Chapter 36: Death
It became very apparent to Hermione just how much her life had unraveled when she found herself sitting on the cold, hard ground in the Forbidden Forest. She had always been a pensive person, but as she sat surrounded by Death Eaters who were preparing to storm Hogwarts, she felt contemplative in a philosophical way that bordered on divining.
She’d never believed in that tripe, of course. Free will was impossible to predict and a people were as fickle as the wind, their choices impossible to predict, so it was really quite impossible to divine the future. But as she lost herself in thought, she looked at Harry’s life, Draco’s even, juxtaposed against her own and began to see the patterns that structured their decisions, bringing them all to this moment where they found themselves on the brink of war.
Falling in love with Thomas had been easy. Her younger self had been vulnerable to his manipulations, willing even for she’d known all along he was no innocent. She’d just lost her parents and had yet to cope with their deaths. She’d just learned of Lucius and Severus keeping information from her, lying to her in a betrayal that truly cut. And then she found herself in Tom’s time, alone and emotionally wounded. And Tom, despite his bravado, had been equally wounded by his own past. Yes, it’d been all too easy to fall for Tom Riddle. They’d been alike in many ways, and different in enough to keep things interesting. They had chemistry, her mum would say.
It was hard not to wonder if things would’ve been different had her parents not died just before she found herself in the past. If Lucius and Severus had been truthful and forthcoming, maybe she wouldn’t have fallen so easily under Tom’s spell.
Free will could change any situation – making it impossible to predict. She still believed this with every fiber of her being. But circumstances could be manipulated, encouraging certain outcomes.
I need to go someplace where I can be safe and find the answers I seek, a place where no one can reach me…
She remembered thinking those words over and over as she paced outside the Room of Requirement. That sad but determined expression on Albus’s face as he forced her into a revelation that would move her through time and space was still burned in her mind. And she remembered the question she’d asked herself time and time again…
What must I do?
She’d first asked this while helping Harry get through the potions riddle, knowing she had to go for help, but not wanting to leave Harry to face danger alone. When students were getting petrified, she began researching furiously to find out what was causing it, how she could prevent it. In third year, she’d found herself asking the question again when dementors and Sirius Black seemed intent on killing Harry. Again in fourth year and helping Harry in the tournament, fifth year with Umbridge and the Department of Mysteries.
And finally, sixth year. When they learned of horcruxes, and Albus died and it became so apparent that they were losing the war… all she could ask herself was, what must I do? What must I do to save my friends? What must I do to make sure we win this war?
What must I do? It had been the mantra of her life at Hogwarts.
In answer to that, the Room of Requirement sent her back in time, brought her to Tom – Tom to her. Not that it mattered which. She’d had no instructions, no plan laid out for her to follow… just an opportunity. A situation fate may have designed, but Hermione’s free will fulfilled.
Sighing, she abandoned those heavy thoughts. There were more important things to consider given the moment. The Death Eaters were giving her a wide berth owing to Tom’s watchful eye and Nagini’s quick fangs, but she caught a few disgusted glares from some of the braver souls. That was oddly reassuring when compared to some of the other followers, not many but certainly more than enough, who were looking at her with the same fearful worship reserved for Tom. There was not enough time in the world to begin analyzing how that made her feel.
She caught sight of Severus often. He was skirting the fringes of where Tom was keeping her secluded, lurking close enough to keep an eye on her but far enough away to avoid punishment. Tom had already cursed a couple Death Eaters he thought were too close to her, a mercy considering Nagini had been coiled to spring at them herself.
She even saw glimpses of Bellatrix, limping and looking two shades short of death. The insane witch caught her gaze once, hate and pure jealousy coming from her in waves. Hermione just smirked at her, a small and soft curling of her lips upwards, pleased to see the woman that had caused her and her friends much grief brought down for size.
Tom had witnessed the exchange and had smirked himself, looking entirely too pleased with the situation, which infuriated Hermione. She hated to think that he was twisting her into something she wasn’t, or worse, revealing a side of her that she’d never known she’d had.
War did things to people, she could attest to that, but she flat out refused to be twisted into what Tom had clearly always wanted her to become. Or maybe it was what he needed her to be now, for her Thomas had certainly tried to mold her into a powerful witch, but he’d also been inanely pleased with her as she was. Sure, they’d bickered and fought over many things, but it was all a strange form of foreplay too. They’d thrived on it.
Not anymore. She thought ruefully about how he had casually tossed her aside. The bruise on her hip still smarted and the back of her head felt tender from how he had pulled and yanked at her hair.
Sighing, she lied down onto the floor, ignoring the small pricks of twigs and leaves. The preparation for battle was strangely boring as she had no part to play at the moment. Nagini curled up beside her again and against her better judgement, sleep pulled her eyes closed and brought her refuge from the stress and danger her life had become.
Hermione was sitting on the edge of the bed from the room Tom had kept her in. It was daytime, making the room strangely bright and cheerful. It was clean, too, shining like new in the sunlight.
The bed dipped behind her.
“Do you like it?” Tom asked softly. “I bought it for you.”
Her fingers lightly traced the blanket and she tilted her head to take in the room. “It’s beautiful. I would’ve loved it.”
Two hands slipped over her shoulders in a light massage. He grazed a fresh bruise and she winced. “You shouldn’t make me so angry, Hermione. You know better.”
Turning, she faced him and was only mildly surprised to meet the green eyes of her husband. He looked exactly as he had on the day she left. His lithe body was closer to her than she’d first estimated, and his black hair was artfully styled and practically begged her fingers to sift through the locks.
“This is another dream,” she stated, her hand crossing the bed to his.
He clasped her hand. “Yes,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t make it any less real.”
Frowning, she pulled his hand to her cheek and nuzzled his palm. How she’d missed his touch… “Why do you look like this?”
Smirking, he fixed his hand more firmly against her face, fingers tracing her lips. “I look how you want me to, how you still see me in your mind. And heart.”
“Why Thomas? Why have you done this? You must know, this night – the battle, it won’t end well for us.”
He moved closer to her, taking her in his arms and holding her to him. “I will keep you safe,” he said. “When the opposition is removed, I will build us a new world.”
“Do you even hear yourself? You sound like some idyllic little schoolboy. You are absolutely mental.”
“Mental?” he hissed, roughly flinging her down onto the bed and hovering over her a moment before allowing his body to fall onto her, pinning her to the bed. “The things I could teach you, Hermione, would make you mental as well. I spent the first few years following your absence chasing immortality to ensure I’d be able to see you again. Now I’ve all but achieved it. I won’t ever stop. I will be the greatest, most powerful wizard of all time, and you – you will be beside me, as was meant to be.”
She shook her head as she cried. “But why, Thomas?” she asked, putting her hands on his cheeks and holding his hard gaze. “Why must you travel this path? Why can’t I be enough?”
He kissed her tears away, his lips skimming across her face. “Do not cry, love. It’ll all be over soon.”
She gripped him tighter. “I’m here with you now, Thomas. You don’t need power, immortality… they are a fool’s pipe dream that will hurt you in the end – hurt me in the end.” She took a quivering breath and found the courage to beg lowly, “Run away with me, Thomas. We can run and hide someplace and they’ll never find us. It’ll be you and me. Please…”
Tom became unnaturally still, his lips still pressed to one cheek. “You are not so naive to believe that tripe, Hermione Riddle. It is too late. I will see this through.”
Hermione swallowed a sob, knowing he was right. She would’ve run away with him in a heartbeat, but Tom had lived over fifty years without her. He’d shaped his whole life around his quest to find immortality, power, and her. He’d never stop.
“I love you, Thomas. And I hate you,” she confessed, pulling his lips to hers, kissing him with every ounce of emotion within her.
He returned every the action with as much emotion. Striped bare of the outside world, they stole this moment together – both of them pulled down different roads fate had put before them, but not wanting to travel without the other.
But Hermione knew, their time was coming to an end. She couldn’t say for certain what end they would come to, but it was looming closer with each passing second.
“You taste like goodbye,” Tom whispered. “You taste like the night he sent you back.”
“No more talking,” she said lowly, her hands pulling at his shirt, pulling him impossibly closer to her. “I don’t want to feel anymore. Just be with me now, if only for a little while.”
He did not respond verbally, but Hermione could taste a hint of farewell in his kiss as well.
When she woke, it was to overhear Tom’s voice echoing from his sonorus spell, tempting Harry to sacrifice himself to save the others and meet him one on one. And she just knew it would work. Harry was a brave, noble fool sometimes.
Tom looked over at her after ending the spell, his red eyes unreadable as the scanned her prone body from head to toe. When she felt her wrist flare, she twitched it and his eyes followed the movement unerringly.
Slowly, he walked over to her, kneeling uncomfortably close to her.
“Pleasant dreams?” he asked mildly.
She blushed, her mind jumping to how Tom’s body had felt over hers, moving against her, within her.
A smirk twitched at his lips. “I will see to making your dreams come true later, my dear,” he murmured silkily. “After I have taken care of Potter, once and for all.”
She was almost entirely certain he said it only to get some sort of reaction from her. This new Tom, this Tom as Voldemort before her, had given no indication that he wanted her if only because he saw her as his property. It certainly wasn’t love that had him so fixated on keeping her. Perhaps there was some lust, but Tom’s sexual lust had long since been overruled by his lust for power.
“Let me go,” she begged softly, her voice soft and plaintive in a way she’d never spoken to him before.
His eyes flared. “Never,” he vowed.
“Harry will come,” she said. “I don’t want to see it. I’m tired, Thomas. Please. I can’t take anymore.”
He tilted his head and studied her. “Weakness does not become you, Hermione. You will see this through. I will see this through.”
“Remove the nightscape,” she tried a new approach. “I can’t take seeing you as you were, only to wake up to this.”
“I will not,” he said dismissively.
“Don’t you see you’re killing me, Thomas,” she whimpered. “You’re killing me.”
“It is but a small taste, Hermione,” he said, pressing his lips to her ear. “Of what I went through without you.”
When he was close to her like this she didn’t have to see his red eyes and it gave her a small amount of courage. “Is that what this is, then? Revenge for my leaving you all those years ago?”
His hand curled around her bisep and hauled her up as he stood. “Do not flatter yourself, my dear,” he bit off. “Come. Let us go meet Potter, Hermione. I’m sure he is anxious to see you.”
Harry was, indeed, anxious to see Hermione, she could see that quite clearly when he came into their clearing a few minutes later.
“Hermione!” he said, moving to her, scanning her for injury.
Tom lifted his wand and Harry froze. “Now, now, Potter. Where are your manners? Bow before my wife, boy. She is above you now.”
“Harry-” she started, but Tom’s grip tightened on her arm and she gasped in pain.
“Let her go!”
Tom laughed mockingly. “Never, you foolish boy. Don’t you see? She’s the reason you’re here. She’s the reason for everything that’s happened. She’s the reason you’re about to die.”
“Don’t listen, Harry. I never told him a word about you, especially not back then,” she said furiously, tugging against Tom’s grip.
Harry raised his wand to Voldemort, but froze when the wizard pulled Hermione in front of him, one arm draped across her waist and the other gripping her throat.
“Not a word? How about only one word, Hermione? Harry, you said. Harry, the name you uttered when that boggart turned into a mirror of this very boy. One word that echoed for the years to come, only to scream out when I heard of that ruddy prophecy. You are the reason I went after the Potters. You are the reason his parents are dead.”
All the air flooded out of her and she gasped in horror.
Merlin no, she thought, her mind sputtering in circles. It couldn’t be.
I want to die, she thought, her entire being filled with horror at what Tom was saying to her, to Harry. That all of those years of hiding her past, of keeping her secrets, that one lesson at school had destroyed them all.
Her body went limp against him, the small amount of fight she’d been clinging to draining instantaneously.
“You’ve ruined me, Thomas,” she surrendered to him, her throat burning in his grasp.
“Stop it, you’re killing her,” Harry yelled, breaking out of his stupor when he saw Hermione go weightless.
Voldemort laughed. “You are a fool to have come, Potter. I will kill you now. Do not worry about Hermione, I will take care of her.” There was certainly nothing reassuring meant to be had from that.
But Harry smiled, looking oddly victorious as he faced countless Death Eaters, their leader poised to kill him. “A fool? Maybe you’re the fool, Riddle, to think I would come alone. I’ve learned from my mistakes, can’t say you have.”
A volley of spells bombarded the clearing, and Hermione abruptly found herself in the middle of a battle, near passed out and without a wand. Harry had certainly wandered into the trap alone, but it would seem he was intent on springing a trap of his own.
With Tom now dueling Harry and the other Death Eaters fending off an unexpected attack, Hermione slowly pulled herself along the ground, trying to find somewhere to hide or an ally to join.
“Granger!” she heard, and then Draco Malfoy was in front of her, throwing a curse over his shoulder.
“Malfoy,” she rasped. Tom had bruised her throat and it burned to talk.
“Bloody hell, some party, eh?”
She was about to reply when Nagini made herself known, having not forgotten the task her master had given her – to protect mistress above all others.
“Fuck,” he hissed, eyeing the snake.
“Nagini,” Hermione said. “No, please, stop Nagini.”
The snake hesitated, but then curled, poised to strike. And then was promptly cut in half.
Draco pulled the sword of Gryffindor back up and grinned at a shocked Hermione. “Kind of ironic, right? A Slytherin using this sword?”
“Potter nicked it while in the vault. Amazing foresight on his part. We destroyed the diadem with it, now Nagini… just hold still and I’ll get that bloody locket.”
A pang of sadness swelled at the thought of Nagini, who really was only guilty of being Tom’s familiar, but she didn’t have any time to dwell on the loss as Draco worked the sword between her neck and the chain of her locket, giving a forceful but careful pull away and snapping the chain.
The locket fell with a muted thud, audible even over the shouting of the battle. Hermione stared at it, finally remembering she’d been wearing it. Resentment burned in her as she thought of all the times Tom had dismissed her questions about it, how the forgetfulness charm steered her thoughts away from the trinket whenever she focused too hard on it. Tom had saved her life when he gave her that dark object, using it to find her when she’d been kidnapped, but he’d used her too.
An insurance policy, he’d told her.
Draco’s sudden shout of pain broke her bitter thoughts. Some Death Eater had hit him with a slicing hex across his arm and he dropped the sword which he’d been lifting over the locket, ready to strike.
Her eyes scanned the clearing, taking in the battle, the bodies that had already fallen – dead or unconscious, she would have to find out later. Tom and Harry were talking in between curses, both focused only on the other, intent on winning their final showdown. Neville was down not too far from them, bleeding and twitching in pain, and Luna stood over him like a true lioness – firing curses with an alacrity most would never expect her to possess. Ron and Ginny were fighting back to back, but there was a fierceness to their movements that the Weasleys had never possessed. Hermione hated to think what had put that level angry determination there.
She thought she saw a glimpse of Lucius and Severus, but they were gone again under a volley of spells coming at them from both Death Eaters and Order members – both sides finally aware of their duplicity but unsure of where they truly stood, thus determined to eliminate them altogether.
Looking again to the locket, she saw the sword lying beside it, heard Draco saying something to her desperately from what sounded like impossibly far away. Her vision tunneled on the sword, a steely resolve shook her hands as she reached down for it, her fingers gripping the hilt tightly with purpose.
It sounded like a shout came from Tom – there was a fierce, angry burning in her wrist – but she ignored the pain, both physical and emotional, and brought the sword swiftly down onto the locket. Her arms jarred as the sword connected to it, a loud shattering and howling filling the clearing. Those closest to her stopped and looked, watched as a swirl of black smoke wove around her, caressing her even as it howled in undeniable pain before it was sucked back into the locket.
A static quiet hovered. Hermione looked at the locket. It laid cracked and broken on the ground, the gold glinting eerily in the moonlight.
Before she could analyze the emotions sweeping through her, there was a furious shout, before she heard Tom’s near hysterical voice say, “Avada Kedavra!”
For one brief, horrible moment, she stood unmoving, accepting of the bolt of green light she was sure was coming for her. It’d been worth it, she told herself. Perhaps if Harry would be able to defeat Tom now, and she’d find him in the next life. Maybe they could be together then.
But the light never came.
A deep, chuckle echoed around them. Her eyes shot open and flew to Tom. He was laughing, his whole body vibrating with the maniacal chuckle. At his feet, Harry’s body was laid out, prone and unmoving.
“I’ve killed Harry Potter!” Tom said in gleeful madness, his very being radiating triumph. “The Boy Who Lived is dead! You will surrender to me now!”
A disbelieving quiet clung to the area, only broken by Tom’s raspy, dark amusement.
“Harry Potter is dead!“