Chapter 9: A Little Hiccup
Tom had been right as it turned out; Hermione found their Defense Against the Dark Arts class to be a great deal better than divination. As luck would have it, all of her classes were more tolerable than divination.
And in true Hermione fashion, she lost herself in her studies. Classes went by and turned into full days, and those days turned into weeks. Before she knew it, October was two days around the corner and she had spent almost a full month eating, living and sleeping with Tom Riddle.
Much like their time in the orphanage, Hermione and Tom found themselves falling into a routine. They woke early, went to classes, studied in the far corner in the library that only the most dedicated Ravenclaws every ventured to, and they ate dinner, leaving early to hole themselves up in Tom’s room. During their self-imposed imprisonment in their room, they would play chess (Tom letting Hermione win every third game or so) and finish up any homework they had yet to complete, and Hermione would tend to her little garden snake, cooing and whispering things that only little Lu would hear. When the hour grew late and sleep began to pull, Tom would leave to change in the bathroom, and Hermione would quickly change in the room. More often than not she would already be under the covers when he came back from the bathroom, feigning sleep.
Tom would always smirk when he saw her laying there with her eyes closed and her breathing almost perfectly even. With lingering amusement he would pull back the covers and slip silently in beside her, his lips twitching as he felt her body tense at his presence. She would always relax after about twenty minutes or so, rolling into a more comfortable position before allowing sleep to claim her.
And then she would wake up to find his arms wrapped securely round her waist and her head resting on his chest, rising and falling with each breath he took, and Professor Thompson’s words echoing in her mind as her dream faded. The situation wouldn’t be half so vexing if Tom wasn’t always awake before she was, waiting for her to look up at him with that now familiar smirk already curling his thin lips. She wouldn’t put it past him to arrange them to be so intimately entwined for when she woke up, but Hermione had a sneaking suspicion that their morning snuggles were not his doing and was actually her rolling over onto him while lost in her phantom dreams.
The git wouldn’t be as full of himself if it were him arranging their limbs.
Then their day would start again. There had been a few glitches in their routine, though, mainly Abraxas and the other Slytherins insulting her at every turn as they slowly began to reach the end of their patience with her, and Minerva McGonagall.
Hermione smiled ironically. The girl that would grow into the formidable transfiguration teacher of her time was somewhat of an obstacle for her presently. She was tall and thin, with black hair that fell in shiny waves down her back, and smart hazel eyes; basically, she was nothing like Hermione pictured her Head of House would be.
While Minerva had been quick to introduce herself to the new student, it had been quite clear that she did not particularly care for Hermione. She had been forcefully polite, offering to show her around the castle and claiming that her door would always be open if she had a problem.
It was obvious that she did not want to be friends, though. Hermione sighed sadly as she sat at her desk in her arithmancy classroom. The one person she had been eager to meet, hopeful to befriend, and she wouldn’t voluntarily go anywhere near her.
And the fact that she constantly had to hide in Tom’s room so as to avoid an embarrassing run in with Minerva in her common room didn’t help matters.
Hermione began to massage her temples as she felt another headache coming on. Her head seemed to be hurting her the more she thought on her precarious predicament, which was more often than not.
“You really need to get a potion for your head, Hermione,” Tom muttered, not even glancing up from his parchment where he was working through the problem Professor White had placed on the board.
“I know,” she sighed, beginning the equation herself.
“You always seem to have a headache,” he persisted.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Aren’t you observant?”
She saw Tom smirk out of the corner of her eye, but he thankfully refrained from retorting. Hermione was half way through the problem when the door opened and Albus Dumbledore poked his head through.
“So sorry, Professor, but might I have a word with Miss Granger?” he smiled at the gray-haired lady.
White smiled. “Of course, Albus,” she waved at Hermione to leave.
Frowning, Hermione rose from her seat, glancing nervously at Tom whose eyes burned into hers. She looked back at Albus, but his small smile revealed nothing.
Ignoring the curious stares, Hermione followed Albus out of the room and down the hall. He led her in silence to the transfiguration room, and then back into his private office. His teaching office was nothing like the majesty that his office as Headmaster was, but there was something oddly comforting about baby Fawkes on his perch and the candy dish filled with sherbet lemons.
“What is it, Albus?” she asked as she sat across from his oak desk that was littered with papers and files.
“I’m afraid we’ve run into a little hiccup in our plan, Hermione,” he began, thoughtfully stroking his beard.
Confusion puckered her brow. “What’s wrong, Albus. Please, just tell me.”
Albus sighed, and the twinkle in his eyes diminished. “There’s been an unforeseen problem with your back story.”
Fear tightened around her heart. “What?”
“Hermione, you of all people should know how fast stories are exaggerated and spread. We told the students that you were hiding from Grindelwald, but now the dark wizard in question is wondering why a girl he has never heard of is running from him.”
“Wh-what?” she gasped, horror filling her.
“I’m sure you understand the part I play in this current war of ours. A very reliable source has brought information that leads me to believe that your presence here has been noted by Grindelwald,” he sadly informed her.
Her heart began to race and her hands tightened on the arms of her chair. “How?”
Albus gave a half-hearted smile, “From the students, of course. You have to understand, Hermione, that Hogwarts has never had a student such as you; therefore it is natural for students to write their parents about it. It is my guess that some student wrote to their parents and from there your story was leaked.”
“And now…Grindelwald- what? He wants to know why I supposedly fled from him?”
“If it were only that simple,” he murmured.
“Merlin, Albus, what kind of a hole have I dug for myself?” she asked in horror.
Albus smiled wearily. “Worst case scenario is that he’ll come here himself.”
Hermione frowned. “And the best?” she inquired hopefully.
Albus was silent for a moment. “The best is that he’ll only send a few of his followers here to retrieve you.”
Her heart leapt into her throat. “That’s hardly better than the former, Albus!” she screeched.
His eyes were sad as he looked over his silver frames at her. “I know, my dear.”
“What are we going to do? I have enough trouble with one evil wizard, I don’t need another!” she wailed.
“Please, remain calm, Hermione. We can be fairly certain that nothing will happen before the Christmas holidays; my sources say that Grindelwald currently has his hands full with the French Ministry. You are nothing more than a passing thought.”
“For now,” Hermione snorted.
He nodded. “Yes, for now.”
Hermione left quickly after that, not really knowing what to say. Fear and anger pounded throughout here whole body, and tears were welling up in her eyes. She didn’t pay much attention to where her feet were leading her to, but somehow she was not surprised when she found herself in the library heading to the study room she, Lucius, and Severus had often claimed.
With shaking hands, Hermione closed the door and spun around to face the empty room. She saw Severus leaning against the wall with a book in hand and Lucius sitting at his chair, twirling his cane thoughtfully, but when she blinked, they were gone.
Never had she felt so alone until that moment. Never had she felt so far away from home. The past few months had not been easy, but they had been bearable. Tom had made them bearable.
But now her routine was broken, and there was nothing she could do to fix it. Hermione gave a stifled sob. She had some dark wizard intent on finding her and whatever secret she supposedly kept from him, and here she was, alone in a room on the verge of tears because her routine was broken.
She was pathetic.
With a shaking hand, Hermione scrubbed away her tears, but new ones took their place. It wouldn’t be so bad if Ron and Harry were there with her. She would be able to face anything with them; a dark wizard after them wouldn’t be anything new, after all. In fact, her current problem was all the more unbearable because of its familiarity.
But this time was different. She didn’t have Harry and Ron by her side, or Lucius and Severus hiding under invisibility cloaks behind her.
No, she had to face this alone.
And the moment she had been stalling, the emotions she had been repressing flooded her. The sobs rose up from her gut to choke her, and Hermione collapsed in the chair Lucius should have been sitting in, crying even though she was alone and no one could hear her.
She could almost smell Lucius’s expensive cologne still hovering in the air. Almost.
Hermione was still crying when Tom found her.
When Hermione had not returned to their class, Tom was not overly worried. When she remained absent for charms, he began to fidget, constantly drumming his fingers against his desk while constantly shooting anxious glances at the door. But he was not worried. No, it wasn’t until dinner had rolled around and she still did not show up that Tom began to fret.
He ditched dinner and went in search of her. She was surprisingly easy to find, actually. His first stop had been the library, and he had walked all the way to the back and to the room they often locked themselves in to do homework.
It was there that he found her, eyes staring at nothing and tears staining her cheeks.
“Hermione?” he asked softly, slowly closing the door behind him.
She didn’t turn to him or acknowledge his presence. When she spoke, Tom was struck at how certain and dead her voice was.
“It’s never enough, is it, Tom?” she whispered brokenly.
Tom froze halfway to her. What should he say? What could he say to that? But she wasn’t really expecting him to answer.
“No matter what I do or where I go, it’ll never be enough.”
Tom swallowed nervously. He had seen and done many things in his seventeen years. He had been in the Chamber of Secrets, he had seen a basilisk, he had inadvertently killed a girl, and just last summer he had murdered his last living relatives. But Tom suddenly thought that he had experienced nothing compared to what was haunting the girl before him.
“What is it, Hermione? What is wrong?” he took the last three steps to her, but hesitated to touch her.
Her lip quivered. “What isn’t wrong? None of this is supposed to happen. He’s not supposed to hear about me…”
An inane sense of premonition gripped him. “Who Hermione?” he asked more forcefully than he intended to.
She moved to face him and the utterly lost look in her eyes twisted his gut and enflamed his anger. “Grindelwald,” she answered.
“He knows you’re here?” he shot back, all business.
“How can he not?” she moaned bitterly.
“He is coming for you?” he asked insistently.
She sniffled. “Him or his goons,” she confirmed. “Either way, he’ll find me.”
Tom clenched his jaw, struggling against the fear the settled in his stomach at the thought of Hermione in danger. “Hogwarts is safe, though. He won’t get you.”
Hermione’s laugh turned into a sob. “It doesn’t matter. He’ll find a way; they always find a way. I’m not safe here. I’m not safe anywhere. There’s no one to protect me anymore; I have to face him alone.”
Tom turned from her, furious at her words and the world in general. He paced the room, his mind working feverishly. He recalled his first encounter with her and the first and only time he had verbally called her a mudblood. He saw her standing in the cave he had often tortured the other orphans in, dripping wet in that navy blue swimsuit that revealed toned legs and ample curves. As though it had happened yesterday, Tom felt anger rise in him at the thought of Billy Stubbs striking her and threatening her.
And he saw Hermione holding that insufferable pet of hers, her small hands dancing across light green scales as his eyes followed their every move. He felt her body pressing innocently against him, seeking warmth and comfort as she dreamed.
Snake charmer, the words drifted through his mind. Snake but not snake; one of us, but something more…
“You foolish girl,” he pivoted back to her. “You are not alone.”
She looked up from the floor and fixed him with a flabbergasted gaze. “Tom?” her voice quivered.
He went to her, gripping her shoulders hard enough to leave bruises. “Do you trust me, Hermione?”
He had asked her this before, mostly teasing, but there was something desperate about his air. There was something in his eyes that pulled at Hermione, urging her to answer in the affirmative. But did she trust him? This was the young man that would murder her best friend’s parents, a man that would grow into the most powerful dark wizard ever known.
Could she trust such a man?
The words Professor Thompson had whispered to her drifted across her mind.
While the future is unstoppable, it has yet to happen…not everyone are as they seem…
Tom was not asking if she trusted the creature he would become, but if she trusted the man he was currently. And who was he exactly? Tom Riddle was annoying, brilliant, mean, and handsome. He was a man that had rescued her from Billy Stubbs and a man that had tucked her away from the other Slytherins that wanted only to harm her. He had done nothing but protect her since that day in the garden, she realized.
Perhaps she wasn’t as alone as she had thought.
“Yes,” she whispered hoarsely.
Tom licked his lips. She had just place a large amount of faith in him in a gesture no one had ever bestowed upon him before. In that moment he could make or break her. He could literally destroy her with a single word.
But that would serve no purpose.
“Good. Stay in the room tonight, Hermione. Whatever you do, do not leave the room. Do you understand?” he ordered.
He cut her off before she could start a long line of questioning. “Hermione, you just said that you trusted me. Prove it to me by not asking the questions I know are buzzing around your mind; prove it to me by promising to remain in our dorm tonight.”
Hermione swallowed. “I promise, Thomas.”
He let out his breath, not even realizing he had been holding it in. He made his way to the door, turning back as he said, “Just trust me, Hermione. Trust me and don’t wait up.”
And he left the room.
Tom marched through the halls filled with a new purpose. He first went to the Great Hall, but who he was looking for had already left. Turning in the opposite direction, Tom went to the common room where he found Abraxas Malfoy lounging in one of the black leather chairs with Orion Black and Cynthia Rosier sitting across from him.
With a sneer, Tom stalked over to them, rudely interrupting their conversation. “Gather the others,” he ordered briskly. “The Death Eaters are meeting tonight.”
For the first time since school began, Abraxas Malfoy smiled at him, his eyes gleaming in barely suppressed excitement.
“As you wish, my lord.”