Disclaimer in Chapter One
A/N: Oh my god. Is it really over? What a crazy ride. I'm glad I managed to finally finish this fic. Also a bit sad. Is that weird? Lol Maybe a tiny bit. In any way, here's the last chapter for Please, save me. I hope you enjoy, my dears. I had fun writing Tom here lol
Anyway, like always, let me know what you think. I love hearing from you guys. I want to thank each and everyone of you who reviewed on this fic or chatted me up via PM about it. You readers are the best. Without you, I wouldn't have finished this fic at all.
Big thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter!
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Last Chapter: The Concept of a Soul
Seconds later, Hermione snapped back into existence. Tom's arms still held her securely. Seething hot, rage burned through her.
"Let me go!" Hermione spat at him in agitation.
She squirmed in Tom's arms. He released a soft hiss as she rammed her elbow in his side to get away. Surprisingly, he let her go and gingerly put her down, so she stood on her own two feet. Tom's long fingers curled around Hermione's upper arm. She instantly bucked against his grasp on her but Tom wouldn't release her and said,
"You wanted to come here, didn't you?"
Only now did Hermione take a second to look around. She wasn't surrounded by darkness and snakes carved on damp stone walls. Instead, she stood in a green forest, birds chirping merrily. In front of her, a familiar ward hummed in the air. Hermione's eyebrows shot up in surprise as she spotted a werewolf right behind that ward. The man was dressed in the black uniform of the Corps and eyed Hermione interestedly.
"What…?" she stammered.
Now that she had stopped her struggling, Tom's fingers slid down Hermione's arm until they curled around her hand and held her possessively. Smoothly, he informed her, "We're in Galloway. You wanted to visit Corps' territory, didn't you?"
Before Hermione could reply anything, the werewolf threw his head back and released a loud howl. Tom observed the soldier with a slightly disgusted look on his face. Then the Slytherin focused his attention back on Hermione. A smirk ghosted around his handsome features and he whispered,
"This time you won't let me wait outside, will you?"
As if to emphasise that she didn't have much of a choice, Tom's magic once again latched onto Hermione. It felt like frost creeping over her skin. She shuddered involuntarily as the dark force twisted around her and held her possessively.
Sirius felt weak on his legs as he followed Lupin down the narrow trail that led to the entry point. Just a few hours earlier, Ginny Weasley had firecalled him to tell him Riddle had indeed returned to Hogwarts. Apparently, though, she hadn't seen Hermione at all. Sirius had no idea what to make of that information, so since his talk with Ginny a toxic mixture of hope and despair festered in him.
Sirius stumbled over a small root and cursed under his breath. Then he resumed his way down the trail. They'd been alerted that someone had arrived at the entrance and traitorously the hope in Sirius had swelled up. Maybe it was her, a small voice echoed through his mind. Sirius gritted his teeth and harshly pushed the hope away. It wasn't her. If he dared to hope now, he'd only be squashed by cruel reality later.
They'd almost reached the edge of the ward. Sirius could already feel the strong magic humming through his body and over the tree tops he saw the ward flickering in the air like heat. Lupin now fell into a jog and almost raced towards the entrance point. Sirius followed him but tried not to get infected by his friend's excitement. It wasn't her. Finally, they reached the entry point. At the edge of the ward, still inside Corps' territory, Sirius spotted the soldier who alerted them. The werewolf stood an arm's length away from the ward and stared at someone on the other side. Sirius' gaze followed the soldier's. Two figures stood behind the warding magic and Sirius stopped dead in his tracks as he recognized them. One of the figures was Tom Riddle. He would recognize the dark wizard anywhere. At the moment, though, Sirius didn't give the man a second thought. His mind was reeling as he stared at the smaller of the two figures. It was Hermione.
Sirius could feel his throat constrict as he stared at the girl. It was Hermione. Greedily, his gaze wandered over her, drinking in the sight. Bushy hair and kind brown eyes, the girl stood in the middle of the forest like an apparition from the sweetest of dreams. Sirius swallowed dryly as he stared at her. There were dark bruises all over her face, dried blood mottled her soft skin and filthy rags hung from her frame. Still, it was Hermione. By now, the girl spotted them. Sirius' heart skipped a beat as a smile grew on her face. Hermione raised a hand and timidly waved a greeting. An incredulous laugh fell from Sirius' lips while hot tears burned in his eyes,
Hearing her name managed to pull Lupin out of his stupor. A wild smile appeared on the werewolf's lips. He grabbed Sirius by the arm and wrenched him towards Hermione. Sirius couldn't even think straight and allowed his friend to pull him through the ward. As always, the barracks' warding magic let Sirius easily pass and harmlessly trickled over his skin. The moment he left the protective magic behind, though, Sirius was hit by a storm of powerful magic. It violently rippled the air and was so dark, it almost made him gag.
Sirius had felt that magic before and now his gaze darted to Riddle. The dark magic oozed from the man like from a putrid wound and completely saturated the air. In trepidation, Sirius realized how close Riddle stood to Hermione and, even more disturbingly, how he was holding her by the hand in a territorial gesture. There was not even the hint of emotion present on the dark wizard's face as he observed Sirius and Lupin through cold eyes. Sirius got even more alarmed as he noted how Riddle's dark magic had twisted itself around Hermione, holding her prisoner. It was the same force that, with much glee, had ripped the guards at Azkaban apart. The dark magic that had murdered without mercy or remorse.
Lupin ignored the dark magic and had eyes only for Hermione. A rough laugh falling from his lips, the werewolf let go of Sirius and, in a few steps, reached Hermione to hug her against him.
"Hermione," Lupin exclaimed loudly, yellow eyes glinting merrily. "You're back."
He released her from his hug and held her at arms' length, inspecting her. The girl smiled up at Lupin and, voice shaky with emotion, whispered,
"I'm so glad to see you again."
Hearing her voice made Sirius draw in a sharp breath of air. Finally, the tears that had gathered in his eyes brimmed over and rolled down his cheeks, hot on his skin. He couldn't hold himself back anymore. As if is body had a mind of its own, Sirius rushed over to Hermione and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into his chest. The tears still rolled down his cheeks while a smile curved his lips and Sirius pushed his face into Hermione's curly hair. His throat felt tight and scratchy as he stuttered,
"We thought you… We thought… but you're alright. You're alright."
He stiffened as he could feel Hermione drape her arms around his waist. As if to comfort him of all people, she whispered soothingly,
"I'm fine, Sirius."
Sirius smiled as he felt her warm body against him and she was alive. He didn't think he'd ever be able to stop smiling. Deliriously happy, he placed a kiss on top of Hermione's head and mumbled,
"Welcome back, Sweetie."
Sirius had barely spoken the words as a powerful force crashed into him. It descended upon him with wrath and twisted around him. That force wrenched him from Hermione and brutally hurled him away. A groan left Sirius as he made hard contact with the ground and a sharp pain erupted in his shoulder. Without thinking, Sirius' hand flew to his wand. Swiftly, he pulled himself up into a crouch, one foot and one knee on the ground. His wand was at the ready and poised at Riddle. Through the corners of his eyes, Sirius could see Lupin mirroring his actions. The only thing holding them both back from attacking was Hermione who still stood by Riddle's side, eyes widened in shock.
Riddle hadn't pulled his own wand, but his powerful magic was crackling around him as if the very air was on fire. Confronted with such a terrible force, Sirius could hear his own pulse hammering in his ears, driven on by adrenaline. Unbidden, memories of how Riddle had so easily murdered all those people in Azkaban assaulted his mind. There had been no stopping the wizard. Now Riddle's malicious eyes had fallen on Sirius and gleamed in an otherworldly red colour.
Sirius' whole body tensed as the corners of Riddle's mouth distorted into a cruel smirk. Tendrils of his dark magic already reached for Sirius, seeking nothing but destruction. Sirius' fingers nervously flexed around his wand. Before Riddle's magic could seize him and rip him apart, suddenly, Hermione reached for Riddle. Her fingers curled around his chin and bent his head towards her. Hard tinge in her voice, Hermione said,
"Tom, what are you doing? These are my friends."
Sirius' body froze up in horror as now Riddle's dark glare was directed at Hermione. The girl didn't seem to realize the danger she was in and snapped curtly,
"Is that why you brought me here? So, you can attack them?"
The murderous red sheen still raged behind Riddle's eyes and Sirius was convinced he'd attack Hermione next. A spell was already on the tip of Sirius' tongue to protect her as Riddle replied, barely suppressed lethal tint in his voice,
The monosyllabic reply was all Hermione got before Riddle abruptly called his magic back. It no longer reached for Sirius. Instead, the magic once again latched on Hermione. Riddles piercing eyes bored into Sirius but his dark magic no longer prepared to attack and calmly coiled around Hermione. Sirius's breathing was fastened, and he still pointed his wand defensively at Riddle. Hermione awkwardly cleared her throat and said,
"I'm sorry about that." She threw a warning look at Riddle and added, "He won't attack you."
Sirius wasn't convinced at all. Shakily, he got up from his crouched position on the ground. Hermione's gaze wandered over him worriedly. As she couldn't find any harm, she suggested,
"Maybe we should go inside and talk."
Hearing that, Riddle stepped even closer to Hermione and Sirius eyed the wizard warily. He felt the need to pull the girl away from the dangerous wizard. It did not sit right with him to allow the man anywhere close to Hermione. It was with much reluctance that Sirius lowered his wand. He kept it in his hand, though, and didn't stow it away in the back pocket of his distressed jeans. Carefully Sirius exchanged a look with Lupin. The grim expression on his friend's face told him that they shared their concern for Hermione's safety. They needed to get Hermione away from Riddle. Lupin's voice was tense as he said,
"That sounds like a good plan. You need to rest."
Sirius nodded along. "Definitely."
Lupin's yellow eyes cut into Riddle. Voice no more than a throaty growl, he asked, "What about him? Is he going back to Hogwarts?"
A frown knitting her forehead, Hermione looked up at Riddle. The dark wizard didn't seem at all willing to let go of her hand any time soon. A painfully exhausted look crossed Hermione's pale face and she decided,
"I suppose Tom can come with us for now."
Instantly, Lupin protested, "Hermione, that's not a good idea."
There was an angry spike in Riddle's magic and he pulled Hermione closer to himself, arrogantly proclaiming ownership over her. Sirius wanted to yell at the man but held himself back. Instead, he took in a deep steadying breath to calm his temper. He knew Riddle was dangerous and might hurt Hermione again but getting her away from him was too risky at this point. She might get caught in the crossfire. For now, they'd have to play this safe.
"Fine," Sirius decided, body tense. "He can come with us."
Lupin opened his mouth to protest but Sirius sent him a sharp look and stressed, "Hermione needs to be looked after as soon as possible."
Sirius couldn't blame Lupin for the belligerent look on his face. At least the werewolf stepped down and sharply nodded his head. Keeping all concern from his face, Sirius smiled at Hermione reassuringly.
"Don't you worry, you're gonna be fine." He slipped out of his green parka and handed it to Hermione. "Here, take that for now. We'll get you some new clothes later."
"Thanks." Hermione gratefully accepted the coat.
While she slipped into the parka, Sirius turned to Lupin and said, "Let's go."
Hermione almost sighed as she wrapped Sirius' coat around herself, the warmth seeping into her. She flinched as Tom grasped her hand again. She could feel his magic bristling over her skin, holding her tightly. At least it had lost the lethal streak and didn't try to attack Sirius again. It still left her on edge. Hermione didn't think it was a good idea to take Tom with her into Corps' territory, but she just didn't know what else to do. Getting him to leave would be a struggle if not completely impossible. Her head throbbed painfully, and Hermione felt slightly sick. Exhaustion was creeping up on her and she was much too tired to deal with Tom right now.
She peered at Sirius. The Order's leader looked quite tense, never letting Tom out of his line of view. Hermione couldn't blame the man. She sent him a small grateful smile. As his attention shifted to her, the hard look dropped from Sirius' face. He grinned at her, giving him a boyish look. Hermione knew he was trying to reassure her and it made a warm feeling swell inside her chest.
"Private, let our guests pass," Lupin told the werewolf guarding the entry point.
"Yes, sir," the werewolf briskly replied.
The man pulled his wand from its holster and waved it at the ward. The warding system obeyed and parted. The rift in the magical barrier was just wide enough to let someone comfortably walk through. Lupin's yellow eyes wandered to Hermione and he said in his hoarse voice,
"Come on, Hermione. Let's get you inside."
Sirius winked at her and said, "Everything's going to be fine now, Sweetie."
Hermione took a step towards the ward but then hesitated. Memories of the last time she'd passed these wards boiled up in her. That had been when she had gone off on her mission to save the Muggleborns from Hogwarts. A sinking feeling overwhelmed Hermione.
"How many…" her voice faltered. She breathed in deeply before she whispered, "The Muggleborns from Hogwarts. I saw them leave through the fireplace, but how many of them made it out?"
Seeing the worry on her face, Sirius stepped over to her. Gently, he said, "They're fine, Hermione. Thanks to you. We got them out the country, no problem."
Hermione stared at him with wide eyes. "R- really?"
"Really really," Sirius chuckled amusedly. "Now let's get going."
Hermione scanned him searchingly and found nothing but honesty on his face. They had made it out alive? The realisation made her heart leap with joy. It hadn't all been in vain! A relieved smile blossomed on Hermione's face. Seeing that, Sirius flashed his white teeth in a big grin. He gestured for Hermione to follow him as he passed the ward. Chattily, Sirius rambled on,
"You know what? We need to celebrate this. What do you think? I got that really good whiskey sitting in my room. Laphroaig. 14 years. I've been waiting for an occasion to open it. I'm even willing to share with Lupin, here."
Hermione chuckled and followed him through the opening in the ward. The magic bristled lightly over her skin but otherwise didn't hinder her.
Lupin sighed and told Sirius, "Let's plan the party for after Hermione is well again."
Seeing the childish pout on Sirius' face, Lupin rolled his eyes. Hermione grinned widely. She still couldn't believe she was really here. Just a few hours ago, she'd thought she would never see this place again. Hermione took in a deep breath of air. Not even the painful stab from her bruised side managed to dampen her elevated mood. Lupin threw her a lopsided grin as he saw the happy smile on her face,
They followed a small trail for a few minutes until the forest gave way to a stretch of open terrain. The Corps' banner fluttered in the wind on its pole right above the barracks. Simple buildings stood in two rows, leading up to the larger central building. By now Hermione's breathing was laboured and she was feeling light-headed again. She fought against it but in the end had to lean into Tom who hadn't yet abandoned his place by her side. Sirius' concerned gaze wandered over her.
"Don't worry, Sweetie. We'll have Pucey patch you up in no time."
"Thanks," Hermione replied tiredly.
"This way," Lupin said and led the group towards one of the barracks.
It wasn't far, but Hermione now had to heavily lean on Tom. He supported almost her whole weight as she was unable to use her broken angle at all. Hermione was glad when they finally reached the building. She only now noticed the small group of soldiers that loitered about near-by. Their attention heavily rested on Hermione, assessing her through narrowed eyes. An embarrassed blush coloured her cheeks as she found herself under the werewolves' scrutiny. Lupin held the door open for Hermione to enter as he called to the group of soldiers,
"Oi, Jen. Can you go get Pucey for us?"
One of the soldiers arched an indignant eyebrow at Lupin. In the end, she allowed, "Sure thing."
Then her eyes raked over Hermione's form. Suddenly, a feral smile curled the woman's lips. "I knew you'd be back." With that the werewolf turned around and jogged over to one of the barracks.
Lupin grinned. " I think Jen's taken a shine to you."
He then led Hermione into the building. She followed him down a hallway until they entered one of the rooms. In the middle stood an examination table while its walls were covered with shelves and medicine cabinets, stacked with potion vials, ointments and dressing material.
"Sit down," Lupin gestured at a small table with two chairs. "I'm sure Pucey'll be here soon."
Hermione gladly sank down on one of the chairs. She felt exhausted. Tom stood right by her side and Hermione once again noticed his magic in the air, seeking close contact with her. She threw him a furtive look. It still confused her that he'd brought her here. Hermione was convinced that the Slytherin was planning something sinister. Her train of thought was disturbed as Sirius flopped down in the chair opposite from her. He grinned at Hermione, easy-going air coming back to him.
"You know, after this whole thing blows over, we definitely deserve some kind of vacation." He peered over at Lupin who stood straight, arms behind his back in military fashion. Sirius leaned a bit over to Hermione and stage-whispered, "The wolf definitely needs a bit of relax time."
Lupin didn't deign Sirius with an answer. Hermione smiled at their antics. There was a knock at the door. In stepped another werewolf who'd been part of the group outside.
"We thought Miss Hermione might be hungry."
The werewolf handed Hermione some slices of bread. It was still warm and smelled delicious. Hermione only now realized how hungry she was and gladly accepted the bread. The werewolf also offered her a bowl with what looked like chunks of raw meat. Sirius rolled his eyes as he saw that.
"Man, what are you thinking? She's not gonna eat raw meat."
The werewolf blinked down at the bowl with the gobbets of raw meat, some still with hints of fur on them. Blood was pooling around the meat. The man shrugged his shoulders. "Why not? 's rabbit. We went hunting just this morning."
Sirius sighed in exasperation and threw up his arms. "I give up. You're all crazy." He took the bowl and pushed it into the man's hands. "You keep it."
A grin curved the werewolf's lips. "Really? I can have it?"
He arched his eyebrows at Hermione in question. She chuckled softly at his enthusiasm and nodded her head. "Sure. Go ahead."
She already broke the bread and put a piece in her mouth. She almost sighed. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd eaten anything.
The soldier grinned at her before he trotted away, happy with his bowl of rabbit meat. Hermione stuffed another piece of bread in her mouth. She chewed it before she asked softly,
"Tom told me I was in Azkaban..."
Sirius winced as he heard that, but it was Lupin who replied, "Unfortunately, yes."
Hermione's eyes widened. "It's true? But… how did you find me? Azkaban is warded, isn't it?"
"Your master," Sirius sneered the word. "found you."
Subconsciously, Hermione's hand wandered to her left forearm, where her Dark Mark was hidden under the green coat sleeve. Softly, she said, "I don't understand."
Sirius crinkled his nose, looking like he bit into a lemon. "We had no other choice. We tried everything to find you. You were just gone."
Lupin nodded, grave look on his face. "That's when we contacted Riddle and asked him to find you."
Hermione tensed, feeling unsettled by these news. "I see." As if to test the words on her tongue, she whispered, "Tom helped you finding me?"
She threw a searching look at Tom but the Slytherin's face was a blank mask, giving nothing away. A sigh fell from her lips. Then she refocused on Sirius.
"You asked Tom to find me?"
At Sirius' nod Hermione worried her bottom lip. Why would Tom cooperate with her friends? It was inconceivable.
"He used my Dark Mark to track me down?"
Sirius released a sigh. "Yeah. You're still bonded to him. We figured that might do the trick."
A condescending smirk hung from Tom's lips as he said, "They were incapacitated without my help."
Hermione could see Sirius' jaw clench in annoyance, but he didn't comment on Tom's arrogance. Instead, Sirius said, "Seeing as Riddle never had the decency to release you, he's still connected with you via your Dark Mark. The bonding magic from the Dark Mark is apparently stronger than the wards around Azkaban. That's how we found you."
"I see." Hermione mused. "So, it was Tom that led you to me?"
Sirius nodded, looking conflicted. Hermione couldn't blame him. He'd had to ask his brother's murderer for help. And all of that for her… A shaky smile tugged at her lips and she whispered,
Sirius' eyes widened in surprise and he stammered, "What for?"
Hermione couldn't help but laugh softly, "You saved me. You saved my life." She turned to Lupin. "You too. Thank you. Without you, I'd still be trapped in Azkaban or worse."
Surprise fluttered through Lupin's yellow eyes. Then he exchanged an awkward look with Sirius. In confusion, Hermione saw a guilty expression crossing Sirius' features. He could barely meet her eyes. Sounding apologetic, he said,
"No, we… You see, Lupin and I, we really tried to get to you, Hermione. Believe me, we did. We managed to enter Azkaban, but then there were just too many guards."
Lupin nodded. Shame dulled his yellow eyes as he told her quietly, "We had to abort. Sirius didn't want to, but I convinced him. There was no way for us to get to you. So, we retreated."
Hermione stared at them with wide eyes. Confusion was tangling up her thoughts into a mess. Her brow knitted up and she whispered,
"…but if it wasn't you, who got me out?"
It was the mixture of guilt and hatred burning in Sirius' eyes that gave it away. Hermione stiffened. Then slowly, very slowly, she turned around to Tom. The Slytherin still stood beside her chair. His face was void of any emotion as Tom gazed back at her. Hermione's head swirled as she stared into Tom's startlingly blue eyes.
"You?" she whispered weakly. "You got me out?"
Tom looked back at her coolly and Hermione felt trapped in his gaze. The ominous red sheen still burned behind the blue of his eyes, giving him a demonic look. Tom tilted his head to the side, regarding her from a different angle. Then he slowly raised his hand at her. Hermione didn't move a muscle as Tom gently ran his fingers over her cheek. Her heart fluttered in her chest at the contact and she couldn't look away from Tom's mesmerizing eyes.
The spell was broken as Adrian Pucey entered the room. Hermione turned away from Tom. She was glad to have an excuse to ignore the strange feelings bubbling up in her and now instead smiled at Pucey. He was dressed in the black of the Corps' uniform. The dark colour collided with his flaxen hair. A polite smile curled Pucey's lips.
"Miss Hermione," he slightly inclined his head in greeting. "Jen told me you're back with us."
Sirius got up and stepped over to Pucey. He wrapped an arm around the man's shoulders and grinned.
"Pucey, just the man we've been waiting for." Sirius gestured at Hermione. "You need to patch her up." He wiggled his fingers. "Go on. Do your magic."
Pucey rolled his eyes good-naturedly and replied dryly, "That's why I'm here."
His gaze shortly skimmed over Hermione taking in her condition. Then he arched his eyebrows at the others in the room.
"I have to ask you to leave us alone."
Sirius pursed his lips into a pout, but a stern look from Lupin made him sigh, "Fine."
Sirius stepped over to Hermione. He bent down to her and placed a careful kiss on top of her head. Softly, Sirius whispered, "I'm so glad you're back, Sweetie."
He straightened up again and Hermione smiled up at the man. Lupin had also stepped closer to her and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"Listen to Pucey, okay?" the werewolf said. "He'll look after you. We'll get you later."
Hermione nodded her head. Sirius and Lupin then reluctantly left the room while Pucey gestured to the examination table.
"Can you sit down there?"
Hermione slid on the table while Pucey sorted through his potions and ointments. Grabbing a few, the blond soldier stepped over to her. He hesitated as he noticed Tom. The Slytherin hadn't left the room.
"Please, wait outside while I look after Miss Hermione," Pucey repeated politely.
Tom's jaw clenched, and his magic gathered around him forebodingly. The revelation from earlier ran through Hermione's head. Why was Tom here? Why had he saved her from Azkaban? Deeply unsettled, she said,
"It's fine. He can stay. I don't mind."
Through the corners of her eyes, Hermione saw Tom abandoning his tense posture. He drifted closer to her and his powerful magic once again sought her out, curling around her.
Pucey frowned slightly. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Hermione whispered.
The soldier didn't look convinced at all but accepted her decision. He waved his wand over Hermione and she shuddered as she felt the diagnostic spells wash over her. A concerned look crossed Pucey's face. Carefully, he asked Hermione,
"Did they interrogate you?"
Hermione shuddered as tags of memories bubbled up in her. The bright cell. A coppery taste in her mouth. The thirst. And the pain. Constant pain. Hermione squeezed her eyes closed. Feeling shaky, she nodded her head.
"Don't worry," Pucey's reassuring voice said. "You got out of there. I'll make sure you'll be good as new in no time."
Hermione peered up at the man. Pucey smiled at her and Hermione softly nodded her head, relaxing a bit again. Pucey again waved his wand.
"Hm," he mused. "Your ankle's broken."
Hermione sighed. "Yeah. I thought it might be."
"Here, take this," the Corporal handed Hermione a potion bottle. "It's for the pain."
Hermione drank the potion while she watched Pucey gingerly examine her foot. She winced as her broken ankle was moved. Seeing this, Tom stepped closer to her and glared darkly at Pucey, magic banking up around him.
"Calm down," Hermione told the Slytherin. "He's just doing his job."
Pucey waved his wand over her ankle and Hermione sighed in relief as the pain ebbed away. Another flick of his wand and her ankle was wrapped up in a thick bandage. The Corporal threw Hermione a small smile.
"Your ankle is going to be fine in a day or two."
"Thanks," said Hermione.
Tom still glowered at the soldier and icily demanded to know, "What about her head? And all the cuts and bruises?"
Hermione frowned up at the Slytherin. Tom stared at Pucey. The red tint in his blue eyes was more pronounced now, giving Tom a haunted look. His magic was still thick in the air, twisting and coiling, and ready to attack.
"Maybe it's really better you wait outside, Tom," Hermione suggested, forcing her voice to sound firm.
Tom whipped around to her and the dark glare dropped from him. Hermione could've sworn she saw panic flitter over Tom's face. The expression, though, was gone in an instant. Tom reached for her hand and held it tightly, obviously not willing to leave.
"If you want to stay," Hermione told him. "just be quiet. Okay?"
Through gritted teeth, Tom hissed, "Fine."
Hermione threw him a sceptical look before she turned back to Pucey. The soldier had watched the interaction in concern but didn't comment on it. Instead he resumed his examination. Hermione watched as Pucey expertly waved his wand over her. She could feel the healing magic tingle strangely. To distract her, Pucey said,
"I've been using that golden cup you gave the Colonel. It works really well. We didn't have a shortage of Wolfsbane potion since."
Hermione blinked at him in confusion. Then it dawned on her and she smiled. "Hufflepuff's Cup?"
Pucey smiled at her. "Yes. It's incredible, really."
Through the corners of her eyes, Hermione saw Tom tense conversation obviously managed to pique his attention. She tried to ignore Tom's presence looming over her. Forcing calm to her voice, Hermione said,
"I thought it might be useful for you."
Pucey chuckled lightly, "You haven't been wrong."
He once again waved his wand and the pain in Hermione's side ebbed away. Pucey nodded contently and stored his wand away. He smiled at Hermione, flashing sharp teeth.
"That's all I can do for now. You also have a concussion and a hairline crack in your skull. Don't worry, though. I'll give you something for the concussion and a bit of Skele-Gro will take care of the crack."
With that, the soldier handed Hermione a couple of potion flasks. "Take them right before you go to sleep and tomorrow I'll look after you again. Then we can also do something against all the bruising, okay?"
Hermione nodded and smiled gratefully at Pucey. "Thanks."
Tom grabbed her by the arm and helped her to slip from the examination table.
"No problem," said Pucey. "It's my job."
Hermione carefully limped over to the door. Before she could leave, Pucey's voice held her back,
She turned around to the werewolf. He smiled at her and said, "It's good to have you back."
"Your room is just like you left it," Sirius said, grinning at Hermione.
He walked beside her, gesticulating widely as he spoke. Lupin was on her other side and rolled his eyes at his friend's enthusiasm. Hermione couldn't see him, but she knew Tom was trailing behind her. His magic still bristled over her skin.
"You know how werewolves are," Sirius sighed dramatically. "No respect for other people's privacy, I tell you."
Lupin arched an indignant eyebrow. "That's not even true."
"It sure is," Sirius insisted. "A couple of days ago, someone stole my toothbrush. My toothbrush for Merlin's sake."
Lupin shrugged and suggested, "Maybe you just lost it. You're not the tidiest person I ever met."
"Anyway," Sirius spoke over his friend and turned back to Hermione. "Your room's still intact. Just like you left it."
She grinned up at the man. "That's great. I kind of missed it."
"I bet," Lupin agreed. "Especially your bed. You look dead on your feet."
Sirius nodded and said, "Yeah. You need rest. In the meantime, I'm going to firecall Ginny."
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Ginny?"
"I'm sure she's worried," Sirius replied. "I asked her to help me find you at Hogwarts earlier. She's going to be over the moon when she hears you're fine."
Hermione smiled at him widely. "Tell her thanks from me. Maybe I could go and visit her again."
Lupin chuckled. "Or we'll just invite her here. Now that she knows about the Order, I don't see why she can't visit you."
Hermione beamed at the werewolf. "Really? That would be great. I can show her around."
Sirius patted Hermione's head. "Slow down, Tiger. You have all the time in the world."
Hermione chuckled. They had almost reached the building with the sleeping quarters that she spotted a tall figure walking towards them. Soon, the man had reached them and, a sharp grin on his face, leered at Hermione. Colonel Greyback made quite the striking figure with his bulky build and the black uniform. Five golden stripes sat at the collar of his cloak. Unlike the other soldiers' uniforms, Greyback's cloak missed the emblem of the Corps sewn on its sleeve. Instead, Hermione spotted the stylized wolf howling at the moon in form of a golden badge at his cloak's lapel.
"Rookwood," the pack leader greeted her in his deep voice. "I heard yer back. Thought I'd have ter welcome ya."
Hermione grinned at Greyback. She'd strangely missed the gruff man. "Yes. I just arrived."
Greyback scanned her with his steely grey eyes and rubbed his chin in contemplation, sharp claws glinting dangerously. Then a smirk twisted up his lips, giving him a fierce look, and Greyback said unceremoniously,
"Well, I'm glad yer not dead."
Sirius groaned, "Why are you werewolves always so blunt?"
Greyback frowned at the man. "Didn't ya hear? I said I'm glad she's not dead."
"Merlin," Sirius sighed in exasperation. "You're making this just worse."
Greyback clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Yer just a bit of a delicate lil' flower, aren't ya, Black?"
Sirius just rolled his eyes at the Colonel. Greyback ignored the man and now inspected Hermione critically.
"Pucey already looked ya over?"
Hermione glanced up at the pack leader. "Yes. He did."
Greyback nodded. Then he arched an eyebrow at Hermione and said, "I told ya that mission was suicide, didn' I?"
Hermione chuckled. "Well, it was fine until Umbridge's men caught me."
"Yeah," Greyback scratched his head, mussing up his shaggy hair. "I heard about tha'. But ya got away, didn't ya? So, fuck those guys."
His gaze left Hermione and now drifted to Tom by her side. A vile smirk tugged at Greyback's mouth. He stepped closer to the Slytherin and sniffed the air as if picking up a prey's scent. Tom didn't seem at all bothered by Greyback's intimidating presence. Instead of flinching away, he watched the werewolf's actions interestedly like a scientist observing one of his experiments.
"No need ter ask who you are, I s'ppose," the Colonel commented dryly.
Tom's face was blank, all emotion hidden underneath a shroud of mystery. Only a smirk hung from his lips as he introduced himself smartly, "Tom Riddle."
"Aye." Greyback nodded. Then he added, feral growl to his voice, "I hear you've given Hermione much grief."
The danger creeping into Greyback's tone was obvious, but only managed to sharpen the smirk on Tom's face. There was an edge of malice hidden underneath velvet as Tom replied,
"I've given Hermione lots of things."
It wasn't Greyback who reacted to Tom's statement. Instead, Sirius released an angry snarl and tried to lunge at Tom.
"How dare you?!"
Lupin managed to grab Sirius by the arm and held him back. Sirius struggled against the hold, eyes glinting with ire. Tom just watched the scene dispassionately. Hermione felt his magic in the air shift and it once again struck her how Tom's magic had changed. It felt condensed, more solid. Hermione shuddered as strands of the magic licked over her. Tom's magic had always been dark but now there was an unfathomable abyss in it. A sadistic thirst accompanied the magic, as if it could rip anything apart, as if it was nothing but destruction.
Suddenly Hermione was very glad that Lupin was holding Sirius back. Greyback undoubtedly felt Tom's magic as well. A savage grin crossed his face. The pack leader turned to Hermione and informed her,
"Lupin's right." He gestured at Tom. "This is an odd one."
In worry, Hermione peered at the expressionless look on Tom's face as he watched Sirius. Fortunately, Lupin had managed to calm his friend. Hermione gnawed at her bottom lip and replied softly,
"He certainly is."
Greyback barked out a laugh. "At least ya know what yer getting' yerself into."
Luckily, he couldn't comment any further on Tom's peculiarities. Greyback was distracted as another werewolf stepped over to them. The man saluted to Greyback and said,
"We have a situation, Colonel."
"What now?" Greyback narrowed his steely eyes at the soldier.
"Sir, it's Bole," the werewolf replied, "His fireteam got stuck in Algeria."
Greyback crinkled is nose in annoyance. "They got stuck? Again? Are yer kiddin' me?"
"No, sir," said the soldier. "I spoke with him myself."
Greyback released a growl. "I can't believe this." He turned to Hermione. "I mean, how many times can ya get stuck in one and the same desert?"
Hermione blinked at the man and, not having a good reply, just shrugged her shoulders. Greyback sighed tiredly,
"Seems like I have ter look into this. Ya get yerself a bit of shut-eye in the meantime."
Hermione grinned up at the Colonel and nodded her head. Satisfied, Greyback now turned to Lupin and ordered, "Captain, make sure Rookwood is looked after. We'll have a debrief after I've cleared up this Bole situation."
Lupin saluted to his pack leader. "Yes, sir."
Greyback eyed Tom and his brow furrowed up in thought. After a moment, he added, "I suppose ya can get this one a room too, if he insists."
This time, Lupin's reply came with much more reluctance. "Yes, sir."
With that Greyback left them and, hands buried in the pockets of his black uniform cloak, marched over to the central building. Hermione smiled after the man. Then they resumed their way to the sleeping quarters. She just wanted to enter the building as she realized Tom's magic still curled around her. She cast a look at the Slytherin.
"Where's Tom going to stay?" Hermione asked.
Sirius crinkled his nose and threw Tom an angry look. Uncharacteristically mean tone to his voice, he said, "He can sleep outside in the dirt for all I care."
Lupin sighed and said, "Don't worry, Hermione. I'll find him a free room."
Hermione nodded slowly, not convinced. "Okay."
She tried to pull her hand away from Tom's grasp. His fingers tightened, and he wouldn't let go. Without looking at him, Hermione said tightly,
"Tom, I'm tired and sick, I will not deal with you right now."
Tom narrowed his eyes at her, obviously not happy with this development. Before he could say anything, Lupin cut in,
"There are empty rooms in this building." He gestured at the building in front of them. "You can have one of them."
Hermione felt Tom's irritable magic peak and she threw him a warning look. "Just take it. We can talk about everything else tomorrow."
Tom clenched his jaw in anger, mouth pressed into a thin line. Still, her promise seemed to convince him, and he nodded sharply. Hermione sighed in relief. Shortly, she wondered if it was smart to leave Tom on his own, unsupervised. In the end, though, her exhaustion won over. If she stayed on her feet for much longer, she'd likely pass out.
Throwing a small grateful smile at Sirius and Lupin, Hermione left them alone and entered the building. She followed a hallway, flanked by many identical grey doors. Finally, Hermione stopped in front of one of them. She opened the door and stepped into the small room. A small table with chair stood right under the tiny window with a rickety metal locker right beside it. Hermione deposited her potions on the table. Then she tiredly sank down on the small cot. It had been a crazy day.
Hermione slept like the dead without any dreams. The next morning, she woke up, feeling loads better. Hermione yawned widely and sat up in her small cot. The heavy exhaustion was gone, and she was feeling much lighter. Testily, she moved her left foot. It still smarted a bit but wasn't as bad anymore. Her headache was gone too. The potions, Pucey had given her, had done wonders. Hermione smiled contently.
She carefully stood up and stretched her arms. Her body felt sore all over, as if she'd run a marathon yesterday, but the sharp pain was gone. Hermione opened the metal locker and pulled out some clothes. She slipped into a black long-sleeved top and black trousers. Fondly, she remembered how, last time, Sirius had insisted to change the colour of her all black outfit. The dirty chemise lay forgotten in one corner of the room and Hermione enjoyed the feeling of her new clothes on her body. In good spirits, she wondered where Sirius and Lupin were. Maybe she'd catch them in the rec room for breakfast. She was quite hungry.
Hermione opened the door only to stop dead in her tracks as she found Tom in the hallway. He sat on the floor and was leaned against the wall opposite from her door. The click of her door must've woken him – that, or he hadn't slept at all – either way, Tom gazed at Hermione wordlessly. She stared at him for a second.
"You've been here the whole night," Hermione realized in a dead tone.
The Slytherin didn't reply but continued to watch her like a hawk. Hermione released a long sigh. A frown appeared on her forehead as her gaze wandered over Tom. Reluctantly, Hermione decided to address the problem at hand,
"We need to talk."
She really didn't want to, but she'd stalled for long enough, hadn't she? Obviously, Tom wasn't going to make this easy for her and just disappear. Hermione re-entered her room and plopped down on her bed. She needed to sit while doing this. Tom followed her and gently closed the door. He stepped closer to her and inquired, voice composed,
"What do you want to talk about?"
The question stirred Hermione's temper. She glared at Tom and replied tightly, "There's lots we need to talk about. I guess the most pressing matter is, what do you want here, Tom?"
The Slytherin was unperturbed by her sharp tone. Silkily, he replied, "You wanted to stay here. Of course, I'll stay as well. After all, you're my girlfriend."
Hermione wasn't sure if he'd done it on purpose, but he managed to rile her even further. He gazed at her, face unreadable like always. Baring her teeth in a snarl, she sniped at him,
"You know very well what I think about our so-called relationship."
Her reply managed to paint a frown on Tom's face. Traces of anger entered his voice as he said, "We've been over this already. You are my girlfriend."
"I'm really not," Hermione replied mordantly. "You have to finally accept that."
By now Tom's magic swirled around him irately. In a dangerously low voice, he declared, "You'll stay with me. I love you."
Hermione shrugged her shoulders and replied colourlessly, "Even if that were true, love sometimes just isn't enough, is it?"
The dark magic in the air now wrenched at Hermione but she wasn't going to let Tom intimidate her and simply glared at him. Words laced with frost, she asked,
"Why did you get me out of Azkaban?"
Tom glared at her in upcoming anger and spat at her, "I needed you."
As if that would explain anything. Hermione's own magic gave an angry budge. "It's always about you. What you want. What you need. Always just you. You never care about anyone else. What do you even need me for? So you have someone to order around again?"
A sneer formed on Tom's face as he was hit by her accusations. His dark magic reached for Hermione, coiled around her and cruelly sliced into her Dark Mark. Hermione flinched at the pain and her hand flew to her left forearm holding it painfully.
"You're being ungrateful," Tom stated coolly, threat barely conceiled. "I got you out of Azkaban."
"Why did you even bother?" Hermione shot at him. "Tom, why did you get me from Azkaban?"
Derogatory look on his face, Tom scorned, "You'd have prefered me to leave you to Umbridge?"
Hermione gritted her teeth as he still just wouldn't answer her question. Her temper flared and she grinded out, "Do you expect me to thank you? Remind me, why was Umbridge even trying to catch me in the first place? Hm?"
Tom glowered at her and his magic still wrenched at her viciously. Hermione crinkled her nose and said caustically, "You made me steal Slytherin's Locket from Hepzibah Smith, Tom. Without you, Umbridge would've never learned of my existence. It's your fault she was after me."
A dangerous red light burned in Tom's eyes and he hissed, "I'm the one who got you away from Malfoy manor. You were nothing but a little slave before I found you. I saved you."
Of course, he'd change the topic if she told him the harsh truth, wouldn't he? Righteous fury rushed through Hermione and she snapped heatedly, "Yes, and then you threw me right back into that. That stupid locket was worth more to you than I was."
"You betrayed me," Tom spat at her, threatening tinge colouring his tone.
Hermione released a mirthless laugh. "Does that really justify your actions? You could've yelled at me, broken up with me or anything else, really. But, no. What did you do? You tried to get me killed."
"I didn't try to get you killed," Tom told her glacially.
Hermione stared at Tom for a moment. She could still feel his anger reverberating through her Dark Mark. Eventually, she decided cuttingly,
Tom narrowed his eyes into angry slits. "What do you mean 'no'?"
Hermione arched her eyebrows at him, not impressed by the threatening expression on his face. In a clipped voice, she informed him, "I'm not doing this anymore. We've been there already. And I'm tired of it."
"You're not doing what exactly?" Tom whispered, deathly cold.
Hermione shrugged. "I'm not going to sit here and let you yell at me and threaten me."
"I really don't care," Tom replied evilly. "I won't let you get away from me."
He glared at her, angry magic flaring around him. Hermione didn't reply to his crazy demands but rolled up the sleeve of her shirt, revealing her Dark Mark. Her gaze wandered back to Tom. The Slytherin eyed the black tattoo on her skin and Hermione could feel his magic reaching for it again.
"I want you to break the bond."
A sharp frown appeared on Tom's handsome face. The sudden change of topic seemed to unbalance him. "What?"
"The bond," Hermione repeated impatiently. "Break it. Undo it. I don't care how; I want it gone."
There was a strange look on Tom's face as he stared at the Dark Mark on her arm. Something flittered through his eyes. Panic? Hermione wasn't sure. It was gone quickly, and Tom sneered at her,
"I won't break the bond."
"Yes, you will," Hermione told him acridly. "I don't want it anymore. I don't want you anymore. I'm done with you. You're going to break the bond and then you'll leave me alone. Forever."
Strangely enough, her sharp words made Tom take a step away from her. Hermione furrowed her brow in surprise as cracks appeared in his carefully erected façade. Tom's eyes widened a little and this time she definitely saw panic swirling through them. He caught himself quickly, though, and took a swift step towards Hermione, towering over her again. Tom harshly grabbed a fistful of Hermione's curly hair and forced her head back, so she had to look at him.
"Don't you dare order me around."
Hermione hissed at the pain in her scalp and slapped Tom's hand away from her. "Don't touch me!"
She stared up at Tom, disgust crinkling her nose. This was all she would ever get from him, wasn't it? Pain. Pain and threats. Hermione shook her head. Suddenly she didn't feel like fighting anymore. Her anger collapsed, replaced by an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach. Hermione took in a deep breath of air. As she spoke next, her voice was hollow and free of the previous anger,
"I don't want this anymore. This has to stop now."
She reached for Tom and clasped his hand, thumb gingerly brushing over the back of his hand. A sad smile hung from Hermione's lips as she looked up into Tom's cold blue eyes.
"I don't know why you got me out of Azkaban," she told him. "But I really am grateful. You did a lot for me, Tom. Don't think I wouldn't appreciate it. Without you, I'd probably still work at Malfoy manor."
As Tom gazed back at her, his dark magic still possessively twisted itself around Hermione. She released a sigh. Then she let go of Tom's hand. As Hermione spoke next finality run through her firm voice,
"It still doesn't change my mind. It's for the best we cut all ties. Break the bond. Then you should go back to Hogwarts. It's over."
At her words, Tom's eyes widened and more of the mask crumbled from him. Hermione could see his hands shake slightly, before he balled them into fists. Even his magic got infected, lost its irate sharpness, and now bristled around him in an agitated cloud. It made Hermione narrow her eyes at Tom in suspicion. Now, he even avoided her gaze and bent his head.
"I'd rather stay here," Tom replied, his voice no more than a whisper.
There had been a foreign quiver in his voice that made Hermione hesitate. Then she gritted her teeth, bracing herself against the tight feeling in her stomach. She wasn't going to let Tom toy with her again. Voice brittle, she repeated,
"Leave. Go back. You've graduated, Tom. I'm pretty sure you've got a couple of NEWTs. Go back to the Wizarding World. Live your life."
Tom didn't reply anything. He stood in front of her head bent as if he was entranced with the floor. Hermione shook her head. No. No, she wasn't going to let him deceive her again.
"I'm serious. You're going to leave. If you don't, I swear I'll ask Greyback to throw you out. You know what the Corps can do."
Tom still silently stood in front of her and stared at the floor, so she couldn't even see his face. His magic tried to once again wrap around her. Hermione glared at the Slytherin. He wasn't worth it.
"Just leave. I don't want to ever see you again."
Strangely, her words made Tom flinch. Slowly, he raised his face. Cautiously, blue eyes locked with hers. Hermione was startled as she didn't find the familiar coldness and cruelty in them.
"I… I…" Tom whispered, voice uncharacteristically weak. "I can't…"
"What do you mean?" she hissed as he didn't continue.
Nervously, he licked his lips before he continued in a strangely insecure tone, "It's… something's wrong…"
Hermione blinked at him in incomprehension. Temporarily, she forgot her anger and inquired, "What's wrong? What are you talking about?"
Starkly blue eyes bored into her, a hint of fear swimming in them. Then Tom confessed shakily, "I can't control it. I tried. It's… everything is slipping. I don't know how to stop it."
Pursing her lips, Hermione took him in. She hadn't notice this sooner, but Tom was pale. Paler than usual. He actually looked sick. Suspiciously, she asked,
Panic settled on Tom's face and he frantically shook his head. "I don't know."
Hermione sighed, not really knowing what to do here, and hissed impatiently, "I don't understand what you're trying to tell me."
Tom's mouth was pressed into a thin line and he stared at her, looking distraught. Finally, he found his voice and replied, "I don't know why this is happening. It's like I'm… disappearing."
Hermione stiffened as he suddenly pulled a familiar black diary from his robe pocket. A look of pure desperation crossed Tom's handsome features as he stared down at the small book in his hands. His gaze snapped back to her and he continued weakly,
"Everything went fine. Like it was supposed to." His fingers tightened around the black book. "But now… I'm disappearing."
Trying to decipher his statement, Hermione said slowly, "Something is wrong with the Horcrux."
"No," Tom whispered. He numbly stared at the diary. "Yes…?"
"Okay…" Hermione scanned him. Then she added in a callous tone, "Why should I care?"
Again, desperate blue eyes fluttered at her and Tom gushed out, "You hold it back."
Hermione tilted her head at him. "Hold what back?"
"T- the Nothingness," he told her frantically. "You stop it and it leaves me alone. When you're there, I'm not disappearing."
Before she could reply, Tom stumbled a step towards her. With shaking hands, he pushed the black diary at her. Only reluctantly, Hermione accepted the Horcrux. Disgust crinkled her nose as she looked at the black book, then back at Tom.
"What do you expect me to do?" she inquired, refusal already thick in her voice.
Tom looked down at her with wide eyes. He inhaled deeply before he released a shaky breath of air. Hermione could barely believe her eyes as Tom suddenly sank down on his knees before her. Watching him in stunned silence, Hermione couldn't understand what he was doing.
"Please," Tom whispered, his head downcast not daring to look at her. "Save me."
Hermione stared at him kneeling before her on the floor. He didn't look up at her. Worrying her lips, she wondered what she should do. She didn't even know what was going on. Her gaze unfixed from him and wandered to the black book in her hands. The dark magic it radiated made her feel sick. It tingled painfully on her skin where her fingers made contact with the diary. Hermione took in a deep breath of air as her eyes wandered over the black leather. Half of his soul was now imprisoned in the pages of this book. Quite defenceless, it rested in her hands…
Why should she help him?
Tom had brought this upon himself. She had warned him and begged him to turn around. He hadn't wanted to listen to her. Instead he had hurt her. Now he expected her to help him, so his split soul didn't completely dissolve?
Why should she?!
Hermione's fingers angrily tightened around the diary as she turned her eyes on Tom. He hadn't moved at all. He still kneeled before her, awaiting her decision. His head was bent, and Hermione couldn't see his face, but she could see his hands trembling slightly. She had never seen him like this. Desperate.
"Why should I help someone like you?" she asked, cruel tint in her voice.
Tom shuddered under her words and didn't dare look up at her as he whispered, "I can't… can't breathe. And everything collapses around me. It's crumbling. Only you can stop it. You told me it would happen. And… I'm sorry."
Tom never looked up at her as he extended a hand. Tentatively, he ran his fingers over her calf. Hermione shook her head at him and reminded him curtly,
"Your Horcrux is still here, Tom. You're not sorry that you killed Regulus, my friend. There's no remorse. What exactly are you sorry about? That your plan of immortality didn't go as smoothly as you thought it would? Is the price too high after all?"
Tom quickly let go of her leg. He bowed his head even deeper as he breathed, "Please. Don't leave me like this. I shouldn't have hurt you. I regret how I treated you."
Hermione scanned Tom and knew that he didn't deserve her help. He didn't even understand what he'd done wrong. She didn't owe him anything. He had always treated her like a worthless servant. To him she had never been more than a possession.
"You're a horrible person," Hermione told him coldly and Tom flinched under her words.
She raised a hand and reached for him. She touched his head and her fingers ran through his silky soft hair. Tom stiffened under her touch. He held perfectly still as she skimmed her hand over his head. As she removed her fingers a shudder ran through his body. Slowly, very slowly, he raised his face at her. His skin was very pale, making his vibrant blue eyes stand out even more. Hesitantly, almost fearfully, his gaze wandered up to her. Hermione had never seen his eyes being so unguarded. As she stared into those blue orbs, she could see vulnerability and fear swirling through them. But also hope. Tom scanned her, obviously fearful of her rejection.
No, he certainly didn't deserve her help.
Hermione knew she needed to send him away. She should rip that disgusting Horcrux of his apart and throw him into the hell he had created for himself. It would be the just thing to do. Hermione had been in hell herself. For years and years, she had lived it; lived with pain and humiliation every day. Why shouldn't Tom get a taste of it? She knew how horrible it was to exist without any hope.
Hermione's gaze was locked with Tom's and she wasn't sure what devil drove her as she slowly, reluctantly, nodded her head. Tom's eyes widened slightly in surprise but then relief washed over his features. He tentatively moved closer to her and, still kneeling on the floor, slipped his arms around her waist and pressed himself tightly against her. He was half lying in her lap, arms slung around her waist and face pushed into her belly. Hermione still frowned as she looked down at him. She again ran her fingers through his hair, skimmed over the skin at the back of his neck before she gently stroked over his back. Tom embraced her even tighter as he felt the contact.
Hermione let him touch her for a while, feeling small shudders run through his body. But after a while, she decidedly pushed him away from her. Tom obviously didn't want to let go of her, but he still obeyed as she shoved him away. He remained to kneel on the floor before her, seemingly neither willing nor able to put any more distance between them. Hermione scanned him for a moment. Then she stated coldly,
"I really shouldn't help you."
Tom peered up at her through his starkly blue eyes and didn't protest. She sighed and again ran her fingers through his hair.
"Don't think I'll ever be some kind of servant ever again," she warned him, voice hard as steel.
"I didn't think you would be," he replied cautiously.
She petted Tom's hair for some time. He was still kneeling in front of her. Hermione removed her hand from him. Then she mused in a serious voice,
"I know there's something dark inside you, Tom. It took me a while to see it."
She nestled with the black diary that still lay in her lap. Her gaze wandered over the small book. She raised it and told him,
"This is just one manifestation of your darkness. By far not the only one."
She glanced at him. Tom's face was expressionless. He wasn't denying anything. Hermione's fingertips softly skimmed over the Horcrux.
"I'll make sure that this darkness won't devour you completely," she explained, sharp tinge to her voice. "But my help isn't for free. You'll have to pay for it."
His eyes narrowed a fraction and suspicion glimmered in them. Then he inquired in a level voice, "What do you want?"
Hermione didn't immediately reply. Instead she scanned him thoughtfully. After a moment she sighed, "Someone once told me that our world is fucked up."
Tom continued to fix her with his gaze. His face was schooled and expressionless once again, but Hermione could still see the guardedness he tried to hide. She ignored it and continued,
"That darkness inside of you is a part of you. I don't think I, or anyone else, could ever change you."
"What do you want from me?" Tom again asked, his tone giving nothing away.
Hermione narrowed her eyes as she said firmly, "I intend to use your destructive energy for something good for a change."
A heartbeat long, Tom didn't react at all. Then a sharp frown furrowed his brow and he said, "I don't understand."
"I'm a member of the Order of the Phoenix," said Hermione. Her steady gaze was locked with Tom's. "And you are going to come with me, Tom. You will help me right this world and free all Muggleborns."
She saw something flickering through his eyes but couldn't identify it. It was very close to displeasure, though. Then Tom's face was sealed off once again. It didn't matter to her. He could hide his emotions all he wanted.
"Don't be too disappointed," Hermione told him. "This is your chance to finally spread chaos. Didn't you plan to do something like that anyway? You thrive on that, don't you? Sowing nothing but panic and fear?" She raised her eyebrows at him. "I know you are a natural at things like that. But from now on, I will ensure that your darkness only hits those who deserve it."
"I'll watch this," She slightly waved the diary in her hand. "and I'll keep your soul from being completely destroyed. In return you will place your darkness and your power at my disposal." Her gaze rested on him and grew hard as she inquired, "Do you accept my conditions?"
Tom broke eye contact and turned his head away from her. After a stretch of silence, he whispered quietly,
He let his frosty blue eyes wander back to her. Tom stared at her for a while and Hermione was startled as suddenly one corner of his mouth curled up into a smirk.
"But I don't have to call you 'Mistress', do I?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise. Then she laughed softly.
"No, Tom" she replied smilingly. "You can call me 'Hermione'."
'We must no more ask whether the soul and body are one than ask whether the wax and the figure impressed on it are one.'
(*384 BC † 322 BC)
'Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seems to me to be empty and devoid of meaning.'
- Albert Einstein
(*1879 † 1955)