A/N: Please review this and let me know what you think, be it good or bad. Also, any advice will be seriously considered and may end up in the subsequent chapters. Thanks!

Summary: After Harry and Ron are killed by Voldemort and she has nothing left, Hermione travels to Voldemort's time to watch over the Death Eaters and keep them from joining Tom Riddle. However, after she arrives she realizes that there's another way to separate them. Keep Tom from becoming evil in the first place.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything, nor am I making any money from this.

September 1, 1936

Hermione came to on the floor of the Room of Requirement, sure of what she was to do. Slowly and cautiously she made her way down to the Great Hall for the Sorting. As she was supposed to be with the other first-years in the lake-side entrance, she waited for a several minutes for the group to pass her on their own way to the Sorting.

The group followed an older looking professor, a tall thin man with dark black hair that looked blue in the candle-lit halls. His face betrayed his age, crow's feet and laugh lines around his mouth. He looked stern. Maybe that was a requirement for leading in the first-years, she thought as she recalled her first Sorting, some fifty years in the future, as Professor McGonagall led them that go-round.

Hermione quietly joined the back of the group, trying to look around in wonder like it was the first time she had seen these halls. Hopefully none of the other firsties noticed that they hadn't seen her on the train. She was counting on them thinking she was elsewhere so that it wouldn't be obvious she literally appeared out of nowhere.

The crowd of eleven-year-olds cantered on, some already with tenuous friendships, and others like Hermione herself, who walked alone.

The stern professor led them directly to the Great Hall doors and turned to speak. "Here we are, young ones." His voice did not match his body, Hermione noticed. His body suggested an austere voice, but what actually came out was a melodious sound that immediately set Hermione on edge. Maybe it was the bleak times she had grown up in, but she found it hard to trust people who were that...jovial.

"Now, remember what I told you about the Sorting. After you have been Sorted, please take your seat at your House table. Alright, in we go!" With that, he threw the doors open, a light breeze ruffling Hermione's hair as she stood awkwardly at the back.

With a quick look around to make sure no one was watching her, Hermione magically added her name to the roster.

The Sorting went relatively quickly, and Hermione spent her time fluctuating between vigorously memorized as many of the names as she could, paying particular attention to the Blacks of the group, and having her mind wander to inane topics that had nothing to do with the present. Hoping it was just a mild side effect of the spell that brought her here, she struggled to pay attention but had noticed that every few letters she had missed three or four students entirely. However, she did notice when her own name was called, and she proudly walked over to the stool and placed the old hat onto her bushy head.

Ah, young one, you have already been Sorted have you not?

You can tell that? I won't be here for another fifty years.

I can see my own decision in your memories, girl. The question now is where you would like to be placed. I see the importance of your mission. I rarely do this, but in your case I would like to ask which house would serve you best?

Hermione thought for about ten seconds, arriving at her decision faster than she thought possible.

Slytherin, please. Gryffindor would hold too many memories, and keeping in close quarters with the Slytherins would make spying on them that much easier.

Okay, missy. The best of luck on your life in "SLYTHERIN!"

The newest addition to Slytherin smiled triumphantly, maybe this would be easier than she thought. With her head held high and determined to make a good impression, Hermione made her way to the bare spot in a sea of green where her fellow first-years had taken up residency. She received a regal nod from 'Black, Cygnus' and curious looks from her other two companions, whose names she hadn't caught.

The older professor from before continued calling out names, and soon enough 'Malfoy, Abraxas' joined their coterie, seating himself next to Black and immediately striking up a conversation, as they were obviously already well acquainted.

I didn't think about that. All of the pure-blooded elite mix and mingle so much that their children are bound to know each other. More importantly, they are bound to know that I am not one of them. I'll have to make up an elaborate story later on when I give Dumbledore the letter from himself. That's a weird thought.

Hermione got caught up in her own thoughts again as the last few first-years were sorted. By the time she snapped out of it, a small boy with black hair was taking the very last spot designated for the newcomers, the bench just to Hermione's right. She looked up to see who she assumed to be Headmaster Dippet standing to make the annual speech to start the feast.

He, however, vastly varied from her own recollections of Dumbledore's speeches, because instead of making all the important announcements after the feast, when the children were more prone to listen, he rambled on for a good fifteen minutes just about the Forbidden Forest and its many dangers. Hermione was trying hard to listen to him, she really was. The idea of listening to respected elders was so ingrained in her personality that she vehemently tried, she was the only one immune to Binns' lectures, after all, but even she gave up towards the end.

One look around the table confirmed that she was, literally, the last one to remain listening. Until she looked at the raven-headed boy to her right. His pale face still gazed towards the Head table, and a closer look to check if his eyes had glazed over, proved that he was still paying attention. On top of that, his silvery blue eyes held more than just attention, they held wonder. So different from the jaded children around them, all pure-blooded and bored with stories about Hogwarts by now. He was different.

Hermione snapped out of her reverie when the feast magically appeared before them all, to the delight of all the students around the hall. Still curious about her neighbor, she caught his movements out of the corner of her eye. He jumped, startled, as the food materialized. The others noticed him flinch, along with Hermione, and one boy had the temerity to sneer at him.

The founder of S.P.E.W. and all-around defender of the underdog did not take that well. She sat as straight as she could and copied the snobbish look she'd seen on Malfoy's pinched face for as long as she could remember, and turned to the perpetrator. Her eyes blazed into his, a glare of Snape-like caliber on her face. Luckily he showed good sense and hung his head, apologetically. Satisfied, she turned to the newest addition.

"Hello. My name is Hermione."

"Hello." He responded, sounding confident in himself, though he barely looked it as the wonder had not yet left his eyes. Awkwardly, he turned back to his food, scarfing it down like Ron would. That thought alone made Hermione smile. This boy, whose name she still didn't know, brought out something in her. She had no idea how to put it, but seeing the look on his face at his obvious first time in Hogwarts, made her feel maternal towards him. She wanted to take care of him. Something in him called to her and she realized, though they had spoken but a few words, that he was a kindred spirit.

He was socially awkward as exemplified by his abrupt end to their conversation, and his table manners were lacking, but the innocence that poured out of him appealed to her. The other first-years talked amongst themselves, avoiding the two outcasts. They were all giving accounts of their summer and catching up on pure-blood gossip.

Having no interest in such things, nor even the knowledge of those gossiped about, Hermione sat quietly taking in the Hall's differences to her own time. The Head table was a bit different and certainly the professors were different, with the exception of Dumbledore and a much-younger Flitwick, but overall the Hall had changed very little, a large comfort to Hermione.

To her right, the pale-faced boy had finally started to slow down on his food and was taking in the Hall as well. She heard him gasp as he looked at the ceiling.

"It's enchanted to reflect the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History before I came." She told him.

"But how could anyone, or anything for that matter, change a ceiling to reflect the sky. I mean, it's not like glass or anything. It kind of blends into the room." He seemed like he didn't even realize he was talking out loud.

"There are many magical things about Hogwarts. I'll lend you the book, if you'd like. It's a very interesting read."

For the first time, he looked at her fully. Then he smiled a crooked smile. For some reason it was infectious and it made her smile too. Something told her that he didn't often smile like that, and so she took it as a gift that he would bestow it on her.

"I would like that very much Hermione. Thank you." Oh, so he was listening when she gave him her name. "I've already read all my course books a few times, but I would love to know more about the castle."

The girl across from them with a nose suspiciously reminiscent of Pansy Parkinson heard that and laughed. "You already read all your books? Why would you do that?"

He looked at her like she was an idiot. Hermione unknowingly gave her the same look. "Because I wanted to be prepared for classes. I'm planning on being first in our year."

"That's a load of bubotober pus. You're obviously not pure-blood, how could you possibly beat one of us?"

"Well you're obviously an idiot, so I'm sure it won't be all that hard, will it?"

Brilliant. Hermione's thoughts of a kindred spirit were confirmed. Her heart lept with a momentary happiness. Perhaps she would not be so lonely, perhaps she would be able to have a friend here.

The idiot girl prattled on, "Well we'll see at the end of term when you're last because all you can do is read the books but can't do the actual magic. Muggles don't have it, you see."

"I am not a muggle, you—"

Hermione spoke before she had even realized her mouth was open, "I've read all the books as well."

The pug faced girl looked her up and down, decided she wasn't worth it, and sneered, "Well then you're both freaks."

Hermione caught her companion's eye, rolling her own. He smiled another one of those smiles, and Hermione had made her first friend.

"You read them all too?"

"Wouldn't've said it if I hadn't."

"You're Hermione?"

"That's correct."

"Hi Hermione, I'm Tom. Tom Riddle."

…...

As Hermione made her way to the Slytherin first-year girl's dormitory, she reflected back on her first friend in 1936. She went back through the conversation before and after his startling announcement, and all she could think was that nothing changed. She still considered him a friend, and considered herself his.

Then she had a minor freakout while brushing her teeth. How could she be okay with that? Would she not be betraying everything she had fought for since she gained entry into the Wizarding World? Is she stabbing Harry in the back by befriending his arch-nemesis?

No. Harry isn't even born yet, and if I complete my mission the way it's supposed to happen, then he won't even be the same boy I knew and loved anyway. You can't betray someone if they don't even exist.

Her meeting with Dumbledore had gone surprisingly well. Maybe this sort of thing happened to him often. Or maybe he was just a bit mad, as Ron would say. Hermione had previously thought his old age had made him a bit... erm, eccentric, but now she was siding more and more with Ron. The best Headmaster Hogwarts had ever seen, would ever see, is going to see... confusing. Either way, Albus Dumbledore was just plain barmy. But weirdly, that was part of his charm.

He didn't even blink when she asked for, okay demanded, a meeting with him after the feast, even though she was sorted into Slytherin, and a mere slip of a girl what with her body resembling what it had in her own first year. When he read the letter detailing her mission—from himself—he just nodded benignly. The Head of Gryffindor seemed stuck on the phrase "love is the greatest gift of all." Kind of a general statement in her book, but she saw his eyes read that part of his letter several times. Without a word about it though, he merely asked if there was anything else he could do to help and unnecessarily warned her not to share her secret with anyone.

Dumbledore left her with a secret smile on his face, like he read more into his letter than she had. Shaking her head with begrudging resignation, she had left his office and made her way to the dungeons hoping to run into a Slytherin prefect. Dumbledore would always be an enigma. If he had, indeed, read more into the situation than Hermione, then she wouldn't know what he was thinking until he told her. No point in getting herself worked up over a point she would lose anyway.

When taking her old personality into consideration, Hermione realized that she had matured much more than physically before being sent back. When she really was an eleven-year-old girl she would never have even noticed that look cross his face, let alone stand for being left in the dark.

The dungeons were cold. Remarkably, in her tenure as a student before, a lifetime ago, the ex-Gryffindor never gave much thought as to how the Slytherin's lived except for a brief adventure into the world of illicit potion making to invade their world. But that was a brief time in the seven-year span spent at the world's best school of Wizardry, and it ranked low on the adventure scale explored by she and her two counterparts.

The cold had hit her like a brick when she first entered the dungeons, but the warmth of summer lingered in her bones so it didn't phase her much. Hours later, though, the cold had remained and any warmth not fought for vigorously had departed. The dreary common room's fireplaces, all six of them, were well tended to as evidenced by the clean up-keep.

Merlin knew the Slytherins themselves did not keep them so pristine, but they must have ordered the House-elves to. To her delight she found study desks filtered across the room, mostly grouped together near the fires to add to what little warmth could be accrued.

How could it possibly be this cold here? It's only September. I hope it doesn't get much colder in the Winter. Here's hoping.

Unlike the Gryffindor dormitories, the Slytherin girls had much more room to spread out. Each of the four beds had a partition-like feel to it, making a small cubby out of each girls' space. Perhaps the need for secrecy in Slytherin submerged itself so directly into its subjects' subconscious that even mundane things such as beds were sanctioned off in the name of privacy. Who knew?

Hermione, the Pug-faced chit, and two twin girls with blonde hair and red cheeks settled themselves into their respective beds. The twins and Puggy already knew each other and were excitedly carrying on about all the Slytherin boys. Hermione discreetly rolled her eyes. Even at seventeen she couldn't stand such talk.

After coming out of their shared bathroom, completing her nightly rituals, the outsider caught the eyes of one of the twins. Now that Hermione got a closer look at the girls, she noticed minute differences. This twin, whatever her name, had a sincere smile upon her face and kindness in her eyes. Meanwhile her sister whispered with Pug-nut maliciously, a smirk gracing her red cheeks.

The kind twin looked to her friends, as if unsure of her actions, then looked back at Hermione. Her shoulders straightened and she spoke as if someone had dared her. "Hello. My name is Natasha Nott."

Slightly stunned, but quickly recovering, Hermione jumped in. "Hello. My name is Hermione Dumbledore, I am very pleased to meet you Natasha."

Puggy and evil twin just about died of shock, and Puggy herself fell off of her bed.

Hermione struggled to stifle her giggle. She had already come off on the wrong foot, she didn't need to add to that. Puggy stuck her foot in though.

"You're a Dumbledore?"

"Yes, I was Sorted as such just a few hours ago. If you must know, Professor Dumbledore is my great-uncle. That's why I was late arriving in the dungeons, he wished to speak with me." Okay, small lie. She had basically forced herself into his office (she guessed McGonagall's office as it was the Transfiguration professor's office).

"Oh, so you are a Pure-blood. Well good. I was so worried we'd have to share space with a Half-blood. Or worse, a Mudblood!" Puggy visibly shuddered.

The nasty twin piped in, "Merlin, no! They don't allow such trash in Slytherin House. Everybody knows that." Apparently this was supposed to be of comfort to her friend. Hermione wanted to vomit. Or laugh. Sadly, both were inappropriate.

"Yes, well, my family doesn't socialize as much as the other Pure-blood families but that doesn't make us any less Pure." What a load of rubbish she was spewing out. Harry would love this acting job she was doing. Continuing, she added, "So you are Natasha," looking at the kind blond, "and I haven't gotten your names yet."

"This is my sister Annabelle, and our dear friend Pugnella."

Oh sweet Merlin, her name was Pugnella? Could that have been any more ironic? Suddenly Hermione felt a coughing fit come upon her. Well, a coughing fit poorly disguising her hysterical laughter.

"Annabelle, Pugnella, I am so pleased to meet the both of you." She replied graciously and offering a courteous nod.

All three girls warmed to her after their discovery of her blood purity status. Hermione decided for the next seven years' sake that she would throw them a bone and not hold this against them. But survival of a war tended to depend on being able to trust your friends and allies, and Hermione trusted neither of them as far as she could throw them. They would not catch her with her guard down.

...

The next day at breakfast the Slytherin first-year girls, minus Hermione, went down to breakfast together giggling and cackling madly with excitement. Their newest acquaintance, on the other hand, lethargically consigned herself to marching off to breakfast, never having been a morning person. Her apathy stemmed from having to repeat first-year courses, courses that she had no trouble with when she herself was actually in them the first time!

The only part of the day that held any interest for her was seeing how the school ran in this time period, and the differences between the life of a Gryffindor and the life of a Slytherin. She would have to devote herself to cataloging the differences religiously or she would slowly go insane with boredom.

Hopefully the library hadn't changed much and she could throw herself into private study—perhaps Occlumency. She had a feeling she could be good at that if she put her mind to it. No pun intended.

In the back of her mind she also had to admit that if Tom did follow the path to becoming Lord Voldemort, the world's best Legilimens, then maybe she should invest in the best Occlumency shields she could. A few years' head start could only help matters.

This train of thought ended as she entered the Great Hall for her first day. Looking for any familiar faces, or any kind looking faces, she approached the Slytherin table hesitantly.

Tom looked up from the far end, his silver eyes meeting her own brown. That feeling of similarity overtook her once again. Hermione was even more confused this time, especially now that she knew who this little boy was, who he would become. Why was she feeling so connected to him? Regardless, she marched over to him and sat down beside him, determined that even if he had a change of heart in the last ten hours or so, she would still sit there no matter how nasty he was or whatever he said.

Her fears proved fruitless, however, and as she took her seat he gave her a restrained smile, almost as if his fears were the same.

"Good morning, Tom."

"Good morning, Hermione. Here, try the bangers and mash. I've never had anything as good as these."

A smile found its way onto her face. He was such a dichotomy. Here she was talking about such mundane things with Voldemort of all people. But simultaneously, he was still just a (semi) innocent eleven-year old boy. Ugh, this would take some getting used to. If only Ron and Harry were here to help her on this adventure.

Thinking of them brought a grimace to her face—their deaths haunted her, dogged her every pleasant feeling hoping to absorb it, much like a dementor. They've been dead for over a year now, Hermione, she told herself. Time to be a big girl now. With that, she pushed them back into her brain farther, not allowing such unsavory topics, like her best friends' brutal murders by the boy sitting next to her, mar her new-found friendship with said boy

Quickly Tom picked up on her discomfort, perceptive boy that he is, and with such humbleness that it almost moved her to tears, tried to quell the darkness threatening to swallow her. He placed his hand on her forearm, reverently.

"Hermione, are you okay?" Funny how that question drove her insane for an entire year, the condescension palpable from each speakers' voice. But when this pale, under-fed little boy asked it she could feel his sincerity and responded respectfully and truthfully.

"Tom, I won't lie to you. I'm not completely okay, but I will be. Right now something just hit me."

"You do not act like an eleven-year-old." Shit!

"Well neither do you."

He nodded, as if conceding her point. "True enough I suppose."

"Unfortunately everyone else in our year does. Puggy and her twin consorts—"

"Puggy? There's a girl named Puggy?"

Hermione smirked with an evil glint, "She was that delightful creature we had the pleasure of conversing with last night. Her name is actually Pugnella, but her nose suggests her parents named her after the popular muggle dog. I figure if the nose fits..." She left the sentence dangling.

Tom giggled, his humor and appreciation of her cutting wit shining in his eyes. Just like her he could never let anyone out-do him, so he added, "Yes well, I rather thought she just had an acute olfactory sense and that beast of a sixth year next to her had forgotten to bathe the night before."

Hermione laughed along with him. Funny how easy conversation with him flowed.

Just then the old professor from the night before, whom Hermione had come to realize went by the name of Professor Howard H. Mendallyn, came around the table with schedules, buzzing from one student to the next like a bee pollinating flowers.

He stopped to have a word or two with several of the prominent members of Slytherin House, Malfoy and Black especially, before thrusting Tom's and Hermione's at them without so much as a by your leave. A young Horace Slughorn sat at the Head table looking over at the older professor with something akin to hero worship on his face. Hermione made the connection in her head.

Did all Slytherin's Head of Houses act like their job was a popularity contest? If so, her time period's Slytherin's must have been in a real shock with Snape, though he participated to a degree.

Ah well, with time old Mendallyn would be eating out of her hand just based on her course work alone.

"So what subject are you most excited for Tom?"

"I can't wait to try out Charms. History of Magic also sounds interesting. I wonder if muggle history varies much from Wizarding history?"

"I guess we'll find out since we have it first. Class starts in twenty minutes. Want to go early with me? You can read Hogwarts, A History while we wait." She said as she pulled the tome in question out of her new bag.

"I was going to go early anyway, but that just sweetens the deal, Hermione."

With that the two friends finished up their breakfasts at breakneck speed and hurried off to the History of Magic classroom with the (incorrect) directions of a sixth-year Slytherin prefect. Unfortunately, Hermione wasn't supposed to know all the routes to the classes, so she had to go along with the horrible directions and allow Tom to figure out for himself that they were in the wrong place.

After three unsuccessful attempts to find the classroom, Hermione was glad they left so early and Tom was frustrated with his failure. Hermione noticed his negative emotions boiling under the surface, something she learned to do with Harry "The Brooder" Potter as her best friend, and encouraged him to laugh at the situation rather than let it eat at him.

Eventually he lightened up, and they made their way to the classroom, this time correctly. Professor Binns still taught the class, and it was still soporific. More so, even.

The ex-Gryffindor didn't even try to stay awake this go through. For one thing, she knew all the information already anyway, and for another, she didn't want to draw too much attention to herself. This time through Hogwarts, Hermione would still be at the top of her class, she would still take her studies seriously, but no longer would she rub it in her peers' faces. Snape may have been on to something when he degraded her for constantly raising her hand, calling her a know-it-all. Perhaps her own tendencies to try to prove herself though knowledge of a world that rejected her only further isolated her. This was counter-productive.

Yes, this time she would focus on her friendships and her outside projects.

…...

After Hermione's revelation in History of Magic, she settled into a comfortable routine. Weeks passed in the monotony of first-year classes. She and Tom developed a study schedule that they stuck to religiously and together they explored other avenues of magic that some seventh-years hadn't even heard of.

Friendship with Tom just felt natural, like breathing. He didn't rely on her academically, unlike other best friends she could name (Harry... Ron). He also had a very unique personality and perception of the world. As individuals they varied greatly, their methods of research and studying were equally intense, but differed in the process. Also, they reacted differently to just about everything: their peers, their lessons, their professors (Tom still hated Dumbledore). However, what drove them together was their complementary natures, while they reacted differently, the two best friends could still understand why the other acted they way they did. This was something she had barely reached with Harry, never Ron, and even then it was only one-sided. She could sometimes predict his actions, and usually could hazard a guess at his reasonings behind his actions.

Tom was different, though. And not in a future-Voldemort-wants-to-kill-every-muggle-and/or-muggle-born kind of way. That still bothered her, and admittedly kept her awake some nights with the guilt of it all. But she was trying to move on. Harry and Ron and her entire life were dead and gone. There was no reason to feel guilty and no one to answer to anyway. All she had of her future life in this time was her memories, and those she treasured and abhorred equally. They were to be remembered with humility, but they were not to govern her life now.

Logically, Hermione knew this. It was another thing to put it into practice, however. Mostly she strived to keep herself so busy that she wouldn't think about any of that until her dreams morphed into ghoulish versions of her dearest friends and respected mentors.

Months passed, assignments were assigned, completed, graded, and returned. Halloween came, went and was soon followed by Christmas.

As the lists came around, Hermione swallowed her pride and signed her name to stay at Hogwarts. Puggy and her minions laughed at her, mocking her, saying the Dumbledores wouldn't want the only Slytherin in their clan anymore. This was completely inaccurate, but still it rankled her. Then it bothered her that it bothered her. Tom didn't quite know how to deal with her that week, so he mostly just kept quiet and told her he liked her shoes.

Hermione smiled indulgently. She had been wearing the same shoes all year. It was then that it occurred to her how much of a nightmare she must have been if he had to resort to complimenting her shoes to placate her.

"I'm sorry Tom. I know I've been difficult this past week." She said at dinner that night as Professor Mendallyn came around signing students up to stay for Christmas.

"That's all right, Hermione. I've been told that girls can get that way sometimes and us boys are to just grin and bear it."

"That's usually referring to... Yes, you're quite right. Still, I apologize." He smiled at her, digging into his potatoes.

"So, are you going home for Christmas?" He tried to ask this casually, and to anyone else his acting would have been believed, for truly it was a superb performance. Yet, Hermione saw through him. It was in the way he didn't meet her eyes. Tom rarely didn't make eye contact with whoever he was conversing with. That was one of the most unusual things about him, his uncanny confidence at such a young age. He spoke like he knew he was right and he looked at everyone like he was their superior. Except Hermione. He looked at her as an equal.

"No, no I'm not. I must admit I'm not very close with my family." She had delayed telling him her made-up background story for as long as she could. It couldn't be put off forever. "My parents died a long time ago." True. "And I was raised mostly by family friends." Also true, if the Order of the Phoenix could be considered family friends. Not that she would even be raised by them as she was seventeen when her parents were murdered on the order of the boy next to her. "They're all busy with their own families, now, so I don't really want to intrude, anyway. So I'm staying here for as long as I can."

He looked at her sadly, with empathy in his eyes. Tom Riddle and empathy, never put those together before this year, she thought to herself. He took a deep breath, as if steeling himself for something. Then he spoke in a beguiling whisper, so softly she had to learn toward him to hear anything, still smelling the potatoes on his breath.

"I have nowhere to go, either. My mother died giving birth to me. She was a witch, you know. She tricked my father into loving her with a love potion. I'm pretty sure, I mean, that's the only way. Still, my father, the bastard that he is, he.. he.. he abandoned us and wants nothing to do with me. Stupid muggle!" Tom's eyes flashed indignantly, and for the first time in the four months she'd gotten to know him, she saw the portion of him that could tread that dangerous path to the Darkness.

After his confession he looked shocked at himself, "Oh! Hermione, please don't tell!"

"Calm down, Tom. All your secrets are safe with me."

"I just... you know how all the Slytherins are about blood purity. Please don't tell anyone I'm a half-blood."

Hermione was surprised that this is the bit he didn't want her to tell. He was more focused on the blood purity portion of the story than the fact the he had been abandoned.

"Like I said, Tom. Your secrets are always safe with me." She told him seriously. Adding a bit of levity, she continued, "Besides, who do I have to tell, anyway? Puggy McSquished-nose? I rather think not!"

He laughed, and she smiled at how wonderful making him laugh made her feel. A confession and a laugh all in one dinner. Remarkable.

"Tom. Don't berate yourself about your muggle father abandoning you. Muggles are not as horrible as they have been in your experience. Those family friends that raised me? Well, don't tell anyone, but most of them were muggles. That's how I know so much about both worlds."

He looked at her in awe. Then he slowly nodded, like he was taking her words to heart. Dinner resumed for the duo, and when Mendallyn finally made his way to them (after taking care to flatter each powerful pure-blood family) they both calmly added their names to the list, bringing the number of Slytherins staying to a staggering two.

Tom and Hermione spent the rest of the term studying and exploring the castle together. Their confessions to each other brought about a new-found closeness in the friendship. Already fast friends, the two tops of the first-year class gleaned a deeper understanding of the other.

With all her knowledge of Lord Voldemort's life: the orphanage, hating muggles, opening the Chamber of Secrets, Hermione had never thought of how those events affected Tom as a person, rather than Voldemort the psychopath. Here, in Tom's home turf, she was able to separate the two. Her life in the future allowed her to analyze the events' affects on Voldemort, but the empathy that comes from loving a friend that she discovered in this time enabled her to see the young eleven-year-old boy as just that—a boy.

Any residual guilt she had been trying to repress disappeared completely by the end of term. The two best friends spent Christmas together, Tom's first not only in the Wizarding world, but with someone who gave a damn about him.

Christmas Eve found Hermione sitting in the library studying another Occlumency text. Tom sat next to her, his legs propped up on the study desk, and his hair slightly mussed from running his hand through it in frustration.

"Hermione, I wish you would tell me why you are studying that. You won't tell me anything about it. Don't you trust me?"

They had this conversation several times over the last month. Tom would always ask a variation of this question and Hermione would skillfully dodge it without hurting his feelings. This time felt different to her, though.

"And don't even try to change the subject this time, either. I let you get away with it the last few times because I could see that it unnerved you, but this time I can't." She looked over at him then, and wished she hadn't. The pleading look in his changing silver eyes demolished her resolve and she found herself breaking. The final nail in the coffin came when Tom added in a whisper, "You're my best friend. Please tell me."

Hermione's heart melted. She still saw the little boy who looked around the Great Hall in awestruck wonder. Knowing what she did of his past life in the orphanage, the feminine half of their duo once again felt that connection to him. Joy came to her then. He sincerely considers me his best friend. And strangely, I consider him mine. Not even Harry understood me as well as him. He even knows when I am trying to steer a conversation, and sometimes even lets me get away with it. So perceptive for one so young.

"You consider me your best friend?"

He looked away, blushing. "Well, yes. You are my only friend, that makes you the best of them doesn't it?" Hard to argue with an eleven-year old genius' logic.

"Yes, I suppose it does. Thank you." She smiled beatifically at him. "For the record, I consider you mine as well."

"Good. If I am going to be your friend, I want to be the best." Hermione stifled a laugh at his determination to be the best. The boy literally expected the world of himself. Suddenly he turned back to her, a hard look in his eyes, "You did it again, Hermione!"

"I'm sorry, I was honestly just happy!"

"Please tell me, Hermione. You know I won't tell anyone."

"Well, alright. Since you're my best friend, I guess." She replied, teasing him.

"So what is this Occlumency and why are you studying it? I've tried to check out a book on it while you weren't looking, but you've checked them all out already." Ha, of course he had tried that, that's why she checked them all out.

"Calm down, I'll tell you. Just let me talk."

"Fine." She shot him a fake glare. Then laughed slightly when he looked put out.

"Where I come from there is a dark wizard who threatens—"

"Grindelwald?"

"Tom, let me just talk, please. I won't ask you again."

"Sorry." At least he looked sorry, that's more than Harry and Ron ever did for interrupting her. Boys. They are so universal. Do we ever really change as humans?

"Er, Hermione. Are you going to continue or..?"

"Oh, yes, sorry. The dark wizard gaining strength is one of the world's foremost Legilimens." Tom looked confused. "That means he can read minds with the aid of magic." Now she was getting into her lecture mode. Her companion recognized this and smiled fondly. "The only way a witch or wizard can countermand the onslaught of Legilimency is through the practice of Occlumency, or the shielding of one's mind. I just thought, I dunno, that if anyone were to attack me this way, I would be very vulnerable. So when Uncle Albus told me about it, I made an oath that I would attempt to learn it. Even if I never become a master at it, I will have at least tried.

Now I'm glad I decided to study it, because the theory behind it and the disciple involved are very complicated, and you know me, I love a good academic challenge. The only problem is that I have no idea if I'm learning anything or not because I don't have a Legilimens around to try to get into my mind."

"Wow, can I learn with you? That sounds fascinating."

"I don't know, Tom." She said apprehensively.

"But, think about it. If both of us learn Legilimency and Occlumency, then we can practice on each other. Just as you said, your biggest problem right now is not knowing if you're making progress or not. Let me help." His gray eyes pleaded with her, the excitement in them evident. Just then he broke into an expression she had never seen on his face.

"Oh no! How can I say no to that puppy dog face? It's hypnotizing me with its sadness. Oh, alright fine."

His whole face lit up and he threw his feet off the desk so that he could reach over and hug her quickly.

"Mr. Riddle, what was that for?" He smiled sheepishly.

"I was just excited. Can't a guy hug his best friend when he's excited?"

"Of course he can, I was just teasing you. You hug me anytime you want Tom, okay?"

And after that he did.

…...

The next day Hermione woke up impossibly early. Stretched across the bottom of her bed lay a small pile of presents. Pathetic, really, when compared to other years she could recall. But, with the death of her parents (primary gift-givers) and the Weasley clan in another time, her well of gift givers was running rather dry.

Not that she really expected tons of gifts, or needed them. Hermione was never one to expect gifts from people, or get mad when the gift wasn't to her taste. No, she was more of the sentiment-behind-the-gift-is-everything kind of girl.

So when a grubby package tied in a green ribbon that look like it had been chewed rather than cut cleanly caught her eye, her heart exploded with joy. Tom. No one else would have such little experience wrapping presents.

She perused her other three gifts first, saving the best for last. One was from Dumbledore. Perhaps he felt he should give her a gift for propriety's sake. He was, after all, supposed to be her uncle. Or great uncle. Something like that.

She smiled fondly at his gift, a Put-Outter he invented himself. There was literally only two in the world, assuming he made her one and kept his own.

Reminding herself to thank him later (and very glad she decided to get him a nice pair of woolen socks), she moved on to the next present. Puggy and the twins obviously decided it was bad form to not get her anything, so they combined their gifts into one and got her a brush. Hmm, curious. Were they trying to tell me something? And here I thought one of Slytherin's traits was subtlety.

The next present was wrapped carefully in purple paper, it had marks on it like the wrapper had messed up a few times trying to get it perfect. Hermione smiled, she could sympathize with those trying to get things perfect. Respecting the perfect wrapping, Hermione carefully undid the Spell-o-Tape without ripping and of the purple paper, revealing a box.

Inside the box she found the most beautiful quill she had ever seen. Large, scarlet, and radiating magic, Hermione examined it closer. It looked like it came from a phoenix, but those feathers were incredibly rare and usually were made directly into wands rather than quills. Still, it was breathtaking. Wondering who would have bought this for her, Hermione searched the box and paper for a note, but found none. Deciding to just think about it later, she reached for the small, quaint package that she knew must be from her best friend.

Upon tearing into it, she found his note. It read:

Hermione,

This is my first Christmas present I've ever given anyone. I hope you like it. And I hope I did it right.

Happy Christmas,

Tom

Hermione couldn't help but chuckle at his straightforward note. Like she wouldn't absolutely love anything he gave her.

He must have used like half the roll of tape, because it took like ten minutes to completely get the paper off. When she finally caught sight of his present she gasped. It was a silver Slytherin pendant. The snake's tail coiled around its body until it met up with the chain, a rather long chain. Purple gems shone out of the snake's eyes, a rather peculiar color choice as most would expect green or even red. With Tom, though, there is a reason for everything. She'd have to ask him when she saw him.

Putting the beautiful necklace on, she left her bed, still in her pajamas and raced to the Common room. Just as she was hoping, he was standing there waiting for her.

"Tom!" She yelled from the stairs, "Oh, Tom! This is the most beautiful present I've ever gotten. I love it so much!" Racing towards him she plowed into him, wrapping him in a gigantic hug.

"Hermi...Hermio... HERMIONE, AIR!" She released him. His face did look a little flushed, and his eyes looked like they were about to pop out of his head. Oops.

Wringing his hands, he spoke. "Well, I'm glad you like it. I've never given someone a gift before, so it's good to know that I'm good at it." He said magnanimously, trying to cover his embarrassment.

"You silly boy. Yes, you are a gift-giving genius, I'll grant you that. Now tell me, I noticed the snake's eyes are purple. Why is that, Tom?"

"Oh. Well, you see."

"Tom Riddle Jr. You are preparing to lie to me." She flashed him her maternal glare she had perfected on Harry and Ron years ago. He stood no chance. "Don't you dare. You tell me the reason right now!"

"Okay fine. I was hoping to avoid this."

"Avoid what?"

"Your pendant came in a matching set with mine." He pulled out an identical necklace from his robes for her to examine. "The two are linked to be able to tell the owner of the other one when its twin is in danger. One had purple eyes and one had green, and I'm sorry, Hermione, but I just can't wear a snake with purple eyes. So I gave you that one and I kept this one."

He eyed her apprehensively, as if checking to see if he was in trouble. Hermione could read the confusion on his face.

"Are you... are you crying?"

"Yes, you big bully." With that she grabbed him up into another bear hug. "This is the most precious gift I have ever gotten. You must have spent all your allowance from the school on this. I just want to tell you, Tom, that this is now my most prized possession. Thank you."

The look he gave her melted her heart. "Only the best for the best. Your gift was amazing too, you know."

"Oh please, like anything could top yours."

"No, no, I've never had a matching set of gloves, hat, and scarf before. Sometimes in the orphanage I would have to go without one of them. So this is, this is, this is utterly fantastic. No one has... well, no one has ever even given me a gift so, thank you Hermione."

To his own embarrassment, he had actually teared up a little bit by the end. Hermione could sense how hard it was to say this to her, but underneath that even, she understood that he needed to say this to her. It was important to him that he tell her how much it meant, so that she could understand just how much she had given him. He wanted her to understand him. How far he had come from his days of mild torture in the orphanage.

Hermione took his hand in hers, squeezed it, and then whispered in his ear as she went to give him another hug.

"The orphanage is in the past now. You might still have to return this summer, but who you were there is no longer who you are now. Remember that Tom. Because now that you've met me, you're stuck with me, and that means that someone will always love you, care about you, and be on your side no matter what. We are both alone in this world, my friend. That means that we need to stick together. So wherever you are, be it in that horrible place, or just in a different classroom than me, these pendants now symbolize our bond—wherever you go, I am there with you. Don't forget that."

He nodded, looking a little more teary and the most child-like she had ever seen him.

"Now go get your gloves and scarf. We are going to eat a nice Christmas breakfast and then build the biggest and best snowman the Wizarding world has ever seen."

He started towards the boys' dorms but stopped, turned to her, and with a most serious expression on his face, he told her calmly, "Thank you for making my first Christmas perfect. It means a lot."

She regally nodded, and then turned teasing. "You're quite welcome, Mr. Riddle. Now, hop to it, we don't want to miss those bangers and mash you are so partial to, now do we?"

And with a muttered "so bossy," he did just that.