Chapter 34: Everything Screams
“I love you, Thomas,” Hermione sighed, her breath fanning against his bare chest.
Tom stirred and Hermione slid off as he propped himself up on one elbow. She smiled serenely, staring up at him as he loomed slightly over her.
“Why do you call me that?” he murmured.
Raising a brow, she asked, “What do you mean? That’s your name, isn’t it?”
His lips twitched, but he was still frowning slightly. “No one ever called me Thomas before you, and you only do it when you’re feeling cross. Or particularly saccharine.”
“Oh really?” she groused playfully, nudging him softly.
Tom remained pensive even as he caught her hand, gently caressing her fingers. “Yes, Hermione. Tell me why.”
Realizing that Tom was serious and truly wanted to know, Hermione allowed him to play with her fingers as she adopted his pensive air and thought about it. She supposed like most women, no matter how cliché it sounded, she used his full name in instances she was truly upset with him. Almost like she wanted to unconsciously let him know she was serious about whatever it was she was on about at the time.
There were other times though, tonight for instance, where his full name was said to show the depth of her love, almost like a pet name or term of endearment. It wasn’t like she could call Tom ‘sweetums’ with a straight face, or any other ridiculous nickname. But when she called him Thomas she supposed it was the equivalent to how some called their lovers ‘sweetheart.’
Either explanation was acceptable and equally true, but as Hermione lost herself deeper in contemplation, she recognized another reason. If she was being completely honest with herself she would have to admit that she called him Thomas as a way to distance the man she was in love with from the Voldemort and Tom Riddle everyone knew or would soon come to know. He would be known as many things in their world, but he would only be known as Thomas to her.
It startled her that she could be that selfish. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism she used to justify her feelings for the man who would become the most feared dark wizard of her time, but when he was Thomas, he was simply her husband. Troubled and dark, certainly, but, in his own way, loving with her.
“Hermione?” he softly prompted her.
She cleared her throat. “Because you’re my Thomas.”
His eyes lit and he started to trace his fingertips over her collarbone. “Feeling possessive, are we?”
Her hand covered his and their fingers entwined resting over her heart. “No more than you are of me,” she quipped.
His look darkened and his hand tightened on hers. “You are mine, Hermione. You know that, right?”
Giving a small sniff she said, “How can I not when you see fit to remind me, and others, on a daily basis.”
He moved closer until his lips kissed the side of her neck. Hermione gave a pleased sigh and tilted her head to allow him better access, an act of supplication that she knew pleased Tom well. He gave her an abrupt little nip along her jaw.
“We will always be together, Hermione,” the sentiment held the weight of the darkest vow.
She didn’t doubt him…
Screams echoed around her, quivering and on the verge of hysteria. Hermione blinked, half expecting to see Thomas hovering over her still, but the dream faded back into her memory and she slowly became aware of her surroundings.
The bed she was on was of modest size, the blankets thin and moth eaten. Every limb ached and trembled softly, a side effect of the cruciatus curse courtesy of Bellatrix. Her throat was painfully dry when she swallowed, probably owing to her own screams, and as she twisted her head to look around the darkened room everything swirled and blurred.
Abruptly the screams stopped. There was a heavy beat of silence until again, they started. By the sounds of it, someone was being tortured.
Attempting to move, Hermione jerked her legs and was met with a startled hiss. Instantly, she froze, her heart racing uncomfortably as she became aware of a solid weight across her feet. There was an unmistakable sound of something slithering before the weight eased and the hissing drew closer.
Eyes screwed shut, Hermione breathed deeply. She felt smooth scales sliding across the side of her arms before her face was nudged in a clear demand of attention. Ignoring the screaming still ringing through the walls and tamping down her fear, Hermione opened her eyes and slowly tilted her head to the side.
Nagini was lightly coiled beside her, her tongue flicking out and tasting the air at Hermione’s check. If she didn’t know any better, she would’ve thought the old snake was kissing her.
“N-Nagini,” her voice shook over the name.
The snake uncoiled some and rubbed against her shoulder in a greeting in lieu of shaking hands.
She remembered – as if she could forget – finding Nagini in an obscure shop in Hogsmeade and purchasing her for a ridiculous amount of galleons for Tom at Christmastime. Also, she recalled Tom naming her and how the name-word haunted her for months until it ceased to be a reminder of the looming future and became the name of a beloved familiar. She’d handled Nagini easily in the past, her fingers often soothing the snake as it curled around her wrist. Tom would sometimes come home to find Hermione reading beside the fire, Nagini curled up on some random limb of hers.
“My girls,” he’d drawl. But behind the sarcasm was a genuine pleasure of seeing them. A satisfaction Hermione had no doubt came from the snake’s approval of her, as though Nagini’s opinion weighed heavily upon him.
The snake before her was undoubtedly the same, but far larger than the one in Hermione’s memory. She was surprised the snake had lived so long, but remembered the shop owner saying she was part magical breed and would have an unusually long lifespan for a snake.
“Do you – you remember me, yes?” her voice was still hoarse and her throat raw, but she managed to speak the words.
Nagini couldn’t talk with Hermione as she could with Tom, but the snake had her own peculiar way of communicating that would have seemed unnatural had it not been the fact they lived in the wizarding world. The snake came closer still and curled in the empty L-shaped space between her neck and shoulder, her head coming to rest across Hermione’s neck. To anyone else, the position would cause unease as Nagini’s fangs we’re dangerously close to a vital vein should she feel peckish, but to Hermione, it was a favorite position of theirs. It spoke of comfort and familiarity. There was no doubt that Nagini remembered her.
“Good girl,” she mumbled through tears, her breath hitching as the screams stopped only to restart again. She’d hate to be whoever that poor soul was.
She wasn’t sure how much time had passed before she heard the distinct sound of a door opening and footsteps moving to her. Closing her eyes, she feigned sleep and kept a hand loosely draped on Nagini.
“You’re awake,” someone stated.
Hermione’s eyes flashed opened and she stared at Severus for a long moment before asking lowly, “What happened?”
He eyed Nagini warily who seemed to be eyeing him just as carefully. Hermione wanted to sit up but her limbs felt unnaturally weighted and shaky. Severus seemed to know she’d have trouble for he reached to her with exaggerated care, freezing when Nagini sat up and hissed.
“Hush Nagini, he’s only helping me,” Hermione gave the snake a gentle scold and a soft caress over her head. Nagini seemed to loosen some, but her eyes remained unerringly on Severus. Trying again, he carefully propped Hermione up, his gaze never leaving the snake as he handed Hermione some pepper-up potion that she downed thankfully. Some of the fogginess left her, but the shaking and ache didn’t leave her. There was no potion for that.
“What do you remember?” he asked.
“The vault,” she frowned in thought. “The cup,” she added with grim satisfaction knowing it had been destroyed. “Bellatrix’s curse and then darkness.”
Severus stared at her. The screaming continued in the silence and Hermione shivered in fear. Severus was an expert of reading her emotions and body movements and told her, “You’re safe. He left me to guard you, and then Nagini to protect you from even me, if necessary.” Again, he shot the snake a weary look. While not overtly threatening at the moment, he knew from past experience how temperamental the snake could be.
“He?” Hermione asked, knowing the answer.
“The Dark Lord,” Severus nodded. “With you on our side of the fire, Bellatrix and I were able to take you and bring you here where you belong, with our lord.”
She noted the peculiar way he was talking and heeded the unspoken warning. Here, he was her ally but still a Death Eater. They could not speak openly.
Somewhere in this house, Tom was waiting for her. She nearly gagged in her fear, her breathing picking up until she was dangerously close to hyperventilating, until she forced herself to remain calm. Giving in to hysterics now would solve nothing but put her in even more danger.
“Easy now,” Severus murmured.
Hermione nodded. “Did you stun me?” she asked suddenly, remembering the abrupt darkness that had shrouded her while under Bellatrix’s curse.
“Bella was unable to control herself. You were not to be harmed, our orders were very clear. I stunned you – a mercy I’m sure you agree – and restrained Lestrange. Once she was calm,” he sneered the last word. “We were able to leave the vault and escape the fire. We apparated here.”
“And where are we?”
“The Dark Lord’s safe house. A home he purchased some 55 years ago, or thereabouts.”
Doing the math, Hermione gasped. Tears collected in her eyes and streamed unrestrained down her cheeks. She would’ve been with him then, when he bought it. Looking around, she saw the room with new eyes. It was indeed a bedroom she was in, not some sort of dungeon. She supposed at one time, the room would’ve been beautiful but it had fallen into disrepair. There were shabby, moth eaten curtains and every piece of furniture seemed to be covered in a thick layer of dust. It reminded her a bit of Grimmauld Place, even the screaming reminded her of the portrait of Mrs. Black.
“The screaming?” she asked, unable to ignore it anymore.
Severus gave a dark smile. “Bellatrix. The Dark Lord is most displeased with her.”
A small shiver of satisfaction drifted through Hermione before she forced it away, telling herself it was wrong to feel that way.
Not wrong at all, my dear. She disobeyed a direct order by attacking you. Were it not that I needed every wand at my disposal… Tom’s voice had returned along with the ache in her wrist. Whatever Tom did with the nightscape, she hoped it wasn’t permanent.
“What are we doing here? Why am I here?” she asked sharply, rubbing the ache in her wrist.
“You are here because our Lord demanded it,” Severus stated.
“It is not my place to question the Dark Lord,” Severus murmured obediently, but gave her a sharp look that clearly said don’t be an imbecile as he glanced pointedly at her locket and wedding ring.
“What will happen to me?”
Severus quirked his head to the side. “That is for him to decide,” he said unconcernedly, but a soft touch of his fingers to hers offered some comfort. She was quite thoroughly caught, but she wasn’t entirely alone.
She swallowed dryly and gave Nagini another soft caress when she felt the snake stir against her.
“You handle her well,” Severus noted, an attempt at distraction.
Biting her lip, Hermione looked down at the snake. “I bought her for him our first Christmas,” she confessed.
The slight widening of his eyes was the only indication of Severus’s shock. “Then she is an appropriate guard for you, indeed.”
The screaming stopped again. She’d been so used to it that it took her a moment to notice the silence, but when she did she was startling unconcerned as she and Severus merely waited for them to begin again. But they didn’t. Silence reigned heavy and telling.
A thought struck her suddenly. If the Dark Lord was done with seeing to Bellatrix, his first stop would be her room…
“Leave,” came a cold command.
Hermione jumped and then froze. She’d not heard anyone enter the room.
Severus bowed his head obediently. There was no hesitation in him as he backed away from her and left the room.
Her heart was hammering, but fear kept her frozen. Every one of her senses was unnaturally heightened. She could feel the cold kiss of a air against her skin, smell the dust lingering in the room, and hear the swish of a cloak as someone moved closer to her.
A sibilant hiss came from just behind her, and in response, Nagini slithered across Hermione’s stiffened legs and down the bed. Hermione could hear her moving against the wood floor but was unable to bring herself to turn and see where the snake ended up. A part of her wanted to reach out and snatch her back, hug Nagini to her like a security blanket. But a strange combination of fear, anticipation, and fascinated horror gripped her as tightly as if she had been petrified again.
The silence hung like lead in the air and Hermione wished to hear the screams again. To have something break the static tension in her mind and body.
Two cold hands were placed on her shoulders, the fingers, long and thin.
Her mind flashed to a memory of Thomas holding her, the same hands gripping the small of her back. The same fingers tracing circles along her naked skin.
The air stirred behind her and she could feel a cold breath against the back of her neck.
“Hermione,” he breathed.
And she shivered.