Chapter 14: Storm Brewing
People did talk, just as Hermione had claimed they would.
The change in their relationship, while secretly expected by many, was instantaneous. One day everything was normal, and the next, there was a different air around Hermione and Tom as they walked the halls together. They still associated primarily with each other, but there was a new emotion lurking behind their stolen glances and their clasped hands suddenly seemed more intimate.
It was as though something had shifted within them and slid into place, locking them together as clearly as though a red thread stretched between them, linking them at the hands.
And even Minerva McGonagall had agreed that the two Slytherins were made for each other, although her concurrence was hardly meant to be a compliment.
Tom and Hermione did not act differently than they had before, but a person would have had to been blind to not notice the change in their friendship.
But, as Hermione also predicted, it was also hard for there were those who did not agree that they were perfect for each other, mainly anyone wearing a green and silver tie.
Tom’s sway over his fellow snakes was strong, though, and there were many that waited with breath abated for Tom to drop Hermione like a bad habit. It would be perfect, they sneered. Tom would gain her trust only to betray her in the worst way possible.
And so they behaved with real Slytherin patience. They ignored the new air around their leader and the mudblood, feigning ignorance. They silently followed Lord Voldemort’s orders and kept a look out for anyone that would harm their Lord’s new pet, and after hearing not even a wisp of danger, they entertained themselves with wicked thoughts of Hermione’s tears and spilt blood. It would be soon, they knew, now that Tom had acted.
They hid around corners, like snakes coiled and ready to strike, watching and waiting in eager patience. It would be great, they all hissed; perfect…
But then Halloween passed and November melted away and Tom had yet to move. For weeks they watched, anxious for a sign, or any hint of what Lord Voldemort would do. Weekdays turned into weekends, and soon they found themselves on the eve of December with still no clue.
It was then that a few of the snakes grew impatient and restless. What was he waiting for? Why was it taking so long?
On the eve of December, they watched Hermione smile and whisper something to Tom in the Great Hall, causing him to laugh.
They had never seen Tom laugh before.
It was all an act, most maintained when a stray snake would voice their worry. He was whispering honey lies to her, building her up. Yes, the stray snake would then agree, the higher up one is, the harder the fall. And fall she would, with no one there to catch her.
But they were all wrong, to different extents. Tom was not setting Hermione up for a fall, but was, in fact, manipulating them to fill his purposes. And while Abraxas Malfoy, the biggest snake in the den, thought he was being quite sneaky while encouraging the uncertainties growing in the common room, Tom Riddle secretly smirked at his pathetic attempts at usurping control.
Abraxas Malfoy had obviously forgotten Tom’s warning and clearly underestimated his hold over his Death Eaters.
Tom silently sneered as he idly flipped a tarot card onto the table he and Hermione occupied for their divination class. His smirk widened at seeing the picture painted ominously on it.
Death. How charming.
Hermione suddenly threw down a card with an annoyed huff, causing Tom to smile. Curiosity had prompted Tom to take this class, but now he merely remained for Hermione’s uncharacteristically snarky asides.
“Oh look, Tom, the High Priestess. She’s quite pretty, isn’t she?”
Tom looked at the robed figure of a mysterious woman on the face of the card Hermione had plopped down. Looking back up at her, Tom tempered his grin with an arrogant quirk of his brow. “Not nearly as attractive as you, my dear,” he smoothly murmured.
She flopped another card under that of the High Priestess, not even looking at him while responding, “Tom, flattery will get you nowhere.”
He smiled at the top of her head. “Why is it that my compliments leave much to be desired with you?”
“Perhaps because I know the real reason behind your pretty words,” she proclaimed airily.
Tom snorted. “Do enlighten me.”
She looked up at him briefly, grinning impishly before glancing back down at her tarot deck. “You merely wish to unsettle me, Thomas. It is an ongoing game we have, is it not?”
“Indeed,” he agreed, “Although I wonder why I even bother anymore for you never appear to be unsettled by anything I say.”
“So you surrender, then?” she glanced up again.
He smirked. “Never.”
Although he gave no outward sign of amusement, Hermione knew him well enough to spot the small smile hidden in his eyes. His humor was always fleeting, however, but the memory of the brief smile his green eyes held kept Hermione warm for far longer than she would have expected.
Tom moved his blank stare to Abraxas Malfoy who was subtly sneaking glances over at them. Part of the reason Tom’s good humor was always so fleeting was due to Malfoy. The boy was always observing them, always watching. And his eyes would always linger a second too long on Hermione, always narrowing on her smiling face.
It wasn’t necessarily the staring that irked Tom so, but more so the emotions and thoughts he picked up from the boy. Tom had slipped into Abraxas’s mind while his slippery friend glared at Hermione and he most certainly was not pleased by what he saw. He witnessed pictures, flashes really, of Malfoy violating her one way or another. Each scene screamed of Abraxas’s desire to dominate and control her, as well as his desire to see her suffer.
Tom was going to have to take care of him, sooner rather than later. Malfoy clearly did not recall his lesson, and Tom was only too eager to remind him. Perhaps, if the situation showed no improvement, Tom would be forced to solve it on a more permanent level.
He found the idea of killing Abraxas Malfoy to be extremely appealing.
“My dear,” Professor Thompson broke his train of thought. She was standing behind Hermione, who twisted around in her seat to face her. “I believe you dropped this card. I’m sure it will play an important role in your future…” she stretched out a long, thin arm to offer said card to Hermione.
Tom watched as she swallowed nervously and accepted the card with mumbled thanks. Curiosity filled him as he watched her glance at the card, blush, and then place it in her book while snapping it shut.
“What are the odds that you’ll conveniently forget she did that?” she quickly asked, her cheeks burning bright in embarrassment.
“No chance, actually, but I may give you a reprieve until later this evening,” he answered mildly.
“I’ll take it,” she readily accepted, gathering the rest of her effects as class was dismissed.
They had Defense next, a class they both were learning to dread. Ever since the lesson with the boggart, Tom had lost much of his respect for the subject. That one lesson had caused so much damage to his plans. How could he explain to his Death Eaters why he was seemingly afraid of a mudblood? How could he account for the smiling face that had served as his worse fear?
He stood by what he had told Hermione, however. He did not fear her. No, it went much deeper than that. She was only a person, after all. What he felt fear for was what she may be capable of doing, of what she could very well be doing to him presently. He had not seen her, but rather, he had seen that gaping hole where his heart should be, and her laughing smiles filling that black void.
But Tom and Hermione had been more than friends for nearly a month now, and he knew he did not love her. He cared for her, though, more than he cared for anyone else. He felt many things for her, but not love.
Never love, he silently vowed.
His future was already set. He would be a Dark Lord of extraordinary power. People would fear him to the point of fearing his very name. Nothing or no one could move him from that path.
On the other hand, though, no one could take Hermione from his side and live. For some reason, though, he doubted that she saw herself becoming a Dark Lady.
But there was time yet and Tom could be very convincing when he stood to gain something. He was not a hopeless fool. Tom knew that Hermione wouldn’t wake up one morning and fancy herself his Dark Lady. But if she fell in love with him…well, Hermione never did anything by halves.
Tom sank gracefully into his chair in the Defense classroom.
Oh yes, he had great plans for his mudblood.
She smiled as she sat at her place by his side.
And she had absolutely no idea.
Somewhere in the pit of his stomach, Tom felt an uncomfortable twinge of something. It was more than a twinge, honestly, and it seemed to spark every time he thought about how he was planning to manipulate Hermione.
It was probably indigestion, he assured himself.
“Class, lately we have been starting our review for your NEWTS,” Professor Horace began his lecture, leisurely roaming from desk to desk. “We have focused mainly, however, on defensive spells against dark creatures such as werewolves and, err,” he coughed abruptly as his eyes flitted briefly over to Tom and Hermione, “And boggarts.”
There was a tense moment of silence after he spoke that was filled with angry Slytherin glaring and Gryffindor snickering. Hermione’s sharp eyes narrowed in an angry glare at the professor which prompted another coughing fit from the man.
Hermione then turned her glare to her classmates. She loathed this class. Defense had always been a difficult subject for her, or if not a real test, then at least more challenging than her other classes. She had relished the challenge, though. She had picked Harry’s brain dry and read all the books available on defense tactics. She had woken up, eager for this particular class to come so she could have a real challenge in her academics.
But she looked upon the subject in eagerness no more. Professor Horace, a seemingly lighthearted man, was useless as an instructor. He was short, slightly plump with a balding head that always caught the gleam of sunlight filtering through the windows. He was a nice enough fellow, but Hermione was not feeling very friendly with him. He had seen the boggart advance on her and witnessed her inability to stop it, and yet he had hesitated to intervene. But when Tom faced the boggart, well, Professor Horace ran to his rescue.
Hermione recalled with tempered bitterness how she had seen her image crawl out of the darkness before Tom, but it was no longer than the second she took to recognize her twin before Professor Horace had moved in front of Tom to dismiss class.
She hated defense.
With Professor Horace’s next words, her loathing for the class grew tenfold.
“We have come to a time in our review when we must shift the focus. Today we will be reviewing defensive spells not to be used on dark creatures, but rather on dark wizards. Today, we begin dueling.”
‘Dueling’, apparently, was a magic word for no sooner had the word left the teacher’s lips than students were excitedly murmuring amongst themselves.
Hermione really hated defense.
All of the Slytherins and not a few Gryffindors glanced at her in anticipation and Hermione was frankly surprised that they weren’t salivating with the desire to hex her to pieces.
She really, really hated defense.
“Don’t fret, Hermione. We will be partners, as usual,” Tom declared, once again easily interpreting her emotions.
“And I’ve already assigned partners!” Professor Horace’s voice rose above the gossiping buzzing of their classmates.
Hermione groaned. Figures…
Tom inwardly agreed.
“In order to encourage inter-house relationships, your dueling partner will not be in the same house as you,” he began once more.
Well, thank goodness for small favors, Hermione thought.
Professor Horace went through the class roster, pairing Slytherin up with Gryffindor, and the stray Hufflepuff up with a Ravenclaw. Tom was paired with Alex Darling, a shy Hufflepuff that stood no chance against him. The poor boy seemed to know this too, because he dragged his feet miserably as he made his way over to Tom.
“And Miss Granger, since you’re new and we don’t know what that school of yours taught you, I’ll pair you up with one of our strongest students. Miss McGonagall, if you will partner Miss Granger?”
Hermione felt dread fill her as Minerva walked to her desk, her nose up in the air and her displeasure with the pairing rolling off of her in waves. Hermione inwardly sniffed at her future professor’s disapproval. It wasn’t like she was looking forward to working with someone that couldn’t stand her!
Professor Horace proceeded to lecture them on various dueling styles and released the class with an essay assignment due at their next lesson to be written in conjunction with their partner. Hermione bit back a groan. She loathed group projects!
Slowly, she gathered her books, envisioning Professor Horace’s round face at the bottom of her sack as she threw in various heavy volumes of literature into her bag.
“Do you want to meet in the library tonight to do our essay?” Minerva asked in strained politeness.
Out f the corner of her eye, Hermione saw a group of Minerva’s Gryffindor friends watching their exchange avidly.
Hermione bit her lip. Even though she knew Minerva McGonagall would truly warm to her in the future, it still stung to be subjected to her disregard presently.
“Of course, is after dinner fine?” she asked as evenly as she could.
Minerva nodded and then scurried over to her friends.
As it was wont to do, time seemed to pass by in mere seconds until Hermione found herself sitting at Tom’s right and picking at her dinner.
“You will be careful tonight.”
It was an order, not a question.
“Tom, I doubt Minerva is planning to ambush me in the library, of all places,” she rolled her eyes. He was always so protective.
He looked down at her head. “It’s not her I’m worried about.”
She looked up from her plate to meet his sharp eyes. “The Slytherins?” she asked quietly.
He broke their stare and looked up and down their table. “They’ve been too quiet.”
“You think they’re planning something?”
“They wouldn’t be Slytherins if they weren’t,” he remarked dryly. “And tonight would be perfect for any plan of theirs.”
She frowned at her potatoes. “But why tonight?”
He looked at her as if she had lost her mind. “Hermione, don’t you realize this will be the first night that I won’t be your escort? It is my turn to patrol this evening, and you will not be in our room. I won’t be there to protect you.”
Annoyance tinged her response. “But Tom, I can take care of myself.”
“As you say, my dear, but you will be careful tonight.”
There seemed no point in arguing with him seeing as how he was only concerned for her, so Hermione nodded obediently.
But Tom was not through. “Especially of Malfoy, Hermione,” he persisted.
“Malfoy? Why just him?”
Tom turned an icy glare at said Slytherin who had, much to Tom’s chagrin, been staring at Hermione. “I don’t like the way he looks at you,” he muttered darkly.
“I don’t like the way any of them look at me,” she grumbled.
Tom sniffed in agreement. “I’ll make the library one of my last stops, that way if you have a late night you won’t have to walk alone.”
She stared at him, slightly incredulously. “You really think something is going to happen?”
“I like to be prepared for any contingency.”
“You would be,” she remarked after studying him for a brief moment.
Hermione jolted slightly when Tom dropped a chaste kiss on her forehead. “Go on now, your Gryffindor just left the hall.”
Her eyes remained on him, though. He had never kissed her in public before. Their relationship was something that was progressing smoothly, but rather slowly. Hermione knew that her growing feelings for Tom would suffocate if their physical relationship progressed too quickly, and Tom on some level knew this. They had kissed on many occasions. At night Hermione consciously snuggled up to him, and Tom would always kiss her goodnight, and she’d always wake with his long fingers tracing idle patterns up and down her spine. They were comfortable.
But they were both very reserved people in public. Hand holding, a quick embrace, and on occasion Tom would toy with her hair, but that was as far as they went in public.
He must be very worried, indeed, to kiss her in front of prying eyes, for Hermione knew that his kiss hadn’t been an endearment so much as a mark. She was his, plain and simple.
“I will be careful,” she insisted firmly, her hand grazing his beneath the table.
His eyes darkened a shade as they bored into hers. “See that you do.”
She left quickly, not looking back and consequently not noticing the two sets of eyes following her exit. One was Tom’s, his eyes sharp and alert.
The other was Abraxas Malfoy’s, a storm brewing behind hard, silver eyes.