Disclaimer. If I owned any of these characters, I wouldn't be as poor as I am.
Dedicated to Christian Coulson in all his hotness.;)
"People you've been before, that you don't want around anymore."
The day was nearly at an end.
Hermione sighed aloud to herself, her weariness showing plainly on her face. She'd been reading for several hours, though it seemed as if it had been longer than that. She glanced out the window and saw it was snowing still. Yesterday, was the last day left in term, and she was more than a little glad of the break.
Hermione had felt that a holiday was much needed, and she had been asked by Ron- well, strictly Harry, at any rate- to spend it at the Burrow.
She frowned to herself recalling the invitation made earlier to her that day.
Ron and Harry had come to the library and mostly had kept distracting her from her book. A welcome distraction, but an interruption, no less.
"Leave it to Hermione to be studying in the library, when school let out only yesterday."
Ron shook his head at her in sheer disbelief, and Hermione feigned offense at this remark.
"I'm not studying. I'm reading. I have only to ask what brings you here, Ronald?"
She arched a delicately arched eyebrow at him, in response.
Ron thought it not a very good sign, that she used his full name, since she usually only reserved calling him 'Ronald' when she was upset with him. So did his mum, for that matter.
Ron suddenly looked a bit nervous and hesitated awhile, before beginning again.
"Oh, well, Hermione, with your parents being away and all, my mum, uh and Harry were wondering," Harry gave Ron a nudging elbow at this, "uh and me, of course – that is, if you want to-to… "
Hermione looked up at him expectantly and waited for him to finish, wondering what could be the matter.
But Ron seemed to be at a bit of a loss for words. Harry, seeing Ron struggling with the invitation, finished for him, unsure what was the cause of his friend's sudden stammering. "- come to the Burrow with us over break." Harry finished by smiling warmly at her.
"Only if you want to..."
Ron finished lamely, as he roughly shoved his hands in his trousers' pockets and quickly looked away.
Hermione didn't want to be invited out of pity, and she had a feeling that the invite was more Mrs. Weasley's idea than Ron's own suggestion. It wasn't as if she'd never been to the Burrow before. Why did he not want for her to come now.
"Well, I don't want to be a bother…" Hermione began, testing her suspicions.
"Of course, you wouldn't be a bother, we'd be chuffed, wouldn't we, Ron?"
Harry looked to Ron, prodding him on a bit.
Ron still looked slightly uncertain, but nodded his agreement with Harry, all the same.
He shrugged his answer in an offhand manner.
Hermione wasn't at all convinced by this display, but her options were rather limited as to number- this being her only other alternative and all.
But, she'd said yes.
Honestly, she didn't know where she stood with Ronald Weasley most of the time.
Hermione tried turning her attention back to the book before her. She rubbed her eyes, feeling more tired than before. She was having trouble focusing, the words on the parchment becoming blurrier with each passing letter she read.
She looked at the time on her muggle watch, given to her as a present on her twelfth birthday by one of her aunts on her mother's side. The library closed at eight, leaving her with less than an hour for reading. And still she had three chapters left. As she flipped the page over though, she noticed a small piece of paper, the edges of it torn and frayed. It was blank, save for several small words written near the bottom. Hermione squinted, trying to make the letters out. They were in Latin. Dormio. Hermione strained to make out the rest, but she suddenly felt an inexplicable drowsiness come over her and couldn't help her eyes from closing.
Hermione woke to find herself in the library.
She rubbed the side of her face which was numb and probably red with blotches from sleep. She began to recall reading and then dossing off after that. And then she suddenly remembered the slip of paper. She looked around but couldn't find it anywhere. That was odd, but as she considered, she abruptly remembered the time. She checked the time on her watch. She must have slept for an hour or so, but, suffice to say, she was somewhat startled by the fact that Madam Pince had allowed her to fall asleep at all in the library. She began walking towards the door, when she thought she'd heard a noise, almost like a book falling, coming from the restricted section. She looked around, noting that it was past eight o'clock, meaning she was the only one here.
Or should be the only one here.
Hermione couldn't decide what she should do, and investigating an odd clamor by herself in the dark, was certainly near, if not on the bottom of the list. She took another step towards the corridor, when she heard another muffled sound coming from the restricted section. Chewing on her lower lip, she began cautiously towards the back of the library. Coming to the rope enclosing the restricted section, Hermione agilely slipped underneath it.
It was so dark, she could hardly tell if anyone had been here, or worse yet, if someone were still here.
"Hello. Someone here?" Silence marked her answer.
Had they come looking for her?
Suddenly, Hermione caught sight of the back of someone. A tall, dark shape of someone. Hermione strained her eyes and on seeing the slightly, wavy dark hair, she nearly sighed her relief.
She pulled on the edge of his sleeve.
But her relief was short-lived, however, as she gradually recognized the person standing before her.
It took a few moments for it to register with her, until finally she spoke, breaking the silence between them both.
She breathed the words in a barely audible pitch, the name whispered in a clear sound of dread.
The boy had only time to glance at her questioningly, before Hermione took a few faltering steps backwards, and then turned, and ran as fast as she could.
It wasn't real.
It simply couldn't be.
That was the mantra that kept racing through her head, as she ran down the corridor. None of it was real. It was all some terrible, terrible nightmare. And she hadn't yet fully woken up. She was still asleep in the library, that was all this was. Or so she told herself. Her panic increasing with each step.
Hermione was so caught up in her fright, that she hardly noticed when she nearly ran into someone as she turned the corner. For a moment, the near collision left her momentarily speechless.
And with that, Hermione's heart nearly stopped beating all at once, and she felt fear as she had seldom felt before.
It was Professor Dumbledore, and then it wasn't.
Professor Dumbledore was much younger, and his beard was clearly an auburn colour.
It couldn't be, could it?
Professor Dumbledore stood, a bit perplexed by the young girl in front of him, and peered at her through the top of his half-moon glasses.
"But I don't believe we've met."
As soon as Hermione had left the library, Tom Riddle cursed silently under his breath. He had been found out. By what looked to be a fourth year, no less. He tried to place the girl, not at all recognizing her. Of course, underclassmen did have an awful tendency of being indistinguishable from the next. She was breaking curfew, as well, though, and seemed to be looking for someone, he briefly wondered at that, before reprimanding himself for his carelessness. He could always say that he'd been on patrol duties; after all he was head boy, but that still left explaining his presence in the restricted section.
Her reaction towards him was quite worrisome, as well, to say the very least. The girl was clearly afraid of him, terrified more like. Not that he minded being the cause of someone's fear, but he certainly liked to know why he was the cause. And certainly, in this case, having never met the girl before. But she undoubtedly seemed to know him, that was rather curious, he admitted.
And well worth looking into.
Hermione was thankful for the fact that the Great Hall was nearly empty, except for a handful of students who were spending Christmas holiday here. She looked down at the plate in front of her, not even remotely hungry. Instead, she sat there looking forlorn, pushing the scrambled eggs with her fork, in a decidedly listless fashion. Biting her bottom lip, in an effort to keep her tears in check.
Her meeting with Dumbledore had been less than satisfactory. After relaying all the information she could remember, which wasn't much, Dumbledore peered at her through his glasses, absently stroking his beard, and for the first time, in a very long time, he was at a loss at what to say.
After a few painstakingly lengthy moments, he began going over the details of her story.
"And you say you lost this slip of paper."
It wasn't an accusation, but it would have lent some credibility to her story, perhaps, had she had some evidence, at least.
Hermione looked somewhat shamefaced, not knowing what exactly had happened to it after she woke, and knowing that her story was sounding less and less convincing, as she went on.
It was unclear if he believed her or not, Dumbledore studied her manners and ruled out that she was in an altered state of some sort. He was leaning on the side of believing her, although he knew of no spell of that magnitude or with the properties she was describing.
After more extensive questioning and intermittently pausing, Dumbledore continued his proposition to her.
"Hmm, well, I do not see an immediate solution to the problem at hand, therefore I propose in the interim, that we enroll you as a student here. That is – if I'm correct in assuming you have no friends or family to receive you elsewhere."
Hermione shook her head, misery written on her face, as Professor Dumbledore went on to inform her of the details of enrolling her formally. He told her she was rather fortunate in regards to her timing, for school let out only two days ago, which meant that instead of being sorted at the induction ceremony, she could be sorted in Headmaster Dippet's office, if all went well, that is.
Hermione was thankful that, at least, she needn't go up in front of the entire school, to be sorted. She did open her mouth, however, to interject, as to how to explain her situation to Headmaster Dippet, who she thought would be decidedly less understanding of her particular circumstances. Professor Dumbledore assured her though, seeming to sense her question, before she'd even spoken it, that all would be taken care of, and that it might be best to leave out some rather pertinent details.
"For the time being," he added with a small wink.
"I suppose an assumed name of some sort is the custom in cases such as these, but seeing as in theory, you have not, shall we say, happened yet, it is acceptable for us to maintain your fore and surname, which I'm sure will be to your liking."
"And you say your parents are muggles?" Dumbledore changed his line of questioning, his brows knitted together in thought.
Hermione nodded in response.
"Well, then we shall keep with that history, since it will be more difficult for anyone of the wizarding community to check up on."
After much more explicating, Dumbledore seemed finally content with their makeshift story.
Hermione had tried to look happy, but was unable to bring herself to anything resembling such an expression.
Professor Dumbledore took in the girl's noticeably unhappy state, and smiled kindly at her in an attempt to cheer her somewhat.
"Just because the solution may not be immediate, it is not entirely impossible. I believe this to be a quandary which can be worked upon. So let us hold off on our misgivings for awhile yet, at least."
Hermione did, however, manage a small smile at these words.
Hermione couldn't even stomach looking at the plate in front of her any longer. After her meeting with Dumbledore she'd promptly been sent to Headmaster Dippet's office, where she had been introduced as a family friend of Dumbledore's muggle acquaintance, and was transferring schools. Headmaster Dippet gave her slightly irritated and guarded look, but he seemed in a hurry, so he didn't ask many questions, especially with Dumbledore standing nearby answering readily those he did have. All answers seemed to satisfy Headmaster Dippet, until he finally was obliged to accept Miss Granger as a student. Although, he was a bit put out by the short notice, as a telling glance to Professor Dumbledore said as much. But he went on to explain the formalities of enrolling, and soon enough Hermione was being sorted.
As soon as the sorting hat had been placed on her head, and not a moment later, it had shouted "Slytherin" in an all but certain tone.
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but a look from Dumbledore kept her silent on the matter. And she probably wouldn't have been heard over Headmaster Dippet's hurried congratulations, at any rate.
"Very well, and congratulations, Miss Granger, Slytherin is a fine house. I'm sorry, I'm pressed for time," Headmaster Dippet paused and checked his pocket watch, before continuing, "but I'm sure Professor Dumbledore, here, will be so good as to show you where the dormitories are. Now, if you two will excuse me, it seems I'm needed in the staff room."
Hermione couldn't begin to believe her luck –or lack thereof, as she angrily stabbed at the scrambled eggs with her fork. Completely unbeknownst to her though, at that precise moment, someone was very interested in the particularly unfortunate Miss Granger.
Tom Riddle, had been staring at her for some moments, trying to place her, before nudging his friend Avery beside him, a tall, slender youth, of the same year.
Avery's black hair was only few shades lighter than his soul. His dark brown eyes missed little, although Avery generally put on an air of not caring, Riddle knew him better than that.
"Do you know that girl over there?" Tom nodded to Hermione, who was wearing Slytherin robes, yet he hadn't remembered seeing her before.
Avery looked up briefly from carving his name into the wooden surface of the table with his penknife. "No, can't say that I have. She's probably a third year or something of the sort." Not at all interested in the latest topic of conversation, Avery went back to carving an 'r' in the oak ridges of the bench.
Tom wasn't staring at the girl because of her looks.
That was for certain.
He acknowledged that she was rather pretty, if one cared to look long enough. She had delicate features, with a kind of fay quality about them. Her face, pale and three-cornered, was slightly unusual but not arresting by any means. She had an exceedingly slight stature, and her hair, while dark, was plain also, and rather disorderly, he noted on second glance. Her expression interested him little, it was he saw, fairly disconsolate.
No, he wouldn't have given her another look, but for the fact, that she had stumbled on him in the library the night before. He wondered what she had been doing there and questioned her appearance now. He shrugged off his suspicions, but decided on meeting with the girl later to find out how much she really did know of him.
What's more, Tom Riddle had a reputation to uphold, and he wasn't about to let some girl go meddling with it.
Hermione sighed to herself in the empty Slytherin common room.
She was curled up on a dark green leather chair, reading a used copy of the Dream Oracle. The room itself was a long low space with rough stone walls and ceiling. It was freezing, so much that if it were only a few degrees colder, Hermione was sure she should be able to see her breath from the chill in the air. She idly flipped through several pages in her book. She was ages behind in divination, as she looked at her schedule for next term, but she didn't exactly want to bring up the issue with Dumbledore, as she sensed that he wasn't entirely approachable on the subject of sorting or schedule changing. She'd put him in enough of an imposition on her behalf already. She didn't want to ask any more favours of him.
It was eerie being in the dungeon-like common room. There was a greenish tint cast about the room from the dark green lamps, and she couldn't help the momentary tremble that ran through her.
She hated it here.
Hermione wasn't able to concentrate very long on the words in front of her. The ink becoming a blur from angry, unshed tears.
What did school matter anymore? She shook her head in disbelief. This couldn't be happening to her. Why would it be happening? What had she done to deserve this?
And more importantly, what could she do to change it?
For once, Hermione Granger didn't have a ready answer.
She didn't even know where to begin looking for an answer, as it were.
She should be at the Burrow, right now. With Harry and Ron.
Mrs. Weasley, wrapped in her flowery apron, would be busily cooking in the small, cramped kitchen, preparing the chicken and ham pie, while she and Ginny would be setting the scrubbed wooden table. And Ron and Harry would be busy in the familiar sloping loft, crowded with Chuddy Cannon posters, playing gobstones or the like.
She thought of Christmas morning and how Ron would give a pained smile upon opening another maroon Weasley jumper. And Harry watching contentedly, not caring whether he got any gifts or not, but rather just happy to be there.
Hermione didn't know what she'd do without Harry and Ron. She sighed heavily not wanting to think on it further.
Instead, she was here now. Not even Christmas yet, she thought.
She shuddered again involuntarily as she remembered her meeting with Tom Riddle in the library.
In the restricted section, looking up ways to be evil, no doubt.
God, she hoped that she wouldn't come face to face with him again, yet knew it to be impossible even as she thought it. They were both in Slytherin, now. Together. She grimaced at the thought. And grimaced at her placement. She knew she didn't belong here. The sorting hat must have got it wrong. She was sure of it.
"I always thought Divination a bit of rubbish."
Tom took note of the book she was reading, it was for fifth years. He was mistaken before, thinking her a fourth year. She looked younger, as he glanced down at her. No matter though, as it wasn't her age that interested him.
Hermione looked up to see a boy standing behind her. Her heart stilled for a moment, as she recognized him, wondering how she could have mistaken him for Harry. She kept silent, wondering if her voice would fail her, and hoping he would go away, but the boy casually sat down in the chair opposite her. Almost lounging in a manner that reminded her briefly of Ron, and she felt her heart twist at the sudden memory.
She pretended to be still immersed in her book, as she studied the boy before her. He was fairly tall and rather lanky. His features were even, if they weren't a bit on the gaunt side. His hair was dark brown and slightly wavy, and his eyes were a curious shade of bottle green, so dark that they were almost black. He was very good looking, but didn't seem aware of it. Or to care, in any case.
Seeing that the girl was frustratingly intent on staying mute, Riddle tried again at starting up a conversation.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure- formally, that is."
He smiled at her, but the eyes seemed void of any kind of emotion, especially that of pleasure. His manner seemed shrewd enough, Hermione surmised, only daring to cast glances at him before returning to her book.
She said the words in an equally chilly fashion, the effort almost paining her, as much as it seemed to pain him.
"Tom Riddle, but you already know that don't you."
He remarked, with a telling smirk, tilting his head sideways to study her.
"I don't know what you mean."
Hermione said indifferently, but sounded decidedly less certain, even to her own ears.
"Ah," Tom settled back further in his chair, "Playing games, are we? Let me further refresh your memory, then. Last night. In the library. After curfew."
He stared at her, taking in every movement, and detail of her reaction. Looking for some sign of the fear she showed last night.
"Oh yes. That. I was lost."
Hermione closed her book, looking pointedly at him, her manner showing her resolve. He may be evil. But she had one up on him, in that regard. She knew it. He may play at being perfect, but she knew it to be just that-playacting. She knew him for what he really was. A vile, horrible, disgusting thing. A murderer.
"Newly arrived, is it? Interesting though, that you should know me then."
Tom stopped the smiling and the pretense he was so used to using and stared back at her. He had an unfamiliar feeling, one he almost had forgotten altogether. It was one of being disliked, to the point of hatred almost. That this girl wasn't easily charmed by him, made her all the more bothersome. Nearly everyone liked him. What was so special about this girl that she went out of her way, to take an immediate dislike of him. She didn't even know him. He made sure of it that no one did.
Suddenly Hermione wasn't feeling half as confident, as she tried to think up a quick excuse to explain her knowing him, but instead replied, "Oh, well- I may be just arrived but I couldn't help but being told about you – head boy, and all. Quite popular, you know, and you have quite a reputation, as well."
Hermione nodded towards the crescent on his robe.
"Which is how I recognized you, and I was frightened to find myself not alone."
Hermione smiled to herself at the rather plausible, if off the cuff, explanation.
"I do wonder, what you were doing, though. Last night. In the library. After curfew. In the restricted section. Being head boy and all."
Hermione finished, gaining back some of her formerly lost confidence, by turning the question back on him.
Tom didn't lower his gaze, but smiled, despite himself. And this time it was a real smile, one he hadn't rehearsed, and one he instantly regretted.
"Patrolling for out-of-bounds students, like yourself."
He answered her in a nearly acerbic tone, having lost none of his earlier composure.
"But I suppose I could let you off with a warning, seeing as you were lost."
He was more than a little suspicious of her defensive attitude, and much more than a little irritated by her quick remarks, but since she wasn't going to go telling anyone of this incident, he thought it best to leave it be for the time being. In any case, even if her explanations were a bit lacking, at least, she showed some good sense in being afraid of him.
Tom looked at her openly with distrust.
"Well, I suppose we'll be seeing each other again, no doubt."
He looked to see her reaction to this, but she seemed to be intently staring at her book once again, which she'd reopened, so he was unable to read her expression.
"So it would seem."
Hermione acquiesced, trying not to look up, knowing that if she did her thoughts would be plain on her face, and tried instead to pretend to begin reading her book again.
Tom left her to her studies, thinking over the girl's response to him.
Her answers left something to be desired. As to why should she act so fearful towards him, for one, since he didn't fully believe that rot that her fright was caused by her solely being startled. And yet…Tom mulled over the various possibilities. Perhaps, the school was full of gossips and telltales. Perhaps, Avery had said more than he'd should. Or perhaps, there was more to the girl than he'd first supposed. He left that thought for another time; he had more pressing things to think on. And more important matters demanded his attention.
Like horcruxes, for instance.
Professor Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, a frown forming, owing to Miss Granger's pleading on a subject he was satisfied to leave go. He was understandably upset to see that the very next day the recently enrolled student had come into his office beseeching to tell him about the Tom Riddle she had known. However, it was here, that Professor Dumbledore was obliged to stop her. Explaining that it was not for him to know, and that they were both of them dealing with forces greater than their selves, and to fool about with said forces would be a great and terrible mistake on both their parts.
"The consequences of doing so would be unfathomable."
Dumbledore's gaze told of his concern.
"But-" Hermione tried to interrupt but to no end.
"I'm sorry Miss Granger, but that is an end to the matter."
And Dumbledore promptly changed subjects, and began focusing again on solving her present dilemma.
"Now, let us return to the issue, at hand. Is 'dormio' the only word you can remember on the slip of paper."
Dumbledore resumed the topic, still sorting out all probabilities for her disappearance. He was still making frustratingly little progress, he thought to himself, as Hermione continued with her answer.
Tom Marvolo Riddle was not born evil. Contrary to what would later become popular belief. No, Tom Riddle was not evil, not entirely yet, but don't let this be mistaken as goodness, either. For Tom Riddle was neither of these. Rather, Riddle was at a turning point of sorts and seemed to be on the precipice of this divide, even now making decisions that would shape the man or monster he would later become – and the greatest wizard the world had ever known.
"Do you believe in souls, Avery?"
Tom Riddle had been lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, the question nagging away at him, 'til he finally gave vent to the feeling that had been weighing on him.
The sudden query caught his friend a bit off guard. Riddle had a sort of unsettling way about him. He was the sort of mate who you never felt quite at ease around.
And he honestly didn't. He supposed no one did know for certain.
Not 'til you were dead, anyway.
"I suppose so."
Avery shrugged, his answer sounding somewhat undecided.
Do you think I have one?
Tom had wanted to ask the question aloud, but thought better of it.
"What's this all about then? Isn't it a bit late to be waxing philosophical and the like, I'm completely knackered as it is."
Avery yawned his impatience, wondering what had gotten into Riddle of late. He'd just up and quit Quidditch, without a second's thought or moment's hesitation. Then, as if that weren't bad enough (which in his opinion it was) he completely takes to ignoring his friends and spends all hours in the library, doing God knows what. Or at least, that's where he says he is. He just wasn't the same anymore.
Avery, conceded that he hadn't been the same since sixth year.
When he came back from summer break, it was as if, he couldn't put a name to it exactly, but he seemed a good deal colder, if that was the word he was looking for. All he knew is that he had been feeling increasingly uneasy in his company, and now he was on about souls at some ungodly hour in the morning. He frowned to himself, wondering what his friend was thinking, and moreover, where it may be leading.
Tom Riddle never asked questions, just for the sake of it.
There was always a reason.
And Avery was unsure of what it might be.
"Yeah, suppose it is late. Just wondering, is all."
Tom kept considering the possibility though, thinking over the likelihood of his having a soul.
Was a soul a thing to be lost, and if lost, could it be found again?
Had he lost his soul already. Had he been born without one. An anomaly.
Nonetheless, the very idea of horcruxes would be of no use to him, if he hadn't a soul to start out with. And it's not as if he'd gotten very far at his research on it in the library, before he'd been interrupted that is. Professor Slughorn, had been, next to no help to him. He shook his head at the lack of material on the question, at hand, his thoughts drifting back to the trouble foremost in his mind. He wondered if a soul was something you could know from reading a book, or if it was something you felt you had.
He hadn't felt anything like a soul, as far as this. As far as he could remember.
And he wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to.
But he was certain he didn't want to die.
And he would stop at nothing to prevent his fear from coming true.
It was Christmas morning.
Hermione looked out the window from her bedroom, which was iced over mostly, making it harder to see out of, as she traced the pattern of frost along the sill. She was curled up on her bed, her arms, enfolding her knees. Partly from cold and partly from being alone. She didn't want to go downstairs for fear of meeting with Riddle, and have him further ruin her already spoiled Christmas.
She got up slowly from her bed, and looked in the mirror on the dresser. Her first instinct was to look away, but she made herself stare at her reflection in the glass surface. She ran a tired hand over her face. Of course, no one, including Riddle, would take much notice of her looking like this, she considered, not as if she wanted him to though. She hoped no one would take any notice of her.
Hermione was looking the worse for wear, which was not wholly unexpected, as she hadn't been able to manage an entire night's sleep, since she arrived. Her thoughts keeping her awake. The circles under her eyes had darkened considerably, and she was shades paler than usual. And her hair was looking worse for having not been combed. Oh well. It's not as if she cared that much, anyway, that her looks were suffering. But it wasn't just her looks, it was her. She felt terrible with homesickness, most of the time. The old Hermione would be trying to research possible ways to get back. Instead of sitting here sulking, she chided herself. Even if it didn't seem likely, she, at least, had to try. Hadn't she? Even if Dumbledore had not made much progress yet.
She looked to her closet. Since she hadn't come with any of her own clothes, Dumbledore on being told this, had sent the house elves to see to her. Which meant that Hermione had several choices, each worse than the next, she decided, as she looked over the humble selection. Most of the clothes had been cast off, or left behind by other students, found in the bottom of trunks or the backs of closets, and some of which were decidedly moth-eaten, as Hermione examined the clothes closer. Frowning at the coat in her hand.
Hermione decided finally on a black wrap dress, only two sizes or so too big, which had long sleeves and ruching at the waist. She was thankful of the sleeves, since it was rather cold in the dungeons. The skirt was slightly fuller, and only fell a little past knee-length, part of the 40's fashion, she supposed, shrugging her shoulders. She stuck her hands in the detailed pockets on the dress, which did keep them a little warmer.
She laced on some shoes, she'd found at the bottom of the closet, which had a wedge heel and square toes. They were comfortable, if not exactly stylish or matching, for that matter.
As soon as she had dressed, she looked at her reflection again in the mirror. Well, she supposed it was an improvement over her school robes. She might have even looked a little bit pretty, if she had let herself. But she'd never thought that much of pretty. She'd much rather be clever. She knew she wasn't beautiful, but that didn't matter, she told herself. Harry or Ron never cared that she was pretty or not, neither had her parents, and neither should she, settling the matter with herself.
Hermione made her way up to the Great Hall, slowly walking her way through the corridor, since she was still learning all the passages in Slytherin, as she made a turn which she thought led up to the entrance area. It was so much darker down here, she thought, and the air was much damper. She felt the coldness in the air through her dress, not feeling much in the Christmas spirit. She gingerly felt her way along the increasingly darker passageway, and brushed the stone wall with her fingertips. A rather scary thought making its presence suddenly known. Hadn't Riddle found the Chamber of Secrets, already, and hadn't the Basilisk been let loose. She thought of Myrtle whom Riddle had all but murdered himself. And she thought of her own encounter with the Basilisk, and was not keen on meeting again with it. Hermione shivered to herself, as she became aware that this was not the way to the Great Hall, and was debating on whether to turn back, when she thought she saw a light flicker, further down the hallway. Perhaps, this was another way to the Great Hall. Hermione took a few steps further down the poorly lit passage. As she came closer to, she saw that the light was coming from a room that she wouldn't have even noticed, if the heavy wooden door had not been left slightly open. Hermione held her breath, as she took a few steps closer, careful not to be seen, and stopped suddenly, seeing shadows flicker against the wall, and hearing somewhat muffled voices. She concentrated on what was being said in the room, the voices becoming clearer. To her horror, she recognized Riddle's among them.
"Don't you think I know this?"
Riddle asked in an angry tone, pacing, as he ran his fingers through his hair. The flickering light cast ghostly shadows on his face. He was running out of ideas, more quickly than he would have liked.
Hermione, leaned in closer to eavesdrop, accidentally hitting her shoe on an uneven stone, jutting out near the bottom of the bricked wall. She winced at the sound, hoping no one had heard
Riddle suddenly stilled his movements, cagily glancing out towards the corridor. He motioned with his hand for silence.
Hermione frowned, thinking what to do. She could make a dash for it, but Riddle would probably see her. Instead, she cautiously took a few steps back, hoping that she was hid from his view in the shadows and hoping no one had heard or worse had taken notice.
Riddle carefully opened the door part of the way. He took a few steps nearer to where Hermione was hiding. He was so close, if he looked down, he should see her. Riddle made as if he were going to turn around and head back for the room, and Hermione had to keep herself from breathing her relief out loud. But her comfort was fleeting, however, as she felt a hand on her shoulder, roughly pulling her up by the dress's fabric. She thought it might tear from his hold.
Riddle, none too gently, shoved the girl into the room. Thankfully, there was a table, which she caught herself on, before she lost her balance and fell.
Hermione was almost too frightened to look up, and when she did it was scarce more than a glance around the room, faintly lit by the fireplace. When she looked up again, it was because Riddle had spoken.
"It seems we have an eavesdropper in our midst."
She was not surprised to see displeasure in the searing stare Riddle gave her.
She dared to glance up again and saw the other occupant in the room, whom she would later learn was Avery. He had been looking at her with nothing more than a slight curiosity and something else she couldn't quite name. None of the anger which Riddle openly showed was evident in his friend.
"I wasn't eavesdropping...I was lost."
Hermione hoped against hope that they would believe her. Her hands slightly shaking from fear, she busied by holding the sides of her dress, anxiously awaiting their answer.
Riddle stared at her, trying to make out if she was lying or not. Her eyes were wide with alarm; she seemed to be telling the truth. But that didn't matter now. Truth was of little consequence, when he was in an unforgiving mood.
"Oh yes, I forgot your propensity for getting lost."
Riddle gave her a deprecating smile. Hints of uneasiness disturbed his usual icy demeanor. He ran his fingers through his hair, lost in thought. Hermione noticed it seemed to be a nervous habit of his; she was surprised at his feeling any disquiet over her.
"So if you weren't spying on us, I suppose that leaves only one question that begs asking. How much did you hear?"
He had taken several steps nearer to her and was leaning over her, his face only inches from her own. She could feel his breath on her face, his breathing was even, unlike her own.
Hermione could hardly draw in breath, but managed to get some words out in reply.
They didn't believe her. She could tell that much from their glances.
What they would do to her, was another question altogether. She inwardly cringed at the thought. She was outnumbered and cornered, which made escape highly improbable, if not out right impossible. And talking her way out seemed an even less likely possibility. She couldn't think of anything to say that might help her out of this awful situation, and she had only herself to blame for putting herself in it.
"It doesn't matter if she heard us or not."
Hermione looked up at these words. It was Avery, who had been since, staring at her across the room, silently. He had been leaning up against the wall opposite from her, but as he spoke, he walked closer. His eyes never wavered from her own .He watched her almost as if he were trying to work out a puzzle. He hadn't really looked at her before, when Riddle had mentioned her earlier, but now that he had seen her, he liked what he saw.
"It's not as if we were saying anything of importance. In fact, things have only just begun to get interesting."
The lie had her almost convinced, since it had a measurement of truth in it.
Avery half-smiled at her, and she felt his eyes rake over her. She couldn't help the shiver that ran through her. He noticed this and his smile only widened.
Riddle, however, was not at all happy at Avery's sudden attentiveness towards the girl, knowing full well what his undertone of "interesting" included, and decided to put an end to his friend's sudden interest in her.
"Avery and I were just ending our discussion, and, now, I'll show you the way back. I wouldn't want you to get lost again."
Riddle paused at the word 'lost,' markedly expressing his distrust of her, not believing a word she'd said. He rudely put his hand on the small of her back and led her through the door. Avery made no objections, but his brown eyes sparkled, as they left him staring after, all the while, a scheme forming of his own, the smile never leaving his lips.
As soon as they had walked but a little distance, Riddle dropped his hand from Hermione, as if he had a physical aversion to her.
"If I were you, I'd be more careful not to get lost again, though it seems to be fast becoming a habit of yours. Who knows, you might meet with someone less understanding."
Riddle didn't bother to turn and look at the girl walking beside him. He thought she'd be either clever or frightened enough to keep silent.
Hermione, glad that nothing worse had happened, reproached herself for being so panic-stricken. She reasoned, that although Riddle was capable of great evil, he was still only a boy. Riddle was still under Dumbledore's watch, which meant he would not be able to act as he naturally might, in less controlled circumstances. Which meant that she was safe with Dumbledore. Or was she? Myrtle had probably thought herself safe, as well. And so had Hagrid. And Riddle had done all this while in Dumbledore's charge. Of course, there was no reason to suspect him of anything evil, he was a model student. Not even Dumbledore would listen to her warnings of him, maybe he didn't believe Riddle capable of doing such things. Even if Dumbledore and everyone else were fooled by Riddle, she certainly wouldn't show him the same regard all and sundry seemed to have for him.
"I wouldn't describe you as understanding."
Her honesty did cause Riddle to turn and glance at her then. His stare was cold. The girl's presumptuous attitude did little to lessen his anger, in fact, it only heightened it.
"It would be wise to keep quiet on subjects you know nothing about. Namely me."
Riddle had done with her brazenness. He couldn't remember having met with a more provoking girl. Instead of being grateful to him, she was slighting him. He should have left her to Avery.
Hermione had stopped walking, and Riddle turned to see what was the matter. She wore a grave expression as she spoke. Her brown eyes were solemn, and Riddle thought he almost saw a trace of sadness in them.
"I know more than you think."
The simple statement made Riddle momentarily forget his anger, as a puzzled expression marked his features. It wasn't so much what she said, but the gravity she said it with, which caused Riddle to question the girl in front of him. His eyes narrowed to near slits, as he studied her more closely than he had before. Trying to make sense of her, and wondering why he cared enough to do so. What could she possibly know of him. Was it meant as a threat, but she'd said it as almost a statement of fact.
"I think I know my way back from here."
Hermione left Riddle standing in the corridor, as she walked farther down the passageway, back to the Slytherin dormitories. Riddle made no move to go after her. Why should he? He was glad to be rid of her, he told himself. He just hoped for her sake that she wouldn't trouble herself with him again, or else it would go badly for her.
Hermione sat heavily on her bed. She had been thinking the same thought ever since her encounter with Riddle.
Perhaps, she had been sent here for a reason.
She couldn't just write it off as coincidence that she had been sent here, during Tom Riddle's seventh year, just as happenstance. That she had been sorted into Slytherin by mere chance. Fate had a plan for her, she was only too sure of it. She could save hundreds of lives, beginning with Harry's parents, if only someone would hear her out, someone who would matter, someone who could change the outcome. Someone like Professor Dumbledore. But Dumbledore would have none of it. She had tried reasoning, begging, yelling, and he would not hear what she had to say, even if it meant the deaths of thousands. She bit her lower lip, trying to think of another way to stop Tom Riddle from becoming Lord Voldemort. If Dumbledore would not help her, then maybe she could stop Tom Riddle, herself. Although, Dumbledore had warned her not to toy with such matters while she was here, because of the consequences which would later follow. But she couldn't think that the consequences could be much worse than they already are or would be.
Now, as she settled the matter with herself, how to go about stopping Tom Riddle from becoming Lord Voldemort was the only question left to answer.
The house sat on a hill and from its windows a graveyard could be seen. On this night, however, dark and ominous rain clouds obscured the view outside.
Riddle examined the gold ring in his hand. It felt cold and curiously heavy. The flickering light from the fireside gave the ring an almost emerald glow.
The ring of Salazar Slytherin.
Several feet across from him, three bodies lay lifeless. His grandfather and grandmother sat propped up in their old English lacquered armchairs. His father lay, sprawled in front of the fireplace. All of them in their evening wear.
He thought he would have felt better for having done it. Instead, he felt nothing. The emptiness, which he thought could be filled by taking their lives, only seemed to swell within him, making him even more sick with the feeling of nothing.
He firmly gripped the ring in his hand as he walked out the front door, leaving it open behind him, swinging wildly from the furious gusts of wind. The rain was falling violently now, pouring down on all sides. Riddle looked up into the sky, blackened by the storm, the ring still tightly held in his hand. A resounding thunder seemed to answer, hitting somewhere in the graveyard nearby. Riddle cared nothing for the rain. His dark brown hair looked nearly black and was matted and disheveled from the wind. His dark green eyes glanced down to his hand which he'd opened, the ring had lost its gleam and seemed dull now. The raindrops falling on his pale face, by any passerby, might have been mistaken for tears, but Riddle felt no grief or regret.
He cared for nothing. He cared for no one.
After all, why should he?
He was the heir of Slytherin.
Tom woke, sweat beading his forehead. His breathing was coming in fast and irregular gasps. Tom's hand went to his temple, as if he had a terrible headache.
It hadn't been a bad dream.
It hadn't been a dream at all, because it was a memory.
Tom had slept fitfully the rest of the night, and it was evidenced by the next morning. His dark brown, wavy hair was tousled and his face was a shade or two paler than usual. However, it was not only his looks which suffered from lack of sleep, but Tom himself, was finding it increasingly harder to control his anger, nearly losing his temper with everyone and over seemingly nothing at all.
It was not as if he felt guilt or remorse over anything he'd done. He just didn't want to think on it is all. He'd done the world a favour by ridding it of his family. Even the town didn't feel any loss over his worthless relations. No one had. They weren't worth losing sleep over, which is why he was having such a hard time reconciling himself to the fact that he had lost sleep over them. He tried pushing the thought out of his mind. He ought to get a hold on himself. Or else he'd find himself confessing his deeds to the Minister of Magic.
And that would not go so well for me, Riddle thought to himself, in a half-joking, half-serious manner.
In all things, Riddle never blamed himself, always, instead blaming some externality to himself. Later, he would blame Harry Potter. Now, he blamed Hermione Granger. He hadn't been plagued with these thoughts until she had arrived, his mood darkening considerably, the longer he thought of the girl. She had brought with her misfortune, from the first. Right off, he had had a feeling she would be a stroke of bad luck for him. And he had been right. By ridding himself of her, he might rid himself of these misgivings. He thought it a solution not wide of the mark.
"All seem to say throw cares away."
Hermione had to stifle a small laugh, at the words; she couldn't remember having a more care-laden Christmas.
The silvery tones of bells drifted through the great hall. Garlands of mistletoe and ivy were scattered throughout. The Christmas trees sparkled with lights.
A few of the students were gathered together, talking about the gifts they'd gotten earlier that morning. Hermione looked on for awhile, wondering whether she should join in or not, but then decided on hanging back. Without Harry or Ron beside her, she felt considerably less sure of her social skills.
First year all over again.
She lingered for a little while longer before settling on heading back to her room. After all, she was tired, her eyelids were heavy with drowsiness. And she didn't want to be further reminded of all she was missing.
Hermione slipped through the doors of the great hall, her absence went unnoticed by the few students still there. She had only taken a few steps, before a voice caused her to turn round.
"How much do you know of me then?"
Riddle had waited for her and had grown weary with the waiting. He was gracefully leaning up against the stone wall, making even the most casual of gestures seem artful. He didn't bother moving from where he was. Instead, it was Hermione who took a few tentative steps towards him. She eyed him cautiously. He seemed almost lethargic in his movements, weighed down by something. She had no idea that it was his own ghosts, his own demons, which were weighing on his spirits… and his thoughts.
Riddle spoke again before she had time enough to answer.
"Not still afraid of me…"
He half-smiled at her, tiredness suddenly winning over his attempt at irony. He felt fatigue in nearly every limb. His arms and legs felt leaden, and his head was sore from trying to repress painful memories. Not only by deeds done by himself, but done to him. He didn't know what he wanted from the girl, why he bothered himself about her. Perhaps, nothing useful could be gained from her. Perhaps, he should leave well enough alone. He was going against his better judgment in pursuing her, he thought. But, maybe she would prove helpful to him.
Hermione pursed her lips to one side, and tilted her head slightly, puzzled by his manner. He seemed to have let his guard down. He seemed so approachable from the tone of his voice, his way of teasing. Or was it all some sort of trick? She wouldn't put anything past Riddle.
"No…I'm not afraid of you." She began hesitantly.
"But you do know of me?" Riddle slightly raised a finely arched eyebrow at her.
But she didn't want him to know that.
She stammered, thinking of what next to say.
"I didn't mean what I said earlier."
Hermione didn't know how to begin making amends for how she'd been acting towards him. Didn't know what she could say by way of apology.
"But you did mean it. You're a terrible liar, you know. You tend to bite your lower lip when doing it."
Riddle gave her an unaffected smile meant to be both teasing and reassuring.
Hermione immediately stopped worrying her lip, annoyed with herself for the slip, and confused by Riddle's noticing it.
"What are you some sort of seer?"
Riddle had stood up from his leaning posture, breaking the spell of weariness. Curiosity finally reviving him. He stepped nearer to her. Hermione felt uncomfortably close to him, but held back from moving backwards.
Hermione stumbled over the lie, it was better for him to think she was a seer than to know the truth. And in a strange sort of way she was a seer.
"Then you know my fate already."
Riddle eyed her with open skepticism.
"Fate isn't set, it can be changed."
Hermione looked at him with something like hope. Perhaps, she could get through to him. Perhaps, she could change his fate.
"Do you really believe that?"
He wasn't looking at her but was busy staring at the ground. Wrestling with himself over something, over the possibility of change. Change was all well and good for some, maybe, but it wasn't for him. What would he want to change for anyhow. It's not as if it would do him any good. Not now. It was too late for him to change. That he was sure of.
"You'd know if I were lying."
Hermione smiled at him in way of a reply.
And Tom, in spite of himself, was moved to smile at her in return.
"You do know we've been standing under mistletoe for quite some time now."
Riddle nodded upward, and Hermione's face fell as she saw the bough of green leaves over their heads. Riddle could hardly understand himself. At first, he wanted nothing more to do with the girl standing in front of him, and now, well he wasn't sure what he wanted of her, if he wanted anything at all. For longer than he could remember, he'd been troubled by her and now he was reluctantly being charmed by her. He blamed it on the day.
"Don't worry, I won't hold you to tradition."
A slightly amused expression shone on his face. Riddle was about to walk off and leave her standing there, but Hermione held on to his sleeve to keep him from going.
Uncertainty was written on her features.
She couldn't believe what she was about to do.
"Since it's tradition."
Her lips were on his. No sooner had their lips met, Hermione felt her mouth part.
Riddle had been caught off guard, and it was only this which kept him from taking control of the kiss entirely.
His lips were cool on her own which felt as if they were searing. She thought it a pleasant, tingling sort of feeling, and couldn't help the shiver that went through her.
To her dismay, he didn't just kiss her once, but several times, before she finally took a step back from him, breaking the kiss and feeling slightly dazed also.
"I'd better be getting back."
Hermione didn't wait for him to answer, but turned and walked back to her room, feeling lightheaded most the way, 'til worry set in that is. She wondered if her plan was such a good idea after all.
School had started.
And Hermione had not seen Tom Riddle for nearly two weeks. She fiddled with a bit of loose, black string on her robes, as she sat on a wooden bench at the end of the corridor. She'd not even had any near awkward encounters with him. She didn't know what to think, and worse yet, she didn't know what he must think of her.
Well done, Hermione thought to herself, you've managed to scare off Riddle for good. And just when I thought I might be able to get through to him. You have to go and ruin it by kissing him, she blamed herself.
She didn't exactly want to go on examining her own feelings for Riddle either. I mean it's not as if I wanted to kiss him, Hermione assured herself, it was only part of the plan to gain his trust and draw out confidences from him, so that he could see the error of his ways. It's not as if I was attracted to him or anything of the sort.
She thought back to her past experiences on the subject. With the exception of a few stolen kisses from Krum in the library, she didn't have all that much experience, she owned. Maybe, Riddle thought kissing her had been a mistake, more so, than even she had thought it to be. Hermione silenced her self-doubts, it didn't matter if he were attracted to her or not, or if he ever wanted to kiss her again. She had to try again with him, it was more than just her own insecurities at stake, it was people's lives.
She wouldn't let her own confused feelings for Riddle let her forget that, no matter what.
Hermione's contemplation was cut short by girls' chatter in the hallway.
"Who would want to go with her?"
"Shh…I think she might have heard us."
"So what if she did..."
Hermione overheard the two Slytherin girls talking in the passageway, as they passed her. The two girls giggled to one another in hushed tones and then cast furtive glances at Hermione before walking farther down the corridor, 'til they were out of earshot. It
didn't matter to her one whit, what they thought of her, as she angrily pushed her books down into her school bag, dropping her arithmancy text, the papers spilling out on the floor. Drat and double drat. She pushed out her bottom lip, the beginnings of a frown forming. School hadn't changed much, she noted, it was still filled with dim-witted, prattling Pansy Parkinsons.
What did she care if no one asked her to the dance. It's not as if she had her heart set on going. It's not as if she wanted someone in particular to ask her, as her thoughts unconsciously led her to Tom Riddle.
Hermione's head was bent towards the floor, as she gathered the spilled papers from her book, but she looked up as she saw a hand outstretched holding one of her parchments in it.
She looked up to see who the hand belonged to. It was Riddle's friend, Avery.
"Thanks." She mumbled her gratitude, as she went to reach for the paper, but the hand pulled back from her reach.
"What's it worth to you?"
His eyes were mocking her, but his mouth remained motionless. Hermione glanced at him again. He was tall and had a willowy sort of build. He was actually rather good looking, and he had beautifully fringed, dark eyelashes, almost feminine looking.
"It's not worth you asking." She said coldly.
Hermione hurriedly shoved the rest of the papers in her bag, and intended to walk off and leave him there. As much as Riddle scared her, she liked his friend even less, remembering how he was with her earlier. Definitely on the creepy side.
He smiled at her then, showing his amusement with her.
"It's a wonder you've not got more friends. Like those girls just now, but I suppose they're just jealous. I suppose I am too. What I mean to say is, if you'd like, you could come with me to the dance."
He paused to see how she would answer him, but reading the answer on her face, he went on, before she could put her thoughts into words.
"I wouldn't wait around for Riddle, if I were you. He's already asked someone else."
But Riddle hadn't asked anyone, in fact, he wasn't even planning on going, but she didn't need to know that, Avery reasoned. What was Riddle's loss was his gain.
"What do I care if he's asked someone or not? It's not any of my concern." Hermione started walking off down the hallway not even bothering to turn around and respond, as Avery called out after her.
"Is that a yes, then?"
Riddle had witnessed the effects of love, first hand. From his own parents, no less. Love had made a mockery of his mother and a fool of his father. And he was not keen on following in their footsteps. He wondered why so many would wish for it. What was it that you stood to gain from love, except heartbreak and ruin. It wasn't worth having, as far as he was concerned. He wasn't afraid of love. He wasn't afraid of anything. What did it matter what a silly, little girl felt for him. She was nothing to him. Nothing at all. But even as he thought it, he knew it not to be true. Or else why should she be affecting him so. Why could he not stop thinking on it, if the reverse were true. What was it about her that made him care, made him want to care.
Tom's heart stilled. He couldn't believe what he was saying. Would all of his work come to nothing, because a girl, he barely knew, had made him feel something, he scarcely knew himself what it was he felt. What she made him feel.
God, what was he thinking. He thought he was past all this. Some school boy crush. That was all this was. He had let his guard down and was feeling the consequences of it. He knew better than that, didn't he. He thought it over, it was best to end it. Make a clean break of it. He didn't need some useless school girl hanging about him. He was destined for great things. And a few smiles from her couldn't change what she saw for him. She couldn't change his fate. If she only knew what he had done…He had already committed murder. Four counts of it. He should be rotting away in Azkaban. Ready prey for the dementors. He felt a slight chill at the thought. And if anyone ever found out, well, it wouldn't be wise to leave behind any attachments. Riddle's fate was set, and he certainly wasn't going to let his fondness or whatever his feelings for the girl stop him from becoming who he was meant to be, stop him from becoming Lord Voldemort.