Title: You Know Who?
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter and am making no money from this story. The characters belong to J. K. Rowling; I am just playing with them for my own amusement and hopefully those of others.
Characters: Hermione Granger, Lord Voldemort, plus the general cast of characters appearing in Deathly Hallows.
Pairing: Hermione/Voldemort (note: when it says Voldemort it means Voldemort, not Tom Riddle).
Summary: What would you do if you woke up with no memory, looking like a monster, stuck in a room with a giant snake? Well, Lord Voldemort is in exactly that situation when magic brings him to the home of Hermione Granger.
Author's Notes: Thank you so much to all my wonderful reviewers for being so very patient! I've had a lot of work over the summer and it's been crazy trying to write fanfiction as well. I worked a ten hour shift yesterday *shudders*. Couple that with a new boyfriend insisting on spending time with me, and finding space in the day for writing has been hard – but so many of you have been incredibly supportive of me; I feel totally blessed to have such an awesome group of people who like what I write. And an amazing anonymous reviewer even drew me some fan art! WOW! Thank you so much! I've put links in my profile so everyone can see the wonderful art. I especially love Hermione's expression in the first one. I'm continually surprised and delighted by how popular this oddball story has turned out to be. This chapter is dedicated to the lovely Lady Miya, who had a specific request regarding Hermione's undergarments. I thought very carefully about that this chapter and about my decision to write this as a T rated romance story. Hopefully the result satisfies. For those wondering about the memories Voldemort replaced in the last chapter, I'm being deliberately vague about what exactly Hermione remembers. She's a little unsure herself about what happened, but attributes her confused memories to being stunned by a snatcher.
Chapter Twenty-Two: House-Elves and Children's Tales
The shrill cry seemed to linger in the scented, early morning air; a peacock, flaring its snowy plumage across the dewy grass. The sky was slowly paling above the topiary as the bird strutted in the thinning, pre-dawn darkness. I could smell gardenias and Narcissa Malfoy's rose garden. Somewhere, Nagini was staking out a rabbit warren – she liked to share her excitement with me. My indifference to food disturbed a creature who took so much joy in her meals. My dear one… several times she has attempted convincing me to take up cannibalism. She does not understand why I would waste such prey. Really, I couldn't think of anything more disgusting than ingesting the filth who dared to oppose Lord Voldemort. I did not mind living off venom and Dark magic. As long as I took occasional precautions to sustain this form with the correct rituals when I found myself at leisure, I could happily exist entirely without the need for food; quite apart from the foul taste, eating took up so much time and energy.
I shook my head a little, tried to clear it of chasing prey through long, Albanian grasses and streams, of snapping my jaw shut and pumping venom into a hot, wriggling creature, its warm blood spraying my face as it thrashed. My stomach turned and my skull vibrated as I bit down hard on empty air in sympathy with the recollection. No, not my face: my vessel's face. I convulsively reached for my wand, felt for it in the pocket of my robes, and allowed myself to luxuriate in the slight friction of my fingers against the smoothly polished wood. Lord Voldemort's wand. The wand I had dreamed of being reunited with for so long. The memories were clear as only those burned in by suffering could be. I stopped and clasped my hands together, hugged my shoulders, felt my face – needing to confirm it was all here. A body – mine – my own skin. My mouth twitched in disgust and I forced myself to stop. It had been almost two years since my rebirth, I thought myself past this. I was Lord Voldemort; I would not allow myself this weakness.
Taking my hands from my eyes, I opened them into the near-dawn. Ghostly feathers lay still on the lawn. The bird was dead – I must have killed it in my discomfort. I dreamt of the forest again tonight, its supreme wilderness and deadly grandeur, so unlike this formal garden. I did not care for this place – indeed, I would not be at Malfoy Manor if it did not serve to make an excellent political point to my Death Eaters and provide a highly defensible centre of operations. There was old magic here. Not like at Hogwarts, but enough for my purposes. I felt it choked by the layers of marble and pretension: wild, black magic waiting to be set free. It seeped up through the foundations and thrilled at the presence of a Dark Lord. Abraxas told me once that it was the ground where Morgana sanctified her rule. The Malfoys did not deserve this place they could not feel.
I stepped forward to vanish the peacock to my rooms. Nagini could have it for lunch later – perhaps she would get a taste for them and rid the grounds of the gaudy birds. Its dull eyes were open, red and beady. I reached down to stroke its beautiful plumage, as white as my hand against its feathers. We were alike, the exotic bird and I; anomalies thrown up by nature. But it was dead and I could never die. I had conquered Nature's cruel, careless cycle…
"My Lord!" A hoarse voice cracked the pleasant air. A flick of my wand and the peacock had vanished. It was Yaxley, as eager for praise as a dog. And speaking of dogs, there was Greyback at his heels, leering in anticipation of his reward. Yaxley knelt on the grass, bringing the hem of my robe to his lips, panting in excitement. "We have captured Ollivander as you asked, my Lord."
"Very good," I smiled, praising them both, though I felt no pleasure at their news. I would not be happy until Dumbledore was dead and Harry Potter had fallen at my feet, all question of prophecy settled once and for all. And that was why I needed the wandmaker, who would tell me why my wand had refused to kill Potter in the graveyard that night. Besides, it was an excellent strategic move to control the supply of quality wands – and many of my followers who had been imprisoned required rearming.
The old man lay crumpled in the cellar, bleeding from the temple. His silver eyes were watery with tears. "Yew," he lisped weakly through broken teeth, "...a-and phoenix f-feather. Thirteen and a ha-half inches. A powerful wand… one of t-the most p-powerful I have ever made…" He shuddered, hacking up blood, backing away from me across the stone floor, curling upon himself into the pitiful ball. Yet I respected his skills as a craftsman and still retained a certain gratitude towards the man who made Lord Voldemort's wand. For his sake, he had better not waste such regard.
I stroked my wand affectionately with the fingers of my right hand, staring down at him thoughtfully. "In all these years the wand of yew that you made me has done everything of which I asked it… except once, Ollivander. It is of that occasion that I wish to speak."
"M-may I, your Lordship?" he held out a trembling hand, blinking up at me but not meeting my eyes. I almost cursed him for his impudence, but I needed this man's knowledge. My Death Eaters were just outside and Yaxley had yielded up to me Ollivander's own weapon. He was no match for Lord Voldemort, especially in such a state. I gave him my wand. Ollivander held it close, rolling it between his frail fingers, flexing it slightly, examining it with faded, near-sighted eyes. "Aah… yes, how well I remember..." His sunken eyes glazed over as he peered at it, something almost voyeuristic, near lecherous in his expression as he felt along its length. "A formidable wand… one of my best creations… and in f-fine condition… you have taken good c-care of it…"
"Enough!" I hissed, snatching it back, not liking to see Lord Voldemort's wand in another's hands and becoming impatient with his flattery. But I softened my voice to my most persuasive tone, controlling my irritation. "Tell me how to overcome what happened when I attempted to duel Harry Potter. Tell me the reason for the Priori Incantatem effect when our spells met. Tell me, and you will find Lord Voldemort can be most generous to those who serve him well."
"My Lord, please, I cannot say, there is no reason w-why…"
"Look at me when I address you, wandmaker."
The tearful eyes gazed piteously into mine and I saw flashes of memory in their silvery sheen: Ollivander presenting Potter with his wand: "It is curious that you should be destined for this wand when its brother gave you that scar..." Ollivander in the back room of his shop talking to a wizard I knew all too well in canary yellow robes: "How fascinating… such very rare effect between two wands, Professor Dumbledore, as I'm sure you know…"
The old man shook his head, the picture of venerable innocence, unaware I was about to catch him in his lie. "No, I – I really have no i-idea–"
"Do not lie to me, Ollivander! I always know. I see that Dumbledore has told you of our duel! Crucio!" He coiled and squirmed at my feet, his old body cracking and flailing helplessly, slapping loudly against the stone floor. "Now, wandmaker, you will tell Lord Voldemort what you know."
"No… please no… I w-won't…!"
I lost control. I had wanted to spare him out of respect for the wand he made me, but how… how could he, who knew my power, believe in Potter? A child! Even my own followers had truly believed a child had – still has! – the power to vanquish me. What would it take to crush the hope of my demise? How many more will I have to kill before they understand that Lord Voldemort is eternal? I flung Ollivander against the wall, feeling a vicious satisfaction when I heard a shattering of bone. I laughed at his being so tormented by the wand he was so proud of; the pleasure of the Dark Arts tingling up my spine. Taking his scrawny neck in my right hand, I pressed my wand against his temple and smiled. I smiled indulgently into his snivelling, broken, terrified face. He was lucky he was still useful to me. Otherwise I would have ripped everything from him and shattered his mind, as I did with Bertha Jorkins, and fed his remains to Nagini. "I understand you have a son?" I whispered, our faces mere inches apart. "A budding craftsman following in the footsteps of his father… Lucius informs me he has a fine talent for wand-making. Is your loyalty to a boy you hardly know worth your son's life, Ollivander?"
"M-m-my Lord, ple-e-ease…" He wriggled and cried like a rodent caught between the teeth and I lapped up his helplessness with that same thrill of satisfaction.
"It is not my decision to make," I informed him simply. "His existence is entirely in your hands."
"Y-you can't – n-no, no!"
"Then tell Lord Voldemort what he wishes to know." I released him and the wandmaker crumpled to the floor. "Tell me how to kill Harry Potter or you will watch my Death Eaters end the lives of your family."
Ollivander sobbed helplessly, one hand blindly searching for his glasses. Pathetic old fool. "The connection is between the cores of y-your wands… the phoenix gave two f-feathers… neither wand will duel its brother… any… any other wizard's wand… c-could duel P-Potter's… Please don't… m-my son… I beg you…!"
It is not yet light. The manor has slipped back from dawn to night, the moon restored to its zenith. I stretch lazily, enjoying the lingering satisfaction of breaking Ollivander. Yawning, I feel for the comfort of Hermione's warmth in the bed beside me, but my hand brushes through empty sheets. Panic jolts me into wakefulness, only to subside as quickly as it came when I catch sight of her pyjama-clad figure in the next room. She appears stunned, her round face pale, perhaps awed and longing to own the vast array of volumes which line the walls of the study. I know I would have reacted similarly, at that age. Quietly rising, I sneak up behind her – my bare feet silent on the thick carpet – and wrap my arms around her waist, causing her to startle with a squeak of surprise; like a trapped mouse. I brush my flat nose against her smooth neck, breathing her in deeply.
We stand there for an interminable time, each lost in our own thoughts, as she slowly relaxes into my embrace. I cannot commit words to such a moment, I fear speech would disrupt such fragile beauty, as if I were to cast a pebble into a limpid pool. I remember my voice in her feverish thoughts: demanding and inhuman in its abrasiveness, high-pitched and grating against her ears. Without knowing when I begin to move, I find myself kissing her sweet-smelling skin. Gently, I press my mouth to the termination of her jaw, the curve of her throat and shoulder, the shallow hollow of her temple, and the fleshly bead of her earlobe. Closing my night-seeing eyes, I map her topography with my lips – a sightless, possessive cartographer taking careful note of each little sigh, each inadvertent twitch of pleasure from my living dominion.
"I – I don't – we really s-shouldn't…" Hermione's fear is lumpen and awkward, trying to shape itself into a ward against her desire and failing: meaningless, stuttering gasps of air.
"What do you fear, Hermione?" I whisper, coaxing my voice out light and silken. "Why, with all of your Gryffindor valiance and the brave deeds you have accomplished, is it this which frightens you?" I am sick of being denied. The perfection of the moment is slipping through my fingers, her reticence souring its loveliness. Must I be in pain for her to fling her arms around me of her own accord? Why should she still refuse me after all the care I have shown her? Have I not waited long enough? Lord Voldemort offers himself to a mudblood girl – a yielding more complete that he has ever known – and she refuses; to need another being to such a degree – for days I have been struggling with this canker in my thoughts; the weight of the obscene necessity of this ridiculous young witch! Hermione can only stare up at me with her wide, brown eyes.
Oh, oh… I ought to have killed her. I should have ended her existence in that deserted country lane… when I still could… before she made me feel these terrible things. "Lord Voldemort does not break his word. I will not hurt you, my love." Am I truly so repulsive? It is on my tongue but I shall not say it, I refuse to let the words rush out of me like a plea. I will not stoop so low. The memories I stole from her are still fresh in my mind, the horror and supreme aversion in her eyes… "I cannot…" I cannot bear it when you shrink from me. Oh Slytherin, stop. Stop talking now. This is pathetic. This is the most pathetic thing I have ever thought. She does not respond as I desperately meet her lips with my own, my kisses pleading that which my voice will not. But Hermione is frozen in my arms.
I know what will make her leap joyfully into Lord Voldemort's keeping: if I spare another one of her filthy friends, or if I reject the persecution of mudbloods, or perhaps if I agree that murder is abhorrent. But I will not do it, I will not! I will not alter my principles so that Hermione may become my whore for hers. I withdraw, glaring at her coldly, before turning away, unwilling to let her see my pain and the dangerous anger filling my stomach like a twisting serpent. Patting my trouser pockets for my wand, I realise it is still in the other room, lying under my pillow. I am not at all certain of the efficacy of wandless calming spells and I refuse to submit to another seizure atop everything else. Turning on my heel, I stalk back to the bedroom but a hand catches my fingers just as I reach the doorway.
I can hear Hermione breathing, swallowing hard. "Don't," squeaks the small voice behind me.
"Do not what?" My tone is low and deadly. I cease my steps, but do not turn. I find I do not wish to look at her. I despise her.
"There's something I–"
Bowing my head, I stare at the dark carpet, stilled. "I am not a child, Hermione. I know why you are with me. I know why you stole my cup back from your friends. I know why you let me kiss you. I know. I always know. But I find it is not enough to have you close your eyes and imagine I am not Lord Voldemort. If you are truly set upon this course then you will be mine absolutely. You will… love me." The nauseous verb stings me with the bitterest self-loathing imaginable. Weakness. Such abyssal weakness. My insides rot with shame; bile burning my stomach. "And if not, you will leave my presence immediately. You will return to your companions and you will ensure that I never set eyes on you again." A lie. I will kill her, vow or no vow. As soon as she turns her back (I have no wish to see the life leave her eyes). She will be mine or dead. But it is destroying me, this hopelessness. Something in me is dying as surely as it did the night I killed my father. Because I know that in a few seconds I will be alone. Perhaps it will be a relief. It was a relief when his head hit the floor. Hope fell away and left me with a beautiful simplicity of mind. Yes, this shall be a relief. It must be.
"You still think I'm going to abandon you," her footsteps seem so loud behind me. "You don't even believe I care about you – so you're ordering me to love you?-! Who's to say you'd believe that either, or even see it? Not to mention the fact that you certainly don't love me! Haven't you understood anything, you – you – thick-headed…" she trails off, not daring to finish her insult. I do not reply, unwilling to acknowledge her. Hermione's voice softens, losing some of its exasperation. "Maybe you were right the other night – I don't know much about love either. But I'm staying. I'm staying because I don't break my promises either and… and you're the most brilliant, intelligent, stupid, flawed, crazy person I've ever met and you need me. A-and I want to… t-to stay with you. My terrifying warlock. Oh Merlin, l-look at me, it's true!" She sounds as if she is on the brink of tears. And I turn, if only to torment her with her own mendacity, to observe her pain, to torture her like Ollivander; tear apart her memories and pluck out the most horrible, wrenched things she has ever experienced and fling them upon her senses until her voice is no longer fit for screaming...
…His shoulders are narrow, his body waif-like, the blue veins running down his neck illuminated by my bright wand-light. The face is as disturbing as ever, but not so alien when beheld with the rest of him – less mask-like… fragile…The livid eyes glimmer like lost jewels… Under the candlelight, he really does have an attraction all his own, an alien symmetry to his smooth, angular features and the luminous quality of his unnaturally white skin and large scarlet eyes. Not handsome by any stretch of the imagination, but almost beautiful – in his own otherworldly way… The muted colours of the quilt flatter his alabaster skin and he seems… less like a deformed wizard and more like a new species of humanoid in his own right. I think I'm more… aware of him that I have been of any other person… he breathes my name like an incantation; in his high, eldritch voice it becomes a magical thing to be whispered to the under the moon,"Hermione…" The contrast of his hairless, marmoreal flesh against my pink skin is fascinating as he kisses between my breasts and I can feel an inside ache I've never felt before, a sharp tugging in my navel that takes the breath out of my lungs. It makes me shudder and pull away, not wanting to let Lord Voldemort make me feel all this, scared of how much power he has over my body…
I become so lost in the thoughts swirling in her warm, long-lashed gaze that I flinch when her hand unexpectedly caresses me, touching the smooth flatness of my reptilian nose. She saw me like my first followers had done after the ritual of Walpurgis – as what I had always wanted to be: an extraordinary being free from time and humanity. Unique. Wondrous. "It's true, see?" she smiles weakly – sadly – up at me. "But it's not easy – you've… I'm... it's still… difficult… and I haven't, I mean, I've never let anyone… and… and I really think–" As her fingers – slightly sweaty from sleep or fear – continue to stroke my face, I lean down into her touch, unwilling to deny myself one moment of it as her ministrations and her memories dissolve my anger.
"Hermione…" I breathe her name, trying to achieve the exact tone she so admired.
Her hand falls away. "But oh, I've just found out something – something important!"
"It can wait." I snatch hold of Hermione's chin and crush my mouth against hers. I need her physical reassurance, inhaling her desire through our mingled air as I pull her tight against me.
There's hardly any breath in my lungs and my lips are bruised and tingling. The metallic taste of blood is on my tongue and I'm not sure which of us is bleeding. Both our mouths are raw and greedy. It's insane. We just don't stop kissing. Voldemort is frantic. His arms lock around me and hold on like someone drowning. The slitted nostrils are spasming almost to the point of hyperventilation, quick exhalations fanning my face as we kiss. I remember how furious I'd been on seeing Ron and Lavender snogging like this in public – a stumbling, uncouth face-sucking that didn't look at all attractive – but somehow even though my lips are hurting and I know the backs of my knees are about to knock into the edge of the bed, I want to keep going. It's who-knows-what hour past midnight and I'm too far gone to deny either of us this relief. Not that I ever suspected that snogging a Dark Lord could come under the category of relief. This is an incredibly bad idea I'll regret soon enough, I'm sure. But right now… right now I simply don't care.
I don't have to worry about my friends right now, or the multiple pieces of Voldemort trying to push their own agenda, or what I've just discovered about the state of his mind and soul. Instead Voldemort is gasping endearments into my mouth. He doesn't close his eyes as we kiss; I can see those crimson, glow-in-the-dark eyes burning an inch from my own, their slitted pupils gone from the thinnest line to a dilation that's almost human. "Beautiful, my own beautiful one, such lovelinessss…" The sibilant words do something to my skin, spreading over it like ghostly wildfire. He pulls at my pyjama top, scattering kisses over my suddenly electrified neck. I expect him to go straight for my chest, but he doesn't. As my top lands on the floor, Voldemort's mouth is worshipping my shoulder-blades and spine, his large hands brushing up and down the curve of my waist.
It's wonderful, but it feels unfair; I'm the only one whose senses are being invaded. I want to see what he looks like if I do the same to him. After what happened in the Forest of Dean, I want to make him dissolve under my hands and mouth. I want to hear those helplessly inarticulate hisses I remember. Wriggling round in his arms, I find his collarbone is almost level with my lips and I attack him there – trying to imitate his delicate little kisses – reaching up to run my fingernails across his bony shoulders. The first hiss comes out through clenched teeth, the second as his mouth falls open in a gasping, shuddering waterfall of Parseltongue.
Voldemort stops, very still against me, his head bowed and staring at our bare feet. If I didn't know better I'd say he was embarrassed. "What is it?" I ask, worried I'm doing something wrong. Looking round, I notice Nagini on the rug, her unblinking yellow eyes fixed on us intently; tongue out as if tasting our scents. I can't help giving her a nervous smile. "You know, erm… your snake is watching us." Lifting his chin, Voldemort glances distractedly over at Nagini and hisses something at her. She uncoils herself and glides closer to us over the carpet, her scales glinting in the cracks of moonlight visible through the draped curtains. The Dark Lord continues speaking, his tone growing more and more insistent. I think they might be having an argument, I'm not sure. The huge viper becomes agitated, rearing and displaying her fangs. But Voldemort's harsh commands eventually send her bulk slithering into the next room, still hissing discontentedly. "What was that about?"
"She wanted to…" Voldemort pauses, "… remain with us. She – ah – she did not like the idea of Lord Voldemort being distracted by a female without her to stand guard."
"Oh…" I feel incredibly awkward now, covering myself with my hands, hyper-aware of what I'm doing and with whom I'm doing it now that the momentum as stopped. "Um, w-well I suppose that makes sense… um…"
"Sssh…" Voldemort puts a long finger to my lips, then leans in and replaces the digit with his mouth. It's a slower, gentler kiss. He tugs down the elastic of my pyjama bottoms and I tense instinctively. My legs feel cold without my cotton pyjamas. Especially since, I realise – mortified – I'm wearing the old knickers my mum bought me two Christmases ago, which have little orange cats all over them. I remember what Harry said to me and I can feel my cheeks turn pink. Please let Harry not be seeing this… please let him be shielding his mind like Professor Dumbledore told him… Oh, this is crazy. I shouldn't be doing this. How can I end this now without Voldemort throwing a tantrum?
"Do you know what a male adder does to indicate his admiration for a female of his species?" that high, eerie voice whispers into my ear.
"He licks her all over, tasting and pleasuring her scales with his tongue." Voldemort smirks at me, his thin mouth stretched into a leer, and his tongue darts out suggestively; shockingly pink against his colourless face.
"You're making that up!" I accuse him, wanting to wipe off that evil grin. He gives me one of those taut, enigmatic smiles I know so well, livid eyes gleaming, and his hands settle on my shoulders, applying just enough pressure to seat me on the edge of the bed. He removes the golden locket from his neck and places it on the table beside the bed. Then Voldemort does something I never would have imagined: he kneels between my legs. It's an elegantly unexpected folding of limbs. His trousers – made of the same floaty, black silk as his robes – settle around him gracefully. Lord Voldemort is kneeling in front of me. All I can do is watch. He grasps one of my ankles and brings it to his mouth, pressing a kiss into the arch of my left foot. At first I try to pull away, ticklish. But then his lips touch the Dark Mark tattooed there and warm bliss seeps into my nerves. He sucks on the skin, biting it playfully, making the mark almost crackle like static on my skin.
He carefully licks the insides and undersides of my legs – every inch of skin. I'm fascinated by the patient, meticulous process. If it were anyone else – Ron or Viktor maybe – I would have told them to stop being so silly; there's something so ludicrous, so pedantic about devoting such especial care to each little gift of saliva. Maybe some serpentine instinct is telling him to mark me all over with possessive licks. It's a nice thing really, I suppose. Quite sweet. But when he finally moves up to my knickers I'm not nervous at all. If I'm honest, I'm glad to get there at last.
It is impossible to think. In the epitome of physicality, I have slipped away – buoyed on a tide of pleasure; I roll across Hermione's nakedness, giddily incorporeal in climax. She cries out, not in ecstasy but fear as the weight of me atop her dissipates into bubbling spirit. I am in her, spilling delightfully into emotion and memory, rubbing myself against them, frisking across her thoughts, glutting myself on her happiness. Her arms are unable to hold me, passing though my soul like black smoke. I have never been able to feel anything like this before, a seraphic perfection that catapulted me from my fleshly construct of a body and into the air. Hermione shivers, moving to pull the sheets up to hide the lovely expanse of her skin. Please, I ask, still lazily eddying about in her mind, let us remain like this awhile – do not cover yourself just yet. Through her eyes I see the shadow of Lord Voldemort above her, a half-manifested billowing of darkness gathering like storm-clouds as I ease out of her mind to feel her skin against mine.
I stroke her hair, spread about her like a banner, the tingling essence of my spirit finally settling back into skin. Kissing her, I wordlessly reassure Hermione of my material stability. Now that we have stopped, she shifts beneath me – stiff and sore from the loss of her virginity. Disentangling myself, I put my left hand to the beautifully sticky orifice and soothe her pain with my magic, making her sigh and arch into my fingers. "That feels so much better, thanks… argh…" Hermione reaches shakily for her watch on the bedside table, almost knocking over the empty bottle of the potion I summoned for her. I lied and told Hermione it was a contraceptive. In truth, this body is completely infertile and what I gave her was a powerful antivenin. As the main ingredient in my present constitution is Nagini's milk, I thought it best she take a very different sort of precaution. "Wow… it's almost six o' clock…" Lines of light peek in though the gaps in the curtains, stretching across the floor toward the bed like curious bystanders. Hermione groans and slumps down again onto the pillows beside me. I adore how warm and soft her body is. We stare at each other, twining our limbs, her brown eyes blinking across at me. No memory I possess can equal the contentedness I feel.
"Is… is it always like that?" Hermione asks tentatively. "Was it… um… the same with other girls?"
I shake my head, "I cannot guarantee this, of course, but I believe the last time I had sex was before you were born."
"Well, yes, but… I mean… was it…?" she stares up at the canopy, blushing, searching for words to describe what she wants to ask.
"No," I plant idle kisses along her cheek, "for me the act always served some purpose. It was an exercise or a tool, not an end in itself. The feelings this evoked were entirely dissimilar."
"You possessed me…" she sounds as if she still doesn't quite believe it.
"You did not find that pleasurable?"
"You promised you wouldn't do it again unless it was necessary to our survival!" I can tell she is not as angry as she would like to appear. Coitus has diffused much of her usual nervous energy.
"It was not a… conscious… decision on my part, Hermione." She sighs and runs a hand over my ribs. She looks sad again, perhaps reminded of the death of the Auror. I hope she does not feel the need to have another guilty cry again after being intimate with me. I pull her closer, "What was the thing you found out earlier and were so desperate to communicate to me?" Hopefully, a diversionary tactic will distract her from any snivelling. I close my eyes, resting my head in the comfortable curve of her neck.
"Oh!" her whole body jolts. "W-well… um… I found out about… about… R.A.B."
"Who was it?" I hiss, sitting up; my post-coital affability thoroughly ruined.
"Regulus Black… Harry told me. He's… he's already dead."
I do not recall the name. Presumably he was a scion of one of the branches of the Black family. I wanted to disembowel, him – whoever he was. Rip his insides to shreds! I hated him even more for being dead. "How did he find the cave and discover my secret? How–?-!"
"Maybe you should calm down?"
My first instinct is to turn on her for daring to suggest… but then I see Hermione's meaning. "Yes," I manage to grate out unwillingly, taking my wand from beneath my pillow and letting my fury freeze in the ice of a Calmative Spell. I lie back down beside Hermione and take a deep breath. "Continue…"
"He was a Death Eater and, apparently, you asked for his house-elf when you were finishing the cave's defences – y-you told Kreacher, Regulus' elf, t-to drink the p-potion…" And now she's crying. Again. Over a house-elf, of all things. "And… and you left him there to die!"
"Naturally," I refuse to indulge her tears, "but I am guessing the elf did not die?"
"N-no, apparently Regulus had ordered him to come home. A house-elf's highest law is his master's bidding – I looked it up in fourth year – so Kreacher was able to disapparate. He made it back and told Regulus what happened. And… a-and Regulus must have guessed about what the locket was, must have been regretting joining your service so he… he asked Kreacher to take him back to the cave and he drank the p-poison… oh, it's awful…"
"Where is the elf now?" I had to consider the safety of the diadem. If this… Kreacher… had told Harry Potter, he could tell anyone the secret of the cave.
Hermione stares at me, her bushy, sex-tousled hair crackling with her fiery magic and her face splotchy with tears. She grabs my arms and fixes me with a near-demented gaze. "Don't you dare, Tom Marvolo Riddle – don't you bloody dare! What you did to that elf was sick – it drove him mad! You thought he was far beneath your notice, just like the pure-bloods who treat elves like animals! It didn't even occur to you that Kreacher might have magic you didn't! I've said all along that wizards would pay for the way they treat house-elves!"
"That is not my name – do not ever call me–!"
"You deserve it! You deserve it for what you did to that helpless elf! I should never have given up on the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Warfare; nothing is going to change until wizards like you stop abusing your fellow magical creatures!"
I stare at her, dumbfounded. Did the beautiful, naked witch in bed with me really care about every creature in existence? It was utterly bizarre. In exactly the tone that Hermione now spoke of house-elves, she had berated Potter for torturing me. She actually… actually practised what so many have preached. Compared to her, that sentimental fool Dumbledore was a dark wizard! I cannot understand how anyone can possibly believe such nonsense so fiercely. Fellow magical creatures?-! What kind of a witch is she? My mouth is hanging open and I have to fight the impulse to laugh hysterically.
"And exactly the same thing goes for muggles, goblins, centaurs and merfolk! Too many of them have suffered because of the arrogance of witches and wizards – as if magic gave them any right to abuse anyone! It's horrible! And it's horrible what you've done! Don't you see you're only making things worse? That man who tried to steal my wand in Diagon Alley – he was desperate! If all you offer is violence, that's all you'll ever get in return!"
I bite my lip, trying to engage with her seriously and not laugh in her face. "Hermione, it is simply the way of the world. You are talking nonsense. It is you who are misguided not I. Life is violence, each creature destroying another in an effort to survive. To be hated and feared is to be powerful – magic is might. Right and wrong are fictions created by the weak. Is a snake evil because it kills a… a goat? Not at all, it is merely acting in accordance with its nature. It is the nature of all things to abuse those who are weaker than themselves; the sole principle at work in this world is power."
"What is it I have that you want?" Hermione asks me curiously, seemingly calmed by my speech, thankfully wiping away her tears. "Considering what we just did there must be something. I'm not particularly powerful, not particularly pretty, and you think my morals are stupid. I mean, there's absolutely no reason why you should be attracted to me, is there?"
"You do yourself a disservice…" I begin slowly.
"Oh come on, you're Mr There-Is-Only-Power-And-Those-Too-Weak-To-Seek-It, aren't you? Why is a mudblood like me in bed with you instead of being tortured and ground under your heel?" Hermione's bright smile is fixed and oddly cruel. I have never seen her wear such an expression and do not quite know what to make of it.
"You have been valuable to Lord Voldemort. You have assisted me and are thus a worthy object of my favour."
"I don't believe you and, what's more, I don't think you even believe yourself. You want me to love you. You told me so a couple of hours ago, remember? You want me because I was kind to you when you needed someone. You want me because I'm nothing, nothing at all, like you. Yes, people want power, but they also want love! We're not reptiles; we need to feel there's someone who cares about us! If you were as bad as everyone says you are, if all you cared about was power, you would never have killed your father. What would have been the point? Why go to all that effort to find him and break the statute of underage wizardry? If it were just about creating a Horcrux, you could have killed anyone! You did it because he abandoned you – because you wanted him to love you and he didn't."
I shake my head, pulling away from her, shutting my eyes, unwilling to accept her words, hating to hear her spell out my weaknesses so clearly. But she puts her hands on my cheeks, her mouth to my forehead: "It's not weakness… it was wrong what he did. It was wrong that you never got any help for your psychoses, and it was wrong how the Slytherins treated you. It's wrong that you've spent seventy years alone." In order to teach someone to love you have to show it to them… He's not a monster, truly, he isn't. He's just a very lost, damaged person… "It's okay…" her warm hand is rubbing circles into my shaking back. "It's okay to need love and want help… It's okay to be Tom Riddle..."
"I AM LORD VOLDEMORT!" I scream at her, my pulse thudding in my ears. "I AM THE MOST POWERFUL WIZARD IN THE WORLD! I DO NOT… NOT NEED HELP!" I'm not mad! Words and memories are whirling around my head and I can't seem to stop shrieking. They make me sick, make me dizzy. I am Lord Voldemort! I am… Lord… Voldemort… Lips find mine, warm and lovely. Breasts, soft and beautiful, settle against me. Hermione's breath; the rhythm of her gentle breathing anchoring me to the here and now… Oh… oh, I am mad. Mad for her. So weak… There are tears in my eyes now, she has infected me with them, I cannot see…
"Don't be afraid," Hermione's voice is certain. "I'm not going to leave you. You're safe."
We lie together for ages. It could be hours. Voldemort is silent, maybe too proud to admit I'm right or too terrified of his own feelings for words. He cried soundlessly into me for what felt like forever. His body says what he can't admit. Clinging to me, his smooth, flat face is buried in my chest like a child. Our skin is sticky with sweat and tears – who knows which one of us they belong to? I found I couldn't tell him about what the cup told me. I was going to, really I was, but somehow when it came to it… I just couldn't. I need time to think about it, to do some research, and consider all the implications before deciding what to do.
I run my hand across the bald head between my breasts; fascinated by his moon-pale skin. My broken, terrified warlock. It's so hard for Tom Riddle to admit he's still human, that he needs the same things as everyone else. I feel fiercely protective of him, silly I know, but I do. Even though it's what I set out to do, to reform him, to make him see how wrong he is about everything – I feel responsible for breaking down the mask of Lord Voldemort which he's clung to for so long.
Nagini came back. It's sweet how they are together. Her coils are heavy across my legs. We're his two girls, Nagini and me. She's like Crookshanks: knows far more than she lets on. I surprise myself that I'm no longer scared about having a giant snake at the end of the bed. Voldemort stirs and one crimson eye blinks up at me warily. "Hey…" I say fondly. My snaky warlock…
"You keep calling me that…" his cold voice is hoarse. "I would not have thought a muggle-born would use such an old-fashioned term." Did I say that out loud or was he reading my mind?
"It's silly really… just something from a children's story."
"A character in one of the stories from The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Professor Dumbledore left me a copy in his will, I've no idea why he thought I should read them; they're just fairy tales. But now I think I know them all by heart, I've read them so many times..."
Voldemort nods, "It sounds like something he would do – he was always going on about the magic of music and stories when I was at Hogwarts. What happened to the warlock?"
"He died," Voldemort rolls his eyes and scowls at me. "He… he resolved never to fall in love, so he used the Dark Arts to cut out his heart and place it in an enchanted crystal casket in the deepest dungeon of his castle, but then–"
"And Dumbledore gave you this book?" Voldemort interrupts sharply. "Actually left it to you as a bequest? Can you show it to me?"
What harm can it do? "Sure…" I summon the ancient little blue book from my bag while Voldemort lights the candles with his wand. The Ministry had the book for thirty-one days and couldn't find any hidden messages from Professor Dumbledore, I doubt Voldemort will find anything either. Merlin, I certainly tried! But there's no secret in the stories - it was just an old professor's fancy to give me a volume he loved. He knew how I enjoyed reading. The book is practically falling apart. I've had to glue the binding back on twice. There's something funny about being curled up in bed with Lord Voldemort and reading a book of fairy tales. I smile at him and leaf carefully through the yellowed pages, looking for 'The Warlock's Hairy Heart', with Voldemort peering with narrowed eyes at the runes over my shoulder.
"Stop," Voldemort says softly. I wish I knew Legilimency and were able to peek inside his mind as easily as he does mine. I'm worried about him. I want to talk to him about what I said before, but another part wants to leave it be and let him think for a while before bringing it up again. "Go back a few pages…"
He stops me on 'The Tale of the Three Brothers'. A long, white finger strokes slowly over the title. "What is this story about?"
"I suppose it's about how humans are frightened of death." I receive an angry, scarlet glare in return. "There's no need to give me that look! I didn't write it! As a matter of fact, I think it's a rather stupid story, as if surviving were as simple as hiding under an invisibility cloak."
"Read it to me," Voldemort orders inexplicably. He lies back, arranging his skeletal limbs comfortably. His candlelit skin is bright and pearly against the black sheets and pillows.
"You're kidding," I raise my eyebrows, unable to credit what I'm hearing. "You actually want me to read to you from a kids' book?"
"Oblige me," he asks inexplicably, closing his eyes.
I suppose no one has ever read him a story before. It's almost... cute. I really am getting somewhere with him! Hope bubbles over in my chest and I lean in and give him a quick kiss. "All right… ahem… There were once three brothers who were travelling along a lonely, winding road at twilight…"
Next Chapter: Voldemort and Hermione pay a unexpected call on Xenophilius Lovegood…