Disclaimer in Chapter One
Chapter Three: Dare You Look Underneath?
Dark, disgusting and despicable, that was what Horcruxes were. A desperate measure for a desperate soul. Still, Hermione was not ready to judge Tom. She could be wrong. Hot tears welled up in her eyes until they rolled down her cheeks. Angrily she raised a hand and wiped them away. The ring still lay in front of her, mocking her.
Hermione furiously shook her head. It was not a Horcrux. She must be wrong. Tom creating a Horcrux? Ridiculous. Hermione glowered at the ring. It was Rosier's. Just like Tom had told her. Rosier's black ring. Traitorously, Hermione's thoughts supplied her with answers where she had asked no questions. Horcruxes could not be destroyed or harmed by anything but the strongest poison and the darkest spells. Basilisk's venom and Fiendfyre were the downfall of the soul piece. Insecurely, Hermione glanced at the ring. She needed proof.
Proof that it was not Tom's.
Fiendfyre burned everything, instantly. Only the darkest creations could withstand it, if only for a moment. A Horcrux would – although, vainly in the end – fight against the cursed fire. Even the curse's caster should be able to feel its struggle.
Hesitantly, unwillingly, Hermione pulled out her wand while never taking her eyes from the offending ring. She knew then, was convinced, that the ring would burst the instant the fire touched it. It was no Horcrux! Ignoring her frantically beating heart, Hermione raised her wand.
Flames burst from Hermione's wand. Voraciously, they fed on her magic. A soft groan left her lips as she had to battle against the pull on her magic. If fed too much magic, the curse would slip out of control and rage until it had devoured everything. The hand that held her wand trembled with exertion as Hermione moved it and directed the furiously hissing flames over to the golden ring. Like a hungry beast, the cursed flames crept over the stone floor, greedily reaching out for everything they could burn and destroy.
As the flames reached the golden ring, Hermione felt a sharp tug at her magic. Air flickered with heat and the stone floor creaked under the force of the flames. In the middle of this inferno, Hermione could see the small ring. It glinted golden and looked pristine, untouched by the fire. The flames raged and hissed and demanded even more of Hermione's magic.
Still, the ring resisted.
Hermione's heart sank and all her hope drained from her as she saw the golden ring prevail. Through the fire and heat, she could feel the ring's power fight her. A bit more and it would burst. A bit more and Hermione would lose control. She had no other option but to end the spell with a sharp wand movement. The flames howled and spit, but in the end they died, leaving behind a black spot on the stone floor.
Hermione was left behind, breathing heavily and feeling thoroughly empty. Heat was still radiating from the floor. In the middle of the charred-black stone floor, lay the ring, coated in a thin layer of ashes. Tentatively, Hermione wiped the ashes away. The golden ring was untouched. Already the Dark Magic oozed from it, greedily reaching out for Hermione. Her stomach flopped as she stared down at the horrible ring. It was still intact, unharmed.
There was her proof. This ring was a Horcrux.
Hermione breathed in deeply. Then she slipped the ring into her robe pocket before she stood up. It was time to confront the Horcrux's creator
– o –
As if he knew of her plans, Tom was nowhere to be found in the castle. Hermione had searched the Heads' quarters, the library, the Astronomy Tower… everywhere. She had even snuck into the Slytherin common room. It was as if Tom had fallen off the face of the earth. In her anger and frustration, Hermione left the castle. What drove her, she couldn't tell.
Night had already fallen and Hermione wrapped her black robe tightly around her body. She would find Tom and she would make him tell her the truth. Her feet, or was it the cursed ring in her pocket?, led her into the Forbidden Forest. Deeper and deeper Hermione went until she heard voices. She should have turned around then, but she didn't. Couldn't. The forest around her was dark, tall trees looming, but Hermione's gaze was fixed on a group of people standing not far away.
The people stood in a circle around another person. That person stood tall, face half hidden beneath the hood of a black cloak. Hesitantly, Hermione left the shadows of the trees and stepped onto the soft grass of the clearing. The moon shone in a silvery light. The other people hadn't yet noticed her as they were kneeling, faces turned towards their leader. Amongst the kneeling figures, Hermione spotted Marius Rosier. The so-called leader of the Knights of Walpurgis knelt on the floor, obviously awaiting orders. Reluctantly, Hermione followed his gaze and ended up staring at the true leader. Dark magic bristled around him. His magic was bizarrely mirrored by the ring in Hermione's pocket.
She flinched as her own foolishness destroyed the silence. The Knights whirled towards her, pulling out their wands. A smirk spread on the leader's pale face as he removed his cloak's hood. Hermione stood rooted to the ground as she stared at the leader of the Knights, at Tom. There was nothing left of the familiar softness on his face. His grey eyes were sharp and ice cold.
"Hermione," Tom replied, malice twisting his voice into a hiss. "How nice of you to join us."
To Hermione, Tom meant safety and home. Now, though, she cowered away from him. His only reaction was vile amusement. His emotionless eyes wandered over her form, enjoying her fear, and stopped at her robe pocket.
"I see," Tom said, his voice smooth but hard as steel. "You've brought something I dearly missed."
His gaze kept her mercilessly imprisoned as Tom walked towards Hermione. His followers parted reverently to let him pass. Hermione was quaking in fear as her boyfriend… Tom… rival… her nemesis… stood in front of her. Fear coursed through her as she raised her face and stared into his cold eyes.
"Thank you," Tom scoffed, cruel smirk tugging at his lips. "For bringing me back what is mine."
With that, he reached for Hermione. She flinched fearfully as his hand slipped into her robe pocket. A frightening gleam burned up in Tom's eyes as he looked at the golden ring in his hand.
"It's a Horcrux," Hermione stupidly whispered the truth, not really a question anymore.
Tom glanced at her. The evil smirk never dropped from his face. "Of course it is."
Hermione bit her lower lip so hard it hurt as she peered up at Tom. "You lied to me."
Tom snickered at her statement and inclined his head. "I did."
Against her will, Hermione felt hot tears welling up in her eyes. She refused to let them fall.
"Because," Tom supplied icily, "you were foolish enough to challenge me."
Hermione sniffed pathetically and cursed the tears burning in her eyes. Tom's steady gaze drank in her pain. He raised a hand and, in a mockingly gentle gesture, laid it at the back of Hermione's neck. Tom leaned down to her and Hermione flinched as he placed a kiss on her cheek.
"No-one challenges me and wins."
In a swift movement Tom grasped Hermione's left wrist, fingers curling painfully tight around her. She gasped in surprise and pain as Tom forced the golden band onto her ring finger. Instantly, dark magic pierced Hermione's body. The ring's magic thrust into her, raging through her flesh and bones. It burned her and easily shredded through her feeble attempts to stop it. She barely noticed how Tom let go of her wrist and she fell down on her knees.
"Mm, Hermione," Tom's silky voice penetrated her pain. "My sweet, sweet Hermione, I like that look on your face."
Agony blurred her vision as Hermione stared up at Tom. A sadistic expression twisted his handsome features. Her gaze dropped to the golden ring on her finger and Hermione desperately wrenched at it, trying to slip it off her finger.
"I'm the only one who can remove the ring," Tom informed, voice laced with cruel taunt.
Ruthlessly, pain burned through Hermione's body. Now fury was its companion. Her teeth were bared in a snarl as she glared at Tom.
"You are sick!"
Rage drove her and Hermione made to grasp his legs, wanting nothing more than to hurt him. Tom simply stepped out of her reach. He snickered coldly down at her form. Hermione hissed furiously,
"Get the fuck away from me, Riddle."
"Really?" scoffed Tom. "Last night you couldn't get enough of me."
Through her pain, Hermione could hear the Knights laugh cruelly at Tom's words.
"You disgusting bastard!" Hermione yelled at him, nearly blinded by pain.
The magic coming from the ring on her finger gave a furious twitch, making her groan. Tears streamed down Hermione's face. The pain was unbearable.
"Get on with it then," she snarled, angry desperation in her tone. "That's what you wanted all the time, isn't it, Riddle? Finally getting rid of me?"
Another wave of pain hit Hermione hard and her body curled in on itself. Through a haze, she saw how Tom gestured for his followers to leave. Grudgingly, they obeyed, obviously disappointed to miss Hermione's demise. When they were gone, Tom crouched down beside her, making her flinch away from him.
"Oh no," he said silkily. "I do not wish to see you dead, Hermione. All those weeks you have been such a useful pet. I think I want to keep you."
Terrible amusement burned in his grey eyes as Tom drank in the sight of her trembling body.
"You are mine, Hermione." His voice was cold, unfeeling. "Mine to do with, whatever I want."
Hermione whimpered softly as the ring on her finger burned forebodingly. Her left hand felt like it was on fire. The pain licked up her arm and cruelly spread over her whole body.
"It's disgusting that you are a Mudblood," Tom said lightly. "But you are a powerful witch. Very-" he leaned closer to her and Hermione shuddered as she felt lips nibbling at her earlobe, "-desirable."
"Get off me!" she hissed weakly.
Tom merely snickered. "Don't worry. I'll teach you your place soon enough, pet."
His hand ran possessively through her hair. Then he stated, malice tinting his voice, "I admit, at first, I did plan to end you. I changed my mind, though."
At his cruel words, Hermione disgustedly shied away from his touch. Tom didn't care about that at all.
"You won't be joining my Knights, of course," he mused pensively. "Can't have you soiling my ranks with your dirty blood. But don't worry; I'll make good use of you, my little Mudblood."
"Fuck you," Hermione hissed through gritted teeth.
"Tsk tsk." Tom clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "That's no way to speak to your master, now is it?"
Another spasm of pain shot from the ring through Hermione's hand and she cried out. Tears burned in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks. Still she raised her eyes at Tom and glared at him.
"I'll never follow you."
Tom smirked down at her, cruelty burning in his grey eyes. The pain in Hermione's hand grew to new proportions. Beads of cold sweat appeared on her forehead. Her head swirled with pain and she felt the need to throw up. All the while, Tom calmly gazed down at her, obviously enjoying her agony.
"You will accept me as your lord and master," he said, voice filled with malicious triumph.
Pain blinded Hermione. She couldn't think straight, still, she forced a smirk on her lips and sneered,
"In your dreams, Riddle."
She had barely ended that sentence, when a coughing fit hit her hard. There was a stinging pain in her chest and soon Hermione could taste the coppery tang of blood in her mouth. Slowly the coughing subsided and she greedily took in large gulps of air. Strangely enough, the horrible pain receded as well. Instead, a strange tiredness enveloped Hermione. She didn't know what was worse, the pain from before or this hollow feeling that slowly pulled her into a dark abyss.
"You are pathetic, Mudblood," Tom told her coldly.
The numbness got worse. Hermione's thoughts got tangled and sluggish. She could feel heavy sleep approaching, wanting to push her into eternal darkness. Was this what Tom wanted?
"And you… are a soulless… liar," Hermione whispered, struggling with the words. "Go… to hell… Riddle."
Hermione's head sagged to the floor and her eyes drooped. She weakly lay on the forest floor, her life bleeding from her, and waited for another scornful remark from Tom. Strangely enough, none came. Confused, Hermione struggled to keep her eyes open. She found Tom staring at her oddly. The mocking expression had left his face. Instead, a frown had appeared between his eyebrows. Somehow, though, Hermione wasn't interested in his antics anymore. The tiredness washed everything away.
Silently, Tom slid closer to her. Hermione was so tired, she didn't even have the energy to flinch away from him. Without a word, Tom reached for her hand. Hermione observed as he tried to slip the cursed ring from her finger. It wouldn't budge and the frown on Tom's face got deeper.
"Hermione," he said sternly. "Did you do anything to the ring?"
Hermione felt as if her tongue had swollen up in her mouth and she could barely move her jaw to reply. She didn't care about that stupid ring anyway. Hermione only cared for sleep and her eyes already wanted to shut. Tom again tugged at the golden ring, it still wouldn't move. His eyes flashed to hers.
"What did you do?"
Was there a hint of panic in Tom's voice? Hermione looked up at him through hooded eyes. The agony had completely ebbed away. Only numbness remained. Not even her hand hurt anymore. In fact, Hermione could not feel her hand at all even though Tom violently tugged at the ring on her finger.
Now there definitely was panic in Tom's voice. Hermione's breathing was very slow and shallow. It cost her so much effort to look up at Tom. His face swam in and out of focus. It was strange that the cold, cruel look had left his features.
"Hermione," Tom repeated urgently. "Tell me, what did you do with the ring?"
Hermione was much too tired to answer. She just wanted to sleep. Tom wouldn't let her, though. He grasped her shoulders and shook her.
"Don't sleep," he ordered sharply.
"'m tired," mumbled Hermione.
"I know, but you mustn't sleep."
Hermione didn't know how she would accomplish such a miracle. Sleep already clouded her mind and she longed for it. Only dimly did she notice how Tom again grasped her hand. There still was that out-of-place concern on his handsome features as he studied her left hand and the golden ring. Hermione couldn't stay awake anymore and started to nod off. Tom's grey eyes flashed at her. Then he raised a hand and slapped her in the face.
"Do not sleep, Hermione! Please."
Hermione swallowed dryly. Her cheek stung, but even that sensation was oddly muffled. It was like she was slowly losing the connection with her body. Drifting away.
"Tom?" Hermione slurred, her mouth seemingly full of cotton. "Wha's happ'nin'?"
He again tried to force the golden ring from her finger. It didn't budge, as if fused with Hermione very bones.
"What did you do with the ring?!" Tom's voice penetrated her sleep-muddled mind.
The tint of urgency in his voice made Hermione reply, "Wha' ring?"
There was a gentle hand at her back before Hermione was hoisted up a bit. She struggled to keep her tired eyes open. Tom stared down at her, worry clear on his face.
"Please, Hermione. Please," he pleaded with her. "Try to remember. My ring… the Horcrux, what did you do to it?"
Even though Tom held her, Hermione felt as if she was falling. Everything swirled by and her thoughts got tangled in the mess.
Tom nodded frantically. "Yes! What did you do?!"
"'m… sorry…" Hermione mumbled. "Tried to… destroy…"
"You tried to destroy it?" Tom's sharp voice temporarily cut through the haze. "How?"
Hermione's eyes closed. All her energy spent, she could only breathe, "Fiend…"
Hermione heard Tom's voice as if he were far, far away. Her eyes were closed and darkness surrounded her. She couldn't fight it anymore.
– o –
Her hand hurt.
Her whole body throbbed agonizingly.
Hermione moaned softly and shuffled, trying to find a more comfortable position. It didn't help at all. Everything hurt. It felt as if someone had tried to twist every single bone of her left hand out of their joints. A hiss of pain escaped Hermione's mouth.
"Hermione?" a deep voice asked hesitantly.
There was a gentle hand cautiously brushing over her head. Hermione slowly opened her eyes, bright light blinding her. To her surprise, she found herself lying on the couch in the Heads' common room. She could only blink stupidly as she found Tom, sitting at the edge of the couch, right beside her. It was his hand that so gingerly ran through her hair.
"How are you feeling?" he asked cautiously.
It was as Hermione spotted a hint of guilt in Tom's eyes that all the memories rushed back to her. The golden ring. Finding out that it was Tom's Horcrux. Trying to destroy it with Fiendfyre. Confronting Tom…
Hermione abruptly sat up on the couch. A piercing pain shot through her and she whimpered. Tom quickly reached for her, wanting to support her, but Hermione slapped his hands away.
"You!" she yelled at him, fury boiling up in her. "You tried to kill me!"
Tom raised his hands in a gesture of peace as he said, "It was an accident."
"An accident?!" Hermione fumed. "As if!"
Her angry gaze wandered from Tom to her left hand. Horror washed over her as she saw the golden ring, still glinting on her finger. In panic, Hermione tried to rip it off her finger. The ring wouldn't move at all. Her gaze snapped back to Tom and she yelled, anger and fear making her voice tremble,
"What did you do to me?!"
Tom eyed Hermione warily as if expecting she would lash out at him. She seriously considered it. Slowly he reached out for her hand. Hermione flinched away.
"I just want to show you something," Tom soothed.
Hermione allowed him to grasp her hand. He turned it around, palm upwards.
"Here." He pointed at the golden ring.
Hermione stared down at the cursed ring on her finger. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise as she saw a tiny crack in the gold.
"Your Fiendfyre didn't fail completely," Tom told her calmly.
Hermione angrily pulled her hand away and glared at him.
"What do you mean?"
"You managed to harm the Horcrux," Tom explained cautiously. "The Fiendfyre wasn't strong enough to completely destroy it, but you injured it."
Hermione sneered at Tom, her fury rushing back to her full force. "I wish I had succeeded. Then you couldn't have tried to kill me with your stupid ring."
A soft sigh left Tom. Then he said, "I told you I didn't try to kill you."
Hermione snorted in disbelief. "Then what did you try to do? Certainly felt like dying."
Tom again reached for her hand. This time, though, he simply held it.
"It was a mistake," he admitted quietly. "I was angry with you. I reacted irrationally."
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "I think it's best you leave now."
Tom's fingers tightened around hers. "I didn't know that you damaged the Horcrux."
"Only concerned about your precious Horcrux, are you?" Hermione snarled, baring her teeth.
Tom shook his head. "Hermione, you did a lot more damage than you think. The Horcrux-," he gestured at the offending golden band at her finger, "-was dying. You destroyed the ring, its vessel."
"I don't understand what you're going on about," said Hermione coldly.
"If I had known, I would have never slipped the ring onto your finger," Tom continued gingerly.
"Why?" she asked gruffly.
"The soul piece tried to survive," he explained, looking her deep in the eyes. "The ring was no longer available to secure the soul. So the piece of soul desperately searched for a life force it could feed on. With enough energy, a Horcrux is able to survive, even without its vessel."
Hermione's eyes widened with understanding. "Your Horcrux wanted to suck the life out of me, so it would be able to survive alone?"
Tom eyed her warily and nodded. Hermione's mouth thinned into an angry line.
"Wonderful," she hissed sardonically. "Just wonderful."
Angrily she tugged at the golden ring. It still couldn't be moved.
"So this thing is now glued to me or what?"
Tom shifted a bit on the couch. After a while he replied, "I managed to repair the ring. The piece of soul is once again sealed inside of it. But... yes, there's still a connection between you and the ring. I can't get if off you."
Hermione stopped her attempts to loosen the ring. She raised her eyes and glared at Tom murderously. After a while, she stated dryly,
"So that's a ticket to Azkaban for you, I think."
– o –
In the end, Hermione didn't deliver Tom to the Aurors. She didn't even tell any teacher about his doings. She wasn't sure why. Maybe she still had feelings for him, even after all the things he did.
…or the Horcrux-ring influences me, Hermione thought wryly as she glared down at the golden ring at her finger. It had been a week since Tom had forced that ring on her. A week for Hermione to ponder the events. Hot fury would always bubble to the surface whenever she thought about Tom's aspiration for immortality. In the end, Hermione had sworn to herself that she would do everything she could to stop Tom from doing any more damage. She would stay close to him and whenever he drifted back to his villainous ways, she was prepared to curse the evil ideas right out of his head.
Hermione was startled from her thoughts as the entrance door to the Heads' common room opened. She looked up and saw Tom entering. He smirked as he spotted her. Then he strolled over to her, sank down on the couch beside her and placed a soft kiss on her lips.
"Where have you been?" Hermione inquired suspiciously. "Up to no good?"
Tom quirked an elegant eyebrow and looked completely innocent as he replied, "I was just in the library."
"Uh-huh," was her sarcastic reply. "You didn't have another of those gatherings with your lovely followers, did you?"
Hermione's eyes bored into him. Her demanding stare didn't make him cave in, though. The mask of innocence was firmly in place on Tom's face.
"I still have that ticket to Azkaban with your name on it," Hermione warned him. "So don't do anything stupid."
Tom smiled at her disarmingly. He slid closer to her on the couch and snaked an arm around her waist. Hermione didn't stop him as he pulled her against him. Tom comfortable leaned against the backrest of the couch and Hermione ended up nestled into his chest. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against him.
"I never do stupid things," Tom said while he ran his fingers through her bushy hair.
"No, you won't," Hermione agreed firmly. "Because if you try anything, I'll be there to stop you."
Tom hummed in reply, his fingers still carding through her hair. Hermione closed her eyes and snuggled closer to him. They sat like this for some time, in comfortable silence, until Hermione spoke up again.
"So..." she asked flippantly. "Are you planning to create more Horcruxes?"
Tom glanced at her, his grey eyes glinting mischievously.
"I might just."
Hermione grimaced, crinkling her nose. Silence stretched between the two of them. Tom tightened his arm around her waist, pulling her even closer. After a moment, he asked gingerly,
"Will you try to stop me?"
Hermione didn't remove her eyes from his. Her lips curled up into a smile. She raised a hand and ran her fingers over Tom's cheek.
"I might just."
– o –