Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

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A/N: Written for Lady Miya for the Spring Fic Exchange 2013 over at the Gutter City Tomione Forum.

EDIT: Reuploaded this because somehow it became Reconstructed. = =... Many thanks to Kaitlen Dearing for letting me know that the stories got messed up!

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Mask

With a gasp, he opened his eyes and sat up on the bed that he had been lying in. His pale, long-fingered hands immediately went to his body, checking to make sure that everything was working properly. A victorious smirk graced his handsome features when he was positive that one of the many precautions he had placed had worked.

It was a safeguard on his part, of course. After he'd been resurrected at the graveyard, Lucius Malfoy had informed him about the mishap with his diary. Seven Horcruxes did seem like an infallible plan, but Lord Voldemort was no fool. If Dumbledore knew about that Horcrux, then it was possible that he might go after the others. Lord Voldemort knew that his secret to immortality was no longer safe; he knew that he must come up with a second way to escape from death.

He had known this method for a while, though he hadn't been keen on using it. The whole process included many different spells and potions, but the most important part was to find a suitable body to serve as an alternative vessel for his reunited soul; in other words, once his Horcruxes were destroyed, the soul pieces would immediately be transferred to the body that he had prepared in advance. The problem wasn't finding a body—the "victim" should be honored to have Lord Voldemort's soul living in him—it was because he didn't know if using someone else's body would have a negative effect on his spell-casting. That was not documented in any of the books that had mentioned this method. The thought of having the magical skills of Crabbe or Goyle was both revolting and insulting.

Nonetheless, he knew that this was the only way he could come back to life if, by chance, Dumbledore or the Potter brat managed to defeat him. Thankfully, he managed to find a somewhat suitable body after two years of searching. The wizard was Muggle-born, but Lord Voldemort wasn't concerned about that.

Nobody needed to know that little piece of information anyway.

Unfortunately, he could no longer save the soul piece from the diary Horcrux, but no matter. The spell would work just the same with the parts from his other Horcruxes.

His bubble of self-satisfaction was immediately punctured by the fact that he had been defeated by the Boy Who Lived On Luck. Again.

Closing his eyes, he took in deep breaths, attempting to rein in his temper. He didn't have time to let his anger get the best of him. His priority was to regain the power that he had undoubtedly lost after his supposed death.

As if Lord Voldemort would be killed so easily!

He had always known that seven Horcruxes would not be enough. It was surprising that the lot of them would believe that he would be satisfied with just Horcruxes. After all, he'd gone for seven instead of one. Therefore, it should've been logical to suspect that Lord Voldemort would've used other methods to tie his soul to Earth, especially when he had accidentally let that information slip on the night of his resurrection at the graveyard. Apparently, even Lord Voldemort had overrated Dumbledore's intelligence.

But no matter. Things worked out in his favor at the end.

Reaching over the side table, he pulled open the drawer and took out the spare wand he had placed there. It wasn't his yew wand, but he was Lord Voldemort, and any wand would work suitably for him.

The sound of footsteps approaching caught his attention, and he looked towards the door which opened a few seconds later.

"My Lord," the old woman whispered before throwing herself on the floor in front of him. "You're alive … you're really alive …"

He narrowed his eyes at her before a faint smile appeared on his face. "Cerelia, it's been a long time since we've last met."

The old woman picked up her head and looked at him, adoration as well as unshed tears glistening in her eyes. "The Daily Prophet had reported about your death at Hogwarts, and I'd worried that the precautions that you've laid down wouldn't activate—it's been a long, long while. Though I was worried that I might have done something to sabotage the spells by accident, I didn't dare to check, and of course, I knew that the wards you've placed over this chamber wouldn't allow anyone to enter before you've awaken—"

"How long has it been?" Voldemort asked, a frown crinkling his forehead.

He couldn't exactly tell from Cerelia Chadwick's wrinkled features; after all, she had already been old when he'd decided to place his vessel in her care.

"My Lord … it has been ten years since the battle of Hogwarts," Cerelia said with some difficulty.

Ten years!? How did that happen? He was supposed to have immediately woken up after the last soul piece from his original body entered this body. Why was there a delay?

He very nearly lost control and Cruciated Cerelia on the spot, but he still needed information from her. Anything could've happened in ten years. Perhaps this lapse in time could even work in his benefit.

Nonetheless, he still wondered why there was a delay in his revival.

And then, it hit him. The different soul pieces most likely needed time to "mend" from the harm that was done to them. Not to mention he also had the soul piece he'd unintentionally "given" to Potter now. Anything that involved him always managed to go haywire.

He should've known that there was something strange about how the boy kept tapping into his mind. Additionally, there were no Parselmouths in the Potter line, so how did he miss the fact that Potter couldn't have known Parseltongue without a more superior influence? And then, there was how the boy always managed to sense whenever he was near with that scar of his acting like an alarm bell. Speaking of that …

"No one else knows that I'm still alive?" he asked, watching the old witch keenly.

He was pretty sure that Potter no longer had that "sixth sense" to detect his proximity, but he needed to know if the old hag in front of him had betrayed him while he was presumed to be dead.

Cerelia nodded profusely. "Yes, my Lord. Nobody even suspected that I am one of your most faithful followers. I've followed your orders and never once told anyone about where my true loyalty lied. Even my neighbors think that I'm a great supporter of Muggles and Mudbloods."

He watched her carefully, and a faint smile appeared on his lips when he spotted no signs of lying. "Excellent work, Cerelia."

"Thank you, my Lord," she replied, bowing low onto the floor again.

"And what of the others?" he asked offhandedly.

Stepping onto the floor, he ran his fingers down his wand, contemplating, as Cerelia started rattling off about his followers that had evaded arrest because he had ordered them to lay low. Then, with a flick of his wand, he lit the candles around the room. Good. It seemed like his magic was working properly, and he didn't feel the least bit of difficulty. Now he just needed to try some of the more advanced spells …

A faint smile appeared on his face as he listened to Cerelia's report while he succeeded in casting spells that lesser wizards would've found impossible. This body was working perfectly, and the Ministry was still rather incompetent if it let that many of his followers slip away under its nose.

"—and the—the Malfoys, my Lord—" Cerelia's stutter caused him to halt in his actions.

Enragement contorted his handsome features before he recomposed himself, allowing a faux calm expression take its place.

"I know, Cerelia, and Lord Voldemort will personally deliver their punishments to them."

Cerelia's body shook as she remained silent, afraid that he would use her to vent his anger. Indeed, he'd toyed with that idea, but he wanted to save his wrath for the right person.

"My Lord, I have news about Potter's Mudblood and blood-traitor sidekick," Cerelia said tentatively, raising her head slightly to look at him.

"Potter's Mudblood?" he asked, narrowing his eyes ever so slightly and recalling a particular bushy-haired witch whose mind he—or at least, the part of him living inside the locket—had delved into before.

Cerelia flinched at his tone of voice. Swallowing, she gathered up her courage and answered, "Yes, my Lord. Hermione Granger, her name is." She then launched into what must have been what she had read from the Daily Prophet.

Oh, he remembered Hermione Granger alright. In fact, every single part of his soul remembered her quite clearly. When he had seen her during her first year at Hogwarts, he'd thought that she was merely an annoying, bucktoothed chit. He'd seen her while he was sharing Quirrell's body. Always so eager to please the professors by raising her hand for every question asked, reading ahead so she'd have the answers …

Granted, he hadn't been very much impressed at that time. It might've seemed remarkable to others, given that most, if not all, of her classmates never bothered reading, let alone reading ahead. Nonetheless, she was just reciting passages from the textbooks, and that only proved one thing to Lord Voldemort: that she knew how to read. Her need to correct anyone and everyone was so irritating that if there hadn't been more important matters at that time, he would've enjoyed Cruciating her for each time she'd spoken.

That, in and of itself, made it all the more infuriating that she'd become the crucial point in his downfall.

All those delicious moments when Potter could've dropped dead, if only he'd gotten rid of her on day one.

If she hadn't become Potter's friend, he might've just died because of the Devil's Snare, or one of Snape's potions would've killed him. Never in a million years could Potter have solved that riddle.

"What about her?" Voldemort interrupted Cerelia's rambling.

The old witch blinked at him in confusion before answering, "The Mudblood and her fiancée are living in the apartment upstairs. They'd just moved in last Thursday. I've placed an ad in the Daily Prophet two months ago, and they owled me, requesting to see the apartment."

He raised an eyebrow upon hearing this. The suspicious side of him wondered if this was some kind of conspiracy, if Cerelia had indeed betrayed him to the Ministry of Magic. But judging from past experiences, if that were the case, there would've been Aurors surrounding him when he woke up or he would've somehow been incapacitated.

"The apartment had been empty for a while now, and when Granger sent an owl to me, I assumed that you would like to keep a close watch on people that were and are somehow connected to Potter," she said humbly.

"Is that so?" he asked softly.

An ironic smile appeared on his face as he imagined the look Potter, Granger, and Weasley would have if they'd known that he, Lord Voldemort, had been slumbering so close to them.

The wheels in his mind turned, and he quickly made a decision.

"Excellent work, Cerelia," he said, rolling the wand between his fingers and his eyes narrowing. "I recall you had a nephew, yes?"

"Yes, my Lord," she answered. "He'd moved to Egypt three years ago to study the Dark Arts used on old artifacts."

"Then for the time being," he said, "your 'nephew' will be back for a visit."

~-0-~

Pretending to be Cerelia's nephew was no task to Lord Voldemort at all. His final goals, however, were to get close enough to Potter so that he could find the chance to kill him. His first step was to get close to Potter's little sidekicks: Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. The redhead had been most excited when he'd "finally met" someone who was a Cannon fan, too.

As if Lord Voldemort cared about such petty things like Quidditch! But really, what kind of a man would support a team that had nothing but "loser" written all over it?

Regardless, that little detail had served as the perfect way to get close to the youngest male Weasley, and Lord Voldemort had, of course, been most willing to use it. His only problem now, however, was that a certain bushy-haired little witch seemed to dislike him.

It wasn't that she was rude to him. On the contrary, she had been extremely courteous towards him, but it showed from small places.

"Of course not," Weasley told him when Voldemort brought this topic up while they were sitting in Madame Rosmerta's for a cup of Firewhiskey. "She's like that to every new person we meet." His ears had turned a furious shade of red when he said this.

Apparently, Weasley had forgotten the many times he had complained to Voldemort about Granger not so subtly telling him to stay home.

"It's as if—no, I'm positive that she's just annoyed that I've finally found someone who appreciated the Cannons," were the exact words Weasley had said to him on one occasion.

However, not wanting to come across as overly concerned, Voldemort casually maneuvered the topic to something else.

Another glitch in this whole "Ron Weasley's new best mate" gag was the fact that Potter hardly ever showed up because the brat wasn't interested about the Chudley Cannons. So not only did Voldemort had to put up with hours and hours of Weasley's fantasies about how the Cannons would win the next Quidditch World Cup, he was hardly any closer to Potter.

As Weasley droned on and on about the newest Cannon player, Ilooz Gaims, Voldemort found his mind wandering off to the little know-it-all. He wondered if she had somehow seen through his façade.

No, it couldn't be. After all, he looked nothing similar to the way he looked before with his dark blonde hair and blue eyes, and he was pretty sure he hadn't done anything suspicious while in her presence. He hadn't even used Legilimency on Weasley or her—which was a lucky move on his part after he'd found out from Weasley that Granger made it a point to learn Occlumency after she'd left Hogwarts. Though most people could hardly feel it when Lord Voldemort used Legilimency on them, the same thing couldn't be said about master Occlumens. Since they were trained to block their minds against outside penetration, their brains were much more sensitive to attacks and had a high chance of sensing it when someone tried to use Legilimency on them.

Therefore, he couldn't tell what had made her wary of him.

Perhaps she'd become a Legilimens while she was training to block her mind? No, that couldn't be it. He would've felt it if she tried to probe his mind, and if she'd somehow found out that he was the Dark Lord, there should've been Aurors surrounding Cerelia's apartment with their wands extended. Not to mention Weasley and she wouldn't have slept so soundly upstairs, knowing that their worst enemy was living one floor beneath them.

Nonetheless, Lord Voldemort was never wrong when it came down to analyzing humans, and he knew he certainly wasn't wrong in believing that Hermione Granger held a certain amount of dislike towards him.

And he was determined to find out why.

~-0-~

It wasn't particularly hard for him to find out where she went after work. After a couple of Firewhiskeys, there were few things that Ronald Weasley wouldn't be willing to share. So on one rainy evening, he arranged for Granger and him to "accidentally" run into one another at a small bookstore a few streets away from where they were living.

The bookshop was nothing like Flourish and Blotts with its rundown exterior, old books, and lack of amicable shopkeepers—not that he was particularly fond of those dimwits working at the Diagon Alley store, but the owner of Inkleaf, Mr. Penthos was, in short, a grumpy old bat, who grunted rather than answered questions. All in all, the setting was perfect for Voldemort's official "chat" with Hermione Granger, should things end up on the more … violent end of the spectrum.

Not that he wanted to attack Granger before he got a chance to off Potter first, but if she found out more than he wanted her to …

A soft jingle accompanied his entry to Inkleaf. Mr. Penthos sat behind the counter, scribbling on a parchment, and paid the potential customer no extra attention. Not that Voldemort cared, since Mr. Penthos wasn't his target. A particular witch, on the other hand, was, though said witch was nowhere in sight.

With a casual flick of his wand, he dried himself and sauntered deeper into the store, searching for Granger. In any other circumstances, he might've been interested in going through the books to search for something he hadn't read before, but today, he had more important matters at hand.

Finally, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Granger's trademark hair. A faint smirk appeared on his face as he randomly grabbed a book and pretended to flip through it. His full attention, however, was on the young witch who was quite apparently oblivious to her surroundings as her eyes zoomed through the pages of the book in her hands.

She seemed so small, sitting there in the corner with her legs curled up and that enormous tome propped up on her lap—so innocent, so unaware, so vulnerable.

It would be ridiculously easy for him to kill her right now. Just one little curse, a jet of green light, and Potter's pesky little witch would be gone from the surface of Earth forever; she would never be able to help Potter sabotage the Dark Lord's plans again.

However, Voldemort knew quite well that his final goal was to kill Potter, in order to fulfill that damned prophecy, so he couldn't afford having his cover blown just yet.

So, instead, he waited while Granger continued to read through that enormous tome on her lap. Just when he thought she was never going to move from her spot, she closed the book and stood up.

"Oh," she said, more to herself than anything when her eyes landed on him.

His eyes snapped up from the book he was "reading" as if from surprise. "Oh … Hello, Miss Granger, I didn't see you there." He lifted the book a bit higher, indicating the source of his "distraction."

Discomfort flashed over her face, and her fingers tightened ever so slightly around the edges of the book in front of her chest before she allowed a small smile to appear on her face.

"Hello. I didn't know you liked reading," she replied.

Or perhaps, she didn't think he knew how to read at all. At least she'd refined her personality enough to avoid directly speaking what was on her mind.

He raised an eyebrow at her comment and watched with amusement as a blush blossomed on her cheeks.

Pushing a lock of hair behind her ear, she said, "I best get going home. Ron would be worried if I get home too late."

"Indeed, Ron might think that you've gotten stuck in one of the labs at work again," Voldemort replied smoothly, turning to the side to let her pass.

"Good night, Mr. Penthos," Granger said softly before exiting the store, to which the store owner answered with a soft grunt.

Replacing the book on the shelf, Voldemort slowly yet steadily followed her footsteps. Halfway from home, Granger turned around, both hands in her pockets.

"Oh, it's you," she said with mock surprise.

Tilting his head to one side, he asked, "Were you expecting someone else?"

"Should I be?" she questioned in return.

"Then I don't see the big deal out of the two of us taking the same route," he said.

Her right pocket moved, the clear signs of her hand gripping and loosening around her wand before she nodded her agreement.

"I suppose not," she said, "though I'd thought that if Apparition was an option, it would've been the easier way home."

His amusement deepened, the underlying meaning of her words not lost to him. If only she'd known the amount of magical knowledge he had. Regardless, he wasn't exactly here to boast to her about his accomplishments.

"It's much too lovely of a night to just Apparate home right now, which is a detail that haven't escaped your notice, judging by your decision to walk home," he replied.

It was a lie, of course. He'd already known that she almost always walked home from the bookshop unless there was some kind of weather hazard.

Silence ensued, and she glanced around as subtly as she could, as if she were wishing that someone would come to her rescue. Well, unfortunately for her and fortunately for him, that someone did not show up.

"And I suppose we shouldn't stall any longer and start heading home before Ron starts worrying about your whereabouts," he said, breaking the silence.

The expression on her face was hilarious, to say the least, when she realized that she'd spoken herself into a corner. As he walked up to her, she'd sucked in deep breaths only to sigh them out again, as if she wanted to say something but thought better of it.

Indeed. Lying to Lord Voldemort will not be in your best interest, dearest.

Stiffly, she fell into step next to him as they headed back to Cerelia's place. The silence was uncomfortable, and Voldemort could only imagine how tense Hermione was feeling.

"I saw that you were reading about Jamaican dark magic. One would think that after fighting against You-Know-Who, you would've lost all interest in studying anything that has to do with the Dark Arts," he commented after a while.

She pushed a lock of hair behind her ear before saying, "On the contrary, fighting against him had given me more incentives to do something about the Dark Arts."

"Oh?" he asked. "You can't possibly tell me that it's gotten you interested in the Dark Arts."

As he had guessed, a look of struggle appeared on her face. It didn't surprise him, given the fact that she didn't completely object to using dark magic when there was a good enough reason. Having been in her mind before, he'd known about the small instances where she had dabbled in the Arts, such as the time when she'd cursed one of her classmates for tattling back in her fifth year at Hogwarts.

"Of course not," she replied slowly.

"Unless you mean to suppress the wizarding world from using the Dark Arts?" he prodded her.

Annoyance flashed over her face, and it was apparent that she needed to do her best from biting out a scathing remark. Nonetheless, the topic seemed to make her relax, and she didn't seem to be searching for the quickest way to take her leave on him any longer.

"Suppressing the wizarding world would only make those who are in the unknown even more curious about the subject. The Dark Arts is not dangerous; the person who uses it for his or her own personal gain is. Rather than trying to stop people from learning dark magic, it would be far more effective to develop ways to protect oneself against it," she said.

"Which is why you've been reading about Jamaican magic?" he asked.

She nodded, a thoughtful look on her face. "The Jamaicans have been far more accepting towards magic that our Ministry of Magic considers far too dangerous for the general public. Not to say that the Jamaicans condone using spells such as the Unforgivables, but they are far more lenient when it comes to studying dark magic."

"They aren't as strict when it comes down to prohibitions on spells and potions with a bad history," he admitted, "but that doesn't mean that they are willing to share all the knowledge that they know with the general public."

"Of course not. I doubt that any government in world would do that. After all, if a magical war broke out, nobody wants their advantages to be known by the other party. However, in comparison to other countries, the Jamaicans are far more willing to share what they know," she said. "Besides, it's not as if we can actually—well, we can, but really, it's outrageous if you think we ought to hold a revolution against the government because you believe that they're withholding information from us."

He eyed her silently for a few seconds, wondering if this was a trap. He allowed a faint smile to appear on his face and said, "Of course not."

Another couple of minutes went by in silence, and perhaps Granger felt that her words had accidentally offended him because her gaze turned slightly troubled.

"It's rather ridiculous that they think they can withhold any kind of information for long nonetheless. Magic has no limits. All we need is someone with the right amount of intelligence and he or she would be able to replicate whatever spells, curses, and potions are being kept in secret by the governments," he said, alleviating the awkward air surrounding them.

Relief flashed over her face, and they resumed their conversation about magic. Once they've reached home, he reached out for the doorknob, intending on playing the role of a gentleman and opening the door for her. However, her hand shot out at the same time, accidentally touching his in the process.

"Oh," she gasped, quickly pulling back.

He looked over just in time to see a furious blush taint her cheeks pink before she recomposed herself. Maneuvering himself so that she wouldn't see the smirk on his face, he opened the door and stood to the side, allowing her to enter the house first.

"Thank you," she said softly, the redness not completely gone from her face yet.

However, he nearly growled in frustration when their eyes met again, and he saw that familiar guarded look reenter her eyes.

"Have a good night. It was nice talking to you," she said, her voice resuming its usual cool, business-like tone of voice.

"Have a good night, Miss Granger," he answered with a warm smile, successfully suppressing the urge to curse her into submission. After a short pause, he added, "I look forward to another chance to chat with you again."

The polite smile on her face faltered, but she immediately recomposed herself and nodded. "When we have the chance to."

When she reached the top of the stairs, she turned her head slightly and glanced at him. After giving him another small smile, she entered her apartment, closing the door with a soft click.

~-0-~

"It says so right over," she said bossily, stuffing the book right under his nose—he'd imagined that she would much prefer to stuff it up his nose at this point. "Hieroglyphics was and is the most important factor when performing the Egyptian branch of magic. Latin influence had been minute due to the fact that the Egyptians already had one of the most well-developed magical systems in the world by 2000 B.C."

If it had been someone else—or, as a matter of fact, if it had been the Hermione Granger six months ago, Voldemort might have been annoyed by her know-it-all, pushy attitude. However, her willingness to snap at him without worry proved just how much progress he had made with her, and it made him pleased, since he didn't have to put up with that ridiculous, polite façade of hers.

He rolled his eyes, pushed the book farther away from him, and condescendingly said, "Granger, are you telling me that just because it says so in a book, written by a mere mortal, it has to be true? I thought you were far more intelligent than those mindless sheep that follow whatever they're taught. Think with your mind, dear. Even the magical spells that we use today are still being refined and changed. In fact, new spells are invented whenever different magical communities meet and discuss different subjects. You can't possibly think that the Egyptians—or rather, the Egyptian magical community was so secluded that they had no idea that other societies existed. There are plenty of evidence in wizarding history books that different magical communities had contact, though minimal, with one another."

"Right, so if I were to invent a TARDIS and traveled back to the year 2000 B.C., I can expect the Egyptians to accidentally speak to me in Swedish," she said mockingly.

"Don't be daft, Granger. If you know anything about the history of Swedish magic, you'll know that they were more adept in sex magic. On the other hand, the Egyptians concentrated more on curses and preventive spells, and it's pretty obvious that they must have had some kind of outside influence in 2016 B.C. because that was precisely when most of their more advanced magic was created."

"That doesn't prove anything. It could be that it was like the Renaissance period, but instead of art, the Egyptian magical community concentrated more on creating things," she argued.

"Using your argument, they should've created a lot more magic, and it should've taken them much longer than just a speck of time in history, but it stopped. Why? Because they no longer had the raw material, which in this case is the outside influence."

"You keep saying that there's an outside influence, but it's merely your theory," she said stubbornly.

"It's not my theory, and I would be very much surprised if you didn't know about the Stone of Ra," he rebutted.

"Experts confirmed that there are unknown carvings on the stone, but they suspect that it's merely drawings that were used during certain rituals—"

"It's a lie, Granger. Back in 2016 B.C., the people or person who'd exploited the stone didn't want to leave traces of evidence behind them. They'd done everything they could to destroy signs of the lost language of Ra—you should know that spells cast, especially strong spells, would always leave a magical signature that would outlast history. My guess is that they'd wanted all the credit to themselves; they'd wanted to pretend that they'd created all the spells and curses by themselves."

Granger stared at him—indecipherably, might he add. It was a new feeling, and he couldn't decide whether he found it exciting or infuriating. By now, he was certain that she was skilled in the art of Occlumency, but innumerable masters had failed in front of him, the only exception being that traitor, Snape, and now, her. It made him anxious, yet at the same time intrigued. He wanted to know what she was thinking, whether it was positive or negative, whether she agreed with him or not. The debate was bound to be exhilarating.

However, the next words out of her lips surprised him, and lesser men would have been frightened had they been in his shoes.

"The only person who would've known about that was Voldemort."

He stared at her in genuine astonishment before a faux incredulous smile spread across his face. "Are you suggesting that You-Know-Who is the only person who has the intelligence to deduct something as simple as this?"

Her scrutiny was too long for his taste, as if she were suspicious of him—and Voldemort realized that she must be. In retrospect, he shouldn't have shared this information. After all, even the Egyptian Ministry of Magic had little knowledge about this.

Nonetheless, she was acknowledging his ingenuity, and that pleased him immensely. Though she could be a stubborn chit at times, her insight was something that could be commended—

"I'm suggesting that Voldemort is the only person who is arrogant enough to believe that he is above law and may do what he please with national artifacts," she replied stonily, bursting his huge bubble of satisfaction. "Nobody had dared to touch the Stone of Ra since it had emerged from the center of the Nile River, fearing that any magic would ruin it. Our Ministry had suspected that Voldemort had stolen the stone back in 1956, though the Egyptian Ministry of Magic denied that they had lost the Stone. However, knowing more than enough about Voldemort and his unhealthy obsession towards immortality, I can assure you that the Egyptian Ministry is lying."

"You're assuming that there is some way to achieve immortality on the Stone of Ra," he said. "But—"

"Everyone assumed that there was important information on the stone. There might have been ways to achieve immortality, there might not have been, but Voldemort wouldn't have allowed anything with that possibility to slip by him," she interrupted him.

They stared at one another, until a soft chuckle left his lips. "Granger, you know that I've studied about the Dark Arts used on ancient artifacts in Egypt before. Like I've told you many times before, there are many things that governments aren't willing to share with other countries. But knowing the right people would get you information that the general public would have no way of getting their hands on. Unless … unless you're suggesting that I am Lord Voldemort?"

She glanced at him before laughing lightly. "That would be ridiculous."

A faint smile graced his features. "Yes, it would be."

And it would be absolutely correct.

But she couldn't possibly know that. If she did, she wouldn't feel safe turning her attention back to the many books in Mr. Penthos's shop. If she did, she wouldn't feel comfortable, reading a book as if the most feared wizard in history wasn't standing right next to her. If she did, she wouldn't dare to leave her wand unguarded in the pocket closest to him and so easily stolen.

Picking up a strand of her frizzy, brown hair, he brushed the end of it against her cheek, causing her eyes to widen and her head to snap towards him. An amused smile appeared on his face as he twirled the loose strand of hair around his forefinger and watched with satisfaction as her cheeks turned a faint shade of pink.

"So, are we ready to agree that I win this debate?" he asked.

For a moment, she seemed to have frozen on the spot, gazing at him with mixed emotions on her face—attraction, fear, confusion, all of which made him excited as well as pleased. Before he could move closer to her, however, she snatched the loose piece of hair out of his hand and took a step back before successfully hiding her emotions behind a shaky smile.

"Of course not," she replied, "not until you provide more proof than a load of hearsay and gossip."

Without another word, she turned her head and looked towards the books as if to find something else to read. He knew she was planning her escape, and seconds later, she'd already slipped around the corner, allowing the bookshelf to serve as a barricade between the two of them.

The walk home was quieter than usual. Much quieter. The atmosphere hung heavy around them, and the cool autumn air did nothing to alleviate that stuffy feeling.

As usual, he opened the door and allowed her to enter the house first. As she passed by him, his hand shot out and grabbed her arm, startling her. Her brown eyes met with his, and before she could protest, he'd closed the distance between them.

Her lips opened upon contact, though he didn't know if it were to protest or to grant him easier access to her mouth. Regardless of the reason, her arms snaked around his neck, pulling him closer to her as he pushed her against the wall, deepening their kiss.

He had no idea how long it lasted, but when he finally broke off the kiss, they were both panting, their lungs in desperate need for air. The alarm in Granger's eyes was expected, but the self-loathing he found in there aggravated him, especially since he knew it was because of a certain, idiotic redhead.

"Hermi—"

Before he could speak, she'd pushed him away from her, catching him by surprise. When their eyes met again, anger had already found its ways into her eyes, and without saying another word, she ran up the stairs, opened the door to her apartment, and closed it with a bang.

~-0-~

He didn't see her for days after that incident. He knew she was avoiding him on purpose, and though her actions angered him, he still needed time to decide what he wanted to do with her. However, his musings was disturbed by the abrupt news that Cerelia brought to him one afternoon.

Granger and Weasley were moving out of the apartment.

That was completely unacceptable. Nobody ran away from Lord Voldemort, especially without his permission.

He knew that Weasley was working late that Monday, since the redhead needed to take days off from work when he and Granger started moving, so Voldemort decidedly went up the stairs and rang the doorbell.

"Oh … hello," Granger said when she opened the door, a light frown appearing on her forehead.

Needless to say, her expression displeased him, but that was nothing compared to everything she had done since the last time they'd met.

"You're moving," he said coldly, getting directly to the point.

She half-leaned against the door, as if it were some kind of support for her.

"Ron and I decided … that since we're getting married soon—"

"Getting married?" he cut in, taking a step forward.

Her body tensed at his sudden intrusion, and she tightened the hand that was holding onto the doorknob. Drawing in a deep breath, her expression turned emotionless, and she tilted her head higher.

"Yes. It's been a while since Ron and I have been engaged, so—"

Her words were again cut off, but this time, it was because he'd grasped her arm while he moved into the house and slammed the door shut behind him.

"What are you doing? Get off me!" she protested as he pulled her into the living room before coming to a stop.

Instead of speaking, however, he'd grabbed the back of her head and pulled her towards him, kissing her full on the lips. Suddenly, he pulled back in pain, a single hand flying to his lips. A spot of blood confirmed that she had bitten him.

A smirk appeared on Granger's face before she resumed struggling against his hold.

Cursing under his breath, he grabbed her hair and pulled her head back, his lips finding hers again. Much to his surprise, she didn't bite him again. Instead, she kissed him back with equal fervor as the hands that'd been pushing him away mere seconds before gripped onto his shirt, pulling him closer to her.

They stumbled around the room blindly, unwilling to break off their kiss any time soon. He couldn't even recall how he'd arrived in Granger's bedroom, but they did. Along the way, he'd lost his shirt somewhere and she'd taken off hers. Without detaching themselves from one another, they fell onto the bed.

His mind very inappropriately reminded him that Granger must have shared this bed with Weasley—well, it didn't matter. He would erase all traces of the redhead from her mind tonight.

It became a war on a whole different level. Words, books, and debates didn't matter any longer; he wanted this witch to admit that she belonged to him, heart, mind, and soul. However, she wasn't one to declare defeat so easily. He'd been alarmed the moment she immobilized him but relaxed when her soft caresses hinted at the hidden desires she had for him. Neither was willing to relinquish victory over to the other side and both were trying to conquer the other, until they both tumbled and willingly fell over the edge in each other's arms.

As he was catching his breath, her hands gently turned his face towards her, and for the first time, she kissed him.

Warm satisfaction turned cold when a single word slipped out from her lips.

"Legilimens."

Though he managed to get his Occlumency walls up immediately, he was certain that she had already seen enough. The moment he flexed enough magic throughout his body to free himself from her immobility spell, a stabbing pain spread from his heart to the rest of his body, causing white light to flash in front of his eyes.

He gazed at her, and she stared back at him, her eyes filled with determination as well as sadness, as her hand held onto the basilisk fang with a firm grip.

With a weak laugh, he spoke, "Do you keep basilisk fangs near your bed all the time?"

"I'm not going to say I'm sorry," she said, her voice close to a whisper.

"I didn't ask for an apology," he said, and if he could move, he would've shivered as he felt the venom of the basilisk spread through his body at a rapid pace. "When did you find out?"

She paused for a second, as if she were contemplating if telling him that piece of information would be too dangerous.

"The Auror department had been suspicious that Cerelia Chadwick was and still is loyal to Lord Voldemort," she said.

"Ah," he said in realization. "Which was why you've never mentioned that you'd become an Auror."

"Eight months ago," she answered.

"I suppose the real Michael Chadwick had been captured?"

She lowered her eyes and inhaled deeply. "He's still evading capture, but we'd already known what he looked like."

"So you knew that I couldn't be Michael Chadwick," he finished for her, "but you weren't sure who I was."

"No, we weren't sure," she conceded. "So we had to find out …"

"Through having sex with Lord Voldemort. I'm positive that wasn't on the agenda," he said, gritting his teeth from the spasm of pain that shot through his body.

A furious blush appeared on her face, and she said, "I told you I'm not going to say sorry, but …"

"It doesn't matter, Hermione Granger," he said, his lips curving upwards into a smirk. "Not when I'm clearly dying now."

She remained silent, her eyes solemn.

"I look forward to the next time we meet again, dear," he said in a low voice and watched contentedly as the color drained from her face.

"You—you're bluffing," she whispered.

"Do you wish that I am?" he asked.

She froze as if she were struck by a lightning, and with a short laugh, he closed his eyes and allowed darkness to take over his conscious.

~-0-~

She had no idea how long she'd stayed in that position, staring at the now dead body of Michael Chadwick—or rather, Lord Voldemort. Finally, almost mechanically, she got up and grabbed her wand from the top drawer of the bedside table. With several waves of her wand, she cleaned up her body, Voldemort's body, and dressed both of them.

After all that was done, she sat down at the side of the bed and numbly watched him.

She'd suspected that he was a Death Eater, but she purposely didn't tell Ron because she knew that he would somehow let things slip around "Michael Chadwick." It had been part of her plan to let "Michael" know that she was suspicious of him, just so that he would take some kind of action against her, and when he did, she would have sufficient reason to throw him in Azkaban.

That had been the initial plan, and of course, nothing ever went according to plans.

She hadn't foreseen that things would've spiraled out of control. She shouldn't have felt an attraction towards him. It was just … wrong. After all, this was Harry's nemesis. Of course, she hadn't known that at first, but regardless, he could've been a Death Eater, not to mention acting on said attraction and following him to bed had been a completely reckless move.

In the end, she decided that it was all his fault. He shouldn't have been so damned brilliant. He shouldn't have been so knowledgeable in every field they'd debated about. He shouldn't have been able to refute almost every single argument she came up with.

Not to mention his looks weren't all that bad either, though she secretly believed that even if he were to look like a hag, people would've still been attracted to him. Perhaps it was the way he held himself, or perhaps it was how intricate of a mind he had … or maybe it was all of it together.

Still gazing at his corpse, she realized that she would need to report this to the Auror department. Not in full detail of course—nobody needed to know about the intimate interactions she'd had with Lord Voldemort—and the bedroom was definitely not the best place for her fellow colleagues to find the dead body of a certain self-proclaimed lord. So she flicked her wand, levitated the body, and left it in the living room instead. With another wave her wand, she reorganized the room so that it looked like some kind of struggle had taken place there.

Then, her eyes landed on him again, and for a moment, conflicting emotions surged through her body. On the one hand, she felt the same attraction she'd had ever since the first time they'd chatted with one another. On the other hand, she wanted to blast the corpse apart for the many hours of work she had ahead of her.

"Damned Dark Lords … why can't you just remain dead?" she muttered almost to herself.

But you don't really want that, do you?

Without warning, his voice resounded in her mind. A growl of frustration left her lips as she stood up from the couch and walked out to the balcony, allowing the cool air to wash over her.

It doesn't matter what I want, Tom Marvolo Riddle. I will still be there to put you back in the grave where you belong when and if you come back to life again.

And then, she finally pulled out her wand and alerted the Auror department.

~-0-~

Finis.