Chapter 19: Pawns
Forgive my impertinence for writing to you before making your acquaintance, but your reputation precedes you. Indeed, I have heard a great deal about you, or more specifically, your fleeing from me. I admit that I am very curious as to why you would take such measures to secure yourself away from me when I have never heard nor met you. What are you hiding, my dear? What secrets do you keep?
I’m sure that I will soon find out.
Enjoy your time at Hogwarts, for I can assure you there is not much left of it for you.
Wishing you well,
As far as letters go, it could have been worse, Hermione supposed. She was sitting across from Dumbledore, nervously worrying her lower lip as she fiddled with a lemon drop, twisting and untwisting the wrapper and eyeing him suspiciously as he silently perused the letter. She had forcefully pushed Tom out of the room after their Transfiguration class, opting to speak to her professor alone seeing as how there were many details over her current predicament she wouldn’t have been able to discuss in front of him, such as the fact she was not from France.
She knew, though, that he was waiting for her outside the door.
With that thought in mind, she had cast a silencing charm. He would not hesitate to eavesdrop if the thought occurred to him (which she knew it had), and it was always better safe than sorry.
“I see the time for our talk has come sooner rather than later, Hermione,” Albus sighed, setting the letter down after what felt like hours had passed.
Hermione gave an anxious nod. “What do you make of it, sir?”
Albus looked at her over his thin, wire-rimmed glasses. “Actually, I was hoping you’d give me your opinion on it.”
She picked up the letter and stared at the ominous words. “Well, it seems very sporting of him to give us such an obvious warning. He’s either very considerate, or not terribly bright.”
“Indeed,” he murmured, smiling at her wording.
“Thomas checked it for any dark spells and enchantments, but we didn’t find any, so I suppose it is a warning. I think he’s actually toying with me, psychologically, that is. Basically, he’s telling me that he’s going to come for me so that I’ll constantly look over my shoulder to the point of going crazy with paranoia. Constant vigilance, my arse,” she mumbled.
“Very insightful, my dear,” Albus smiled indulgently. “But what, pray tell, do you suggest we do about it?”
Hermione thought the matter over. “I haven’t the foggiest, but I think I’d rule out any Hogsmeade trips or late night wanderings by myself.”
“To say the least, my dear. You are on the right track, though. While I have made my disapproval over your relationship with Mr. Riddle quite clear, I fear that now I am being forced to gainsay myself. You will be accompanied by him at all times, Miss Granger, and you are not to leave his supervision. I do not condone his methods or actions, but I know that he cares for you and will do his best to protect you at all costs.”
He stopped and Hermione waited for him to continue. When the silence stretched, she began fiddling with her robes.
“Err, is that it? That’s all you are going to say?” she asked, dumbfounded.
Albus merely smiled.
“But, Professor, there’s a madman hunting me and all you are suggesting I do is spend time with the Head Boy! I know Tom is a remarkable wizard, but he is still a student! He will not deter any attempts made to kidnap, or worse, kill me!” she shrieked, clearly horrified at his lack of action.
He nodded sagely as he murmured, “Precisely.”
The one word brought her mind to a screeching halt. She blinked rapidly four times before she understood what he meant. “You’re using me as bait, aren’t you? You want to draw Grindelwald out of France to make him vulnerable to an attack.”
He neither confirmed nor denied her suspicions, but Hermione already knew the answer.
She stood abruptly, her jaw jutting out in a curious mixture of defiance and anger. What gave him the right to gamble her life? “You do realize, of course, that I could very well die in this crazy plot of yours?” she queried, her voice rigidly tight in barely suppressed fury.
“I believe you are being melodramatic, Hermione. You are very capable, and so is Mr. Riddle. I trust you to behave as a rational adult in this matter. My trust in you is not misplaced, is it?” he lifted a brow.
“Of course it isn’t,” she nearly hissed. “But I’m beginning to think that mine in you is.”
Albus’s eyes darkened in sadness and his shoulders sank as though she had just placed the weight of the world on them. “I am deeply sorry to hear you say that, Hermione, and even more sorry that you believe it to be true.”
And he did look sorry. His eyes nearly begged her to take back her harsh words, and before she even knew what she was doing, her mouth began to move forming apologetic words. She snapped it shut before she could speak them, though.
She wasn’t sorry. Albus Dumbledore was a great man and a great wizard, but she knew he could only be trusted to do whatever it takes to win. Harry had been a pawn in his game, and so had Lucius and Severus. Admittedly, it was a necessary evil, but no one liked being used.
So instead of apologizing, she turned in a huff and left his office and ran straight into the chest of the Slytherin waiting for her.
Although, it was not the chest, or Slytherin for that matter, that she had been expecting.
“Watch it, Mudblood!” Abraxas Malfoy hissed in pure venom.
And whatever sympathy she had felt for him evaporated, melted away by the indignant rage that she felt coursing through her entire body.
“I will do no such thing, you git! From now on it will be you who watches where you’re going!” she jabbed him in the chest with her wand.
His eyes sparked in anger and slight fear. “I hate you,” he spat, shoving her away from him.
Hermione smirked. “Oh, I know you do, and believe me, the feeling is entirely mutual,” she began. Suddenly, an idea flashed in her mind and before she could think it through, she spoke again, “But now, wait a second, I think there’s someone you hate more than me. Someone with the audacity to defend me to someone such as you. Someone with the nerve to punish you, clearly superior being, for attacking me.”
A slight twitch of his right eye, a glimmer really, belied the truth of her words and Hermione continued quickly, lest she lose his attention. “Just thinking about it makes your blood boil, doesn’t Malfoy? Tom Riddle chooses a mudblood over his followers… Oh yes, I know exactly where he goes when he disappears at night, Abraxas. I know all about the- meetings,” she sighed abruptly, “A shame, really. So much potential all wasted away on a mudblood. Doesn’t it just make you furious?”
His hand twitched in response to her silky whispers.
“Doesn’t it make you want to get even?” she finally stated, moving closer to him and whispering in his ear.
Abraxas looked unsure of himself. “What do you mean?” he asked hoarsely, shocked by her line of thinking.
“Think about it, Abraxas. Do you really want to follow such a hypocrite? Is he even worthy of such a position of power?”
He frowned. “What do you suggest?”
“Prevent him from succeeding. Whatever it takes, prevent Tom from gaining power over the Wizarding World,” she said in a rush, blood coursing through her veins and flushing her nervous cheeks. “And do this by spying for me, for Albus Dumbledore.”
“Dumbledore?” Malfoy questioned.
Hermione nodded. She was furious at her future Headmaster, but she was very similar to him in many aspects. She was not above manipulating others for the better good. Sacrifices, she had learned the hard way, had to be made. She thought of Sirius, Cedric, even Albus himself…many sacrifices had already been made.
“He doesn’t trust Tom for a minute…I’m sure he’ll reward you for your services,” she shrugged, mentally shaking away her thoughts. If this was going to work, she’d have to focus entirely on the situation at hand and not on the deaths that had yet to even occur.
His eyes narrowed on her. “Your trying to manipulate me, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she admitted with no shame. “But I think you chance to gain as much as I, if not more, by the arrangement.”
She smiled. “Revenge on Tom, for one, and you know that when he falls, I’ll no longer have his protection which would very neatly take care of two birds with one stone. And with no Voldemort in the way, who knows who will be chosen to lead the Death Eaters.”
She could literally see the wheels spinning in his head as he thought of all of the possibilities. She knew he was tempted, greatly so. He would have to be a fool not to see the advantages of such an arrangement.
“What do you get out of it?” he asked abruptly, still eyeing her in distaste and suspicion.
Hermione tried to calm her racing heart, but suddenly she knew that he would agree to her plan. “Let’s just say that I’d prefer it if Tom renounced he’s evil ways. I quite fancy him and it would be such a damper on our relationship if he tried to murder me and my kind.”
He snorted, amused and disgusted by her wording. “I may be open to such an arrangement,” he said tentatively, his lip curling in a sneer.
“We would, of course, require an Unbreakable Vow to ensure the sincerity and the truthfulness of your reports. You would have to swear to spy against Voldemort until such a time he is completely removed from power,” an idea once again flashed before her mind and she finished speaking in a rush, “You and your line. This is a lifetime commitment, Malfoy,” she smirked suddenly, “Even your grandchildren will be affected by your choice.”
“Isn’t that a bit drastic?” he sneered.
“No,” she simply stated. “It’s not.”
He stared at her, his eyes slightly flickering as he mentally weighed the advantages and disadvantages of her proposition. She was holding her breath and mentally crossing her fingers. It had to work, she tried to reassure herself, because, in her time, it already had.
Hermione knew he was mainly deciding if lowering himself to work alongside a mudblood as equals was worth the potential gain. Malfoys were true Slytherins, she had learned. This was her first attempt at outright manipulation, and she knew it was not foolproof. He could turn his back and walk away. Or worse, he could tell Thomas and the latter would easily slip inside the former’s mind to verify the tale. It was a huge risk she was taking, and all she had to go on was his need for revenge. Malfoys, she had also learned, never let anyone escape insulting them unscathed.
After an eternity of awkward silence in which Hermione had to remind herself to at least gulp in a few breaths of air, Abraxas curtly nodded his agreement and turned sharply on his heel and left her standing alone in the hall.
No more words were exchanged, but things were different now, but also the same. He would never like her, and Hermione thanked Merlin for that. She didn’t think she could live in a world being on civil terms, being friends even, with more than one Malfoy. And she knew that she could never trust him, even with an Unbreakable Vow. Lucius may have been groomed as a spy due to the vow, but he had operated from family honor. Abraxas was agreeing to further his own agenda, nothing else. She could not forget the difference between the two.
She couldn’t shake the feeling that wheels were starting to creak into motion, though, that small pieces of a puzzle were starting to fall into place and the big picture was taking shape. In other circumstances, she would have scolded herself for being so melodramatic, but these were not normal circumstances and she knew very well that she had just set many things for the future into play. The Order had not just gained one vital spy, but also future generations.
Hermione had always known that her actions in the past would affect the future and that they already had to some degree. She had tried to refrain from direct meddling, however. What she had told Harry in their third year while saving Sirius was true. Awful things happen to wizards who meddle with time.
As she stared after Malfoy’s retreating back, she couldn’t help but wonder what awful things would befall her. The rode to Hell was said to be paved with good intentions, is that where her path would lead her?
“Hermione,” Tom greeted her, shaking her from her thoughts.
If this was Hell, then here was the Devil.
“What are you doing out here by yourself?” he snapped. He very clearly recalled telling her she was not to leave the room without him.
Hermione snorted. She cared for Thomas greatly; so great, in fact, that she had consciously refused to analyze how deeply her feelings for him went. She did not, however, care for his authoritarian attitude.
“I was waiting for you,” she replied rather pointedly. “Where did you go?”
His eyes narrowed on her. Tom always seemed to know when she was hiding something from him, and Hermione was quick to put up a mental barrier should he decide to drift into her mind. She knew he had attempted to do so before, and that he would not hesitate to do it again if he thought he would get away with it.
Like a switch had been flipped, Tom’s gaze cleared and his face donned its usual unreadable blankness. “First year Hufflepuffs got into a skirmish and I had to escort them to the Headmaster,” he said flatly.
An awkward pause followed his explanation. Hermione’s heart thudded painfully fast against her ribcage, but her expression and mind revealed nothing. She wondered vaguely if he was telling the truth, or if he had been off seeing to his Death Eaters.
She wondered if this was how life with Tom Riddle would always be like, and if this was how she would spend the rest of her days. Each of them second guessing the other, while plotting behind the other’s back. Not even two years ago, Hermione would have been disgusted by the many outright secrets and lies they had told each other. A relationship, she would quite prudishly claim, was not to be based on lies, but rather honesty and mutual affection.
Had she really changed so much that she could lie to a man she was surely falling in love with on a regular basis? Or better yet, could she have changed to the point of being compatible and capable of falling in love with a wizard such as Tom Riddle?
In her mind, Hermione saw Tom divided as who he was presently, and the monster he would become. Tom Riddle and Lord Voldemort were the same, and yet different. She closed her eyes and pictured them, side by side. Tom with his cold, glittering eyes and Voldemort with his piercing red ones. Red and green, Christmas colors, she noted in half amusement.
Tom had handsome, chiseled features like that of a Greek statue. He was pale skinned and dark haired, and the air around him positively crackled with charm. Then there was Voldemort who had pale, but pallid skin, and two snakelike slits where his nose should have been.
But even the drastic physical differences, Hermione could see the similarities. The way they talked, and held themselves, as if they were above everyone else. And the way power and dark magic seemed to ooze from every pore of their body.
The worse thing, though, the thing that Hermione would never admit aloud to another soul, was not that she could see a bit of Lord Voldemort in Thomas, but that she could see Tom Riddle still in the Dark Lord, and she was not repulsed by him. She could picture Lord Voldemort as she had seen him in Harry’s memory and see flickers, small instances in which he’d do something, a quirk of a brow or small hand gesture, that would make her think of Tom Riddle. And there was something inside her that yearned to reach out and take his thin hand in hers and make him remember that not all Muggleborns were filth. She wanted him to remember that he had cared for, maybe even loved, her.
It was sick, she knew, and she should not associate the Tom Riddle before her with the man he would become. But the truth was, he was already, to an extent, Lord Voldemort, no matter how had she had tried to deny it when she first met him, first sought out his company, or first took his hand.
And while she would give anything to stop the murders, the death, and Harry’s pain, Hermione was beginning to feel terrified that Tom would die.
She didn’t want him to die, she realized with a jolt.
She didn’t want Lord Voldemort to die.
Hermione blinked back the tears burning her eyes. She felt like a traitor, but even so, she could not deny that the thought of Tom Riddle being gone forever, even if he was a monster and a mere shadow of his past self, made her heart slow to a stop before shattering into a million, sparkling pieces.
The thought alone made her suddenly tackle him in a fierce hug, her arms locking around his waist as though she was afraid he’d disappear if she let him go. His arms closed securely around her, almost by instinct, and she could feel the chuckle rumbling in his chest.
But the situation wasn’t funny, not in the least. Nothing would ever be the same again. She’d never see the world in the same black and white shades of her youth, which meant she would never look at Voldemort and see complete darkness. He was evil and deserved a fate worse than death for his actions, but she could see shades of gray intermingling with the black.
When the time came, and she knew it would, she would look upon Lord Voldemort and she wouldn’t only see the monster he was, but the man he had been and the man he had had the potential to become.
If only things had been different. If only Tom had decided to use his knowledge and power for other pursuits…
But Hermione could not live her life in what ifs. No matter how much it broke her heart, she had to be strong. Tom Riddle would become Lord Voldemort, time had already proved as much, so all Hermione could do was use whatever time was left with her Thomas to her advantage.
Hermione pulled away from his embrace, a watery smile tugging her lips up in a poor attempt to grin. “I’m sorry for being silly. I just get scared, you know, thinking about the future has in store for me.” For us, she added mentally.
She had said it to be deliberately misleading to make Tom assume she was referring to Grindelwald. And while it was true that she was frightened of what that dark wizard had in store for her, it paled in comparison to the worry she felt about having to face the Lord Voldemort of her time. She didn’t doubt for one minute that he had known who she was all along and had been merely waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were.
What would he do to her? Kill her? Torture her?
Hermione supposed it didn’t really matter what he did, although she thought death and torture would be rather cliché for him. No, Lord Voldemort was far more creative than that…
All that really mattered was her time with Tom Riddle now, and how she could use it to the Order’s advantage. Gaining Abraxas Malfoy as a spy had certainly been a start, but she was sure there was more she could do to help Harry, or even to help Tom himself.
After all, the prophecy had not specifically stated that either he or Harry had to die, only that neither can live while the other survives. Prophecies were always vague and misleading, which was part of the reason why she loathed divination so much.
There may be hope yet. She knew it was foolish to hope she could save Tom Riddle, but as she watched him smile ever so slightly down at her, his right hand caressing her cheek lightly, she vowed to do whatever she could to banish Lord Voldemort while keeping Thomas safe. She lived in a world of magic, anything was possible.
Although she was forced to concede that it was not very probable.
And so Hermione would do what she did best. Research and plan for all possible outcomes to the mess she found herself in. She would prepare for the worse, but still hope for the best. She’d send an owl to Dumbledore about Malfoy, but she’d still act like she knew nothing about Tom’s Death Eaters. She would stand beside Harry, even though her heart was being tugged to Tom.
Hermione would be loyal to the Order, and yet devoted to Tom Riddle. She would play both sides of the field, but still always come back to the side of light. And she certainly wouldn’t be above manipulating the other Slytherins into giving away any pertinent information.
She had changed much from the delusional little girl she had been when she first came to Hogwarts. She still fought tirelessly to protect those that could not protect themselves, but she also saw the bigger picture now. She saw beyond the choices of what was right and wrong, and into the grey area of choosing what had to be done. And she’d do anything to protect those she loved- Harry, Ron, Severus, Lucius…
Even Tom Riddle…
Sacrifices had to be made and in the grand scheme of things, they were all merely pawns to be used in Fate’s game of life. She wasn’t above sacrificing a few pawns for the greater good.
And if that made her no better than Albus Dumbledore, then so be it.