Chapter 20: A Proposal
It happened on Valentine’s Day.
Tom never had a girlfriend before. He never saw the need for one. For him, girls were a distraction- sometimes an entertaining one, but a distraction nonetheless. And if there was one thing Tom had absolutely no need for, it was distractions.
Hermione Granger was not his girlfriend. Tom would never presume to give her such a superficial label. He supposed if one pressed the matter, he would claim they were an item, which seemed to be a bit of an understatement. He would never deny that there was something there- the same something that made normal teenagers boyfriend and girlfriend. But Tom had never been normal.
And so, he refused to label Hermione Granger as his girlfriend. Tom Riddle did not have girlfriends. And while Hermione was certainly a distraction, she was also much more than that to him, or at least, she had the potential to be.
He’d marry her after graduation. It’d be much easier to influence her as her husband. Much easier to mold her to his liking.
He’d be able to protect her better if she became his wife.
At least, that’s how he justified his decision to propose to her that Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t because he overly cared for her, and it wasn’t because he feared losing her come graduation. And it most certainly had nothing to do with the twinge he felt in his gut when he saw her talking, quite amiably, with Benjamin Weasley.
No, Tom thought as he gnashed his teeth in addition to the glittering beetle eyes required for his potion, it wasn’t because he was jealous.
The first time he had spotted Hermione chatting with Weasley, he had only felt mild surprise that someone from Gryffindor house would approach her. It appeared that Minerva had introduced them during one of their Defense lessons while he was off with that Hufflepuff boy. He hadn’t thought much of it at first, but then Hermione began mentioning him in passing during their conversations.
“Oh, Ben Weasley told me…”
“Ben said that…”
Things only got worse when she was introduced to Weasley’s best friend, Harold Potter.
“And then, Harry Potter said…”
“Harry Potter said the funniest thing, Tom!”
Every time she made reference to the dark haired bespectacled boy, Tom couldn’t help but think back to the form the boggart had taken when it faced Hermione; the form of a boy who looked remarkably similar to Harold Potter. They even had the same first name.
And even though he knew it was ridiculous, even as he resisted against it, when he heard Hermione talk about Potter he couldn’t help but hear the echo of her voice as she crumbled before the boggart and gasped a single word, a name really, in sharp longing.
“Harry…” she had murmured as though the name had been a prayer.
It was for that reason alone that Tom hated Harry Potter more than Ben Weasley; Hermione seemed to like him best.
She appeared right at home standing in between the two Gryffindors, Minerva standing across from them as they all laughed at some joke. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if he knew what they had been laughing about, but once he finished his work with that Hufflepuff boy (he couldn’t be bothered to remember his name) and went over to where they were standing, their laughter had trickled off and Hermione had merely excused herself from the group to gather her belongings.
He had stood amongst the Gryffindors in awkward silence, his hard eyes piercing the boys in a cold, blank glare. They shuffled under his stare and the tension was only broken when Hermione came to his side, her hand slipping into his as she bid her Gryffindor cronies farewell.
Tom had smirked at Potter and Weasley’s parting glares, and had made sure to slip a possessive arm around Hermione’s waist as they left the classroom. Stupid Gryffindors.
He wasn’t used to Hermione having others to talk to. For so long she had depended on him, had only him. But now, with Minerva’s help, people were starting to forget why they had avoided her. He wasn’t the only person she could talk to now.
Would she stay with him, now that she had other acquaintances that didn’t run from her? Or would she abandon him for Potter?
He had to claim her, mark her as his so that no one, not even she, would forget that she belonged to him.
They belonged together.
It was with this plan in mind that Tom purchased a ring. It was a thin gold band with a single solitaire diamond, simple yet beautiful. It was, in fact, very much like Hermione herself. Plain, but at a second glance one could see a fire sparkling in the heart of the jewel. It would look nice on her finger, shinning in the sunlight to serve as a reminder to all that she was his.
Tom always had an obsession with branding those that belonged to him.
Today would be perfect to ask her, ideal really. Hermione seemed to be in a good enough mood as of late. They had neither seen nor heard from Grindelwald, Malfoy had been uncharacteristically subdued, Dumbledore merely regarded them with a cautious stare, and Hermione seemed to be laughing more now that she and Minerva had become somewhat friendly. And Valentine’s Day was certainly supposed to be romantic.
It would be perfect, Tom concluded. He’d ask her to marry him, she’d accept, once they graduated they’d seal the deal, and then he would forbid her any contact with those foolish Gryffindor boys. He’d rise to power and yet Hermione would remain safe as his wife. If he was feeling particularly generous, he might even ensure that McGonagall remained unscathed in his transition to power since Hermione seemed to be fond of her. He was a very generous man.
Except, Tom had never asked anyone for anything before. He took, he stole, he demanded, and he threatened, but he had never asked. And Hermione did not react well at all to being told about her upcoming nuptials.
“What?” the smile froze on her face.
“I said we will marry after graduation.”
A strange flickering of emotion crossed her face. Confusion, anger, longing…love…
Tom ignored the warmth that flooded his being at that last one.
“But- you haven’t asked me yet,” she pointed out in a dazed, confused voice.
Tom frowned. Why would he need to ask her? They both knew that anything between them would be deeper than a school crush. On some level he had always assumed they would wed and he was certain that she had assumed so as well.
“Don’t you want to be with me?” he countered.
She bit her lip. “What I want is to know that I can choose to be with you, not have you tell me I’m going to.”
Tom scoffed. “That’s ridiculous. You had to have known we would get married.”
Hermione’s mouth opened and closed in an unflattering imitation of a fish. There was a fire building in her eyes, though, and Tom began to grow wary. Perhaps he had gone about this the wrong way. The illusion of choice would have comforted her far more than anything else he had already done.
As he lost himself in his thoughts on how to rectify his current predicament, Hermione finally regained her ability to speak.
“Thomas, do you love me?”
Everything about Tom froze. Of course he didn’t love her. He was incapable of it. But he knew he couldn’t very well tell her that. Everything he had worked towards with Hermione was hanging in the balance. If it wasn’t for that Potter boy and his friend, he wouldn’t be in this situation. He wouldn’t have had to accelerate his plans.
He wouldn’t have to answer such a point blank question.
Now he had to lie to her.
“I do- don’t want to lie to you, Hermione,” he found himself saying instead of the outright lie that still hung on his tongue.
Hermione nodded to herself, her eyes not meeting his. He could almost see the distance growing between them, a gaping hole of darkness yawning and stretching. He had hurt her, but that was not what bothered him. What really bothered Tom was Hermione’s lack of surprise over her hurt.
She had been expecting him to hurt her, he realized.
And for some reason, that bothered him more than anything else.
“I am not as ignorant as you seem to see me as, Thomas,” she began softly, her eyes sad and knowing. “I’ve always known that love was something you would never be able to give me, even if that is the one thing…” she trialed off, not wanting to give voice to such a though. She continued in a stronger voice, “I understand that; it’s simply in your nature. I accept that. I accept you. But I will not enter a loveless marriage. I deserve better than that. I’m not going anywhere, Thomas. You don’t have to ask me to marry you to ensure that.”
Anger began to simmer beneath his calm expression. She was saying no. She didn’t want to marry him.
Why wouldn’t she? He was Head Boy, top of their class (a position he now shared with her).
She should be begging him to marry her.
“I want to marry you,” he ground out.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I don’t want to marry you.”
Unable to remain still any longer, Tom took three steps to close the gap between them, thankful that he had at least had the sense to corner her in their Common Room and away from prying eyes. His hands wrapped firmly around her upper arms and he resisted the urge to shake some sense into her. “You will marry me,” he growled.
Her eyes glittered. “I won’t.”
Tom gave her one harsh shake. “Don’t defy me, Hermione. You will do as you’re told.”
Lifting her arms as best as she could with his fierce hold on them, Hermione shoved him away from her. “Don’t pull that crap with me, Thomas. We both know I’m not like everyone else at your service.”
“No,” he murmured, his eyes flashing strangely at her. “You’re not like everyone else.”
His anger seemed to evaporate as he stared at her, his eyes hard and unreadable, hers brimming with tears that her stubbornness refused to let fall. His lip quirked at the sight. Always so strong…
They were standing on the brink of something important, hovering on the cusp of a moment that would seal both of their fates forever. There were two paths Tom could choose. One was even, dark and twisted, but an easy route- one that he had already begun to tread. The other was just as dark, just as twisted, but unlike the other, it had a steady incline which indicated more work, but at the end of that road were two things. The power he had always craved, dark and wonderful, that would make him unstoppable. And Hermione. Hermione smiling at him with her eyes even as her lips formed a small unfamiliar sneer. She was the same, and yet different.
She was what he had hoped she could become. She was dark and light, powerful but merciful, a perfect blend of white and black. She was his Lady.
And Merlin help him, he wanted her. He wanted that future more than anything he had ever craved for in his life. He may not love her, probably never will. A person of his nature did not know how to love.
But he wanted her. He needed her.
And damn it all to hell, two out of three wasn’t bad.
It was with this thought that Tom turned from the first path, as sure and as easy it was, and chose the second. He chose Hermione.
His hands returned to her arms again, but only to caress them in soothing circles and feather light touches. He closed the distance between them, tilting his head down as she instinctively tilted hers back, their eyes never breaking contact even though Tom’s gaze flickered slightly when Hermione unconsciously licked her lips nervously.
Right before their lips connected Tom felt a soft breath of air as Hermione sighed against him, and he knew, in that small instant before he lost himself in the smoothness of her lips, that Hermione would submit to him. His will was far stronger than hers.
And indeed, Hermione did know this. Even as her lips fought against Tom’s for supremacy and even as her fingers unconsciously went to his silken hair in a sign of submission. She knew that life with Tom would be constantly filled with battles she would only ever win if he so deemed it.
But instead of accepting the futility of her situation, Hermione’s anger lashed out against it like a lion that fought even though it had already been caged. Tom had been right in his thinking before. Hermione may not have a choice anymore, but the illusion of choice would have comforted her more than anything else.
It was the Gryffindor in her that forced her to wrench away from the warm embrace. She would always fight against him, always fighting a losing battle.
And Tom loved that about her.
“Don’t,” she gasped as she scurried to the farthest corner in the Common Room.
Tom smirked. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t play games with me, Thomas Marvolo Riddle,” she hissed furiously, her anger and shame heating her face in a telling blush.
“But you’re so adept at them,” he pointed out.
“I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” her shouting made her all the angrier in its futility.
“Are you telling me or convincing yourself?”
She growled. “Is this what it’s always going to be like, Tom? Both of us pushing and pulling, but never able to let our guard down around the other? One exhausting battle after another? Are you ever going to let me in?”
“Let you in where?”
Hermione stared at him for a long moment. “If you have to ask that, then I suppose I already have my answer.”
“Listen to yourself. You’re being ridiculous. You’re smarter than this, Hermione. Don’t be a fool,” he sneered.
“A fool, am I?” she asked, tears thickening her voice and making it waver. “Maybe I am. Maybe I was foolish to think you’d ever trust me, or care for me.”
Tom was taken aback by the bitterness that poisoned her words. “I do care for you,” he insisted. It was true. He cared for her above all others.
But as he watched her swallow the lump in her throat, he realized he could never give her the kind of love she really wanted.
The kind she deserves, the thought rose unbidden in his mind.
Hermione sniffled, sweeping away her tears with a sense of finality. “But not enough it seems.”
She turned from him and marched determinedly to the portrait.
“Where are you going?” the question came out sharper than he intended.
“Away,” she whispered.
Bile rose up from his stomach to choke him. “Away from me?” he asked through clenched teeth.
“Not from you, Tom,” she sighed. “No matter where I go or how far I run, you’ll always be there. I just need to go and think for a while. I need to be alone.”
Unbidden, the thought that she was leaving him to go and see her new Gryffindor friends arose, but he wisely gave no gave no voice to the petty thought. He had to backtrack and regroup now that he had so royally bundled their current situation.
“You shouldn’t be alone. It’s not safe,” he stated.
She looked at him, her eyes cutting through his cool façade. “I’ll be fine. I’ll be back tonight.” And she turned and left him there, standing alone in their Common Room.
But Hermione had lied to him. She didn’t come back that night, nor did she return the night after. She did not show up for classes or meals, and her favorite table in the library remained empty.
Three days went by in which he excused her absence by telling himself she was pouting. She had to be avoiding him because she had realized her error, realized that he had been right all along.
On the fourth day, Albus Dumbledore received a new note from Grindelwald, accompanied by a lock of frizzy, caramel brown hair.