She knew what it was, at the very least, and she had hoped that would aid her in her search for how to be rid of it, but finding information on horcruxes was nearly impossible in the Hogwarts library. It was no surprise, as it was inarguably dark, but even when she had just barely managed to charm a pass to the restricted section from Professor Binns she still could find nothing of any interest.

Sometimes she thought she could hear him, and though she knew it was just in her head it still unnerved her. She heard things he had already said, echoing in her mind over and over until she wanted to scream, his voice whispering whenever she thought she was close to finding out how to kill him, I may be your only choice.

He was lying, of course. She knew this. Ginny had spoken, on the rare occasions that she did speak of the diary, of his ability to make her believe things that weren't true to ensure she didn't leave him—making her believe he was her only friend, for one—so she knew this was the same tactic, just barely tweaked in order to suit a different target. Still, the words stuck in her mind, and though they didn't slow her efforts they still filled her with an odd sort of anxiety that questioned if she was making the right choice.

But, she reminded herself, even if Voldemort did survive somehow, somewhere, because of this thing in her trunk. Even if he was alive, destroying it would not ensure his return. If anything, it would make it so that he was finally able to die.

Viktor visited her more in the library, which was interesting, because Hermione had been certain her panicked exit would have made him hesitant to ever approach her again. But approach her he did, at first waiting for her to find a place in the library and then tentatively asking to sit with her, then later on he would sit at her spot and wait for her to arrive.

It was odd.

She didn't particularly dislike it. She rather liked it, in fact, and he never pressed or judged when she asked a question that was rather dark. He only answered, or admitted his ignorance if he did not have an answer to offer to her. It was a lovely distraction, really, because while he did not judge her for her questions he did seem altogether rather uninterested by them, instead rather interested in not speaking at all.

He liked to sit with her. He liked to catch her eye when they were in public and quietly watch her while she worked or spoke with friends. He liked to listen to her speak, whether it was about her research or her classes or anything, and he was rather good at finding places where they could be alone, away from prying eyes, places where she could forget about the evil diary in her bedroom and the lies she told to her friends, away from Harry's involvement in this horrible tournament and her complete inability to do anything to help.

She kissed him first. They had been talking about fighting, for some reason, and she had mentioned punching Malfoy only because Viktor seemed to be of the opinion that Hermione had absolutely no knowledge on how to physically defend herself. He hadn't been precisely condescending when he said it, but there was a certain air of disbelief when he stood—they were hidden away on the grounds of Hogwarts at a spot by the lake, surrounded by the branches of a weeping willow—and offered for her to hit him.

She did. She punched him as hard as she could in the cheek and he had reared back and stared at her for a solid thirteen seconds—she counted—before he laughed, a joyous, defeated sort of sound, and he looked at her like he was amazed, and she said, "I could hit you harder" And he told her, "Oh, I believe you."

The words struck her, made her feel cold and frightened and she remembered a very different voice in very different circumstances say those same words to her, and she was so desperate for the warmth and forgetfulness of Viktor's presence to return that she cupped his face in her hands and just kissed him, just like that, kissed him to stop his laughter and stop the voice in her mind that echoed over and over and over—

He kissed her back. His hands found her waist and stayed there, large and heavy and still, and his nose bumped against hers and he used too much teeth at first and she thought the kiss was altogether rather ordinary, but he was warm, and if she kissed him she could almost get rid of that voice in her head that murmured her name, she could almost get rid of the image of the way his lips moved when he said it—

When they pulled away he asked her to the Yule Ball, breathless and hurried and sounding as if he had not planned at all to ask her in that moment but couldn't stop himself. She said yes.

They never talked about their words. She waited for the conversation to come, waited for him to say it, to bring it up, to blurt it out, "We don't have each other's words. What are we doing? Do you want to stop?" But it never came. But she could swear she felt her words burn every time she kissed him, like someone was branding her, like the world was reminding her that Viktor wasn't hers and she wasn't his, like Tom Riddle was there in the mark on her ribcage to stake his claim.

She always felt him. She heard his voice, felt his fingers brush against her mark when she slept, she dreamed of him following through on the threats he had made in the diary, sometimes his voice was so clear in her head she could almost feel his breath at her ear as he said it, like he was there, like she was going insane.

Draco Malfoy had not approached her since the incident, neither did his cronies. But he still caught her eye sometimes, and she would watch his upper lip curl in disdain when he did. She found it odd that what had happened between them had not exacerbated what already dwelled between them. He always hated her, always went out of his way to torment her nearly as much as he went out of his way to torment Harry, but somehow that moment with the diary had him keeping his distance. She wondered why, wondered what Tom Riddle had said to him, wondered if Draco was as evil as he sometimes seemed or wondered if he was simply afraid, afraid like she was, afraid of the man in the diary and the horrible things he promised.

She wondered, watching Draco Malfoy stand with Pansy Parkinson at the corner of the room at the Yule Ball as Viktor Krum twirled her around the dance floor to distract her from the angry and betrayed glowers of Ronald Weasley, if maybe he had always just been afraid.

The Yule Ball was the beginning of a downward spiral that never seemed to end.

She had fun, at first. Viktor was happy and his happiness was, as always, infectious. He was a better dancer than she had anticipated, better than her, in fact, and she could't help but allow a small part of her to please as well with the way everyone watched her in shock. It was nice to feel beautiful every once and a while, though she couldn't imagine the annoyance of having to put this much effort into her appearance everyday, and it was with that thought that she had to begrudgingly respect girls like Lavender Brown or Pansy Parkinson.

The room was light and the music was loud and Viktor selfishly and unapologetically kept her to himself on the dance floor, and she found herself laughing and having fun and actually forgetting about the man that haunted her mind long enough to genuinely enjoy Viktor's presence without thinking, without forcing it.

Then Ron ruined it.

"Krum?" He demanded, in the short amount of time that Viktor had separated from her in order to get her a drink from the refreshments table—she had warned him ahead of time that it was very possible it could be spiked, considering the twins' presence at the dance, but he saw it fit to risk it—Ron had seized her by the arm and pulled her to the side of the room, his face a darker red than his hair. "Krum?"

"Do you have something to say?" She snapped, jerking her arm away, "Or are you just going to squawk his name again—"

"Krum, Hermione? What the hell?" Hermione's jaw clenched, and she readied herself to offer a snappish response, but Ron continued before she could, "Is that where you'e been all this time? Avoiding us for Krum?"

"Avoiding you?" She echoed, "What makes you think I've been—"

"Because you are!" He exploded, "You leave dinner early every night to go Merlin-knows-where—"

"The library—" She cut in angrily, though that was only sometimes true.

"Harry and I barely see you anymore and then you show up with the enemy—"

"Enemy?" She laughed, a bitter, angry sound, "Wasn't it you who wanted to ask for his autograph?"

"That was before he got put against Harry in the tournament!" Ron snapped, "The tournament you've been doing nothing to help with, by the way—"

"I helped!" She argued, "You were the one who refused to even speak to Harry—"

"That was before!" His hands raised, his fingers curled and tensed and looking as if he was ready to either claw his own eyes out or tear his own hair out, "But I'm with him now—which is just as good because you bloody disappeared!"

She hadn't disappeared, she wanted to say, she was right here! If they needed her all they had to do was ask, she wasn't avoiding them, but then she thought of all the time she had spent on her own thinking about Tom Riddle or all the time she spent with Viktor Krum and she wondered if maybe she had disappeared. If while she was losing her mind she was also losing her friends. She thought he might have a point, because she couldn't remember the last time she really sat with Harry and Ron for longer than a moment, but her anger remained, fierce and steady in her throat, and she waved a finger in Ron's face when she said furiously, "You have no clue, Ronald Weasley," And there must've been something about her tone that effected him, because he looked genuinely shocked, "You have no idea what I've been through!"

"No I bloody don't," He spat, recovering from his shock, "Because you're never around, and then you show up to the ball with Viktor bloody Krum!" She made to leave, because she could see the start of a circular conversation starting and she was so sick and tired of Ron looking at her like she had betrayed him when she hadn't. He caught her arm and she jerked away, but he blocked her path so she couldn't walk away. Neither realized that they were still in the hall, that they were still surrounded by people, that they were making a scene. "Does he have your words?" He demanded, and she wasn't surprised when he asked, he had always been fixated on his own mark and by some extension, everyone else's as well. "That's the only bloody reason I can think for you to bring him of all people—"

"If you were really so worried about who I go to the ball with, you could have asked me yourself!" Hermione snapped, her voice had risen to a volume and tone she didn't often use, but she was so angry, so fed up, she had one night to forget about everything that was going wrong and Ronald Weasley ruins it, ruins everything. "But no, you won't, because you've spent all your time worrying about whether you would meet the girl who bears your mark! Don't pretend you've been worrying all about Harry when I know all you care about are the words on your chest!"

She shoved him in the chest to drive her point home and Ron stared at her with wide blue eyes, looking both angry and upset, but Hermione was too angry to stop herself from continuing even if he had looked apologetic, which he didn't. "Who cares about our words?" She snapped, and tears sprang to her eyes before she could register she was even that upset, "They're horrible, ugly stains on our skin that try and tell us who to love—they're useless and pointless fairytales, they aren't real!" Ron stared at her as if she had slapped him across the face. She lifted her hands to wipe away the tears that were collecting at the corners of her eyes, but they reappeared as soon as she wiped them away.

"Oh just—" She snapped, her throat closing up, she felt so frustrated, so angry, so frightened and sad and this night was supposed to be fun, it was supposed to be perfect, she was supposed to have one moment where she didn't feel haunted by that stupid fucking book and here her supposed best friend comes and just pulls her back into everything. She could hear his voice, could feel his fingers stretch across her side where her mark was, could feel him as if he was right there in front of her, hear him, I'll show you mine if you show me

"Just shut up!" She snapped, "Just leave me alone!"

She left Ron there, looking just as angry and betrayed as he had before the conversation started. She left Viktor wherever he was in the hall, she left the music and the carefree students and the ease of the evening, she felt herself dissolving into tears and she couldn't stop herself, couldn't stop the angry sobs that tore out of her throat. She just needed to get away, to shut herself away somewhere where she could just cry and panic and scream.

But of course her night wasn't over yet.

In her state, she hadn't heard anyone approach her until she felt their hands on her arms, until they pushed her into a nearby alcove, until she was pressed against the wall. At first she was certain it was Ron, running after her to yell at her some more as if he hadn't already said enough, but she found to her intense dismay that her assailant had a bright head of blonde hair, not red, and she felt a vicious, dark sort of anger stretch across her chest like a rubber band and snap—

She raised her knee as hard as she could into his crotch, pushed him away and scrambled to retrieve her wand and raised it against him. He had done the same, hunched over slightly in pain as he held his wand out in front of him. "I swear to God, you come any closer and I'll make you wish you were never born, Draco Malfoy,"

He hesitated, and his face twisted in disgust when he asked, "Are you crying?"

Feeling slightly hysterical, she snapped "What the hell do you want?"

"Where is it?" He demanded, "I know you took it, so where is it?"

He didn't need to clarify what he was asking for, they both knew what he was after before he even spoke. "You think I just carry it with me?" She spat, "You think I want that monster to be with me wherever I go?"

"Watch your tongue, mudblood," He spat back just as viciously, "I don't know what the hell he wanted so badly with you—" Hermione's fingers curled tighter around her wand at his words, "—But I know he wouldn't have wanted to be held prisoner by a filthy—"

"Expelliarmus!" She casted suddenly, and as soon as his wand was thrown from his hand she gripped him by the collar and pulled him toward her, pressing him against the wall he had briefly pinned her against, her wand at his throat. His countenance, as it often did, immediately changed when it became apparent that she had the upper hand. His hands flew up as a sign of surrender and he tilted his chin up, shying away from her wand.

"What does that mean?" She demanded, pressing her wand rather cruelly into his throat, "What did he ask of you?"

"Just you!" He whimpered, still somehow maintaining that sense of superiority even when he was at the mercy of her wand, "I tried to tell him you were nothing but a filthy mudblood, but—"

"Watch what you say," She seethed, tired of his insults, "Or I might lose my temper." She pressed the wand underneath his chin and he tilted his head further back to try and escape it.

"You were never supposed to get that diary." He spat, "It was supposed to go to bloody Potter, but then you wind up with it—"

"Stop." She interrupted, the meaning of his words sinking in all too quickly—he had brought the diary to Ginny. He had meant to get it to Harry, for some reason, but it had wound up in Ginny's care—it was his fault. He brought this horrid thing into her life, he was the reason Ginny had been terrorized and he was the reason she was terrorized now, this was all his fault, all of this was Malfoy's bloody fault. She felt like she could scarcely see past her anger, her vision stained with red, "This is all your fault—" She started viciously, starting to wave her wand before she even truly knew what spell she wanted to cast.

"I was just doing as I was told!" He cried out, squeezing his eyes shut.

"You think that absolves you of the blame?" She snapped, her fist tightening on his collar, "You think—"

She stopped, her anger fading away in an instant. She had something of a realization, an idea, a plan. She watched the way his features scrunched up, preparing for pain, looking so terrified. He had only been doing what he was told, he said. She wondered if he always did as he was told.

"He asked for me." She said after a moment, her voice strangely blank. He opened one eye to peer at her, looking as if he was not at all convinced she wasn't going to physically maim him. "So then what makes me you think he wants you to have the diary? He asked you to bring him to me."

"Why would he want—"

"Shut up." She interrupted, sensing another pointless insult coming. "He entrusted the diary to you and you failed. You really think he believes you deserve a second chance?" Malfoy looked terrified, which was oddly satisfying, "The moment he has the chance, you'll face the consequences of your failure." She hesitated, reading his expression before she added, "And so will your family." He jolted, as if he hadn't truly expected her to mention them. "But you can save them," She promised him, "If you help me."

He hesitated, and after a moment he very quietly said, "That's exactly what he said."

Hermione wasn't sure how to respond at first, uncomfortable with the knowledge that she had done anything like that monster, but she collected herself quickly. It didn't matter if they had the same approach—it only mattered if it worked.

"So who will you trust?" She asked, "The man trapped in a book? Or the girl who wields the book?"

He didn't answer.

"All I need," She told him quietly, "Is when you go home, to look through your family library—I know you have one—find any mention of the word horcrux and bring those books to me."

"And what will you do with them?" He asked, "Why do you need to know about horcruxes?"

"I'm going to kill him." She answered steadily, and Malfoy jerked, his hands—which had previously dropped to his sides—rose to grip her wrists to try and get away but she pressed her wand into his throat once more in warning. "Don't move." She snapped.

"You're out of your bloody mind—"

"You don't have to help me kill him," She told him, "You just need to bring those books to me, that's it." His hands still gripped her wrists, but he didn't move her arm away lest she feel prompted to cast a spell. He looked unconvinced, so she continued, "He trusts me," She said. It was a lie, but she said it anyway. "Why else do you think he asked you to bring me to him instead of leaving the diary in your hands?" She unfurled her fist from his collar and he in turn, lowered his own hands. Her wand remained pressed against his neck. "So if I made him think you were disloyal, he would trust my judgement."

"You wouldn't do that," He told her, his sneer back in place now that she didn't seem on the edge of hexing him. "You're too Gryffindor."

"Why would I ever stand up for you when you have done nothing but terrorize me my entire life?" She spat, and his expression fell back to that terrified grimace. "If you do this for me," She told him, "Then I'll owe you."

He nodded, quickly and solemnly, as if he felt he truly had no choice. Hermione was surprised by his agreement, so it took her a moment to move away and lower her wand from his neck. "You'll do it?" She clarified.

"Yes, I'll bloody do it." He said, "I'll get your bloody books, just put the wand away!"

She lowered it, watched him for a moment where he was pressed against the wall. He believed her, she realized. He believed that Tom Riddle trusted her enough for her to have sway over whether or not Malfoy would be punished or not. He believed his choice to be either help her kill the monster or be killed by the monster himself. She wondered what Tom Riddle had said to make this situation even a little bit believable. She wondered—

Her blood turned to ice. Did he know about the mark?

"What else did he say to you?" She demanded, her voice finally calm. "He asked you for me, did he tell you why?"

Malfoy shook his head, "He told me he needed your blood. When I told him it was filthy—" She gritted her teeth, "He told me—he said not to question his judgement."

The way he said it—the way his tone suddenly changed and he rushed to the end of his sentence—told Hermione he had said something much worse than to simply not question his judgement. But the fear that flashed across Malfoy's face led her to believe that whatever Voldemort had said, it had nothing to do with her.

"Alright," She finally said, slowly lowering her wand and watching the way his shoulders sagged with relief. "Alright then. Bring me the books." He nodded, and she found herself at a loss of how to end this. She had never threatened anyone like this before. So after a moment, she said unsurely, "Thank you."

Malfoy looked just as confused as she did, and he warily responded, "You're…welcome."

"Goodbye." She said, meaning it as a dismissal but it sounded much more like a pleasant farewell. Malfoy nodded, carefully moved to the side and picked up his wand. Hermione watched as he did, ready for him to turn on her again, but he didn't. Instead he sped-walked down the corridor and away from her, back toward the hall where the dance was being held.

She remained there for a long time, her wand still drawn, slowly blinking away the anger. She felt, momentarily, very unlike herself. She wondered at the way she had so easily threatened and manipulated Malfoy into doing what she wanted, how she had held herself back from violence only because she thought the only way to get what she wanted was to let him go unharmed. She had been so phenomenally angry with him, angry with the situation, angry with the book who haunted her everywhere she turned, and she suddenly had the single, terrifying thought that the very man she sought to destroy would likely be very proud of the way she had just acted.

How is it, she thought, that she felt like she knew him, knew what he would think, knew that he would approve of her actions when she hardly knew him past a few uncomfortable moments in his presence that he largely spent threatening her. She remembered him so vividly, the tone of his voice, the feel of his fingers gliding across his ribs to feel her mark, she remembered each and every word he said in perfect, vivid detail, she couldn't get him out of her head, he was always there, taunting her, mocking her. She could hardly go a single moment without remembering him. She couldn't even kiss Viktor without his hand spanning her ribcage and then she would suddenly feel like he was there, pinning her against the wall and spewing vile threats—

"Hermione?" She heard a voice call, and she jerks her wand up to face the source. At first she thought it was him—why wouldn't it be? She couldn't sleep or wake or speak to anyone without him popping up in her mind, why not pop up in reality, too?—but it was only Harry, standing at one end of the corridor watching her warily. "Hey," He said reproachfully, "What's…what's happened?"

She lowered her wand, and she truly thought she was through with crying until that moment. Her distraction with Malfoy had been exactly that, a distraction, but the sick and horrible feeling in her gut returned tenfold now that it was over. She was so jealous of people like Ron, people like Harry, people who could look upon their mark without disdain and without fear. She could hardly focus on what she should be focusing on—helping Harry with the tournament, at the very least—because all she could think about was the person she was bound to trapped in a book in her trunk in her room. Evil incarnate, his handwriting carved into her side, and she didn't even know what that meant, she didn't even know how deep these bonds went, what if it really was him in her mind, what if she wasn't going crazy, what if he was truly there

"Oh, Harry," She breathed, tears welling up in her eyes again. She didn't know what else to say. She couldn't tell him, not when he had the tournament to deal with. She couldn't tell Ron because he would tell Harry straightaway. She couldn't tell Ginny, she couldn't tell Viktor, she wanted more than anything to tell a professor but she feared her immediate expulsion or even stint in prison—she was harboring the dark lord in her bedroom for god's sake—She could do nothing but lean against the wall and slide down, bury her face in her hands and just cry without saying anything.

Harry sat beside her, he wound his hand around her shoulders and she let him pull her into his chest. "Ron said you two fought."

"Ron is an insensitive, paranoid bastard." Hermione spat. She felt simultaneously annoyed and somewhat mollified by the way she felt Harry's shoulder shake with laughter.

"Yes, he is that." Harry agreed, "I'd wager he's pretty sorry for it, though."

She didn't answer.

"What's gotten into you?" Harry asked, not unkindly, but with a genuine curiosity and concern that weighed on her shoulders just as heavy as his arm. He wasn't talking about only this moment, she knew. He was talking about the past few weeks, the difference in the way she was acting.

"It's nothing." She said quietly. "Or it's…a lot of things, I just—" She sat up straighter so she could meet Harry's eyes, "Do you ever feel like…you think about someone so much that it's almost like they're—they're in your head." She wasn't sure what to make of the way his brows furrowed in concern, and his eyes for a moment drifted down and away from hers, staring unseeing into the space between them. "Like you're losing your mind?"

"I—" He started, then stopped, then started again, "I—Who are we talking about?"

Hermione sighed. "No one." She said, "Never mind."

"Well I just—" Harry continued, "I didn't realize you and Viktor were that close—"

"We're not." She said firmly. "It's not Viktor, and…we're not."

"Oh." Harry said, nodding, "Is it…is it Ron?"

"Ugh, no." Hermione screwed up her face.

"Oi," Harry warned her goodheartedly, smiling despite his tone.

"Sorry," Hermione rolled her eyes, though she really wasn't, "I love Ron, but if I was his soul mate I really would lose my mind."

Harry laughed at that. "Yeah, me too." He admitted with a shrug. "God help whoever he gets."

"They'll have to be as bad as him." Hermione said. Harry laughed again, and she felt herself finally calming down since the incident with Ron. The anger and sadness in her chest was finally unfurling, falling away. How long had it been since she had sat with Harry or Ron and just relaxed, instead of desperately trying to forget by spending all of her time with Viktor? She liked Viktor, surely, but time with him was nothing like time with her friends.

And she had left Harry to deal with the next task alone.

"How are you coping?" She finally asked him, wrapping her arms around her knees as they sat and watching him closely, "With the task?"

"Ah, well…" He stalled, "Not—not well. Cedric gave me a tip but—"

"Well what did he say?" Hermione demanded.

"Uh—to put it in water—"

"So did you?"

"No," He answered a bit sheepishly. Hermione hit him on the shoulder.

"Why not?" She demanded.

"Well, I don't know," She hit him on the shoulder again, "There's been—a lot happening lately—"

"Like what?" She snapped, "What could possibly be more important than—" He gave her a slightly odd look then, and his meaning was explicitly clear. She had no leg to stand on, lecturing him about being distracted when she had been distracted herself. I have a reason, she wanted to shout, I have the dark lord in my bedroom. But instead she backed off, nodded, and said, "Alright, well, you need to do it as soon as possible."

"Yes, I know." He agreed a bit irritably.

"I guess you should get back to the dance," She told him, "I see you and Ron came with Padma and Parvati?"

"Yeah, well." Harry shrugged, looking extremely important, "Needed a date, didn't I?"

"Thats a horrible thing to say." She admonished him, feeling sorry for the twins if this was the attitude Harry and Ron had while accompanying them.

"Well, we can't all take Viktor Krum, now can we?"

"Did you want to take Viktor?" She teased.

"No." Harry rolled his eyes, but there was something in the way he refused to elaborate that told her she wasn't entirely wrong. There was someone he wanted to take, and Hermione wished he felt comfortable enough to tell her. Had she really been so distant that he couldn't even tel her who he fancied?

Then again, he had always been a bit secretive about that sort of thing, his mark that he kept hidden and secret only the tip of the iceberg. "Who did you want to take?" She asked.

"Doesn't matter." He shrugged, "But you're right, I should get back. You coming?"

"No." She shook her head, "I can't go back in there after the scene Ron and I caused." Harry opened his mouth as if ready to disagree, so she hurried on, pulling herself to her feet before he did. "Viktor will understand." She said firmly, leaving no room for argument.

Harry nodded. "Don't make yourself scarce, alright?" He said, his hand clasping her arm. She smiled and nodded.

"I'll see you tomorrow." She promised him.

If this moment, fueled by her deal with Malfoy and Harry's concern and care, felt like a moment of victory she would soon find it was nothing of the sort.

She didn't think of her dreams at length when she was awake, but it was not for lack of remembering them. She remembered every moment, every horrible thing that happened in them. She supposed it didn't help that the object of her fears was at the foot of her bed in her trunk, reeking of dark magic, but it wasn't as if she had anywhere else she could hide it. So she suffered through the dreams, the nightmares, and made a concerted effort to forget them during the day—or at the very least not think of them.

Sometimes he did what he threatened to do in the diary, he sliced her open, dug his fingers into her chest and ripped her apart. Once he plucked and pulled his way to her ribcage and carved his words on her bones, so that she would have to burn herself to ash in order to erase his claim on her. Sometimes he killed her friends, most often Harry, sometimes he made her kill them instead. Sometimes he did nothing more than wrap his fingers around her throat and speak to her, his other hadn't on her mark, he repeated the words he had already spoken to her, the things she shouldn't believe but she still found herself dwelling on, the promises he made to help her if she helped him.

Those were the worst of all, because she couldn't wake and shake them off and blame it on her overreactive imagination. In those dreams she always nearly said yes, just to stop this horrible feeling in her gut that hadn't disappeared since she found him, just to end this paranoia that at any moment the darkest wizard of all time would return and she would have don't nothing to stop it. Just to get his hands off of her so she didn't have to think about them when Viktor was holding her.

This night was different.

Emotionally and physically exhausted, Hermione climbed the moving staircases to Gryffindor tower and returned to her room. She wondered more than once if she should turn back and tell Viktor, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She would explain it to him later, she decided, and she dragged herself to her room and threw herself on her bed without even changing out of her dress robes.

She planned to change. She just wanted a moment. She wanted a moment of quiet, to assure herself that Malfoy would do as he was asked, that she would be rid of this horrible thing soon. She could feel it where it was hidden, always aware of its presence. She wondered if horcruxes could do that, reach out to you, wrap its magic around you and make you feel suffocated and angry and scared. She wondered how long she would have to live with nightmares of him—the man she was supposedly bound to, the man who would sooner skin her alive than kiss her or hold her or love her, the man she would sooner bury alive than love him—how long would she be keeping secrets before it was all finally over?

Is this what Ginny felt every day, she wondered? When she was eleven?

She fell asleep wondering that, wondering about all that he did to her, wondering about all the things Ginny never said, and wondering what it might be like to trace her fingers over her mark without feeling dirty again.

She dreamed of him again.

Like all dreams, it was extraordinarily difficult to discern when you were in one. So when she sat in that now familiar study, with the false white-light shining in through the window, to her it was real. He was standing, and unusually he was far away. The study seemed to stretch much further than she remembered, and she sat in his arm chair, dressed in the same clothes she wore during the first task, when Malfoy had stolen her away and brought her to the devil. He wore muggle clothes, too, a button down shirt and slacks, and his sleeves were rolled up and his hands clasped behind his back so she could see the edges of his mark, her handwriting on his skin.

"I tried to carve it off when I was a child," He told her evenly, as if he knew she was looking, as if he displayed it on purpose. "Before I knew what it meant."

"I hope it hurt." She told him. She regretted the words when he turned his head to face her and she saw the beginnings of a smile.

"You have a particular kind of viciousness in you." He told her, his dark eyes meeting hers as he turned to fully face her. She felt pinned to the chair, unable to move or turn away no matter how much she loathed the sight of him.

"It's not vicious to wish pain upon a monster." She told him.

"No," He agreed, "It isn't." He walked toward her, and the closer he came the more the rooms seemed to close in on her, suffocate her, until his hands were on each armrest and he loomed over her and there seemed to be no room left, like he controlled the environment so completely that he could imprison her in his arms, keep her from running away. She met his eyes and forced away every ounce of discomfort in her chest, refused to show him she was afraid. "To wish pain upon a boy, that might be vicious."

She didn't know what he meant.

"Poor Draco Malfoy," He murmured, and her blood went cold. "The things you would do to him if left to your own anger."

"I don't know what you—"

"You can't hide from me, Hermione Granger," He told her, "You can hide from your friends, but you can't hide from me." She pressed herself into the chair away from him but he leaned further, his features alight with absolute glee at the discomfort he could see on her face. "You wanted to hurt him nearly as badly as you want to hurt me."

She kicked him, lashed out and kicked him as hard as she could in the leg. It worked in forcing him away from her, and she stood as quickly as she could to try and put distance between them. "You don't know anything," She spat, "You weren't there—you don't know what happened—get out of my head!"

He moved too quickly, he caught her wrists behind her back, pressed her front against the wall of books. She was forced to turn her face toward him, and he was so close she could feel every inch of him, she could feel the strange burning sensation that always accompanied his touch. His lips were by her ear when he spoke, sounding every bit the monster she knew he was when his voice came out scarcely more than a hiss. "Wasn't I?" He asked her as her heart pounded so forcefully it made her chest hurt, "You forget, Hermione," She hated the way he said her name, but more than that she hated the way one of his hands moved to circle her waist so that his fingers pressed into the place his words were, "I'm always with you."

"You're always in a book—" She rebutted fiercely.

"Why would I let you leave?" He challenged her, "Why would I allow you to leave me in that trunk of yours," She jerked away, uncomfortable with how much he knew, but he held her still. He wasn't in her head, she told herself, that was impossible, he wasn't— "Why would I let you go," He asked her again, and he pressed his hand more firmly against her mark and curled his fingers, his nails digging into her skin. "When you're mine?"

"Get off of me—" She demanded, but he didn't, he turned her around so that her back was pressed against the bookshelf and she didn't understand why she couldn't move, why her body felt so heavy and useless. He was so close, far, far too close, his hands both rested on her ribcage and stayed there, heavy and still, and she didn't understand what was happening. He hadn't hurt her yet, not really, he was just trying to scare her, but somehow this was worse, this closeness and his hands on her, it seemed far, far worse than any amount of torture he could unleash upon her.

"I'm not yours," She seethed, "Not anymore than you are mine."

"Don't you feel the way it calls to you?" He asked as if she had never spoke, "Don't you feel the way you've changed?" She finally managed to lift her hands despite the heaviness of her arms, to press them against his chest and push, but he went nowhere. "You're already keeping secrets from your friends, making deals with Malfoys." She shook her head, still trying to push him away, "Before long I think you'll find that you are just like me—"

"Let me out." She demanded breathlessly, and then much more severely, "Let me out of here right now,"

"Let you out?" He mocked, and no matter how she shoved at him he wouldn't budge. His hand that rested over her mark moved, but only to slide under the fabric of her shirt so she could feel him skin-to-skin. She didn't expect it to feel so violating, but it did, his fingers gliding up her side until they found his words. She felt a jolt when he touched her, like electricity jumping from his fingertips to her skin. "Where will you go?" He asked, "Where will you go that I won't follow?"

She didn't know the answer to that, she didn't know where she could go that she wouldn't hear his voice in her head. She didn't know how to be free of him, how to get away and stop thinking about him every moment, stop hearing his voice and feeling him near her. Her mind was screaming, split in halves, one part of her saying how ludicrous it was to ever believe he had gotten in her head and the other part of her screeching that of course he was there, of course he was, she would never get away.

She felt that dark anger build in her chest, that feeling was becoming rapidly familiar, and she just wanted his hands off of her, she wanted him to get away from her, she wanted him to stop trying to scare her, to leave her alone, she wanted him to die, she—

"We're soulmates, Hermione," He reminded her, and she could feel his breath on her ear, "Surely you know that isn't decided by chance?" When she finally managed to push him away she thought he had probably let her. As he stumbled back, he looked far too pleased, far too delighted in the face of her anger.

She picked up the lit, single candelabra on the desk and she drove it into his throat.

She jerked awake, and it took her a few moments for her mind to come back to her and her heart to slow for her to realize it was a dream. It was just a dream, again, nothing but a dream, and she wished more than anything she could recognize it for a dream while it was occurring. She calmed her breath, calmed her mind, calmed her heart, sat up in bed and tried to stop her hands from shaking. This was the first time she had her had an upper hand in a dream. This was the first time she had the chance to react with violence before he struck her. Somehow, it only made her feel worse.

What was this horrible feeling that kept building up in her chest? She was no stranger to anger, no stranger to the desire to hit—she had hit Malfoy before, after all—but this anger was different, it was deeper, it was mean and cruel and it made her wish for horrible, horrible things.

It was his fault, she realized. And she knew everything in the dream was just that, a dream, nothing more, but she couldn't help but wonder, couldn't help but question everything he had said. Was it true? Was he in her head now? Was he the source of this sick and terrible anger that plagued her? Was he truly there in her dreams, taunting her, torturing her? It was more than her losing her mind, more than her stress and lack of sleep—he was there with her always, following her around like her shadow, a dark and horrible monster that had latched itself to her mind and taken over. This was all his fault—her fight with Ron, her distance from her friends—all of this was his bloody fault, and she—

She couldn't take it anymore. She had to know. She couldn't wait for Malfoy to find those books for her so she could destroy him—she had to know now before she completely lost herself, before this ugly anger took over and she turned into him, she had to.

She was fueled by her desperation and lack of sleep and the fear that still remained from her nightmare. She certainly wasn't thinking straight, she was barely awake, taking the things that had happened in her dream for reality, but none of that stopped her from digging in her trunk for that book and holding it in her hands. She was startled by how warm it felt, hot and pulsing almost as if it was alive, as if its magic—his magic—was reading out for her, desperate and wanting and angry to have been kept waiting. It felt like him, left a strange, tingling feeling in her fingertips when she held it, and she wondered if it had always felt like this and she hadn't noticed, if it had always felt so alive, so human.

She crawled onto her bed, fighting with the skirts of her dress robes. She pulled the curtains shut and opened the diary, and she sliced her thumb on the edge of the page deliberately, letting the blood drip onto the page in uneven droplets, watching them fade into nothingness.

Then she saw nothing but white.

sO WHATS UP IM A BITCH

listen….like im sO SORRY

its just that time of year u kno? Christmas was crazy busy and then new years was crazy busy and now i have like 4 essays due at the end of january so like I'm a meSS i really shouldn't even be writing thIS like I'm the wORST idek how loNG ITS BEEN its just been like a liFETIME ITS BEEN BAD FOR ME TOO GUYS I MISS IT

SO IM BACK (sort of kind of might not be permanent)

point is I posted sOMETHIGN! so…..yay? ? ? ? ? anyway like i said I have maNY essays so i might go off the radar a little bit after this but i'm REALLY HOPING that in february I can get back to my super quick update schedule like I used to do? because come february I will (hopefully) have more time on my hands to write! knowing me tho i might update before then if I'm procrastinating on my essays idek man ideK

but anyway…i know tom wasn't actually in this chapter except for hermione's dream tom which…isn't the same…..? ? ? like wow i get it u disappear 4 a month and us come back with thiS BUT LISTEN TOM WILL BE IN THE NEXT CHAPTER LIKE FIRST THING it just didn't fit with teh flow if i crammed him in the end of this chapter too u feel? ? ? DO U FEEL ME PLS DONT HATE ME IM NOT ENJOYING UR PAIN lmao i need 2 chill

I just missed writing and posting so much, so I hope this is up to par and i hope you guys like it even though this chapter was a little slow going. I also forgot how frustrating it is to post a single chapter to a story that has like so many unanswered questions that I haven't even begun to address like I'm a lil mad at this but hey wuts new lmaooooooooooo

shoot I'm rambling listen thank you all so much for all of your support and comments and favorites and follows and thanks for all your patience! I know how frustrating it is when an author takes forever to update but life is life and i appreciate those of you who haven't lost interest yet! I'm kind of exited for this story and I'm excited to share it with you guys and see what you think so i know this chapter was kind of uneventful but i would still love to hear what you think! !

lots of love and yaayyyy I'm not dead guys I'm alive! ! ! ! love you lots i'll see you soon