Chapter 12: Fear
Tom stared at Hermione, silently studying her from across the table as she chewed pensively on the end of her quill. Whether she was aware of his scrutiny Tom didn’t know or care, but he took advantage of the opportunity to simply watch her since the chance to do so seemed to occur less often since their first and only kiss.
Ever since that night nearly three weeks ago, things had been rather strained between them- what with Hermione trying valiantly to act as though nothing had happened, and with him making sure to remind her of the incident with subtle touches and heated glances- it all made for an interesting month.
Tom was rather unnerved with the fact that he had kissed her without really making the conscious decision to, although he found the outcome rather enjoyable. Tom had been with women before, but had never really kissed one just for the sake of doing so. Kissing had always been a form of foreplay, a prelude to a night of dull lust and physical curiosity.
But kissing Hermione was unlike anything he had ever experienced; indeed, unlike anything he had ever thought it would be. She was hot where he was cold, and she was soft where he was rough. Her kisses were tentative yet tender, almost loving.
Love. Tom mentally scoffed at the idea. Love was a fool’s game, an idea thought up by men and pursued by women and no one benefited. He knew he didn’t love her, that he never could. Love required having a heart, after all, and Tom merely had a gaping hole where his should have been. No, he was in no danger of falling in love with his mudblood, but what about her? Could she fall in love with him?
Tom found the idea surprisingly appealing. Hermione was different from the nameless girls he had dallied with- he doubted he’d find any other like her. She was smart, pretty, and powerful- a deadly combination for a woman. Perhaps he could use any tender feelings she developed for him to his advantage. A Dark Lord would need an heir eventually…
Snake but not snake, one of us but something more…
“No, no, no, you’re doing it all wrong!”
Tom snapped out of his thoughts at Hermione’s bossy tone. She was reading over his homework assignment from their arithmancy class that morning, comparing their answers.
“And what makes you say that?” he inquired, a black brow lifted in arrogant question.
She rolled her eyes and her right hand curled into a fist which Tom knew meant that she was resisting the urge to tug his eyebrow back down. She absolutely hated it when he’d lift one brow and take a condescending tone- it was the reason that he made sure to do it as much as possible around her.
“Because it contradicts the formula you are supposed to be using to solve the equation! It contradicts itself for Merlin’s sake!” she nearly screeched.
Tom thought it was a good thing that they were using one of the study rooms as opposed to just remaining in the library’s study area. Surely, Madam Pince would have been scandalized by Hermione’s raised voice.
“Did you read it completely?” he asked calmly.
She sighed. “Yes,” she snapped rather like a petulant child.
“Then you’ll realize that my conclusion was the correct one to be drawn,” he stated as if that was all that mattered.
“That’s not the point, Thomas!” she proclaimed, much as he suspected she would.
Tom smirked at her obvious annoyance. “Then what is?”
“The point,” she stressed, “is to test our understanding of the theory, not to merely get the correct answer. Anyone could simply take a guess and get the answer right, that doesn’t prove their knowledge or understanding of the subject!”
Tom listened to her small rant with what was, for him, great patience. Personally he thought she was being ridiculous, but Tom had long since learned that Hermione was extremely dependent upon rules and structure.
“I think,” he began in a deceptively mild tone, reaching out to take back his Arithmancy homework from her limp hand, “that you are just upset because you didn’t think of merging the Mullins and Wright theories before.”
“I am not,” she proclaimed defensively.
Tom smiled in mock sympathy, straining not to laugh when Hermione began to grumble angrily under her breath. He didn’t know why he loved vexing her so, but he found it immensely satisfying to unsettle her.
They had come a long way since their kiss three weeks ago, and he was enjoying his rather unusual courtship of her. Life with Hermione was interesting and never boring, even though she made things infinitely complicated.
Hermione, on the other hand, was dreading their current situation. She had known she wouldn’t be able to hold her own against him. The last thing she had wanted was to get tangled up in whatever game he was playing. And she was sure it was a game to him. She might not understand the rules or the stakes, but she knew he was playing with her and even if it looked like his victory was imminent, she didn’t want to go down without a fight.
So, Hermione ignored the way her stomach fluttered when his hand would brush hers. She forced her heart to slow when she woke up each morning in his embrace. And she positively refused to think or talk about their one, searing kiss even though it haunted her dreams.
Denial, as they say, was not just a river in Egypt; it was also the state Hermione was currently in.
“We have defense in ten,” Tom informed, rising from his seat and gathering his belongings.
Hermione stood to do the same. “You should banish those plates, otherwise Madam Pince will have our heads,” she nodded to the glass plates that had held their lunch.
Tom obligingly took out his wand and banished the plates he had conjured for their afternoon meal. They had taken to eating in the library while working on their assignments for the upcoming week during their lunch period. The hour away from the prying eyes of their classmates was relaxing and tense. On one hand the time away from sneering Slytherins was a welcomed relief, but on the other, Hermione certainly didn’t find time alone with Tom Riddle to be calming. She supposed, though, that she’d rather face one snake as opposed to the full house, even if the snake in question was their leader.
Thomas seemed to like her for some inane reason, after all.
Straightening her skirt, Hermione fixed Tom with a plain look that clearly stated she was ready to leave. He nodded at her silent message and moved to the door, fighting a strange smile that tugged at his lips when she brushed passed him, valiantly trying to appear as though she was unaffected by his presence.
And so Tom and Hermione walked into their Defense class with two very different train of thoughts: Tom thinking their little game was very amusing, and Hermione dead certain that having two dark wizards interested in her (albeit for two extremely different reasons) meant that life couldn’t be much worse.
Unfortunately, she was wrong.
“While the NEWTS are still sometime away, one can never be too prepared! Starting this week, we will set one day aside for review. During that class time we will go over things that we have learned throughout these past years. Today, we will focus on Boggarts. Now, who can tell me the spell used to repel a boggart?”
Hermione didn’t notice Tom raising his arm and answering the majority of Professor Horace’s questions. She had faced a boggart before in her third year and knew all of the answers anyway. There were no surprised in this lesson.
But, she had been thirteen, then, still a child really, with nothing to trully fear. Although, she was rather shamed to admit that she still had nightmares about McGonagall chasing her to tell her she had failed all of her classes.
But now she was a young woman at eighteen. She was no longer a child with simple fears. She had fought monsters, seen death, and was struggling in a terrible war. She now knew what real fears were made of.
What would she see when it was her time to face the boggart? The Lord Voldemort of her time- snake like features, glowing red eyes? She had never seen him in person, but Harry had shown her in a pensieve. She knew enough to fear him.
Or maybe she would see Grindelwald as she knew him from pictures out of her textbooks; tall and lanky, with seedy yellow eyes, and a horribly treacherous sneer.
Or maybe she’d see something related to her true time; something unfit to be viewed by others. Gods, what if she saw something that would change the timeline if someone else witnessed it?
“Line up, class. That’s right, just like we did a few years ago! We must practice our counter curse!” the Professor happily ordered.
Hermione’s nervousness doubled at the sound of chairs and papers shuffling about. She lurched out of her seat when Tom placed a hand on her shoulder, something he seemed to be doing more often lately.
It was said in innocent question, but Hermione knew Tom Riddle well enough to detect a slight hint of concern behind his green eyes.
She bit her lip, refusing to comment. Silently, she followed Tom to the end of the line.
Slowly, the line progressed.
Orion Black faced an evil looking vampire.
Minerva efficiently turned her vicious looking spider into a fairy.
Abraxas didn’t bate a lash when confronted with a werewolf.
The line was moving quickly as the class progressed steadily. There was only a slight hesitation with each student before they laughed in the face of their fears.
Hermione’s hands began to twitch as she took another step forward.
It wasn’t fair, she thought helplessly. These students hadn’t seen half of the things she had in her first year, let alone her whole life. They didn’t have any true fears, she thought jealously as Amanda Pratt easily swatted away her cobra snake boggart.
“It’s not fair,” she mumbled to herself.
But, of course, Tom heard her.
“What isn’t?” he whispered softly.
He had been watching her closely the last few minutes, noticing each time she chewed on her lower lip, each time her hands twitched. It was the first time he had seen her nervous with a school lesson.
“I’ve seen dementors, faced death, and fought in a war. I have real fears, not the artificial ones you have. This isn’t fair,” she said desperately.
Tom stared at her intensely, pondering what she had let slip. How he wish he could slip into her mind and see exactly what she feared, but she was a smart girl. Surely she’d notice the intrusion.
The line moved up.
“Alright Miss Granger, your turn,” the Professor smiled in reassurance.
Hermione wanted to cry out at the injustice of it all, but she was already in place, and Professor Horace had already released her boggart.
While standing in line, Hermione had pictured many things she had feared, from small inane fears all the way to real, complex fears. She had thought of heights all the way to death, but never had she even remotely thought that her boggart would turn into what it did.
Emerald green eyes pierced her from behind round, innocent glasses. Sloppy, jet black hair stuck out in tuffs, not quite obscuring the lightening bolt shaped scar that rested on his forehead.
Silence settled as the onlookers wtched, confused about the seemingly innocent shape Hermione’s fear had taken.
Seconds ticked by in agonizing slowness, but Hermione could only stand dumbly, staring at the form of her best friend.
She had said his name in a mixture of confused happiness and slight fear.
He took a step forward, smiling in a queer way. Hermione stepped back, causing the boggart Harry’s smile to widen.
Hermione watched in confusion as it advanced once more to her, eyes cold and glittering, its mouth open and speaking.
“You can’t stop it,” it said, Harry’s voice like a knife to her heart.
It’s not Harry, she told herself. It’s not him.
“There’s nothing you can do,” he smiled eerily at her.
“Shut up,” she told it, pointing her wand straight at Harry’s heart.
Its smile widened as she paused.
“You are nothing,” he hissed.
She shook her head. Think of something funny, think of something funny…
“You are nothing to me,” he continued.
Her hand shook slightly. She knew it wasn’t real, that her Harry would never say such cruel things to her, but the shock from hearing his voice uttering those words…
“Traitor,” the word drifted to her.
A tear rolled down one cheek and her heart tightened painfully. She was being so weak, she thought pitifully.
“Weak,” he pointed out coldly, reading her thoughts.
Hermione would look back on that moment, knowing that she would have fallen then and there if it hadn’t been for Tom.
He had been watching the scene in rapt curiosity. Who was this boy that held so much power over his Hermione? Why did his words hold so much sway over her heart?
But his curiosity abruptly faded when the boggart/boy advanced on Hermione, who was clearly being affected by its presence.
Tom looked at the Professor, silently urging him to intervene, but the man stood there with a stupid look on his slack features, just as useless as the rest of them.
When Tom heard the word weak float across the room, he made his decision.
He strode forward confidently, carelessly pushing Hermione to the side and placing himself before the boggart. The boy with striking green eyes and the curious scar smiled at him as though acknowledging his actions before he turned, and the shape twisted.
Tom stood in front of a gaping hole of black nothingness that seemed to stretch out forever before him.
He peered into the void, uncertain of what it meant, and yet knowing exactly what it was he was looking at.
The gaping hole that was inside of him, the place where something was supposed to be, and yet he was missing it.
What a curious fear, he thought, oddly disappointed. The whole thing was rather anticlimactic, really. He had been prepared to face something, but was faced with the nothingness he had come to know and expect.
Abruptly, the darkness shivered, like a pond rippling in the night. The hole was shrinking, and something seemed to be taking its place, filling its darkness with light.
Honey brown locks and a sunny smile were directed at him, and it was then that Tom knew the meaning of real fear.