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Chapter 53 – Putting the Past Behind Them
The week after the Malfoy wedding was hell. It seemed that every time Tom saw Hermione, Alphard was there, too. While he understood that they spent time together because of their work, he did not understand how work required Hermione to stay late working on a case every night, much less with Alphard to keep her company.
On Monday, he had gone over to the Auror section at the end of the day to ask Hermione if she was ready to go home. Her answer had been a shake of her head and a mumbled instruction to go home and make himself dinner because she had a lot of work left to do. Against his nature, he had ignored her dismissiveness and told her that he would see her at home and leave something for her to eat.
"Don't bother," she had said, finally looking up at him for a moment. Or so he thought. "I'll be eating…"
"Hermione, I've got fish and chips from that Muggle place you like so well," Alphard had interrupted, striding through the door.
Tom was more than put out, but the last thing he wanted was to make another scene in front of the Black cur. So he had smiled tightly and left. A charm on Hermione's office door prevented it from slamming.
Midday on Tuesday, Tom received a memo from Hermione telling him that she would be out on a case and not to expect her home until Wednesday evening. Tom was not pleased, but he had comforted himself with the thought that at least she would be away from Black for a while. It was not to be. He had stayed late working on an alignment issue in the Space Room Wednesday evening and had gone to check Hermione's office in case she had returned and not yet left for home. At this point he was hardly surprised to see Hermione covered in mud, as well as something blue and gelatinous, Scourgifying and being Scourgifyed by none other than his least favorite scion of the Black family.
"Hermione, it seems you made it through your assignment unscathed," Tom had said, a slight edge creeping into his voice as he took in the sight of the pair, particularly focusing on Hermione's laughing face.
"Oh, Tom! Yes, we're fine, and Azkaban has a new inmate, thanks to Alphard," she had replied, mirth twinkling in her eyes.
"Well, I'll see you at home then. Good evening, Black."
Thursday proved to be Tom's breaking point. Finally, Hermione had Apparated home with him directly after work. Her mood had been somewhat quiet, but she didn't seem unhappy, so Tom had refrained from commenting. Instead, they talked about her latest case a work, a smuggler who was importing poisonous ducks through Muggle customs. He had tried not to think about how low she had brought him – that he was grateful for the mere fact that she did not seem to be avoiding him. His gratitude had lasted precisely until a quarter past eight, when bloody Black had shown up at their door to take Hermione to the local café to chat. With a comment over her shoulder that she shouldn't be out too late, Hermione was gone, leaving Tom to clean up the remnants of their dinner.
It was now Friday just after dawn. After Hermione had left the night before, Tom had scrawled a note telling her that something had come up at the Department of Mysteries and that he wouldn't be back that night. In truth, all that had come up had been a burning desire to recalibrate the Space Room to account for the expansion of the universe to make realignments like the one he had done earlier in the week unnecessary. Tom had finished around midnight, but rather than returning to the flat had gone into his small office, taken out a parchment and quill, and begun to write.
Five hours later, he had written all he felt necessary. One letter was formal and brief, addressed to Verana Trelawney. Within it, he had notified her of his immediate resignation and plans to move to America in order to "have a new start." The other letter was far more personal and charmed to allow only one person to view its contents.
At eight o'clock, Tom left his office and went to speak with his superior. He handed her the letter and waited for her to read it, standing silently in front of her desk.
"I wish I could say that I was surprised, Mr. Riddle," Trelawney said. "You have seemed to have other priorities from the time you started working here. I will be sorry to see you go, you are the most talented employee I have ever had, but that means very little to me if you do not want to be here. Know, however, that if you ever wish to return, I will make sure you are able to."
Tom thanked her and turned to leave, but before he could do so, he felt her arms go around him in a grandmotherly embrace. "Take care, Tom. I'll be writing to an old colleague at the American Bureau of Magical Research to let him know to hire you if you should chose to apply. Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you."
Tom tentatively returned the embrace for a moment, then schooled his face, thanked her again, and departed.
By the time he arrived at the flat, Hermione had already left, as he had expected. He placed the letter on the kitchen table and went into the bedroom. With little effort, the two beds on opposite sides of the room merged into one big enough for two people in the center. He tried not to think about who the second person might be. A few waves of his wand and all his personal effects were packed away neatly in his old school trunk. To his mind, it was appropriate symbolism. This was how it should have been when he left Hogwarts – just himself and his trunk. Now he would be starting over as if none of the past two years had happened. It was the least he could do for her, and the only thing he could do for himself.
It was almost nine o'clock, and he needed to leave. He shrunk his belongingss and put them in his cloak pocket, but as he was about to leave, he walked back to the table and dropped the last truly personal belonging he had next to the letter. With a crack, he Apparated out of the apartment.
Hermione had been more than slightly irritated when she returned home from the scheduled meeting at the café on Thursday night. After having put up with Alphard's antics, she had finally been able to convey to him that she was not interested in him romantically and that he needed to go back to his social life and leave her out of it. With the way he had been behaving, she wasn't sure how much she wanted to with him outside of work, and she had told him so. She had left him in the tender care of the cute, blonde waitress, letting him know that she would be happy to be his platonic friend if he would quit flirting with her.
She had hoped to talk it over with Tom afterward, but he was nowhere to be found, and although Hermione doubted that he truly had anything urgent, she couldn't really blame him after her absence most of the week. In fact, when she thought about it now, he had been even more withdrawn than usual, almost acting as though he was avoiding her. It did make sense, she realized. Every time he had seen her this week, Alphard hadn't been far behind, and Alphard had been doing his best to play the role of determined suitor. Tom was probably quite miffed about the whole situation.
I'll make sure to tell him tomorrow that Alphard won't be bothering me anymore, she thought as she prepared for bed. If he's angry about this week, he'll just have to deal with it. I won't put up with any ridiculous jealousy at this point in our relationship. If I wanted out, I wouldn't have given him another chance in the first place.
She fell into a fitful sleep, wishing not for the first time that she was sleeping in their bed with Tom beside her.
In the morning, Hermione planned to head directly to the Department of Mysteries after dropping off her gear at her office, hopeful that Trelawney had enough of a soft spot for her to let her in to see Tom, but she was intercepted by Thomson.
"Granger, I need to have a chat with you," he said gruffly, obviously feeling awkward about something. "I've noticed that Black seems to be interested in you. I don't care, but it's making him careless when he works with you, so from now on, I'm splitting you two up. You work well together, but not well enough to be worth the discomfort it causes for the rest of us."
Hermione was embarrassed that someone else had noticed her predicament with Alphard. Maybe it was more obvious than she had thought. "That's fine, I actually just discussed it with him yesterday. It's probably for the best, at least for the near future."
Thomson almost seemed to sigh with relief. "Well, then. No reason to keep you." He strode off toward his office, no doubt glad that she hadn't put up a fight.
By the time Hermione made her way down to the Department of Mysteries, it was twenty past eight. The door to Trelawney's door was open, and the older witch looked lost in thought. When she noticed her visitor, a brief expression of surprise flitted across her face.
"Hermione, I'm surprised to see you. I assumed that you would be leaving with Tom."
"What do you mean?"
"He resigned this morning. Oh, of course, you probably have cases you need to finish before you can join him in the States. Well, I'm sure that such a promising Auror will have no trouble finding employment wherever she goes." Trelawey stood from her desk and hugged Hermione briefly. "If you ever return, I'm sure I'll be able to find a place for you in my department."
"I'll keep that in mind, thank you."
By the time Hermione reached the ground floor, she was borderline furious. Who did he think he was, leaving without telling her? He probably had some new scheme requiring privacy, or at the very least, was trying to make her feel guilty for being slow to return to their previous relationship. It wasn't going to work.
She sent a memo to Thomson, telling him she had an emergency at home, and left the building, Apparating as soon as she was able.
She appeared in their flat a moment later and was relieved to see all of Tom's books still on the shelves. Several of them were very rare, and he would never leave without them.
"Tom?" she called. There was no answer. She looked in the bedroom and recoiled when she saw the transfigured bed. Her first thought was that he was trying to make a statement about their relationship, but she quickly realized such a thing wasn't logical. He wouldn't have resigned over that. But if he really were leaving…
Hermione rushed back into the living area and espied the letter with the Gaunt ring next to it. She unsealed the letter and began to read
If this letter hurts you, I am deeply sorry, but I have made my decision. You are unhappy with me, and I have come to the realization that your unhappiness is of greater importance to me than my own. In the last weeks, the only times I have seen you as you used to be have been when you were with Alphard Black. It has been painful to watch you with him, and what little hope I had that you would eventually return to me has all but disappeared. Do not think I have not considered trying to sever your attachment to him, you know me too well to believe otherwise, but separating you from him will by no means bring you closer to me. I have enough pride not to want to wait until you determine that you have given me enough of a second chance to satisfy your own moral code. I am grateful for the extra time we had together, but I cannot accept this shadow of a relationship when we once had so much more. I do not blame you for being unwilling or unable to return to how things were, everything has been the result of my own actions, but I do not wish to selfishly extend your suffering when it is unnecessary and purposeless.
Perhaps I am cowardly for not saying this to you in person, but I can be naught but the Slytherin I have always been. It is not in my nature to stand up and fight, and I know now that even if it were, I would still not be successful. So I am leaving for New York today. No one there will know me, and from what I have heard, no one will care that I am merely a Halfblood or that I am descended from Slytherin himself, with Americans being the egalitarian sort they are. You need not worry that I will cause any problems that would necessitate Auror intervention; I have learned too well how little grand plans matter in life. If you still love me at all, please trust me at least in this.
If you ever wish to find me, I have no doubt that you will be able to, but I do doubt that you will ever wish to. I have transferred most of the money in my account at Gringotts to you. Do what you wish with the books and other personal items in the flat.
Tom Marvolo Riddle
Hermione was shocked. After all the effort he had gone to for his second chance, this was how it ended. If the contents of the letter were true, she had successfully defeated Lord Voldemort for once and for all, but she could not think of that. All she could think of was that Tom, her Tom, had left because he thought that she was only humouring him until she could justify leaving him. He thought that she would be happier with Alphard. That wasn't true, although she didn't care to think about how Tom could possibly have known otherwise with her and Alphard's behavior in the past week. She did not feel guilty, she would not, but she did need to stop Tom before he left.
Trelawney had said he was moving to New York, which meant he would need to use an international Portkey. Hermione Apparated back to the Ministry and ran inside, flashing her Auror identification to get past the entrance quickly and commandeer an elevator. The clock chimed quarter past nine just as she stepped from the elevator. She hurried down the hallway to the departure area and heard a pop just as she entered the room. Pushing to the front of the line, she urgently enquired whether Tom Riddle had departed. Receiving an affirmative answer along with a pitying look from the Reception Witch, Hermione stood, disbelieving that this could have happened to her again.
This was the second time that Tom had chosen to leave her, but for such differently reasons. Before, he had thought only of himself, throwing away the love she had for him and he for her, expecting that he would find something better on the other side of the mirror. Now, he had left because he thought that he was doing her a favor, enabling her to move on with Alphard Black, of all people.
Like an automaton, Hermione returned to the Auror section. Dash to the Portkey area notwithstanding, it seemed like such a pathetic end to a long, painful, but also beautiful relationship. For a short time, she had been truly happy with Tom, and she had dreamed that she would someday be that happy again, but Tom had lost hope, and now he was gone.