Tom was rereading one of the many grimoires he'd managed to collect over the last two years while he waited for Hermione to arrive. A small list of spells was written down on a corner of parchment beside him, all of which he hoped to teach her as quickly as possible.

Being able to cast a patronus would hardly save her if this Pettigrew bloke she'd told him about attacked her trying to get to Harry and his godfather.

It didn't help that she refused to acknowledge whatever had upset her so fiercely. Her moods were subdued when they met in the room, even if her nervous shuffling had mostly ceased and she had gone back to making consistent eye contact. It bothered him. She would be easy pickings to any threat in her current state, but if he could rebuild her confidence a bit, maybe her moods would be better.

That was the only solution he'd managed to come up with so far. He'd even started watching his classmates at meals again, analyzing how the masses approached 'friendships' and what sort of behaviors constituted the best way to participate in such an arrangement. So far, his analyzing had yielded rather unhelpful results, but Tom felt as if he understood a few conflicting key points.

One. Most people weren't as good at pretending to be friendly as he was.

Two. Most people couldn't keep their true feelings off their faces.

Three. Most people were outstandingly bad at reading the body language of those around them.

Four. Friendships were fragile and surprisingly tedious to break for those involved.

Five. Having friends did not mean someone was good at being a friend.

Six. Friendships could be fake.

Seven. Enemies could be friends for the sake of a common goal.

Eight. Friendships could be one-sided.

Tom didn't think most of these realizations would help him with Hermione, but he took note of them just in case. Even if they weren't useful to him now, they could be in the future.

He also started paying closer attention to how Hermione spoke of the people he knew she spent a lot of time with and considered her friends. She'd told him how her friendship with Harry was borderline sibling-like in nature, though Tom had observed that many siblings didn't get along nearly as well as Hermione claimed she and Harry did. Abraxas's grandson was a close second behind Harry, but she'd yet to refer to him as a near-sibling. She considered Nott's son a kindred spirit, which confused him since the boy was apparently as quiet and somewhat-aloof as his father. She wasn't overly fond of the Zabini boy, and she no longer considered Ronald Weasley a friend at all.

Weasley was a prime example of points one through six in Tom's book, namely point five. He imagined five was the primary reason Hermione's Slytherin side had kicked in regarding the Weasley prick, solidifying her fraternity towards Harry and her Slytherin companions all the more. Tom supposed he was grateful to the little arse. He was getting the sense that part of Hermione's newly developed issues stemmed from her improper sorting, especially after he'd studied the Gryffindors in his time.

If he thought she'd follow his order without putting up a fight, he'd demand she switch houses immediately. She would do better surrounded by like-tempered housemates. Hermione had told him about the chaos of the Gryffindor common room. It made him shudder to think about it and he felt slightly ill upon realizing she had to live in such hell.

The Slytherin common room rarely got anything close to 'rowdy'. Slytherins were a private lot. They stuck to their small clusters of closest associates, spoke at reasonable to quiet levels amongst one another, and vacated the common room entirely if they wanted a change in atmosphere. Even the fireplaces were charmed to be somewhat quieter. One could sit at a table with one's companions and study or relax. The mind could clear. The overall energy of the space was relatively neutral. Everyone minded their own business for the most part and offered their less-acquainted housemates a baseline of courtesy. The only times Tom had ever experienced a ruckus in the Slytherin dorms were when someone was fleeing for the hospital wing or some other emergency had broken out.

Hopefully as she was able to let the should-be-Ravenclaw-in-Gryffindor fade away by spending time with him, she'd come to realize how much better her life would be surrounded by her real housemates.

Tom skimmed to the end of the chapter he was on and through the few chapters he considered relevant to his plans for the little witch. After a yawn and a quick stretch to loosen the muscles between his shoulder blades, he reached for the tomes Cherie had recommended to him. Within the pages he held was the potential to forever change Hermione's worth in wizarding society - whether their fellow magicfolk realized it or not was of little consequence. He could remedy their ignorance in the future, but first they had to successfully complete the ritual.

From what little research he managed to study on the subject, Tom was able to deduce that magical theorists had been contemplating the concept of sharing magic —and traits within magical lines— for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. The deeper he dug, the more he understood about hereditary magical traits and Salazar Slytherin's notes.

Most theorists, including Slytherin, seemed to agree that there were two main manifestations of magical traits — merged and bound — within the realm of shared magic.

If a trait was merged, then it was capable of being passed down biologically to magical children. If a trait was bound, then that individual possessed the trait, but could not pass it to their descendants. It seemed simple enough at first, but in practice it became far more difficult.

Salazar Slytherin had noticed that not all of his descendants ended up possessing his ability to communicate with snakes. The ritual he designed to combat the issue could potentially merge or bind the parseltongue trait to the receiving party. How the magic intertwined with the receiving witch or wizard was impossible to know until they bore children, of course, though that was a matter that Tom found little consequence it at the moment. The most interesting part of Salazar's ritual in his eyes was that it had also told his ancestor who in the family had the strongest magic.

There were times when the ritual took months of repetition to take hold. Salazar's notes detailed several half-hour to two hour long sessions multiple times a week in all cases, but how many weeks were spent practicing the chant was entirely dependent on the magical strength of the caster and the receiver.

Salazar's strongest daughter had gained his gift in just under a month. His weakest grandson took nearly half a year of practicing the chant for an hour multiple times a week. Tom wasn't sure how their time difference might impact her progress, but he planned to base it on how many hours he spent casting his magic towards her, instead of however long she ended up trying to receive the trait from him. The way he saw it, the connection through the diary was influencing the progression of time between them on her side, which meant he was moving at a normal pace, with her at double speed.

He'd count it at as a victory if she was a parselmouth before he went on summer holiday.

But he needed her to be capable of defending herself in the meantime. A patronus would only help her against the dementors on the grounds, but if Pettigrew managed to get into the school… With Dumbledore as her headmaster, the odds of Hermione being in real danger this year were too high for his liking.

Tom wrote Occlumency and Legilimency in one of his smaller journals, the one he used to keep a list of things he needed to teach Hermione in the future.

Research. Dueling training. The ritual.

He had a lot to teach the little witch and he needed to search the library again, or maybe even Slytherin's study, for more ideas to mend whatever was wrong with her. Trying to make sense of 'friendship' by watching the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors had started giving him headaches at mealtimes...

Tom put his books away the moment Hermione slipped through the door, glad that she was finally present.

"So…lessons and a project?" she asked as she put her things down. "What's the project?"

"The ritual I mentioned," he said absently, glossing over the small list of spells he aimed to teach her. "Something we'll likely have to practice once a meeting for a period of time, but that shouldn't be very taxing on either of us."

Hermione nodded and shrugged off her outer robe. He gave her an approving nod when he saw she already had her wand out and inclined his head to the open space behind their usual study area. The Room conjured three training dummies across from where she stood as Tom shrugged out of his robe as well and followed her.

"Cast a patronus," was his first order.

Her Royal Python, bright and fully formed, danced in the air around them.

"What's the opposite of a patronus?" he asked, smirking when she gave him a puzzled look. "The spell is called Fiendfyre, but it has no incantation. If your patronus is a manifestation of protection and happiness, then your fiendfyre will be a manifestation of aggression and anger. One is a sentry. The other is a warrior."

She bobbed her head in understanding and went still when he flicked his wand at her hair. Once it was wrapped up in a bun atop her head, he smirked again and said, "Fiendfyre, Dove. We don't need you going up in flames if you manage to cast one. Controlling it is the hard part."

"But how do I cast it, then? There's no incantation, so there's no timing the energy…" she said.

Tom moved to stand beside her, made sure he had her attention, then raised his wand towards one of the dummies. Hermione jumped when a burst of flames left his wand, took the shape of a young basilisk, and turned the dummy to ash before it floated above the ground - waiting.

"You want anger, hatred, negative emotions. Try thinking of it as conjuring something that will fight in your stead," he told her, casting a finite on his flaming serpent. "Most people can cast fiendfyre, but they can't make it corporeal the way I just did, the way a patronus would be."

"Are the shapes important?" she asked. "Do they mean anything?"

Tom shrugged. "I didn't care much about the lore of shapes when I initially researched them in third year, to be perfectly honest. I'm sure you could find out though. Ask other me."

Her first few attempts had yielded non-corporeal fiendfyre that he had to help her contain, but she was a quick study. In barely half an hour he didn't really need to spot her anymore. The flames were contained.

"Think of the angriest you've ever been," he said as she cast again. "Don't think about giving it a shape so much as giving it a strict enough purpose that it chooses its own shape. From there, you'll know a shape to imagine the next time."

She paused, breathing hard between casts, and was silent for several moments. He watched her fists clench, her grip on her wand tighten to a point that appeared painful.

You've got it, Dove.

The next whip of her wand towards the dummies was angrier, faster, hotter. Tom grinned as the initial burst of flames took shape just before it torched the dummies. She still had it under control. The little thing turned around, no longer hissing at threats, and came out of its crouch.

When it sat, flicked its tail, and tilted its head at the two of them, Tom threw his head back and laughed.

"A fox?" he asked. "How unassuming."

"Foxes are still canines," Hermione told him, her smile as mean as it was proud. He wondered how she'd react if he told her how well dark magic suited her. "They're cunning. Predators."

Tom glanced at the fiendfyre fox sitting innocently before them.

"I'm terrified," he deadpanned as she vanished it. "That's the hardest spell of the lot. We'll keep practicing it over the next few weeks, but if you mastered that in less than an hour, the rest of the spells on my list will be easy enough for you."

Reducto. Confringo. Diffindo. Deletrius. Everte Statum.

His Dove was an even quicker study riding the high of success after casting her fiendfyre. By the time she'd finished another round of blowing up the last round of dummies he asked the Room for, it was quarter-til midnight. According to his pocket watch, anyway.

The Room had refreshments waiting for them on their study table when they went back to the sofas for a break, giving Tom the chance to launch into a mini-lecture about shared magic before he explained the ritual. By the time he'd finished going over the basic theory and execution, Hermione was frowning.

"So…how long will we do this before deciding it isn't going to work?" she asked. "There's no guarantee that it will work, afterall, never mind the fact that—" Pink dotted her cheeks as she glanced away, her frustration easy to read.

"That you're muggleborn?" he guessed, studying her body language. For all her ambition and need for perfection, he was somewhat shocked to realize that mart of her motivation stemmed from her heritage. They —a half blood and a muggleborn— were stronger that a dozen purebloods on a bad day, let alone a good one. "It will work, Dove."

"How do you know?" she muttered.

"I just do."

It had to work. Magic would certainly echo what he already knew — that the witch was powerful enough, worthy enough, for such a trait. She deserved this power, this…gift and Tom would do everything within his means to be sure she received it.

"We'll practice a few times tonight just to make sure you have the chant memorized," he said suddenly, moving so he was on one end of his sofa. "Come here. We'll have to sit directly in front of each other."

She hesitated for a beat before following his directions and sitting cross-legged on the other end of the sofa. She draped her robes over her legs, whether for modesty or because she was cold he wasn't certain, and waited for his next instruction.

"Hold out your left hand, palm up." He laid his right hand on top of hers so the heels of their hands were in each other's palms. "Hold my wrist - yes, just so. Make sure the heel of your hand is resting comfortably. The contours of the hands are important. Excellent."

Her wrist felt so slim in his hands, her cool fingers tiny against his arm. Part of him found her smallness endearing. The other part of him found it maddening. Small things were easy to break. Small things were weak. She needed to eat more…grow faster. He knew she was strong magically, but it would be all too easy for an assailant to physically overpower her if they attempted a more muggle approach of attack.

Tom wasn't fond of the realization that for all her magical strength, she was still potentially at a great disadvantage in the world. He added it to his mental list of things to look out for in the future. Things to fix.

"The incantation is a bit of a mouthful," he explained as he pulled a length of braided leather cord from his pocket with his free hand. "The goal is that you'll be able to understand me, even if you can't understand yourself."

He wrapped the leather around their joined hands and she helped him tuck the loose ends between their palms so it wouldn't come undone.

"Define 'mouthful'," she said. "Is it a lot to say or difficult to say?"

Tom sighed. The annoying part. "Both. Roinnt mo chumhact. Roinnt mo chuid fola."

Hermione gave him a blank stare, blinking once before she spoke. "Um…I got the fola part…"

He snorted. "Yeah well, if you think that's awful, imagine trying to read or bloody spell that shite."

She cringed in sympathy. "Was the translation terrible?"

"It took me forty minutes just to figure out the pronunciation."

They situated themselves as comfortably as possible given their restricted mobility before Tom spoke again.

"Keep in mind that this is very, very old magic. We might need to do this for an hour or so per visit for…quite some time for it to take root. I don't want you getting discouraged."

She shrugged. "This was your idea," she reminded him. "I'm happy to learn, of course, but also not certain why you're so insistent on it."

It was his turn to blink at her. "We discussed this already. The ritual is to make you a Parselmouth."

"Right, but you never really explained why," she said.

So you can run to the Chamber if you get attacked when I leave for summer hols. So you can talk to Cherie. So she can keep Pettigrew away from you if he makes it into the school.

"It's a rare and useful skill to have," he said. "Plus, it extends to reading and writing. Many of Salazar's most interesting tomes were written in Parselscript. It's an entirely magic language. It can't be taught or learned, only shared."

He rolled his shoulders, satisfied when some of the tension between the blades lessened with a quiet pop. "Say the spell."

She huffed a half laugh and gave him a look. "Fola."

Tom smirked. "I'll say it slowly. Ren mah coo aht. Ren mah huedge—"

"Foh-la," she interrupted. "Roinnt mo chumhacht. Roinnt mo chuid fola."

"Good girl," he praised. "Now repeat that at a normal pace - I'll match yours - and tell me if you start to understand anything I say."

Thank Weestarmeggie for this chapter. The next chapter is still struggling to conform to the rewrite outline, but Meggie was certain you guys and your kick-ass supportiveness would coerce the words to cooperate better than I can...

Love you guys, as always xoxo