AN: Hello lovelies! This is just a spontaneous one-shot that got a little too creepy and a little overboard, but hey, what's Tomione for...right? (I better be right.)

Meh whatever. It's AU.

What is the meaning and significance of Vinculum Protean? Describe the magical procedure in terms of vocal pitch, wand gesture(s), and/or intent.

The short-answer question seems to radiate a singular, impending doom, simply by staring at its stumped beholders out of the designated leaflet. The meaning and significance... Above is a sentence helpfully informing that the question is worth fifteen points, a crucial percentage of the final test grade. Vinculum Protean. Yes, the students think that name does sound vaguely familiar… Didn't Professor McGonagall say something about it during last week's lesson? Didn't they see it in the scribbled notes they frantically tore through five minutes before this very exam? Then why, for the life of them, can they not remember whether or not Vinculum Protean is a spell or a jinx or cleaning charm, much less its Latin translation?

What in Merlin's name is a Vinculum Protean?

They scrape around their craniums, digging past trivial facts memorized for tests in other classes: three crystallized eel fins are needed for a Rumination Tonic, Europa is made of silicate rock and the sixth-closest Galilean moon to Jupiter, Runcus and Purpureus fought in the Punic wars, werewolves are severely allergic to silver; the three Ds of Apparition: Destination, determination, deliberation! But what of Vinculum Protean? Nothing!

Harry Potter darts a quick glance at the paper beside him. Ronald Weasley, one of his two best friends and severely red-headed, meets his eye and shrugs. The shrug says, Don't look at me, I'm just as lost as you are. Both boys hastily duck their heads when Professor McGonagall slinks by, less than a foot high and black as night. She always adapts her Animagus form on test days – cats single out cheaters better than any witch can, she's known to say.

Harry watches her prowl by out of the corner of his glasses, tensing when the professor hisses. McGonagall's latest source of wrath, Pansy Parkinson, has her exam flipped over, but has been whispering about Cedric Diggory's dreamy eyes with the Slytherin girl next to her for the past fifteen minutes. They both clamp their mouths shut when the professor leaps up onto their desk, teeth bared.


Ron elbows Harry in the side, so hard he shouts – and quickly turns it into a loud cough when McGonagall turns a suspicious slit-pupil on them. When she finally turns away, Harry mouths What was that for? at his idiot friend, but Ron just rolls his eyes and points at the student in the row next to them. She's closest to Harry and a Gryffindor, just like them. She's also their other best friend.

Hermione Granger.

She'll kill us when she finds out about this, Harry thinks, but cranes his neck anyway and squints as hard as he can without disabling himself. Part of him resists a snort when he sees the essay Hermione has written below question forty-seven, but it's really to be expected, coming from her. Anything less would be criminal.

The Protean Charm – ha, so it is a charm! – is the only charm that can unify several objects according to a purpose chosen by the spellcaster. The meaning of the charm's incantation, Vinculum Protean, is an easily changeable link (putting it in the Transfiguration mold), and pronounced "ven-cuhl-uhm prōtēən." It must be said in a low, firm tone, while one's wandtip is pointed east, west, and then south in a T-formation. No specific intentions are necessary, because only intermediate level spells require purposed targeting, but the incantation should be said with confidence to produce the best effect.

The best effect, Harry thinks, is achieved by copying off Hermione's test. Ron seems to think so, too, as his wandering eyes scan Harry's paraphrased answer and do a little plagiarizing of their own. Less than a minute later, Professor McGonagall does a flexible, feline twirl at the front and transforms into her normal self.

"Time's up," she announces. She flicks her wand and all the leaflets curl in on themselves like shy caterpillars, effectively ending the examination. An emphatic use of the Protean Charm, perhaps? "I hope you all prepared thoroughly for that exam," she continues gravely, coming around to collect. "It is fifteen percent of your grade this semester, and it can be the five percentage points between an O and E… or an Accceptable and Dreadful."

Before McGonagall can make any other terrifying comments, the bell tolls, and the class rushes for the exit. Harry and Ron are the last to shuffle out, finding Hermione in the corridor waiting for them. They have lunch next and always make their routine walk to the Great Hall together.

Hermione looks at them once and sighs. "You cheated off me, didn't you?"

They all stare at each other in silence for a minute. Harry and Ron, trying to come up with semi-convincing lies. Hermione, expectant.

"Well," Harry says awkwardly. "I, er…"

"You…what?" Hands on hips, eyebrows raised: typical Hermione Granger style. She looks at each of the sixth-years individually, until they cow and lower their gazes guiltily. She nods. "That's what I thought."

"Well, it's not like McGonagall caught us," Ron says irritably. "Your precious 'O' isn't in jeopardy."

"That's not the point," she snaps. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. See, this is precisely why I got you those planners! How many times have they told you to study for this test? What did you do, just ignore them? They talk for a reason, you know! If you'd just done what you were supposed to, you would've known the answers."

"It was just one question," Harry protests weakly.

Ron grumbles something rude under his breath. Hermione flushes, straightening. "Oh, forget it," she fumes. "I mean, who cares about studying when Hermione will do all the work for me? Why should I do my essay, when I can just copy hers! She's such a nerd, she'll probably be thrilled to take notes for me while I go to the Gryffindor victory party and have fun without her. She'd probably kill the mood anyway!" She points a quavering finger in their faces, on tip-toe so they can see just how crazy-looking her eyes are when twitching with rage. "I'm not here to be your homework house-elf, you know!"

Harry looks affronted. "We never said that-" he begins.

"No, you only thought it." She pokes up her chin, serving them an icy glare. "If you'll excuse me, I have meaningful things to do."

"Like what? Studying?" Ron scoffs.

"As a matter of fact, yes," she hisses. She walks off, frizzy hair lurching furiously with every step.

Harry stares after Hermione for a second and looks at Ron, who shrugs uselessly. "She'll be over it by tomorrow," he prophesizes.

"Where do you think she's going?"

"Probably the library, to read some angry poems or something." Ron sighs, grabbing at his growling stomach. "I'm starving though. Let's go get something to eat."

Harry agrees, but only because Ron gets especially hungry when he's upset, and he thinks Hermione probably needs some time to herself. For reading poetry or something.

Hermione drops her satchel on an empty worktable, it thuds loudly on impact. As usual, the woolen monstrosity is teeming with schoolwork. There are critical lens essays, lunar charts, old tests, wilting notebooks from History of Magic, blank scrolls, a translation dictionary for Ancient Runes, annotated documents on magical creatures, quills, unopened ink bottles, library books thicker than her arms put together, and who-knows-what-else inside it. She checks the seams of her bag, which are threatening to split – again – and makes a note in her agenda to ask Professor Flitwick what the charm is for sewing.

She sits down, drags out the Muggle Studies textbook (A History of 18th & 19th century Muggle Sociology), and checks her agenda for the assignment. It handily chirps, "Read chapter nine for tomorrow's class, and complete the reflection questions if you're feeling ambitious!"

Ambitious. There is a word Hermione knows well.

"Loser," someone deadpans, and her head snaps up to see Draco Malfoy sneering at her as he snaps a book in his hand shut and saunters to the checkout desk. A group of Hufflepuffs titter at the table next to her, chuckles turning into loud coughs when she glares at them.

Loser. There's another word she knows well. Too well, she thinks spitefully.

She turns back to the daily reading, scanning the pages matter-of-factly. It's worse to react, so she doesn't – plus, if she did, Madame Pince would more than likely kick her out, and this is the only place she can think of where Harry and Ron are sure not to show up. Harry and Ron. The reminder of their fall-out brings an unwelcome pang to her gut. Her inconsiderate, if slightly dim, companions.

Hermione winces at dim. She doesn't mean that. She's only frustrated with her friends and their effortless popularity, with Hogwarts and its unchallenging courses, with her disappointingly unintelligent age group, with herself for not being able to blend in and be one of them. But she's starving, starving for someone – something – new: a difficult project she can set her mind to; an intellectual equal she can rally debate points with and speak to freely, without having to dumb down her vocabulary so they can understand; someone who lives and breathes books, who wants to discuss and analyze them with her; who loves knowledge just for the sake of that rush when you learn something new and meaningful.

Someone who possesses all these traits and isn't over fifty, preferably.

Sometimes, Hermione thinks she is a reincarnated hundred year old scholar trapped in the wrong body. Maybe she is Aristotle or Confucius, Homer, Dante, Da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Socrates. Not that Charles Dickens was a scholar. Not that she is a philosopher by a long shot.

The wrong body. She doesn't mind her unruly hair, or even the plain Jane looks. She is bright. She's proud of that. …Although in the Wizarding World, there will always be those who refuse to see past her "unfortunate" blood.

Hermione finishes the reading, sketches out an essay outline for Transfigurations, and idles around the dustier aisles of the library looking for a light read. She fingers the book spines, picking out the intriguing titles to judge a summary or foreword. Should she read the critique of Lord Alfred Tennyson, or Deadly Poisons and Where To Find Them by Newton Scamander? She browses the shelves a minute longer, shuffling down the aisle slowly. Her foot bumps into something – a book.

Hermione pulls back and crouches, picking it up. One look tells her the book is ancient, with a tattered black velvet cover and pages of the rich, thick kind you could quite literally sink your teeth into. There's no title. Is it even in the directory?

She opens to the first page. The font is cursive and there's no chapter, just a date in the upper right corner. 09/13. It looks like a diary entry. Maybe it's a memoir.


It is the first day of sixth-year and the students have already reverted back to their dramatic, angst-ridden states. It would all be very amusing, if teenagers weren't so repellant. I find myself continually shocked that I am one, too – but that hardly matters, for my mind is larger than my body, and outgrows the thoughts of those around me constantly…

Hermione closes the cover. She's wondering how to check out a book the librarian may not even know exists when it hits her. The Protean Charm! Here is a perfect opportunity to apply her classroom skills to a real life situation. She hurries out of the book aisle, grabs a half-used notebook from her satchel, and comes back with her wand at the ready. She lays the books down side-by-side, steps back, and makes the necessary wand motions.

"Vinculum Protean," she says confidently.

A red flash of light spits out of her wand and strikes the memoir. Carefully, she begins to direct the fraying line of magic toward her notebook, but it spasms and pure hot, crackling magic surges through her wand, shocking her arm so bad she drops it with a shriek. The connection fizzles out. Bugger.

If the charm had worked, then the books would share the same information, based on the fact that the Protean Charm magically connects objects. Maybe if she tries it a second time… The bell rings and Hermione jumps so high she bumps her head on a shelf of books, who bristle indignantly at her. She touches her temple and groans at the swelling knot there.

Madame Pince looks over at the ruckus and goes red in the face, shouting at her to "quit dilly-dallying and get to class!" Hermione retrieves her things as fast as she can, rushing out before the librarian can do something drastic. The doors whoop shut behind her with a furious cry.

As Hermione hurries away, she realizes she has another exam this period for DADA, her most difficult class. Merlin's beard! How the hell did she forget it? She should have been studying all last period, not perusing the book shelves for light reading and practicing charms. She shoves her notebook down to the bottom of her satchel and picks up pace. Fantastic, I'll be lucky if I get an 'A' on the test, and then my whole grade average will be trashed by two percentage points.

Meanwhile, the aftershock of the misled spell still hums in the skin of her arm, buzzing like electricity.

The Gryffindor dorm is dead silent when Hermione finally goes to bed. She crawls under the covers, eyes burning with exhaustion, the enchanted flashcards she spent three hours making and studying flashing in her head like a neon sign. The presentation she has practiced backwards and frontward for Astronomy whispers in her ears. Betelgeuse is a red supergiant and three hundred times the diameter of the sun, a sacred star to the Orion centaur clan…

Suddenly, she's dreaming.

Hermione gets off the Hogwarts Express and walks into her house. Her parents are away for the night at some dentist retreat in the Alps, skiing with their tooth-loving friends. The house feels bigger and emptier without anyone there. She puts down her bags and goes upstairs to her bedroom to find a book, but there's already one on her bed. She picks it up, sitting down to read it.

She reads it quickly, enamored by the contents. As soon as she reads a sentence, however, the words slip away, eaten up by the next words, then the next, then the next, then the next – until she's finished the book and can't remember what happened at all. She tries to put it down, but the cover sticks to her hand like a magnet. She frowns, tugging at it, and it finally pops off, tearing off a square of her palm with it.

"Ouch!" she cries.

"Here, take this." Sitting on the bed next to her, Harry passes her a band-aid.

"That won't help," Hermione complains. She begins to look around. "Where's my wand? I need a Healing Spell to fix this mess." As if her burning, raw skin hears her, it starts gushing blood at 'mess.'

Hermione panics, worried she'll bleed to death before Harry finds her wand. However, Harry isn't Harry at all, but a teenaged boy with black hair and skin too fair to be her friend's. A dimple appears in his right cheek when he smiles at her, holding out his own wand. "Need some help?" he asks.

"Yes, please." She gestures frantically to her hand, spurting blood and ruining her bed comforter. Mum's going to kill her when she sees, blood stains are impossible to wash out.

"Let me see." The boy holds out his hand and she gives him hers with relief. He waves the wand over it. "Tergeo." The blood disappears. "Vulnera Sanentur." Her skin grows back, smooth and tan.

Finished, the boy lets her go and moves back. "If you don't mind my asking," he politely ventures, "what was that book you were reading?"

"Oh, I have no idea." She checks the title, but can't focus on it for some strange reason she doesn't think too hard about. "Sorry about that."

"It's a shame you don't know," the boys says with some melancholy. "I was so hoping to discuss books with you."

"You were?" she says, surprised.

"Yes." He sighs, standing up, and Hermione sees he is quite tall and handsome. His dark eyes and equally dark hair are so rich in color they look like ichor. "Well, I'd better get going," he says.

"No, please stay," Hermione implores, finding she doesn't want the handsome boy to leave. He wants to discuss books and he fixed her hand. She'll be miserable if he leaves. Besides, the house is scary when she's home alone.

Ignoring her, the boy walks out of her bedroom.

"Hey!" Hermione scrambles to her feet and rushes over, yanking open the door. The bright, cheery aisle of the Hogwarts Express greets her, filled with students and the trolley woman. She eyes her stash as she passes by, waving to Harry and Ron before seeking out the boy again. Where is he? Panicked, she starts to call his name, then realizes he never told her it.


"Please come back, whoever you are," she calls entreatingly. Turning to Professor Snape, she asks, "Have you seen a tall boy with black hair? I can't find him."

"I don't know what you're talking about," the professor sneers. "Unless you let me take five hundred points from Gryffindor, I won't tell you where he went."

"But that's not fair!" she protests.

Snape shrugs. "Boogie down like a unicorn."

"Ok, ok, fine, take the points," she says in aggravation, while he continues importantly "No stoppin' til the break of dawn." She crosses her arms. "Well? Where is he?"

Snape points to the other side of the train. "He's around the-"

"Oh! Can you dance like a hippogriff?
Na na na ma ma ny na na ny na
Flyin' off from a cliff
Na na na ma ma ny na na ny na
Swooping down to the ground
Na na na ma ma ny na na ny na
Wheel around and around and around and around
Na na na ma ma ny na na!"

Hermione's eyes snap open. She sits up, muffling a yawn, and peels back the hangings around her bed to find Lavender Brown singing Do the Hippogriff at the top of her lungs. A glance at the time shows it's thirty minutes past wake-up call. Her eardrums tell her Lavender's atrocious singing kept her from finding the handsome boy just before Professor Snape could tell her how to get to him.

She groans and falls back into bed.

During the day, all proceeds as usual. Hermione goes to her classes. She makes up with Ron and Harry, as Ron predicted she would, and they don't mention yesterday's fight. It's as if nothing ever happened, they're simply the golden trio again. Harry is secretly relieved. Ron doesn't devour food like a bloodthirsty hippogriff at lunch.

Hermione forgets about the handsome boy she was looking for last night. Or at least, she forgets temporarily.

"Try this!" A vendor with a big crooked tooth and sagging witch hat grabs Hermione, shoving a satchel of something writhing at her. Hermione looks inside and grimaces at the sight of hundreds of slugs squirming all over each other.

"No thanks," she says, trying to give it back. The witch smiles at her uncomprehendingly. "I have to catch up to my friends," she explains. She glances at Harry and Ron, who haven't noticed she isn't with them, and are singing Christmas carols at the top of their lungs even though it's July. She doesn't want to lose them. She doesn't know how to get around Diagon Alley alone, because for some reason, it's nearly tripled in size since they were last here, and is now the size of Great Britain, filled with thousands of people, thousands of confusing, never-ending streets.

"Oh fine," the witch relents, taking back her nasty satchel. "But I'll be here if you change your mind."

Hermione nods, hurrying away. When she finally meets up with Harry and Ron again, they still haven't realized she ever left, and they enter a shop for Quidditch supplies to look at the latest brooms. Bored, Hermione wanders.

"Have you syeen Hermeeohnee?" says a voice in a thick Bulgarian accent. "I vas supposed to myeet her hyere." Hermione looks up to find Viktor Krum, the foreign exchange student she dumped in fourth year, talking to a shopper. Why is he asking about her? She refuses to go out with him again; the last time they dated it was an utter disaster. She quickly ducks behind a helmet rack before he can find her.

"There you are."

"Get away!" she yells, whirling around with her wand extended. She blinks in surprise at the handsome boy, crouched behind the display of helmets and bats behind her. He rolls his eyes.

"Now you've done it," he says drily. "Your boyfriend's going to find us for sure."

"He's not my boyfriend," she snaps.

"HERMEEOHNEE!" Viktor shouts, seeing them. She curses.

"Here, give me your hand," the boy commands, holding out his. A black ring gleams on his finger. Hermione grabs hold of him without question, squeezing her eyes shut just before Viktor reaches them-

"Look, Hermione."

At the sound of the boy's voice, Hermione opens her eyes. They're outside in the street again. Her heart speeds up to see so many unfamiliar buildings and faces. She eyes the boy suspiciously. "How do you know my name?"

He raises a brow. "Well, why shouldn't I?"

She frowns at that, for his logic for some reason seems infallible. Dropping the subject, she asks, "Will you stay with me for a little while?" The boy's eyebrow continues to remain cocked and defensively, she adds, "Well, I don't know how to get around here and I'd really prefer not getting lost."

"Oh, alright," the boy says, in a tone that suggests her need greatly inconveniences him. She scowls at him. "But I have errands to run, so you'll just have to tag along." Her hand still in his, he tugs her through the crowd toward a store.

When they enter, Hermione is in for a shock. Every inch of the store - a bookshop, as it happens – is in black and white. It's as if they've entered a movie from the 1940s. She shivers and follows the boy, who lets go of her to start looking for books. She'd hate to get lost in here, of all places. At least, outside there were people…

"What are you looking for?" she inquires, while he peruses the colorless shelves. Some of the books are familiar to her, but most she doesn't recognize. She feels warm and happy, however, as she always does when surrounded by information.

"A title you probably wouldn't recognize," says the boy imperiously. He glances at her disdainfully. "Seeing as you can't remember books."

"I can too," she protests. "It was just the one book that I couldn't-"

"Ah, here it is." He slides out a thick volume. The cover is white, the pages black. Hermione looks down at herself, wondering if she changed color, too, but there appears to be no visible difference on her.

"What's it about?" she asks, gesturing at the boy's book.

He frowns at her, probably deciding whether or not to tell. She sighs and places her hands on her hips, tapping one foot impatiently. "Fine," he finally says. "It's 'Julius Caesar' by-"

"I know who the author is," she snaps.

"Who is it then?" he drawls, clearly not believing her.


He scoffs. "Well, everyone knows that. That's hardly impressive."

"Then ask me about another book," she challenges.

The boy musters her, narrows his eyes, and turns around to grab another. Pulling it off the shelf, he announces, "1984."

"George Orwell."

"Brave New World."

"Alex Huxley."

"My Name Is Asher Lev."

"Chaim Potok."

"The Science of Vampiric Hunger."

"Amarillo Lestoat."

"Why I Didn't Die When the Augurey Cried."

"Gulliver Pokeby."

"Magical Theory of Levitation," he adds, threateningly, "Third edition."

"Violeta Stitch." Hermione smiles triumphantly.

"You do know a bit about literature, don't you?" the boy says, craning a brow and seeming reluctantly impressed. He leans back against the bookshelf, crossing his ankles. "Go on," he murmurs. "Tell me what you know."

Happily, Hermione obliges.

As the days tick by and December looms closer, Hermione's dreams continue to be visited by the boy conjured from her imagination. She likes to think of him as her nighthawk, a good-looking version of her subconscious that depressurizes her high stress levels with talk of books and current events in her sleep. She always forgets to ask him his name, however, since she never realizes she's dreaming – and even if she did, she would probably be swept up in his conversation and forget to anyway.

She knows it's ridiculous, but she can't help feeling excited when she lies down in bed and closes her eyes. Secretly, she fears that one day she will go to sleep and not find him there. After all, we can't pick our dreams.

Unless there's a spell for that? Rolling around in bed until she feels comfy, with the chatter of girls still streaming around the Gryffindor dorm, she makes a mental note to ask Professor Flitwick about it, just in case her imaginary companion stops his nightly visits…

Hermione blows out a breath, it fogs in the air. She breathes again, mesmerized by the cloudy shapes rolling off her tongue. Crookshanks stabs something fuzzy with his claws, and it squeaks loudly before wriggling out of the feline's grasp, darting into the crystallized undergrowth. Crookshanks launches after it.

"Wait, Crookshanks! Come back here!" Hermione cries, but her familiar is long gone. She sighs, resettling her cloak around her and casting a Warmth Charm. She'll have to wait out here until he comes back.

She follows a trail through the Forbidden Forest, listening to the sounds of creatures howling softly, skittering in the snowy brush, hooting messages to one another. Listening for her nighthawk.

Suddenly, a porcupine with knife-sharp quills waddles out from under two steepled tree roots and scurries toward her. Hermione gasps, jumping out of the way just before its razor back can slice her. Growling, - since when do porcupines growl? she thinks nervously – the porcupine whips back around and charges. Hermione throws a branch at it, but it just shreds into splinters as it rolls off the unaffected porcupine's back. Damn it!

Heart racing, she feigns left, then sprints right, and the porcupine is briefly confused before it corrects itself and plows after her – growing in size as it gains fervor. "Oh crap, oh crap," Hermione whimpers. Just then, she remembers she has a wand, and takes it out with relief, spinning around to send a hex at the demonic woodland creature.

The porcupine keens, two lone giant quills splitting off its pelt, and wheels around in pain while Hermione uses its distraction to climb up a tree. She hides there quietly, while the porcupine, who has regained his senses and is about ten feet tall, angrily prowls below.

"This is what your dreams have been reduced to?" says an amused voice from above her. "Evil porcupines chasing you up trees?"

"Dreams?" Hermione looks up, startled to see her nighthawk hanging on the branch above her. He smirks at her, scooting off so he lands beside her lightly. The branch doesn't even quiver under them, and by all means of logic, it should have cracked in half under their combined weight. Maybe she is dreaming? Thinking back, Hermione doesn't remember going to sleep, but she doesn't remember how she got to the Forbidden forest either…

"Of course. How else would I be here, if you weren't dreaming?" The boy scoops up snow on the tip of his finger, holding it out to her. "Here, taste this."

"Why?" she says suspiciously.

"It will prove we're not really here." He nods at the forest around them, frozen in time. "That nothing is really here."

Leaning forward carefully, – she doesn't want to fall out of the tree – Hermione tastes the snow. Surprised, she says, "It doesn't taste like snow. It tastes like…"

"Spearmint toothpaste," the boy finishes. "Apparently, you have a fetish for it."

Hermione feels embarrassed he figured out it was a dream before she did – and that he knows about her thing for spearmint. Pulling back, she scans him critically, and demands, "Why are you dressed like that? You're going to freeze."

He rolls his eyes. "Why would I freeze? This isn't real."

"It feels real." She shivers, although her mind tells her the cold painfully creeping through her bones is simulated. She must have an excellent memory.

"Then let's go somewhere warmer." The boy flicks some snowflakes off his black hair, reminding Hermione of his extreme attractiveness, and she's struck by the violent urge to kiss him. She could, couldn't she? This is only a dream, after all…

Except she doesn't want to scare him off.

"Alright." Hermione sighs, slapping her mitts together and concentrating. She pictures a meadow, with flowers and sunshine and clear blue skies…

Nothing happens, except for the pounding headache she gets. Lovely.

"Pathetic," the boy says, shaking his head, and she glares at him. He holds out his hand. "Here, I've got it."

"Well, if I practiced…" she grumbles, but takes his hand. In an instant, they're transported to a beach filled with fine white sand and towering palm trees. The sea is clear as glass and laps at their feet, which aren't covered in boots anymore but bare. Although Hermione is still wearing everything else.

"That's how it's done," the boy says in unashamed self-satisfaction, sitting down on the sand with a content sigh. Hermione takes off her winter gear and wrings out her school skirt, damp from the melted snow, before sitting down next to him. She scoots closer, hoping she is subtle, but one look at her nighthawk tells her she isn't.

"What?" she says, irritated. "You're my dream, aren't you?"

He laughs.

"What?" she repeats, even more aggravated. "What is it?"

"I'm not your dream." He points at himself in emphasis. "I am real."

"I thought you said none of this was real."

He shrugs. "I forgot to mention myself. I am quite real, I assure you – at least in a form."

"Explain," she orders. At the command, the boy's eyes darken, sky bleaching as thunderclouds block out the sunshine and the temperature drops like a stone. The sand turns black and vortex-like, slowly slurping down her legs. She frowns, trying to tug away from its sticky jaws, but makes no success. Thunder booms above them. Without asking, Hermione knows it's the boy who did this. She shouldn't tell him what to do.

"I meant…um." As the sand swirls faster, she quickly amends, "I meant to say, please tell me what you mean. I-if you don't mind."

All at once, the beach returns to its former state. But the sky seems almost too bright. Hermione eyes the boy warily. "I'm sure you can figure it out," he replies, lying back.

Hermione scowls. "But that's not fair," she argues, moving up beside him. He simply stares back at her. "Come on, tell me. At least tell me what your name is."

With a mischievous gleam in his eye, he mimes peeling a zipper across his mouth.


In reply, he mysteriously murmurs, "Vinculum Protean."

"What?" Hermione blinks. "Oh. Oh, of course. But- really?"


"The book…" she says softly. "It was yours, wasn't it? Not a memoir, but a diary?" He says nothing, but she doesn't need an answer. Her mind races ahead. "When I did the charm, it glitched and hit me instead of my notebook, i-it connected me to your diary, didn't it? And now you're in my dreams." She frowns, stumped. "That still doesn't make since. Why would a boy be in a diary?"

Hermione wakes up before she can find out. Groaning, she shoves down the sheets and stumbles out of bed. It becomes more and more of an annoyance, she grouchily thinks, to be awake when her nighthawk is clearly waiting for her. Maybe she can tell Madame Pomfrey she's having trouble with sleep and get a Sleeping Draught. That, with an excuse from class, would finally allow her to have a long, interrupted sleep…

Wait, wait. Is she actually considering this, spending time lying around unconscious in bed with a figment of her imagination? She can't waste time like that. She has to stay on top of things, at the head of the class, in real life with her friends and schoolwork and other important things. With real things.

Speaking of real… Could it be possible that the dream boy actually exists? Logic immediately dismisses the notion as a product of desperate desire for intellectual companionship, but Hermione does live in a world where magic is possible. Stranger things have happened.

It's just a matter of finding out who he is.

"If you won't tell me your name," says Hermione, "at least tell me what year you went to Hogwarts."

The boy's ears prick at that. Sitting up, he says, "But wouldn't you rather see it? What my Hogwarts looks like?"

"Well, I suppose that would be fun." Hermione smiles, glad she is finally getting somewhere. "Alright, show me." She holds out her hand expectantly.

But the boy shakes his head, standing up. "No, I can't take you there that way, because it's not in your memory. You've never seen it before. We'll have to go inside my memory to see it."

"But…" She frowns. "How do we do that?"

"You must give me some control over your dream, that's all," he tells her. "Then we can go."

Her eyes narrow. "You mean control over my mind."

"It would only be a very small bit," he says, not confirming nor denying it, only sweetening the deal. He pets Hermione's cheek with the soft inside of his hand, a recent habit he has developed that makes her blush. "And we'll just go for a little while. Come on, it will be fun, like you said."

Hermione hesitates. "I just… I don't see how this will work. How am I going to wake up?"

"The usual way." He smiles sneakily. "Why, are you in a rush to get back to your real life?" The last words are a sneer.

"Oh whatever." Hermione rolls her eyes, ignoring the question. She stands up. "What do I do?"

Triumph gleams in the boy's eyes, but he quickly disguises it as he lopes up to her, until their chests are flush and her breathing starts to stutter. He slides a hand onto the back of her neck, tipping her head back. "Say," he murmurs, "Levo insomnium."

She utters, "Levo insomnium."

The boy lets her go and they are in a Hogwarts of another era. Hermione looks around, curious, and sees students walking up and down the halls, paying them no mind except for cursory glances. The girls wear longer skirts and stockings even though it's spring. The old, rusted knight next to the library looks distinctly fresher.

Hermione tenses when Headmaster Dumbledore walks around the hallway. What is he going to do when he sees her? He'll know what she's been up to!

"Professor Dumbledore," students greet as he passes them, and he smiles brightly before ducking into the Transfiguration classroom. Hermione pounces on this information. When she wakes up, she'll go down to the Hogwarts archives and look through the yearbooks to find out what year he was a teacher, and then to find out who nighthawk is…

"Dumbledore," the boy mutters himself beside her, scowling around the name. "Good riddance."

"What do you mean?" Hermione says, taken off guard. "Don't you like him?"

"I wouldn't say that," he replies vaguely, and although she tries to make him elaborate, he won't say another word on the subject.

"Come," he commands, leading them down the corridor. The steady weight of his hand on her back satisfies Hermione ridiculously. "Don't you have a million questions?" he asks, raising a brow at her silence.

"Oh, well-" Hermione thinks for a moment. "Oh, I've got it. What are the rules here?"

He is unimpressed. "You want to know the rules?"

"Not the school rules," she corrects. "The rules of your…condition. For instance, is this the only place you can go to? And where do you go when I wake up?"

"I am always here," he answers. His dark eyes address every inch of the castle around him as if he knows it by heart – from the position of the house tables in the Great Hall to the number of emeralds in Slytherin's hourglass. And he probably does. "This day repeats, over and over. The same people, doing the same things, having the same conversations, everything. It's all set on loop. It's never-ending."

She frowns. That sounded dreadful. "But why?"

"Because this is the day I died."

Hermione stops dead in her tracks at that. She had suspected it, but it's quite another thing for him to confirm it for her… The boy turns around, seeming sad as he regards her. "You're not going to come back now, are you?" he murmurs. "That's why I didn't tell you before."

"No, of course I am, I just," Hermione stammers. She takes a deep breath, regaining composure. "I'm…surprised."

"You're horrified."

"A little," she admits. "But…how did you die?" And so young? she thinks with terror.

"I'd rather not say." He picks at a nail, frowning. "I don't like to dwell on it."

"Of course. I'm sorry, that was inconsiderate of me." She flushes, feeling stupid when he doesn't reply. "Um, what was that bit about everything being on loop? Do you mean the same day occurs over and over again?"

"Yes, exactly." He seems re-energized by this topic. "It's quite fun actually, I can do anything I want and never face the consequences for it." He looks at her with a rather wicked gleam in his eyes. "After all, no one remembers the next day."

Hermione blinks. "No one remembers what?"

He smirks. "Oh, nothing…"

She scrutinizes him, and the Hogwarts around them seems to lose some of its rich color, turning grey when she doesn't focus directly on it. But what does that mean? "Maybe it's time I go," she says at last. "I have a big test tomorrow… I think." She frowns. It's so much harder to remember real life in a dream.

"Of course." The boy is gracious, but seems disappointed she's leaving early. Hermione almost changes her mind when he kisses her cheek in goodbye, but the edges of the hallway are already blurring, the tiles of the marble floor unlinking and falling out from under her as she surges toward consciousness, the boy watching her go with the smallest frown on his face...

On the outside, there isn't any difference – or not much difference, at least. She only walks a little slower, dazes more, and starts to grow half-moon circles under her eyes. Did she stay up late studying again? Harry asks. She waves off his concern, not ignoring him but not quite answering either. Seeming speculative, she glances at the Slytherin table once or twice during breakfast– lunch– dinner. She goes to the library more often than ever.

Tom Riddle. Hermione finally found his name, in the yearbook of 1943 beside the picture of a handsome boy who smiled at the camera with perfectly even teeth and one dimple in his cheek. She nearly threw up her lunch when she realized that it was not only a theory that her nighttime companion was real, but actual evidence can't be denied. He's real.

He's real, he's dead, and he is haunting her dreams.

How did he die? Hermione consults Hogwarts, A History, but finds nothing pertaining to 1943 there. The year is too recent and the book hasn't been updated since the early 1920s. She looks for his diary but never finds it. She asks around and Professor McGonagall is able to tell her, however reluctantly, that 1943 was the year the Chamber of Secrets was opened, a legendary undergrown tavern created by Salazar Slytherin, and that a student was killed by a monster living inside it. Tom. She knows it was him. The monster that murdered him is the Basilisk, as her research reveals, and it only answers to the command of the Heir of Slytherin.

Her blood boils with hatred for the Heir, who is either extremely old or dead by now. Either way, there's nothing she can do about them. Tom Riddle is dead and gone, he lives only in her dreams. If there were a way to bring him back, it wouldn't have to do with any magic she knows, and it most certainly wouldn't be legal. Resurrection is not an option she even wants to consider.

Selfishly, she just wants to keep seeing Tom Riddle.

Hermione is in the desert. It's hot and the wind whips grains of sand up her nose and into her eyes, until it's swarming under her clothes like a million ants. Women cloaked in black gossamer trade at the food market, seemingly immune to the sandstorm. Hermione trudges through the steep brown strait and ducks into a tent.

Once inside, she sees the tent is magical and has the interior of the Taj Mahal. She shakes the sand out of her belled pantaloons when no one is looking, ankles jingling as she walks around the tourists.

She calls out, "Tom Riddle?"

Tom manifests beside her, as if he's been there all along. He wears his usual school uniform and his black hair is swept back in the 1940s style. Her heart hurts to see him, looking so alive, but as her mind tells her, being so completely dead.

"You know." He doesn't sound angry, not even relieved. He only waits for her response.

"Yes," she says.

"How much do you know?" He cocks his head, as if listening to something, and a half-smile crooks his mouth. He seems pleased. "Ah."

"Who killed you, Tom?" Hermione demands, stepping closer. "Tell me, please."

"It doesn't matter." He gestures for her to come nearer and she does, because how can she deny him knowing all she knows now? "Here," he says, taking her hand. "Let's go to my dream."

"But I-"

"Save it," he interrupts, a little harshly. She blinks at him and he smoothes his severity with a smile, touching her cheek. "We need to leave," he says soothingly. "Come along, I want to show you something, little bird."

Hermione blushes at his nickname for her. Closing her eyes, she says, "Levo insomnium."

The scenery around them shifts, until they're standing in the Hogwarts corridor. The same students they always see when they appear here walk by, glancing their unconcerned glances, saying their lines of the day. Tom's hand lets go of hers, sliding down to the pocket of her robe, where he pulls out her wand.

"What are you doing?" Hermione protests, but he shakes his head and presses a finger to his lips, while putting the wand in her hand with the other. Just then, a group of boys emerges into the corridor, laughing.

"Mulciber, that's disgusting," one of them crows, running a hand through his black hair. "I really would've rather you kept that to yourself-"

"You never know until you try," Mulciber sniffs. He grins in a suggestive way. "And try I did."

"And failed, probably." They all burst into laughter at that and Mulciber snarls, punching the boy who spoke in the shoulder. He has white-blonde hair. Hermione has just realized who he is when Mulciber snarks, "Shut up, Malfoy."

Draco's grandfather. Hermione officially feels as if she's entered the Twilight Zone.

"This is too weird," she whispers, and Tom laughs. The boys look up at the sound and grin at him, thinking he's in on their little joke. Their eyes eventually find Hermione, however, and cloud with confusion. Of course, they haven't seen her before – or at least they think they haven't – and they must notice her outfit is different from theirs.

She's begun to panic when Tom reminds her, "Remember what you do doesn't matter. They won't remember anything tomorrow."

Hermione nods. And this is a dream, anyway, she tells herself. Or at least it is for her.

"Abraxas," Tom calls, waving him over. "Would you come here for a moment?"

Immediately, Abraxas – Draco's grandfather – agrees and comes. Hermione is surprised by his submissiveness, more so when Tom tells the others to go away and they do, resuming their laughter as if nothing happened. Is it an effect of this alternative universe, Hermione wonders, or just Tom?

"Yes, Tom?" Abraxas says politely. He's nothing like his rude, bigot of a grandson.

"One moment." Tom raises a hand and Abraxas nods, turning his back to them. Hermione arches a brow at Tom, but he doesn't explain the other boy's easy compliance. "I have been made aware," he begins, "that the descendant of Mr. Malfoy here has been terrorizing you at school. Is that true?"

Hermione starts. "What-? How do you know that?"

Tom taps his temple mysteriously.

Hermione turns red, narrowing her eyes at him. "Have you been reading my mind?" she hisses. "What the hell, Tom?"

"No, no, I can't read it," he soothes. "I only get bits from you every now and then. The more time we spend together, the…closer we are." His eyes soften.

"Well, make an effort to stay out of my head," she orders, but she doesn't sound nearly so gruff. At his cocked brow, she rethinks her words and amends, "I mean, when I'm not sleeping."

"I'll try," he says drily.

"Now what is your point of-" She gestures to Abraxas, still turned away. "-this, anyway?"

Tom smiles. Airily, he explains, "Well, I don't have Draco, but I do have the next best thing. I figured you could do some…venting and practice those Dark spells I taught you on Abraxas."

"What? Are you crazy?" she whisper-yells. They both look at Abraxas, who doesn't seem to have heard them discussing his imminent torture. She takes a deep breath. "I'm not going to hurt anyone."

Tom rolls his eyes. "Oh, he's not even real-"

"That's not the point," she interrupts. "It's wrong."

Tom stares at her, mouth tight with displeasure. "Fine," he says curtly. "Cut yourself off from an abundance of knowledge you're completely ignorant of, see if I care. I'm just trying to help you."

Hermione sighs. "I appreciate that, I do. It's just that I can't…I can't hurt a person intentionally. That's sick."

Tom says nothing, staring past her in stony silence.

Hermione frowns. "Tom, don't be that way."

"I'm not your dream," he snarls, whirling on her with eyes that seem to glow red for a split-second – she blinks and the illusion dissipates, turning them deep brown again. "You can't tell me what to do, and you. Will. Not. Control. Me. Do not order me about, Hermione."

She gapes at him.

Tom glares at her for another minute and then straightens, fixing his impeccable tie. "I apologize," he says stiffly. "That was out of line."

"It was."

He looks irritated. Wiping a hand over his face, he sighs. "Why don't we start this night over? I don't want to fight." With a smile, he leans in toward her, then stops and listens for something. A curse explodes from his lips.

"What is it?" Hermione snaps, still aggravated.

Tom's expression is intent. After a pause, he replies, "Someone's waking you up."

"Hermione! Hermione!" someone shouts.

Ginny Weasley is standing above her, wide-eyed and sighing loudly with relief when she opens her eyes. Hermione blinks at her. "What the…" She clears her throat, working the cotton out of her mouth, and looks around them to see the dorm is empty. "What is it, Ginny?"

"You've been sleeping like the dead. You missed your morning classes and Harry and Ron thought you were sick or something, so they sent me to come back to check on you…but you've been asleep this whole time," Ginny is cut off when Hermione launches out of bed with a cry of horror. She scrubs her eyes with the back of her hands, sore and aching despite her apparent sleeping spree. "Are you sick?" Ginny asks, eying her.

"No," Hermione assures. "I'm fine. I just- I stayed up late studying. I didn't realize…" She stops, yanking on a pair of stockings and her skirt. "What time is it anyway? I need to get to class."

"It's one-thirty. Eighth period started eleven minutes ago."

Hermione swears.

Ginny passes her her satchel when she's finally dressed and Hermione shrugs it on, trying to rub the exhaustion out of her face with a Rejuvenation Spell. "Thanks, Ginny," she yawns. "You can go ahead to class. I don't want you to be late, too."

Ginny laughs. "Like I'm in a rush to go to Arithmancy." She scoffs. "No, I'll walk with you."

Relieved, Hermione smiles. "Thanks."

The Quidditch Pitch is empty and peaceful, since there are never any scheduled games in Tom's Hogwarts. It's spring here, so they can go outside without cloaks or boots on. Hermione stretches out on the bleachers, reaching her arms above her and closing her eyes against the bleating sun. She'll stay for just a little while, she tells herself. Sleep is deeper for her when she enters Tom's dream and harder to wake up from, so she has to be careful managing time…lest she oversleep in reality again.

"There you are," Tom says, and Hermione opens her eyes to see him at the foot of the stands. His voice echoes around the stadium, although he doesn't raise it. There you are, there you are, there you… "I looked for you in your dream, but you weren't there." He scrutinizes her. "Did you come straight here?"

She blinks, surprised. "I guess I did. I didn't realize it until now though." She would have to correct that. There's no telling what blurring the line between her and Tom's subconscious could do, since nothing like this (to her knowledge) had ever happened before. Whatever it is, though, probably can't be good.

Suddenly, Tom is sitting beside her, reclined against the bleacher behind them and crossing his legs. The daylight brings out the shadows fanned down his cheekbones by his long eyelashes, moving when he looks at her. Without warning, he asks, "Are you staring because you want me?"

Not 'because you like me.' Not even 'because you want to kiss me?' He just asks if she wants him, period.

Hermione's eyes widen a fraction. There's strangely nothing arrogant about his words, only a matter of fact frankness, and genuine curiosity – as if they're having another one of their in-depth debates about Ministry regulations or good-verse-evil. "Well, you are…attractive," she admits awkwardly, skirting around his analytical gaze. "I can't exactly help it."

"Why should you have to help it?" At her shocked stare, he laughs softly. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I forget you're only sixteen."

She scowls. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Only that you're inexperienced." Tom shrugs, looking at her innocently – but she has the sense he wants to laugh at her again. "It isn't anything to be ashamed of, of course."

"I never said I was ashamed," she snaps, sitting up. "Just because I haven't had sex before doesn't mean I'm sort of an ignorant, blushing virgin."

Scanning her flaming cheeks, Tom raises a brow. "It doesn't?"

Hermione grits her teeth and turns redder, which does nothing to help her point. She pokes him hard in the chest, enunciating a word with each vicious poke, "No. It. Doesn't."

Tom catches her hand on the fourth poke, scoffing. "What could you possibly know about this subject?" He leans in close enough to surprise her, dark eyes hard and mocking, making her wonder whatever it was that made her wish he would kiss her before, because it was nothing compared to how much she wanted to do it now. "Not nearly enough, I'm sure," he sneers. "Books can't teach you how to properly fuck, now can they?"

She sputters at his crudeness. "Somehow, I doubt a bitter, dead teenager could do a much better job!" she retorts, enjoying the hatred in Tom's face. "Did you even have sex before you went, or are you just preaching to me about things you don't even understand?"

Eyes benevolent as the blackening sky above them, Tom hisses, "Oh, I assure you of my expertise in that department, Hermione." His hand wraps itself around her neck, yanking her up to him. She tries to wring his stranglehold off, but he simply catches her other hand and forces it under her, smirking as she struggles and curses him out. "I'll prove it you, if I must," he continues. "It has been a long time for me, trapped in here and all, as I'm sure you realize."

Hermione balks. "You're actually going to force me, in myown dream?" she says incredulously.

Tom laughs. "No, Hermione," he assures. "You have to want it. And you will, very badly." His lips, spread in a toxic smile, seal the words with a promise. Suddenly Hermione's body is throbbing with need everywhere. Her pupils dilate, pulse increasing as her core throbs heavily between her legs and her nipples tighten. She makes to swear at Tom, but a throaty moan escapes her instead.

She thrashes when Tom's nose curves up the length of her neck, tickling as he laughs into her neck. His hot breath makes her want to pull him up by his lapels and smash their mouths together, despite the fact she wanted to break his nose a minute ago.

"I know what you are," Tom says softly, through the erotic haze. "But I want you anyway, maybe I even want you all the more because of it." A chuckle haunts his voice. "Because you're so…filthy." The last word drips from his lips like blood, swirling in her mouth when he presses his against it, making her taste his skilled tongue as he speedily plucks open the buttons on her blouse. It is blatantly apparent this isn't the first time he's kissed a girl. It is blatantly apparent Hermione has forgotten to stop fighting his touches.

Viciously, she scratches her fingers through the hair at his nape, angling her head to slide her tongue against his. She explores his mouth, growing thirsty at the taste – did he make it taste like spearmint on purpose? – and flicking her tongue over the tips of his canines. Tom growls, climbing between her legs to cover her body as he slips his hands inside her open shirt and bra, cupping her breasts. He kneads them lightly, then rougher when she starts to pant. Lying her head back on the bleacher, she gasps for air as he latches his mouth onto one pebbled peak, sucking rapturously and grinding his erection into her.

"Tom," she groans. "Tom, please, I can't-"

"Go on," he whispers throatily. "Come, little bird." There's no denying the crimson taint of his eyes as he stares down at her, ravenous, propping a hand up beside her head as he works the fingers of the other inside her. She clenches around his long, slender digits, writhing as he twists them in and out of her.

His thumb rubs her clit slowly, at a torturously drawn-out rate, and Hermione bites her lip so hard she nearly breaks through it. The pressure inside her is at its peak, ready to expel, and when Tom bites down on her clit he grins as she cries out-

"Tom, Tom, Tom-" gasps Hermione, twisting in her sheets as the orgasm violently grips her. When the aftershock wares off, she lays there, panting, staring with wide eyes at the pitch-black ceiling. The pleasure is so intense and delicious she's seized with the immediate urge to dive back into the dream, back into Tom's arms where he can give her more of it.

She wracks her hands through her sweat-drenched hair instead, cursing him for not being here with her.

Later on, the day finds Hermione painstakingly climbing the Astronomy Tower alongside Harry and Ron to Divinations class. She despises the course, based on nothing but gibberish and soggy tea leaves, but it is a necessary elective at Hogwarts.

The students sit down on pouffes situated around crystal balls. Professor Trelawney sweeps around at the front of the class on an elaborate throw rug nearly as colorful as her billowing silk robes. Harry, Ron, and Hermione crowd around their usual station.

"We will be studying the nature of the stars today," Trelawney begins forebodingly, when all the chatter has died down. "Each group has a stack of tarot cards, which you will take turns dealing to each other to learn the nature of your stars…"

"What does the woman mean, 'the nature of your stars'?" Ron whispers incredulously.

Hermione shrugs. "Something nonsensical, I'm sure. She probably read it off a cereal box."

Ron looks confused by the term cereal box. Hermione sighs and shakes her head, while Harry stifles laughter in his robe sleeve.

"Begin!" Trelawney declares theatrically, raising her arms. The candles floating over their heads flicker.

Harry goes first, receiving the card of death (as he always does), then Ron goes next, turning up the card of love with a smug grin. Hermione is last. Hovering her hand over the fanned pile until she pretends to feel a pull toward one, she flips a card over.

"The Fool?" Harry snorts. "Now we know these don't work."

Hermione feels a degree mollified by his comment, but the feeling quickly goes away when Trelawney comes over, peering over Hermione's shoulder to examine her card. Right on cue, she gasps loudly, clapping a hand to her chest, and Hermione prepares for the worst. A meteor will launch out of space and put you into a thousand-year coma tomorrow night! An old enemy will make an unseemly appearance. Your dreams are haunted by a boy whose fate is intertwined with yours – but it can only end tragically.

The last fortune, at least, has merit.

"Oh, my dear girl," Trelawney groans, eyes tearing behind her giant specs. She just pulled this trip five minutes ago with Pansy Parkinson. Hermione reigns in a mighty sigh, looking up at the professor expectantly. "Oh, oh, oh…"

"Oh, professor?" Ron probes.

Trelawney shakes her head, gold hoops swinging. "You musn't go to sleep," she intones. Her frantic eyes wheel toward Hermione's surprised ones, and a shiver slugs down her spine. "You musn't! Or you'll be The Fool forever, child."

Harry exchanges an odd look with Seamus, who is sitting behind them and eavesdropping along with the rest of the amused class. Hermione, however, is pale. "And how is she supposed to stop sleeping? Pin her eyelids open?" a skeptical voice interjects. It's Draco Malfoy. Hermione casts him an annoyed look and he simply sneers back at her.

Trelawney frowns, clearly not having thought of this. "If she can't avoid it," she finally declares after some contemplation. "She is doomed." She claps her hands decisively, bangles jangling. "Ok! Who haven't I got to so far? Ah, yes, let's see here…"

"Hear that, Granger?" Draco has the grace to stop by their table while they're cleaning up the mess. Hermione pretends to ignore him while Ron and Harry drop everything to give him impressive death glares. "You're destined for humiliation." He smirks. "But then, I could've told you that, you didn't need a crazy ass bat to tell you."

"Get out of here, Draco," Harry warns, raising his wand. "No one wants to hear your useless comments."

Draco scoffs, but seeing as he doesn't have his lackeys with him, backs down quickly and leaves them be. The bell rings, dismissing them. Ron claps Hermione on the back. "Don't worry about it," he advises as they descend the stairs. "Trelawney's looney tuney. Remember the prophecy she made about Harry?"

"I do," Harry mutters.

"I'm not worried," Hermione assures them, smiling to prove it. And it's true. Although Trelawney's fortune was a little more spot-on than usual, it has no validity. If her fortunes did, Hermione would have been in twelve different comas by now.

It doesn't matter that Trelawney warned her not to go to sleep.

As soon as Hermione appears, Tom rushes them to the other side of Hogwarts, into the Slytherin dormitories. He shoves her down on his bed and fastens the hangings with a flick of his wand. The dorms are vacant. Hermione can barely breathe through her nerves when he kisses her hungrily, like he's going to devour her.

"Open," he commands, and she parts her lips eagerly, gasping when his velveteen tongue drags over hers. This is what they're meetings have turned into: sexual escapades only available through Hermione's dreams.

Tom grabs at her hair, nearly ripping the strands, and angles his mouth to suck at hers more greedily. "I-I-I need to b-breathe," Hermione pants, pushing his chest, and he laughs at her.

"You don't need to breathe." His words slide around, a cocoon crawling under her skin, making her hormones rage. "You're dreaming, little bird."

Brow furrowed, Hermione nods, then forgets her unease when he kisses her into a moaning, desperate thing. She arches into him when he grinds his hips down against hers, with such ferocity the headboard slams into the wall behind her head. His tongue stabs in and out of her mouth. Reaching up, she wraps her fingers around the back of his neck, locking them together, and he growls.

"I've never had sex before," she tells him, blushing. "I don't think it matters though, since…" The rest of the words go unsaid: since this isn't real.

"It won't," Tom confirms. Sitting back, he peels off his shirt, then kicks off his trousers and boxers. Hermione is shocked to see the male anatomy outside of a textbook. Her eyes skim his white, delicately-muscled chest to his erection, and widen. How is that going to fit inside her?

At her stunned face, Tom chuckles. "Oh, it will."

Hermione glares at him. "Stay out of my head."

He smirks. Slinking over her, he runs a hand over her cheek, down to her neck and lower until he grips her breast. Squeezing it through the shirt, he massages the mound until her nipples strain through the fabric, and he opens her shirt to tear it and her bra off, latching his mouth onto a pert rosy peak and sucking. Hermione cries out.

"T-Tom." She sucks in a gasp of air, although she doesn't need it. "I'm…unm…oh… That's so…" Her words end in a growl when he switches breasts, his other hand snaking down between her legs, flipping up her skirt and under the damp cotton of her knickers. His fingers tease her slit and she writhes, blabbering insensible things.

Without further preamble, Tom strips the rest of her clothes off until they're both naked. The bed rocks as he shifts over her, spreading her legs and aligning himself at her entrance with a feral hunger on his face.

"Yesss," he hisses, eyes rolling back as he achingly slides into her. There's no pain, no rip, since none of it is real - just fullness, and then pleasure. Hermione's walls flutter around his length, in time with her labored breaths. She bites her lip and closing her eyes, clenches her inner walls around him. Tom makes a sound worse than an animal.

"Move," Hermione grinds out, lifting her hips toward his. At his patronizing look, she bares her teeth at him and sharply corrects, "Will you move, Tom?"

"Because you asked so nicely…" He leans down, until his mouth touches her ear, and Hermione chokes when it puts him deeper. "I'll fuck your brains out."

Hermione looks up at him, apprehensive. He grins like a demon and straightens up fast, throwing her legs up over his shoulders in the span of a blink – and then he's pounding into her, relentlessly, brutally, and the world explodes into a red sheen of pleasure. Hermione moans when he hits her just right, screaming when he peels his nails up her thighs, tearing off skin and leaving raw, jagged strips behind.

"Shit," Tom snarls, slipping out of her, spinning her around and bringing her back down on his hard member. They groan as they join and Hermione clutches the headboard, bouncing up and down his length. He strokes her sex, setting it on fire with the friction, his long length seeming to reach inside her so deep she feels like she'll never get him out. She's come so many times by now that she has lost track. This isn't normal, she knows, not normal at all. But what isn't normal about this? What does anything matter? It's all a dream.

A dirty, perfect dream.

"Ah!" she cries as Tom brings his hand down on her bottom, the harsh thwack sounding through the room along with her outburst. They've been here for at least two hours, but Hermione doesn't care if the Slytherins show up to their dorm and see them; she wouldn't care even if they could remember it the next day. Tom spanks her with relish, laughing to see her so aroused.

"It makes you wet to be beat like a little child, doesn't it?" he taunts, slapping her bleating sex for emphasis. Her yelp dissolves into a moan. "Where else should I slap you, Hermione? What would make you happy?" His fingers, damp from her arousal, trail over her face, then smack it lightly – then harder, hard enough she struggles to get away. He bends down and kisses her, hard again, ready for more, insatiable. She wraps her arms around him, all forgotten, ready too.

Then it comes. The sensation of being in two places at once, of full rest, of readiness.

She is waking.

"No," Tom snarls, grabbing onto her. His eyes glow like rubies. "Stay," he commands. "Don't leave."

She frowns. "I can't stop it. I wish I-"

The dream ends. Hermione is left awake, so upset she's nearly moved to tears. Sex with Tom was so vivid she still feels it in her bones now. She frowns, shifting. In fact, she feels kind of…sore. Does she have her period?

Lifting the covers and cautiously looking down, Hermione's stomach flips. She is naked. Did she take off her clothes in the dream? Did the other girls hear her? But all of that barely matters, because the most horrifying part are the bruises that fill her skin like cruel tattoos, blossoming crowds of blue and purple on her flesh, the shape of fingerprints, the strips of skin missing from her thighs. And worse, the circle of blood marking the end of her virginity on the gold sheet…

What exactly happened last night? Hermione goes through the possibilities as she throws on as many Healing spells as possible, hurriedly getting dressed for school and ignoring the way every movement makes her want to groan. How could she be physically harmed by last night's events? They occurred in her head. Unless they didn't – but no, that doesn't make sense, because how…?

She remembers one thing Tom said from one of her visits. The more time we spend together, the closer we are.

They were very close last night, severely close. Could that actually have made their connection – whatever connection the Protean Charm granted them – so acute her dream actually processed his touches as real, her body actually feeling them? That presents another issue. One, of hiding the aftermath what they did, and two, of pregnancy. They used no protection, because it was a dream for Merlin's sake – but does she still run the chance of…?

No, logic catches up with her, along with a flood of relief. Tom isn't alive. The dead don't fertilize. At that, Hermione's stomach rolls. Dead. She had sex with a dead person, possibly… But then, it hadn't mattered when everything was just a dream. But now?

No, it still doesn't matter, she decides, sitting down in Herbology next to Neville. Tom is an exception, some sort of rare miracle caught between death and life. Whatever he is, he isn't a ghost.

Perhaps he's something worse.

The dreams become terrible.

No, not dreams – nightmares.

Hermione fights to sludge her way through the puddles surrounding Hogwarts. They're everywhere and impossible to avoid, made of thick green slosh filled with tiny writhing leeches that latch onto her skin as she forces her way through them. She has to get to the castle. Someone will help her there. Madame Pomfrey, Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Ron, Harry-

"Those imbeciles?" Tom says derisively, scoffing from where he stands in a perfect circlet untouched by the infested waters. He cocks a brow at her. The no-mind-reading rule has long been foreclosed. "Don't you know they're not here? Or did you forget you're in my world now?"

When she doesn't answer, he glares at her with those red eyes that never turn brown anymore, and the leeches on her legs lap at her blood more greedily. She reaches down to yank one off with a disgusted grunt, but another sticky morsel just bounds up and replaces it.

"Are you ignoring me, little bird?" he says in a voice like ice.

"I'm not your little bird," Hermione snarls, peeling off more leeches. "Stop giving me nightmares."

"But why?" he pouts, batting his cherubic eyelashes at her. "It's so much fun to see you…squirm." He licks his lips. A shudder goes down Hermione's spine, reminding her that worse is to come, worse is he capable of creating.

Tom grins at her fiendishly. "Are you ready to squirm now?"

"Are you feeling alright, Hermione?" asks Ron, eying her with concern. "You seem a little…off."

Razorblades spin in her mouth, shredding it, and Hermione wakes up with tiny, peculiar cuts all over her gums. The most intense pleasure she's ever known throbbing between her legs.


"What?" she demands. "What is it?"

Next to Ron, Harry sighs. Ron scowls heavily. "Forget it. Excuse me for interrupting such important tracks of thoughts as yours."

"Oh, don't be sorry," Hermione says sweetly. "You wouldn't recognize a thought – much less, an important one – if it smacked you over your incompetent little head." With that, she turns back around to face McGonagall at the head of the classroom.

Eyes bulging out of his head, Ron slowly turns a very deep shade of puce. He slumps in his seat and introduces Draco Malfoy to a choice finger when the Slytherin smugly mouths incompetent little head at him. Draco smirks, shoots Hermione an appreciative look she ignores.

But then, Hermione has taken to ignoring everything non-class-related.

It's unbearable to sleep.

The promise of pleasure Tom never fails to give begs Hermione to go to bed, but the reminder that she will have to suffer through one of his sick, intricately-designed nightmares first drives her to mental distress. She spends the days crabby and nearly insensible, with large, dark purple circles under her eyes, wearing robes that look baggier on her gaunt frame by the day. Harry and Ron even avoid her for a time before taking pity on their friend and returning to her. They don't understand what's wrong, but they know enough to know it isn't over studying. Hermione is failing all her classes.

Life has turned into an obsession of sleep and Tom Riddle, a battle against what she cannot deny her body. Trelawney – wonder of all wonders – had been right. Hermione must not dream, but she can't stop sleeping… so she's simply doomed.

Finally, she goes to Dumbledore for help at Harry's wheedling, and finds her answer at last. He knows who Tom Riddle is. Not the boy she imagined so ruthlessly killed by the Basilisk, but – the professor secretly believes – the murderer of a girl called Myrtle, the Heir of Slytherin, a legend called Lord Voldemort no one has seen for seventeen years.

In her dreams. Connected to her inexplicably, through a foolish move made on her part.

Dumbledore promises to do everything in his power to keep her awake, to drive Tom Riddle out of her brain, but Hermione can see in his eyes the same conclusion she has already come to: it's too late. Tom's in too deep to dig out.

Six days of never-ending consciousness pass. It's a relentless cycle of choked-down potions, disgusting herbs, and Rejuvenation Spells constantly monitored by Madame Pomfrey and Hermione's friends. Harry and Ron are her most frequent visitors, taking turns standing bedpost, visiting her during meals and telling her trivial stories about school to keep her from nodding off. If she does, Dumbledore is afraid the consequences will be dire.

"Keeping you from Voldemort will anger him," he'd told her, as he sat by her bedside and comfortingly patted her hand. "If you should slip back into his hands, he won't let you go, because he know you won't be back. You seem to be his only connection to the waking world; he won't be keen to release you."

"But what does he want with me?" she had asked. It was only the second day, and she'd thrown up five times from the severe, intense need to sleep. She resembled a skeleton. "I don't understand why he needs me."

"Lord Voldemort once nearly ruled all of England," Dumbledore had replied. "No one knows what drove him into hiding, but perhaps he hasn't been hiding at all, but looking for…" Here, he'd hesitated. Hermione had insisted he finish and tell her what it was. Finally, he conceded and said, "The diary you found may not have bound you to it through the Protean Charm alone, but another kind of magic. I believe Tom was creating Horcruxes while here at Hogwarts, a type of magic that can immortalize its creator through terrible deeds, and you connected yourself to it in a peculiar way through your charm, Ms. Granger. It sounds as if Voldemort coerced you into slowly giving him control over your subconscious, although he surely planned to have full control over you in the end." At her terror, he gave her a bright smile, reassuring her, "But you have help now, Ms. Granger. We'll do all we can to protect you."

However, Hermione had never told Dumbledore how she and Tom – Voldemort – had had sex in her dreams, repeatedly, too embarrassed to confess it. She is bright enough to realize it is a huge piece of information, vital to this organized effort against the attempted invasion of her mind.

It means that even if Dumbledore can find a way to sever their connection somehow, she will be left permanently damaged afterward. Possibly comatose.

"You should've seen Harry's face when Cho and Cedric came by, Hermione. I swear, I thought he was going to rip Cedric's head off," chortles Ron, startling her out of her slow, hazy thoughts. She raises her eyebrows at him and Harry uncomprehendingly, eyes red and foggy from the film of potions and sleep deprivation. But she smiles.

"Not one of my better moments," Harry admits, scrubbing the back of his neck with a sheepish grin. Madame Pomfrey calls at them to get moving from the back.

"Stupid visiting hours," Ron mutters, standing up and stretching his arms with a yawn. At Harry's sharp look, he jumps and looks apologetically at Hermione. "Sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to…rub it in."

It's fine, Hermione mouths. She's too weak, too utterly exhausted to form real words.

Ron and Harry give her sad, pitiful looks, and Ron scurries away to try to bribe the Medwitch into letting them stay an hour longer. Harry studies Hermione with a creased brow, murmuring something through a cloud of cotton, before noticing her Stimuli Vial is running low and running off to inform Madame Pomfrey.

The last thing Hermione sees before blackness folds over her vision is Harry's horrified face as he glances back and sees her wink out.


Hermione gasps and jumps up, head whipping as she assesses the Hogwarts of 1943 around her. Malfoy and his crew swagger by her, glancing at her without curiosity before moving on. She staggers into the wall of the corridor, gasping as she sinks to the floor, grabbing her hair, screeching, "No, wake up, wake up, wake up-"

"Ssh, little bird." Tom crouches beside her, petting back her hair. She knows why his eyes are red. It's a side effect of the Horcruxes, of his corruption. She snaps her teeth at him.

"Get away from me!" she shouts. "You're a filthy liar. You're a twisted, psychopathic murderer. Get out of my head, now!"

"Your head?" He laughs, delighted. "It's not yours anymore, Hermione. Our connection goes so much deeper than that." Lifting her chin, he blows away her tears with a single breath, and smiles at her. So handsome. Such a pretty dream. Such a wicked nightmare. "I was mad at you at first for trying to get away from me, but you impressed me with your resistance. You have a strong mind. It will be very suitable to me."

Hermione wants to sob, to cry, to shake her fists, and throw a tantrum. But she won't give him the satisfaction. "What are you going to do with me?"

"I'm going to keep you here, in my place," Tom says softly. "You will be my Horcrux, and I will rejoin the waking world to bring the true Lord Voldemort back." He kisses her. "Don't worry, little bird, it's not all bad. After all, when I sleep I will return to you, and we'll always have each other. Isn't that all you ever wanted? Someone who understood and appreciated your intelligence, a companion of equal standing? And now you've got one forever."

Voldemort winks. "You're a lucky, lucky girl."

Harry Potter has been at his best friend, Hermione Granger's bedside, for the past nine hours. Ron headed down to get them lunch. Head in his hands, brain pounding with the grief of being so stupid as to look away from her for one second, he wishes intensely that it had been him instead of Hermione. That it's him in the bed, being fed potions through tubes, comatose, at the hands of an evil mastermind living inside his head…

He shudders, repulsed by the mere thought.

Then Hermione opens her eyes.

"Hermione!" Harry exclaims, astounded. "How did you-? I-I'm so sorry. It was the stupidest thing, I left to get you more of the potion, but you fell asleep when I turned away and I couldn't even stop it. One second, you were there, and the next you were gone. Nothing Dumbledore did could bring you back and I-" He breaks off, frowning at the coldness in Hermione's face. A coldness that has no business in Hermione Granger at all.

Harry has just begun to understand what has happened when Hermione cocks her head, raising a brow as her eyes scan him. "So you're Harry," she says, in a tone much softer than the one she usually uses. "Don't worry. Hermione is still sleeping like a baby."

Pale, Harry reaches for his wand, at the same time starting to call, "Dumbledore-!"

"Avada Kedavra."

The Horcrux Voldemort steps over the body, exiting the Hospital Wing on steady feet. He glances down both sides of the corridor – the castle has since been modified since he last saw it - and takes a right, headed to the exit, disarming everyone in his path. The next step is to find the real Voldemort.

The final is to bring him back to power.

AN: The creepy end. X)

Thank you for reading, darlings! I apologize for any grammar/spelling mistakes, et cetera, as I didn't check this as thoroughly as I could have before posting. Please share your thoughts below... His Lordship would love to hear them.

Now I'm creeping myself out. (Nuff of that.)