The last of the applause died down.
Hermione, squeezed between her new friends Ron and Harry watched as the sorting hat was removed from the hall by Professor McGonagall.
Suddenly there was silence.
Her eyes flicked up to the high table.
The headmaster had stood from his chair, his presence commanded attention immediately. No one dared speak.
Hermione watched him; his movements were slow and purposeful. He looked perhaps thirty five and then good for his age. But Hermione had heard earlier that he was a teacher here when Ron's parents came to Hogwarts, and they had nine children over ten, so he couldn't look his age.
"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts," he said, his voice was deep, slow and quiet, like he knew everyone in the hall was watching him intently. "And welcome to our new students." He looked up, eyes sweeping across the hall. As if he was making eye contact with each and every student.
"As always I expect great things from you this year."
Hermione shivered as his eyes locked to her.
Had she imagined it, or had his gaze lingered on her for a fraction of a second longer.
"Let the feast begin."
"Is Professor Riddle always so… intimidating," Harry asked under his breath as he helped himself to potatoes.
Venres laughed aloud.
"Good luck with your meeting with him if you found that scary," he said, elbowing him lightly in the ribs.
"Meeting?" Hermione asked.
"Yeah of course, the headmaster meets all of the new students, to check they are settling in."
Hermione wiped her sweaty palms nervously as she ascended the staircase to the headmaster's office. It was the second week of term and her turn to meet with the headmaster.
Before she reached the door it opened.
Professor Riddle had his back to her, he was looking out over the grounds broodingly, arms braced on the windowsill.
"Good afternoon Professor Riddle," Hermione said, in a voice that sounded as small as she felt.
He turned now and surveyed her for a moment, before drawing his eyes abruptly to the floor and stalking to his chair.
"Take a seat," he instructed. "Tea?"
Hermione nodded as she sat tentatively in the chair on the opposite side of his desk.
"So tell me Miss…" he paused for a moment, as if he were about to say something wrong, or he had just forgotten her name. "Granger. Miss Granger." He took a deep breath. "Are you enjoying Gryffindor?"
Suddenly his eyes flicked to her face, though he could not hold her gaze for long.
"And your classes? I have been told you are already top of the year. Which is your favourite so far?" His words were quicker than they had been at the feast. He was hurrying through them distractedly.
"Transfiguration," she answered without hesitation. "And Potions. They're my favourites. But I like them all. Some of my housemates told me about third year options. Ancient Runes sounds fascinating."
When Tom saw the excitement and anticipation in her eyes his throat closed up. She was already thinking ahead to third year? That was so Hermione.
He nodded and drew his gaze away from her face.
"Very good," he said after she had reeled off all that she had learnt in her first week. "And your classmates, are they pleasant?"
"Yes sir," she replied. "Most of the time. My friend Venres Weasley is trying to teach me to fly a broom. But I'm not very good."
"It is difficult for those who were not raised in wizarding families," he said fairly. "You must not be disheartened, your peers have been practicing for years most likely and it does not help that you must fly a school broom." He was silent for a moment. "I shall have a better one delivered to you. Though you must not tell anyone where you got it, else I would have to send everyone a new broom."
"A broom sir?" Hermione asked a smile lighting up her face. "Thank you, but what is the occasion?"
Professor Riddle's eyes locked onto hers again.
Were they always that shiny?
"I care very much about the happiness of my students, Miss Granger," he said slowly. "You are destined for greatness and if being able to fly with your new friends makes you happy, then…" he paused for a moment. He couldn't tell her the truth. He couldn't tell her how he yearned to see her in particular as contented as any witch could be. "You shall be much more inclined to revise enough to fulfil your potential. I do not wish for muggleborn students to have a disadvantage at Hogwarts."
To his own ears it was flimsy. But she was eleven.
"Thank you sir."
He inclined his head in reply.
"You are dismissed."
She nodded and set her cup on his desk.
"Thank you sir," she repeated, giving him a small smile.
Tom rested his face in his hands when the door closed behind her.
"That could have gone a lot worse," he murmured. "Though now I have to buy her a broom."
Today sat somewhere between the day he sorted Cedric Diggory, and the disaster that was the sorting of Oliver Wood. He never had such an overwhelming urge to hex an eleven year into oblivion.
He sighed and looked out the window.
But now he knew such thoughts were ludicrous, that wasn't his Hermione.
His Hermione had been shaped by her experiences, defined by her resilience. This Hermione was innocent and would never have her childhood marred by the experience that made her his.
Guilt welled within him when he thought of his Hermione. Hermione who lost her parents and her friends and still had a heart that loved him, trusted him.
This Hermione could have a life full of beauty and happiness. She would. He would make sure of it.
He would not let this Hermione down.
And he would spend the rest of his life repenting for his crimes against the one woman he ever could almost love.
(A/N- I wasn't planning another epilogue, but I thought this kind of needed addressing. I just wanted to repeat how sorry I am that this story ended the way it did. Reviewers have said it ended too abruptly and some of the ends didn't tie off. You're completely right. Completely. And I apologise. But I cannot write this story anymore. It's something I have tried to overcome but I can't. One of my closest friends helped me and inspired me with this story and as you might know he passed away suddenly. I am so, so, sorry to my readers. But this is physically the only ending I can write- an abrupt one. It hurts to write this story. I tried to write a different, longer, good ending and I just couldn't. So I'm so sorry.
In other news I have a new Tom Riddle fic, which I think is better than this one. But I dunno. It's called Black Attraction anyway if anyone did want to look at it. But I'm sure you already hate me too much to read another of my stories.
Anyway, thanks again for being so wonderful.)