Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: This little plot bunny came to mind more than a year ago and I finally decided to work it out into a short, multi-chaptered story instead of waiting for the completion of my two much longer WIPs. It's a nice break to write something relatively simple without continuously having to keep all the plot lines in mind.
Canon compliant for the exception of that infamous last bit of DH (EWE). This story starts four years after the final battle in DH.
Pairing: Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort – Hermione Weasley-Granger.
Warning: rated M for a reason. Couple in a D/s relationship. (Chapter 1-14 are still fully visible on GE and AFFnet, links in profile. I'll soon have this story up on archiveofourown, too; my penname is NerysDax there. I'll have to see if I can edit this story to fit FFnet's sudden, over-the-top restrictions. The way they now define M-rating means IMHO that they may as well say they don't have M-rating anymore either).
With special thanks to my betas: Serpent In Red and Cosettex.
Chapter 1: The Meeting
'Department of Mysteries, Level A,' a cool female voice spoke, and the grills opened.
Her black robes trailed behind her petite frame as she stepped out of the lift and paced through the lone, dark corridor. Candles lit briefly as she passed by, lighting only the immediate area she was in. It was seemingly empty to the unobservant eye, but as she proceeded, she felt the magic swirl around her. Her body gave off a red sheen for a second. Yet she ignored the identifying wards and stalked on in a movement that would have given Severus Snape a run for his money.
Unspeakable Hermione Jean Weasley-Granger was beyond pissed.
She had been right smack in the middle of performing an experiment on the veil with the Resurrection Stone when her boss, the illustrious Katie McGregor, found it necessary to summon her. Why the blasted woman couldn't wait for the two measly hours it would take her to finish was a mystery to Hermione. What wasn't a mystery was that she now had to wait two more years before being able to redo her experiment as the veil was a well-loved subject of investigation and many magical researchers from all over the world wanted time with the archway. There were three more known veils, but they appeared and disappeared at random intervals in random places. The UK had the only one which was fixed in time and space. So, naturally, there was a huge waiting list if you wanted to study the phenomenon in some shape or form.
Growling in frustration, Hermione halted in front of the dark wooden door. A gold-plated nametag stated, "K. McGregor, Head of the Unspeakable Office."
Soon to be deceased, Hermione added vengefully in her mind, while she lifted her fist and rammed on the door violently.
She closed her eyes to protect them from the bright yellow glow that followed. A low noise hummed around her, until she heard an unlocking click followed by a cheerful: 'Enter!'
Opening her eyes, Hermione swirled into the office. Ready to start ranting, she opened her mouth.
'Tom Marvolo Riddle,' Katie McGregor said quickly, holding up her hand.
Shocked, Hermione closed her mouth with an audible pop and stared at her boss's grave expression.
'He has escaped from Azkaban,' Hermione deduced immediately, while inwardly cursing every idiot who'd thought they could contain him.
It hadn't been her choice that day. She still remembered it vividly. The afternoon after the final battle, the Aurors had a fit upon finding an unconscious young man instead of the snakelike individual they were expecting when they came to collect Lord Voldemort's body. They had raised the alarm, thinking the Dark Lord had eluded death, again, and was on the run. But Harry identified the young man's body as being him. Nobody really understood what had happened and how he'd survived that rebound curse, again, but the biggest issue became what to do with him.
Despite the mayhem and loss of lives Lord Voldemort had been responsible for, somehow, his younger version had still been able to turn the country utterly divided on his fate with his smooth and elaborate lies. She'd been the one to prick through them and forced him to show his true colours. Still, it hadn't led to what Hermione had hoped for: two little words and a nicely filled hole in the ground. No, they'd had to be above such brutalities and designed a special isolation cell specifically for him, which he obviously, now, had broken out of.
'No, no,' McGregor denied, shaking her head, 'no, he is still very much incarcerated in Azkaban, and he will remain there for the rest of his life.'
'Then, what am I doing here?' asked Hermione, exasperated. 'It took me ages to find the right set up for my experiment and–'
'He only wants to talk to you,' Katie interrupted.
'Uh?' she said, dumbfounded.
'You know we recently have begun sending Unspeakables back to him?'
'Yes,' Hermione said, sighing since she had disagreed with that decision, too.
In Riddle's first year of imprisonment, Healer Cutler had made a disastrous endeavour to research the inner workings of the mind of Lord Voldemort. Cutler and three of his students had been talking to Riddle for months, until suddenly, they started committing suicide one after the other. They had been able to stop the last person from hanging himself, but he had to be committed to the permanent ward of St. Mungo's. The investigation of the incidents had not revealed the precise answer as to how Riddle had accomplished to turn four people that desperate and mentally unstable. From Cutler's notes, it was clear that Riddle had done very little talking about himself and had mostly listened and reacted to his visitors' comments. After that, any and all research involving Lord Voldemort had been suspended indefinitely, until now.
'Unspeakable Moore has been there three times now, and he claims Riddle is willing to share the theory behind the magical enhancements he created in the past.'
'Sure,' Hermione muttered disbelievingly. Lord Voldemort and sharing: That'll be the day. 'And the catch is …?'
'He wants you instead of Moore.'
'And why not give him everything he wants,' Hermione replied, rolling her eyes.
'Hermione, the things he was capable of doing. We could–'
'I remember very well what he was capable of, Katie. It's not something to strive at.'
'I am not referring to the Dark Arts or the killings. You know just as well as anyone else he was capable of extraordinary magic. It would be a waste if all that knowledge dies with him. I can understand your misgivings,' Katie added, holding up her hand to prevent the obvious arguments Hermione was about to send her way, 'and if you think you can't handle it, you won't have to continue the meetings. But at least, give it a go once. See how it goes, if not for our sake, then for the Longbottoms'. According to Malfoy, he knows how to undo brain damage from the Cruciatus Curse. We can't just ignore the possibility of a cure being–'
'All right, all right,' Hermione said, throwing her hands in the air in surrender, 'I'll go. But I am telling you right now: This is a waste of our time. He will have an ulterior motive for all this. Lord Voldemort does not share anything without getting something out of it.'
'Well, as long as he shares, I really don't care about his motives or what his delusional mind thinks he's getting out of it,' Katie said bluntly. 'Your transportation to Azkaban is standing by at the back entrance.'
'Your concern for my safety is touching,' Hermione said dryly.
'Try not to kill him this time, Hermione. At least not before you get all the answers,' Katie replied with a smirk, dismissing her by opening another file on her desk.
Hermione blinked; shock the primary emotion on her face at what could be conceived as a warning or … a threat. You didn't become the head of this department if you were squeaky clean. A sudden chill ran over her back, but her boss no longer acknowledged her presence, and Hermione quickly rushed out the door. She thought no one knew – no one suspected her. No one but him.
The wind howled around the stone building. Through the barred windows of the entrance hall, Hermione saw the white foam of the high waves smashing against the dark rocks of the island. She shivered. Azkaban truly was an inhospitable place, even without the Dementors.
'Your wand, please,' the guard behind the counter requested kindly, watching the famous friend of Harry Potter with interest.
Hermione didn't like giving up her wand, especially not considering the prisoner she was about to meet face-to-face. No, she definitely preferred to keep it in her hand and pointed in advance. One needed a head-start with him. The look on her face must have given away the apprehension she felt because, as she handed over her wand, the guard said reassuringly:
'He can't use magic in his cell. The wards are specially designed to halt all his powers, and he doesn't have a wand.'
'I know,' Hermione replied.
Before coming here, she had made a thorough study of everything that had been done to keep Tom Marvolo Riddle inside. It was quite extensive. The wards targeted his magic to the degree that he wouldn't even be able to do wandless magic. They, in effect, had turned the Dark Lord into a Muggle, and only him, since those wards were personalised specifically to his magic only. Some people complained it was over the top and a waste of good resources and funding. His imprisonment was a huge drain on the Azkaban budget. Hermione had agreed with that. Two little words were far cheaper, and they would make her feel much more secure, too.
'I'd stay out of his cell though,' the guard said, eyeing her petite form up and down concerned. 'Even though he's never attacked anyone of us and has always been nothing but pleasant, I don't know how he'll react to your presence, considering you're …' the guard trailed off, shuffling uncomfortable on his feet before continuing quickly in a businesslike tone of voice. 'He's a lot taller than you, and the wards are so heavy that we can't observe through them. You will be completely on your own down there.'
'Perfect,' Hermione muttered darkly.
'You'll be fine. If you stay in the corridor, he can't reach you. Just communicate with him through the window. Remember: As long as the switch is in the off position, he can't see or hear anything that goes on in the corridor.'
'I've read the file in the ministry,' Hermione replied, nodding.
'Okay. Do you have questions about any of it?' the guard asked.
She shook her head.
'Well, good luck then, Mrs. Weasley,' he said, waving his wand at the doorway and allowing her to pass.
It took her a moment to realise she didn't have to turn her head to wonder why Ron's mum was here. Even though Hermione and Ron had been married for three years now, she'd still not got used to people calling her Mrs. Weasley. It had more than once led to confusing or embarrassing situations when she'd just ignore someone calling out for her.
'Thank you,' Hermione said politely and began descending the stairs.
It was a long walk down. She had to make several stops in between to catch her breath since she'd never been keen on exercise and wasn't an athlete by any standard. As she descended farther and farther, the magic of different wards swirled around her, seeking confirmation to whether or not she was allowed to be in this staircase. It felt like the journey to the centre of the earth.
Perhaps the journey to hell itself was more appropriate since she was about to meet the devil, Hermione considered darkly as she finally reached the bottom of the staircase.
Another sheen of red light engulfed her body briefly and the door, for which she'd halted, opened with a click. She entered the small corridor tentatively, jumping somewhat when the door slammed shut behind her with a final "bang". Locks audibly fell back in place, and she just stood there, wondering why on earth she was here in the first place. The door completely sealed off the last reminiscence of daylight behind her, and for a second, she was emerged in darkness.
Then, torches flared on. Relieved, Hermione sighed and walked on, passing ward after ward after ward, until finally, she reached the door that would lead to the corridor which circled Lord Voldemort's prison. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she grabbed the wooden doorknob and turned it. She had to put some muscle work into opening it since the door was heavy and slightly clenched to the rough wood of the door frame. An eerie creaking noise accompanied the movement as if she entered a haunted house.
Someone should oil the hinges, Hermione thought, irritated about her apprehension and the crazy things entering her mind, while pulling the hardwood door close behind her and sustaining a splinter in her finger in the process. She wriggled it out with her nails and sucked the drop of blood away, now fully cursing her presence in this inhospitable environment.
When she looked up, she gasped, because the contrast couldn't be more immense. Her eyes watched her new environment with a frown. Black, rusty brackets spread a dim light across the circular corridor she stood in. The walls those brackets hung on were rough, made of big, blunt, and uneven rocks. Yet, the walls around Riddle's cell were smooth and even, made of some kind of metal: aluminium, iron or perhaps steel?
She walked forward and slid her hands over the door that led into his cell. It was cold, harsh, smooth, unmoving, and relentless.
Steel, she was betting it was some kind of hardened steel. Her eyes fell on the switch next to the door, but she wasn't ready to flip it yet. She first wanted to get familiar with her environment, with seeing him, before she exposed herself in a place that had become his home for the last four years.
Slowly, she took a couple of steps towards the biggest light source in the corridor: The place where the window to his cell was located. The glass was as thick as the metal walls and it reached from floor to bottom. When she stepped into that beam of light, she had to blink several times before her eyes were adjusted to its tremendous brightness. The moment her eyes had accustomed to this overly white light, she turned slightly pale. If someone were to hiss "Clarice" to her from within that cell, it would be all too fitting.
Merlin, this – her being here – this was just stupid, insane, madness. It didn't help that she recalled perfectly how that book had ended.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the serial killer, escaped.
She ignored the cold shiver that travelled up and down her spine and studied Riddle's accommodations. The cell was incredibly bare. It had a stainless steel bed (obviously bolted to the ground) with a thin mattress and white bedding. There was a small, rectangular, white, plastic table, standing alongside the bed. Next to the bed was an open cupboard situated directly in the wall that held the bare minimum of clothing on its metal shelves. On the wall opposite from the bed was a water fountain accompanied by a mirror and a shelf on which several personal hygiene attributes were placed: a toothbrush and paste, a comb, a bar of soap, and a shaving kit. Next to it was the toilet all out in the open with no privacy whatsoever. Not that she cared. It was a paradise compared to how he'd kept any of his prisoners.
Hermione folded her arms defensively in front of her chest, and for the first time, she looked at the reason this cell was created: Tom Marvolo Riddle. He languorously half-sat, half-lay on his bed, leaning with his back against a pillow pressed to the wall. His hands were folded behind his head, while his long legs rested with crossed ankles on the otherwise empty table. His pitch-black locks fell into his face, making his complexion seem even paler; but he didn't make the ungroomed impression she'd been expecting with Sirius Black in mind. It was actually quite disconcerting to her how utterly composed Riddle was. He was well-shaven, and above all, appeared immaculately clean. He wore a pristine white shirt and black trousers which seemed pressed and made his pale feet stick out. The only thing not done to perfection was his hair. It was longer than most men wore it, though not as long as Ron's, and it was cut haphazardly. Yet, the messy, clearly unprofessional haircut suited him. It made him come to life and seem less mannequin-like. She stood there for a while, watching him stare into thin air, unaware she was there. She couldn't help but wonder what that impressive mind of his was going over right now.
Probably contemplating on whom to strangle first when he escaped, she figured gloomily.
There was no doubt in her mind Lord Voldemort wouldn't consider it an "if". Even though in the more than four years that he'd been in this facility he'd not once set a toe over the threshold, his large ego wouldn't consider the possibility of failure. It was only a matter of time. What was worse, she agreed with him on that. It was why she'd preferred a more final solution.
Something else they had in common. They both preferred their enemies to be dead and buried.
The thought briefly crossed her mind, though she didn't allow herself to dwell on it. She'd bigger problems to deal with. She had to focus on the more pressing dilemma of when to reveal her presence here to Riddle. She knew that until she hit the switch, he couldn't see or hear what went on behind the window. And even then, she was perfectly safe inside this corridor. He couldn't reach her here. The wards allowed everyone but him to enter or exit the cell. She knew this.
So, why couldn't she shake that damn apprehension she felt?
Hermione shivered. The environment she was in and his relaxed demeanour gave her goosebumps. She felt chilled to the bone already and a bit nauseous. What was she doing here? She'd been crazy to agree to this. She should've just told her boss to stick her orders in a very dark place, no matter if McGregor knew about her botched up assassination attempts at the ministry. She doubted Katie could prove it anyway. Hermione had not been so sloppy to leave evidence of her presence behind. The only thing Katie was likely to have were suspicions and maybe, just maybe, Riddle's testimony.
But she doubted the latter. She still recalled his silent appraisal at her actions – the way he'd coldly and distantly observed her moves as if it had no bearing on his person. His dark gaze had haunted her dreams for months after that. It had been too bad those godforsaken Aurors had found him on time; just one minute longer and he'd been done for – never to resurrect ever again. That day Hermione had come to the conclusion that life was beyond unfair. It truly and utterly sucked.
She shook her head to clear it of the bad memories. It was best to get this over and done with, the sooner she could leave this nasty place with its despicable, rotten-to-the-core company. This was a pointless endeavour anyway. Certain of that, she paced to the switch and flipped it on. Pacing back to the window and folding her arms over each other protectively as she halted in front of it, she glared at the bane of her existence.
He didn't move nor acknowledged her presence. He just kept staring ahead as if she weren't even there. After a while, it began to annoy her severely. She wasn't feeling a hundred percent well, and she was only here because Mr. High-And-Mighty requested it. The least he could do was open his bloody mouth. This had not been her idea.
'Riddle,' Hermione finally said with an edge of irritated impatience.
Her stomach acid churned, and she swallowed, trying to keep it down. Was she coming down with a flu of some kind?
Terrific, her timing was as impeccable as always.
Slowly, he turned his head in her direction at her mentioning his last name. At first their eyes locked, but then, his gaze wandered down. He studied her demeanour and body meticulously. Heat made it to her face as she felt positively naked underneath that intense stare. Finally, his pupils bore into hers again and the beginning of a staring match unlike she'd ever encountered before started. She had to remind herself all his magic (including his Legilimency skills) was suppressed and he most likely tried to unnerve her with his actions.
Unfortunately, she had to admit he was succeeding. She rubbed her hands over her upper arms in a comforting gesture and averted her eyes. She felt incredibly vulnerable. Being here, without a wand, had to be the stupidest thing she had ever done. Slowly, she caressed her forehead, closing her eyes for a moment. Her head pounded in her skull, and she realised she felt more than a little sick. As soon as she got home, she'd take some Pepper-Up Potion to get rid of these flu-like symptoms.
'Aren't you going to say anything?' Hermione asked hoarsely, focusing back on him.
She told herself again that she was safe in the corridor. He was locked in. She had to keep a realistic perspective on her situation and not let irrelevant matters influence her emotions.
The only answer she got from him wasn't coming out of his mouth. Instead, his eyes roamed over her body once again. His brow furrowed briefly as if he saw something off, then, his impassive mask returned firmly in place.
Annoyed, Hermione placed her hands in her sides, swallowing down some bile that rose in her throat. 'Look. This wasn't my idea. You asked for me.'
'Why don't you come in?' he suggested in a warm, gentle voice. On his face erupted a charming smile as he made a welcoming gesture to the door of his cell, still sitting cross-legged on the bed. 'It will make our talk so much easier.'
It was utterly shocking to Hermione how much the little change in demeanour made him seem kind, nice, and warm: the perfect gentleman – "seem" being the key word in that sentence. If she hadn't known him, his act would've fooled her. However, she knew perfectly well whom she was dealing with, and she wasn't falling for it.
'Think again,' she said bluntly.
He tilted his head and smirked, his eyes glinting in dark amusement. 'Afraid, Hermione?'
'We are not on a first name basis.'
'Very well,' he replied blankly, shrugging. 'Afraid, Granger?'
'I'm not stupid.'
'That's not a denial.'
'No, it isn't.'
'Honest,' he whispered, seemingly more to himself than her since his eyes were downcast contemplatively. Yet, he looked straight at her when the next sentence left his lips. 'However, I think you'll find that you'll feel better inside.'
'I am not here to play your games,' Hermione said coolly. 'You told Moore you wanted to talk to me, so talk. I'm perfectly fine with taking down notes out here.'
She ruffled through her jacket's pocket and pulled out a notebook and pen. She'd cast the same charm she'd used on her beaded bag on the jacket to avoid having to drag said bag along everywhere she went. Swiftly, she opened her notebook and clicked at the end of her pen demonstratively. She'd returned to Muggle writing gear after leaving Hogwarts. It was so much sturdier and easier to use. She was sorry she'd been unable to bring a laptop into this facility, but the wards would've interfered with the technology. Looking up from the blank piece of paper, she watched Riddle expectantly, certain that this would annoy him thoroughly.
'You should leave, Granger,' he said abruptly, turning his attention away from her.
And the games had begun. Surprise, surprise.
Well, leaving was fine with her. She snapped her notebook shut and took a step in the direction of the door to get the hell out of there when Riddle's voice halted her.
'I'd be more than happy to tell you about curing Cruciatus damage …'
Angry, her head flashed sideways. For a moment, the world blurred, swirling around her. Several drops of perspiration erupted on her forehead, and she wiped them away absentmindedly.
'But …?' she snapped in response.
'I doubt you'll make it to the end of my explanation, Granger,' he said softly, uncrossing his legs and rising to his feet in one sinuous movement.
Was that a jab at her intelligence?
Exasperated, Hermione's fingers clutched around the notebook and her pen. Right now, she felt like stabbing him in his eye with one and hitting him over the head with the other. Hard and repeatedly.
'What is your problem?' she hissed, stepping closer to the window.
Another wave of dizziness overcame her. Her pen crashed to the concrete floor as she steadied herself against the smooth surface with her palm. The glass in front of her bulged. Was it breaking?
Stumbling back in panic, she fell on her behind. The floor moved underneath her like the waves of an ocean: higher and higher. The walls spun. Everything spun. Her nausea rose to unbelievable heights. More and more bile rose in her throat. She desperately tried to keep it down. Yet, it was too late. She couldn't hold it in anymore. Quickly turning to her hands and knees, she emptied her stomach until she dry heaved so violently it felt like her head exploded. She had to get out of here and get help. Fast. She was in big trouble.
Now, she finally recognised the symptoms. Her body was reacting to the stupid, personalised-only-to-him-her-arse Magical Impairment Wards. Whoever created this ward was in for a rough ride when she got her hands on them, but she had to leave this corridor first and get away from this damn ward in this blasted circular corridor – preferably before she lost consciousness.
Oh Merlin, there were a zillion steps on those stairs.
Where is my stuff?
Dazed, she patted the rippling floor with her hand and caught her notebook. Pocketing it, she searched for her pen.
'Get out of there, Granger,' Riddle ordered.
There was an edge of concern in his voice, and if she'd not been afraid her skull would crack open from the movement, she would've laughed exuberantly at his pathetic attempt to fool her. A shadow fell over her body when he moved, indicating he had to stand right in front of the window now. But she really could care less where he was. Her whereabouts were the issue at the moment, and his suggestion about getting out of there sounded like an excellent idea to her.
Yet, she hadn't found her pen.
The waves must have made it roll away. Turning around and around on her hands and knees, she searched, trying to avoid inhaling the sour scent of her vomit or sticking her fingers in it accidentally.
'Just leave the damn pen.'
Merlin, where was it? She couldn't leave it here. What if that had been his ploy all along? No, she had to find her pen. Why couldn't she see straight?
'The stupid pen is on your left,' Riddle said, exasperated.
Her right hand reached around. She didn't find it there. Liar.
'Your other left.'
Immediately, her left hand's fingertips touched something that felt like her pen as she patted around there.
'Aha! Found it,' she exclaimed, raising her head triumphantly and regretting that move next when the world closed in on her.
All her muscles tensed. Pressing her eyelids together, she tried to ignore the way everything was contorting around her. Taking a deep breath, she focused on the task of moving and getting out.
Where was the exit? She couldn't distinguish anything anymore. Everything was dancing. Perhaps if she followed the wall …?
Yes, yes, then, she would eventually get to the door.
She crawled to the side until she hit the wall with her head. Ouch.
Clumsily, she rose and leaned against the cold, smooth surface with her aching head. That felt so nice. Too bad the wall billowed and seemed unsteady. Somewhere in the back of her clouded mind, alarm bells went off; but she couldn't focus enough to concentrate on them. She had to leave.
Carefully, she took a step. When that didn't turn into a disaster, she took another one, and another one. She had to make it. If she just kept going, this would be over. If she could just get to the other side of that blasted door, her symptoms would subside.
Hermione continued walking by sheer willpower. Her hand trailed the even surface, searching for that one doorknob that would free her from these experiences. She almost missed it. Her fingertips trailed over a rim, and then, her hip slammed into a doorknob as she took another step. Relief flooded through her. It was almost over. She would feel better soon. Grabbing the cold, iron doorknob with a trembling hand, she turned it quickly and pressed hard, recalling how it had clenched in its frame.
The door gave way immediately.
Not able to retain her footing, she fell inside. White bright light stabbed into her eyes like sharp knives. A warning rippled through her mind right before she hit the floor and passed out fully.