Title: Into the Horcrux
Word Count: 13,041
Disclaimer: JKR owns anything you recognize. I'm just having fun in her world.
Author's Notes: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR HBP!!! This is in response to the Fuh-Q-Fest Challenge at lv_hg_betrayal. Challenge #20:A Hermione/Voldemort Romance that ties in with the Half-Blood Prince.
Harry and Ron stared at the glittering 'S' engraved on the front of the locket. Hermione had discovered the gaudy thing in the upstairs library about a week or so after they had moved into Grimmauld Place, when she was compiling a list of Harry's new possessions. They had been residing there for over two months since and, while they had been able to determine that the locket was indeed Slytherin's as well as one of Voldemort's horcruxes, they had not yet been able to discern a way to open it, let alone destroy it. All three of them had looked through every book and pooled every resource they knew of and had come up empty handed.
With a disgusted sigh, Harry let the locket plunk to the surface of the kitchen table. Frustration crackled around both of the boys. They just seemed to be getting no where in their mission to weaken Voldemort.
"Harry! Ron!" Hermione cried, as she burst through the kitchen door, excitement clear on her face.
Ron exchanged a bewildered glance with Harry. "What is it, 'Mione?".
"Well, you will not believe what I've discovered," she began and sat down on the bench across from the two.
"I'm sure I won't."
Hermione decided to ignore Ron's mumbled words.
"I think I've found the translation to the symbols from the edge of the locket."
That statement instantly peaked Harry and Ron's interest.
"You have?" Harry leaned forward. "How? No, more importantly, what is it?" He asked eagerly.
"First," she said with great excitement, "I tried looking through some of the older texts in the upstairs library, where I found the locket, but I soon realized that wouldn't work, because I would have to know the approximate period from which the symbols originated. So, I tried a few charms to examine the layers of magic surrounding it, and most interestingly..."
"Hermione, will you just get on with it."
Ron's interruption met with anangry glare.
"As I was saying," Hermione continued, "the interesting thing I discovered was that the symbols are only around forty years old."
"You mean...?" Harry looked from the locket to Hermione and back again.
"Yes, the symbols appeared as soon as Voldemort made Slytherin's locket into a horcrux."
"Then, what do they say?"
"I was just about to get there, Harry," Hermione replied.She shifted on the wooden bench and turned the locket so it was facing the two young men across from her. "I went back to the books after that discovery and cross-referenced every language and rune template imaginable. These symbols seem to be a cross between Parseltongue, Latin, and Old Tongue."
"Old Tongue as in the ancient language of the Fae?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Precisely," she replied, giving him a curt nod. "Now, If I'm reading them correctly," she said, while pointing to each character in turn, "then they appear to translate, quite literally, to 'Only guardians of muddied birth may enter.'" She set the locket back down on the table and looked excitedly at Harry and Ron.
"What do you suppose that rubbish means?" Ron asked lowly to Harry.
"Oh, I was hoping you would ask," Hermione said before either could venture a guess. "This is only a theory, of course, but I rather think that 'muddied birth' refers to muggleborns. Only someone like Voldemort would use such a crude term."
'But, Hermione," Ron conjectured, "He-Who...er...he...hates muggleborns. Why would he only allow them to ruddy around with his horcrux?"
Hermione furrowed her brow and frowned.
"That is an answer I'm not sure I'd like to know," she confessed.
"Okay," Harry interrupted, still staring at the locket, "if this is referring to muggleborns, then what does it mean by 'guardian'?"
"Well, I'm thinking that 'guardian' alludes to someone who speaks one of the three languages from which the symbols derive. Since Latin is hardly a scarce language, I don't believe it's the one, and there aren't anymore Fae running around these days. I think it's a safe bet to say that the guardian must be a Parselmouth."
Harry looked up. Both pairs of eyes were on him.
"Now, wait a minute, Hermione," he started to protest. "As brilliant as this discovery is, there is one problem."
Hermione looked scandalized.
"The problem," Harry said quickly, before Hermione could object, "is that we don't know any muggleborn witch or wizard who can speak Parseltongue."
"Bloody hell, we don't know anyone besides Harry and...him who can speak it," Ron added.
Hermione let a victorious grin slide onto her face.
"We don't have to."
Ron and Harry again exchanged bewildered glances.
"Oh come now, "Hermione said in one exasperated sigh. "Did you two ever pay attention in class during the past six years at Hogwarts? Harry'll speak a few words of Parseltongue, then I'll absorb it with my wand and transfer it to my vocal chords. The next time I try to speak, the words will come out of my mouth, just as if I were saying them myself."
She was beaming at her own ingenuity.
"You can do that?" Ron said, his eyes widening in shocked disbelief at the thought.
Hermione pointedly decided to ignore him.
"Okay, this is all well and good," Harry started, "but didn't you say one of the symbols translated to the word 'enter'? Hermione, if this will transport you somewhere, I don't want you to do it." His voice became very serious.
Hermione's eyes softened.
"Oh, Harry, I can't be certain about the translation, since it's an entirely foreign language to me, but 'enter' could mean anything from 'come in' to 'open'. Either way," she said quietly and looked between the two young men, "we must take that chance. No other charm or curse we've tried has worked. There's nothing else we can try but opening the locket."
She reached across the table towards the locket, but Ron's hand wrapped around her wrist.
"Hermione, you could die."
Her fingers twitched in the air where they hovered over the chain. After a moment, Hermione sighed and let her hand encircle the locket.
"I know, Ron," she whispered. "We all could."
"But," she continued as her eyes hardened, "if we don't do this, then Voldemort will gain an advantage in winning this war. Even more people would die."
Clasping the chain around her neck, she looked sadly to her friends.
"Besides, I'm the only one who can do this."
The silence that followed seemed to last forever. As much as Harry and Ron didn't want to admit it, they all knew she was right. The whole purpose of leaving Hogwarts at the end of their sixth year was to find and destroy all of Voldemort's remaining horcruxes. A death amongst them was always something they knew could happen in that mission, but it had never seemed like a real possibility until right then.
"All right. Let's do this," Harry sighed, his determination to defeat Voldemort winning out over the other emotions flying about in his head.
"Good. Just give me a few days in which to make the necessary preparations, and I'll be all set." Hermione smiled, but it didn't have the same lightheartedness as before.
With a small nod to her friends, she left the kitchen to begin her work. Harry and Ron sat in silence for a few minutes after Hermione's departure, staring absently at the worn, wooden door through which she walked.
"We could lose her, mate." Ron finally said in a choked voice.
Harry placed a hand on Ron's shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze.
The next few days flew by for both Hermione and the two boys. They had all agreed upon Hermione wearing as many protective talismans and charms as they could think of when she performed the necessary ceremony to, hopefully, destroy the horcrux. It wasn't until the following Monday morning that everything was finally prepared.
The three gathered in the sitting room adjacent to the entryway.
"Ready?" Hermione asked, sharing timid glances with her two best friends.
Each of them nodded.
"Hermione," Harry said, placing a hand on her forearm, "the question are you ready?"
She tried to smile, but only a small smirk graced her lips. "Never been more prepared for anything. If I can figure out what part of Voldemort's soul is inside this locket, then it should be no problem discerning what to do to destroy him and the horcrux." Hermione sighed and pulled out her wand. "Okay, Harry, I want you to say a few words in Parseltongue."
"All right." He cleared his throat and started to speak the hissing language.
As each word was spoken, a green mist swirled from his mouth and was absorbed by the tip of Hermione's wand. With a flick of her wrist, Hermione redirected it towards her throat. After a moment the mist was out of the air, but Hermione's collar bone and neck began to pulse with an eerie shade of green. She quickly reached into her robes and pulled out the gold locket. Looking back and forth between her friends, she nodded and opened her mouth. Two slurred Parseltongue words came slickly out.
For a little while nothing happened, and all three of their faces drooped in disappointment. In the next instant, however, Hermione's vision began to blur, and soon Ron and Harry seemed to be getting pulled farther and farther away from her. As her world started to fade into darkness, she tried to scream, but her words died weakly the instant they touched the air. It was strange sensation, she thought, almost like traveling by portkey, but less forceful.
As soon as the fuzziness came, though, it was gone, and Hermione found herself standing in a blank room. She couldn't see much as she looked around. The entire space she was in was filled with an impenetrable, gray fog of sorts. Try as she may, she could not peer through it. She wasn't sure if what she found herself in was a curse as a result of trying to destroy the horcrux, or if she actually was one step closer in destroying it.
Hermione didn't have to wait long for her answer, for a few moments later, a dark gray shadow started to move towards her from the distance. As it got closer, the blurry outline of a tall man started to become clear. When the figure stepped through the final layer of hazy mist, Hermione froze. It really was him. By her recollection of old Hogwarts school records, she knew that the man who stood before her was Tom Riddle, or at least an incarnation of him. This version appeared to be in his late twenties, if not a little older, and was dressed in quite luxurious silver and green wizard's robes.
Standing before her, he crossed his arms and looked Hermione up and down with a cold eye.
"Greetings, mudblood," he said with a sneer, contempt dripping from each syllable.
The mention of her most hated insult ignited Hermione's ire. Squaring her shoulders and straightening her robes, she raised her chin in defiance.
"I didn't come here for pleasantries. Which version of Voldemort are you, Mr. Riddle?" she asked, hoping it might give her a clue as to how to destroy the horcrux.
Tom let his smirk widen.
"Well," he said sounding quite amused, "this little piece of filth at least has some shred of intelligence."
Uncrossing his arms he started to circle her.
"Yes, I am a preserved portion of Lord Voldemort, but I'm much smarter than you seem to think I am. Did you honestly believe that I would tell you which part of Lord Voldemort's soul I am?" Tom spat as he rounded on her. "Did you really think I would give away such vital information so you could destroy me, not that you would be capable of it anyway?"
Hermione's fists began to clench. She had not been expecting a verbal sparring session between a fragment of a memory and herself. All of Harry's confrontations with Voldemort had involved some sort of combat. She had thought the same would be true inside the locket and that would be it.
"Okay," Hermione began, as Tom stopped circling her and recrossed his arms. "Could you tell me where I am then? Or anything about this place in which we seem to be trapped?"
Tom rolled his eyes, quite obviously displeased at having to converse with her.
"I take back what I said about your intelligence," he said while his eyes narrowed. "It seems you haven't even got a shred of it. Why don't you tell me where we are? And, by the way, I am not trapped here. You would be the only one with that particular problem..." he looked her up and down again "...among others."
Hermione glared at him. Oh, she wished she could just hex that condescending tone and mockery right out of him, but she knew she had to assess this portion of Voldemort's soul's magical ability before making a complete frontal assault.
"Well," she started coldly, "if I were to venture a guess at to our whereabouts, I would say we're inside Slytherin's locket, or at least in a place somehow connected to it."
"Very good. You are now the master of the obvious." Tom's eyes glittered at the scowl he received for the remark. "However," he began again, "to your credit, it took everyone else who's come in here much longer than you to figure that out."
Hermione's face softened in shock.
"There have been others?"
Tom simply laughed.
"You really believed you were the only one able to figure out Voldemort's riddle? How utterly presumptuous of you, little mudblood." His stance relaxed much more after this. It was painfully clear that he thought her to be nothing more than an annoying pest.
"I just thought..."
"Yes, well, you were quite wrong," he said, effectively cutting her off.
A few moments of silence and Tom sighed.
"Yes, there were others."
Hermione looked up at him inquisitively.
"Four others to be exact," he continued, "but only two of them were mudbloods like yourself. The other two apparently couldn't read properly, and, well, let's just say this place isn't too friendly to anyone who isn't of inferior birth, as I'm sure you figured out by the engravings on the locket."
"Yes, I had figured that." She looked around once more. "How long will I be here?"
Tom turned his eyes to follow her gaze around the mist.
"Until you die, of course."
That was a phrase Hermione could have gone without hearing. She was now even more on guard.
"Try and hex me if you like, but I have come to destroy you, and I will not go down without a fight." She faced him defiantly.
The smirk reappeared on Tom's face.
"I have no intention of hexing you, or whatever you'd like to call it, my dear little mudblood. Perhaps I should explain how time works in this world."
"First," he said while beginning to circle her again, "you are not really here, just your mind is. Your body is presently quite limp and lifeless in whatever reality you came from. Secondly, while only minutes will pass in the outside world, it will seem like years here. Your mind will die of old age in a matter of weeks in the real timeline."
He grinned maliciously. "I must say, I will truly enjoy watching you slowly wither away into nothingness. It's much more fun than the old Avada Kedavra."
Hermione felt her knees begin to tremble, but refused to give into her body's weakness.
"I wouldn't count on that, Riddle, I will kill you and exit this place." She reached into her pocket and pulled out her wand.
Tom didn't even flinch at her threat.
"Oh come now," he grabbed her wand from her hand before she realized what was happening, "do you really think this is even here?"
She watched as her wand slowly dissolved into the gray mist surrounding them both.
"Your perceived magic will not help you in your little crusade; it holds no authority here."
"Now," he said while he straightened his back and turned away from her, "if you are done making a fool of yourself, I must be going. I'll come and check on you in a bit. Hopefully, you'll be like the rest and drive yourself insane in this shapeless plane of existence. Since you seem a bit more clever, though, I'd say it'll take you a bit longer to reach that point. I'll be back when it happens."
Before Hermione could reply to his hurried exiting statement, he was gone, swallowed almost whole by the swirling gray fog. She wanted to cry, or run, or even beg Tom to come back, but Hermione knew she had to be much stronger than that if she were to ultimately defeat him in the end. He said he would come back, and when he did, she would be ready. Slowly, she lowered herself to the ground, trying hard not to suffer any vertigo.
"Okay, Hermione, you must think this through logically. First," she said aloud, so as not to let the overwhelming hum of silence get to her. To illustrate her point sheheld up an index finger, "My only presence here is my mind's, therefore, I must figure out a way for that to be to my benefit. Second, I cannot use magic, so there has to be a way for me to defeat him without it. Third, there must be basic clues I can deduce from this Voldemort to figure out who he really is."
She spent the next stretch of time folding her mind over all the information she had gathered from her encounter with Voldemort's spirit. Several times she thought she had come close to figuring out what part of Voldemort Tom was, but then she would remember another piece of information that would not fit into the conclusion she made and would have to start all over again.
Time became lost to her after a while. She could not be certain if it had only been minutes, or hours, or rather days. Tom had not yet returned, and she was beginning to wonder if he ever would. Perhaps he had just said he would be back to give her false hope, something, she figured, Voldemort would have no problem doing. More times than one she thought she saw a shadow moving in the gray mist, but as soon as she would focus her eyes on it, it would be gone, and she would be left once again with the blinding gray.
"Silver and green robes, just like a Slytherin," she said with great annoyance. "No wonder he hates muggleborns."
"Wait a minute!" She grinned from ear to ear, the excitement of a new idea overcoming her. "He was wearing silver and green, he hates muggleborns, and... he looks around thirty years old and yet has not taken on any of his serpentine transformations."
Hermione groaned mentally. It was so obvious. She now knew why Voldemort set the charm to only allow muggleborns to enter safely.
"This is Voldemort's Slytherin blood in the flesh," she whispered with a strained voice, burying her face in her hands.
A loud clapping echoed through the fog, startling Hermione into a standing position. Almost instantly the gray mist faded away, revealing what appeared to be a dimly lit library. Hermione looked around in awe. The room wasn't very large, from what she could see, but even with the cluttering of several shelves and stacks of worn books, it didn't seem overcrowded. On the wall to her left sat a stone hearth, a warm fire blazing in its center. Situated around it was a dark green, overstuffed sofa and a black leather armchair.
Hermione jumped slightly when Tom emerged from behind one of the dusty bookshelves, clapping softly.
"You are the first one to get out of that stage sane, you know." He leaned against the back of the sofa and motioned for Hermione to sit down. "And it only took you two days, six hours, and twenty-one minutes. Congratulations."
Hermione gaped. Was that really how long she had spent lost in that blinding mist?
"So," Tom started while pushing himself off of the back of the couch and sitting down in the armchair, "you have figured out who I am."
He smiled, almost genuinely and Hermione sat down on the sofa and shifted uncomfortably.
"You are the personification of Voldemort's Slytherin blood."
"In simple, mudblood terms, I suppose, yes, that is who I am."
He smirked, but it did not hold as much contempt as it had before. It may have been her imagination, but Hermione thought she sensed a dull respect for her intelligence coming from the elegant man across from her.
"You didn't return like you said you would," Hermione let out weakly.
A small smile crept onto Tom's face.
"Disappointed were you, little mudblood?" He leaned back into the chair and let his fingers drum absently against the armrests. "If you would remember correctly, I said I would return when you went insane, which, you did not, unfortunately."
Tom frowned slightly. Hermione opened her mouth to protest, to insist that he had not said such a thing, but closed it after a moment with a loud click. He was right.
"What now then?" Hermione folded her hands in her lap, all of a sudden feeling quite uneasy.
Tom sighed and leaned forward once again.
"Listen, mudblood, I am not here to guide you in your quest to destroy me. In fact, I would gladly kill you if I could. However, since I cannot, I will resign myself to hindering your mission at best. What happens is entirely up to you, which I had expected you would have figured out by now. Too much to hope from an inferior specimen, though, I suppose," Tom scoffed and lifted a book from a side table, obviously content to leave their conversation at that.
Hermione steeled herself and fought to keep the scowl off her face. At least he had let it slip that he was not able to kill her. That, in itself, was quite a relief. It bought her time. She looked around again. Since Tom seemed to be perfectly happy to leave them both in silence, she was left to her own musings. It was a blessing, she imagined, for she at least she was getting the chance to concentrate on finding a way to destroy him without the distraction of nothingness. Once more, Hermione went over all the information in her head. She knew that because her magic wouldn't work in her current plane of existence, there had to be a way to defeat Voldemort without it. She was certain, also, that it had to be something that Voldemort assumed a muggleborn would never have the capability of doing.
Hermione sighed. Her thoughts were leading nowhere. She just could not get herself into the Dark Lord's mindset, something she, of course, had always previously been thankful for.
"How old are you?" Hermione asked suddenly, turning back to the lounging spirit.
Tom looked taken aback that she had dared to speak to him again, but nonetheless put his book down and leaned forward.
"You are much more inquisitive than the rest," he stated while peering at her thoughtfully, "All right, since there is no harm in you knowing my age, I am seventy-one." He grinned.
With a derisive snort, Hermione rolled her eyes.
"I meant your age not Voldemort's."
Tom leaned back in his chair and smiled playfully.
"Since Lord Voldemort and I are one in the same, I think that statement might be a bit silly, don't you? However," he said hurriedly and held up a hand to silence her whining retorts, "this body is an accurate representation of my thirty-two year old self."
"Except for the venom-induced transformations," Hermione thought out loud.
Tom looked genuinely surprised.
"You know when those occurred do you?" He studied her more carefully. "Who are you exactly?"
Hermione froze. She knew full well that she couldn't divulge anything that would connect her to her true self. If Tom knew how old Voldemort currently was, she figured there was no telling of what else in her reality he might be aware.
"My name is Hermione. We are..." she paused, trying to choose her words carefully "...somewhat acquainted in your future."
"I hardly think I would associate myself with a mudblood. Unless, of course, you are a servant of mine."
Hermione rolled her eyes instinctively.
"Typical," she murmured, looking away from him.
Tom didn't seem to notice that she had spoken, or rather didn't seem to care. Instead, he picked up his discarded book and continued reading.
Hermione got up from the sofa and decided to explore the contents of the library. Perhaps, she thought, she would find some information in one of the books that would help in her mission. It seemed highly unlikely to her that such a thing would happen, but she figured it would at least be worth trying.
Turning the corner around the first row of shelves, Hermione stopped dead in her tracks. The books went on for as far as she could see. She suspected that if she spent a lifetime trying to read them, she hardly would be able to even look at half. If the books had been in any other location, she would have been in bliss.
"Amazing," she whispered, awestruck.
"Impressive, isn't it?"
Tom's whispered voice in the hollow of her ear made Hermione jump. Although she acknowledged his presence beside her, she just could not tear her gaze from the stacks of books.
"Are these real?" She asked him, as if she couldn't believe that such a thing could be true.
When Tom didn't reply after a few moments, Hermione shifted her gaze to him. He appeared to be studying her again. She couldn't tell if his interest in her was a bad thing or not, but at least for the moment he seemed willing to converse with her again.
"I guess since you are going to die here that it would be all right if I told you a few more things about this place," Tom said when Hermione met his gaze.
Hermione's eyes sparked with interest, the researcher in her going wild.
"This," Tom said as he stretched his hand towards the entirety of the library and walked back towards the hearth, "is Slytherin's Secret Library."
Hermione let out a gasp.
"But I thought it was located at Hogwarts!"
"It was, until my filthy grandfather got a hold of it," he continued to explain, while sliding back into the leather armchair. "No one in his family attended Hogwarts nor any other wizarding school, which is why the locket, containing this library, is no longer there."
Hermione sat back down on the couch, her mind reeling. She never imagined that the famed library would be inside an inanimate object, let alone one that she had access to.
"I hope that answers your question, because I tire of your company, mudblood." Tom stood up suddenly and went towards a door Hermione had not noticed before.
"Enjoy the books all you want, but I must warn you," he said over his shoulder before exiting the room, "even though I will not harm you, the same cannot be said for them." With that, he was gone, along with the door.
Hermione stared for a long while at the space Tom had previously occupied. He was nothing like she had expected. In fact, nothing about her trek into the horcrux was how she had expected it to be. With a long sigh, Hermione rose from the sofa and went to start her task of reading as many books as her time left would allow.
Weeks went by, or at least that's how long Hermione figured had gone by. It was a little difficult to tell when there was no day or night to go off of. She had not seen Tom since he had warned her about the books, and she actually found she missed him, if only for simple conversational reasons. When she could get around the multiple referrals to the nature of her birth, Hermione reasoned that he was quite pleasant to talk to. Or perhaps, she thought, she just missed talking to someone so much that she was starting to make herself believe that Tom was a suitable substitution.
Closing another book after finding nothing in it of use, Hermione snorted angrily. She had been through over two hundred volumes so far, and not one of them had yielded even a scrap of useful information. Nonchalantly, her hand traced the spine of the next book before gently pulling it from the shelf.
Staring back at her was the same language she had deciphered from the engraving on the locket. Her hand trembling in excitement, she opened the front cover of the book and flipped through the first few pages. Everything was written in the same, almost unreadable characters.
Still staring at the beautiful lines, she walked to the couch and sat down. Oh, she wished she had the notes she had made about the engravings. Then, maybe, she would have a clue as to where to start in translating the words in front of her.
"Find anything interesting yet?"
Hermione jumped at the sound of Tom's voice. He was sitting in the armchair to her left, looking quite pleased that he had been able to startle her again.
"Um...I," Hermione stammered, feeling very uneasy that he was able to sneak up on her so effortlessly. "Well, just this."
She held up the book so he could see the graceful characters. Realizing what she was reading, Tom smiled and moved to sit down next to her.
"May I?" He gestured to the book.
Hermione nodded and placed the volume in his proffered hand. He flipped through a few pages before settling on one that was particularly well-worn. After a moment, his eyes glazed over and he began to speak the soft language.
Hermione couldn't believe her ears. Never would she have guessed that it would sound so beautiful, especially since it was a derivative of Parseltongue, but she found herself entranced, almost wishing he wouldn't stop his recital.
Too soon for Hermione's liking, Tom did stop. With a grin, he closed the book and placed it back in her hand.
"It's a book a poetry."
Hermione smiled, despite a voice in the back of her head telling her not to believe him.
"Do you mind if I ask you some questions?" she asked quietly.
Tom peered at her full of suspicion. "I guess not," he said after a few minutes of consideration.
Sitting up eagerly, Hermione turned her body to face him. "What is it called?" she asked.
"The language?" His eyebrows shot up.
He truly seemed surprised that her question had not referred to him, or how to get out of the locket. Tom stared at her for a moment before answering.
"It's called, in English, Faerlynn Tongue. Not many wizards can recognize it, and even fewer can read it."
Hermione wanted to let out a cry of delight that she had been able to decipher such an uncommon language.
"Why is that? It's so beautiful."
Tom seemed amused at her excited attitude towards the subject, but continued to keep his haughty exterior in tact.
"Surely the smart little mudblood that you are could venture a guess as to why Faerlynn Tongue has virtually disappeared."
Hermione's face fell slightly. She had been so excited to be learning new information again that she had almost forgotten who she was learning it from. His insult did well to remind her.
Tom frowned as she turned her body back away from him.
"Most likely because the three languages that make it up are no longer widely spoken," Hermione said while getting up from the sofa to put the book back. It was not helping her find a way to defeat Voldemort, even if it did give her academic enjoyment.
She felt a hand cover hers as she tried to restock the book.
"Hermione," he said, his voice soft in her ear, "don't let your little mission get in the way of learning something you enjoy. Trust me when I say there is nothing in any of these books that will help you destroy me."
Hermione's heart skipped a beat and a shiver ran down her spine. There had been no insult and no hint of malice in his voice. He had simply called her by her name. She remembered well Harry's words, that Tom Riddle was could be incredibly charming and manipulative to meet his ends. So, she knew she had to be careful. Closing her eyes with a soft sigh, she gently slid the book the rest of the way onto the shelf and turned towards him.
"I can't believe you," she whispered, fighting the urge to tremble at his intimidating proximity.
Tom looked almost hurt, but as soon as that emotion passed over his face, it was gone and the cold exterior returned. Plastering an indifferent look on his face, he let go of her hand and walked back to his usual armchair. Hermione watched as he picked up another book and began reading. As she turned back to the shelf of books, she pushed back to the urge to pull out the Faerlynn text again. Instead, she moved to the next volume and began her seemingly endless search anew.
"Don't you ever tire of it?"
Tom looked up from his reading. It had been several weeks since they had last spoken, and it was clear that the silence was getting to Hermione.
Hermione closed the book she had on her lap and turned to meet his gaze.
"I said, don't you ever tire of it?"
A look of annoyance crossed Tom's face.
"I heard what you said. I was asking what you meant. Do I tire of what?" Tom asked.
"This!" Hermione stood up angrily, her books falling unceremoniously to the ground. "Don't you ever tire of being trapped here, all alone? Even for a spirit with access to Slytherin's library existence must get somewhat tedious and boring."
Tom looked at her strangely, but seemed to be quietly considering the subject of her outburst.
"Sometimes," he said finally, a distant look in his eyes.
"However," he continued, the cold smile returning to his face. "I get to watch filthy mudbloods die. In the end, I do think I'm getting a pretty good deal."
Hermione stared at him in sad disbelief. With a slight shake of her head, she stooped down to pick up her fallen books.
They sat for a few minutes afterwards in their usual silence, but Hermione just couldn't concentrate on reading.
"You know," she said, closing her book once again, "I was always under the impression that Salazar Slytherin didn't hate muggleborns."
Tom let out a soft laugh and stood up.
"That's what they teach you at Hogwarts, is it?"
Hermione stayed silent, refusing to confirm or deny the statement.
"Well, as one of Slytherin's kin, let me reeducate you with the truth."
He stood in front of her and hunched over her seated form.
"Don't believe anyone when they say Slytherin didn't hate mudbloods. He didn't hate them as much as I do, surely, but he did nonetheless." Tom placed a hand on the back of sofa on either side of Hermione's head, his face just inches from her own. "Why do you think he wished none of your breed to be granted access to Hogwarts? Doesn't exactly sound like something one would do to a liked group of people, does it?"
Hermione's face scrunched up in anger. Before she realized what she was doing, she had placed both of her hands on Tom's chest and violently pushed herself to a standing position.
"How dare you!" she screeched, advancing on him further, even though they were only inches apart. "I am sick and tired of you Slytherin's and your presumption that muggleborns aren't as good as you. I'll have you know that there are more muggleborns on achievement plaques than anyone else. I even received just as many OWLS as you did."
Tom grabbed her flailing wrists and held them tightly behind her back. Hermione had expected anger from him for her outburst, but instead she found herself on the receiving end of an amused stare.
'How dare I?" Tom laughed slightly. "Little Hermione, how I pity you." He whirled her around so the back of her body was flush against him. "It is true what you say," he said forcefully into her ear. "Many more mudbloods have graced the faces of plaques and have been held in high prestige to the wizarding world. However, you and all of your type, while completely able to study and learn magic, will never be able to know it. Only those of pure blood have that ability."
Hermione felt him let go of her wrist, but she knew she was unable to move. Slowly, his hands moved down the bare skin of her arms, leaving the unmistakable hum of magic behind.
"Let me show you what I mean."
Tom brought his hands to rest lightly along her collar bone. Almost instantly, Hermione felt his magic rush through her. Her knees began to shake at how powerful the feeling was, almost as if her body couldn't even contain it. Every fiber within her throbbed as the waves of energy washed over her. She had never experienced such an intense, wonderful feeling in her life. Too soon the feeling was ripped away, though, and Hermione found herself hunched over on the floor. She didn't realize there were tears running down her face until she looked up at Tom, who was standing over her with a cold smirk.
"I...," she tried to speak, but the sheer power of the magic that had flowed through her left her feeling completely drained.
"Don't ever again assume that you, mudblood, are better than I, in any way."
Tom moved silently towards a conjured door and walked out of the room, leaving Hermione panting and confused on the floor.
While she walked down the aisle to find the place she had left off, Hermione absently trailed her fingers across the spines of the books she had read. She still couldn't stop thinking about how it felt to have every inch of her body on fire with magical power. It was the most intoxicating thing she had ever known.
Lazily, Hermione grabbed the next volume she planned to read and turned to head back to the sitting area. Looking down the long aisle of books, she froze, a soft cry escaping her lips. There had to be over four thousand of them. Had she really read that many already? Numbly, she clutched the book to her chest and walked back to the sofa.
Placing the tome on the cushion next to her, Hermione silently sat down and turned to face Tom.
"How long have I been here?" she asked quietly, somewhat afraid of what his answer might be.
Tom looked up from the fire.
"Seven months, twenty-two days, ten hours, and fifty-six seconds."
A strangled cry escaped her throat. Tears began to form behind Hermione's eyes, but she refused to let them flow. She would not cry in front of him. She had been inside the locket for over half a year and had not yet been able to come close to finding a way to destroy it. She wondered what Harry and Ron would think of her, if they found out just exactly how long she had spent researching and not taking action. It frightened her, but even as she set about a new resolve in her mission, she found her faith in herself severely waning. With a sniff to banish the tears and sadness, she picked up her book and began reading.
Tom turned back to the fire.
He came out from behind a stack of books and looked at her curiously.
Hermione was standing near the fire, her hands wringing furiously in front of her. It was quite obvious that she was excitedly heading down a new train of thought.
"Yes?" he answered, walking to the sofa and resting gently on its armrest.
"You said when I first got to the library, that I was the first person to get out the mist stage still sane…" Hermione said, her eyes darting back and forth, focusing on nothing in particular, but only on the idea she could see in her head.
"I did." He seemed annoyed at the slowness of the conversation she had started, but nonetheless willing to acquiesce to her statements.
Suddenly, she looked at him, clearly.
"How many stages are there?"
It was obvious that Tom realized he had made a mistake. He stood up very quickly and looked ready to say something, but hastily composed himself and set the usual smirk upon his face.
"How very clever of you."
By the way he spit the words out, Hermione could quite plainly see that he had not liked the direction in which the conversation turned.
"Well," he began while turning his back to her, "I can tell you truthfully, I don't know. I have an inkling there are only three, but that is solely a guess. A previous entrant made sure that I would never remember."
Hermione's brow furrowed. Something, she thought, didn't add up.
"But," she started, confused, "I thought those who entered couldn't do magic."
Tom looked at her over his shoulder. It was then that Hermione realized his annoyance wasn't directed towards her, but rather at the person he spoke of.
"Mudbloods who enter can't do magic," he stated simply.
They both remained silent for several minutes.
"How did they make sure you would never know?" Hermione asked quietly, slightly afraid of the tense air surrounding him.
"How else?" Tom turned around and walked towards her angrily. "He cursed me! And the locket!" He stopped a foot from her and calmed himself down before continuing. "Luckily, he died before he had a chance to do anything else. I enjoyed his slow agony more than any other's who have entered, even yours."
Hermione shuddered. She had never seen him lose his collected exterior. The reality that he could was a little disarming.
"May I ask you something else?" she ventured softly after a few moments.
Tom glared at her, but made no attempt to tell her no.
"I was just wondering what would happen to the library if the horcrux was destroyed."
Hermione looked at him timidly. Perhaps, she thought, it might not have been such a good idea to mention his destruction after upsetting him so recently.
"It would be destroyed as well, of course." He seemed surprised that she would even care.
Hermione face fell greatly.
"No," she breathed in shock, hoping he wasn't telling the truth.
Tom looked at her strangely.
"When Lord Voldemort made this library into a horcrux, he linked its magic to my own. When one is destroyed the other suffers the same," Tom explained and sat down in his armchair again, but continued to study her.
"Why does it concern you?" He inquired truthfully.
"Because!" Hermione blurted out, "Books are one of the most precious things in the world. You can't destroy so much knowledge and information!"
Her hands had begun to flail in exasperation. Tom smiled at her antics, but said nothing.
Scowl still firmly in place, Hermione stalked off to far end of the library to sulk. The knowledge that in order to destroy Tom she would have to destroys hundreds of thousands of books was a little too much for her to handle at once.
The fire crackled warmly as Hermione curled her legs beneath her. With a sigh she stared absently at the orange flames; the book resting her in lap almost completely forgotten.
"What is it about love that you dislike so much, Tom?" she said, still looking into the fire.
Tom turned his gaze toward her in surprise. He studied her thoughtfully for several moments before answering.
"What makes you assume that I do?"
Hermione paused prior to speaking, knowing full well she couldn't divulge the real source of her information.
"While I was at Hogwarts, I was frequently told that you had never known love nor ever could." She bit her lip in thought. "I guess I just always assumed that you hated it."
Tom raised an eyebrow at the statement, but seemed to genuinely consider it.
"It's not so much that I dislike love in itself. I, personally, just don't have any use for it," he replied.
Hermione furrowed her brow.
"Hmm," she murmured quietly, "that was not quite what I had anticipated you'd say." She looked up expectantly and turned to him. "What about your Death Eaters? Why do you allow them to fall in love and have relationships if you think it has no purpose in your life?"
Tom just smirked.
"I allow my Death Easters their flights of fancy, because it keeps them happy. When they're happy, they follow orders. As for myself, why would I want such a thing to cloud my judgment and distract me from much more important matters?"
Lifting the book from her lap and setting it aside, Hermione scooted down the couch towards his armchair.
"But love is the most wonderful and powerful thing around." She leaned on the armrest and looked at him strangely. "Don't you ever wonder what it's like to hold someone and feel at home, or experience a kiss so amazing it makes you walk around in a daze?"
Tom's smirk widened.
"And I'm sure you have such extensive experience in the subject," he quipped.
Hermione blushed and turned away from him and back toward the fire. It was true, she knew, that she had never actually been in love, nor felt its benefits, but she also knew she was right in the matter. Love was supposed to be amazing, of that she was certain.
"All right, Miss Know-It-All," Tom said suddenly, standing up and placing himself in front of her, "if I am so completely errant on this topic, then show me otherwise. Show me what is so wonderful about touch and love. I'll even help you."
He smirked in triumph when Hermione blushed a deep scarlet. As he started to unbutton his outer robes, Hermione's eyes widened. She sat frozen on the sofa, unable to look away from his actions and unable to stop him in whatever he was trying to prove. All she had ever done in the past was snog a few boys. Anything beyond that was completely foreign territory to her. The fact that it was about to be thrown quite forcefully in her direction unnerved her greatly.
When Hermione still remained motionless after he had removed his outer robes, Tom smiled and sat back down in his chair.
"I thought so," he scoffed arrogantly.
Hermione's eyes flared with anger. He thought he'd won. Without thinking, she stood up and moved to stand in front of his seated form. Only pausing a moment, she lurched forward, straddling his hips and cupping his face with both hands.
Tom simply raised an eyebrow and grinned up at her, challenging her intent with his gaze.
"Oh this is absurd!" Hermione bit out, quickly getting off his lap and stalking to the other side of the sitting space. "I am not going to sleep with you to prove a point."
She crossed her arms and stood rigidly by the far end of the couch, blushing heavily.
"That, my dear mudblood," Tom said, while standing up to retrieve his discarded robe, "is why you are obviously not a Slytherin." He picked up his clothing and looked her up and down. "Valiant effort, though. If I had one guess, I would say Gryffindor. Neither a Hufflepuff nor a Ravenclaw would have the blind courage to actually attempt such a thing."
Hermione still said nothing, embarrassment running rapidly through her.
Putting his outer robes back on, Tom grinned at her.
"Pity, though," he said with an amused look in her direction. "It would have been fun to see you try to set me straight."
Hermione snorted in annoyance. She did not like the fact that Tom seemed to have so much fun making her feel completely uncomfortable.
"We are not in love. It's not the same," she mumbled angrily.
Not giving him a chance to reply, Hermione picked up her half-read book and walked towards the shelves to restock it. Anything, she thought, to get away from the insufferable git of a spirit.
Tom was studying Hermione again, curiosity dancing wildly in his eyes. She was kneeling in front of the fire, staring quite intensely into the flames.
"What are you doing?" he asked after several minutes had gone by and she had not moved.
Hermione didn't answer. Instead, she continued to stare into the hearth, a determined gaze in her eyes. After almost two hours of sitting motionless, Hermione grinned triumphantly. A split second later, her hand darted into the flames.
"Ow!" she cursed and brought the injury protectively to her chest. "Great!"
Hermione scowled and set an angry glare upon the flames. She didn't want to look at the damage the fire had done. It hurt entirely too much. Tom quirked an eyebrow at her, but nonetheless moved to kneel beside her on the rug.
"What exactly, pray tell, were you trying to accomplish with that?" he asked her seriously, reaching for her injured hand.
Hermione jerked away from him and clasped her hand closer to her body.
"I was testing a theory."
Tom frowned and held his hand out to her expectantly. With a sigh, she placed her own injured one in his.
"What theory would that be?" he asked, sounding genuinely interested, as he examined the burns that ran down her fingers and partially up her forearm.
"Well," Hermione sighed, with a grimace as one of his fingers rubbed against her wounds, "I thought that since my mind is my only presence here, I would be able to control the environment, and bend the normal rules of physics. Kind of a mind over matter train of thought."
Tom seemed to be considering her theory, as he pulled out his wand and murmured a few healing charms.
"Not a bad hypothesis, I suppose, however completely wrong. I told you this was Slytherin's library. Even though only your mind exists here, everything else is quite whole and real. Lord Voldemort would not have overlooked such an obvious way to manipulate his horcrux."
To Hermione's surprise, there was no hint of condescendence in his voice, just plain fact.
"That ought to do it." Tom looked over her hand and, satisfied that it was properly healed, let go of it.
Hermione stared at her hand, then back at Tom, dumbstruck that he would actually help her.
"Thank you," she said simply.
Tom didn't reply, just looked at her for a moment and returned to his chair.
Hermione walked down the endless aisles of books. Last time she had checked with Tom, she had been trapped inside the locket for over a year. It depressed her that she had not yet been able to figure out a way to destroy the horcrux, and she felt she was dangerously close to giving up the search. She was almost certain that she was going to die just how Tom had described to her when they first met.
With a sigh, she continued tracing the spines of the books she had already read and walked further down the aisle. She didn't know why but tears started to trail down her cheeks. Lifting a hand to wipe the silent wetness from her face, Hermione stopped her walking. Slowly she turned around. The thousands of books that stared back at her overwhelmed her with sorrow. Not a single one of them had helped in her mission. Dejected, Hermione glanced behind her at the books she had yet to read.
"He was right," she said sadly. She could feel deep within her that there would be nothing of use in any of the books Slytherin had locked away. She had failed in trying to use her mind's presence to her advantage and in trying to figure out what it was that Voldemort thought a muggleborn hadn't the ability to accomplish. But ultimately, she had failed in finding a way to destroy the horcrux and weaken Voldemort in the process.
"I'm so sorry, Harry," she whispered.
More tears threatened to flow, but she fought them off. Glancing back at the unread books one more time, she walked away, a pain settling firmly in her heart. As the sitting area came back into view, she stopped. The sight of Tom's lounging form made her falter slightly, the weight of her new course of action hitting her full force.
"Please forgive me," Hermione cried softly, wishing that Harry and Ron could hear her.
A single tear ran down her cheek. Wiping it away, Hermione walked to a familiar shelf of books and reached forward. Gently, she removed the book she had been trying to erase from her mind for the past year. She looked at the cover for a moment, trying to decide if what she was about to do was the right thing, although she knew it wasn't. Gently tracing the title, she closed her eyes. She figured she needed to accept the inevitable and move on. Clutching the book to herself, she walked into the sitting room and moved to stand before Tom. He looked up from his own reading and stared at her quizzically.
"Will you teach me Faerlynn Tongue?" Hermione asked quietly, not quite able to look at him directly, and desperately hoping no insults nor conceited words would come from his lips.
Tom opened his mouth to speak, but quickly closed it. Giving her a look of understanding, he nodded. With an outstretched hand, he gestured for her to sit down on the couch, and, taking the proffered book from her, began with their first lesson.
"Don't emphasize the 's' so much. Faerlynn may derive from Parseltongue, but it's not supposed to sound anything like it."
Tom walked slowly back and forth in front of the fireplace, coaching Hermione in her pronunciation. It had been several months since she had asked him to teach her the ancient language, and her progress had, so far, been wonderful. Not only could she read the book of poetry she had discovered when she first arrived in the locket, but she could also understand Tom when he spoke the language aloud. The sole thing she lacked was the ability to form her own Faerlynn Tongue sentences and pronounce them correctly.
Hermione leaned back in the armchair Tom usually occupied and reread the passage. Once finished, she let the book close in her lap and looked up at Voldemort's pacing spirit.
"You know, Tom, I never thanked you for helping me learn this," she said with a smile.
It excited her so much that she was able to learn something that not many in the wizarding world had access to. However, the guilt she felt for that excitement overwhelmed her frequently, for it was only because she decided to give up her mission that she was able to learn such an ancient language.
"Well, don't start thanking me now. Your pronunciation is still atrocious, and I doubt you'd be able to add anything of value in a conversation held entirely in Faerlynn," Tom said and continued his slow pacing, studiously looking at the carpet. "I must admit that even though you are of inferior birth, you are doing quite well."
Hermione's smile grew. She knew it pained him to give away compliments, especially to her. The idea that Tom Riddle, of all people, thought she was doing well in her studies, despite the fact that she was muggleborn, actually made her proud... and want to laugh at the same time. It was such an absurd notion.
Putting the book on the side table, Hermione began to study Tom as he paced. They had decided to put their normal personas aside when they were in lessons, and had even gone so far as to curb the use of vulgar language. It was the composed and polite Tom that Hermione actually found herself liking.
"Yes?" Tom turned to look at her.
He could almost always tell when she was watching him. Crossing his arms, he stopped his pacing.
"I was just wondering," Hermione began, "if I would retain the knowledge of Faerlynn Tongue, that is, if I ever did get out of the locket?"
Tom considered her words a moment.
"I would assume so, but obviously I'm not the authority on the matter," he sat down on the sofa and stretched his legs out in front of him. "I only know what happens to people when they're in the locket. Besides," he continued with a satisfied grin, "no one ever has gotten out."
Hermione nodded, not quite sure where to go with his reply, considering it had done nothing to answer her question.
"Out of curiosity," Hermione said changing topics and turning her gaze to the fireplace. "What did you talk about with the two muggleborns that entered the locket previously, since they were here until they died of old age?"
Tom smiled, a faraway look in his eyes.
"As I told you before, they went insane from the time they spent in the mist; so, surely, I could not have carried on such pleasant conversations with them as I do with you." Tom smirked at the glare her received for his sarcasm. "To answer your question, though, I did not converse with them, much too boring a pastime."
Hermione turned her gaze back to him, surprised by his answer.
"But you don't find me boring?" she asked quietly, a little afraid of what he might say in reply.
Tom shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. It seemed to Hermione that he was wishing he had chosen his previous words more carefully.
"In the beginning, yes, I found you intensely boring," he said, looking deliberately into the hearth. "But, I suppose, since you are the first intelligent person I have come in contact with in forty years, I have come to tolerate your presence."
Hermione let a small smile grace her lips. Having come accustom to Tom's particular vernacular, she knew there was a compliment hidden among his statement of indifference. For some strange reason, she found it pleased her that he thought she was intelligent.
"Well," Hermione replied, "I guess I have become accustomed to your presence as well, not that I had a choice."
Tom turned to look at her with a quirked eyebrow. They didn't say anything for a while, merely looked at each other with understanding.
"Let me show you around," Tom said suddenly.
Hermione's face scrunched up in confusion at Tom's words.
"Around?" she questioned.
Tom smirked and stood up. "There's more to this place than just the library." He moved to stand in front of her and offered her his hand. "Surely you didn't think I just disappeared into thin air when I left the room?"
Hermione's face lit up in excitement. Quickly, she placed her hand in his and let him lead her to a newly conjured door.
"Ready?" he asked.
With a large smile, Hermione nodded. She couldn't wait to see something other than the confining walls of the library. It was funny, she thought, that she would actually be itching to get out of a room that was filled with more books than she could ever read.
Tom turned the knob and pulled them both through the floating door frame. She didn't know what she had been expecting, but it surely wasn't the plain, narrow hallway she found herself face to face with. From what she could see, there were three doors down the hall to her left and two on her right, and at the end of the hall on her right, she could see the top of a wooden staircase. Hermione could barely contain the swell of excitement that flowed over her with the notion of being able to explore the contents of the house.
His hand still firmly holding hers, Tom gestured to the full of the building.
"Slytherin wanted more than just a library escape, so, he created an entire house inside his locket."
"I never thought there would be more to Slytherin's Secret library than just the books," Hermione whispered, looking around in awe.
"Come," he said, pulling insistently on her hand, "there is much to see."
Tom led her throughout the entire upstairs of the building. Slytherin seemed to have had a room for everything. Not only had he kept secret the library, he also tucked away a closet full of deeply forbidden magical objects, a potions lab that Hermione was sure even Snape would have been envious of, and a special room for practicing dueling, which, to Hermione' surprise, did not require one to have a partner.
"What's downstairs?" Hermione asked excitedly, peering past the last few doors in the hallway to the staircase.
"A kitchen, a few bedrooms, a lavatory, and a lounge." Tom leaned casually against the wall and crossed his arms.
Hermione grabbed hold of him and practically dragged him towards the wooden staircase. She couldn't wait to explore the rest of the house. Almost taking two steps at a time, they walked down the stairs and into the rather spacious lounge. Hermione looked briefly into the kitchen, trying hard to imagine Slytherin cooking, but decided not to explore it further. The idea that she hadn't needed to eat for over a year still left her feeling uneasy. Instead, she made a lap around the sitting room, touching and examining each little artifact, until she came upon the small hallway that lead to the wing of the bedrooms. With a curious step towards the first door on the left, she tentatively pushed it opened and looked inside.
"I believe this is where Slytherin let his most trusted mistresses reside," Tom said slickly behind her.
Hermione nodded with a bemused look on her face. The idea of Slytherin having a love life had never crossed her mind before, she was glad, but she was surprised to find it wasn't as silly a notion as she might have guessed. Smile still in place, she looked around at the gaudy decorations.
"Well," she quipped in distaste, "I think the decor speaks quite nicely for whom the old residents were."
"If you'd like, you may take this room over for the remainder of your stay."
Hermione turned on him with a disgusted glare.
"Thank you, but no," she replied and made her way further down the hall.
Tom followed her in her search as she opened the second door, this time on the right.
Hermione found herself face to face with the most luxurious bathroom she had ever seen. Silver and gold seemed to plate every surface, save the floor which was comprised of pristine white marble slabs. As her gaze went from the gold sinks to the white, clawfoot bathtub, an ache settled firmly in her stomach. She had forgotten what it was like to indulge in simple pleasures like a warm bath.
"Enjoy it all you like, after we finish the tour," Tom said with a smirk, looking down at her surprised expression. He nudged her shoulder to lead them back to the hallway.
Hermione walked eagerly to the double doors at the end of the hall. With a brief, excited glance at Tom, she gently turned the knobs and pushed the doors open.
"Slytherin's personal chambers," Tom said as they walked inside the room.
Hermione looked around in awe. The room was huge! A fireplace sat in the far left corner, and in the right, an incredibly lush sleigh bed, decorated completely in silver and green silk sheets. Letting her hand slide across the soft fabrics, Hermione walked around the space. Bookshelves lined the walls, while a worn desk and a leather chair were tucked in a small alcove.
"Save for the colors," she said, still looking around with wide eyes, "Slytherin had impeccable taste."
She finished exploring the contents of the chambers, including the large alcove with a small table for tea and the bathroom even larger and more luxurious than the on in the hall.
Eyeing Slytherin's sunken bathtub, Hermione took a step back towards the hallway and gave Tom a grin.
"I think I'll take that bath now," she said and walked out of the room.
Hermione walked silently into the lounge, wringing her hands nervously. Every few moments she glanced up at Tom, who sat languidly on the leather sofa, but she didn't speak. After several long minutes of not speaking, and Tom not acknowledging her obvious need to speak, Hermione sighed.
"Look, Tom," she said quietly, not quite able to meet his eye, "since I am going to be here for...for a long time, would it be all right if...," she trailed off, unsure of her words. "What I mean to say is, it would be terribly inconvenient to both of us, I think, to live in animosity of what the other represents." She shifted uncomfortably on her feet. "I just thought, perhaps, that it might be possible for us to be friends."
When she had finished her pieced monologue, Hermione looked up. She found Tom had put down the book he was reading and was staring at her intently, a grim look on his face.
"I have no friends," he stated plainly, still looking her squarely in the eyes.
To Hermione's surprise, the words stung, bad. She had half expected a similar answer, but even with all the mental preparation she had gone through, she could not escape the slightly empty feeling his words caused her to feel. What about his good-nature towards her lately? He had helped her learn Faerlynn Tongue. He had even stopped calling her mudblood. Was it all a show? Just to hurt her more in the end? Nausea filled her stomach at the realization that he could very well have been gaining her trust just to use it against her.
Hermione blinked a couple times, and nodded. Slightly confused, she bit her lip and began to turn away from the room.
She glanced over her shoulder to see him rise from the couch and walk towards her. She turned to him, waiting. His jaw tensed slightly as he contemplated what to say next, seemingly just as unsure about the odd nature of their relationship as herself.
"I do not have friends, nor do I want them," he said coolly again, but left the statement opened-ended. Hermione steeled herself for what he was about to say next.
"However…" he began and, his fingers twitching, gently placed a hand on her cheek, "Despite what others may think, I am capable of showing...," he paused, searching for the right word, "…receptiveness towards another being."
He looked down, almost as if suddenly shy, but quickly brought his eyes back to hers, determination flaring.
"I agree that we are not in love, and that it most likely would not be the same as if we were, but, this time…don't run," he said softly and leaned in until his forehead was resting on hers.
Hermione's eyes widened at the implication of his words, but she couldn't make herself move or flee as he placed his other hand on her free cheek to cup her face. They made eye contact for the slightest of moments, an understanding passing through their gazes.
Slowly, Tom lowered his lips to her own. It was then that the powder keg of suppressed emotions exploded.
The kiss started out gentle, and timid, but soon that approach was completely lost. Hermione moaned, as Tom deepened the kiss, his tongue entering and beginning to explore her mouth. All the knowledge she had accumulated from the thousands of books she had read on sex fled from her head the instant she felt his hands slowly begin to caress her back. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she went on instinct.
In a quick, swooping motion, Tom picked her up. Swiftly, he carried her to Slytherin's chambers and laid her on the bed. Not a second later, he had pinned her arms above her head and was kissing her again.
Hermione moaned his name when she felt his hands slide down her body and rip open her blouse. She never figured she would like force in any kind of sexual act, as the idea of sweet lovemaking always seemed right to her, but the passion in which Tom was taking her aroused her more than she ever thought possible. A soft cry escaped her lips when she felt him tear her bra and close his mouth around her nipple. She felt utterly drowned in the feelings of pleasure, considering she had never experienced them before. She didn't ever want him to stop.
Deciding to take action herself, Hermione reached down to unfasten the front of his robes. Hastily, he shrugged them off his shoulders when she had undone all the buttons and continued to kiss down her belly. He looked up at her for a brief second, a grin in his eyes, before unbuttoning her jeans and sliding them down her legs.
Hermione shivered when she felt his lips gently kiss the inside of her thigh. Tom smiled against her skin, obviously enjoying her pleasure. Nuzzling her center, he slipped two fingers into the elastic of her knickers and roughly pulled them from her body. Slowly, he lowered his mouth to her, letting his tongue and lips explore her as deeply as possible.
With a barely audible gasp, Hermione dug her fingers into his hair and pulled his face closer to her. It just felt so amazing. Nothing she had ever read on the subject compared to how she felt.
Her desire for him building to a level she never knew existed, Hermione pulled Tom up her body. She needed him. Now. Tom grinned at the almost frantic way in which she reached for the fasten of his trousers.
"Eager?" he said playfully, while letting her remove the rest of his clothing.
Hermione answered him by bring his mouth once again to hers. It was a strange, she though, to taste her own juices in his kiss. Not unpleasant, but erotic. She kissed him deeper, as he shifted them to the center of the bed. Tom gently laid her back and settled himself between her legs. With a shared nod, he began to enter her.
The first thing Hermione felt was pain, an intense tearing feeling, but as soon as he had entered completely and began to move, it was replaced by the most intense pleasure she had ever felt. She wrapped her legs eagerly around Tom's hips, wanting nothing more than for him to fill her entirely. She had never before felt so whole and connected to someone in her life.
Tom moaned deep in his throat as he sped up his thrusts, his brow furrowing in pleasure and concentration. Quickly, he slid a hand between them and began rubbing the small bud between her thighs.
Hermione cried out in bliss. He was practically slamming into her, and all she wanted was more. It was not supposed to be so wonderful her first time, she thought.
With his final thrust, she felt all her muscles clench and the most powerful wave of pleasure rush through her. Throwing her head back, she screamed his name.
The clenching of her inner muscles and the sound of his name uttered from her lips in ecstasy, sent Tom over the edge. He barely caught himself as he collapsed against her chest.
Panting, Hermione held Tom's face between her hands. A small smile graced her lips.
Tom, still resting lightly on her stomach, looked down at her, eyes full of raw curiosity and emotion. They didn't say anything, because there was nothing to be said. They simply looked at each other, both seemingly surprised at their actions, as well as how natural they felt. Gently, Hermione pushed a stray lock of dampened hair away from Tom's eyes. Wrapping her ankles around his, she brought his face down to hers again for another small kiss. When their lips parted, Tom smiled. With a sigh of content, he rested his head against her chest, letting her cradle it with her arms. Their relationship, although hardly definable, suddenly seemed right, something which neither one could deny.
Hermione rested her chin against the top of Tom's head and breathed in heavily, absorbing his scent mingled with her own.
"Thank you," she whispered, not quite intending to speak.
Tom looked up at her through half lidded eyes. Moving forward, he captured her lips again, kissing her more deeply and intimately than she had ever been before.
When they broke apart, Hermione smiled. She finally felt content for the first time in a long while.
Her smile faded, though, as she stole a glance around the room. Something didn't seem right. Sitting up, a panic entered her heart. Slithering slowly across the carpet and walls was an inky black shadow, swallowing everything in its wake. She looked at Tom. He had noticed it too. Looking between her and the shadow slowly approaching them, a dark comprehension entered his eyes. He pulled her into his lap.
Hermione was sure he was trying to say something to her, but she couldn't concentrate on his words, as she watched the blackness started to creep up the sides of the bed and pool across the sheets. It was when her vision began to blur that she finally understood what was happening.
She was going home.
Instantly, her eyes snapped to Tom. His face flashed through different emotions. Anger. Sadness. Acceptance. Disbelief. As the shadows crept up their bodies, Tom cupped her face and brought their lips together for the last time.
"Goodbye," he whispered against her lips in Faerlynn Tongue. Hermione's voice caught in her throat. She knew, then, that she didn't want to go. It was all happening too fast.
The last thing she felt before her world went completely black, was the pressure lifting from her face as his body left hers.
The concerned shout forced her to open her eyes. Blinking several times to get the bleariness out, Hermione looked at her surroundings. Grimmauld place. A ache settled firmly in her heart. Harry and Ron were hovering over her, looking quite shaken. Moving her gaze past their worried faces, Hermione glanced down at the locket still held firmly in her left hand.
It was open.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked, kneeling down in front of her seated form.
"You've been out for almost two minutes!" Ron exclaimed, his face decidedly flush.
Hermione stared between the two boys. She didn't know what to say to them. For her, it had been over a year, for them, only two minutes. Gently, she pushed herself up from her chair.
"Yes," she said, suddenly aware that they had asked her a question, "I'm all right."
"What happened?" Ron asked, handing her a glass of water. Hermione stared at it, almost as if she didn't recognize its purpose.
"Hermione," Harry said softly, taking her hand, "did you have to fight him?"
Hermione looked at him. She felt almost guilty at the concern filling his eyes. She couldn't explain the sudden feeling of loss she was experiencing.
"There was a duel," she said with a nod.
Harry and Ron exchanged glances. Hermione saw a deeper feeling of concern pass between them.
"Look," she said hastily, trying to compose herself, "I'm fine. The horcrux is destroyed. We should be celebrating. So, stop fussing over me." She plastered on a smile. "Now, I'm famished. Do you think you two could manage pulling together a supper for me?"
The two boys grinned and whooped. After making her promise to tell them the details over dinner, they rushed off towards the kitchen, exclamations of the wonderful things they'd make for her echoing down the halls.
Hermione's smile fell as soon as Harry and Ron were out of sight. She looked again at the gold locket in her hand, the lump still firmly in her throat. He was gone, and now, after it was all said and done, she knew why. She had gotten Tom to do the one thing that would destroy the horcrux. The one thing Voldemort never thought to be possible. He loved a muggleborn. Looking back, she couldn't pin point when it happened exactly, but she knew she loved him back. It seemed strange to her that she didn't cry when she realized what had happened, but the emptiness that consumed her was too great to allow any other emotions to come through.
With a sigh, she clutched the locket in her hands. It now only just that, a locket. Remembering his whispered last word and the way he held her even though he knew he was about to be destroyed, Hermione closed her eyes. She felt the Faerlynn Tongue course through her, the knowledge of it still intact. It was her only physical memory of what had transpired.
She gazed at the locket once more before bringing it to her heart.
"Goodbye, Tom," she whispered in Faerlynn Tongue, and, shutting her eyes again to block out the pain for good, she closed the locket.