Chapter 23: Goodbye My Love
When it happened, it happened fast.
Time, as Hermione could attest to, was a fickle friend. She found no comfort in the monotonous days following her rescue from Grindelwald. No comfort, that is, except for when Tom would smirk at her suggestively as he pulled her to their bed. She was able to forget then. In Tom’s embrace she would lose herself in her desire just long enough to muffle the pragmatic voice in the back of her mind that seemed to constantly remind her that time was running out. She was able to ignore the dull ticking of a distant clock that was a constant reminder that her time was running out.
Tom, ever so observant, knew something was wrong. He never outright asked her what was bothering her, but in his own way, he helped her bear time’s burden. He would take her aside, sometimes as they were walking the halls in between classes, and press his lips to hers and snog her senseless. Every thought would fly out the window during those moments and time itself would stop for them. And then he’d pull away, his forehead pressing against hers as they caught their breath, and his lips curved into a self-satisfied smirk as he took her hand in his and made their way to class once more, his finger caressing the engagement ring she wore openly.
In those moments, Hermione felt it was worth all the nightmares. Tom always found ways to make her forget.
As it turned out, Tom Riddle was all too good at making her forget. They spent the rest of the school term wrapped up in each other, ignoring the outside world and the lives they were destined to lead. They graduated, top of their class, of course, Hermione tailing behind Tom by a mere point.
And she was only too willing to ignore Albus Dumbledore’s piercing eyes and sad smiles. She was happy to forget her obligations and her role in the future. And whenever the guilt would rise up and she would start to agree with Dumbledore, when she would work up the nerve to admit to herself that it was time to go home, Tom would suddenly appear before her as though summoned by her traitorous thoughts. His eyes would be narrowed and hard at first, but as he stared at her, the corners would soften and his lips would turn up slightly. Black eyes would turn to dark green as his hands connected to her skin as he pulled her to him in a passionate kiss.
Such thoughts always scattered the moment he looked at her like that, the moment he touched her. She was being selfish, she knew, they both were, but she was helpless to stop it.
So after they graduated, Hermione married Tom just as she said she would. It was a small, informal ceremony that only Minerva McGonagall served witness to. They had gone to the Ministry one early morning in June where they were wed by the wizarding equivalent of a muggle Justice of the Peace.
While the ceremony was simple and rather impersonal, Hermione would never forget the way Tom’s eyes sparked to life as he slipped her wedding band on and vice versa. She would never forget the small but genuine smile that blossomed on his face as the wizard barrister pronounced them wizard and wife. She would never forget the feel of his lips as they met hers in a chaste kiss filled with so much innocence that it was awe inspiring when she thought of who she was kissing. They had broken apart at an unexpected flash and turned to see Minerva sniffling slightly as she snapped their picture.
Hermione had grinned, while Tom smiled indulgently. She had hugged Minerva, and to her surprise, Minerva had started balling on her shoulder while talking about how fast time can fly by and how so many things can change within the span of a few months.
Minerva was right, Hermione thought as she had exited the Ministry. Just yesterday she had been Hermione Granger, and now there she was, Hermione Riddle, wife to Tom Riddle, the future Dark Lord. And she was actually happy about it.
Time sped up again. They got a small flat in Diagon Alley while Hermione acquired a part time job at a potions apothecary and Tom received a position at Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley. They fell habit to their routines once again. Sleep, eat, work. They had their little side jobs, too. Tom still met with his Death Eaters at night which he often told her he had merely been working late. Hermione would receive random missives from Abraxas Malfoy which she would thoroughly peruse before forwarding to Albus.
Their marriage was surprisingly successful. Hermione had always dreamed of wedded bliss, her parents having been one of those couples that had relished in their own love. Accordingly, Hermione found herself more entranced with Thomas as time went by. There were moments when she’d say something and he would laugh, not just smirk, but chuckle softly as he placed a small kiss to her temple and pulled her down beside him on their couch where they would read into the late hours of the night. Sometimes she would fall asleep against him only to wake up in their bed the next morning, his face inches from hers as he simply stared at her, his eyes dark and unreadable.
Though their marriage was filled with secrecy and white lies, it was still surprisingly honest. Their feelings were not fabricated in order to manipulate each other, but were genuine, pure. And while Hermione hesitated to say they had a loving marriage, there was no doubting by anyone that saw them together that it was an intimate one.
She remembered the first time she had gone to meet Tom for lunch at work and he had calmly turned to his boss and asked, “Have you met my wife Hermione yet?”
Even after two years of marriage, she still got chills when he referred to her as his wife.
She did all the things for Tom that her mum had done for her father. She made dinner for him wearing a sensible white apron, scuttling across their modest kitchen as she hummed and sang softly to herself. He always managed to sneak up on her during those moments, leaning casually against the doorway to watch her. She nearly had a heart attack the first time she turned around and saw him there, smirking at her knowingly. He always seemed to be smirking and it was both amazing and annoying how much he could say with one little smirk.
And while their marriage was a solid one, Hermione would still hesitate at calling it a love match, if only because she couldn’t keep a straight face when using Tom and love in the same sentence. Although patience had given her the time she needed to accept the love she felt for Tom, she still knew that the depth and sincerity of such emotions was something that would never be reciprocated.
There was passion, though, combined with desire, mutual respect and affection. When they walked together through Diagon Alley, it was with her arm looped through his. He took her out to dinner regularly, even going so far as to take her dancing for their wedding anniversary.
Except for their time spent at work, they were together for nearly every waking moment, and as it happens with all good things Hermione became so wrapped up in Tom and their life together that she forgot everything else. The future, her past, was only a faint memory to her. The days were filled with lunch meetings with Minerva, and late nights spent with Thomas.
Two blissful years passed by, Hermione relishing each day as though it was the last. Two years of a marriage that was never dull, two years of being out of Hogwarts and in the real world, and two years of a steady friendship with Minerva McGonagall.
It was two years to the day when it happened.
Tom was finishing up at work and was due to arrive shortly. Hermione sat on their couch, her curls swept up in an elegant, stylish do. Her make up was light, except for her lips which were painted a vibrant red color. Tom loved the color, and Hermione loved the way the lipstick made Tom stare blankly at her lips. She was wearing a classy black dress that accentuated her curves while still only hinting at the loveliness of her true figure. She wore black pumps with a modest heel since she didn’t know what exactly Tom had planned for their evening. She hoped he’d take her dancing again, like last year. He was an excellent dancer.
As she sat, impatiently waiting for her husband, Hermione’s hand toyed with her locket, her nimble fingers twisting the chain. The locket was the only piece of jewelry she wore except for her wedding ring which sat on the ring finger of her left hand, the impressive diamond winking at her as it caught the light emitting from the fireplace. She didn’t know how Tom had been able to afford such a gorgeous ring, but she knew better than to ask.
Her foot started twitching in her eagerness. It was a big night for them, being their two year wedding anniversary. Tom had left for work this morning, flashing her that familiar smirk as he told her simply to be ready to go out as soon as he got home. She, of course, had been ready twenty minutes ago and had nothing to do now except wait.
She had never been an extremely patient person.
With a huff, Hermione’s hand dropped from the locket and she rose from the couch. She started pacing in front of the fire but then realized that when Tom arrived he would flash her that annoyingly familiar smirk.
Better to find something to keep her mind, and her hands occupied. She walked into the den, the extra room their apartment came with that they had converted into an office/storage room. She had meant to reorganize the closet lately, so Hermione opened the door and started hauling out the junk they had accumulated in their two year marriage.
She was only making a bigger mess, but at least now she had something to do until Tom arrived. She had nearly reached the end of the closet when she noticed her old school trunk hidden away in the corner.
Smiling, Hermione tugged it out into the common area, her dress wrinkling as she kneeled next to it. It had seemed innocent enough. It would be amusing, she thought, to go through her old school effects.
And it was at first. She smiled at the photos from graduation, her old term papers (with perfect scores, she smiled). She came across a picture of her and Minerva taken right before they left on the Hogwarts express, their arms linked as they smiled and waved to the camera. There were some photos of her and Tom, one of them where she stood in the circle of his arms, smiling up at him. Tom himself wasn’t necessarily smiling, but there was a softness in his eyes as he looked down at her that reminded her vaguely of the way Harry would look at Ginny after they had broken up.
There were old text books, her Slytherin uniform, and Hermione found herself smiling as she rifled through her old memories, smiling until she pulled out her old knapsack and flipped open the satchel. The smile froze on her face before it melted away as the realization hit her of what she held.
A trembling hand dipped into the bag and pulled out a blank piece of parchment. Tears welled up and spilled down her cheeks, which was silly, of course, since it was only paper, but this was no ordinary piece of parchment. It was a crisp, clean piece of paper, but its color was not that of ordinary stationary. It was a solid pitch black color from top to bottom. It wasn’t very sensible to own such a parchment for no one would be able to see the ink penned onto it.
Unless it was silver, that is.
Lucius…Severus…the names echoed in her mind, rising unbidden from a time she had long since ignored.
With shaking hands, Hermione dropped the bag, the one she belatedly recognized as from the time Before, but her hand would not release the parchment.
“No, Hermione, we have still yet to uncover why the Dark Lord is interested in you,” Severus deep baritone murmuring.
Lucius sitting forward. “Hermione, you have to understand-“
“We know nothing,” Severus insisting.
“Lies,” her voice quivered as her tears continued to fall. “Nothing but lies,” she whimpered. “I expected more from you. I expected more from the both of you.”
She wanted nothing more than to forget everything in that moment. To forget her past, forget the future, and even to forget Tom. She wanted to crawl into a dark hole, curl up into a tiny ball and weep. She wanted to mourn the friendships she had lost and the trust that could never be regained.
But her mind would not quiet and she could not forget. She could not forget the look they had shared before they blatantly lied to her. She could not forget all of hours they had spent, writing secret notes to her as she sat in class, taking diligently notes while trying not to laugh out loud at their bickering.
Unbidden, a terrible thought occurred to her. Her hands shook as she fiddled with the black parchment and her eyes twitched to the quill that lay innocently in the chest. She should put it away, or better yet, through it into the fire and forget about them for good. But her foolish, brilliant mind would not allow her let it go, nor would it dispel the question of whether or not magic could transcend time and space. If she wrote on the parchment, would they know?
Biting her lips as the tears began to dry on her cheeks, Hermione’s eyes hardened with determination. She may have the cunning of a Slytherin, but she still had a Gryffindor’s bravery. She was proud that her hand shook only slightly as it reached out to the quill that innocently sat atop her old school tie.
Mere millimeters away from said quill a loud knock sounded at the door. Her hand froze and for a fraction of a second, Hermione almost ignored the door. Her fingers twitched to the quill and the knocking started again, this time louder and more insistent.
Her hand fell back down to her side and still clutching the black parchment in a tight fist, Hermione went to answer the door. For a second she thought it might be Tom, and she rubbed the heels of her hand against her eyes to erase the evidence of her tears. But then she realized that Tom would never knock, and he usually arrived through the floo. They never had any visitors at their flat, only Minerva on occasion, and she knew that Hermione and Tom were going out that night for their anniversary.
She paused when her right hand wrapped around the knob, taking a shaky breath to steady her nerves. With a small smile she opened the door.
Albus Dumbledore lowered his hand which had been positioned to knock again.
Her smile quivered at the sight of him.
“May I come in?” he asked politely.
Hermione frowned, uncertain of how she should answer. Instead of saying anything, she simply took a step back into the room and opened the door wider in silent invitation.
He followed her example and took five steps into the flat, looking around in muted curiosity. She saw how his eyes traveled over the kitchen dismissively and narrowed over her wedding photo that resided above their fireplace.
“It has been a while, Hermione,” he stated.
There was an awkward silence. It had been a long time, mostly because they had not parted on the best of terms.
“It has been too long,” he murmured as he stepped closer to the framed photo.
She felt a shiver dance across her spine at his ominous tone.
He turned to her swiftly, then, the intensity of his blue eyes making her step back in a vain attempt to escape the intent she read in them. “I think you know this is not a social call, Hermione.”
She shook her head, not sure if she was denying the literal meaning of his words or denying his real purpose for dropping into her life once more.
“Yes, Hermione,” he sighed, looking much like the man she remembered from her own time. “I have done wrong by you, my dear. I am truly sorry, Hermione, I am, but there is no other way. Every beginning has an end; the circle must be completed.”
“N-No,” she whispered, horrified by his words.
He didn’t seem to hear her for he continued as though she had not spoken. “Perhaps I was wrong to let you stay as long as you have. Maybe I should never have sent you to stay with Tom. I should have kept you away from him. You never should have mingled with the past. Terrible things happen to those who meddle with time, Hermione.”
When he spoke, it was not him she heard, but it was the Dumbledore of her time. Awful things happen to those who meddle with time, Miss Granger. It is important for you to realize the responsibility being placed in you. I trust you to do what is right, not what is easy.
He had told her that right before he handed over her time turner, but with hindsight, Hermione could remember the almost pleading look in his eyes as he said those words, and the way his eyes had stared unerringly at her thirteen year old self.
“I should never have let it come to this,” Albus was now saying. “I take full responsibility for the pain I am about to cause, but there is no other way. I had thought it innocent enough at first, but you two only grew closer with time. He did not lose interest in you like I thought he would. By the time I realized he would never let you go, I thought that perhaps a little while longer would be alright. The damage was already done, so what was another few months for you to spend together? I thought that with a little more time you would be able to prepare yourself in order to let go, but you haven’t been preparing, Hermione. You have forgotten your purpose here just as I feared you would, just as you promised you wouldn’t. It’s time to remember now, Hermione. It’s time to go home.”
She gave a vehement shake of her head. “I am home, Albus. Tom is my home now.”
“No, Hermione, you know that’s not true. I am sorry, child, but you have the answers that you required of the room, and you know the question.”
She gave a horrified gasp as though she would disappear any moment simply because he gave voice to such thoughts. Her head felt like it was floating high above her body and she could have sworn that she felt a faint tingling starting in her toes. She shook her head and the discomfort dissipated. It was nothing.
“You have to leave now, Albus,” she ordered. “Tom will be home from work any minute, and if he sees you here I don’t- I don’t know what he’ll do to you.”
“I will not go this time, Hermione,” he smiled sadly. “Not without having done what needs to be done.”
Desperation reared its ugly head, making Hermione cross the room and curl her fists in the front of his robes, wrinkling the black parchment she had yet to relinquish her hold on. She knew that if he pushed her hard enough, he could do it. He could force her to have the revelation that was always hovering behind her thoughts, lurking behind her like a haunting black cloud.
And that terrified her.
“Please Albus, you can’t. Please, you don’t know what it’s like back then…you don’t know what it will do to him!”
That was how Tom found them. He arrived through the floo dressed in a sharp black suite and holding a single red rose. He froze when he saw them, his eyes narrowing on her tiny fists curled desperately around Albus’s purple robes and the black piece of parchment that was still crumbled in her right hand. If possible his expression hardened further when he noticed her tearstained makeup and the fear that still clouded her eyes.
“What,” his voice was clipped and as cold as ice. “Is going on?”
Hermione felt relief flood her at the sight of him. She knew he wouldn’t let her go. He would save her.
Without thinking, Hermione ran to Tom, throwing her arms around his neck in a desperate embrace. “Please,” she choked out around her tears. “Please, Thomas, please don’t let him take me.”
Tom tightened his jaw, his arms locking around her like a vice. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but the fact that Hermione, his beautiful, stunning wife, had been reduced to the begging sobbing mess in his arms was not to be tolerated.
“I will never let you go,” he whispered darkly into her hair, “Never.”
“I’m afraid, Tom, that you don’t have a choice,” Albus announced, his chin raising as he widened his stance and subconsciously fingered his wand. “And neither does Hermione.”
“You will not touch my wife,” he hissed, his eyes quickly losing their green tones as darkness began to seep across him.
“And you will not damage the timeline with you selfishness,” Albus countered. “You know I am right, Hermione. The time has come. You have the answers, you know the question. Do not keep them waiting any longer.”
Hermione moaned into his chest. “Stop,” she pleaded. “Please, make it stop.”
“What are you doing to her?” Tom asked, fear replacing his anger as Hermione began trembling against him.
Albus ignored him and kept his focus on Hermione. “The answers and the question, Hermione,” he pressed her, “You cannot ignore it anymore.”
It was too late. He had pushed her too far. Her head was spinning, her toes began tingling again but it spread to the rest of her foot this time, and up her leg. He was right. It was time.
“I’m sorry, so sorry Thomas,” she whispered.
Tom’s eyes widened at the defeat that rang in her words and the acceptance he felt in her slumped shoulders.
“Hermione, what-?” he began, but she cut him off, her lips pressing softly against his. She tasted like tears and sadness, like bittersweet nostalgia.
“Whatever happens, Thomas,” she murmured against his lips, “I love you. Knowing you as I do now, and knowing what you become, I love you. I think I was always meant to.”
His grip tightened on her, his fingers curling around the gold chain of her locket. Why did it sound like she was saying goodbye?
“We will meet again,” she promised, her voice thick with her conviction. “In another time and another place, we will meet again. You will be what you were always meant to become, and I-” she stuttered emotionally, “I will be as I am now.”
There was a faint ringing in her ears, a rush of white noise that made her clutch at her head as the pain increased.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” she had never heard Tom’s voice tremble in such a way before.
The tingling was at her elbows now and steadily rising.
“Goodbye, my love,” she muttered quietly, afraid that speaking above anything but a whisper would cause the pain stabbing at her temples to increase.
“Hermione,” his voice sounded as though it was coming from far away now and she felt her heart shatter at the knowledge that she had already lost him.
She wanted to say something to reassure him. She wanted to tell him, one last time, that she loved him. She wanted to press her lips to his, to feel his arms around her, the caress of his confident palms down her back, and to see that damned smirk of his when she’d shiver at his touch.
But as she tilted her head back for that one last kiss, she felt an invisible fist curl around her body and with one vicious tug she was gone and Tom Marvolo Riddle was left holding nothing but air where his wife had once stood.
Tom swallowed harshly and blinked twice as though to clear his vision and make sure he had not imagined her disappearance. From his right hand dangled the locket he had given her for Christmas, a memento of the two happiest years in his life. He blinked again, and to his surprise, two lone tears trailed down his cheeks.
His hands were shaking even as he fought to control himself, even as he fought the urge to throw his head back and scream. He wanted to give life to the pain that was ripping through him. But he forced it deep down within himself and created a tiny box where he locked away his pain and sadness. He would have hidden his heart away there, too, had she not taken it with her.
With a resounding snap, Tom slammed the lid down on his pathetic box and mentally twisted the lock into place. It would never be opened again.
The tension was thick in the air, but there was a faint roaring echoing in Tom’s ears as wave upon wave of anger crashed against him, fighting for supremacy against the sorrow that flooded him.
“She’s gone back to when she belongs, Tom,” Albus stated.
When, the word bounced around his mind.
What funny word choice.
But it made sense. On some level, Tom had known all along that Hermione was not from his time. He had always been hovering on the brink of that realization, had always filed away the little instances when she’d say something with the wrong tense, or make reference to her past as though it had yet to come.
“I’m sorry,” Albus stated. “Truly, I am. I did not want this for either of you, but she had to return. There was no other way. I am sorry, Tom, for your loss.”
Tom’s fingers curled around the locket and into a fist. “No you’re not,” he hissed, his eyes locking with those of his enemy’s.
Albus frowned. For a moment, he thought he saw Tom’s eyes flash red, but no…it must have been a trick of the light.
“But you will be,” Tom’s words were filled with a dark promise.
He would see his wife again, Tom vowed, if only to retrieve the heart that she had stolen from him. Their fates were entwined, and when their paths crossed again, she would have much to answer for.