Chapter 3: Sunsets and Gardens

Chapter 3: Sunsets and Gardens

When Hermione Granger left the Room of Requirement running straight into Albus Dumbledore, she had tried to behave logically and calmly.

And she had failed, quite spectacularly, by fainting.

Two hours later she awoke in the Hospital Wing with a splitting headache, confused by the strange dream she had of running into a young looking Albus Dumbledore, which was clearly impossible since the man had been dead for well over five months. Of course, she had nearly fainted once again when Dumbledore stepped around her privacy screen, smiling politely while offering her a sherbet lemon.

She had accepted the sweet cautiously while asking respectfully how he had come back to life looking younger. When he said that he had never been or faked being dead, Hermione began to get nervous. When she inquired as to why there were no students around and he had responded that it was because it was the summer holidays, her breathing hitched. When she fearfully asked what the date and year was and when he stated that it was July 17, 1944, she began hyperventilating.

Hermione was then soothed by a very kind and understanding Dumbledore. With a fatherly smile he had assured her that he would help her and keep her safe during her sojourn into the past. When she had thanked him profusely and asked if she could go to the dorm to think, her heart had broke when he responded in the negative, saying that students were not allowed to be housed at the school during the summer. But then he claimed he would find her a place to stay, and she had felt marginally better at not having to sleep out in the Forbidden Forest. He left her then, to make arrangements for her attendance come September and to find her a place to reside for the duration of the summer.

When he reentered, Hermione was remarkably calmer. But then Albus (he had insisted she use his first name since they were to be such good friends in the future) informed her that she was unable to stay with Minerva McGonagall, the Head Girl, since she was vacationing and would instead be sent to spend the summer with the Head Boy. Who was the Head Boy, she had queried, and when he had answered her, her heart had stopped.

Tom Riddle- why did that sound familiar?

A strange sense of foreboding settled in her chest as Hermione ran through her memories in order to place the name. It took her approximately twenty seconds before the memory of Harry confiding to her in an angry whisper about a boy named Tom Riddle being the one who had killed Moaning Myrtle by opening the Chamber of Secrets came to her. He had then explained that Tom Riddle was the heir of Slytherin, bent on eliminating Muggleborns. And as the memory completed itself, Hermione’s heart broke.

Tom Marvolo Riddle. I am Lord Voldemort.

Oh shit.

Hermione was ashamed when she woke up twenty minutes later after passing out for the second time that day.

Albus had spoken to her kindly, reassuring her that there was nothing to be embarrassed about, but he did not understand. She had wanted to explain the situation to him, but had feared that the consequences of revealing the future to him would be too great. So Hermione had resigned herself to remain silent.

She left the Hospital Ward with her head held high and her shoulders thrown back in true Gryffindor fashion. She and Albus left for Diagon Alley to purchase her school uniforms and supplies, Hermione constantly assuring him that she would find a way to repay him even though Albus maintained it would not be necessary. In fact, he insisted on supplying her with a monthly allowance and although Hermione’s pride told her not to accept his kindness, her common sense won out in the end and she had gratefully accepted the pouch filled with an undeterminable amount of money.

As soon as all of her purchases were completed, Hermione placed a small charm on her trunk to make it easier for her to pull, and they had set off to Little Hangleton’s Orphanage for Boys and Girls.

She would attempt to be polite. She would be strong. And she most certainly would try to remain calm and in control.

Well, Hermione thought with a wry smile, she supposed she had never really been known for keeping her temper in check, and there was just something about Tom Riddle that brought out a fierce desire in her to verbally slap the smirk off of his pale face. She supposed it was because he reminded her of Draco Malfoy in a way. Although, she was forced to concede, Draco Malfoy was not evil. He was annoying, true, but darkness didn’t permeate the very atmosphere around him. The same could not be said for Tom Riddle.

When Tom had first entered Mrs. Cole’s office, she had not been surprised by his appearance. Fate, she had learned the hard way, had a cruel sense of humor, so she wasn’t the least bit astonished by the fact that the Dark Lord was extremely attractive. He had thick black hair piled on top of his head that screamed for someone to run their fingers through it, and sage green eyes that were so similar and yet completely different from Harry’s. Where Harry’s eyes sparkled and twinkled with warmth, Tom’s eyes glittered dangerously with a cold fire that made Hermione shiver. When he had first looked at her, she had the sneaking suspicion that he could see straight through her skin and into her soul. His skin was pale, a stark contrast to his dark hair. He was like an angel, fallen from grace and welcomed into darkness.

But then he had ruined the picture by speaking. His voice was pleasant enough, deep and melodic. He spoke confidently, almost arrogantly, his voice changing from cold and distant, to politely curious, and then to cold and sarcastic.

Tom Riddle, she told herself, was a spoiled brat and each word that rolled out of his mouth only served to reinforce her conviction.

Mudblood, indeed, she huffed.

Rolling over onto her side, Hermione lightly massaged her temples. She could feel that dull ache starting behind her eyes that would turn into a migraine.

How had this happened? How could her life end up here, in the past?

Tom bloody Riddle, Hermione seethed in her shoebox room at the orphanage. Of all of the decades, all of the people she would be forced to interact with, it had to be him.

Albus had told her to focus on what she had been thinking when the door to the Room of Requirement had appeared. Perhaps then, he had told her, would she learn what her purpose in the past was.

So what had been running through her mind? She had been angry and frustrated with her situation. She had felt alone, deserted by Severus and Lucius who had been keeping something from her.

I need to go someplace where I can be safe and find the answers I seek, a place where no one can reach me…

Well, no one could find or reach her there, that was for certain, but how safe could she be with the Dark Lord across the hall, and what answers could she find in this past? Maybe if she knew the question then the answers would be easier to find.

So, what was the question?

To be or not to be- that is the question. To die, to sleep– To sleep–perchance to dream?

Brilliant Granger, Hermione mentally groaned, first Dickens and now Shakespeare- literary quotes for every occasion!

With a groan, Hermione forced herself to sit up on the lumpy bed and look at the ticking clock above her door. Five o’clock, which meant she had one hour before dinner. One more hour of peace and quiet, an hour in which she did not have to tiptoe around a troubled wizard who had the magical potential to turn her insides out.

One more hour of freedom.

Sighing, Hermione shook her head in disappointment. She knew she was being dramatic. After all, Tom Riddle was not the Dark Lord yet.

Although, a nasty voice that sounded remarkably like Severus, he has already killed and come up with the title Lord Voldemort.

Hermione ruthlessly smothered that voice. She couldn’t face Tom Riddle while comparing him to the monster he was to become, she wouldn’t stand a chance. Taking slow, purposeful breaths, Hermione attempted to clear her mind the way Severus had taught her to do while teaching her Occlumency. Tom Riddle was not the Dark Lord yet, she told herself.

The keyword, of course, was yet.

Hermione nearly growled in frustration. She couldn’t live like this! She wasn’t supposed to be here; she was supposed to be at Hogwarts with Harry and Ron, eating dinner while Severus and Lucius stood silently behind her, every once in a while nudging her shoulder just to annoy her. She was supposed to be writing her essay on sucubi in one of the library’s private study rooms as her two Slytherin snakes quietly conversed about the Dark Lord’s interest in her.

The Dark Lord’s interest in her.

The. Dark. Lord’s. Interest. In. Her.

Her heart stopped and then slowly broke into a million, sparkling pieces as the truth hit her.

They had known. All of them. Minerva, Remus, the whole Order.

Lucius and Severus.

They knew exactly why the Dark Lord had been so interested in her.

And they hadn’t told her.

There was a part of Hermione that understood their silence. If she had known she was fated to meet Tom Riddle in the past, then she would have had the potential to prevent their meeting which would have had terrible consequences for the timeline. Minerva must have memories of Hermione transferring to Hogwarts during her seventh year, so in effect, she had no choice but to go back. She already had, in a sense.

And they couldn’t risk her tearing the timeline. She understood their precarious position and the need for silence. In fact, if the roles were reversed, she would have done the same as them.

But that didn’t stop the tears of betrayal from stinging her eyes. Understanding didn’t fix the pieces of her shattered heart. They had abandoned her with no other choice, but she was abandoned nonetheless. No one liked being in the dark while others conspired as to where their life would end.

Never in all her life had Hermione felt this helpless and out of control. She felt as though she was screaming in the middle of a crowd while everyone she knew ignored her. She hated not being in control of a situation.

But what hurt her the most, what made the tears that had until then only threatened to fall spill over and run down her cheeks, was Lucius and Severus’s silence. Due to their circumstances they had been forced to rely on each other. They understood her in a way Harry and Ron never could. When they looked at her they saw through the act she put on for others. They saw the empty spot she attempted to fill with her books and studies. They saw the pain and darkness that lurked within her. Like calls to like, and there was something inside Lucius and Severus that called out to her. They were very different people, and yet completely the same.

And they had lied to her.

A sob rose up to choke her, but Hermione bitterly swallowed it. The two people she had trusted implicitly, despite their past and their differences, had lied to her, had deserted her and left her to fend for herself in a time not her own with a boy that yearned to destroy everything she was.

Suddenly her tiny room at Little Hangleton’s Orphanage felt too small, the air surrounding her too thick. The bland walls around her loomed over her, and Hermione felt cornered and trapped.

With her heart racing and the hot tears falling, Hermione wrenched opened her door and ran down the hall. She ignored the children around her and they, oddly enough, remained disinterested in her. Apparently the sight of a crying person running desperately through the halls was a normal occurrence there.

Perhaps it was fate that led her to the small, dying garden in the backyard where Tom Riddle sat on a bench staring intently at the grass. Mayhap it was coincidence, but no matter what steered her feet to that garden, when Hermione came to a stuttering halt and saw Tom sitting there, she froze.

Having heard her frantic running, Tom turned around to see who had intruded upon his solitude.

Light green eyes swept over her coldly, lingering on her frizzy hair and tear stained cheeks.

Run, a voice urged her, get away from him.

But she stood there stupidly, meeting his steely gaze with her round, doe-like eyes. Her feet felt like heavy cement blocks that glued her to the ground. Helplessly she searched around for something, anything to say, but before anything even remotely intelligent popped into mind, Tom opened his mouth and broke the spell.

“Why are you crying?” he inquired.

Hermione tilted her head. “Why do you care?” she countered.

A strange smirk crossed his lips. “I don’t.”

She should have been offended, but she wasn’t. She hadn’t expected him to care, and in a way, she appreciated his truthful answer. Slowly she walked over to him and sat beside him on the stone bench, her movements deliberate and precise.

There was a moment of silence before Hermione spoke. “What are you doing out here?”

Tom flicked his eyes to her, but did not move his head. “Thinking,” he said guardedly.

Another stretch of silence passed between them in which she suspected Tom thought she would ask what he was thinking about. She didn’t, though. She didn’t care what he was thinking about, and even if she did, she knew he wouldn’t tell her what was running through his mind.

There was a small rustle by her feet, causing Hermione to look down. Slithering innocently by her left foot was a garden snake. Bending over, Hermione gently picked up the snake, so similar to the one her parents had bought her when she was seven.

Tom turned to her, then, glancing curiously as she allowed the snake to twine around her wrist possessively.

“You like snakes?” he asked cautiously.

There was an undertone to his question, but Hermione couldn’t quite grasp what he was truly asking. So, she settled for taking his question at face value and answered him honestly.

“Yes, I have always loved snakes,” she replied.

Hermione looked directly into his sage eyes, and surprisingly it was Tom who broke their stare in order to gaze curiously at the green snake coiled around her right wrist. She followed his eyes and smiled softly at the tiny snake that claimed her wrist, gently stroking its scales.

She could have sworn she heard a soft hissing sound, but decided it was her imagination.

Turning her gaze back to Tom, she found herself under a very intense look. For a while, she thought he’d say nothing, but when he spoke, Hermione didn’t know what exactly to make of his statement.

“They like you as well.”

Like his question, Hermione knew he meant more than what was actually being said, but her mind was tired and she didn’t have the strength or the heart to get into another row with the future Lord Voldemort.

And so Hermione was content to sit in silence with Tom Riddle and watch the sun begin to sink on the horizon casting a golden glow around them, as she idly stroked the small garden snake.

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