Chapter 18: A Snake, a Locket and a Letter
The Christmas holiday break turned out to be a rather introspective affair for Tom. A part of him had been very curious to see how the eventful holiday would unfold this year, a year that was proving to be very exciting, indeed.
But alas, for all of Tom’s anticipation, Christmas day was rather anticlimactic.
He awoke before Hermione, as usual, and found himself strangely content to linger abed with her cuddled up next to him as he lost himself to his thoughts. Lazily, he twirled his fingers around her soft, bushy locks. Tom loved Hermione’s hair. It was wild, untamed- just like her. No matter how intrigued he was by the texture of her caramel hair, though, Tom’s thoughts began to drift down a less innocent path that focused mainly on his future and Hermione’s place in it.
It was a fine line he had chosen to walk by creating his Death Eaters and yet deciding to keep his mudblood. The two were completely contradictory and yet he craved them both. Tom aspired to lead his fellow purebloods in a campaign to cleanse their world. He wanted power, absolute power and he cared not if it corrupted him absolutely. The right corner of his lip curled in dark amusement. He already was corrupted.
And he was already on his way to gaining that power by means of his perfect little scapegoat. Many would die as he usurped control, maybe thousands if he was lucky, but it mattered not. They were only mudbloods, after all.
But then there was his mudblood, Hermione Granger. She was beautiful in a nontraditional sense that went far deeper than outer beauty. She sparkled from within and it was her inner fire that accented her physical features into true perfection. There was power there, too. Tom could feel it bubbling within her every time she grew angry, sad, or happy. He could feel it blossoming with each nonverbal spell she cast, be it with her wand or her smile.
But Tom also knew she was dangerous. If she became aware of his plans too soon then she would most likely rise against him. For all of her Slytherin cunning and brilliant mind, she really was a Gryffindor at heart. She would gather the mudbloods to her, like a Shepard calling to her lost sheep, and she would fight him. Oh yes, she would fight him to the bitter end, until the last breath escaped from her dying body unless-
Tom’s hand stilled in her hair.
Unless he killed her.
It was the most logical solution to the threat she posed. He’d make it quick and painless. A flash of green and it would be like coming home…
Hermione shifted against him, her head finding a pillow in the hollow of his shoulder as she mumbled something incoherently. Time seemed to freeze as Hermione settled again and Tom felt his heart thudding in an unusually fast pace.
No, he determined, his mind and body sighing as the tension left his limbs. He had already fought so hard to keep her and her potential for a future by his side was too great. Not to mention the fact that the very idea of Hermione’s eyes reflecting back the green death before all light left them forever was something Tom could not quite stomach.
No, he had another idea in mind for his mudblood, and he certainly didn’t need the approval of his Death Eaters. They followed him, not the other way around. He did not have to explain his actions to anyone, a point which he had driven home the night Abraxas Malfoy had decided to take matters into his own hands.
The thought of Malfoy brought a smile to Tom’s lips. Tom had made sure that every one of his faithful followers had witnessed what happened to those who did not heed his orders. A stunning example Malfoy had made, and the message had been all the more powerful when Tom forced his followers to torture Abraxas themselves as opposed to doing it himself. They served him, be it out of fear, love, or loyalty, and no one could question his rule. Lord Voldemort would not tolerate betrayers, or, Merlin forbid thought Tom, spies.
That, he thought with a dark fondness, had been a good night.
Hermione stretched and yawned, and Tom knew by the tone of her breathing that she was now awake. Her eyelashes fluttered against his cheek which both annoyed and pleased him, the soft caresses making his stomach tighten in desire. That was another thing he had to focus on more and more recently. He had always desired Hermione, even back at the orphanage before he had even really liked her, but now that their relationship was progressing, Tom was beginning to get a little impatient.
Waking up each morning with her leg curled around his and her chest resting against his side was really starting to affect him. He was a healthy young man, after all, and she was a beautiful young woman. Why shouldn’t he have her?
But he knew that in order to truly have her, he would have to move slowly. Hermione would set the pace of their relationship, and by allowing her to do so, he would gain her trust.
Hermione gave another innocent stretch and Tom was painfully aware of her breasts rubbing against his chest. This girl would be the death of him, he simply knew it.
“Happy Christmas, Tom,” Hermione sighed, her breath warm on his neck.
He gritted his teeth, annoyed by the fluttering he felt in his stomach. “And you as well, my dear.”
They set about their normal routine after that, choosing to ignore the small pile of presents that rested at the foot of their bed, most of which were from Tom’s followers attempting to court favor. They took turns in the bathroom, Tom graciously allowing Hermione to use it first, and only after they were freshly scrubbed and neatly dressed did they sort through their meager gifts.
Tom had received a total of five presents, each from Felton, Black, Goyle (who were no doubt trying to regain some standing in his inner circle after their stunt with Malfoy), Crabbe, and a rather attractive Ravenclaw named Samantha Eslick who fancied herself in love with him. He was quick to notice that Hermione only received one, not counting Tom’s own present for her.
She picked up her lone gift, her eyes misting over, probably with the memory of past Christmases that were not as sparse as her current one. She looked like she was about to burst into tears when she saw the tag that read: To Hermione, From Albus. Tom wondered briefly why Dumbledore would get her anything for Christmas, but then he remembered that he had been the one to bring her to his orphanage. He probably had been friends with her family or something. And, as he had already learned, her family was dead, which meant that Albus Dumbledore was most likely her guardian. That, he frowned, could be a problem.
Hermione opened her gift to see a bag of lemon drops, which prompted her to laugh for some unknown reason. Whatever the cause for her smile, Tom was grateful because he did not like the awkward silence that had fallen between them.
Tom took all of two minutes to open his gifts, discarding each one indifferently. He received a couple dark arts texts, and a rather indecent picture of the Ravenclaw girl that he had merely glanced over before burning. Stupid twit, he thought as the wizarding photo screamed as it was engulfed by fire, as if her kind could tempt the likes of me.
From across the bed, Hermione watched him in badly hidden amusement. Quirking a brow at her and fixing her with a cool look that he knew vexed her, Tom threatened, “I may not feel inclined to give you my present if you laugh at me, Hermione.”
She gave up concealing her cheeky grin, much to his secret delight, and shot back, “If you don’t give me mine, I won’t give you yours.”
So she had gotten him something. He had wondered about that after realizing hers had not been among his small pile. He contemplated holding the gift over her head and taunting her a bit, but changed his mind at the last minute. If he toyed with here, she’d only toy with him, and Tom was very curious to see what gift his little mudblood had gotten him.
“Alright then, my dear,” he conceded, but before the small victory could go to her head, Tom continued, “But you will go first.”
She huffed slightly, but nonetheless stood to retrieve a box with several holes in it from under the bed, handing it to him carefully.
Tom studied the green box, noting the silver bow on top which made him smile at her obvious choice of Slytherin colors. He resisted the childish urge to hold it up to his ear and shake it seeing as how the box was already moving on its own accord, or rather, what was inside the box was moving.
He lifted the lid and smiled slightly at what he saw.
“I found her at a shop in Hogsmeade. They don’t know which breed she is, really, only that she’s magic and is likely to outlive us all. I think she must be part cobra, but she isn’t very temperamental. I’ve handled her well enough and she hasn’t tried to bite me,” Hermione dutifully supplied, worrying her lip slightly in nervousness.
Tom reached in and retrieved the dark green that was almost black, diamond patterned snake who hissed in protest of being taken from her home. Hermione was quick to remove the box and set about cleaning the wrapping paper up from the previous gifts, so Tom hissed quietly to his new familiar, “You are mine now, little one. Tell me, what species are you?”
The snake tightened around his wrist and Tom strained to hear the sibilant words of the snake. “I am snake, but not snake,” was all she said.
Snake but not snake, the words echoed in his mind.
“Something more,” he unconsciously hissed, his eyes watching Hermione.
Satisfied that the room was now clean, Hermione settled across from Tom once again with a nervous smile. He knew she was waiting to hear what he thought of her gift, that she had only begun cleaning because she was too nervous to simply sit there waiting for his response, so he decided to put her worries to rest.
He smiled at her, small but genuine, as he said, “She is beautiful. Perfect.”
Relief was evident in her smile and the way her shoulders sagged. “Do you have a name for her?”
Tom studied the snake around his wrist. “Nagini,” he stated.
Hermione froze, a queer expression on her face. “C-come again?” she stuttered.
Tom smiled. “Nagini, it’s the female name for cobra in Hindi.”
She blinked rapidly and her lips thinned. “I see,” she murmured, although Tom got the feeling she was talking more to herself and not him.
His eyes narrowed and searched hers, and even though Tom knew she was keeping something from him, he was not able to ascertain anything from her closed expression.
“Do you want your gift now?” he asked to lighten the mood.
Hermione nodded distantly, still distracted by her thoughts. Tom rose from the bed and deposited Nagini in the medium sized tank Hermione had been using for Lu. He hissed a silent warning to the two territorial snakes, and after he was certain they would not strike at each other, Tom retrieved a small black velvet bag from his trunk.
“What is it?” curiosity had replaced her quiet pensiveness from before, and Hermione’s eyes practically glowed in muted excitement.
Tom smirked. “Open it.”
She did as she was bid, pulling loose the drawstrings and allowing gravity to do its duty as a gold locket slipped from the bag and into her palm. She stared at it in silent disbelief, mesmerized by the way the light glinted on the heart and chain.
Tom observed her wondering if she had any idea as to what exactly she was holding in the palm of her hand.
“It’s beautiful,” she muttered, her eyes never leaving it while her other hand rose to finger the golden chain.
He wondered if she would still think so if he explained exactly what it was the locket kept sealed away.
“It’s yours,” Tom stated.
She cocked her head to the side. “Where did you get it?”
Tom smiled darkly. “It’s a family heirloom.”
Hermione chewed on her lower lip and finally clasped the necklace on. It hung limply on her neck, the deadweight of the gold pressing reassuringly close to her heart. The second the clasp was closed, it disappeared and Hermione felt a surge of warmth shooting through her body.
“What does it do?” she asked, staring at the heart. Was it glowing?
Tom smiled again, making Hermione even more nervous. “Do? Why nothing, of course, it is only a trinket.”
They both knew he was lying, but it mattered not because the forgetfulness charm he had placed on the necklace began to kick in and Hermione soon forgot she was even wearing it.
Oh yes, Tom eagerly thought, he had big plans for his little snake charmer.
They went downstairs after that to enjoy a sickeningly sweet breakfast cooked up by the house elves, Albus Dumbledore stopping by their seats on his way to the Head Table.
Tom glared at the old fool, silently fuming at the wizard as he made sure to eye Hermione closely for any reaction to his words.
“Hermione, dear, thank you so much for the socks! How did you know purple and red were my favorite colors?” Professor Dumbledore said rather cheerfully.
Hermione smiled, but Tom noticed that her eyes seemed sad as she answered, “Lucky guess, sir. And thank you as well for the lemon drops; they are quite delicious!”
Albus’s smile widened, but then froze abruptly as his sharp eyes caught the glitter of her gold necklace. “That is quite some necklace, Miss Granger. Whoever gave it to you must care for you a great deal.”
She frowned, her hand going to clutch the said necklace as though in fear that he might attempt to snatch it. “This? Yes, Thomas gave it to me. It is quite beautiful, although, I don’t quite remember putting it on…” she trailed off, her hand falling from the piece of jewelry as Tom’s spell kicked in and turned her thoughts else where.
“I see. It looks priceless,” Dumbledore demurred, his eyes turning to pierce Tom in understated accusation. Tom held his eyes steadily, making sure to lock away all thoughts on the Slytherin heirloom and the few dark spells he had performed on the locket. It was more than priceless…
“Well then,” Dumbledore said abruptly, “I hope you both enjoy your holiday,” he bid his farewell, humming to himself as he walked back to the staff table.
Odd man, Tom thought unflatteringly.
The rest of their day was spent lounging in the Common Room mostly in silence as they both diligently worked to complete all of their homework assignments for the holiday break. In fact, the rest of their holiday break was spent in that manner. They developed a new routine for their class free days that opted between homework, chess, and snogging. Their days during the small vacation were relaxed, more like their time at the orphanage had been. Most of the students were gone, including all of the Slytherins except for a first year and two third years, and both Tom and Hermione were able to breathe a little easier.
It wasn’t until after Tom’s birthday and class resumed that the real problems started.
At Hermione’s urging, Tom had released Malfoy from the curse (although Tom thought she asked only because she felt it was something she was obligated to do and not because she cared). As it was, she seemed to think that a month of undergoing the pain of feeling bones break and heal was punishment enough. Tom doubted so and was sorely tempted to keep the curse up, but in the end, he could not deny Hermione her request. He was starting to wonder if he could deny her anything anymore.
He did, however, release the curse a week after her request even though he had already claimed to have done so. It was a small point he had done to prove something to himself, but a point nonetheless.
His birthday had passed in much the same manner as the years previous, in silence. He had not told anyone the date of his birth and consequently he received no gifts or cards. It mattered not to him, though. It was only another day.
Although, Hermione did not seem to think so. She had surprised him with a silver snake cloak pin with glowing emerald eyes, as well as a small picnic in one of the less frequented courtyards. She did not fuss much, for which Tom was grateful.
And then the students returned, Malfoy included, and class resumed.
Routine, Tom realized, had a way of lulling one into a false sense of security that was more often than not taken for granted. His own routine, for example, consisted mainly of school, Hermione, Death Eater meetings, and Hermione. Halfway through January, however, something happened that forever broke this routine.
It had been quiet. Too quiet, Tom would reflect in later days, to last indefinitely. January 17th had dawned like any other day. Tom awoke, followed shortly by Hermione; they dressed, and then proceeded to breakfast where the morning post would deliver the Daily Prophet to Tom, which he very generously shared with Hermione.
But on January 17th, Tom wasn’t the only one to receive mail.
A lone, black and brown barn owl soared through the Great Hall, briefly circling the Slytherin table before landing in front of Hermione with its leg outstretched for her to retrieve the scroll secured there. Frowning, she did so, absentmindedly handing the owl a strip of bacon as she opened the missive and read. As she read, though, her hands quivered, and all color drained from her face in a telling sign of shock.
He was quick to snatch the letter from Hermione’s limp hands and as his eyes roved over the brief message, he felt a bolt of what could have possibly been fear strike through him.
How had he forgotten about Grindelwald?