Chapter 13: Why Not?
The vast majority of questions coursing through her mind could be summarized with that one word.
Why did she go back in time? Why did it have to be Tom Riddle? Why did things always go from bad to worse?
Why? Why? Why?
“Who was that boy?”
No, not who, Hermione thought distractedly, why.
“Answer me, Hermione,” Tom commanded through clenched teeth.
He was standing behind her, eyes boring into the back of her head as though her curly locks would yield the answers he sought. Her eyes flitted to his reflection in the glass before flicking back to the window to stare out at the Forbidden Forest.
“A friend,” she stated dully.
Tom’s reflection sneered at her. “People aren’t usually afraid of their friends.”
She turned from the window abruptly, quirking a disbelieving brow at him. “Really?” she pointedly drew out.
Anger flashed across his eyes like a bolt of lightening reflected across his pupils. He knew exactly what she had meant by her retort for everyone in their Defense class had witnessed a perfect copy of her stepping out of the black void that had been Tom’s worst fear.
Needless to say, their last two classes and dinner had been very tense. So tense, in fact, that they hadn’t been able to sit through the whole dinner. They left the Great Hall after only fifteen minutes, both of them having no appetite and no patience for the gossiping students that stared shamelessly at the duo.
In seeming indifference they had risen simultaneously, making their exit quickly and silently while ignoring the many eyes that followed their process across the hall. On some unspoken agreement they went to their room, the silence stretching between them holding firm even as Tom gathered his nightclothes and went into the bathroom to change.
When he came out, Hermione was in her white cotton pajamas, staring out the window while pensively stroking Lu who was curled comfortingly around her wrist.
“You know very well that we are not friends,” he said in a forcefully even tone.
Hermione felt her heart twitch in what possibly could have been a combination of pain and excitement.
Not just friends, she remembered thinking as his lips melded with hers.
“Why do you fear that boy?” he asked, softer this time, but with no less demand that she answer.
“Why do you fear me?” she returned, resolving to be defiant to the end.
The right corner of his mouth lifted slightly in a shadow of his old smirk telling her that he knew exactly what she was thinking and that he also knew, just as she, that he would get his answers.
One way, or another.
“I do not fear you,” he murmured, something that was not quite anger flashed in his eyes, darkening them a shade.
Hermione took a step back as he slowly moved towards her.
“You saw me,” Hermione said, ignoring the instinct to flee. “You saw me when you stepped in front of the boggart.”
Tom lifted his head and his eyes narrowed in a warning. “I did,” he admitted, but before Hermione could retort he continued, “But you were not the only thing I saw.”
This brought her up short. She had been there, right beside him when he shoved her out of the way of the boggart. She had seen her twin step out of a black hole.
Tom sniffed, obviously amused by the confused expression that had taken residence on her face.
“Wh-what else did you see?” she asked slowly, unsure if she really wanted to know the answer.
He smirked. He knew she would not be able to resist asking him that.
“I do not fear you,” he stated, not deigning to satisfy her curiosity.
She lifted her head confidently. “Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
Tom smiled lightly at her attempt at manipulation. “Who is Harry?”
The question brought her up short, just as he planned. She obviously did not recall stuttering the boy’s name, but Tom remembered. Tom had a feeling that he would never forget the twinge he had felt at hearing Hermione whisper that name in longing regret.
Biting her lip, Hermione broke eye contact. “I told you already.”
“I tire of these games, Hermione,” he hissed suddenly, stepping forward and grabbing her forcefully by the shoulders. “You will tell me what I want to know.”
“Why does it always have to be like this?” she returned, tears burning her eyes. “Why is everything so complicated with you?”
“Hermione,” he murmured in warning.
“No!” she shouted, lifting her arms and breaking his biting grip on her. She took a step forward and poked him in the chest with a rigid finger. “I don’t answer to you, Thomas. I am not some faithful lapdog you can control! I don’t have to tell you anything!”
Tom stared at her in shocked bemusement. No one had ever really told him no before, and on the rare occasion they did, he had found it to be quite disagreeable. But all he seemed to feel at Hermione’s refusal was a painful lurch in his heart. He wanted answers, yes, but was it worth the tears gathering in her eyes?
Harry…her voice whispered in his mind in a mix of sorrow and love.
Yes, it was worth her tears.
“You are wrong,” he whispered darkly, closing the distance between them. “You are mine. I may not be able to control you, Hermione, but you are mine.”
“I belong to no one,” she declared.
“Who is Harry?”
And she shattered right before his eyes in a million, sparkling pieces.
Perfect tears fell from her warm, sad eyes and her breathing hitched painfully. Shaking hands covered her face and in a quivering voice, she answered him.
“I hate you.”
His breath caught in his chest, but his gaze did not falter from her tear stained face.
An old, decaying wall seemed to crumble within her and in a trembling voice she proclaimed, “I hate you. I hate everything you do and say, and everything you don’t do or say. I hate everything about you. I hate that you are the only one in this godforsaken place that I can relate to. I hate that I need you, that when you are not around, I look for you. I hate you.”
Tom watched her cry feeling a sense of victory. She was beautiful when she cried. Enveloping her in his strong, warm embrace, Tom pulled her to him. Instantly, her head nestled against his chest and her fists curled tightly on his robes, and Tom instantly knew that she didn’t really hate him. She hated herself for letting him affect her so.
And he knew that the time was ripe. She was so close to giving in to him; he was so close to having his answers.
“Who is he, Hermione?” he asked once more in gentle persistence.
He felt her stiffen before relaxing in his embrace, mumbling, her voice muffled against his chest, “My brother.”
“And why do you fear him?” he pressed.
She shook slightly. “I don’t fear him. I fear his memory.”
Tom looked down at her sharply. “Is he dead?”
Hermione pulled away from him, biting her lip. “He’s gone, they’re all gone. Nothing but a memory now…”
He watched her swallow convulsively, his mind working furiously to piece the puzzle of her life together. “Is this because of the war? Did he die in the war?”
Hermione’s lip trembled.
No, he hasn’t died in the war, but I’m afraid he might…and I’m starting to fear that you may as well…
“I fled from France,” she stated abruptly. “I ran away when faced with a problem. Harry never would have fled; he’d fight to the end. I’m weak.”
Tom tilted his head, recalling boggart Harry’s words to her: weak, traitor…Nothing to me.
“You left in order to survive,” Tom grumbled, unsure of what to say to make her feel better; unsure of why he felt the need to reassure her.
Guilt rose up to choke her, a heavy lump in her throat. “No, I didn’t. I had no choice…What would they say if they could see me now? I hide behind Albus Dumbledore and lock myself in a room with you…I have to go back.”
Tom tightened his arms around her. “No,” he hissed. “You will not leave.”
Hermione shook her head and pulled away from him. “Tom, you don’t understand-”
“I don’t care,” he cut her off. “You will not leave, not now, not ever. I have been generous with you, Hermione. I have shielded you from the other Slytherins, took you into my protection. You will not leave me.”
“Tom, I don’t think you realize what you’re saying,” Hermione stared at him, shocked by his sudden vehemence.
“No, Hermione, you are the one who does not realize,” he whispered darkly, and Hermione shivered. “We all do what we must and we play the hand we are dealt. You were sent to me and if you wanted to escape, you should have left months ago. It’s too late now…you’re stuck.”
Hermione’s lip trembled as she realized the truth of his words. You’re stuck…it was true on more levels than he realized. She couldn’t go home, not until she found the answer to the mystery question that had made the Room of Requirement appear to send her there.
And somehow she knew that even if she wasn’t stuck and she was able to make it back home to her time, she’d still be trapped. The tangle web Fate had weaved for her would stretch to her own time and Tom, or what was left of him, really, would still be there waiting for her.
So she had two choices: she could continue to wallow in guilt over circumstances that had occurred beyond her control, or she could, as Tom so eloquently put it, play the hand dealt to her. Hermione was a natural optimist at heart, although recent years had tainted her glass making it appear half empty more often than not, but maybe she could make things work in the past.
Maybe she could make things work with Tom.
Now the new question was about how. How could she possibly make things work? How could she even be entertaining the very notion that things could work between them?
Tom’s soft voice broke her reverie. Hermione stared at him, eyes wide as she drank in his tall, lithe form, and alabaster skin. His eyes were deceptively innocent, and yet they called to her, urging her to accept him.
The logical part of her questioned his intent. She knew that they were not honorable, but what did he have to gain? Was he looking for a fling? She doubted so. Tom was extremely popular and she would be remiss if she had not noticed the many gaggles of girls making eyes at him.
But then why her?
“Why me, Tom?” she asked, not taking his proffered hand. Not yet at any rate.
“Why not you?” he countered.
Hermione smiled faintly. He always answered her questions with one of his own. Probably because he knew it annoyed her.
“Tom, no games, not right now; you know what I’m asking,” she chided.
His eyes narrowed, but he lifted his chin slightly and obligingly answered, “Because it’s you that I want.”
Hermione mentally scoffed. He made things sound so simple! “But why do you want me, Tom? I’m a mudblood, I’m nobody!”
“You are somebody to me.”
Her heart leaped. “But why, Tom?”
He smirked down at her and shook his head slightly. “Does it really matter why, Hermione?”
Her mind halted. Did it matter why? What did it matter why he was so interested in her, just as long as he was? Why did the future matter when she wasn’t even certain she would go back?
And suddenly the questions took on a different tone. The visions of Harry, Ron, Lucius and Severus were pushed back as a new question surfaced.
“It won’t be easy,” she pointed out.
Tom smiled. “It never is.”
“People will talk.”
His smile widened. “They always do.”
Hermione shook her head. How was it that he always knew the answers?
“We won’t listen to them,” he stepped to her, his voice a reassuring rumble that reverberated in his chest. “They are beneath us.”
Maybe she was being weak and maybe she was betraying some unspoken rule. Thou shall not dally with young dark lords…
But she placed her hand within his long, pale one, and even though she knew she should have regretted it the instant his hand curled around hers, Hermione could only feel an odd sense of relief.
The first battle was over and even though she did forfeit to Tom, Hermione had the strangest feeling that maybe later on, she would look back on this battle as a victory for her as well.