Chapter 9: If I Cannot Love, Then Neither Will I Fear
I do not possess a clue
As to why I write
But death, my dear, it calls
And this way stays the fright
Hermione's eyes shot open as she felt Tom Riddle's lips, and she scrambled backwards onto the couch. He flickered in front of her, frowning, and the pages of the diary violently fluttered to today's date before he disappeared into them silently.
Her first kiss. Tom. What?
She grabbed a quill and began to write in a near-unintelligible scrawl:
Tom. Tom! I'm sorry. You startled me. Please don't be angry with me. Thank you so much for telling me about Harry. I knew it was a good idea for you to meet. Please don't be cross!
And in much smaller print, her hand shaking as a cold coil of adrenaline unfurled in her stomach, she wrote:
The pages of the diary remained blank. For the first time ever, Tom did not write back. Hermione threw the diary onto the ground and kicked it under the table, ripping a page as it snagged under her shoe. Of course! She had to go ruining everything. Why couldn't she have just taken this development calmly, logically, as if there was nothing strange about a fifty-year-old spirit that didn't really even have corporeality coming out of a book to kiss a thirteen year-old girl. Well, when you put it like that.
Did Tom even like her? She blushed at the thought. Of course he didn't. Boys never liked Hermione-especially boys with high cheekbones who were clever and could hold a conversation and actually loved learning. Boys like Tom didn't exist in Hermione's world. The older boys at Hogwarts were more along the lines of the Weasley twins-pranksters who unashamedly chased after girls and had a sort of competition as to who could be the worst student. The older boys in her neighborhood in London were even more horrid-not even pretending to care about anything other than loitering and drinking. Come to think of it, she had never met anyone in her life under 40 whose habits and demeanor even remotely resembled Tom.
He must just be lonely. You'd be ready to spring on the first thing to saunter by after fifty years locked up in a book. Hermione clenched her teeth and noticed she was standing above the book with her fists balled up and her shoulders hunched. Since when had she been so stressed? Since meeting Tom! She couldn't even really remember what she had said to Harry at all-only that Tom had gently worked her mouth, his deep voice reverberating in her head, telling her...What did he tell her?
She screamed and pulled down on her hair. Why didn't he respond? She invested so much into him, into the diary, into believing that he was the one person, the one teacher that would be perfect just because he had NOTHING ELSE TO DO. Tom, how does one cast the Patronus Charm? Tom, why hasn't a wizard been able to treat cancer? Tom, why did the Goblin Wars only end after mediation by a third party? She hated herself for being so needy, but unlike every other teacher who always stepped back and shut Hermione up, Tom craved contact and thus shared knowledge as if it was his only want. Perhaps you were what he wanted all along...
Hermione sat down and blankly stared at the door. She couldn't accept that. There was no possible way that Tom Riddle had any romantic feelings towards her in the slightest. There had to be some sort of manipulation at play. Boys had done this to her before, had told her that they fancied her only to snigger with their friends at her too-eager face and buck-toothed smile. Merlin, she didn't want to believe it. It'd be so much simpler, nicer, neater to believe that she and Tom could somehow work past this and go back to being student and mentor for eternity. But whether or not his feelings were genuine, she simply was unable to believe that any boy would like her for herself. There had always been a sick ulterior motive masking the sentiment that Ronald Weasley spat on Halloween night last year. Even though Tom was different in most ways, he probably was the same in this one.
She trudged back to Gryffindor Common Room and realized as she arrived at the Fat Lady that she had left the diary behind. With an appraising glare, the Fat Lady suddenly smiled. "Dearie, you look like a new woman!" she sang, and opened wide after Hermione muttered the password- "Valiance."
As the Fat Lady swung open to reveal her home, Hermione felt inexplicably light, as if a twenty-pound cloak had just been gently sloughed from her shoulders. She climbed through the hole, ran up to her bed in leaps and bounds and snuggled under the blankets as a fire crackled in the corner. Why had she relied on Tom so much again? This felt...so...much...nicer...easier...better.
But not right.
Tom could not trust anything, including himself. And so, after Granger pulled away, he disintegrated into the diary and landed face-down with a thud onto the stone floor of the Slytherin Common Room. He felt nothing. Good. Nothing was good.
Tom Marvolo Riddle considered himself a sadist. When he had no one to practice violence or manipulation upon, he turned upon himself in an effort that would be incorrectly described as masochism. At the orphanage, this resulted in a dual occupation of his attentions. On the traditionally sadistic side, he would plot out each of his fellow orphans' tortures and execute them one by one. The trip to the sea, the snake bite incident, etc. When he deemed that someone wasn't worth his efforts, he'd merely steal something as a sort of passive way of retribution for the victim not recognizing him as superior.
When the sweet results of his sadism became soured by predictability and especially later on during his career at Hogwarts, Tom liked to push himself to his limits. He would study for 48 hours straight without food or water. He would go without sleep for nearly a week and endeavor to distinguish hallucination from reality. He would perform torture curses on himself for hours until he felt his nerve endings were burnt beyond salvation, and then he would do it again. He would try muggle drugs and then quit them just to prove that nothing could addict him-that nothing distract him from his independent ambition to cheat death. However, at the end of every challenge, he was only reminded that he possessed no particularly superhuman ability to resist fatigue or starvation or even nicotine. It was hard. He hated that it was hard. And yet, the final problem, the final issue of not sensing anything at all paled in comparison to the corporeal pain he felt.
Women never figured into the self-sadistic equation. He felt nothing for them. On the other hand, various members of the Knights of Walpurgis would do any number of idiotic things to impress a girl. For example, one time, Abraxas Malfoy had cut off his most prized possession in order to please a French pureblood from Beauxbatons. Turns out, his second-most prized possession wasn't enough to make up for the improved haircut. Relationships introduced uncertainty, and Tom did not have enough time in order to indulge in doubt. He had, on the upper limit, 150 years to find some way to make himself immortal. Considering that no one had come close despite wizardry's long tradition, Tom could not bet on his superior intelligence to find a way before his death.
It wasn't until he delved too far into the Dark Arts that he realized there was an addiction he would never be able to shake: the Cruciatus. Each time he uttered it, a warm blast of power would shoot through his arm to warm his chest. He couldn't help but smile.
He felt the same way as his lips touched Granger's.
There were several ways this could go. Tom rummaged around under his bed for some parchment and quickly wrote out a list:
Use Granger to get Potter's blood, and then kill Granger
Kill Potter by some other way, then kill Granger
Kill Granger and take my chances with some other Gryffindor to kill Potter
He was tempted to write, "and hide the fact you killed Potter from Granger. Do not kill Granger."
How could she be useful to him? There were several answers, of course, that he had already contemplated. For one, Dumbledore had no reason to suspect that Hermione had anything to do with Voldemort or Dark Magic. Tom could definitely sacrifice some of the strength that he drained from her in order to convince the staff and the meddling fool of her dedication to Potter and all things light. She was smart and even helped Tom reach some conclusions about Potter that would have taken longer on his own. Most importantly, she could brew the potion to extract Potter's Horcrux and thus make my older self able to dispose of him.
He needed corporeal form to perform the ritual. He need Granger to give him corporeal form, apparently. At this stage, a...physical relationship with Granger was the only way guarantee this. She was so starved for affection. The merest hint of reciprocity was enough to give Tom a sort of lingering high. This is why we are strong, and she is weak. '
And the voice that he had beaten down, held back bloody as it teemed forth from the neuroses of his mind did not agree for once.
Yet have you not achieved immortality, Tom? This game could go on forever. Half of a soul forever is much better than a complete one truncated. The only death you can face if you play it safe is if someone finds out about this book.
Too risky. Granger would have to die.
Don't kill her.
And he spun around full circle to lay eyes upon his eternal frame. Forever a 6th year, as a breath before his New Year's Eve birthday, the breath before it jumped to the next stage, the next year ticking down his death. Any fleeting happiness that Granger might give him, if he were even to admit such a possibility, is nothing compared to an infinite array of experiences he could have if he played his cards right.
He read once that he would never be able to feel love. His mother had ensured with his father's sip of dusky love potion that her offspring, progeny, spawn would also never share that genuine article. He couldn't even imagine what it was. The best he could do was not feel fear, and in the arms of one Hermione Granger, that was all his shorn heart felt.
Author's Note: Thank you for sticking with me. Onwards, ho.