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Chapter 52 – Resolutions

Mere seconds later, Healer O'Donnell burst into the room.

"What did you do?" he asked frantically as he nearly pushed her out of the way to get to the bed where Tom lay peacefully.

"Like I said, Unspeakable business," Hermione answered, inserting herself between the officious Healer and Tom. "He will be fine now."

"How do you know? It could just be temporary. I need to recast the diagnostic charms to learn more."

"Just make sure he is physically healthy enough for me to take him home," Hermione ordered.

The Healer nodded reluctantly. After casting a few charms, he turned to Hermione.

"His heart is weak, some of his internal organs are still showing stress, and he has some muscle damage from the convulsions. It would be best for him to stay at least another night."

"Fine. But I'll take him home tomorrow."

Wisely, the Healer left the room without argument.

Hermione sat down next to the bed to wait. The time passed slowly, with each minute seeming infinite as Hermione watched Tom for a flickering eyelid or a twitching finger. Eventually, the stress and lack of sleep of recent days overwhelmed her. She slumped down onto the bed in a restless slumber.

When she awoke, she immediately looked at Tom, appalled that she had fallen asleep. However, her self-recriminations were short-lived: Tom was watching her with soft, slightly bleary eyes.

"Hermione." He reached out weakly to grasp her hand.

"How do you feel, Tom? Are you in any pain? I can't sense any, but..." Hermione began to ramble until Tom interrupted quietly.

"No, no pain. The Healer already gave me enough potions to stock an apothecary. But what happened to me?" he asked haltingly.

"It was your Horcrux." Hermione couldn't help the slight harshness that crept into her voice as she recalled it. "You must have regretted your actions enough for your soul to be restored. The pain was caused by not being able to contact the last Horcrux in order to finish the process."

Tom winced slightly at her description, an expression of shame completely out of place on the Tom that Hermione had known, especially when she could feel that it was sincere through their bond.

"How did you know what was happening?"

"I felt it," Hermione answered flatly. "We may be divorced, but our bond is still there."

The wince reappeared. "I'm sorry, Hermione. For so many things. I never even realised..."

"I would imagine having a whole soul might feel strange to you."

"Yes, it does. I cannot even describe the sensation, only that everything I feel seems to have gained an entirely new dimension. Especially my feelings for you."

"Tom, I think you need to rest now. You were very ill." Hermione cut him off, standing to leave and disentangling their fingers. "I'll go so you can sleep."

"Please, Hermione."

Hermione wanted nothing more than to leave. She knew that she loved him, might always love him, but she didn't think she could cope with hearing what he was certain to say. Yet, as she looked at him pleading features and felt the desperate hope through their bond, she lacked the willpower to refuse. She slowly sat down.

"I know now that I love you, that I have for a long time. That was why the mirror brought me back to you. I also know that there is probably no way for me to earn your forgiveness for what I've done to you. But will you please let me try? If you want me to turn myself in to the Aurors, I will. Anything so that you don't hate me."

"I don't hate you, Tom, I never have." Hermione looked away, not able to bear facing him. "And I don't want you to go to Azkaban. But I don't know if or when I can forgive you. What you have done...you betrayed me repeatedly and used me. I don't know which of your actions were because of your soul and which were just you."

"Is there nothing I can do?" Tom asked.

"I don't know. Please, I need to think about this. I'll come back later to check on you."

Hermione Apparated away, leaving Tom alone in the bleak hospital room.

Hermione did not return that day, but Tom was set upon by his supervisor almost immediately after she left.

"Merlin, Tom, what happened to you?" Trelawney asked when she caught sight of his pale and drawn face.

"We really shouldn't talk about it here," Tom replied. "Unspeakable business, you know." He held his breath, hoping that Trelawney would accept what was for him a rather weak explanation.

"Oh, I know." Her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at him, but she soon relaxed and set the basket she had brought next to the bed. "Honeyduke's, nothing better for a magical mishap, in my opinion," she said kindly.

"Thank you. I'd have some, but I'm not sure my stomach is up to it at the moment after all the potions the Healer gave me."

"I completely understand. This happens at least once to every Unspeakable. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the more senior Unspeakables place bets on the timing of these little incidents."

Tom smiled weakly, then calculatingly let his eyes drift shut for a moment.

"I can see that you need your rest. Take the rest of the week off and send me an owl if you don't feel well enough to come in next week. We'll discuss what happened then."

"Thank you. I'm sure I'll be much better by then."

Trelawney patted his hand in a motherly fashion and departed.

Tom had no other visitors until Hermione came the next morning to take him home. Healer O'Donnell put up a token resistance, but Tom was soon being helped to the Floo by an orderly under Hermione's watchful gaze.

Hermione made sure he reached the couch without difficulty, then set about preparing sandwiches for lunch.

"You must be hungry, between your days unconscious and the terrible food at St. Mungo's," she commented lightly.

"I would have been, but Trelawney stopped in with enough chocolate to satisfy a giant, so I can't complain too much."

"That was nice of her. Did she say anything about you returning to work?"

"Yes, I'm to check in with her next week. When will you go back to the Auror Department? Thomson can't be happy with how long you've been absent."

"He's not, but he understands that it's necessary at the moment." Hermione's voice took on a slight edge, and Tom could easily hear subtext to her words: Because of you and all of your unspeakably horrible actions.

"I see." Hermione brought a plate of food to him and took a seat in a chair across from him. The meal was mostly silent, with Tom not wanting to risk unleashing quite yet what he assumed must be a considerable amount of anger toward him by inquiring about what had occurred during his convalescence.

After they were finished and everything put away, Hermione helped him to his bed. Tom hated how weak he felt, but relished the fact that she was touching him at all. When she turned to leave the bedroom, Tom called her back.

"Hermione, will you tell me how you saved me?"

Hermione sighed, obviously not wanting to discuss it, but she returned to the bed and sat on the edge.

"Well, it began with your ring. It left a burn mark on your finger during your first seizure. I had no idea what to do, so I took it to Dumbledore on the slight chance that he might have an idea. Luckily for you, he did.

"He asked if I knew anything about Horcruxes and suggested that your condition was a result of your soul seeking to reconnect with your Horcruxes. The only other item I could think of that might have been a Horcrux was your diary. In my time, Abraxas' son had it before it was destroyed, so I hoped that he or Aulus might have it now.

"I managed to convince Abraxas to let me speak with Aulus. He wouldn't answer me, but I received a note from Abraxas telling me to come to Malfoy Manor. When I arrived, you were there."

"How is that possible?" Tom interjected.

"You would know better than I, Tom," Hermione replied coolly. "Apparently, your diary had already begun using Aulus to gain a physical form. Aulus was nearly dead when I arrived. You, or your Horcrux attacked me, but I managed to convince him to come with me back to St. Mungo's, though only after I promised to let him go if we weren't successful in saving you. You know the rest. You absorbed the last piece of your soul and woke up soon after."

Tom was silent for a long moment. When he finally spoke, Hermione was very surprised by his words.

"Thank you, Hermione. No one else would have done half as much to save my life. I doubt anyone would have done anything, actually. I'm very sorry I put you through this."

"You know me, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I'd just let you die," Hermione said, trying to lighten the tone of the conversation.

"Anyone else would think I deserved it after all that I've done to you," Tom continued, determined not to let her ignore his sincerity.

"Oh, I agree that you probably deserved it, but letting you die wouldn't make me much of a Gryffindor, would it?" Hermione couldn't stop the bitterness from creeping into her voice.

"No, I guess not." He took a deep breath. "Hermione, earlier I asked if I could have another chance. I'm asking again, begging, really. I love you, and it's so different than it was before. I feel it, even without the bond between us. Please, just stay here with me. I'll transfigure a separate bed for you, do whatever you want. I would deserve it if you decided to keep seeing Alphard! But let me try to make up for everything I've done to you."

Hermione blinked rapidly to prevent her tears from falling. "Like I said yesterday, I need time to think. Please, stop pushing me." She stood and moved toward the door. "I'll come back tomorrow to check on you. Send your Patronus to me if you need anything."

Tom heard her movements in the living room for a few more moments, then the sharp crack of Apparation.

Hermione was completely emotionally wrung out by the time. She lay on her bed, Tom's words running through her head, much as they had the night before. She wanted to believe him so badly that she could hardly stand it. Everything he had said was what she had dreamed of hearing from him so many times before.

The hours passed slowly as Hermione weighed her desire to love and be loved by Tom against her fear of yet another betrayal and never-ending resentment. Finally, as dawn was just beginning to break, she made her decision.

Tom slept fitfully. He was plagued by dreams that faded instantly when he awoke during the night, and during his periods of wakefulness, all he could think about was the possibility that Hermione might never forgive him, let alone come back to him.

He heard a crack and a series of thumps outside the bedroom. He slid his legs off the bed and gingerly stood up. His legs shook slightly, but he managed to make it to the door without too much difficulty. What he saw gave him hope.

Hermione stood in the centre of the room with about half a dozen small boxes and bags on the floor next to her.

"Tom, you shouldn't be out of bed," she said when she saw him leaning on the doorframe.

Tom ignored her and walked toward her. "You've decided?" he asked, gesturing at the floor.

"I'll give you another chance."

Tom couldn't recall ever feeling so happy. Even if he had had moments worthy of similar happiness, he had certainly never felt it.

"But only because I realized that after how much you have hurt me, one more betrayal will not make a significant difference. And if I still love you after everything you have done, there is not much hope that I will ever stop. I am not willing to punish myself anymore."

"I promise that I will never betray you again," Tom said fervently, reaching out and grasping her hands. "Thank you, Hermione." He leaned forward to try to press a kiss upon her lips, but she turned her face away.

"I'm not ready for that, Tom. I don't know when I will be. If you are serious about this, I need you to wait. I need time to see that you won't change. I need you to be honest and tell me how you feel and what you are planning, instead of manipulating me and hiding things from me. You may decide that it is not worth it, in the end."

"Anything would be worth it."

"You always know the right thing to say, Tom," she sighed. "It only makes it more difficult."

"Use our bond, if you doubt me," Tom urged.

"Not now, but I will keep it in mind. Now sit down while I unpack. Then I'll make you something for breakfast."

The rest of the day went by in a flurry of pleasant domesticity from Tom's perspective. Hermione unpacked, made a simple-fry up for breakfast, and spent a fair amount of the day taking care of him and making sure he took his potions on schedule. Normally, he would have chafed at her care, but he felt so relieved by her presence that it scarcely crossed his mind.

That night when Hermione helped him into the bedroom, he saw immediately that she had once again Transfigured their bed into two smaller beds against opposite walls of the room. He couldn't help but be slightly disappointed, but he made no complaint After all, it was more than he could have hoped for twenty-four hours earlier.

Tom recovered quickly and felt more than well enough to return to work the following Monday. He had never been more grateful for blasé attitudes of the Unspeakables. Trelawney had asked about his health and for a general explanation of what had happened to him. She took his reply that he felt fine and had accidently activated a strong unknown curse ward while going through Sennsik's journals more or less at face value. She did seem slightly skeptical, but Tom got the impression that for however concerned she might have been, she didn't feel the need to learn the details considering that he had survived with no long-term effects.

Hermione had an even easier time. Her ability to promise Thomson that she was fully back in the Auror Department with no more side jobs for the Department of Mysteries went a long way toward smoothing her return. From Hermione's point of view, if Tom ever again did anything that required Auror involvement, she was through, so she had no qualms about her promise.

Alphard was very pleased to see Hermione after her absence. He had been worried when she had stopped coming to work, especially after seeing how unstable Riddle had seemed when last he saw him. He had heard that Riddle was in St. Mungo's, so while he wasn't happy that Hermione had presumably been with Riddle, neither was he surprised. Only an idiot wouldn't realise that Hermione still loved Riddle, and Alphard was no idiot. However, he had not given up hope by any means. Riddle had obviously screwed up at least once, most likely several times, and Alphard clung to hope that it was only a matter of time until he did so again. He was young: he could afford to wait and perhaps even stir the pot on occasion.

One such occasion was Abraxas and Minerva's wedding, which occurred at Malfoy Manor only a month and a half after Tom and Hermione had begun living together again. Minerva had confided to Hermione that she would have preferred to wait, but with Abraxas' father's recent death and Aulus' mysterious illness, Abraxas had thought it best to give the reporters at The Daily Prophet something positive to write about the Malfoy family. When mentioning Aulus, Minerva had given Hermione a slightly suspicious look, but overall, she seemed to have decided to let the matter go, something that surprised Hermione greatly and made her very thankful for what she assumed to be Abraxas' Slytherin influence.

Tom and Hermione were both invited to the wedding, Hermione as Minerva's Maid of Honor, a designation that bothered Tom but about which he felt he had no right to complain. Tom was also bothered by Alphard's position as Best Man, which ensured that he, rather than Tom, would be spending a fair amount of the wedding festivities with Hermione.

Had his relationship with Hermione been progressing more rapidly, it might not have mattered to him, but so far, he felt like he and Hermione were more like roommates than people who had at one point been married and by their own admissions still loved each other. Hermione still slept in a separate bed and often avoided all but the most platonic of touches. They had regained some of their ease with each other, but Tom sensed even without access to Hermione through their bond that she was holding back, for all she had said she was willing to try again. He had determined early on to wait as long as necessary, but her interactions with Alphard made it difficult.

During the reception, Tom was seated with a group of former classmates from Hogwarts, none much more than a mere acquaintance. Hermione, on the other hand, was seated next to Alphard at the table with the rest of the wedding party. He watched with jealousy a Hermione easily placed a hand on Alphard's arm and laughed as something the dark-haired man had said. He wanted nothing more than to tear her away from him and leave, but knew that it would be one of the worst things he could possibly do.

Later when the dancing began, Hermione danced with Alphard more than she danced with Tom, a fact Tom was very aware of. After one of their dances, Tom relinquished her to Alphard with a covert glare. Hermione didn't see it, but Alphard certainly did and responded with an irritating smirk. Tom gritted his teeth and went to get himself a drink at the refreshment table. When he looked back toward the dance floor, the couple had disappeared. After several minutes of searching while attempting not to be completely obvious about his actions, Tom came across them on a secluded balcony. He could not hear what was being said, but he could easily see Alphard hug Hermione, then lean down to buss her lips. It was almost more than he could bear. Alphard had in one night had more physical contact with Hermione than Tom had had since he had awoken in St. Mungo's six weeks earlier. He returned to the ballroom, trying to ignore the nagging hopelessness that was burgeoning. After what seemed like an eternity, Hermione finally approached him to say she was ready to leave. He couldn't help but notice how much more high-spirited she seemed than usual. Hermione said nothing about it, and neither did he.

Hermione noticed Tom's downcast expression as they set about getting ready for bed once they reached their flat. She couldn't think of any particular reason for it, so she decided not to worry. She did worry, though, about Alphard's behavior. He seemed to have indulged in a bit too much firewhiskey, and some of his behavior had bordered on amorous, despite her having made clear to him when she had returned to work about Tom's illness that she only wanted his friendship. She would have to have another talk with him next time she saw him at work.