Chapter 35: Ruined
The tell-tale crack of apparation echoed in the entryway of Grimmauld Place, followed by several muted thuds and cursing.
“Ge’off me ferret! – Can’t believe we just left her!”
“-No choice, now shove off. I got to find my dad.”
There was shuffling and a few groans as they untangled, wounds smarting and the several burns covering each of them stinging. It’d been Draco’s brilliant idea to find one of the dragons rumored to be lurking in the lower levels of the bank in order to make their escape. Not only did they have to get passed the Death Eaters that’d been waiting outside the vault to ambush them, but it seemed the goblins hadn’t taken too kindly to their presence as well and they’d have to escape them too.
Luck had been on their side. They’d found a dragon chained and near starved to death – it didn’t take much to prompt the creature to fly to freedom, carrying the three of them with him.
“Draco,” Lucius rushed out of his seat when the trio crashed through the house. A small frown of worry was the most he was willing to show as his son nearly collapsed in a mess of soot, sweat, and blood.
He was quick to take quick inventory of the boys and set aside his parental concern when he saw most of the wounds were superficial. It seemed the boys were fine – tired and beat to hell – but fine. Still, the small niggling fissure of fear that’d started upon their entrance suddenly exploded and the words, “Where’s Hermione?” flew out of his mouth in a panic rush.
There was a telling silence.
“They’ve got her,” Draco quietly admitted.
“And it’s all his ruddy fault!” Ron screamed, launching himself with a surprising amount of strength at the blonde wizard.
There was a scuffling as Remus and Lucius pried the boys apart, but Draco for the most part said nothing and silently absorbed the blame, telling himself it was nothing but the truth.
“Tell me everything. Now,” Lucius hissed.
Rambling and half talking over each other, the events were relayed. It’d been a trap. Draco had cast the fiendfyre curse at Hermione’s order, though he’d been loath to do so. Not for fear of the curse itself but for exactly what had happened. She’d been too far away from them and the fire had been a barrier no one could cross. He’d known the instant he cast the curse that she’d be taken, and Draco rather suspected she’d known it too.
Bloody Gryffindors, so self-sacrificing.
“What do we do now?” Remus asked in the silence that followed their story.
Harry, who’d been suspiciously silent since their arrival, suddenly straightened from his haunched posture. “No more waiting,” he said, conviction dripping from each word. “We take the fight to him. Force him out and get Hermione back.”
“And how do you propose we do that, Potter?” There was no real venom behind Draco’s barb.
Shuffling his robes aside, Harry showed them how. “With this,” he said tightly, holding Gryffindor’s sword in a white knuckled fist.
“Wh-where did you get that?”
“Found it before we left the vault. Figured we could use it seeing as how it was forged with basilisk venom. Fiendfyre destroyed the cup. I reckon this’ll work on the others.”
A gathering sense of purpose slowly filled them, a unanimous agreement and determination.
“Tonight,” Harry promised grimly, “we’re taking back Hogwarts. And when he comes to stop us, we’re finishing this. Once and for all.”
The air stirred behind her and she could feel a cold breath against the back of her neck.
“Hermione,” he breathed.
And she shivered.
His hands were deceptively light as they slowly grazed up to her neck, his fingernails scratching along her hammering pulse. Suddenly his fingers were splayed across her throat and he tightened his grip in warning.
“What? No greeting for your husband?” he hissed.
Chest burning with fear, Hermione remained silent, her rational mind lost to the stranglehold of shock. She swallowed deeply, feeling the impression of each of his fingers with the motion.
“And what are these?” he tsk’d mockingly. “Tears of joy, perhaps?”
One of his hands left her throat to sweep the tears away from her cheeks before it was abruptly shoved into her hair, yanking her head back against his shoulder. He loomed over her, dipping his head to breathe in her scent along her neck before pressing his thin lips to her ear.
“You said you’d never leave me, Hermione,” he whispered ominously. “What do you have to say for yourself?” There was a very clear threat behind his words.
Merlin, even if she had an answer she wouldn’t be able to force it out around the lump in her throat. One thing Hermione’d never been accused of was being a coward, but in this very moment, it was all she could do to silent the sobs wracking her body and remember to breathe.
His hand tightened in her hair and yanked. She gave a small sob of pain while flinching in his hold. “Answer me,” he demanded darkly and she felt the sharp sting of his teeth against her earlobe.
“I-I-I didn’t leave,” she said in a soft warble. “Not by choice.”
He gave a deceptively disinterested, “Is that so?” as his lips continued to lightly graze along her neck.
She shivered, not entirely from fear, and she could feel his thin lips curve up into a smirk. Hermione closed her eyes in shame, but the tears continued ceaselessly.
“I suppose I should thank you,” he murmured darkly. “Had it not been for your arrival and subsequent departure, I may not have had the fortitude to do what was necessary to reach this level of greatness.”
“W-what?” she hiccuped. Of all things she’d expected him to say, that certainly had not been it.
“That’s right, my dear. You were exactly the catalyst my young self needed to break the barrier of mediocrity. Everything that has happened, everything that will come – it is all from you.”
“Open your eyes,” he commanded. “Look at me.”
She shook her head, her locks tugging sharply in his unwavering hold. “Please no,” she begged. It would kill her, she absolutely knew it. It would kill a part of her to see her Thomas – pale skin, thick hair, wicked green eyes – it would kill her to see it all replaced by the pallid snakelike features and red eyes she knew Lord Voldemort to have. He’d burned away his humanity in the quest for immortality.
“Yes Hermione, you will look upon me. See the wizard you helped create.”
He twisted her in his grasp and pulled her up from the bed flush to his chest. Her weak limbs shook, unable to support her weight, but his bruising grip held her to him firmly. A hand moved to her chin, tilting her head back.
“Look at me!” he roared, and her eyes flew open.
A moment passed and all she could do was stare.
Red eyes. Her husband had red eyes.
His height had not changed, but that was about all she could say. Gone was the peach undertone of life and happiness, his skin now shining grey. His hair, his glorious hair that she’d run her fingers through nightly, tugging lightly at the base of his neck, was gone. And his nose was flatter than it had been, the nostrils flaring as he heaved at her.
And yet… the differences were not so dramatic as she thought they’d be. The nose and hair were certainly the most glaring changes, but the shape of his eyes was the same. His cold hands held her as though he’d never stopped doing so. They felt comfortingly familiar even as they dug into her chin, holding her gaze captive.
There was no denying the innate wrongness in the wizard before her, but the subtle similarities screamed at her and were enough to make her recognize Thomas in Lord Voldemort. Enough to bolster her courage even as her heart wept for the loss of the man she knew.
“Oh Thomas, what have you done to yourself?” she asked, her hand subconsciously lifting to caress his face only to fall before touching him.
There was a strange shuttering in his eyes. “What have I done?” he echoed, eyes roaming across her features, drinking her in. “You knew,” he reminded her. “You’ve always known. Do not pretend otherwise.”
“Thomas,” she cried. It was not a plea to the man before her, but a mournful cry for the husband she’d lost. She felt her heart being squeezed in a vice. They’d told her. They’d told her that her husband was dead, that Lord Voldemort was all that remained.
But to see it. To see how he’d transformed, shed his humanity and chipped away at his soul until all that remained was a black void, a dark nothingness that consumed him…
She shook her head. “What have you done?” she sobbed. “I’d known, yes, but I’d hoped. It didn’t have to be this way. You are not my husband. You killed him!”
She sounded like a stark raving lunatic, her words fevered and racing from her without thought in between sobs and hiccups.
“Thomas, Thomas, Thomas…”
Her body was rocking against him. “I want him back. I want my Thomas back!”
He held her to him tighter still. “I am your Thomas,” he hissed right before his lips crushed hers.
Reflex had her eyes falling shut, her hands desperately clutching handfulls of his robes. His lips awakened a cold familiarity in her. They were Thomas’s lips. She was kissing Thomas.
“And you are mine, Hermione,” he said against her lips. “Mine.”
The familiar oath flooded her with a sickening sense of warmth. It was comfortable, familiar. Something he’d always told her.
She remembered their Hogwarts graduation. Headmaster Dippet had finish his long, drawn out speech the feast was well underway. She and Tom kept to themselves at the Slytherin table, sitting far away from Professor Dumbledore who’d taken to sitting on their side of the hall, often trying to make eye contact with Hermione.
“The world is ours now, Hermione,” Tom breathed into her ear as they celebrated the end of their final year.
Leaning against him, she sighed heavily. “I don’t want the world, Thomas. I just want you.”
Smirking, he countered, “But I want it, my dear. And I always get what I want.”
“Always? I find that hard to believe.”
He tilted her head back to meet his eyes. “I got you, didn’t I? You’re mine.”
Hermione lowered her eyes. “Yes,” she confessed. Around them the students were celebrating, the End of Term feast louder and rowdier than any other. Even the Slytherins were particularly chatty, and several pops came from the other house tables, firecrackers and sparks flying in the air as the teachers smiled indulgently. But she and Tom may well have been alone as they sat next to each other.
“You have me,” she confirmed softly.
“And you will never leave me. It’s you and me now, Hermione,” his voice was deep and compelling. He rewarded her with a heated kiss after the declaration, far more passionate than they usually let themselves be in public. Tongue battling hers, his fingers sifted through her hair as he pulled her closer and tighter until not even the candlelight could slip between them, like he was trying to mold her body into his.
He was kissing her with the same intensity now, a hint of madness lingering in his every touch. The cold radiating from him felt like ice being dragged across her fiery skin and where they touched they melted together. She would’ve turned into a puddle at his feet had she not been determined to return his kiss with just as much anger and passion.
Abruptly, he yanked her from him. “Do not ever doubt, Hermione, that you are mine. You’ve always been mine.”
Her wrist throbbed in punctuation and she felt dizzy and breathless. Mine, mine, mine, Thomas’s voice chanted in her head.
“What did you do to my wrist?”
He smiled, a truly terrifying sight. “A gift. We are linked for good now. There is no escaping me.”
“And you just love that, don’t you? I’m not a possession, Thomas!”
The retort had flown from her lips in reflex. It always been something she’d said to Tom when his possessiveness became too overwhelming. In the past, Tom would always smirk cockily and proceed to seduce her, more often than not making her so desperate for his touch that she’d beg for him and parrot whatever obedient words he’d want to hear at the time. A delicious torture that she was all too happy to surrender to.
But the man she’d just snapped at wasn’t the same as he’d once been. Gone was the cocky smirk, the dangerous but playful glint to his eyes.
Furious, he threw her from him. Her hip caught the side of the bed with bruising force and without his support she collapsed to the floor, her knees scraping against the wood. She gasped which turned into a pained cry when Tom reached down and hauled her back up by her hair.
“If you act like a rueful child you will be treated as such,” he spat.
A sorrowed-tinted anger swelled. Tom had always been a dark and hard man, she’d never been in denial about that, and there’d been times when he was emotionally abusive if only to make a point with her. But he’d never lifted his wand or hand to her. He’d never physically hurt her before. If anything, he’d protected her from harm – harm from the kids at the orphanage, his followers, even Grindlewald himself.
“You are not my husband.” Though she said it in a whisper, steel underlined every word, not softened even by the new tears that filled her eyes. Tears that were in never-ending supply, apparently.
“I am all that’s left,” he admitted, unashamed. “You will come to terms and accept your fate. I may not be the man you once called husband, but you are still my wife.”
“I will never accept this,” she vowed. “Deep down you know this, Thomas. It is not my nature to accept brutality. You’ve become a monster.”
“So you say. But you’ve already accepted it, Hermione. You told me, remember? Whatever happens, Thomas, I love you. Knowing you as I do now, and knowing what you become, I love you. I think I was always meant to. That is what you told me that night, remember? Our last night.”
Of course, she remembered. It was the night her heart tore into pieces, never to be whole again. And she meant it at the time, maybe she even meant it now. She was confused, hurt and exhausted. There wasn’t a word for how truly discombobulated she felt.
Ruined, she finally decided. She was ruined.
Before she could give any sort of response, there was a timid knock at the door which was answered by an angry hiss from Nagini.
“Enter,” Voldemort commanded.
Peter Pettigrew came in, bowing and scraping. “My lord, please, forgive the intrusion,” he stuttered, rightfully afraid of punishment.
“Speak quickly, Wormtail, and then leave. We will revisit the subject of your impertinence at a later date.”
Wormtail flinched, then cleared his throat. “It would seem that Hogwarts has been compromised.”
“What was that?” Each word vibrated with Tom’s fury.
Trembling, Wormtail said again, “Hogwarts is compromised. We’ve received word that Potter and the rest of the Order are there.”
“Is that so?” Tom asked rhetorically. “Let us go and meet the boy if he is so eager to die. Prepare the others.”
Wormtail scurried out.
“It appears the hour is upon us, Hermione. You and Nagini will stay with me. When you see that foolish Potter boy fall dead at our feet, maybe then you will accept your fate,” he swore.
With his fingers digging deep into her forearm, he called Nagini to them and she obediently wrapped herself around their ankles right before they apparated with the a muted pop.