Once again, thank you to all who read and leave reviews. I'm so glad that many of my regulars, like Gnoloo, ivanita21, AvalonLadyKiller, and spyrals, amongst others, have stayed faithful and haven't abandoned me. Also, SomeAwesomeNerd: funny. I LOLed at your golden retriever analogy. Thanks to sootypoodle, who just started the story and is dropping a line in the review box for almost every chapter as she goes. Thankyouthankyou!
Also, I forgot to thank GlassGirlCeci, who has been a great friend to me. She has really helped me get my thoughts in order for this story, and I'm very grateful to her. Even when I ignore her advice. Which is stupid, because her advice always has merit—I'm just too lazy to rewrite things, a lot of the time.
Shout out to my favorite person ever, electricsymphony, who actually mentioned me in her author's note on her last chapter. That's a good fuzzy feeling. If you haven't checked out her stuff, you should. Her imagery and descriptions and display of human emotion in her characters are unparalleled.
Also, I'm sorry if this chapter is a little awkward. I wrote the different segments over a very long period of time, and out of order, so it might be disjointed in some places. I've been struggling with my writing lately.
Anyway, on with the show!
Tom let his head drop back, and struggled to contain the raw fury that bubbled forth from the dark corners of his heart. Hermione paused and pulled back, and looked up at him with eyes that were far too amused.
There was nothing amusing about this.
"You should get that, Head Boy," she said mockingly. "Could be someone in distress, in need of your…special services."
He scowled at her. "Funny how you're the only person I've ever met who's mocked me for receiving a trophy for serving Hogwarts."
She stood, and ran her soapy hands from his shoulders down to the muscles of his abdomen, which clenched in need. Her body was slick with water and bubbles, shapely and smooth in the soft light of the bathroom. "That's because I know your true nature, Tom Riddle," she breathed against his lips. "Valiance and altruism aren't part of it."
He grabbed the hair at the nape of her neck, tipped her head back, and plundered her mouth. She made a sound of pleased surprise when he bit down on her bottom lip with force, just shy of breaking the skin. He swiped it with his tongue to soothe, and then pulled back abruptly as he heard someone knock again.
"Mister Riddle! DMLE, open up!"
Hermione looked up at him with wide eyes. He snagged his robe from the hook, and glanced at her while he belted it. "Stay quiet," he said lowly.
As he strode out of the room, he could practically hear her eyes roll. "Duh."
Unable to help his smile, he vanished all of her things into his wardrobe—including her wand, which went surprisingly quietly—and bounded down the stairs. He was thankful for the plushness of his robe, as he was having a hard time talking his erection down.
When he got to the door and yanked it open, he was met with the cool but not unkind stare of Damien Diggle.
"Auror Diggle," he said, forcing pleasantness into his words. "What brings you here?"
Diggle sighed, looking stressed. "We got an anonymous tip this morning that Gavin Rosier had disappeared from school grounds." His eyes flicked up briefly in what might have been exasperation. "It's probably nothing, but Rosier Sr. is putting pressure on our department. We've been ordered to search the castle. We're checking every room. That includes yours."
So soon? Who had tipped them off? Grindelwald? Malfoy? His stomach clenched. No matter. They couldn't tie him to it. Or Granger, or any of his Knights.
But that was not his immediate concern. Right now, he was concerned with the fact that his not-entirely-human companion was submerged in his bath. Still steeped in Dark magic.
He faked disquiet. "I'm…surprised to hear that," he said, his brows drawing down with the appropriate amount of consternation. "Rosier is a friend, of sorts," he continued. Best not lay it on too thick—it wouldn't be believable, not to the annoyingly sharp eyes of the Deputy Head of the Auror department. "Strange: I just saw him at the Halloween bash last night."
"And you haven't seen him since?" Diggle asked, stepping into Tom's quarters with another Auror. "I know that Slytherins tend to congregate in the common room after events. He wasn't there?"
Tom looked thoughtful, and then more worried. "Now that you mention it, no," he said softly. "He left before everyone else. And when he didn't turn up at the after party, we all just figured that he was off with a girl."
"You might be right. And he might still be off with that girl. That's why were looking. We just want to make sure that nothing nefarious happened," Diggle said, looking around the room with scrutiny. "I'm sorry we have to invade your space like this, but we have our orders."
"It's understandable," Tom said, blending the perfect mix of reluctance and cooperation for the purpose of finding his "friend." Still, as they followed him up the stairs, he prayed that Hermione was savvy enough to find a way to hide. "I'd just run myself a bath," he stated idly. He said it loudly, hoping she could hear him.
"Once again, I apologize for the inconvenience," Diggle replied. He didn't look all that apologetic, but Diggle was the polite sort, raised in a middle class pureblood home where manners mattered a great deal. "We'll be quick."
A knot of anxiety formed abruptly in his throat when the other Auror cast a Homenum Revelio as he stepped into the bedroom.
He longed to do something about it. But Diggle was a sharp man, and Tom wasn't confident enough that he could take on two Aurors and then sufficiently wipe their memories in such a way that wasn't detectable. DMLE officers were checked for Confundus charms and memory modification at the end of every day. He would rather get in trouble for having a naked girl in his bath than for messing with a Ministry agent. That would be very bad indeed.
But as Riddle peeked through the lavatory door, there was no trace of her.
Under the water, he thought. Clever girl. But not clever enough to escape a human-revealing spell.
Diggle stepped into the bathroom. He sniffed. "Lavender?" he said incredulously, raising an eyebrow towards Tom.
"A friend recommended it," he said stiffly. "For anxiety, and trouble sleeping."
The handsome brunette hummed. He lifted his wand, and Tom tensed.
"Homenum Revelio." Diggle paused, looked around. "Well, Mister Riddle, I apologize for the intrusion. We'll leave you be." He held out a hand for Tom to shake, and he did so, his body going through the motions even as his mind reeled in shock. "We'll let ourselves out. Let us know if you think of anything else."
Tom cleared his throat as they started to descend the steps. "You'll be the first to know. I hope you find him."
He watched, his heart in his chest, as the door closed behind them. Then he whirled, and stepped back into the bathroom.
"They're gone, Hermione," he said, swiping his hand through the bathwater. "I don't know how you bypassed their spell, but you can come out."
"Granger," he said tersely. Impatiently, he waved his wand and started to drain the bathwater. As the bubbles descended, he felt his throat tighten.
The idiot girl hadn't drowned, had she? Surely not.
He cast his own Homenum Revelio. Nothing. He went to his wardrobe, and opened it.
Everything was exactly where he'd put it. Her clothes, her shoes, her purple beaded bag that he so longed to pry open but valued his hands too much to dare.
But, most importantly, her wand remained. He stared down at its vibrant reddish veneer. Only three words from his vocabulary came to mind.
"What the fuck?"
Hermione's body went rigid as she heard voices coming up the stairs.
"I'd just run myself a bath," she heard Riddle say loudly.
Read: Hide like your fucking life depends on it.
She looked around the bathroom. Her invisibility cloak was in her beaded bag, which was in Tom's closet. As was her wand.
Doing the best she could with what she had, knowing it was fruitless and yet clinging to the idea of a miracle, she took a quiet breath and slipped under the water.
She closed her eyes, and sank to the bottom like a stone. She remained as still as possible.
This isn't going to work, she said to herself. Any Auror worth his salt is going to cast a revealing spell.
The anxiety made her chest tighter, and even though she was a decent swimmer capable of holding her breath for over two minutes, the stress she was under was about to trigger hyperventilation.
Hold it, Hermione, she ordered herself. Goddamn it, woman, hold it!
Her heart slammed against her chest at an unhealthy pace as the voices got louder. They were in the bedroom. She was about to be discovered, naked, in the Head Boy's bath.
Resigned to her fate, she opened her mouth and prepared to sit up.
Then fire, and darkness.
Draco closed his eyes, sitting cross-legged on his yoga mat on the floor of his bedroom. He breathed in as deeply as his weakened lungs would allow, and then let it back out.
Yoga calmed him, and was good for his troubled body. And good for his troubled mind.
He would show Conan Avery his past, tonight. Would show him everything. He was not ready for it, not prepared. It was rushed, and foolish.
And yet a part of him felt relieved. The secrets were so heavy, so stressful. He was rapidly tiring, unable to sustain the load. And Hermione was right, to an extent: she didn't want to be alone, in the knowing. He couldn't say he blamed her for the sentiment.
Still, rushing into it as quickly as she had was recklessness in its purest form. And that was why he was sitting on the floor, attempting to let it go.
He would never admit to the yelp that escaped when he felt a sudden, rapid heat steal the air in the room. On instinct he rolled, and summoned his wand. The scorching, blinding flames in the corner of his bedroom flashed away as quickly as they had appeared.
And what was left was a gaping, naked Hermione in the corner, coughing and gasping for air as the lava-like coloring of her skin faded back to sun-kissed ivory.
He stared at her for a long minute.
"Granger," he said lowly. "What the bloody hell was that?"
She opened her mouth several times, but nothing came out. She was in shock. When she started to shiver, goosebumps rising on her scarred flesh, he stood, grabbed a blanket from his bed, and laid it around her shoulders. Then he sat down next to her, and wrapped his arms around her.
"I—" Her voice cracked, and she swallowed. "I was in the bath," she said breathily. He could hear the hysteria start to take hold, and she clutched at his arm, her nails digging in. He held her tighter. "There were Aurors, and I was h-hiding, and—and—"
"Whoa," he said, interrupting her incoherent mumbling. "What Aurors?"
"Looking for Rosier," she said, her eyes a bit vacant, glassy with shock. "Someone must have tipped them off. And if Rosier's father got wind of it, he'd panic, want a search conducted. He's bribed half the Ministry. Generously. They wouldn't be able to say no."
"Okay, so the timeline was a little more advanced than we figured," Draco said, rationalizing everything in his head. "But we're still prepared."
"Not prepared for them to start searching the castle," she said sullenly. "Or for them to hit the Head Boy's quarters first thing. While I was naked, in the fucking bath." She gritted her teeth. "So I sank under the water, but knew that they would do a revealing spell. And as I started to panic and run out of breath, I was gone. And in a split second, I was here." She shivered.
"Fawkes again," he said, awed. "Except this time, he saved you from a world of hurt." He paused. "You apparated, Hermione," he said, incredulously. "Within Hogwarts. Nobody can do that."
"Dumbledore can," she bit back.
"Not without the physical manifestation of Fawkes there to carry him away," he insisted. "But you've got a phoenix inside of you. And his power has become yours." He smiled at her. "This is a good thing. It's an incredible gift, and one that can help keep you safe."
"It's a scary thing," she answered, her voice tinny and small. Like a wet, shivery kitten caught out in the cold. She didn't often get like this.
"Yes," he said. "It's overwhelming. And painful, I imagine."
"Very," she said with a frown. "But it's literally a split second, and then it feels nice. Warm. Not like it was when we came through space-time, which was bloody awful."
Knock, knock, knock.
Hermione froze. "They've come to search the room," she whispered. Her eyes sharpened, and she stood fluidly, fear and adrenaline shoving the shock away. "I don't have my wand."
"What?" he hissed.
"Didn't exactly have time to grab it when I was ripped through space and dumped unceremoniously in your room!" she hissed back. She opened his drawer, grabbed one of the robes that she'd left. She threw off the blanket and swung the terry garment around her shoulders.
"Mister Mallery, it's Damien Diggle, from the DMLE."
She gaped. "How did he get here so fast?" She shook her head, as to rid it of cobwebs. "Doesn't matter. Open the door."
Satisfied that she was appropriately covered, and glad that she was not as heavily cloaked with Dark magic, he opened the door.
"Mister Mallery," Diggle said, stepping inside as Draco gestured him in. He saw two more Aurors walk past, saw another stop to open a broom closet. "And…Miss Granger, what a surprise." His eyebrows winged up.
"I was dreadfully ill last night, after the party," she said, inclining her head to him respectfully before sitting casually down in an armchair. She crossed her legs in a manner that was completely intentional, but looked anything but. "I didn't want to stress my roommates out. It was easier to come here, to rest." She stopped, seeming to know that too much information would only serve to ignite suspicion in his mind. She drew her eyebrows down in carefully faked consternation. "What brings you here, Damien?"
Draco smiled internally at her use of Diggle's first name. He imagined that it might make the sharp-eyed Auror uncomfortable, as he was one of those "strictly professional" types, but also knew that, used by a pretty, powerful (and rather famous, by now) woman such as Hermione, it might serve to endear her to him. And while Diggle was a capable, levelheaded individual, he was still rather young, and Hermione was…compelling, to say the least. Not many were immune to that gaze.
He saw the slight softening around the young Auror's eyes, saw awareness flicker in those brown orbs. The first time Diggle had met Hermione, she'd been covered in bruises and blood, and he was fully aware that she had just killed two men, brutally and without remorse. He'd become acquainted with Hermione Granger: the soldier. Now, with her skin flushed and covered only with a bathrobe, her messy hair falling out of its lazily constructed bun, and her eyes sleepy and focused solely on the handsome Auror, Draco imagined that Damien Diggle had just become fully aware of Hermione Granger: the woman.
He swelled with arrogant pride. He had turned her into such a good Slytherin. The Golden Girl from Gryffindor house had turned steadily more silver over the years. Such subtle manipulation! She was incredible. His mother would be misty-eyed.
Damien cleared his throat. "Gavin Rosier has gone missing," he said, his eyes sliding between them. "Do either of you have any idea as to his whereabouts?"
They both frowned and looked at each other, as if thinking. "I saw him at the ball last night," she said. Then she shrugged. "I don't have much more than that, I'm afraid. Rosier and I don't associate."
"But you're known to associate with others in the Slytherin house," Diggle pushed.
"Yes," she said, nodding eagerly. "I've made quite a few friends there. I noticed Rosier was conspicuously absent from the gathering in the Slytherin commons after the ball. But no one seemed concerned, at the time."
Diggle looked at her curiously. "A Gryffindor in the Slytherin common room," he said skeptically. "Interesting."
"It wasn't," she clipped. She conjured herself a glass of water, which Draco knew cost her a lot of effort and energy to do wandlessly. After she gulped it down, he took out his wand and refilled the glass. She smiled at him in thanks. "It was frivolous, and while I enjoyed some of the company, it got tiresome very quickly. And I certainly wasn't sad to see Rosier absent." She looked at Diggle, and her eyes hardened. "All of our encounters have been…strained."
"In other words, we don't care for him," Draco said, conjuring his own glass to sip on before thinking to offer one to the inquisitive Auror. "He's bigoted, prejudiced, and unbelievably inappropriate in his interactions with women."
Diggle went very still, and his eyes sharpened on Draco, looking like a dog that had picked up the scent of a trail. He accepted the glass of water, but did not drink. "Can you elaborate on that?"
"Here's an elaboration," Draco said, his heart brimming with a new surge of anger. He ignored the comforting hand his best friend laid on his arm. "He Imperiused my most treasured friend, and his intentions were not noble. If Granger hadn't been particularly talented in the art of mind magicks, he would have done what he wished with her."
"I'm hardly the first one," Hermione said, looking unfazed. Only he could see the rage in her eyes. "It's a little known fact, but Rosier was quite adept at that particular spell. It was no easy feat, throwing him off like I did."
"That's rape," Damien hissed. "And the unsanctioned use of an Unforgivable on school grounds. Why were we not alerted?"
"And do what?" Hermione asked, looking at him with a palpable measure of cynicism. "We wouldn't have proof, and even if we did, the Aurors couldn't do anything about it. Even the Minister would probably look the other way. Rosier Sr. helped fund his campaign, and is a major donor to the Ministry. It would get swept under the rug in no time at all." She took a cool sip of water. "I broke his nose and his toes, and threatened him with colorful torture if he ever tried something like that again." She shrugged as Diggle just stared at her. "I think he knows, by now, that instigating a fight with me—with either of us," she said, pointing between herself and Draco, "will not end with him as the victor."
"If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that Rosier is passed out on top of some poor, possibly Imperiused girl in a broom closet," Draco said, wrapping it up. "And when he's found, he'll brush himself off and go about his life as normal. Nothing will change."
"I will prosecute him for rape, and test his wand for the use of Unforgivables," Diggle said, looking adorably righteous.
"Good luck," Hermione said, the twist of her lips just a tad mocking.
It only hardened the determination in his eyes. "As part of protocol, I have to search your quarters," he said. Draco slid out of his way and gestured towards the lavatory. "Thank you."
When he was finished, his search and revealing spell yielding no results, he stepped towards the portrait door. "Thank you for the insight. And don't hesitate to get in touch with me if you think of anything else."
They both nodded. As the Auror reached for the door to let himself out, Draco had a revelation.
"Wait," he said, putting the appropriate amount of shock and concern on his face. He felt Hermione stiffen; knowing he was about to go off script, so to speak.
Diggle turned back towards them, looking expectant. "Is there something else?"
"It's probably nothing," Draco said hesitantly. "Just grasping at straws. But if you truly can't find Gavin, there might be an explanation for his disappearance." He saw the moment that knowing registered on Hermione's face, a physical 'Aah, so that's where you're going with this.' Diggle just blinked at him. "Last month, two of our old enemies waltzed through a rip in space—a rip that we inadvertently caused when we were flung here from China. What if someone could waltz out in a similar fashion?"
Hermione chewed on her lip, feigning worry. "I'll admit to you, Damien, that I despise Rosier, and part of me would very much like to never see him again. But if he somehow ended up on the wrong side of the world…" She looked up at him with solemn, beguiling eyes. "He's in terrible danger."
Diggle looked thoughtful. "That's certainly worth looking into," he said seriously. "If that's the case, then how do we find him?"
Draco gulped, faking nervousness. "You'd have to take a team east," he said reluctantly. "And spread out to perform a locator spell. There's no way to know where this wormhole of sorts may have dropped him, if at all." He paused. "And to be blunt, there's no way of knowing if he survived the trip, or if he was plopped down in the middle of a fight and was killed instantly. Or worse: captured."
Diggle looked even more determined at this statement. "We'll find him," he said with confidence. "Dead or alive. Thank you for all your help," he said, shaking their hands in turn. Draco was pleased to see that Damien Diggle was seemingly respectful towards women. Perhaps it was because he grew up watching his mother and father run a restaurant together as equals. "I'll be in touch if—"
A bright light swept through the room, swirling to form into a misty meerkat patronus. "Damien," it said with a thick Scottish brogue, "the first two floors have been searched. Moving on to the Charms corridor."
Damien nodded curtly. "That's my cue. Thanks for your time."
With one last fleeting, measuring look at Hermione, he left. Draco shut the door behind him. They waited a few seconds, and then he cast a Muffliato just in case.
"You're bloody brilliant," she said with a beaming smile. "A fucking genius."
"Says the girl who had the Deputy Head of the Auror department strung out like a piece of wire," he said, hooting with laughter.
"Nah," she said, wrinkling her nose. "Cool as a cucumber, that one."
"Yes, but also male," he retorted. "He's intrigued by you."
She rolled her eyes, and let her head loll back on the chair. "How come I have to be the intriguing one?" she whined. "It's getting exhausting. I told you, didn't I, that when Diggory found out I was going to the Halloween ball with the girls, that he started panting after me to go with him to the Black's Yule party?" She groaned. "I haven't even gotten an invitation yet."
"Granger, that party will be held at Malfoy Manor," he said uneasily. He looked at her, a mask of cool and calm hiding the worry underneath. "It's a joint Malfoy-Black event—Pollux is just the one who signs the invitations. You can't attend."
He saw the color leech out of her face. "He didn't disclose that part," she said softly. "Thank Merlin I hedged, instead of saying yes." She hung her head. "But Malfoy, I imagine that someday I may be forced to go to the Manor," she said with apprehension. "And I can't be a sniveling wreck when I do. It might be good to just…get it over with."
"I'd rather you die than have to ever go back to that place, Granger," he said sincerely.
She stood, and hugged him. His arms circled her, and he squeezed. They just stood there for a minute, savoring the warmth. Then she pulled back, and smiled at him with sad eyes.
"I've got to get back to Riddle's room," she said reluctantly. "All of my things are there with him. My wand, my clothes, my bag, my school tote. I feel horribly exposed without my wand."
He tapped her temple. "You have your brain," he said. He laid a hand on the stone wall of his bedroom. "And you have the castle."
She laid her hand next to his. "Sometimes I feel like it recognizes us," she whispered. "Like it remembers us, even though we came from a different time."
"I get that feeling, too," he said with a nod. "Like a benevolent…knowing…of sorts." He struggled to find the words. "It's strange."
"But welcome, nonetheless," she finished. She smirked. "I always get this sense of encouragement when I use the secret passageways. Like a shared sense of mischief." She turned to him. "I'll figure something out." She cracked open the door, and looked both ways. Even as she did so, the stones in his bedroom wall opened next to her head. She squeaked and closed the door, her eyes widening.
"Well." She cleared her throat. "That's…unexpected."
"Special treatment for our resident curse-inventing, frizzy-haired, too-smart-for-her-own-good hybrid," he said with a snarky grin. "Look at you go."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Send me a patronus if you learn anything new," she said energetically, her spirits lifted by something as simple as a magical, quasi-sentient castle. She stepped into the open passageway. "Love you," she said tenderly.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah yeah, Granger, I know." He smirked at her when she flipped him the forks. The stones started to close again behind her. "You too," he shot out reluctantly. The last thing he saw was her triumphant grin as the Hogwarts castle seemingly swallowed her.
"Silly girl," he murmured under his breath.
Tired, he set a Tempus charm on his wand, and laid down for a nap.
He paced like a mad man, like someone who'd lost their mind, grasping his hair in iron fists.
She had disappeared. Hermione fucking Granger had disappeared from his bathroom. Just vanished.
Which was bloody impossible.
Nobody could apparate within Hogwarts. Nobody. Dumbledore and the rest of the staff had personal floos in their quarters, but not a single one could apparate through the wards surrounding the school. Even the Minister of Magic, with all his power and influence, couldn't enter the school through anything but the front door.
So how had she done it? How had she accomplished such a feat?
He was frustrated. He'd never been this upset about anything; nothing in his entire life had left him feeling so unsteady.
This woman—this mysterious, mesmeric woman—had ruined him.
He would have to kill her. He needed to end this, end this threat against him and his plans. Her power…whatever strange power she possessed was too unknown and too unpredictable. If he couldn't identify it, if he couldn't control it, it would leave him vulnerable, expose his weaknesses.
He couldn't risk it anymore.
He threw open his wardrobe doors, looking down at her collection of things. He picked up her ugly purple bag, tempted… He tossed it on the bed, and then did the same with her clothes.
He reached for her wand.
"I wouldn't do that."
He whirled, his own wand in hand.
And there she stood, in a bathrobe, flushed pink and radiating power. It washed over him, left him euphoric, left him craving more, left him speechless.
Plans of killing her flew out of his head and evaporated like smoke.
He could utter only one word. "How?"
She stalked over to him, reaching out and calling her wand from his wardrobe. It jumped faithfully into her open palm.
"The castle…" she said, trailing off in wonder. "The castle swallowed me up, deposited me in a hidden corridor. I followed it, and it led me straight to Draco's room." She paused, running her hand over the stone of the wall. "And when I wanted to come back, it opened back up, and led me to your room."
He could not comment. His brain was not cooperating. Hogwarts…she was saying that Hogwarts was sentient.
"Remarkable, isn't it?" she said quietly. She finally looked at him, peering up into his face. "I wasn't aware that the castle did that sort of thing."
"It doesn't," he bit out. "Sure, it has secret passageways and the like, but there is no history of anything like what happened to you. And I've read multiple books about the castle. I've never heard of anything like this." He grabbed her shoulders. "This is an unprecedented event. If what you're telling me is true, then Hogwarts has a consciousness."
She only smiled at him. "Come for a walk with me," she offered, moving away from him and gathering up her clothes. "I need some sunshine. And I need to tell you about the conversation Draco and I had with Damien Diggle."
Or we can finish what we started in the bath earlier, he thought, unfulfilled. Nonetheless, he yanked on his clothes. He watched her do the same, watched her shrink down her bag and tuck it into her socks; watched her skin disappear, various scars vanishing under fabric.
She took him through the kitchens, greeting house elves with enthusiasm as they fawned over her. She led him into the pantry, and tapped the stones of the wall with her wand. Fascinated, he watched the stones move leisurely aside.
"Like Diagon Alley," he murmured, following her through the dark tunnel that lay ahead.
"Did you watch my movements?" she asked, lighting the space with her wand.
"Of course," he replied easily. "I've got it."
She smiled knowingly. Tom imagined there weren't many people that could keep up with her astounding intellect. It pleased him, knowing that he was, perhaps, the only one who could.
"The next one is different," she said as they approached a wall. She tapped the stones again, and he paid close attention.
Bright sunlight flooded the space, and he squinted. When they stepped out onto the lawn, she looked at him. "Now you know it, and you can use it. Just make sure to show the house elves some respect. Don't take it for granted."
He cocked his head to the side. "How did you come to find out about this?"
She smirked. "As I've said before, house elves are worth much more than laundry and cooking. They have a powerful sort of magic. I've shown them that I respect them. They know that I'm using them, but as allies, not tools. And there is nothing in the world that pleases a house elf more than being used. Productivity is happiness, to them."
"You're barmy, Granger," he said lowly. "But…perhaps I should not judge things before getting to know more about them," he said begrudgingly. "They certainly have been…useful to you."
"Magical creatures are not lesser beings," she began, her voice slipping into the lecturing tone that he found highly erotic. He walked alongside her as she moved through the trees, the dappled sunlight illuminating her with a kaleidoscope of light. He watched it flicker over her form, struck by how utterly beautiful she was.
"They experience emotion just as we do," she continued. "They are capable of loyalty, and they are capable of animosity. They trust some, mistrust others. They take note of who respects them, who treats them kindly, and who appreciates what they can do."
She pointed through the trees, and he saw a thestral with its nose down, devouring what looked to be a dead rabbit. A second thestral lingered nearby, a specter amongst the branches.
"For example," she said brightly. "Any one of these thestrals would allow me to climb up onto its back, and would take me where I needed to go. Any of the owls in the owlery, regardless of ownership, would eagerly take a package for me, and fly it to its destination, no matter how far. The giant squid shows himself to me because I discovered that he likes toast, and I bring him some every morning by the lake. I suspect, if anyone tried to harm me within his reach, that he would promptly squeeze that person to death."
"And the phoenix?" he asked quietly.
She shrugged. "He was the first being to see me after I was dumped so unceremoniously into Dumbledore's office. After that, we formed a connection, and he became something of a shadow." She grabbed his arm, and pointed. "There."
The phoenix in question sat on a branch several meters away, his head tucked under his wing.
"I've inspired some kind of loyalty in him," she said quietly, once again moving forward through the trees. "I can't understand it. But he would gladly die for me." She paused. "And he would lie for me, sleep in Dumbledore's quarters every night and never let on that he knew something. If I were anyone else, he would lead Dumbledore to the site where I killed Rosier, and then promptly out me as the culprit. But he will keep my secrets, instead."
"It's that part that doesn't make a lick of sense," he said, impatient. "You have ingratiated these creatures to you, inspired loyalty in them. But to my knowledge, you haven't done anything in particular that would inspire his devotion. And he is of a higher intelligence; I suspect it might take more to win him over, versus simpler creatures." He grabbed her elbow, swung her towards him. "What aren't you telling me?"
She patted him on the chest, staring over his shoulder absentmindedly. It was the look she got when she was remembering something. How much had he studied her, how much time had he given to her, that he could read the subtle changes on her face? Foolish, his mind whispered. Because you've gotten foolishly engrossed in her. Yank her out of your mind, root and stem.
She snapped out of her reverie, and gave him a tight smile. "In due time, Tom. First, I need to tell you about my interaction with Diggle."
Dissatisfied, he tried for patience. She would tell him.
Or he would figure it out.
When she walked deeper into the forest, he followed her blindly.
"Go to the Black's Yule party with me."
"Because I refuse to promulgate this ridiculous idea that you and I are somehow a couple!" Hermione snarled. After an hour of talking about official things and brainstorming their various challenges, the conversation had devolved into hostility.
"Weren't you the one that was so furious over the prospect of whatever rubbish it was that Bones printed in that article?" She glared at her would-be-suitor. "You wanted to strangle me! And then you wanted to Avada me when I subsequently humiliated you in front of the entire school—shall I remind you?" she said with an acidic smile.
Tom's eyes darkened from where he leaned up against a tree. "No need," he said in a low hiss. "I still remember it very clearly. I keep it fresh so that I'll have some good material to use when I finally have you under the Cruciatus."
He spoke with a tone that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. His eyes were full of anger; and the ever-present desire that never seemed to fade when he was watching her.
She narrowed her eyes. "Remember that it goes both ways, Riddle," she sneered threateningly. "And I have far more experience with torture than you do. Both giving and receiving. I understand your eagerness, but believe me, I can take whatever you dish out, and return it tenfold." She cocked her head and gave him a mocking smile. "Unless you plan on backing out of our deal?" she teased, letting him see the deadly intention in her gaze.
He grimaced, and narrowed his eyes. "I'm no coward, Granger."
She huffed out a laugh. "Perhaps not, but you are a Slytherin." She paused. "The last one, in fact," she murmured lowly.
He stiffened, but did not respond to her added statement. "I thought you were above that sort of stereotyping," he said with a mean smirk. "You know, the champion of inter-house unity and all that rot."
She gave him a tight smile in return. "Fine," she said sharply. "I'll amend my statement. It has nothing to do with your house colors, and everything to do with you. Perhaps you aren't a coward, but you are Tom Riddle, and you happen to be one of the best liars I've ever met in my life. I don't trust you as far as I could throw you."
He crossed his arms, and she saw his eyes flash with something unfamiliar. "I have no interest in jeopardizing our…friendship…again," he said firmly. "And I have no interest in hurting you, either. At least, not irreversibly."
"For now," she retorted, patting a thestral on the neck as it floated towards her through the trees on silent hooves. It was the stallion with the punctured wing again. "You're fickle, Tom Riddle," she accused. "And you yourself admitted that you have a temper. If you're expecting me to feel safe around you, prepared to be disappointed. Forever."
"You're awfully sure about that," he said irritably, his eyes flashing to the thestral and back. It brushed its scaly muzzle against her forehead in a gesture that was undeniably sweet, and then walked away, as silent as a ghost. "I am aware that you are not a trusting person. Neither am I." He paused. "And yet you seem to trust me with your true self—that side of you that you wouldn't dare show to the public. And I have trusted you with mine."
It almost seemed painful for him to say it, like someone was physically pulling the words from between those perfect pink lips and scattering them into the air to fall upon her ears. She looked at him skeptically. "The only person who has more secrets than you, Riddle, is me," she said softly. "Don't delude yourself into thinking you know anything about me."
His nostrils flared. "I know more than most."
She bowed her head in acquiescence. "I suppose you're right, to an extent." She cocked her head. "More than anyone from here, anyway."
Satisfaction flickered in his eyes. "The ball, Hermione."
She narrowed her eyes. "I already told Diggory—or MacDonald, maybe—or—or—" She cut herself off with a frustrated huff. "One of them. Both of them. I don't know. They're interchangeable." He let out an amused snort. She glared at the mossy earth beneath her feet. "I told them I would consider going with them for Halloween—they practically ambushed me in the Great Hall—and then I ended up going with the girls, and now they're both throwing me not-so-subtle hints about it—"
"If you go with me, they will never look at you again."
She looked up at him with wide eyes. "I refuse to be practically pissed on as a dog marks his territory," she hissed. "Besides, I'm not exactly the type to bring home to mum," she continued acerbically.
He hummed in agreement. "No, but neither am I." He paused. "It's a good thing that neither of us have parents then, isn't it?"
She narrowed her eyes, the image of her parents' dead bodies swinging from the rafters of her childhood home flashing across her mind's eye. She couldn't help but flinch as a result.
"I know you are pleased as punch that your wretched parents are both dead," she said meanly. "Please don't superimpose your feelings onto mine." She paused, part of her delighting in the flash of ire that flickered through his black eyes. "You don't like it when I talk about your parentage," she continued lowly. "So I won't. Please extend to me the same courtesy."
His nostrils flared. "I thought you loved them."
She blinked away tears. "I did. I do. But then I saw their bodies strung up like puppets inside my childhood home," she said bitterly, transported to another time and place. "Limp and heavy, skin sallow, dressed in the clothes they were killed in. I knew better, of course," she scoffed. "I knew better than to think those bastards had been merciful enough to simply kill them. I could see the symptoms of torture. The blood-crusted fingernails, the way I could tell their organs were not in the right places; the empty holes where their eyes used to be."
She shivered. Eyes that had once looked at her with love and acceptance. She had memorized those eyes: one pair a haunting slate blue, another a warm, dark brown with faint flecks of gold. They had been hollowed out, like the insides of a walnut.
She looked back up at Tom, the images faded from her mind. "It hurts to think about," she said. "Which is why I don't like to talk about them."
He snorted. "Exactly why attachment is a terrible idea," he said sourly.
"Yes, I know you think that," she drawled, her lips curving in satisfaction. "But no matter how much you seem not to care, no one can just cast their parentage away so easily."
"My mother was an ugly, unremarkable, pathetic excuse for a witch," he hissed with narrowed eyes, "and my father was an idiotic, filthy Muggle who never mattered."
"Is that why you killed him, then?" she said snarkily, smiling condescendingly. "Because he didn't matter?"
She was not expecting the response, and so she did not have time to react when he merely flung out a hand and slammed her back against a tree, her body plastered to the bark by his stifling magic. Vaguely she noticed that the rough bark of the tree was digging into the mostly healed flesh on the back of her wand hand, and felt the last patch of delicate skin tear open anew. Blood welled and dribbled down her wrist, staining her blouse. He didn't seem to notice, or just didn't care; he was simply staring into her eyes, his black gaze hot with rage.
"Who are you?" he snarled into her face. Fear gripped her heart in its icy fist as she saw the faintest trace of red slide into those deep blue eyes. For they were blue, she thought. Now that she was so close, and as the sunlight bled through the foliage to hit his face, she could see clearly. The darkest, greyest blue that nature had been able to conjure. This was the first time that they looked consistently blue—not just a flash here and there when the lighting was right. It was breathtaking. And terrifying.
The fear took the back seat, however, to other, more prevalent emotions. Amusement. Satisfaction. Desire. And just a bit of pity, as well.
"Are you going to kill me, Tom?" she said breathlessly, grinning up into his murderous gaze as he stepped closer to loom over her. "We were just starting to have fun."
"Answer me," he hissed menacingly. Lightning fast, his wand jabbed her in the ribs. "Now, Granger!"
She clucked her tongue. "You should be more careful when you decide to commit murder, Tom," she said lowly, a smile stretching across her lips.
Draco was going to kill her. Of course, if Riddle didn't decide to do it first. She seriously needed to check her impulse control.
He snarled. "I won't ask you again." To punctuate his words, his magic pushed her even farther back into the tree. When she opened her mouth, he interrupted. "If you lie, I'll kill you."
She chuckled. "At least try to be creative about it, then," she said coyly. His eyes flashed with fury and lust. "The killing curse is far too boring. I'd like to die in style, please." She noticed the front of his pants start to bulge at her bold words, and she smiled. He was nearly speechless with rage, and so she filled the silence that was only broken by his heavy breathing.
"You've been digging into my history, Riddle," she said softly, looking at him through her lashes. "You've set all of your silly little Ministry connections to finding out about me and Draco. Did you really think I wouldn't do the same?"
His wand dug farther into her waist. She winced. "There is no way you could've known about that," he said, his voice hoarse. "Try again."
"I was telling the truth, believe it or not," she returned. Lie. When did lying become second nature, Gryffindor? The voice in her head sounded alarmingly like Harry. "Except I don't have sycophantic followers. I have to do the leg work myself." She caught his stare, and then sent the tendrils of her mind out briefly to push against the edges of his brain. He swore when he felt her playful nudge. "You aren't the only one who can read minds, remember?" she whispered. "And you weren't careful about witnesses." She kept it purposefully vague, just to piss him off. Besides, she was lying—she knew all about the death of his family because she was from the future. Not because she had been talking to Frank Bryce. But to-may-to, to-mah-to. She leaned forward as much as she could under his viselike hold, and brought her lips up to his ear. "Once again, Tom: sloppy."
"No one would believe you," he said, his voice like ice.
Playfully, she quirked her head to one side and landed a harsh nip on his jaw. He hissed. "Funny, because I wasn't planning on telling anyone. Isn't it nice how that works out?"
When he finally pressed his body fully against hers, the rough bark of the tree now digging into her spine rather painfully, her breath hitched. The desire in his gaze burned through her body to settle in her womb.
He brought his lips down to her jaw. She jerked when he nibbled at the delicate skin with his teeth. "I really never would have guessed you were the masochistic type."
She cleared her throat, tears stinging her eyes when some of her adrenaline faded and the damaged skin of her right hand once again got caught on the tree bark. "You'll find I'm just full of surprises," she said in response, her voice deadpan.
"Yes," he replied, his voice a low murmur. "You certainly are." The magic holding her to the tree loosened, and he reached down to hold her wrists, cradling her forearms in his fingers. "I assume it's unnecessary to threaten you into silence?"
She hummed in amusement, leaning her head back against the tree to better look up into his face. He was still overwhelmingly close. "I assume it's unnecessary to tell you to choke on said threats?" She rolled her eyes when his gaze darkened. "Honestly, Tom. If I wanted to ruin your life I would have done so by now." She slid her bloody hands and wrists from his grip and brought them up to pluck at his tie. "You should learn to lighten up."
He raised an eyebrow as she ruined the knot of his tie, making it crooked. "Lighten up?"
She grinned. "Yes. You know: smile, laugh, make jokes. You're so serious all the time."
He rolled his eyes, not amused. "If you keep this up, Hermione…" He paused, and caught her in his chilling stare. Not a hint of emotion. "You keep giving me more reasons to kill you."
"And more reasons not to kill me," she contradicted. She brought the phoenix up to flush her skin with yellow-orange light. She saw the avarice bloom to life in his eyes. "I'm valuable, and you know it."
"And dangerous," he countered.
"A dangerous tool," she said. "A tool that could, if she wanted, turn around and rip your throat out," she continued, running a finger down his alabaster throat without a trace of her former humor. "But why would I do that?" she asked sincerely. "Perhaps you are just as useful to me as I am to you. And the value of having someone close to you, that knows you, can't be understated. I have that with Draco. We have years of history, and no secrets. When we work together, it's like having a third limb." She cocked her head, and stepped away, looking idly around through the trees. "I know you don't long for that closeness. You want your deepest, darkest secrets to remain safe. But the relief of trusting someone else with all of yourself…it takes away a lot of stress."
"I'll trust you with my secrets as soon as you trust me with yours," he bit out, his eyes angry and impatient. "You said earlier that you didn't trust me as far as you could throw me. You and I both know that's not true. You're falling into this trap just as assuredly as I am."
Her eyes widened in surprise. Had he just admitted that? Out loud?
"I trust you with my life," he said through clenched teeth. "And with my body. And with more of my secrets than anyone else has ever known." He reached out and caught her chin in his hand. "And you trust me," he murmured confidently, his eyes boring into hers with a knowing that frightened her. "With your life, with your secrets, with your body…" He traced her lips with his thumb. "And sometimes with your true face—the one that exposes your fear, your rage, your sadness, and the monstrosity that lurks in your heart."
He used his hold on her jaw to push her away, and she stumbled. The big female thestral with the young filly slid through the trees towards them, fluttering her wings irritably. Hermione went to her and stroked her nose, calming her.
She did not look at Tom for several beats; just stared into the murky pale eyes of the clever, kind-hearted creature in front of her.
"What I trust most, Tom Riddle," she said quietly, still not looking at him, "is that you are what you are. I know who you are. I know how your mind works. I'm cautious, because of this. Because of the darkness, the lies, the lack of empathy, the yearning for power." Finally, she looked at him, noticed that his expression was just as unreadable as the tree he leaned against. "But then you surprise me," she continued.
She narrowed her eyes in frustration. "Out of left field, you show some emotion, some vulnerability, that I never expected to see. I want to believe that it's another one of your lies—but I can see that it's not. It's raw. Unguarded…at least to me." She flared her nostrils. "Sometimes I tell you secrets because I see that kernel of unexpected openness," she said honestly. "And I trust my instincts. And sometimes I do it because I know it will provoke you." She grimaced. "To feel your magic—through your hands, through a spell, or simply by brushing up against your aura—is addicting."
The mare turned and walked away, and Hermione slid her hand over the great beasts leathery skin as it slipped back through the trees from whence it came. "And I may be wrong, Tom Riddle, but I sense that the addiction is mutual."
He was silent for a moment, looking at her with flat eyes. "You aren't wrong," he finally said. He pushed off the tree towards her. When his hands cupped her jaw, she welcomed the contact. "Infernal woman," he murmured in her ear.
And when he kissed her with terrible tenderness, her heart cried out for anyone, anything, to save it.
That evening, in the privacy of his office, Damien Diggle ruminated.
They had not found Rosier. Not even a trace. His clothes had been left behind, his schoolbooks had been left behind, and his thousand-galleon broom had been left behind.
Where the hell had he gone?
Damien knew he was not the smartest man, but he was observant. He saw everything, remembered everything, picked up on body language and changes in tone. He was also doggedly determined. That, perhaps, was what had earned him the title of Deputy Head Auror.
So what was he missing?
For some reason, he kept flashing back to his conversation with Hermione Granger and the Mallery boy. He had known the woman was trying to charm him—he wasn't blind. But, even aware as he was, it had worked.
That was the part that grated the most. He had known what she was doing, and had fallen into her trap anyway.
She was certainly worthy of admiration, and respect. She was a powerful witch, and seemed very kind, and was obviously highly intelligent. He understood that she would beat him in a duel, and his ego accepted the blow reasonably. And, he had to admit: she was hard to look away from. Even when Mallery had been talking, Damien's eyes had drifted over to her more than once.
The bottom line was that he had never found a woman more interesting than Hermione Granger.
He thought back to their conversation. Something was niggling the back of his brain. He thought about what they'd said about the rip in space, and the more likely possibility of Rosier passed out in a broom closet somewhere.
But Gavin Rosier hadn't been in any of the broom closets. He hadn't been anywhere.
That left two alternatives. He'd somehow been kidnapped, or he'd wandered through a rip in space. Damien had a gut feeling that the kid was dead. And his gut wasn't often wrong.
Damien remembered the absolute rage in Mallery's voice. If Granger hadn't been particularly talented in the art of mind magicks, he would have done what he wished with her.
I'm hardly the first one, she had said. She'd tried for nonchalant, but he had seen the emotion in the tightening around her eyes. It's a little known fact, but Rosier was quite adept at that particular spell. It was no easy feat, throwing him off like I did.
That phrase—that phrase bothered him. Little known fact…quite adept…no easy feat…
It's a little known fact, but Rosier was quite adept at that particular spell.
Rosier was quite adept at that particular spell.
…was quite adept…
Was. That was what was bothering him. Why had she referred to Rosier in the past tense?
The duo from China knew more than they were letting on. They knew something.
He resolved to find out what it was.
Yay. Whew. This chapter took me FOREVER to get through.
Do y'all ever get this strange feeling that a word is spelled wrong, that it's not right when you put it down on paper? I actually had that weird moment with the word "was." I was (ha) convinced that it wasn't a word, that I was somehow doing it wrong. Then that sensation was gone. But sometimes it just hits me, how strange some of our words are.
Like, type or write a word several times in a row.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Bottle. Bottle. Bottle. Bottle. Bottle. Bottle.
Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain.
Don't those words now seem bizarre?
Thanks for reading. It would make me very happy if you were to leave a line or two in the review box.