Part 10

It was amazing how quickly the life altering dulled to minor
inconvenience. Hermione almost felt guilty that upon waking that she
hadn't been inundated with feelings of dread or even panic. She had
at least expected to feel something. Well, something more than the
desire to close her eyes for a few more hours of glorious sleep.

Hermione was still exhausted from the grueling training they'd been
put through. Her limbs felt leaden and her eyes burned from lack of
sleep. Given the circumstances, a little more sleep might have been
the logical choice. The problem was that she and Riddle only had a
day before she had to return to her normal Hogwarts routine. There
were dozens of small details that they had to hammer out. Not to
mention she wanted to get a start on researching their bond.
Resentfully, Hermione wondered if that explained her apathy- she had
neither the time nor energy for histrionics.

With a groan, Hermione pulled herself free from the refuge of her
sheets and cracked open the curtains of her bed. Gingerly she fished
for her slippers, wincing when her bare toes met cold stone.
Mechanically she went through the motions of bathing and getting
dressed. Once presentable, she moved into the common room. Seeing it
empty she sighed.

Riddle was still asleep. Now she had a dilemma on her hands. She
didn't have the password to the Head Boy's room. When Blaise had been
in residence, they had swapped passwords in case there had been
something that required both Heads' attention. That was not a
courtesy she shared with Riddle. Despite the inconvenience, Hermione
was rather glad she didn't have to rouse him out of slumber. She'd
had quite enough of Riddle and beds. Feeling rather un-Gryffindorish
she decided to persuade the portrait rouse the slumbering boy.

"Excuse me? Sir Dorante?"

"Huh- oh! Miss Granger, good morning!" Dorante said jerking awake.
"I would have thought you still sleeping."

The gentleman dressed in foppish eighteenth century clothing bowed to
her courteously. Hermione returned the gesture with a curtsey of her
own, which looked awkward when compared to the portrait's florid
gesture. It seemed to please the portrait, however, and Hermione
plastered on the most convincing expression of hope and appeal that
she could manufacture.

"Yes, well, there are things that Riddle and I need to do today. I
don't suppose that you would ask him to join me in the common room,
Sir Dorante? I wouldn't want to barge in," Hermione bluffed.

"Such a commendable sense of decorum and so rare in this day and
age... I shall certainly assist you!"

Hermione was pleased her request had been granted. Dorante, like
other warden portraits, were not usually inclined to pass on messages
unless instructed by a staff member. She had, however, overheard a
few comments made by Blaise Zabini that suggested she might be able to
appeal to Dorante's overblown sense of propriety and gallantry. After
giving her thanks, Hermione settled down before the freshly laid fire
to wait.

Organizing her thoughts, Hermione began to sketch out just what might
be accomplished in the time they had. They had never really finished
the conversation about the Order and Riddle's cover and that would
have to be settled before he had much more contact with the student
population. With Dumbledore taking them aside, the students had grown
accustomed to Riddle's presence but Hermione knew from experience that
it only whetted their appetite for details about the new arrival.
Once given the opportunity, they would descend like a pack of hyenas.
That required their cover story to be perfect by tomorrow.

Research into their bond was another important priority. Of course,
that could be accomplished during the coming week. Her reputation as
a bookworm was well founded and a few extra hours among the stacks
would never be noticed. As for Riddle... he was at Hogwarts to do a
research project. It only stood to good reason he would spend
significant time in the library. The sound of Dorante's portrait
shifting pulled Hermione from her thoughts.

Apparently, damp hair didn't seem to detract from Riddle's air of
composure. This made Hermione want to run a self-conscious hand
through her hair, which undoubtedly looked as if it belonged on a
banshee. Thankfully he didn't comment and instead fixed her with a
strangely satisfied look.

"I assume this is about what we talked about last night?" Riddle asked
as he settled in his usual chair.

"In part... but there are other things we need to discuss. The most
important is straightening out the details on your false history."

"Surely that isn't as important as finishing our experiments with the
bond and whatever Dumbledore is hiding. I doubt Dumbledore will allow
us access to the library once the year is over. Not after we outfoxed
him," Riddle countered.

"You would be right if circumstances in the wizarding world were
different. The war has generated a great deal of paranoia. If we can
establish who you are here, then things will be far less difficult
later on," Hermione persisted.

"I am aware of how influential Hogwarts' gossip is, Granger," Riddle
objected. "The bond, however, should be our primary concern. I am
not unable to deflect curiosity or prevaricate when needed."

"The bond is important but we have a week to worry about it. I'm also
confidant in your ability to avoid questioning. It's just that we
have to keep our stories straight. Not to mention there is a lot more
you need to know about. A lack of knowledge about muggle history can
be excused but not ignorance of key wizarding events," Hermione
reminded him.

"Very well, I can see your point. Just remember I don't expect to
become the social lynchpin of Hogwarts."

"Given the looks most of the female students have been giving you, a
certain degree of popularity will be unavoidable," Hermione teased

"Merlin forbid," Riddle replied in an undertone.

"Oh please, you can't tell me your pretty face hasn't compelled girls
to throw themselves at you before," Hermione chuckled.

"You'll find that such things matter very little to me," Tom replied

Hermione was surprised by his sudden change of mood. She was aware
that her words had somehow she'd trespassed upon something sensitive
or too personal for the repartee she had come to enjoy with Riddle.
What it was she had blundered into, she didn't know. Riddle was
hardly the bashful type and Hermione knew he'd used his looks to his
advantage before. He had certainly tried to charm her once or twice.
So what was so different about this?

All she had done was suggest the female sex would find him appealing.
Heavens, more than a few boys would too. The wizarding world was
particularly swayed by two things; appearances and power and Riddle
had both beauty and power in abundance. Harry had once mentioned
Riddle had inherited his looks from his father. Was that it? Was he
ashamed that he looked like his muggle parent? Hermione wasn't
entirely satisfied with that explanation. There seemed to be
something missing. Her comment had been directed toward the female
reaction towards his attractiveness rather than his looks. Hermione
felt there was something more to it but she decided it was wiser not
to press.

"Admirable, I suppose," Hermione finally replied. "Just keep in mind
that some of those girls are the worst gossips in the castle and-"

"And they can be used to our advantage," Riddle finished decisively,
ending Hermione's sentence with his own twist. "Now give me the
specifics of what you think we should do today. So far you've only
spoken in the grand, sweeping statements that you Gryffindors are so
fond of."

"And Slytherins are known for their directness," Hermione replied with
unfettered sarcasm. "The work on your background will have to be done
first. We'll need to rehearse it too. Then I'll give you the back
issues of the Prophet and Quibbler to look over."

"The Quibbler? Has it changed that much? In my time Horatio Lovegood
was considered a madman and his paper nothing more than a tabloid."

"His son owns it now and most of the stories are rather... farfetched
but it printed a great deal about the war that the Ministry wanted to
keep hushed up," Hermione replied with a blush, recalling some of the
more outrageous stories she'd read in the Quibbler.

"Are you so certain that they're true?" Tom questioned.

"I am when Harry and the Order supplied the information."

"Just as long I don't have to read about the return of Merlin."

"Better Merlin than Elvis," Hermione muttered.

"What was that, Granger?"

"It was a reference to muggle popular culture," Hermione replied,
momentarily taken aback when she realized that Riddle predated Elvis.

"Given we have so little time we should gather out materials," Riddle
replied, and Hermione agreed with a nod. "I won't let concerns over
what some insipid Hogwarts gossip might find out, take up time better
spent on how we're to circumvent Dumbledore's interference."

Without further comment, they disappeared into their own rooms to
gather the materials they would need. Over the last week they had
learned to work together smoothly. This, Hermione counted as an
advantage. She and Riddle were supposed to have worked together in
the Order and it was nearly impossible to feign the easy communication
and rapport that working together created. If they could just keep
their stories straight, she knew this would work.

With renewed hope, Hermione opened her trunk. Her copies of the
Prophet and Quibbler were neatly shrunken and preserved from damage.
As she took them out, she suddenly wished she'd saved copies of the
Prophet from her third year. A more comprehensive collection wouldn't
hurt either. Hermione had only started collecting from her fifth year
on. Even then, she had only kept the more important issues, which
directly related to the Order, Death Eaters or Ministry actions.
Hermione had never expected to need them as anything more than mementos.

Back in the common room, they once again familiarized themselves with
the file Dumbledore had supplied. Before they did anything else they
both began to rehearse and memorize the details. Hermione found
herself comparing what they were doing to how she'd helped the boys
revise for their NEWTs. She was temped to suggest making a set of
flash cards but Hermione doubted that Riddle would take that
suggestion well. Besides, his memory seemed far better than either
Ron or Harry's.

Getting through the general details took until lunch. They then
visited the kitchens briefly before returning to the common room.
Their meal was in silence and Hermione did not feel the need for
conversation. They had done enough of that with the scenarios they
had played out, taking turns questioning the other. Now that was
done, they had to work on fine tuning their story. Hermione wondered
exactly what else they would be required to make things run smoothly.
This was the kind of thing spies did, not school girls and once
future Dark Lords.

Ignoring her doubts, she refocused on the parchment before her. It
dealt with Riddle's financial situation, such as it was. As with the
other documents in the file, Dumbledore had detailed what was true and
what had been altered. Apparently, his real grandfather had owned a
cottage in Little Hangleton, which had fallen to ruin. Ownership of
the cottage had eventually returned to the Crown. According to a note
in the file, muggle and magical records had their dates altered and so
that the cottage was listed as being foreclosed and then torn down.
The Riddle House, had apparently been tied up in the muggle legal
system before it was destroyed by Voldemort, not long after he had
returned to corporal form. Muggle authorities had it written down as
arson by local vandals and the property had also reverted to the Crown.

"How accurate is this?" Hermione finally asked, gesturing to the
material she'd been reading.

"Accurate enough," Riddle said in a clipped tone.

"You'll have to explain better than that," Hermione chided.

"Fine," Riddle snarled. "My mother's family lived in that hovel of a
cottage and that was my father's house."

"You're familiar with both, then," Hermione clarified.

"Oh yes, Granger, you might say that."

"From when you killed them," Hermione replied with realization.

"I did kill my muggle relatives but as for my mother's father... he
and my uncle did a perfectly adequate job of drinking themselves to
death. Now if you're finished-"

"Look, I'm sorry if this is something you'd prefer not to talk about
but we have to. If we're going to-"

"I understand the necessity of this, Granger! If it was only idle
curiosity, I would never have tolerated this discussion. Understand I
have cursed people for less," Riddle spat stiffly.

"Then we'll be brief," Hermione conceded, pushing back the urge to
yell. "Where would it be most logical for you and your grandfather to
have lived?"

"The cottage was about to collapse in my time. I suppose it wouldn't
matter, though as common wards often mimic disrepair and ruin. That
would certainly make sense if only to avoid the gossip."

"Good idea but what gossip do you mean?"

"Well, it was quite the scandal when the local squire's son married so
beneath himself," Riddle snarled with venom. "When he threw my mother
into the street the rumors were worse. They were still gossiping
about it when I-. Using wards as an explanation will be sufficient if
someone pries into my past'."

A tense silence fell and Hermione knew that Riddle expected her to
question his rapid change of topic. She said nothing, allowing him to
keep what dignity he could. It was unlikely people would dig in
Riddle's past and Hermione agreed that his suggestion was believable
if they did. His other records were also in order. The appropriate
birth and death records both muggle and wizarding had been altered to
stand up to all but the closest of investigation. Dumbledore had been
busy indeed but there were details that still needed to be discussed
and Hermione knew that wouldn't be well received by Riddle.

Hermione wasn't sure why he seemed to swing between bragging about
killing his muggle family and trying to avoid the topic. Even his
wizarding family seemed to be a dangerous subject. He'd referred to
them with an amazing degree of disdain. Instinctively, Hermione knew
what she'd heard in Riddle's voice had been the remnants of hope and
dreams ground to splinters long ago. He was ashamed of them as he was
of his muggle relatives. He was ashamed that they had brought their
legacy so low and had extinguished a once proud line through their own
vice. Hermione felt a pang of reluctant pity for Riddle.

"We still need to go over your family relations," Hermione spoke

"If we paint a picture of a distant and somewhat cold grandfather,
with whom I had a difficult relationship with, I think we can avoid
questioning easily enough. People tend not to pry if they think
they'll be considered rude."

This time Hermione was very tempted to press Riddle further. It
wasn't just because her curiosity was raging, either. There were some
people who were only too happy to be rude. Rita Skeeter was a perfect
example. There were also several gossips in Hogwarts that would go to
great lengths if it would give them something to add to the Hogwarts'
gossip mill. The brittle expression of defiance on Riddle's face
stopped her. At some point, Hermione would have to trust that he
could deal with prying questions. Perhaps she was allowing her own
preference for careful preparation and planning to affect her
judgment. If Riddle said he could deal with it, then she'd make that
leap of faith and believe him. After all, he'd successfully fooled
everyone about his ambitions.

"You are aware that you are essentially your own grandfather according
to Dumbledore's tampering of the files?" Hermione began.

"I am aware. I assume that the Polish witch I, or rather my
grandfather, supposedly married can't be traced?"

"No. There was an influx of witches and wizards from the Continent
after the war. Asylum was granted openly and the ministries here in
Britain and the rest of Europe weren't really in any position to keep
good records due to the aftermath of Grindlewald and the muggle war."

"I suppose the same can be said for that... muggle?" Riddle asked with
distaste, indicating the woman who was supposed to be his mother.

"Muggle records are more easily tampered with," Hermione replied with
a shrug. "What of your schooling? Dumbledore hasn't supplied any
information other than your OWL and NEWT scores. One of the first
questions you'll be asked is why you haven't attended Hogwarts of one
of the other wizarding schools."

"The Gaunts... my mother's family, never attended Hogwarts. Educating
children at home isn't entirely uncommon among the more reclusive or
eccentric Pureblood families," Riddle replied smoothly.

"Then that brings us to why you supposedly joined the Order," Hermione

"That is something I believe you would be far better at explaining
than I," Riddle replied.

"Then we should adhere to as close to the truth as possible," Hermione
said mulling the problem over.

"How are you going to manage that? My views on muggles are quite
clear, although I am capable to maintaining a fiction otherwise."

"There were those who supported the Order who shared similar beliefs
about muggles, Riddle. Those people simply did not like the
widespread destruction or the increasing risk of discovery by muggles
that Voldemort's tactics created."

"Then you're suggesting something similar?"


"I'm certain I'm capable of that. I'll have to read the articles you
have carefully," Tom said guardedly. "My... distaste, for muggleborns
will have to be downplayed, however, given our bond."

"True and that raises the question of why we're bonded."

"I believe Dumbledore already established that isn't a question that
is proper to ask."

"Yes, but it also has to do with the last days before the final
battle. You need to know about that," Hermione said quietly as
memories flashed through her mind. "Besides, it's always better to be

"You said that a spell was used to unravel the spells my older self
used in his quest for immortality," Tom replied, brushing aside what
he didn't want to discuss.

Hermione nodded and then quickly reviewed what she'd already told him.
What had happened in the last battle had not been as simple as simply
casting a spell. A spell cast by one person would never have been
strong or focused enough to put a dent in Voldemort's defenses. There
had also been the added danger of having to battle their way through
to Voldemort. Of course, the Dark Lord in his desire to kill Harry,
had happily met them halfway. Carefully, Hermione began to explain
what they had done.

"We'd worked for months to get the spell working. The problem was
that it required a great deal of power. A single caster couldn't do it."

"A ritual... you did a ritual in the middle of a battlefield?" Riddle
asked in disbelief.

"We had to. Necessity is a harsh taskmistress. There was one
problem, however and that was that Harry had to be the focus but there
was no way that Voldemort would give him time to do something like that."

"It would have been suicidal," Riddle agreed.

"Your older self knew that only Harry could kill him, so we used this
to our advantage. While Harry kept Voldemort busy, Professor Snape,
Ron Weasley, Professor Flitwick and myself combined our powers with
Dumbledore as the focus."

"Now that was suicidal. Surely my servants would have prevented such
a thing," Riddle questioned.

"They tried but Aurors and the rest of the Order were protecting us.
I won't lie, though. That was when we encountered the most losses."

"It seemed like a huge risk for little reason. You already said that
Potter was the only one who could kill my older self. That is, by the
way, something you'll have to explain," Riddle replied with curiosity.

"That was what we were counting on the Death Eaters and Voldemort to
think. What they didn't know was that we had worked out a way for
Dumbledore to direct his power to Harry."

What they had done to destroy Voldemort had been groundbreaking in
terms of magical theory and practice. Forging new territory for the
practice of magic was all well and good but Hermione was only too
aware of the inherent difficulties. Hermione could only say that
desperation had made them willing to try anything. Explaining what
they had done and why was complicated. Thankfully, the experience
that Riddle had with ritual magic aided Hermione's explanation. As
she detailed what had been done, she realized he seemed to have an
instinctual or intuitive understanding of magic. The ease with which
he grasped concepts and made leaps in logic made Hermione somewhat
jealous. That, she supposed, was one of the things that made
Voldemort such a dangerous wizard. Hermione shivered and returned her
attention to her explanation.

The first problem with their plan was to do with the very nature of
ritual magic. To work successfully, it took great focus. Each person
involved had to meld their magic together towards a common purpose and
then feed it to the focus. Usually this involved witches and wizards
who had little practice in working together, which lengthened the time
needed to conduct the ritual. When they planned to conduct the ritual
on the battle field, they wouldn't have a great deal of time. It was
Dumbledore who had finally come up with an unorthodox solution.

"Wait, you piggybacked the ritual on your oaths?" Riddle asked,
breaking into her explanation.

"Yes. They were the common thread amongst us and we used the oaths as
a guide for our magic."

"I assume the oaths were originally made in a ritual?" Riddle guessed.

"Exactly; they were a foundation that was already in place. It was
easier to build upon that than start anew. Not that it would have
worked if we hadn't practiced a great deal before hand. Familiarity
with each others' magic also hastened the process. We managed to
halve the time required to complete the ritual. Of course, there was
another problem..."

Shortening the length of the ritual had a side effect. It made the
magic all the more unstable and difficult for the focus to control.
Dumbledore had been the only one with enough power and experience to
direct the magic correctly. He had to be the focus of the ritual.
The problem was that it was Harry who had to destroy Voldemort.

Their solution had only been possible with the combined experience of
some of the most renowned wizards of the age. Alchemy, charms,
transfiguration, runes and potions were used to create a coal like
lump that could act as a conduit between the group and Harry. In the
midst of battle, the group had cast the first part of the spell that
would destroy Voldemort and sent it through the stone. Harry then
directed the magic from the stone and released it on Voldemort. As
Hermione described what had happened, her words seemed unequal to the
task. It had taken nearly two years to create the stone, the spell
and to practice it until their execution was flawless.

"The focusing stone... it had to have been created using something of
the caster, or casters in this case. There would be no other way for
it to act as a focus," Riddle puzzled out to himself.

"You're right. Like calling to like is one of the laws of magic. The
stone was created using an alchemical base that was infused with the
magic of the group and Harry. That allowed for Harry to springboard
the spell to Voldemort"

"An unexpected way of looking at the problem," Riddle admitted with

"It... it just made sense," Hermione said uncomfortably with a trace
of embarrassment.

"You! It was your idea!" Riddle cried in astonishment.

"I can't take all the credit!" Hermione defended. "I just made a link
between magic and muggle electricity and conductors."

Hermione felt uncomfortable claiming credit for the idea. Her idea
had been their inspiration but that paled in comparison to all the
work and ground breaking discoveries the others had made to make her
idea a reality. Then there was the spell itself. True genius had
gone into the creation of that. Hermione was more inclined to believe
that her idea was simply bred of desperation and a passing familiarity
with the already established theories of magic and muggle science. As
Riddle eyed her with disbelief and a new caution, Hermione only felt
more uncomfortable.

"False modesty is not becoming," Riddle replied with disapproval, that
Hermione stubbornly ignored. "What of the spell itself?"

"The spell was created before the focusing stone. Dumbledore and
several others had been working on it since Voldemort had shown an
interest in immortality and the rumors of what he'd done began to
circulate. It was adapted from the 14th century theory by Ricardo
Delmonde for the systematic destruction of enchantments and wards. A
great deal of work was required, though, to refine it. Even after
that it was impossible for one caster. Maybe if we'd had time it
could have been modified further but..."

"So what do you think is the best explanation for why I did not appear
in the final battle and the existence of our bond?" Riddle asked,
drawing Hermione from her memories.

"Some of those involved in the ritual employed various methods to
temporarily increase their magical strength," Hermione began.

"Doing that can be extremely risky," Riddle remarked.

"It can be but most methods were fairly simple. Flitwick did a ritual
with his wife to temporarily transfer some of her magic to him. They
did so through the natural bonds that had developed over years of
marriage. Professor McGonagall transferred some of her magic to
Dumbledore through their old apprenticeship bond. Perhaps if we said-"

"That we bonded to do something similar? A bond of our degree would
be required to do such a thing. It would certainly make sense, if I
was supposed to have taken the role of researcher or advisor, rather
than combatant," Riddle said.

"There is another possibility, too," Hermione continued. "The Order
ran several clandestine missions to obtain various books and
ingredients for the conductor and spell. What was required wasn't
necessarily the kind of thing available in the open market, or even
the black market."

"Dark Arts?" Riddle asked with sudden interest.

"Some of it," Hermione admitted. "I went on several and it wouldn't
be difficult to say you went with me. Most of the Order was unaware
of these missions. With your... inclinations it would be logical for
you to be part of such a mission."

"And we bonded as a result of such a mission?"


"Hmm, that might be more plausible than simply saying we created such
a strong bond just for the sake of one ritual. Besides, if we are
pressured we could use the ritual explanation as a cover' for our
illegal activities. If questioned further, we could finally confess
to the real reason."

"Then you agree?" Hermione asked to be certain.

"It makes the most sense, although I would prefer not to reveal any
details unless absolutely necessary."


Personally, Hermione was rather taken aback by the level of paranoia
Riddle was displaying. She didn't argue, though. She was pleased
that he was finally showing an interest in working out the details of
what would become a lifelong charade. His suggestions were well
thought out, too. People were less inclined to accept an easy answer,
especially if they were suspicious in the first place. It was also
better to let prying minds be satisfied with the admission of a small
wrong, than left discontented to stumble upon the truth.

"Tell me, Granger, were there any other bonds created before the last

"I know of several strong blood oaths and bonds between Aurors. A few
of the students that were involved took minor oaths."

"Nothing from the Order?"

"Well... I suspect that Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks made some
kind of bond between them. They married not six months ago, so a bond
wouldn't be considered unusual."

"Then our bond won't be so unique," Riddle finally replied.

"If we're not pressed then I suppose it will be fine," Hermione said
with reluctance, biting her lip. "Maybe we should-"

"What is your preoccupation with planning, Granger!" Riddle burst out
unexpected in frustration and Hermione found her own temper responding.

"Well, forgive me for wanting everything to go smoothly!"

"Do you really think that all the preparation in the world will stop
someone from finding out the truth, if they're really determined? You
can't plan for everything," Riddle challenged.

"No, you can't but it will help avoid such situations!" Hermione
defended, reining her temper in before she said something unfortunate.

"Fine but too many details will look as false as too little," Riddle
growled and sat back in his chair.

"Most of what we've discussed has been very general," Hermione
retorted. "We still haven't talked about any small personal details
that work partners would know."

"Like favorite colors and which order we put on our shoes?" Riddle
asked scornfully.

"Well, that's the sort of thing-," Hermione snapped defensively.

"Enough, you are right," Riddle conceded uneasily. "My favorite color
is purple and I put my socks on before my shoes."

"My favorite color is green-"

"Green? Showing a preference for my house, Granger?"

"Shove it, Riddle. I liked the color green before I had even heard of
Hogwarts. When I was five I wouldn't wear any other color for three

"No fond childhood memories of ruffled pink dresses and a bedroom to

"Hardly! Dressing girls in pink is a gender stereotype-"

"Enough, Granger, I don't need a lecture," Riddle interrupted waspishly.

"It would serve you right if I did lecture you on the feminist
movement. Then again, I suppose my Mum will tell you about it in
length, if you're not careful," Hermione said primly, knowing that his
tone wasn't to be taken seriously.

Hermione had seen the looks he'd thrown her mother. Exactly why he'd
seem so scandalized for the split second before Riddle had carefully
covered it, she wasn't sure. Historically, witches had always been on
far more equal footing with men, than their muggle counterparts. Then
again, Riddle was muggle raised, although he'd rather not admit it.
Not that being muggle raised would explain his shock. During the
second war, women had been forced to take the duties that men had
normally filled. After the war, many women had returned to the
traditional role of housewife but plenty of other women had remained
part of the work force. Surely it wasn't so astounding that her
mother worked? Hermione pushed aside her curiosity but had to admit
she rather looked forward to seeing how Riddle dealt with her mother.

"I live in terror," Riddle sneered halfheartedly and then rubbed his
temples. "You still haven't told me how you put on your shoes."

"One at a time; sock and then shoe," Hermione replied graciously,
accepting his unspoken, not-quite apology.

"If you weren't surrounded in a bower of pink, what was your childhood

The question took Hermione unawares as did the wolfish smile that
graced Riddle's features. For a few moments, Hermione squirmed
uncomfortably. This was plainly revenge for all the questions she'd
asked about his family life. Worse was that she couldn't avoid the
question. She had said they should know what working partners should
know about each other. That had implied she would have to reciprocate
in some form, in this case, give details of her own past. Besides, he
would learn about that eventually during the summer. Hopefully her
mother wouldn't tell him too many embarrassing stories. Taking a
breath, Hermione began to outline her family history and her childhood.

She had been blessed with supportive and attentive parents. This was
something Hermione was immensely thankful for. Descriptions of
Harry's relatives and observations of friends and classmates had made
her realize just how luck she was. Hermione's parents had encouraged
her intelligence from a young age but had been careful to instill in
their daughter a good work ethic and to never take her intelligence
for granted. In many ways, her home life as a child had been idyllic.
After she had received her letter, Hermione had become aware of the
awkwardness that had grown between her parents and herself. That was
one of the things she hoped to resolve this summer.

"I suppose everything was all fairly normal until I received my
Hogwarts letter," Hermione finished.

"Didn't you show any accidental magic?"

"Oh, I did, but it was mostly at school so my parents didn't see the
more dramatic displays of accidental magic. What they did see was the
kind of thing that was easily excused," Hermione said with a tinge of
remembered loneliness.

"Then why at school?" Riddle pressed.

Hermione bit her lip. Interactions with children at her muggle school
hadn't been very pleasant or successful. They had resented her
intelligence and where they wanted to play games, she had desired
nothing more than the curl up with a good book. There were, of
course, the usual playground bullies that took a more physical
exception to her presence. Hermione supposed that the strange things
that happened when she was cornered had kept her from worse than
shoving and taunting.

"Like any school there were bullies," Hermione said with a shrug she
had to work at to look casual. "I was bookish and proud of the things
I learned. The other children resented that but only a few took real
exception. When they tried to tease me... things would happen. They
never said anything to the teachers and I certainly didn't."

"What sort of things would they do?" Riddle asked his voice a soothing

"Oh, I suppose it was silly," Hermione said automatically, although
the memories still stung. "Mostly they would call me names, exclude
me and pulled tricks on me."

"Mostly... but not all," Riddle whispered, and Hermione winced at the
truth in his words.

"Not all," Hermione admitted softly.

Memories she hadn't thought of in years, sprang to the fore with a
vividness that took her by surprise. Hermione could almost hear the
chorus of derisive rhymes and taunts. In those memories she had been
more alone than any other time in her life. The horrible sense of
vulnerability she thought long forgotten was conjured back into
existence by the flood of memory. It was as if she was once again
eight; quiet, awkward and terribly shy which she tried to hide with
knowledge lovingly gleaned from books.

"One day they started to push me and pull my hair. The teacher
stopped them but the next day..."

"What happened, Hermione?" Riddle coaxed.

"The next day they cornered me on the playground. I knew that it
would only be worse because the teacher had interfered the day before.
I didn't know how far they'd go."

"You stopped it, didn't you? Tell me, how you stopped it."

"Sparks at first. When they came too close, their clothes would get
singed. Then things would trip them or they would be pushed back.
When they threw my books across the playground and they... came back."

"You showed them you were stronger than they were. They were afraid
of you."

Hermione mouthed a yes but no sound could make it past her lips.
After her books had swooped back, clipping them on the head before
returning to her grasp, they had left her alone. They had looked at
her in fear and malignant suspicion after that but they had left her
alone. She had been grateful for it.

"I showed them too," Riddle continued. "The older boys thought they
could bully me. They would steal my blankets and the little things we
were given from the charity boxes at Christmas. When I wouldn't do
their homework for them they would beat me bloody... until I showed
them I wasn't a dog to be beaten."

The hint of tightly controlled malice leaked from his dark eyes. It
was as compelling as it was repugnant. Her whole body was shaking and
Hermione could feel the bond thrum in response to the unconscious
flare of Riddle's magic. Hermione had to look away but found she
couldn't. The sheer force of that gaze paralyzed her wholly.
Hermione wasn't sure how he'd drawn that confession from her. It
wasn't something she'd told anyone, not Ron and Harry, not even her
parents. It wasn't something she liked to think about. She hadn't
liked the part of herself that those experiences had brought out.
That part had depended on their fear of her and had even enjoyed it a
little. Ironically, it was the same part of her that she had
cultivated in the war. It was the ruthless side of her personality,
that had led her to dabble in the Dark Arts and to kill Death Eaters
without hesitation.

"The strong survive," Riddle finally said and blinked, which seemed to
break the trance and Hermione found she could finally look away.

Her stomach clenched in nausea and shame. Riddle didn't need to
finish his statement. She also understood the subtle comparison he
was drawing. He was insinuating that she was just like him. Riddle
had managed to get under skin in a more personal way than he'd ever
done before. Hermione didn't like how naked and dirty he'd made her
feel. It made her want to regain her equilibrium by returning the
favor. She wanted to throw his arrogant double standard, right back
in his face. Of course, that was what he was expecting and in doing
so she would prove his point. Hermione she was better than that.

What he'd said about the strong was true. Life, people, could be
ruthless and cruel but that wasn't all there was. Even in the middle
of the war, Hermione had seen amazing acts of kindness and generosity.
Maybe Riddle would refuse to acknowledge that, but she wouldn't.

"If that is all you believe, then that is all you will see," Hermione
replied, her voice raw but unwavering. "There is also compassion and

"Ideals are for those who can afford them," Riddle snapped.

"Ideals are for those who dare to live up to them," Hermione returned.

"Such a naive thing to say but not unexpected," Riddle retorted with
casual dismissal and then bent to pick up the first of the newspapers
Hermione had brought. "I need to read those past issues of the Quibbler."

Hermione nodded, saying nothing more. Nothing she could say would
convince him. Somewhat disgusted, Hermione stood and left the common
room, before she exploded. She wanted to smack Riddle but most of all
she wanted to get rid of that horrible feeling that revealing those
memories had left with her. Why had she done it? That had been a
foolish thing to reveal to someone who would use it against her.
Hermione shuddered. She wasn't sure if he hadn't already used it
against her. Riddle hardly had to do anything to shake her

Hermione found her feet pushing her forward down the hall. Returning
to the Heads' common room wasn't something she wanted to do for a
while. If Riddle had questions about the newspapers, he'd have to
wait to ask her. She wanted somewhere to sit and lick her wounds.
Sheer habit had her walk towards Gryffindor tower. Outside the Fat
Lady's portrait, Hermione paused with indecision. If she went in then
Ron, Harry and Ginny would want to know what was wrong. Hermione
wasn't sure if she could deal with their well meant chiding and
concerns. She had made her decision and should she really be
surprised when a snake did what was in its nature to do?

No, she shouldn't.

From the beginning she'd known what Tom Riddle was like. Hermione
knew that there would be times he'd do his best to humiliate and hurt
her. This wasn't even the first time she'd come out second best in
their arguments. Hermione, of course, never took defeat well. It was
just that when they weren't arguing, there were moments where she
enjoyed his company. It was in those moments she sometimes caught a
glimpse of someone worth knowing. Or maybe it was a glimpse of what
he might have been and now perhaps might still be. That evoked a mix
of complex emotions in Hermione. Sadness and regret were prominent
but there was something else, too. It made Hermione want to fight for
him. Maybe that was because no one else had. Plenty of people had
fawned over him during his time as a student but they had been
deceived. If they had seen beyond his charming smile and innocent
demeanor, to find the darker features of his character, they had
turned their back on him. Even Dumbledore. Was that simply pity?
She wasn't really sure. She did know that she was afraid of it.

While there might be something worthy within him, there was also a lot
of cruelty. Riddle had constructed his spite out of ignorance, fear
and a refusal to see beyond his own misfortune and experience. He
also had no problem with taking out his grudges on others. If his
career as Voldemort wasn't enough, she'd just had that proven to her
in a far more personal manner.

Hermione knew you had to accept people as they were. To do otherwise
was self-delusion and inevitably the cause of a lot of pain. Had she
forgotten that? Hermione crossed her arms protectively across her
stomach. Maybe she had but she refused to pigeonhole him like
everyone else had. At least she wasn't as foolish as to think she
could make Riddle change. What she could do was show him that he had
choices and, most importantly, that those choices were just as valid,
powerful and real as those that had led him to become Voldemort.

The question was whether she had the strength to walk that road.
Hermione found herself strung between her fear and what she felt was
the right thing to do. Tiredly, she massaged her temples. In her
heart, Hermione suspected she'd already made her choice. She was just
reluctant to admit it to herself. For now she would visit the Room of
Requirement and take out her frustration on a target dummy. With a
tight smile, Hermione decided she would indulge in a little
transfiguration to make the dummy to look like Riddle. Just because
she was fond of the git, didn't mean she had stopped wanting to slap him.