It was only when Hermione saw Ginny Weasley over the summer that thoughts of Tom Riddle resurfaced again, and the incessant questions which circled her head.
Why had he bothered to spare her, a mudblood? It didn't make any sense. She wondered if Ginny had any recollection of 'being Tom,' and almost didn't want to find out.
Before, throughout the summer, she'd had travelling with her parents to occupy her, and later the news that Harry had ran from his relatives house and the whole 'Aunt Marge incident' was enough to fill her thoughts. The present had done a convincing and sufficient job at blocking such potentially futile musings from her mind.
After all, she could never know why Tom Riddle had chosen to spare her at that moment, could she? Part of her wondered if he'd just in some way identified her to his own past..what with the similarities in their bookish natures.
Then she decided that was ridiculous.
A shared love of learning couldn't possibly account for such an act, not from the ghost or memory of a teenaged dark lord. Especially not from one who so despised her kind, the 'filth' of her blood...more, the best friend of the Boy-Who-Lived.
It didn't make logical sense, she didn't like it.
She didn't think she was one of those girls that needed everything neatly ordered and fit into boxes and stereotypes, but she did like it to make sense, and for the world to have a semblance of structure and order to it.
An apple went up, gravity pulled it down.
Of course, this had been somewhat changed and softened by her introduction to magic, where lots of things didn't seem to make scientific sense - she could tell already that a lot of wizards and witches lacked in logic because of this. Nonetheless, she didn't like loose threads, or unanswered questions.
Tom Riddle was an unanswered question, and it haunted her.
Perhaps it was silly to be fixated on such a seemingly trivial thing, when Ginny and Harry had received far worse scars than her, but the knowledge of this didn't diminish the sensation.
Speaking of, she'd caught Ginny studying her sometimes, with an odd look on her still-pale face. The youngest Weasley had brightened somewhat as sunny days crept on, and Hermione thought she must be stronger than most people gave her credit for.
She may have been foolishly tricked, trusting a diary that could think for itself, but...well, Hermione could think of other people who would and could have been similarly tricked.
She may have been, herself, with her lack of knowledge of the magical world and how things worked. Ginny may have had some more of this upbringing, but...well, in the magic world such a mistake would be no difference to any mistakes muggle children made in the muggle world.
It was foolishness, yes, but understandable foolishness.
She wondered if Ginny remembered 'being Tom', and, hence, the conversation they'd had. She wasn't sure if she wanted to know, and yet she did, but didn't want to bring up such dark and troubled memories up again for the younger girl - especially as she seemed to be trying so hard and valiantly to forget about it.
It was their last night before going to Hogwarts, staying at the Leaky Cauldron, and she and Ginny were doing last minute packing, sharing a room.
"Hermione?" Ginny began, hesitantly. She looked over. Though Ginny had started opening up more, revealing what must have been her previous, naturally vibrant and fiery personality, she still leaned towards quiet shyness, nightmares.
"You met him, didn't you...Tom? You have questions."
Hermione froze in place, turning to face Ginny more directly.
"You don't have to talk about this," she began, though she couldn't deny her burning curiosity.
"-I want to," Ginny interrupted, before her voice softened. "Tom's...everyone tells me to forget about him, to move on...they say I shouldn't bottle everything up, but then mum and dad get uncomfortable whenever I want to talk about him to them. I-I don't mind, I don't."
Hermione studied her for a moment, before nodding.
"Does that mean you...that you remember?" she asked, mouth dry.
"Not all of it," Ginny shrugged, almost helplessly. "Most of it's a big black blur...being him, I mean...or him being me...or," she swallowed, waving a hand. "You know. Whatever."
"But sometimes I get flashes," she admitted. "He poured so much of himself into the me by the end that I can't help but understand him. I know everyone wants and expects me to hate him for what he did to me...but I can't. It may have been a trick, but it felt so real to me - it was real to me. The Tom Riddle I knew was my friend, even if he later wasn't. I understand him. It was real to me."
"Do you understand why he spared me?" Hermione asked softly, eyes lit with curiosity.
"No," Ginny murmured, regretfully almost. "For once, I don't think even he fully knew. It was a spur of a moment decision on his part."
That really didn't help.
"But he must have been thinking something when he did it!" she protested, frustrated, almost desperate. Ginny shrugged, a tad helplessly.
"You reminded him of himself, a little bit," she replied. "He saw you making polyjuice...I don't really know though, it's a bit of blur on my side of the spectrum. He - he didn't want me 'whining' to him, in the end...but I think, but no...it's not possible..." Her voice cracked a little, despite her seeming efforts to prevent that.
Hermione's insides twisted with sympathy, and she nodded once, sharply.
"Right. Well, thanks," she mumbled.
Ginny continued to watch her for a moment, pensively, almost troubled, before returning to her packing.
Despite her best efforts, Tom Riddle continued to haunt her through her Third Year. She thought it may have been the Time Turner, so taunting in its possibility, that only exacerbated the memories.
Theoretically, she could have gone back to a time when Tom Riddle wasn't Voldemort, and wasn't a Dark Lord, and attempt to reform him. It was a silly idea, but it crept up on her occasionally - a ghostly what if scenario.
Now, she found herself face to face with him again.
It was jarring, she didn't expect it, and part of her knew he wasn't really there...
She'd done everything perfectly, smooth sailing, and then she was in that hidden trunk area.
She didn't know what she'd been expecting.
Tom Riddle looked exactly the same as he had in the mirror; but, of course, he couldn't hardly look different.
He lunged forwards as she opened her mouth to scream, clamping a hand over her lips to prevent it.
"Miss Granger," he purred. Every second he seemed to grow more real. She jerked back, alarmed, her mind frozen from casting the 'riddikulus' spell. "How does it feel to know you've failed?" He caught hold of the time turner around her neck, chokingly, before letting the gold chain slip through his fingers.
Her eyes followed it; and all the thoughts of going back in time, of somehow changing things, splurged back over her. His eyes gained a greater weight, heavier with the weight of her fears and the life she was bestowing on him in mindless shock or terror.
She didn't know why he was here, on what scared her so much. It was absurd.
"I-you're not my responsibility!" she snapped, angrily, stuffing the time-turner away out of view again, her heart hammering furiously in her chest. She felt sick.
He raised a brow.
"Then who's responsibility is it when you have the means? You failed, along with everyone else, in failing to stop me, in failing to prevent the existence of Lord Voldemort."
"That's ridiculous!" she cried. "I'm thirteen!"
"Which absolves you or the choices and possibilities?" He returned, unyielding, before offering her a sly smirk. "Maybe you could have connected with me, where the others failed. I obviously saved you for a reason..."
"You're not real."
"I'm real in your head, I'm as real as I am and was to Ginny Weasley. Your fear gives me strength, like the diary did...you're smart, you can see the comparison. Of course you can, and I don't know why you're arguing with me considering these are your thoughts as much as mine. You know that, Hermione, you're not stupid."
She stared at him, bile wanted to claw up her throat.
"Time shouldn't be meddled with, I'm not arrogant enough to think I can change the past without disasterous consequences and I - my parents - I'm thirteen!"
"And you can't therefore take responsibility? No one does, you know. Not with me...because it's easier to assume the inevitability of a monster over the murder of something once human. I mean, here you are, creating me...giving me immortality."
He took another step forward once more, breath like ice on her ear - growing warmer, more real and solid every second.
"In refusing to use the chances gifted to you," he whispered, palm flattening over her neck and the golden chain, curling around it again slightly. "You failed. You are a failure Hermione Granger, and, deep down, you know it - that's why you try so hard to be the smart one. Compensation. You know your friends only keep you around for homework help, don't you? They don't actually like you." He laughed, icily. "Who would ever like you?"
Hermione reared back, heart hammering with unvoiced doubts and fears, of failures both imagined and real.
And then she just ran, unable to quite help herself.
Ron and Harry looked quite concerned at her state upon leaving the Boggart Trunk, and she made up some silly excuse and near truth about McGonagall telling her she'd failed everything because the real thing seemed so ridiculous, and they never knew or had asked.
It felt so stupid in the bright sunshine, and she couldn't stop shaking however hard she mentally scolded herself and tried to stop. The Time Turner suddenly seemed like a dead-weight around her neck, and her mind couldn't help but spin over what-ifs and possibilities that could only reasonably - logically - go unanswered.
But fear was rarely logical or rational.
And when everything turned out well, and they saved Sirius and Buckbeak, the what-ifs only grew stronger.
And if she kept that time turner...well, McGonagall never did quite ask for it back like she'd said.
All she knew was, the next time she met Tom Riddle, if she did - he was never going to get the better of her again!
Fear was made to be mastered.
A/N: So, I'm ashamed how long this took me, and the quality isn't brilliant. It feels kinda like a filler chapter, but then, the Horcruxes don't really come in until later do they ;) I hope it wasn't too much of a chore to read either way, I find Hermione and Tom quite difficult...but we shall see. Thank you so much for your continued support 3 Partially inspired because I always found it strange that Hermione's Boggart would really be McGonnagal telling her she'd failed her exams...failure, I can understand...but I think it would be on a greater scale..