Chapter 4: Snake Charmer
The next few weeks fell into an awkward routine for Tom. Each morning he’d wake up, shower, dress, and then walk down to the dinning room to wait for Hermione. She would always show up five minutes after he had sat down with his breakfast, whispering a soft good morning as she took the seat in front of him.
Tom would always finish eating first and would wait impassively for Hermione to finish before they’d walk across the hall to read Muggle literature or play chess. They would stay there until lunch, and after their noontime meal they would make their way out to the backyard where they would read magical textbooks in the privacy of the dying garden. Tom always sat on the bench, working with the book in his lap, and Hermione always sat cross-legged on the ground, using the other half of the bench as a desk.
From there they went to dinner, and after dinner they would walk to their rooms, Hermione saying a simple goodnight as they parted.
Good morning and goodnight were the only words ever spoken between them, and they only came from Hermione.
Alone in his room, Tom would read his Dark Arts texts, the books he hid from prying eyes. Sometimes he would practice a hex on some spider he found scuttling around, but mostly he spent his evenings writing in his journal. When sleep began tugging at his eyes, Tom would change into his pajamas and settle on his bed to spend at least an hour pondering the strange witch across the hall.
During the day when he spent his time with her, it was easy to ignore the oddity of their situation. When she sat across from him at meals, it was easy for Tom to forget that he did not want her company, silent though it was. As they read quietly, it was easy for Tom to ignore her.
But at night, Tom’s mind invariably wandered to her and their strange encounter in the garden.
He had been enjoying his time away from the Muggle filth around him, enjoying being able to breathe untainted air when she had intruded upon him. He had known it was her without turning around immediately. There was something about the air that surrounded her, something that drew his eyes away from the snake that was hiding in a patch of dying grass. When he had looked at her, he had been mildly surprised, but not at all concerned, that she was crying.
The soft glow of the setting sun shimmered on her cheeks making her tears sparkle like diamonds. He had found the sight of her, cheeks rosy and glittering, hair frizzy and wild, eyes wide and lost, oddly endearing. Her vulnerability and openness radiated from her in intoxicating waves, and Tom loved the smell. She was open before him in a way that no one ever had been before, and Tom found himself relaxing as she sat beside him. He had wanted to know why she had been crying, but hadn’t necessarily cared that she had been.
Their silence was uncomfortable with its ease and Tom had almost been thankful for the distraction the snake presented. That is, until Hermione bent down and picked it up. Most girls, Tom knew, even those that belonged to his house, would never touch a snake, much less caress it in the strangely loving way that Hermione Granger did.
There was something almost hypnotizing about the way her small, delicate hands ran over the smooth scales of his serpent friend, something almost sensual. The snake had hissed words of happiness as it coiled possessively around her wrist and Tom had no choice but to ask it the question that burned in his mind.
Quietly, he hissed, hoping she would not hear him.
You like her? –he had demanded to know.
A soft hissing reached his ears. She is snake, but not snake. One of us, but something more, the little serpent declared.
Something more; what was she? A Mudblood or something else? Something that could not be described, something he had never encountered before. Snake, but not snake…something special?
His eyes studied her as she gazed down at the snake, but Tom did not know what to make of her or the snake she delicately caressed.
After that, Tom tried not to notice how the same snake would appear every afternoon as they studied in the yard. He tried not to notice that Hermione would always pick it up and allow it to claim her left wrist, and he tried not to notice that she would sometimes whisper to it, as though he was her only friend.
But what Tom tried to ignore the most was the peculiar shudder in his stomach that he felt as he watched her small, delicate hands lightly caress the snake, that unusual tingling feeling that tightened his gut, quickened his heart, and caught his breath. He tried to ignore the heat that simmered inside as he pictured her charming him as she had charmed the snake, stroking him the same way she did to it.
During the day, he was able to easily ignore it, although sometimes his hand twitched when the snake appeared before her. But at night, the picture was not so easy to expel. At night, he laid awake pondering this new development with cool detachment.
Lust. It was a natural emotion in a boy his age, but Tom had never felt this form of it. His lust for her went beyond sex. He wanted her, he could admit with fairly no shame, in the sense that every man wanted a woman. He wanted her beneath him, helpless yet willing, scared yet excited.
He had been with girls before in order to satisfy his curiosity. Tall, leggy girls with blonde curls and luscious lips that many his age fantasized about. His sexual encounters were physically fulfilling and few and far between. When he wanted it, there was always someone there to give it.
But he had never wanted a particular woman before. When the mood struck him, it didn’t matter who warmed his bed as long as they left quickly afterwards. It had never mattered before, and yet it mattered to him now.
Sometimes he dreamed about her. Sometimes he did not. But she was always there, in the back of his mind.
For nearly a month he ignored his desire. For a month he fell into their odd routine, never speaking to her. But even in his silence, he communicated with her. He waited for her to join him before he began to eat. He waited for her to finish her meals before leaving. He even let her win at chess every once in a while. For a month he dreamed of her, resented her, and desired her before their routine was broken.
“We leave for the beach cove at noon,” Hermione said from across the table.
Tom stopped eating, his hand freezing with the fork half way to his mouth. He met her eyes with a brow quirked in question.
“I will need a swimsuit, from town,” she continued, lowering her eyes.
Curious, Tom thought, silently waiting for her to continue and get to the point.
“I do not know the way,” she finally admitted.
She was asking him to take her. Tom narrowed his eyes at her, assessing the situation.
“Why don’t you have one already?” he asked, suspicious.
She jumped slightly, as though she had forgotten the sound of his voice. Hermione shrugged casually once she recovered. “Never had a real need for one,” she stated.
Tom kept his face blank as he said neutrally, “We can leave now.”
Hermione caught his eyes and smiled softly in thanks.
Ignoring her, Tom stood and went to inform Mrs. Cole that he would be escorting Hermione into town before they left for the Orphanage’s yearly trip to the beach. She agreed, knowing on some level that Tom was not asking for her permission, and reminded him of their departure time.
When Tom left the office, he found Hermione standing by the front door, waiting for him. They left silently, Tom taking long strides so that she nearly had to jog to keep up with him. She did not complain, though, and Tom suspected that she merely wanted to get the day over with so that they could go back to their odd routine.
Tom was right. Hermione did not particularly care to deviate from their schedule and she wanted to get back to their normal routine as soon as possible. She was a person who thrived on routines and plans, and she did not like having to break them. She had put off asking Thomas (she had taken to referring to him as Thomas in her mind) for as long as possible, knowing that he too was a person who valued routines. But they were leaving for the small cove at noon and she had no suit to wear, and Hermione fancied taking a cool refreshing swim. If she was going to be forced to deviate from her schedule, she might as well relax while doing it.
So she needed to buy a swimsuit. She needed to go into town and she needed a guide. Hermione had almost asked someone else, but seeing how the other children were scared of her since she was always in Thomas’s company, she had decided against it. It wasn’t like she was particularly warm to them either, she thought of her brief encounter with Billy Stubbs. After meeting him, Hermione had decided she didn’t much fancy their company.
And, in a strange way, Hermione actually enjoyed her time with Thomas. Tom never asked uncomfortable questions, never really expected anything from her. He was the only other magical person around and it seemed natural to seek out his silent company. He never spoke to her and she hardly spoke to him. They weren’t friends, but she didn’t really see him as her enemy anymore. After a month of silent companionship, a month of sneering from Stubbs and his gang, Hermione began to see Thomas as an ally, the only one she had.
But she still hated the prick.
Or at least, that’s what she told herself over and over again as she attempted to fall asleep at night.
She couldn’t even convince herself of that anymore, she huffed in annoyance. He simply reminded her too much of Lucius and Severus.
Tom looked at her when she sighed. “What?”
Hermione shook her head and cleared away her thoughts. “Nothing,” she claimed.
Thoughts of Lucius and Severus always made her sigh. That stab of betrayal had faded after her second week there, but it left behind an empty hollowness. She knew exactly what was supposed to fill that void, but she didn’t know if she’d ever find that again.
If she ever made it back home, she wasn’t sure what she’d say to them.
She shook her head to dissipate the troubling thoughts, and forced her weary mind to focus on her surroundings.
Little Hangleton was a small town, not terribly far from London. There was a small district of shops and Tom made a beeline for a small one in the corner. He allowed Hermione to enter the store first, and decided to wait for her outside since he had no real desire to help her pick out a swimsuit, of all things.
He was surprised when she came out a mere two minutes later, tucking a small bag under her arm. Although, he thought wryly, he ought not to have been. From what he had been able to discern from his little mystery, she was very practical and most certainly was not the sort to spend hours shopping.
They were half way back when Hermione spoke again.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
Tom looked down at her. “You’re welcome,” he smirked.
To his slight surprise, Hermione looked up at him and laughed. “Must you always be sneeringly polite?”
Tom snorted. “Yes,” he claimed.
Hermione had a feeling he was being honest.
“Well, all the same, thanks.”
Tom shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t like all of this talking. It was too soon. They had spent a month in each other’s company without uttering anything, and now she was bantering with him. Bantering! What the hell had changed to make her so chatty? What was so different about him today than the first day when they met?
“You must be thinking of something truly complicated to warrant that scowl,” Hermione said observationally.
“Have you always been this cheeky or are you trying to annoy me?” Tom snapped.
Hermione tilted her head and appeared to ponder his question. “Both,” she chirped.
Tom felt a suspicious tug at his lips, but he quickened his pace and ignored the urge to smile. They didn’t speak to each other for a while, not even when they got back to the orphanage. Wordlessly they entered the study room and began a game of chess. Their silence was comforting to Tom, who had been disconcerted by their bantering, and yet it was also different from before. There was something less strained about it, as though it wasn’t so much that they did not want to speak to each other and more that there was simply nothing to say.
Their silence held firm even as they boarded the bus that would take them on a one hour ride to a small beach cove, and neither of them felt inclined to break it. They sat uncomfortably close to each other at the back of the bus, and with each turn they took their arms would brush. On one particularly sharp turn Hermione found herself being thrust up against him. She put out her arm to steady herself and immediately froze. Hermione stared intently at her right hand resting on Thomas’s knee. She frowned at it, as though she had never seen her own hand before. He stirred slightly and Hermione quickly withdrew her hand.
Well, that was awkward, she thought as she flexed her tingling hand.
After that, Hermione was careful to remain on her half of the bench for the last fifteen minutes of the trip. When the bus came to a halt, everyone excitedly rushed out. Hermione left Thomas to go to a girls changing tent and proceeded to strip off her clothes and slip on her navy blue swimsuit that was more modest than the two piece bikini her mother had once purchased for her.
Firmly, Hermione shoved the thought of her mom mercilessly out of her head, her mind still not capable of wrapping around the concept of her parents no longer living. With a stubbornly cheerful smile, Hermione briskly walked out of the tent and made her way to the water.
She swam up and down the coast for nearly two hours, her mind restlessly wandering from thought to thought. As she swam north, her thoughts drifted to Thomas. She didn’t quite know what to make of him. She remembered hearing Harry say that he was popular in school, well liked by everyone, but then again, she also remembered Harry saying that he was a right prat to those who lived in the orphanage. Probably because they’re muggles, she thought as she dived under a wave.
Although, Hermione still did not understand him. One minute he was insulting her, the next he was ignoring her. He went from threatening her, to silently waiting for her to finish breakfast so that they could go play chess. What did he want from her?
Feeling a cramp beginning to sting in her side, Hermione decided to head back into shore and relax under the sun. She trudged out of the water and was about to start walking back towards the others when she noticed a cave not too far up ahead. Curiosity getting the better of her, Hermione decided to explore it.
Little did she know that Billy Stubbs and two other rather nasty looking boys had been waiting for her in that very cave.
Thomas had spent his time at the beach reading his Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook. He had charmed the cover to appear as Dickens novel, so he felt free to lean casually back and idly flip through the pages. Every few minutes or so he would look up to see Hermione swimming briskly through the water, and then would turn back to his book.
When she had first come out of the changing tent, Tom had nearly died. Her light skin contrasted nicely with the dark suit, and although her suit wasn’t particularly skimpy, it also did not leave much to the imagination. She was perfect, subtle curves and skin that looked so soft it nearly begged to be touched. Hermione was the complete opposite of the other girls he had been with. Where they were tall, blonde, and gorgeous, Hermione was short, brunette, and pretty.
And yet there was something that drew his eyes away from his book and to her. Something about the way her eyes smiled when she laughed, something about the air around her. She was beautiful in her simplicity, and she didn’t even know it.
Looking up from his book once more, Tom scanned the coast for her, but he couldn’t see her. Frowning, he closed his book and stood. No, she was not in the water. Slowly he began to walk in the direction she had been swimming in.
He wasn’t worried, he told himself, at least not for her. If anything happened during her time with him Dumbledore would surely suspect he had something to do with it and he couldn’t afford for the old coot to ruin his plans. It was self-preservation, he assured himself.
As he got closer to the cave he had often bullied the other kids in, Tom heard Hermione snapping in annoyance, “Let me go!”
She sounded more angry than scared, and yet Tom crept closer to the cave, his heart starting to beat a fraction faster than normal.
“No! Not until you tell me what Riddle wants with you!” someone shouted back.
Tom’s eyes narrowed and he whispered a curse in Parseltongue. That was Billy Stubbs. He cautiously peered into the cave and saw Hermione, dripping wet, Stubbs gripping her wrist.
Although she didn’t seem too concerned about the situation, Tom began to worry. She was a lot smaller than Billy Stubbs, and he was awfully quick to anger.
“Listen, you meathead! If you don’t let me go you are seriously going to regret ever being born!” she yelled, jerking her hand in an attempt to break free.
Her words, accompanied by her pitiful try to break free, only angered the boy, who immediately drew back his arm and hit her across the face. There was a dull smacking sound of flesh hitting flesh, and then silence.
Tom felt a cold fury sweep through him as his eyes narrowed on the bruise already forming on her chin. In rigid calmness he glided through the cave and stood before Stubbs.
“Let her go,” he said softly.
A cold, crackling energy began to fill the cave, and Tom knew that if the stupid boy didn’t let her go, then he would lose control over his magic and would likely kill the boy. Not that he cared much. Filthy muggle having to reduce to violence on a female in order to subdue her. He was pathetic. They were all pathetic.
“Why should I?” Stubbs stubbornly asked, tugging Hermione to him.
Tom smiled softly without humor. “Do you remember what I did to you the last time we were in this cave?” he merely asked.
Tom took an intimidating step closer. “I will make that look like a holiday if you do not let her go. Now.”
The boy admirably tried to remain calm, but his voice shook terribly as he asked, “Sh-she m-m-means that m-m-much to you? She is w-worth the tr-trouble?”
Tom tilted his head and focused his cool, level gaze onto Hermione who stood there numbly, watching him with wide fearful eyes. Snake but not snake, once of us but something more…Was she worth it? Was she, a Mudblood, worth killing for? Snake but not snake…one of us, but something more…
She was something more than a Mudblood. She was something special.
It hit him like a bolt of lightening, and suddenly he realized why the little garden snake appeared before this girl everyday and what exactly his words had meant. She was a snake charmer, not belonging to the serpents, and yet able to tame and calm them with her voice and touch.
Tom was a true serpent in every way it meant to be a snake. He was slithery, dangerous, poisonous, and cold-blooded. He was the heir of Salazar Slytherin, and his inner serpent had accepted her as his charmer. Something shifted within him as he realized this. Something clicked into place. Hermione Granger, whether she liked it or not, was his.
Snake but not snake, once of us but something more…
Yes, she was worth it.
“Let her go,” Tom commanded. He would not say it again. This time, Stubbs wisely listened.
He mildly held out his hand to Hermione and she placed her trembling one in his. He pulled her slightly behind him, but his eyes never left Stubbs as he said, “Touch her again and I will kill you.”
No one doubted the truth of his words.
Tom made it out of the cave before Hermione managed to free himself from his grip. He turned to her in anger, furious that she would leave him.
Mine, the snake inside of him hissed like a spoiled child.
Narrowing his eyes at her, he watched in satisfaction as she quivered in fear. Neither spoke for what seemed to be hours, but what was in reality only a minute. To his surprise, it was she who broke the silence.
“Who are you?” she asked in a combination of fear and awe.
Tom tilted his head and studied her curiously. “Your hero,” he sneered.
Hermione tried to control her racing heart. She had not feared Billy Stubbs or his two friends. In fact, if he had refused to let her go one more time she would have taken her knee to his groin and bolted. But then Thomas had glided in, and then she had been afraid. Not for herself and not from him for he had only commanded that they release her. She knew he hated this boy more than her, and that he would always stand against him, even if that meant standing beside her.
No, she had been afraid of what he would do to Billy Stubbs if he did not do what Tom had demanded. Dark magic radiated off of him in strong, pungent waves. Coldness crept into the cave when he entered and coiled around her heart.
Who are you, she had asked him, but she already knew that answer.
And suddenly, she had knew exactly what Harry, Severus and Lucius had meant when describing Lord Voldemort, for she knew that it was not Tom Riddle standing before her.
She had been terrified, but also exhilarated. This was the future Lord Voldemort, a man who would ruthlessly slaughter any who stood in his way, and yet he had saved her.
“Why?” she inquired softly.
Tom blinked and took two steps to her in order to close the distance between them. “I always protect what is mine,” he said, lowering his voice a few octaves.
A shiver danced up her spine, and Hermione knew that it was this day that would forever change her. This moment in time would serve as a catalyst for all that was to come.
Was she his? How could she belong to the person responsible for all of the pain and suffering in the lives of her loved ones, in her very own life? She hated him for what he would become and the things he would do, but he wasn’t that monster yet, was he?
The epiphany slammed into her and she nearly forgot to breathe. He was not her enemy, not yet. And perhaps, if she was lucky, he wouldn’t have to be. She could try to save him from himself, and maybe he could save her in the process too.
Something softened within her. A ribbon uncoiled around her heart and stretched out to him, tying them together.
As though he noticed the change within her, Tom silently held out his hand to her once again. She looked at his open palm, her heart thundering in her ears. She was not being weak, she told herself. She was not taking the easy way out.
No, she was doing what she had to do to save herself and to save him.
Quietly she slipped her hand into his and followed him back to the bus. Her hand did not tremble in fear this time, and she did not pull away.