Author's Notes:

1) Chapter lengths may vary wildly, some might be drabble-length, some might be near 5k words, all depends on what my muse hands me (I'm gonna let readers in on a writer secret, sometimes when there's a large chunk of time between updates, it's because we've written the next chapter, but it's not nearly as long as previous chapters in that story, so we're terrified to post it until we can find a way to expand that chapter without filler or unnecessary content; we feel like we're disappointing you if we give you a chapter that's half the length of what you're used to. In order to keep a story flowing, we simply have to let that organic process happen, and trying to tailor our output so specifically [thought often it actually is quite helpful], can sometimes hinder our creativity).

2) That Thomas Kincaid is really some [as of yet] unexplainable duplicate of Tom Riddle is not intended as a surprise to the readers. I mean, it's kind of right there in the summary. The storytelling on this fic requires you guys be in the loop on that, much like a film or television show wherein you know who the villain is and what they're up to the entire time, but the whole point is watching the other characters figure it out, and observing if getting involved with these other characters changes the villain's perspective or motives.

3) I'm aware there was an artist by the name of Thomas Kinkade. The similarity is completely unintended. When I was thinking of pseudonyms that would still allow him to be addressed as 'Tom', it was the first thing that popped into mind, and it wouldn't seem to go away, so here we are.

FANCAST: Henry Cavill as Tom Riddle/Thomas Kincaid; Danielle Herrington as Millicent Bullstrode; Maria Amanda as Luna Lovegood (characters not mentioned portrayed by their film actors).

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter, or any affiliated characters, and make no profit from this story.

Chapter One

"Your resume is impressive," Professor McGonagall said with a nod as she lowered the scroll the Ministry had sent her on the man seated before her—after what they'd all just been through, she was taking no chances. All applicants for posts at Hogwarts were now thoroughly investigated, no matter how clean and upstanding—and, all right, perhaps handsome—they appeared on the surface. "Durmstrang speaks quite highly of your rapport with your students, and your instructional methods. I must admit, however, given your prior institution's history of disapproval of our student body, I am surprised by your choice to come to us rather than seeking another school with . . . similar views."

He granted her a charming smirk and shrugged. "Headmistress, please understand, simply because I was employed there does not mean I shared their views on educating Muggleborns." At the way she arched a suspicious brow, he held up a placating hand. "Perhaps I once did, yes, but I have come to realize that one's blood status does not dictate their ability to comprehend—or command—magic. If Muggleborns are not formally taught how to wield theirs, who knows what could become of them? Any untrained witch or wizard is a threat to themselves and those around them, pure and simple."

The elder witch sat back a bit in her seat, nodding as she held his gaze. He didn't flinch, he barely blinked . . . simply held that charming expression as he stared back at her. She waited for what she knew was an uncomfortably long time, deliberately testing his patience.

His brows slowly crept upward, but that half-smile of his never faded. "Is something the matter, Headmistress?" From the corner of his eye, he noted the space on the wall where the last headmaster's portrait would hang was still blank. Apparently there had been some issue with getting the work completed in time for the start of the new school term. Pity, that.

Minerva gave a small smile of her own in response as she at last shook her head. "I suppose I was simply not expecting such a pragmatic answer."

He chuckled warmly. "I do believe you'll find I excel at practical thinking, Madam."

She looked over the paperwork before her one more time and nodded, again. "Well, I think I've seen all I need to." Actually, they weren't exactly overwhelmed with applicants following the War, and given both the way he presented himself and the positive bent of the documentation in front of her, she really didn't see a way around it. "Welcome to Hogwarts, Professor Kincaid."

He grinned brightly at her words. "Please, call me Tom."

"Oh, I haven't seen him yet, but Milli did! Bumped into him while Professor Flitwick was giving him a tour of Hogsmeade last week."

Hermione could not believe she heard the voice of Pansy Parkinson coming from the car where she was meeting Ginny, Luna, and Cho. She halted, mid-stride, and shook her head. Actually, she'd been warned of this. She'd thought she'd braced for it . . . but when she'd received a letter over the summer from both Pansy and Millicent Bullstrode offering an olive branch, she hadn't truly believed the Slytherin witches would make good on it. Her friends, aware just how many people they were more familiar with were not returning—Harry, Ron, Seamus, hell, even Draco—had pushed her to accept.

And so she had, grudgingly.

Though, perhaps that would only hold true until she walked into the car, after all, the girls currently in there with them, while labeled blood-traitors during the War, were at least pure-bloods.

"It's true, the new teacher he's . . . ."

Hermione entered just as Milli paused, fanning a hand in front of her face.

"He's . . . I can't believe I'm going to say this about a teacher, but the man is fit."

Offering a pained smile to her friends, Hermione stowed her bag and took a seat. "Hello, um, everyone."

Pansy pursed her lips for a long, quiet moment. Silence had fallen in the car, and she didn't think anyone was shocked by that. Sure, she could tell them she wanted to make amends in writing, but after 6 years of tormenting the other girls, she knew she had to actually show that she was trying. Especially after that whole pointing out Harry Potter to the Dark Lord business she was so sure no one was going to let her live down. Score one for people excusing things done in moments of duress, she supposed.

"Hermione," she said in a small voice before nodding and regaining her usual bravado. It would probably be easiest to just go on like this, start with something as simple as girl-talk, and let the wounds heal as they went along. "So, we were talking about the new professor, have you heard?"

Hermione furrowed her brow as she frowned. "The replacement for Slughorn while he's teaching abroad, or the new DADA professor?"

"The second one," Cho said with a grin that was not quite as tense as the air in their car. "What's his name, again?"

Milli uttered a wistful sigh. "Professor Kincaid."

"Ohh." Pansy made a naughty cooing sound. "That has such a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Something you could imagine murmuring in the dark."

At that, Hermione couldn't help scoffing, though she smiled in spite of herself, but Ginny was the one to speak up. "You cannot be serious. He's a teacher!"

The dark-haired witch shook her head. "It's not like I'm saying let's all line up for turns to shag the bloke, for Merlin's sake." She laughed. "But honestly? So many of the boys worth looking at aren't returning this year. We've got to find our eye-candy somewhere, don't we?"

"I can't believe we're even discussing this," Hermione said with a headshake.

"Okay, um, then . . . ." Luna started, ever the lifesaver. Or so Hermione thought, until the wispy blonde continued speaking. "Your birthday's in a few weeks, we should start planning for what to do!"

She wanted to sink down into her seat as their new companions' eyes lit up. Milli clasped her hands excitedly in front of her while Pansy grinned wickedly.

"Birthday, hmm?" The Slytherin princess tapped her finger against her chin. "I forgot, yeah. You're a year older, aren't you?"

Yes, and of all the rotten luck, had I been born on time rather than two weeks late, I'd never have been stuck in classes with you! Hermione dug her nails into her palm and centered herself. Olive branch, Hermione. You accepted, now deal with it.

"Yes, my birthday's on the nineteenth, in fact."

Luna's brows shot up. "You're turning nineteen on the nineteenth? I feel like last year I'd have made a fuss about that."

Ginny snickered as Cho nodded and said, "That's because last year you would've."

Pansy waved her hands in a dismissive gesture, even as a calculating gleam sparked in her hazel eyes. "We'll come up with something good, don't you worry."

Frowning, Hermione sat back. "You saying that is what worries me."

To her surprise, when they reached their destination and exited the train, Hermione could honestly say she had a mostly pleasant trip. The air between the group of girls was still notably awkward, but she thought it wasn't anything that couldn't lessen over the year ahead.

By the time they went down to dinner, Hermione thought she'd had about all she could hear of this Professor Kincaid. Romilda and Parvati had apparently also heard about run-ins with the new teacher, and couldn't seem to say enough on how curious they were about him. Honestly! She just wanted to focus on formally finishing her education. It wasn't even the first day of the new term and they were making her wish she'd opted out of returning to school, just like Harry and Ron.

As they filed into the Great Hall for the first night's feast, Hermione noticed Pansy trying to get her attention. Her shoulders slumping, she turned her full attention on the other witch. "What?" she mouthed.

With a half-grin that was as secretive as it was wicked, Pansy nodded toward the dais at the front of the room.

Barely refraining from rolling her eyes, Hermione took her seat. Honestly if this was about the new professor, again . . . though she knew it had to be. As though she was going to look anywhere but at the front of the grand room while Professor McGonagall addressed them all as their Headmistress for the first time.

But then she did look at the long table where the teachers sat facing the room. She registered two new faces among the group. The first was an older gentleman with an unattractively large mustache . . . if that was Professor Kincaid, Hermione had some serious questions about Milli's tastes.

Before she could focus on the other new face, Professor McGonagall stepped up to the podium. A small lump fueled by melancholy and nostalgia formed in Hermione's throat. She hadn't realized how much she missed these first night feasts, with Professor Dumbledore up there. She loved Minerva McGonagall like a second mother, but this was just a sign of how much things had changed.

"Welcome to both new and returning students," the elder witch started with a smile. "I would like to extend my gratitude to those of you who have chosen to come back to us to make up your 7th year. I know after the trying times we've had, many of your classmates no longer felt there is anything left that we can teach them. I am glad to see that did not hold true for all of you. Before we begin The Sorting, I would like to introduce two new members of our teaching staff. Professor Almeida comes to us from Castelobruxo, and will fill in for Professor Slughorn as potions' teacher this year." The man with the mustache stood and took a strangely curt bow before sitting again. "And, coming to us from Durmstrang as our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Kincaid."

Hermione swore she could feel a ripple of excitement flow through the Great Hall as the other man stood. Shifting her gaze to him, her breath caught in her throat. There was . . . well, all right, he was quite nice looking. That wealth of dark, gleaming curls, ruggedly angled features, eyes so blue she could see their color from where she sat.

And . . . . She frowned thoughtfully as she stared at him. He looked—Why did he look familiar?

Hermione shook her head, trying to marshal her thoughts. That was when his gaze fixed on hers. She exhaled, feeling the air shiver as it left her lungs and she couldn't seem to tear her attention away from him.

Her skin warmed, such an odd sensation. Nearly as though she could sense him leaning close behind her; as though she could feel his breath whispering across the side of her throat.

How strange, and how awful of her to even imagine such a thing about a bloody teacher! With that reprimand, she managed to finally pull her gaze from him.

Yet, throughout the meal, she remained aware of him there. No matter what she thought, nor what the conversation around her was, she stayed completely cognizant of his presence at the other end of the room.

And perhaps it was her imagination, but it seemed whenever she glanced in his direction, she could swear she caught him averting his gaze from her. As though he'd been watching her, and it was only when she looked up at him that he caught himself and turned his attention away.

Yes, yes, only her imagination.

Or, so she thought, until Ginny nudged her. "He keeps glancing over here," she said in a barely audible whisper. "Maybe he recognizes you from the papers, or something!"

Breathing a sigh of relief—why hadn't that occurred to her?—Hermione nodded. "You're probably right." That made perfect sense!

Yet, she realized as she lifted her head once more, managing to catch his gaze, that did not explain why he seemed familiar to her.

This time he did not look away, and she could not help but feel he was reveling in her curiosity.