Chapter 17: Guilt and Shame
She didn’t know what to say, or rather, there was so much she wanted to say she was having trouble deciding which to say first. A million questions seemed to race across her mind, each bringing a new line of even more disturbing queries in their wake.
But did she really want to know the answers? Ignorance could be bliss…
Even as the idea crossed her mind, Hermione dismissed it. She had seen what ignorance had led to before. It was always best to know the answers.
So when she heard Minerva’s door click shut behind her, she randomly selected a question from her ever growing list. “Is he dead?” she asked bluntly, fixing Tom with a forthright gaze. There was no point skirting around the issue.
His eyes hardened as he stared at her from his vantage point by the door, and the right corner of his pale lips lifted slightly in a cold smirk. “No,” he claimed without further explanation.
There was something in his tone, though, as well as the cold glitter in his eyes that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. He would not directly lie to her, she supposed, but something in his simple answer begged to be examined.
“What did you do to him?” she asked, her voice coming out in a barely audible whisper. As soon as the question crossed her lips she wished she could take it back. She didn’t want to know, not really. Hermione didn’t want to picture what Tom had done to Abraxas Malfoy after she and Minerva had left them in the library.
She didn’t want to know what he was capable of.
Tom remained standing at the door, his eyes guarded as he contemplated answering her truthfully. He wondered what she’d say if he told her it had taken all of his willpower not to kill Malfoy when he saw her blood, slowly streaming down her arms and hitting the library floor in a muted splash. What would she would say if he told her he had woken his Slytherin followers and had called an impromptu meeting in the Room of Requirement where manipulated them into torturing Malfoy, Black, Goyle, and Felton to prove their loyalty to him?
He found himself fighting a smile as he pictured Abraxas Malfoy’s pure blood flowing onto the floor. Tom had made sure that every drop of Hermione’s muddied blood was repaid in full by the boy. Tom even contemplated telling Hermione how he had raised his wand only once after the others had had their fill of the boy, casting a curse of his own creation that slowly shattered each bone in the body one by one, and once every bone was broken, they would slowly and painfully knit back together until the person was whole again, only to have the process repeat itself. This curse of his creation was untraceable and could only be lifted by him.
His eyes strayed to her right ankle propped up on two pillows, one green and the other red. The curse, he vowed, would not be lifted for quite some time.
If at all.
But Tom knew he would never tell her those exact circumstances, for she did not really wish to know. Some part of her did, the part of her mind that wanted to know the answers to all of the questions. But there was another part of her that didn’t really care about what he had done to Abraxas Malfoy. Malfoy had been nothing but cruel to her and on some level, maybe even a level she didn’t consciously know existed, that part of her knew he deserved whatever Tom had done.
Abraxas Malfoy deserved to be punished.
It was to that side of her that Tom decided to indulge as he evasively answered, “He will never bother you again, that is all you need concern yourself with.”
Hermione sighed. She didn’t know whether to be disappointed or thankful for such an answer. She knew she should ask again until she got the answer, that she should care about whether or not Malfoy was alright, but instead, she found herself asking a new question.
“Will the others stop now?”
Tom smiled, noticing that she had not pressed the issue of Malfoy’s welfare. She could be just as ruthless as he was given time and the proper encouragement. What an interesting Dark Lady she’d make…
“Perhaps for now,” he replied, shaking his thoughts as he finally moved into the room to stand beside her. “But they will never stop.”
She had known just as much, but hearing him say so made it seem more final. This would be an ongoing battle, one that would stretch through time, one that she’d be fighting for the rest of her life. Thinking about it made her head spin and her already aching muscles scream for the need to rest.
“Let’s go to bed, Thomas,” she murmured, her eyes pleading him for sleep.
He nodded, his hand reaching out and connecting with her thigh and traveling down to her broken ankle. In almost loving gentleness he caressed the swollen appendage, his fingers leaving a warm, fiery tingle in their wake. Hermione knew without having to look that her ankle was now healed and without breaking their intimate eye contact, she took Thomas’s hand and allowed him to pull her upstairs and into bed where she slept, too tired to change her clothes, in a restless sleep plagued with visions of Tom with flashing red eyes smiling at her sweetly as he tortured people from the past and future. It was the first of many of guilt ridden nightmares.
Hermione’s guilt increased tenfold the following morning as she met Albus Dumbledore’s eyes after Headmaster Dippet’s announcement concerning Malfoy. The ever-present cheery twinkle was gone, and Hermione had the suspicion that he knew exactly what had occurred last night. The weight of his gaze made her shoulders sag and she found that she could only hold the connection for mere seconds before she was forced to glance away in a telling sign of guilt. She noticed Minerva at the Gryffindor table undergo the same treatment, unable to withstand Dumbledore’s stare.
She felt bad for the Head Girl, knowing that she was most likely having similar feelings of guilt, fighting her duty to turn Tom in, but also the Gryffindor thought that they had only gotten what they deserved for unfairly attacking a girl in the middle of the night unprovoked. She wondered if she would buckle under pressure and turn them in to be expelled.
Her heart tightened at the thought, and Hermione turned to look at Tom for comfort. He was either blissfully unaware of Albus Dumbledore’s eyes on him, or completely unaffected, and Hermione rather thought it was the latter of the two. His expression revealed nothing, even though his eyes were focused on Minerva across the hall. She watched as he inclined his head ever so slightly to her, and Hermione immediately understood what he was doing by acknowledging her. On one hand he was thanking her for her assistance last evening, but the deadened fire that lurked in his eyes also served as a reminder of the cold fire that would ignite and engulf Minerva if she so much as breathed a word of the altercation to a soul.
Hermione knew in that instant that Minerva would not tell anyone about last night. She was too afraid of Tom.
And with good reason.
What have I gotten myself into, Hermione thought desperately.
She had known it would be hard with Tom, that she would constantly question his intent and actions, as well as her own. But as she looked down at her plate filled with eggs and kippers that remained untouched, she had a feeling she would not escape their relationship unscathed. She would never be the same person again, she realized.
Was she turning into another mindless follower? Was she sacrificing her ideas and beliefs in order to be with Tom? And if so, was Tom worth such a sacrifice?
She knew Tom was now looking intently down at the top of her head, but she did not look up to meet his eyes. She was both afraid and ashamed by her line of thoughts and she knew Tom could read her better than anyone. Was she selling a part of her soul? Was she losing herself in Tom Riddle?
Hermione tried to mentally distance herself from the situation to look at it logically. If she was being affected by Tom, then he was most likely being affected by her. Perhaps, then, it was worth a small sacrifice in order to change Tom. Relationships, she rationalized, were filled with forfeits. They were not easy and it took hard work, and yes, some sacrificing.
And while she knew that there was no way she could stop Tom Riddle from becoming Voldemort, he already had become him in a sense, she hoped that maybe she could influence him just enough to plant a small seed of doubt. If she was able to affect him even half as much as he was her, then maybe there’d be some small part of him that would remain human. A part of him that could be saved from the evil that was surely going to claim him.
She shook her head, a few bushy locks escaping from her bun in the process. Hermione hated thinking about the future, and since she was more or less presently stuck in the past, she resolved to live for the moment. Maybe she was being weak for taking the easy way out, but Hermione found herself not caring.
As if to prove her indifference, Hermione reached out and squeezed Tom’s hand without looking up. She felt him give an answering squeeze as he entwined his long fingers with her own. She didn’t know where there relationship was going, although there was a small ache in her heart that hinted at the destination, but she resolved to see it to the end. Tom, she knew, would never let her go.
She was trapped. A prisoner by her own hand. She had known who Tom Riddle would become and she had still chosen him.
No, he chose me, a part of her whispered.
Which was true. They had chosen each other.
And for better or worse, they had to live with their choices. There was no turning back now for it was far too late.
“We’ll be late if you don’t get moving, Hermione.”
She jumped, startled by both the words that seemed to be an echo of her own thoughts and Tom’s lips nearly grazing her earlobe. He smirked at her reaction for he always seemed to delight in her discomfort, and together they left the emptying Great Hall for their Advanced Transfigurations class where they were working on becoming animagi.
Albus Dumbledore was an amazing teacher and Hermione felt extremely honored to be studying under him. He had a way for demonstrating transfigurations that were fun and interesting, as well as being extremely advanced. They were researching the steps and meditations required for animagus transformations, and it was their goal to become animagi before the end of the year, although Professor Dumbledore made sure to stress that the odds of them all successfully transforming were slim as it took great determination and power to maintain an animal form.
Hermione would always secretly smile because she, Ron, and Harry had already successfully managed to transform with the aid of Professor McGonagall, Lucius, and Severus that summer. Ron made a fiery orange tiger, Harry was, to no one’s surprise, a striking Barbary lion, and Hermione could turn into a sleek mountain lion.
Today they spent their time on meditation and it felt as though no sooner had she closed her eyes and cleared her mind than class was being dismissed.
Hermione was not surprised when Professor Dumbledore asked her to stay behind.
After reassuring Tom that she could find her own way to potions, thank you very much, Hermione made her way to stand in front of Albus’s front desk, staring determinedly at a spot on his forehead.
“Miss Granger, would you mind stepping into my office?”
It was not a request, of course, so Hermione nodded and followed him through the side door which led to his private office. She gulped slightly as he through a silencing charm up before fixing her with those damned knowing eyes.
Well, if he was going to accuse her, he’d have to be the first one to speak, Hermione stubbornly thought as she looked away from him to examine his office. She’d been in it a few times before, but there was something about the most powerful wizard of the age having Bertie Bott’s Beans lying next to purple and orange socks that begged to be examined.
“Hermione,” he began, drawing her attention away from his cherry wood desk and back to him. “I will not waist our time with any accusations, but it would be irresponsible of me if I did not address the issue with young Mr. Malfoy with you.”
She blinked, but could not find any words to speak.
“How much do you know about Tom Riddle, Hermione?” he asked abruptly.
She cocked her head to the side and pondered how to answer. Their discussions about the future were always handled delicately for if Albus knew too much of it, he would be tempted to change it.
“Enough,” she settled on saying.
He nodded. “I see. While I am grateful that both you and Mr. Riddle have found a friend in each other, I feel it important to advise you against forming any lasting attachments with anyone here. This is not your home, Hermione. Never forget that for to do so is to forget yourself.”
She attempted to swallow the lump rising in her throat as she nodded.
“Hermione, you would do well to remember the role you play, not only in this time but in your true time as well. We cannot live in the past, my dear, and you should not be afraid of the future. It is a fine line you are being forced to tread, and I do not envy the position you are in. However, if any more events such as last night occur I will be forced to take action. Do not doubt the seriousness of this situation, Miss Granger. My duty is to ensure the safety of all students. There will be no exceptions, are we clear?”
Hermione stared at him, completely dumbfounded. She couldn’t articulate anything resembling an intelligent response, so she nodded once more, trying to ignore the tears prickling the corner of her eyes. Why was he so concerned with Malfoy’s safety, and how can he overlook the fact that they had cornered her?
Anger and shame made the lump in her throat swell. It wasn’t fair. On one hand she entirely agreed with him, but on the other she could still see Abraxas’s hateful eyes burning holes into her and his thin lips forming a sneer as his slicing hex connected with her shoulder. Wasn’t he concerned at all for her safety?
Of course he is, she told herself, but for some reason, she felt Tom’s concern was more genuine.
“I will speak with you later, Miss Granger, after the holidays, about Grindelwald and what precautions we will be taking to protect you,” he dismissed, his eyes bright and his cheery grin once again in place.
And if his eyes did not twinkle as much as they had before at her, she pretended not to notice.
With a quiet goodbye she left his office and nearly fell over when she walked straight into Tom. She should have known that he’d be waiting for her.
He took one look at her frowning features and his eyes darkened. “What did he say?” he snapped, his hands gripping her shoulders tightly as though to prevent him from shaking her.
“No-nothing,” she stuttered.
His eyes narrowed in disbelief and after a quick glance to verify the hall was quite empty, he pulled her into an adjourning classroom and put up a silencing ward.
“You’re a terrible liar, Hermione. What did Dumbledore say?” he asked again in a low, demanding tone.
The anger that had kindled at Dumbledore’s condescending words began to simmer out of her control. “You know very well what he said, Thomas, so don’t play the simpleton!”
There was a faint rumbling in his chest that warned Hermione that now was probably not a good time to push his buttons seeing as how he had been in a terrible rage last night and nearly killed someone. But Hermione didn’t care for she was just as furious.
“Does he know about last night?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“He knows everything, Tom, you know this already. Nothing gets by Albus Dumbledore in this school!” she huffed, annoyed at his deliberate questioning. Honestly, did he think she was one of his Death Eaters to be interrogated for any useful information?
If she thought that answering Tom’s question would abate his anger, she was wrong. Her response only seemed redirect his anger and frustration.
“The old fool is always meddling in my affairs, but not for long,” he murmured in dark promise.
Hermione felt her heart stop. “Don’t,” her voice cracked, “Don’t talk that way, Thomas. I don’t like it when you say such things.”
She didn’t like how he had sounded grimly certain about Dumbledore, like he knew something she wasn’t privy to.
Tom fixed her with a cool stare. “You didn’t mind it last night.”
“That’s different,” she hissed, tears beginning to fill her eyes because deep inside she knew he was right.
He then said something to her that made so much sense it made her want to cry.
“We all have our roles to play, Hermione” he stated, his green eyes piercing her honey orbs.
Hermione couldn’t help but to wonder what exactly her role would be in Tom’s future.