Chapter 1: Prologue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Experiment of the Mind
The devastation in the air was so thick he could almost taste it. Behind the rudimentary fence they’d put up, family, friends and co-workers stared at the still burning ruin in the distance and the bodies, or rather, body parts that were pulled away from it. So many deaths, it was horrible.
His green eyes took in all those tear-stained, pale faces, wondering for a moment if he looked equally distraught, but then he swallowed, pushing his own grief away. It wouldn’t help those who’d died … it wouldn’t help Hermione if he cracked now. He noticed a limb, lying slightly to the side of the enclosed ward where they catalogued the remains. It was blackened and hacked to pieces so much that he couldn’t identify which side was up or down. Now that he looked at it closer, he wasn’t even sure if it were a limb at all.
Would that be another bit of Hermione?
He closed his eyes, shaking his head. He had to keep it together.
‘Make sure to keep those remains behind the ward, Anderson,’ Harry ordered as he, with a flick of his wand, moved the anonymous body part back into one of the boxes. ‘We don’t want to misplace someone or upset the crowd outside.’
‘Sorry, Boss,’ Anderson replied business-like, looking green around her nose as she sealed and labelled another box.
Harry placed his hand on her shoulder for a moment and squeezed it gently. Anderson sent him a weak smile.
‘We’ll get through this,’ Harry promised, not sure himself but Anderson nodded nevertheless.
‘Mr Potter, Mr Potter!’
Harry turned around, facing the Head of Health of the mental hospital who’d run off to talk to the person in charge of investigating the origin of the blast. It wouldn’t surprise Harry if it would be filed as an accident; that was Riddle’s M.O. after all. However, that wasn’t how his Aurors would treat it—he’d already sent them out on a search-and-apprehend mission.
‘Healer Zeus, what’s the news?’ Harry inquired politely.
‘It seems to have been a potions accident,’ Zeus said, panting. ‘They found traces of Erumpent Horn at ground zero. It seems the Potions Master of ward four made a monumental error.’
‘This is not an accident of any kind,’ a silky voice said coolly, ‘and any fool can tell you the Erumpent Horn blast pattern is outwards. This building imploded. The Dark Lord did this.’
‘Don’t be absurd, he showed no tendency towards violence anymore,’ Zeus sputtered. ‘Besides, there were no survivors.’
‘And you’re calling me absurd?’ Snape snarled condescendingly, his mouth curving up in disgust. ‘Found his body then, have you?’
‘We can’t make any official positive identifications as of yet,’ Harry intervened.
‘You know he won’t be amongst those bodies, Potter.’
Harry shared a look of agreement with his old professor. He didn’t believe Riddle was dead either. Everything about this had his handiwork written all over it, including an available patsy for the blast.
‘Every moment you don’t have every single Auror under your command looking for him will be another mile he’ll put between you and him.’
‘I’ve already put a team on it, but I doubt they’ll find anything. He’s not stupid enough to go to his former hideouts.’
‘Now wait a minute,’ Zeus objected, ‘he doesn’t remember anything of his past. We cured him.’
Snape made a disparaging noise.
‘I was the Healer in charge of his treatment,’ Zeus said, narrowing his eyes at Snape in anger. ‘I’ve spoken to him many times. I would’ve noticed if he started to remember or was faking anything. You know he got better; you’ve even assisted us in fixing his Amortentia-induced mental disability with the potion you created. He was doing excellently.’
‘Really?’ Snape said softly as he glided closer towards the Head Healer and looked down his nose at him. ‘That’s not Granger’s opinion.’
‘Hermione Granger is a trai—’
‘A Healer-Trainee who saw more than you, I wonder what that says about your intelligence or lack thereof,’ Snape snarled, interrupting Zeus. ‘She confided to me that she thought he was putting up an act for you all. She was actually in the process of attempting to prove that when, conveniently, the hospital blows up. But sure, treat this all as an accident. Ignore the clear signs of the Dark Lord’s return and be taken for a fool like Fudge and all the others he tricked in the past.’ He swirled away from Zeus and halted in front of Harry. ‘For once in your life, Potter, try using that one miniscule brain cell of yours. You don’t need to look for him at his old hideouts. Just follow Granger around, he’ll show up eventually. I’ve seen the possessive way he looked at her; he won’t stay away from her for long. He’ll want to own her.’
Harry swallowed, watching his former Potions Professor swirl away in the bat-like manner he always did.
‘Hermione’s dead,’ Harry said barely audibly.
Abruptly, Snape froze on the spot, his black cloak falling flat around him as if it had died on the spot.
‘We’ve identified her engagement ring on a blackened— It was in the ruins.’
‘It’s her regular day off,’ Snape said stonily, unmoving.
‘She filled in for a colleague who had to attend a funeral.’
Snape slowly turned around; his sallow face was expressionless and yet his posture was tight. ‘He will not have let her die. This only means he already has her.’
‘She wasn’t working on his ward today; he wouldn’t have known she was in.’
‘Why isn’t anyone listening to me?’ Zeus asked, frustrated. ‘Your own investigation team is already saying he didn’t do this. It’s my professional opinion that, in a couple of days, you’ll be identifying his remains amongst the bodies.’
Snape ignored the Healer and coolly addressed Harry, ‘You better find him before I do, Potter, or there won’t be a piece of him left for you to put in Azkaban.’ On that note, Snape swirled away.
‘As if that will bother me,’ Harry muttered.
‘This is outrageous,’ Zeus sputtered as Harry ignored him, too, and continued overseeing the crime scene.
Less than a year ago, Hermione Granger wrote down her daily thoughts with her tiny, impeccable penmanship into a special notebook Ron had given her upon leaving Hogwarts. She’d been using it throughout her Healing studies as a reference guide and to clear any pent-up emotions. As such, it was very useful to help collect her thoughts in a rational manner and form a suitable method in dealing with difficult situations when she reread her emotional ramblings at a later date. She never stopped using it, happy to have found a way to get around her lack of strategic insight.
A/N: Any and all feedback will be much appreciated and I will try to reply to your comments asap.
Chapter 2: Experiment of the Mind
A/N: I thank my betas Serpent In Red and Lady Miya.
Experiment of the Mind
3 October, 2003
New Head of Health, Apollo Xander Zeus arrived. Appalled at conditions of patients. It’s a refreshing change to see a Head of Health actually sticking his head out and attempting to overhaul patient care. Maybe they can finally exit the Middle Ages here? He made a complete change in treatment directions all over the board. Not too sure about the value of his optimistic views regarding one particular patient’s mental health possibilities.
Having a fancy dinner this evening with Ron. He’s very nervous. I could say I already found the ring when I had to pick his coat off the floor last week, but I don’t want to spoil his surprise.
12 October, 2003
Patient was sedated and tied to a bed in an isolation chamber for the complete duration of his stay, until now. Slow weaning of potion sedation was started after complete memory mod. Patient was supplied with happy childhood memories of loving family. Zeus seems to believe that might be the answer to all his mental issues. Sceptical. Insisted we’d take into account the research done regarding Foetal Amortentia Syndrome. Antidote planned after sedation weaning is completed.
It’s official; we have no choice but to elope. Ginny already warned us in advance, but I never thought it would become this bad. Mrs Weasley has gone nuts. She’s even worse than she was with Harry and Ginny. I think she feels sorry for me having to miss my parents at my wedding, so she’s going overboard in her coddling and smothering and making sure I don’t feel left out or alone. The wedding is still a year away! Someone Avada me.
21 October, 2003
Patient seemed to slowly regain consciousness, occasionally stirring in his bed. Patient was therefore moved to a new room.
Going to kill George. No, going to torture him first. He and his never-ending stream of ‘wonderful suggestions’ in front of his mother. Celestina Warbeck! I can’t believe it. I’m going to need ear plugs at my ceremony. Just wait until you make it official with Angelina, Georgie, just you wait. Ron and I will get back at you. I’m thinking some pink, frilly theme would be suitable punishment. Maybe with little hearts and roses everywhere. Stuffed toys and candy sticks. Oh, and singing leprechauns. Can’t forget about them. Mrs Weasley will love to organise that.
Pain. All-consuming, overwhelming pain thrums through his body. That’s the first thing he registers as he wakes from … from … ?
A strangely hoarse, agonising scream connects with his eardrums next.
He realises he has no idea and he doesn’t care. All he wants is for everything to stop hurting right now. A slight tingle dances over his body. In its wake, the pain disappears but returns with a vengeance as said tingle moves on. He thrashes on the bed. Moving makes it worse, much, much worse, so he freezes. Where is he? What has happened?
Female, talking from a distance, cautious, concerned, formal.
His eyelids flicker. He wants to open them to see who is there, but every time he tries, his vision is distorted. Light is burning into his senses, stabbing into his brain with the sharpness of a blade. His hands grab onto his head and he screams, hearing that same hoarse noise as before and realising it has been him all along.
‘Do you need help, Hermione?’
Male, concern … but not for me, farther away than the female named Hermione.
‘I’m fine, but the Numbing Charm doesn’t work.’
A Numbing Charm, that’s the tingle he has felt before.
‘Zeus won’t like it that you’re breaking protocol again by using wandless magic. Not everyone can do that, Hermione, and it sets an unreasonable standard of care.’
‘Zeus and his stupid rules,’ Hermione grumbles. ‘He’s in pain.’
Scorn, disinterest and slight malice.
‘You know we can’t give him a painkiller potion.’
‘Again I say: So?’
Definite glee now.
He shall remember that voice and its owner after this horrible pain is gone and he can function normally again.
‘If you’re not going to help me find a solution to this, then leave, Janus.’
Janus. A name to go along with the voice. The female named Hermione has been most accommodating. However, he has to communicate to her that her charm has helped briefly since clearly she is under the wrong presumption it has done nothing at all.
‘He-hu …’ he stops, barely hearing or understanding the sound of his own voice.
Is that him? Surely, he knows how to talk? He recalls talking—he is quite an expert at it. What is wrong? What the hell has happened to him? Why does he feel like he’s been run over by a freight train? He tries to remember but it’s a blur of blasts, flames, water and pain that make no sense to him at all.
He hears soft footsteps approaching, stopping his internal questioning and making him attempt to speak again. It’s a garbled mess that comes out of his mouth. It annoys him thoroughly.
‘Don’t get too close,’ Janus says warningly.
‘Get out!’ Hermione snaps.
Irritation. Frustration. Anger.
The door slams to with a bang and somehow he knows that bang isn’t Janus’s doing, which feels deeply satisfying. Now the footsteps are short and abrupt clicks until they stop next to him.
He has to focus on his speech, has to communicate to her that her spell just needs more power. Yes, more power is required. This pain has to end. He wants to say all that to her, but all that comes out of his mouth are messed up noises and a stuttered ‘h-he-hel-hel-pttt’ in between.
‘Helped?’ she asks, her voice clearly coming from right above him now.
Confused. She is confused. He can’t blame her. He is, too, and it’s quite amazing she was able to make that word out altogether.
‘M-m-mo-more,’ he swallows, cringing and trying to push the pain aside in order to focus on opening his eyes and keeping them open to see who is above him.
‘The Numbing Charm did help?’ she asks.
Clever, quick on the uptake.
He can’t truly make out her features; she is a dark shadow, blocking the bright light that glows around her contours like a colourful aura.
He never has to finish because her arm moves and the charm impacts on him again. That alleviating tingle charges through him with considerably more force than before; yet he can tell it’s not enough and clenches his teeth together for the return of the pain, which hits him in full force. He cringes but holds in the scream nevertheless.
‘It’s not over, is it?’ she asks gently, placing her hand on his arm.
Warmth spreads through his arm from where her hand rests. It feels marvellous. Her magic is soothing, invigorating. His strength is returning; the pain vanishes but only there. Disappointment fills him when he notices that it doesn’t go farther than his shoulder and a small part of his chest. Her hand lets go of him. Abruptly, he acts on instinct, hands flashing out and yanking her on top of him. Her surprised yelp gets muffled against his chest and he quickly wraps his arms around her, holding her tightly against him. Her hair fluffs into his face as if it’s attacking him, reeking of magic. Delightful. If she can’t do it by herself, he’ll just have to guide her as to how.
Oh, yes, this is so much better. This is giving him relief all over.
Now, she’s struggling against his hold, forcefully. It’s invigorating. It empowers him, helps him keep his hold on her even more easily, and he buries his fingers into her soft hair, grabbing it firmly. He can sense the surplus magic in her locks. So much power … intoxicating. He’s never letting go of this one.
Soon, she ceases her struggles and goes positively still in his arms.
Now that’s a good girl.
He caresses her hair; there is a lot of it, brown and bushy-looking. He can see it now since the pain is gone and his vision is no longer distorted. Slowly, she raises her head. He lets her since he’s curious about who he’s holding in his arms. She’s young, somewhere in her mid-twenties. When his dark-blue eyes meet her brown ones, she glares at him furiously. He blinks. What’s she so upset about?
‘Let go of me, now,’ she says in a clipped tone.
Well, he can’t really do that, can he? The pain will be back. He can’t have that. It’s horrible.
‘I duly apologise, Miss. I didn’t mean to scare you. However, I noticed your touch helped and I …’ he trails off, suddenly realising he can speak normally now, too.
From the surprise visible on her face, he can tell she has noticed the difference, too.
‘It helps if I lie on top of you?’ she asked incredulously.
There is something else in her expression he can’t make out. It’s almost like she’s amused at that, which makes no sense.
‘My touch makes you feel better?’
A snort erupts from her throat, and then, she starts to giggle. Rather hysterically if you ask him. Her whole body is shaking with laughter and he really doesn’t get the pun; however, somehow he’s got the feeling he’s the butt of the joke here and he doesn’t appreciate that at all.
‘So it would seem,’ he says slowly, resisting the overwhelming urge to snap her neck like a twig.
His deliberately cold demeanour has the wanted effect. After a few more unnecessary giggles, she stops her incessant laughter and regains her composure; though, when she meets his eyes again, hers are twinkling brightly and her whole expression is filled with amusement.
‘What’s so funny?’ he asks.
She bites her lip and then shakes her head, causing her wild hair to flip into his face again. ‘Nothing. I just … well, I can’t really keep lying on top of you until the end of my shift. People will talk,’ she says humorously.
A devious smile curves his mouth. ‘People will talk anyway. It’s always best to give them something of interest to blabber about. You wouldn’t want to be boring.’
‘I like boring.’
‘Really?’ He’s rather bemused by that statement. Who’ll want that? Surely, someone with her considerable magical powers has options beyond her wildest dreams.
‘How utterly dull of you,’ he counters, watching her reactions thoroughly.
‘Exactly,’ she says triumphantly.
‘An utter lie, too,’ he says, gazing at her. He can see the shock in her face, right before she breaks their eye contact and looks down again.
Ah, he is right, as always.
Though, why is that such a problem to admit for her? There is nothing wrong with having ambitions. Her hair seems to be full of it.
He barely holds in the snort.
He wonders why, even though he’s never seen this witch before, there is something incredibly familiar about her. It’s like something that is at the tip of your tongue before slipping away. If only he can put his finger on what it is. However, he’ll figure it out eventually; he always does, doesn’t he?
A frown mars his handsome face. Why can’t he remember? His past is a strange compilation of events in his mind: the times his mother rocked him to sleep; playing football with his dad; wandering around Little Hangleton with his best mates, Rod and Bella; getting his Hogwarts letter and having to leave them all behind; being prefect, Head Boy and the best, not to mention most popular, student at Hogwarts; getting a job at—
‘Are you all right?’ Concerned, Hermione looks at him.
‘I don’t know,’ he says slowly. ‘It’s like my mind isn’t working properly. My memories are …’ he pauses, not sure how to describe it. ‘I’m missing things,’ he decides upon, sure about that.
‘Well, you’ve been in a coma for quite some time; there is no telling what that did to your brain.’
‘I’ve been in a coma? How? What? Why? When?’
‘You don’t remember what happened?’
He frowns, thinking hard. ‘It burned. Dreadfully. Fire, it has to have been fire, and then … water, a lot of water.’ He shakes his head. ‘I can’t make sense of it. What ha—?’
The door slams open, and a group of armed wizards barges in. Hermione lifts her hand, yelling: ‘No! Wait! Don’t!’
But a red flash is the last thing he sees before he loses consciousness.
28 October, 2003
Patient finally woke and had, as expected, severe symptoms, including visible motion impairment, speech impairment and extreme pain. I suspect visual disturbances and inability to think properly (due to pain and possibly a side-effect of long-term potion usage and memory mod). However, there was a good indicator of the possibility of a full recovery. Somehow, he managed to channel magic through me to alleviate his symptoms fully, quite unheard of. Then again, the memory mod. didn’t include his magical knowledge, and according to Severus, this isn’t the first time he has ‘leeched on’ and used other people’s magic to his benefit. Unfortunately, alert team overreacted and knocked him out again since they thought he was attacking me. No idea how long it will take him to regain consciousness again since Rennervate failed to produce the normal effect.
When he wakes again, Hermione’s not there. He knows this immediately because of the pain, which is still incapacitating him even though it does seem slightly more bearable than before. The headache is the worst, though. He loathes how it impairs his vision and thinking. Every time he opens his eyes, the brightness of the room literally causes him to see stars—bright, sparkling stars; big, black bubbles and other shapes and forms he is certain aren’t really there. It hurts and makes him feel nauseated.
Why isn’t she here? She should be. At his service.
Damn his speech! He knows how to talk!
Pushing past the headache, he concentrates and, after a couple of garbled attempts, he succeeds in completing her name without stuttering. A male voice responds that she’s not on duty this morning.
Someone is in the room with him and he hasn’t even noticed!
The man introduces himself as his primary Healer and has some posh name that he doesn’t feel the need to remember.
Wonderful, his ever so magnificent brain decides to recall that bit of insignificant information.
Zeus keeps on conversing to him in that obnoxious, self-important, arrogant tone of voice, informing him that he needs to take it slow.
Brilliant. He hasn’t considered that yet. He has been planning to run the London Marathon tomorrow—so glad someone has warned him against it.
Zeus tells him that he may have brain damage.
He’s definitely not the only one in the room with that condition then.
That they can’t give him any of the regular painkiller potions because they will obscure his true physical condition.
Screw it. He wants something for the pain.
And may cause him to slip back into coma.
He’s been in a coma? Oh yeah, Hermione has already mentioned that.
Then, as if it’s his very own accomplishment, Zeus tells him Healer-Trainee Hermione Granger has cast an experimental Sustaining Numbing Charm on him.
Well, that one is just not even remotely adequate.
Which he’s lucky to have got.
Lucky? He’ll show him lucky.
Because of some insignificant regulation Healer-Trainee Granger has broken.
Zeus chatters on about his various accomplishments and how they plan to heal his condition.
Basically, by doing nothing.
Finally, he’s able to make out the man, standing next to his bed. The Healer is old, judging from the many wrinkles in his face and the grey hair that is combed over his bald skull. The clearly compensatory long, grey beard hangs in front of purple Healer robes, which have ‘Head of Health’ sown upon them in big, gold letters and something else underneath he can’t make out but is certain will be some more posh information regarding the man’s accomplishments. The robes are made of the thickest, heaviest wool around, probably Manticore wool if the thread is anything to go by.
Condescension and irritation rises inside him; who does this idiot think he is? Does Zeus seriously consider that he will be impressed by such vain, superficial, meaningless displays? Surely, he’s by far the man’s superior—the old coot should be paying him the respect he is due.
However, it’s the eyes that bother him the most. Those overly happy, twinkling blue eyes, they incense him; he wants to eradicate the light in them. He longs to see them go vacant and stare into nothingness as Zeus’s life slips away by his hand. That should be a fascinating thing to watch.
His violent thoughts shock him. He’s pretty sure those aren’t considered normal or socially acceptable. Has he gone insane? What’s wrong with him? He can’t recall having any urges to kill or do harm before. His mother has always taught him right from wrong. These thoughts will be seen as wrong. He knows that, so he keeps them to himself.
Zeus’s babbling is tiring, worrying about his condition is tiring, trying to stay awake is tiring, and eventually his body wins from all the questions running through his mind and he drifts away into sleep again before having all the answers.
11 November, 2003
Patient woke again briefly. According to his file, his speech impairment was still there and he didn’t react much to Zeus’s information at all. Apparently, that poker face of his remained or he was unable to grasp what was being said fully due to side-effects. I’m still disturbed that we’re doing this. We’re not a research centre after all. This basically is one big experiment in which the patient has nothing to gain. If he gets fully cured (which I sincerely doubt is possible), he won’t be released since his false memories won’t hold up for a second in the outside world—everyone knows who Tom Riddle truly is.
I had a discussion about the ethical ramifications with Zeus again, but he wiped my perfectly valid arguments under the table as meaningless nagging. He considers them invalid because he knows nobody will give a damn about our patient’s situation. All Zeus cares about is his own fame. This stinks.
Told Ron to do something about his mother. Never seen him turn that pale before. He might’ve been on the verge of fainting. But I seriously can’t take it anymore. It’s bad enough that my parents don’t remember me because of what I did to them, but to be reminded of it every single time with her overdose of concern is too much. I know she means well, but I just want to move on. How hard is that to understand?! You don’t hear me mentioning Fred’s name at every gathering.
He keeps waking for short periods of time in the next couple of weeks. Always he’s in pain. Often he’s confused and disoriented. Sometimes, he panics, which he’ll deny if anyone were to ask. Often they have to repeat everything they’ve already told him. His mind seems unable to grasp and hold on to it. It annoys and frustrates him that his mental facilities have diminished so much when Hermione patiently gives him the details of his treatment plan again.
19 December, 2003
Patient seems to believe the story that he’s here due to a head injury that has resulted in a coma for years and led to subsequent possibly temporary brain damage. His physical progress is intermittent and his mental state is quite worrisomely all over the place. For as far as I can tell, he recalls magical information he already had to the minute detail, but new information and his phoney memories are an issue. I’m worried he may catch on eventually why that is, even though the ‘accident’ is a solid explanation.
Also, he seems unable to reproduce the positive effects I have had on his health with anyone else but me. Zeus allowed him to try using his magic to dull the pain but it had almost zero effect. The others on staff refuse to go that near to him. I seriously think this is a pointless endeavour. Zeus seems to consider this an excellent test case, a possibility to discover a cure to a severe mental disorder, but we’re supposed to be a hospital, not a torture chamber.
Tom likes it when Hermione is on duty. Around her, he feels more coherent and in control. He can talk and think properly when she touches him. His pain is less when she’s in the room and she actually talks to him. The others just do their business and then leave as quickly as possible. Hermione often sits down and drinks her tea in his room, conversing with him about magic. It’s strange how he always seems capable of remembering those conversations to the minute detail and how other more personal things keep slipping from his mind.
3 January, 2004
Patient has improved a lot over the last couple of weeks. Side-effects of sedation potion seem to be slowly diminishing. Still feels better when in my presence, but constant touching is no longer necessary to alleviate the pain. Considering how much it helps, I stay there often. Besides, he’s fully capable now to hold a meaningful conversation about a large range of subjects and is actually quite pleasant company if you ignore the many narcissistic statements and the regular condescending attitude.
Don’t know what happened, if Ron finally said something or whether it was Ginny or Harry, but Mrs Weasley has toned it down. Thank Merlin, I can breathe again.
The next time he wakes his ability to speak and concentrate have improved significantly. He still dislikes the sound of his own voice—it’s too weak and frail, it’s not … him. However, it’s better than the garbled noises he’s been producing whenever Hermione isn’t around.
Why isn’t she here to help him? Instead, that obnoxious, pompous moron is in his room again. Definitely not an improvement.
This time Zeus tells him the details of his accident at the Ministry. Apparently, he’s been an Unspeakable—something important, which doesn’t surprise him at all—and some experiment has gone wrong.
Is that why he has been sliding over those dark, cold floors on his belly?
He furrows his brow about this weird mental image he can’t place, while the Healer keeps explaining that the accident has caused him to slip into a coma for years and damaged his brain; hopefully not permanently, Zeus adds. Tom asks what happened precisely, and Zeus explains how he botched up the investigation of a magical item—some cup that belonged to the famous Helga Hufflepuff. It sounds like a possible scenario except for the part of him erring. He doesn’t believe it. How dare that prat suggest he’d fail at anything? He’s the best student Hogwarts has ever seen. He’s a brilliant wizard. Brilliant wizards don’t miscalculate things that badly. Tom hides his fury expertly, pretends to swallow it all and converses pleasantly with the idiot informing him about the progress he’s made in his treatment and how they hope to make his body and mind fully functional again. Tom says he’ll try anything that may help. When they part ways, Zeus seems exceptionally pleased with his progress.
That evening Hermione’s working again, and he asks her what has caused his condition. Interestingly, she tries to avoid the question and tells him to discuss it with his primary Healer, Zeus. So, he presses on. Eventually she states that she doesn’t know what has happened precisely, that it’s classified information. Her response is confusing him. She’s not lying—he can always tell when people are. Yet, there is something off. Her eyes are evasive and she seems uncomfortable around him all evening. He doesn’t like that. Thus, when she helps him to get back in bed, he changes the subject to the latest Arithmancy theorem. They discuss it vehemently, each taking an opposite stance to the outcome, and he relishes in her red cheeks, blazing eyes and crackling hair as she argues—such blatant show of power he finds intoxicating.
13 January, 2004
I didn’t become a Healer to lie to my patients. This is wrong. I hate it when he so flat out asks what happened. Fortunately, I don’t have to lie since we honestly have no idea how he came to be. Blasted cup. How on earth Helga Hufflepuff was able to create an object that neutralises such a potent venom is beyond me. Still, it’s disconcerting when he looks at you with that sincere, ‘please tell me’ expression and you can’t just tell all. I can see now why so many were fooled by him back in the day. With that charming, handsome and polite attitude, it’s hard to remember what he’s capable of. And that mind of his … Merlin, I’d kill to be that smart.
Found out it was Percy of all people. Next time he talks about cauldron bottoms or whatever dull Ministry Regulation he’s enthusiastic about, I promise to give him my undivided attention. I can just kiss him for getting Mrs Weasley off my back.
He decides to let the origin of his condition rest until his health has improved enough and he’s in a position to demand answers. Right now, he observes quietly how everyone on staff acts weirdly around him. They all behave differently from the way the people in his memories reacted around him. Well, everyone except Hermione and Zeus. They’re normal. He furrows his brow at that realisation. Why are Hermione and Zeus the only ones acting like the people in his memories?
He begins to take note of the alternating behaviour: Their eyes are wide, shifty. They maintain more prolonged direct eye contact or avoid it as much as possible. Their stance or feet are always pointed somewhat towards the exit. Their mouths are often clenched together or they bite their lips. They attempt to stay out of arm’s reach, keeping a wide berth around him. They often make themselves appear tinier, slouching their posture. They’re fidgety with their limbs. They speak very little, or when they do speak, its pace is quicker to him than when they speak to others, as if they want to get it over with as soon as possible. Sometimes they even turn pale and perspire when he addresses them directly. All of them lock the door of his room every time they leave. He sees the behaviour but has no idea what it means. He contemplates about asking Hermione but decides against it. It isn’t until he overhears a conversation between two staffers that he realises those weird signs were exhibitions of fear.
They fear him.
Why would they fear him? It’s surely intriguing. So, he pays more attention to those nonverbal and verbal responses, noting in his mind that they have to be indicators of fear even though he doesn’t truly see or takes in the emotion. He wishes he could.
He really wants to see it. Over and over again.
When Hermione sits next to him, relaxed and at ease, her hand casually on his arm while she babbles about the new runes that were found in an archaeology dig in South America, he wonders how he can get her to fear him. What will it take? How will she show it? Will he be able to tell? How will it feel? Will he like it? His heart races at the prospect. She’s quite something. Surely, her fear shall be equally intoxicating as the rest of her presence? Or will she be able to disguise it?
That will be a downer.
It’s so hard to tell. Even knowing the signs, he can’t really relish in it with everyone like he can with Janus. It’s such a high. Tom rather enjoys the feeling of power when Janus always walks firmly out of reach around him, often positioning an object (like the bed-table) between them. The man’s obvious fear of him is like a drug; Tom can’t get enough of it, constantly testing the waters and pushing Janus towards his breaking point even though he doesn’t appreciate having to sit in his own filth for hours on end when he has succeeded.
However, he can wait. Someday, Janus will be made to pay for every transgression he’s committed against him.
19 January, 2004
Patient was oddly quiet today. Hardly participated in discussion even though I know he has a profound interest in the runes that were found. I asked a couple of times if something was wrong, but he blatantly denied it. Blamed his headaches when I pressed on, but it sounded like an excuse to me. I still think he was preoccupied with something. Have to keep note of this behaviour. If it continues, I need to devise a strategy to find out what’s bothering him. Anything that has him preoccupied to that degree can be potentially lethal after all.
Have to make a new study planner since Crookshanks decided to use my old one as a litter box.
Tom focuses on regaining his mobility and finding a permanent solution to his splitting headaches. He takes the painkiller potions they now give him—there is no longer a concern that he may slip back into a coma—but it’s not enough. Hermione brings him numerous books on potions when he asks her for it, but the answer isn’t there. They discuss options endlessly, combining different magical subjects, and she tries out several of his suggestions. However, none work and the headaches continue to plague him.
22 February, 2004
Patient’s potion-induced headaches remain around longer than expected. We’ve searched for solutions, but none seem effective. Severus doesn’t have a clue either—not that he cares. He snarled that he had bigger problems—namely the astounding lack of intelligence and skill in his current students— to concern himself with such meaningless trivialities as Riddle’s pitiful woes and aches. There were also several snarks about my intelligence before he slammed his office’s door in my face. Arse. Too bad Zeus uses him as a Potions Master for our ward. I’ll have to double-check everything he gives me. I wouldn’t put it past him to slowly poison my patient.
The trouble is that we can’t start giving Riddle the Amortentia Antidote until we’re a hundred percent certain his system has cleared the sedatives completely. Zeus seems to think that the antidote in combination with the proper environmental changes will cure the patient. I’ve looked into the Muggles’ insights into these types of mental conditions and arranged a meeting with Professor Martha Freeman at Oxford, apparently the Muggle expert regarding what they call ASPD (short for Anti-Social Personality Disorder). I’m reading up on as many of their theories as we speak and I’m not getting any more optimistic.
I look forward to talking to her, though. They’ve actually uncovered anomalies in the brains of these patients. They’re so far ahead of the wizarding healing world I doubt we can ever close the gap. Magic seems to lead to complacency. However, I hope to learn something from her that I can use. Maybe they have a clue as to why those headaches persist.
Due to Tom’s perseverance, his mobility is soon restored. He wanders the corridors of the closed ward when his door isn’t locked, which isn’t often. He can unlock it magically if he truly focuses, but that’s not something he feels like sharing yet. Instead, he complains to Zeus about the staff constantly locking his door, asking if he is a prisoner. He wants to see the reaction to that. Nothing about his situation makes any sense.
Zeus tells him it’s probably an automatism of the staff—that he’s in this high-level security ward because his special needs requires more staff than the other wards have. It’s clearly a load of poppycock, but he pretends to swallow the blatant lies, wondering about the true reason why he is here amongst what clearly are and always have been severe mental cases. Shouldn’t he be in St. Mungo’s along with the other accident victims who have suffered brain damage?
Still, his complaint works. Zeus makes sure his door’s lock is disabled after their conversation, and unlike the other patients, he can come and go as he pleases from thereon. He likes spooking Janus by silently being where the man doesn’t expect him to be. He has already decided how to punish him for his disrespectful acts—it’s just a matter of finding the right opportunity to trap Janus without his alarm in Borus’s room. Then, he can just watch while Borus picks Janus to pieces. Nobody will ever pin that on him. Everyone knows Borus hates Janus and has threatened to kill him many times.
However, most of the time, Tom only walks in the corridors during Hermione’s shifts, when she’s not in his room as he feels she should be. When she has a day off, he often sits in front of the window. He can move normally now, but he likes his solitude. The others on staff are just so boringly stupid, gossiping constantly to each other about all the daily nonsense their tiny, insignificant minds find important. He prefers to mull over his situation, trying to put the pieces together by going over his memories: his mother kissing him to sleep, his father reading him bedtime stories, how they took him to the Hogwarts Express and cried upon his departure, how they told him they loved him, playing with his friends …
Why does nobody ever visit him?
His parents have died during the years he has been in a coma, but what about his friends? Why don’t they show up? It’s another mismatched piece of the puzzle.
Still, his memories are helpful in that they supply him with the context of the proper responses to others when he encounters somewhat similar circumstances. He also knows the right emotions that are supposed to go with those memories, but he doesn’t feel it. He doesn’t recall how it felt to say ‘I love you’ to his mother. He recalls saying it, but that’s all. There is no emotion attached to it. He continues to wonder why that is and what’s wrong with him. Is this why he’s here? Has the accident done this to his brain or is something else the cause? Nothing he ever does brings him any pleasure. He feels empty inside.
Maybe if he can see Janus die, he’ll feel something? He decides to do it tonight. Borus has been having an extremely aggressive day already, and during the night-shift, there is only one alert team for the entire institution. It all goes so swimmingly that it’s an anti-climax. Tom watches evenly through the door hatch as Janus wails, cries, screams and pleas while Borus smashes him to pieces, breaking bones and tearing into flesh.
There is quite a lot of blood in the human body, Tom notes blankly as Janus dies.
Calmly, he tosses Janus’s alarm through the door hatch and walks away from the sounds of meat being butchered. This hasn’t brought him anything.
8 March, 2004
Janus died last night, breaking procedure by going into Borus’s room without the obligated third party present. As if nobody else ever does that! As if we’re not short-staffed to the extreme, especially during night-shifts! Management actually held a team meeting about the security procedures that need to be followed at all times when dealing with extremely aggressive patients. As if this was somehow Janus’s fault!
All our patients are dangerous and unpredictable. They should hire more personnel, so we can have three Healers present during nights. You can’t possibly be everywhere at once. And if you have to wait for your colleague every single time you go into someone’s room, you won’t get any work done, and then, watch management nag about your paperwork not being ready.
Well, I told them off. They might not have appreciated it, but I’m not sitting there watching my dead colleague’s name being dragged through the mud while they wash their hands clean. I’m sure Janus thought the coast was clear when he entered or he wouldn’t have. After all, Borus already had an episode during the day and he usually doesn’t get a second attack when he’s had that much Calming Draught.
Ron seems to think I need a vacation or go out, take my mind of things, or better yet, ask for a transfer to another ward—just because he finds this one scary. He also seems adamant I’m stretching myself thin between the two studies I’m doing. ‘It’s your third year all over again.’
No, it is not. I’ve completed all the theory on my Healer study. These final years it’s all about getting experience in the diverse fields of practice. I can easily combine it with the Oriental Magical Healing Studies I’m doing, which is mainly theory at the moment and a bit of practise during workshops. Just because I had a bad day at work doesn’t mean I need to quit. I just need to talk about it and work through it. Problems don’t get solved by running away from them.
I’m betting these official procedures that were already on file will be followed for no more than a week before everyone goes back to business as usual. They’re after all completely unworkable. Nothing ever really changes if you don’t want to get to the core of the problem. Once I’ve got my full Healer license, I want to do something about this. Things need to change.
Today Tom has another pointless meeting with Zeus. The man seems elated as Tom gives all the right answers, but inside, Tom worries—he worries something has damaged him beyond repair. There are no positive emotions he can relate to. Why can’t he take pleasure in something? Yet, instead of mentioning that, he complains about the headaches and the problems it gives him in concentrating. Zeus merely nods in a seemingly dismissive manner as if it’s irrelevant. He’ll like to bash the man’s skull in until his brains seep out, so the useless Healer can judge for himself how irrelevant pain is.
10 March, 2004
Had a rather discouraging conversation with Professor Freeman. I’ve learnt a lot about ASPD and especially about what is yet unknown about the disorder, which is an awful lot. Alas. There is strong evidence it has a biological foundation, considering all MRIs show a similar abnormality in the brain of ASPD patients. Highly suspected genetic disorder, which fits with what I know about the Gaunt family; however, not all patients with those specific brain malfunctions and the ASPD diagnosis turn violent. All do have the same emotional problems or rather unemotional problems, considering it entails a complete lack of affect or empathy with another human being. Still, differences in outward manifestation of the same disease means that there definitely has to be a nurture influence, too.
Apparently, Zeus is not as stupid as I thought. Hopelessly optimistic, yes.
I do question if the Amortentia Antidote can undo the brain damage that has already been formed in Riddle’s mind. Given his physical body has to be somewhere in his early/mid-twenties, I’m worried we may be too late. Then there is the question if the Amortentia is even the primary or one of the causes since lack of affect is a symptom running through the Gaunt family, too, and they weren’t dosed with Amortentia. We may need to broaden our treatment and target the affected areas of the brain if we hope to gain any positive result.
Next time I see Severus, I’ll have to discuss my findings with him. That is … if he’s in any mood to hear it. If he’s not, I’ll just have to curse him into a chair and make him listen. This may need some advance potion-making skills, and unfortunately, he’s the best. And I need to talk to a Neuro-Healer soon. If I want any chance to persuade Zeus into changing therapies, I’ll need solid wizarding evidence, not just Muggle, backing me up.
Curious what Master Akiyama thinks of this. How would Oriental Magical Healing deal with a disease like my patient’s? I’ll have to ask during my next lesson.
His headache is horrible today. He feels like chopping off his head as his vision distorts and white bright blobs pierce into his mind. He wants nothing more than for it to stop hurting as he slowly gets ready for breakfast. When Hermione enters, her shocked expression tells him how bad he must seem. She places the tray on his table, closes the curtains again and leads him back to his bed silently. With a flick of her wrist, the door closes and the light dims.
‘You’re extremely proficient at wandless magic,’ he compliments, watching her cheeks burn red with pleasure.
‘Shhh…’ she hushes, ‘try not to think.’
He snorts. ‘You try that.’
Her fingers comb through his hair when she rests her hands on his skull and she concentrates. As her magic washes over him like a warm blanket and a cold compress all at once, it lifts the pain thoroughly and he notices how the tension in his muscles dissipates. He closes his eyes, relishing in this pain-free state. This is heaven.
‘Do you mind if I try something out of the box?’
Raising his eyebrows and tilting his head back to look her in the eye, he nonverbally places the question.
‘I’m studying Oriental Healing Magic in my spare time and my teacher, Master Akiyama, recently tau—’
‘You’re studying Oriental Healing next to your common Healer training? Those are two full-time studies,’ he says, impressed.
‘Yeah, well, it’s not that big a deal. I only have the trainee stages left, so no new textbooks to read from.’ The disappointment she displays over that fact is rather adorable. ‘And the way they look at the human body is far more consistent with magic,’ Hermione adds, her eyes alight with enthusiasm. ‘They’re working with energy paths and how a blockage in them can cause symptoms. We’ve covered headaches the other day.’
‘That’s quite specialised magic,’ he recalls, blinking at the fact that she is already there in her other study. He has noticed she is bright from their discussions, but this is a whole other level. How fast can this witch learn? He’ll love putting that to the test.
‘Yeah …’ Hermione trails off, her face falling slightly, ‘I understand that you’d rather not let me do it. I figure I can ask Master Akiyama to come by, but I’d have to run that past Zeus and—’
‘I was merely making an observation. I didn’t say that I objected to you giving it a go. I’m positive you wouldn’t suggest it if you weren’t confident in your abilities to perform it correctly.’
‘Oh no,’ she says, shaking her head in concurrence, ‘I wouldn’t. I’ve received top scores at both theory and practise and—’
‘See, I’m sure you’ll do fine,’ he interrupts decisively.
From the corner of his eye, he sees the sudden, brief hesitation before she shakes that off and begins. She’s tentative at first but clearly knows what she’s doing because she targets the right places on his body. At first, it’s no picnic since it feels like a nice, warm river that flows through his body before exploding against a dam violently. Said explosion hammers through his brain, but he doesn’t make her stop. She’s actually getting somewhere if she can get past the blockage. Hopefully, she’s powerful enough. He takes a deep breath and tries to relax. It won’t help if he fights her.
‘There’s a lot of blockage,’ Hermione mumbles.
You don’t say. Rolling his eyes right now will likely make him throw up, but he’s considering it.
Then, the first dam breaks and it’s exhilarating. A low moan escapes his lips as the rush of hot energy chases the pain away from a significant part of his brain.
‘Oh,’ Hermione utters, putting more pressure on that spot, ‘there it is.’
It feels like he’s being recharged. Magnificent.
Her hands now envelop his head again, diagnosing. For someone who can’t have been studying this for long, she’s better than most alleged masters. She clearly has an aptitude for it because she immediately goes to the part that is still blocked. Except … she’s slightly off there.
‘A fraction higher with your left hand,’ he mutters.
There is a moment of pause before she checks her hand’s position.
Really? Questioning his word? Insolent witch. He knows what he’s tal— Eh, he has never studied Oriental Healing Magic, has he?
Hermione’s eyebrows rise—apparently, she’s equally confused as he is about his knowledge—then, she moves her left hand a tad higher and his mind no longer occupies itself with that question.
Oh, sweet Salazar, yes, that’s the spot.
At first, it feels nice, okay—nothing much happening but a flow of warmth to his throat. Yet, the blockade is harsher, bigger on this end. Hermione has to put more and more force into it, causing him to see stars. His entire face, from throat to forehead, is pounding furiously.
Fucking Salazar, someone will pay for this. Too much pain. Bile is rising in his throat. He swallows; his whole body cringes; his fingers dig into the sheets, and she stops abruptly.
‘Why are you stopping?’ he snaps, frustrated. ‘You almost had it.’
‘You looked like you couldn’t take anymore, like you were about to throw up.’
‘There is nothing I can’t take, silly girl. Continue.’
She crosses her arms in front of her chest; her mouth is set in a thin, straight line, and her eyes are blazing with fire as she glares at him.
Oh great, why has that slipped from his tongue? Now, she’s going to want an apology.
‘I really don’t need this,’ Hermione hisses, taking a step back. ‘In case you haven’t noticed, I’m the only one here who even gives a damn and is trying to help you.’
Yeah, yeah, he has noticed. What does she want, a medal or something?
Still, he has to say something in order to make her continue. She’s on the verge of eradicating his headache. He’s not going to allow her to stop over something this insignificant. He plasters on his most disarming expression as he makes eye contact with her again. Just when he’s about to open his mouth and give her the apologetic bull he has just concocted in his mind, she interrupts him.
‘Try that and I’ll punch you into the next millennium.’
Stunned, he stares at her. How can she know he isn’t going to give her a sincere apology? She can’t possibly have known. Nobody has ever seen through his act. Hermione shakes her head and lets out a deep sigh before moving back to him and continuing her treatment. He distinctly hears her mumble ‘I must be insane’, but he doesn’t react to that. How does she know? And why is she even helping him if she sees through him? She can’t see through him, can she? What if she tells others? He pushes back the sudden panic that fills him. He’s just being paranoid. She’s too kind, too moral. She won’t be here if she knows everything, will she? She’ll run.
He looks up, searching her face for an answer. She’s focusing on breaking that barrier, a concentrated frown set on her brow. Suddenly, her eyes meet his, a silent moment of understanding passes between them and he lets out a relieved sigh. She knows, but she’s not going anywhere. She knows, but she’s still here and this is between them. It’s like an enormous weight is suddenly lifted off his shoulders. He relaxes fully, closing his eyes. Scalding hot energy forces its way against his blockade as Hermione pushes harder and harder to tear it asunder. But unlike before, the pain or rising bile doesn’t faze him anymore, he’s at ease.
It doesn’t take too long before she succeeds, flushing that horrible, debilitating headache away with a wave of her energy. It feels like he’s on top of the world now, sensing how his own energy is able to flow fully throughout his body again. He’s practically tingling with power. He can do everything. Energized, he moves to a seated position. Hermione is smiling at him.
‘It worked, didn’t it?’ she asks happily. ‘The headache is gone, right?’
At his confirmation, she bounces on her feet, unable to contain her enthusiasm.
‘You seem happy.’
‘Of course, I’m happy—it worked,’ she says, making a victorious gesture. ‘I can’t believe I did it. For real! I mean I know the theory and we did treat some minor headaches in class, which went fine, but yours was major. I do hope it stays away now. According to Wang and Chen, it should if—’
‘What does it feel like?’ he interrupts seriously.
Hermione frowns, confused. ‘What does what feel like?’
‘You’re not happy your headache is gone?’
Crap. Of course, she’ll take this personally. That isn’t what he wants to know. How to explain? ‘I’m – I’m … it’s good to be able to function normally again. I’m pleased I can think clearly now.’
‘Well, that’s feeling happy, right?’ she asks, tilting her head questioningly.
His eyes give her a onceover. She’s no longer jumping on her feet, but the way she has acted before is still burned on his retinas. He has never—he won’t—he isn’t—he doesn’t …
‘What did it feel like for you, just now when you experienced happiness?’
Hermione looks down, biting her lip.
Come on, he needs to know. Desperately. Why does she have to make such a big problem about answering this simple question? It’s not like he’s asking for her most inner secrets. Does he have to force it out of her?
‘Ermm… oh, this is hard,’ she says, grabbing a chair and sitting down in front of him.
Okay, she is planning to give him an answer. It better not be lies or he will throttle her until her very last breath leaves her mouth.
‘I …’ She makes a gesture with her hand as if to help bring forth the answer, and then, she looks up. ‘It’s like this incredible feeling of warmth or a glow, starting right here,’ she pats on her chest, ‘and then filling you from top to bottom, bursting outwards like you can’t contain this amazing feeling of joy. Like there is just too much of it, and you have this moment of … of … inner peace when everything is just right and all is well in the world.’ Hermione exhales, seemingly pleased with having worded that.
Blankly, he looks at her. That’s what she felt? Why doesn’t he feel it then? He searches his memories, searches for that emotion, but he comes up empty. He’s never felt at peace, ever.
‘I’m not making any sense to you, am I?’ she suddenly asks, breaking the silence and placing her hand on his tentatively.
He immediately pulls away from her and stands up, walking to the window. ‘No, you were very eloquent,’ he says evenly.
He doesn’t need her pity. He’s perfectly fine. So what if he’s not felt anything like that before. Happiness sounds like a pointless emotion anyway; it doesn’t get you anything. Feeling inner peace is useless; one should always strive to be more. Always.
He stares out the window, unseeing. The silence in the room is filled with unspoken words.
‘Have you seen Montgomery’s latest article where he discusses the “intricate fallacies” of Wenlock’s Arithmancy?’
Has he seen it!?
Tom swirls around. ‘Can you believe the nerve of that moron?’ he begins. ‘He can’t even add properly and then uses Swanson’s, which is a proven bias-filled, statistical method to support his claims. With Swanson’s, you can prove any claim you like. One has to be an absolute fool to not see it and that this rubbish got published is further evidence of the idiocy of those so-called established Arithmancers today. What are you smirking about?’
‘You disagree with me?’ he asks, befuddled. Surely, she’s not that stupid.
‘No, I agree completely. It’s funny you happen to mention the inherent properties of Swanson’s statistical method. Someone I knew used it to prove his propaganda of pure-blood supremacy.’
‘Well, I bet that was pointless. It would’ve been disproven easily and not many would’ve listened to such nonsense. Clearly, whoever it was couldn’t have been too bright if he had to use Swanson,’ Tom says haughtily, now staring bemused at the witch who is clutching to her belly in laughter.
After a while, he walks over to her. Placing a hand on the backrest and one on the armrest, he leans in towards her face, enjoying how he towers over her fully. If only she knows how easy it will be for him to harm her, then she wouldn’t be so comfortable around him.
‘Find something funny?’ he asks in a low voice when she quiets.
‘Ju-just,’ she snorts, ‘imagining the look on that bloke’s face if he’d been able to hear what you just said about him.’
Her giggles fill the air around him, and after a while, he returns her smile. Obviously that person isn’t someone she cares about, which is good. It saves him the bother of having to look for said person in order to kill them, because one thing is for sure: This witch is his.
15 March, 2004
Patient dropped a part of his mask in front of me and asked a very personal thing. It must’ve been practically painful for him to admit that he isn’t capable of something. I tried to handle it to the best of my abilities, but I’m not sure if I did it correctly. Not sure I’m happy he picked me to confide in either. It’s flattering on one hand and absolutely terrifying on the other.
I hope I haven’t been judgemental. That’s the last thing he needs and he seemed extremely rattled after I described what happiness felt like to me. I didn’t think pressing on was the way to go, so I changed the subject. He seemed to respond favourably to that.
However, his confession does show that he’s not cured, despite the memory mod. I’ll have to find a way to note his continuing lack of affect into his file without betraying his trust and mentioning what he said. I don’t think he ever had a chance to say something without being judged for it and I don’t want to be the next in line to do that to him.
Since he has a clear aversion to Zeus and I doubt the man can keep his mouth shut about what I tell him, just telling Zeus is not an option. It’ll be a profound betrayal to Tom. I will still need to record this somewhere though.
But maybe not straight away. We’ve not started with the Amortentia Antidote yet anyway, so any lack of affect will be blamed on Foetal Amortentia Syndrome. I can wait and record his lacking emotions after that treatment has started, which will be soon if his headaches stay away. I can’t believe that worked! According to Master Akiyama, it’s a really difficult treatment. I’m so proud I did it.
Considering the information I gained from the Muggles, I’m positive the antidote won’t be enough to cure his ASPD, so I can wait, can I? Darn, this is a difficult ethical conundrum.
Wait, I can discuss it with Severus. He’ll keep his mouth shut. If only because he will find this the most obvious thing in the world. I’ll probably get scolded for thinking otherwise, even though I haven’t.
On a more upbeat note, Harry got promoted to Head of his Department. We’re all going out to celebrate tonight. Ron’s already seeing numerous advantages to having his best friend as his boss, especially when it comes down to the shift schedules. Poor Harry.
Now that the headaches are gone, they’ve given him a new potion that is going to counteract some of the damage done to his brain. Zeus seems incredibly positive it will help and has decided that group therapy with the other patients is of equal importance to his recovery since, apparently, he needs to interact more with others instead of sitting in front of the window. He takes the potion, hoping it will do something to take away the emptiness inside, but the group therapy he can’t take seriously. The window is by far more fascinating than those people.
Tom slouches down in his chair, leaning against the left armrest with his arms folded in front of him. His long legs are stretched out, ankles crossed. Evadne, the group therapist, tries to get him involved, but all she gets is a clearly disinterested ‘Hi, I’m Tom’ and that’s already by far too much information in his book.
The meetings are an utter bore. Useless. Too many crazy people yapping about totally uninteresting things. There is Eric who constantly flashes everyone and tries to sexually harass Evadne who keeps telling him, with limited success, to put his penis back in his trousers. Agnes keeps seeing all kinds of bugs that aren’t there and has an incessant need to be constantly reassured about her attractiveness by every male present. Borus starts throwing the furniture at seemingly random moments (though Tom’s already spotted the—in his eyes—obvious trigger of the flashing light console in combination with comments by two other group members Borus clearly loathes). Malcolm is someone who just won’t ever shut up in the muttered dialogues he holds with himself. Siri constantly swings in her seat, and every now and then, she gives a very hard, high-pitched scream that pierce his eardrums. The last member of the group, Kyle, distrusts everything and everyone and keeps yapping conspiracy theories in his ear as if his silence is an indication of a shared worldview.
It isn’t until he realises these meetings can provide him with some serious entertainment in this otherwise dull environment that Tom starts opening his mouth. The first couple of times, he keeps it harmless, making sure to seem helpful and getting the trust of everyone present. After all, he has to heal, hasn’t he?
Then, one day, he decides to test the waters and see how much influence he’s gained. Within no time, the group is in complete disarray and the therapist barely flees the room on time to save her hide. Soon, Eric has taken all his clothes off and is fucking Agnes; Siri has stopped swinging and is screaming in one continuous, high pitch; Borus is pounding Malcolm to pulp and Kyle is cheering him on, saying Malcolm is a Healer spy who needs to be eradicated, which causes Borus to switch targets and smash a chair on Kyle’s head.
Tom, on the other hand, is sitting silently in his chair next to Siri, a small smile on his face as he balances the chair casually on its two back legs. When the alert team barges through the door, he quickly places his hand on Siri’s arm, causing her to bury her face against his chest and quiet at once. He pretends to hold and protect her, while the rowdy others get stunned and dragged away. Evadne is there, praising him for taking care of someone so vulnerable as Siri before she takes the distressed girl from his arms, talking soothingly to Siri as she guides her away. It’s only then that he sees Hermione, leaning against the doorway with her arms crossed in front of her chest as she gazes at him, knowingly.
‘I take it you’re done here?’ she says sharply, her voice having more impact due to the returned silence in the previously loud room.
Damn, she’s clever. No point in pretending then. Besides, he’s seen the strict hierarchy of this place. Trainees are at the very bottom of the pecking order, if not below that. There really is no threat coming from her, and it’s rather enjoyable having an audience applaud his genius.
In one flowing move, he exits his chair and strides towards her. When he’s next to her in the doorway, he checks to see if they’re truly alone. A wicked, victorious smirk grows on his face as he leans towards her ear and whispers: ‘For today I am. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.’
Then, he swirls away, satisfied.
29 April, 2004
I knew that group therapy was a bad idea. Healers Evadne and Zeus didn’t even want to listen to me when I told them he instigated this—just because normally Siri is Eric’s choice target since she doesn’t want to fuck him, they’re all enthusiastic about Tom. ‘It’s a good sign he protected her from Eric. It shows his treatment is beginning to work if he starts caring about the wellbeing of another person. Come on, Hermione, these kinds of incidents already happened before he was even there. Only this time, Siri wasn’t having a meltdown. She didn’t even have her usual screaming episode. Blah blah blah.’
Yeah, riiiight. Tom Riddle to the rescue. When have I heard that before?!
How to prove I’m right, though? It’ll be extremely difficult to set him up.
This is why it will be so nice when I finally graduate in 2006. At least then my word will be taken seriously and I’ll get the responsibility over my own patients instead of having to tag along and being seen as the silly, wet-behind-the-ears trainee who still needs to learn everything.
HE IS NOT CURED!
Morons. Why don’t they see we’re not helping Tom one ounce?
I just wanted to pummel someone after today, so I yelled my lungs out at Ginny’s match.
Between me and Harry shouting obscenities at the referee who missed every foul move made against the Harpies and Ron breaking the chair he was jumping on as he tried to get the right aim to curse the Arrows Beater for smashing into his sister, I think it’s safe to say we won’t be allowed in the VIP boxes ever again. The most fun part of it all was the utter disdainful and disapproving look Severus kept sending our way. He was sitting right next to us in the box the Malfoys own.
Speaking of Malfoys, a tiny, itty-bitty Itching Hex may have slipped from my wand in ferret’s direction when nobody was looking. I’m curious if Draco went to Knockturn Alley to get the ridiculously expensive antidote or if he had the gall to ask for Severus’s assistance to get rid of the itch. Now that would’ve been a conversation I’d have paid money to witness.
Unfortunately, I didn’t actually have an opportunity to ask Severus on his progress on that experimental potion we discussed. I’ll just have to owl him about it. The last test he did showed a significant growth of new brain cells in the rats right before they died. He snarked that the latter was the best effect his potions had so far. Har har.
‘You can’t possibly denounce the five basic laws of magic,’ Hermione objects. ‘It’s called basic law for a reason. They’re the foundations on which magic is build. Merlin proved it.’
‘Merlin was misguided.’
‘Oh my, I can’t believe how arrogant you are. Now you’re even correcting Merlin,’ she says, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation.
‘It’s not arrogance when one is right. There are always ways around problems. Always. You just need to look for them, and—’ He presses his finger against her already opened mouth. ‘—and they’re not the five fundamental laws of magic. That term was wrongly translated from Merlin’s text. What he said instead was restrictions, not fundaments. Fundaments, foundations so you will, are building blocks; magic, however, can exist without the five “basic laws”. If they had been a fundamental law, magic would cease to exist without them. Restrictions, on the other hand, are only there to be broken by someone intelligent and powerful enough to do so.’
‘And I suppose, since Merlin obviously was too stupid and weak to do that, you and your amazing, unstoppable, powerful, intelligent self will,’ Hermione snarled.
‘Well, now that you mention it,’ he replies smugly, leaning back in his chair with a big grin on his face and folding his hands behind his head. He can’t wait to see the look on her face when he supplies her with the cold, hard truth. She hates losing debates, hates it almost as much as he does. This will be fun.
She takes another sip from her tea before staring at him in annoyance over his silence. ‘The suspense is killing me. Do share.’
When he isn’t even done sharing his full theory on how to fly without the aid of any instrument, which is a clear violation of the restrictions on magic, the cup Hermione was holding shatters to pieces on the floor. Her face is utterly white, and he can just barely hear what she whispers, ‘You can’t know that.’
What does she mean, he can’t know that? ‘Well, I do. I actually worked it out years ago.’
‘No, no, impossible,’ she says, shaking her head as she rises from her chair.
Is she leaving? Hell no.
Abruptly, he jumps out his chair, causing it to fall backwards on the floor. Hermione takes a step back towards the wall. In what would’ve been an inconspicuous gesture to the lesser observer, her hand is going to the pocket where her alarm is hidden. He swiftly swirls towards her, grabbing her wrists and forcing them away from her pocket whilst trapping her against the wall with his body.
‘Let go of me,’ she orders in a clipped tone of voice.
‘What do you know?’ he hisses.
‘I’m not warning you again.’
‘You know something about me. Tell me now.’
He blocks her attempt to blast him through the room magically but misses the simultaneous raising of her knee. With a grunt, he doubles over. Despite being on his knees on the floor now, he’s still able to hold onto one of her arms. Touching her is still somehow supporting him, helping him divert his attention away from the pain and regain his composure. Why is that always the case with her and nobody else? Is it her apparent considerable power or is something else in play, too?
‘I said, “let go”,’ Hermione repeats coldly, pulling on her arm.
He’s not letting go. She can’t leave him. Not ever. He’ll kill her before allowing that to happen. ‘Nothing about me makes sense: my memories, my knowledge, the way people react to me, the way I feel. Why am I in this ward? Why am I the way I am? Why doesn’t anyone ever visit me, Hermione?’ He turns his head, looking up at her distraught face with a pleading expression on his. He needs some answers, and he now knows for sure she’s got them.
‘I—I—’ she stutters, shaking her head vehemently, ‘I can’t help you. Don’t ask that, please.’
‘You know,’ he says softly, watching the guilt flash over her face. ‘You’re my Healer. Aren’t you supposed to help me heal?’
Hermione swallows. ‘Knowing this won’t heal you,’ she whispers, clearly unhappy.
‘What is this?’ an unknown male voice says silkily.
‘Severus!’ Hermione exclaims in relief.
Tom’s anger spikes at the black clad man in the doorway. They’re on a first name basis and she likes seeing him?!
Then, he can’t contemplate on that anymore for Severus has drawn his wand and sends him flying across the room until he smashes into the nearest wall and stars once again fill his vision. He clutches to his skull; pain is overwhelming his senses.
‘Tom!’ Hermione exclaims, running towards him, worried. He can just see her figure bend towards him, nearly touching when she gets yanked away by the other man.
‘Have you lost your mind, Granger? Get out.’
Hermione sputters weakly in objection.
‘Now, you blasted Gryffindor!’
Her footsteps echo audibly through the room. She can’t leave him!
Tom groans, stretching out his hand in order to close the door before she’s gone, but his cast spell gets blocked.
‘Colloportus, really?’ Severus snarls condescendingly. ‘No Dark Arts Ward that can’t be stopped so easily?’
‘Professor Snape, that’s quite enough,’ Hermione says bossily, her hands in her side as she stands in the doorway.
Oh good, she’s not gone yet. He needs her to help him. His mind … oh Salazar, it feels as if it’s about to explode. It’s burning, an almost similar burning like the one in his memory: not fire, Basilisk venom!
‘Severus Snape!’ Hermione yells, slamming her fist against the door. ‘Open this door at once!’
Tom groans, clutching to his skull. Do they have to make so much noise?
‘Muffliato!’ Severus casts next. ‘As if it’s not enough that I had to bear through her obnoxious, know-it-all attitude for all her teen years, she still won’t ever shut up or leave me alone.’
Bile rises up. Alarmed, Tom turns to the side, violently emptying his stomach until he’s dry heaving. A flash of being really small and helpless, carried by a disgusting man he doesn’t know while puking a white, sour substance to the floor nearby an impossibly large snake enters his mind fleetingly.
‘Let me introduce myself,’ Severus says coolly, focusing on him with unveiled disgust written all over his greasy features. For a moment, Tom sees the same black clad man on his knees in front of him, but then, the image evaporates as Severus continues to speak. ‘I’m the Potions Master of this ward. Do enjoy every bite of food, every beverage and every single “healing” potion they give you. I know all the undetectable poisons of the world and you personally taught me how to cover my tracks. Lovely ironic, don’t you think? Enjoy your guaranteed painful death, my Lord, it can be hidden in anything.’
My Lord! His name isn’t Tom Riddle; it’s Tom Marvolo Riddle.
I am Lord Voldemort!
Every single thing comes thundering back to him. Memories overtake his mind; the world is swirling.
‘What have you done to him?’ Hermione shrieks.
‘He’ll live, for now,’ Tom hears Severus snarl right before the onslaught of information becomes too much and he passes out.
7 May, 2004
I can’t believe what Severus did. I had the situation perfectly under control. Sure, it got out of hand for a moment, but that’s because I lost my cool. It’s not like I was in any real danger. I had my hand on the alarm button already, and Tom was only asking me something. How could he just attack him like that? Sure, saving me (which I didn’t need!) was one thing, but to continue after that!? Tom’s a patient! You don’t settle scores with patients. It’s just not done. Severus is lucky I’ve not reported him. I don’t know what he did when he had me locked out of the room, but Tom’s been unconscious for the rest of my shift. Severus has no idea about the shitty position he’s now put me in. Men.
How could Tom have known, though? He’s a former Horcrux—he shouldn’t have this knowledge. Lord Voldemort didn’t circumvent the restriction on flying without the aid of an object until much later in life. Does Tom have some kind of accelerated mental state, which makes him capable of inventing things his other persona has already done at a much faster pace? Nobody really knows how Horcruxes develop after the death of the primary body. Or if and how they were connected to the primary person when he was still alive. Well, they know how it works with one, but he went so overboard that anything is possible. We know he never felt the destruction of them, so his primary self didn’t really connect with his Horcruxes as he would have if it had been only one.
However, we don’t know if the same goes for the partial souls in all the Horcruxes—just because the diary had no idea doesn’t mean the other souls have been equally ignorant to Lord Voldemort’s state since we have no idea what all the magical capabilities were of Helga’s cup and how they affected Tom. That cup neutralised Basilisk venom! Who knows what else it did? There are loads of rumours and speculations on the properties of Helga’s cup, but no substantial proof. And there is no way to research it since I smashed it to pieces. They tried to reassemble the cup but were unsuccessful.
Thank Merlin, it’s Friday. I have three consecutive days off. Hallelujah.
When he wakes, everything comes back to him in record speed. His identity, the most important thing they’ve tried to keep hidden, it’s all so clear to him now. He’s Lord Voldemort, the greatest, most powerful and feared wizard of all time. And that they’ve assigned a Mudblood, such disgusting filth, to him. He’s even let her touch him! They’ll pay; they will all pay. He will crash this building and everyone in it to smithereens. He quickly schools his face when Healer Evadne comes into his room, seemingly relieved he has woken.
Does she suspect anything?
He keeps up his charming and polite act from before. From the look of things, Evadne still is under the belief they’re curing Tom Riddle and doing so quite successfully. In the brief moments of eye contact, he sees nothing but a constant admiration for Zeus and his ‘revolutionary and wonderful’ treatment plans.
Soon, Lord Voldemort will show them the true meaning of revolution.
That Saturday, he breaks into Zeus’s office, going over the thick documentation they’ve made about him. He has to know everything that’s happened and whom to watch out for. Cold fury overwhelms him as he reads about the memory modifications. How dare they touch a mind far superior to their own? As he continues to read, he notices the Mudblood is the only one registered as objecting to certain parts of his treatment—sometimes on ethical grounds (such a goody two-shoes) but more often her arguments are based on sharp observations or have an extremely solid theoretical basis.
And she’s powerful to boot.
Slowly, he places his file on the desk in front of him, staring forward unseeingly as he presses his fingertips together while his mind goes over the many conversations they’ve had and the magic (wandless even) he’s seen her capable of.
Healer-Trainee Hermione Granger, the Mudblood friend of Harry Potter …
Such an anomaly.
Abruptly, he flies to his feet, checking the nearby cabinets until he finds her name on a file: ‘Hermione Jean Granger’. He pulls out the student record and sits down again, flipping through the pages.
An E for her Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.?!
That can’t possibly be correct. Her knowledge as a first year was already far above average. He recalls the many times she interrupted him with her questions to Quirrell about the assignments given. It was always about some detail most students would’ve just taken for granted. One time, he’d been very, very close to tell Quirrell to kill the little chit for bothering them again. However, he hadn’t dare risk it with Severus, the traitor, snooping around so vehemently.
Ah, N.E.W.T. scores, the ones that really matter.
His eyes flicker over all the O scores fast and take in the percentages. It doesn’t take him more than a second to calculate them and realise her scores are awfully close to his, if he leaves out the classes that he took and she dropped, which of course he won’t, so she clearly is not even coming near his intelligence.
He quickly moves on. Her scores at the Mungo’s Academy of Healing are off the charts. Occasionally, there is a not perfect score, but when he sees the professor in question who graded her there, he dismisses that lower score at once.
On the other hand, Professor Montgomery, the authority at Mungo’s Academy, left her a glowing evaluation. Tom knows Montgomery, knows how critical and impossible to impress he is, but there it is: The most positive recommendation that Professor Montgomery surely has ever written for anyone.
And Hermione is studying Oriental Healing Magic on the side, too, and quite effectively so.
Pondering, he places her file on top of his. Such a clever, little witch. She’s also been very useful to him these past months. An usefulness that will cease to exist the second she realises Lord Voldemort’s back. He scratches the back of his head. That deduction won’t take her long; he’s positive of that. He recalls the other moments when she’s seen through him—there have been too many to count. He can’t risk it. So whatever he plans to do has to happen on Monday, the day she’ll be in class. He can use the time this weekend to prepare everything.
Besides, if she’s not in the building when it implodes, he has time to evaluate her fate and consider her future or lack thereof.
Why does such a brilliant witch have to be a filthy Mudblood?
Frustrated, he swirls to his feet and places the files back.
8 May, 2004
Make that two. Hannah contacted me if I could take over her shift on Monday. It’s my regular day off because I go to Oriental Healing Classes normally then, but she has a funeral and only other Trainees are allowed to switch shifts between one another.
Fortunately, when I contacted Master Akiyama that I couldn’t attend, he informed me of the theory he’ll be covering and promised to owl me his lecture transcript. He also gave me the reassurance that the practise parts would be repeated several more times, which is what I’m most concerned about. I can do the theory, but I need to practise my skills. It all comes down to precision, and you can’t be a fraction off or you’ll screw someone up.
Ward Four, come Monday. It’ll actually be a relief to have to deal with relatively easygoing patients for a change. She’ll be sorry she switched shifts with me, though.
All his preparations are in place. One more hour and … boom!
They’ll blame the Potions Master of Ward Four for the destruction afterwards if all goes as planned, which he’s certain will. As he makes his way back to the lift in his disillusioned state, her voice freezes him on the spot.
Swiftly, he turns around. She is standing in a doorway, saying goodbye to an elderly woman who is clutching a small flask to her chest.
‘You’re going to be fine, Diophora,’ Hermione says reassuringly when the woman stands there hesitantly. ‘Just don’t forget to take it on time again.’
What is she doing here? It’s supposed to be her day off.
‘I won’t. I don’t ever want to feel like that again. It was terrible. Thank you for your help, Hermione.’
‘You’re welcome,’ Hermione replies, smiling as the woman walks away.
It’s a split-second decision, but he makes it just the same. Screw her blood. Screw the risk. He’s not losing this brilliant witch.
Imperio! he casts nonverbally, putting every ounce of his power into the Unforgivable.
Instantly, her brown eyes glaze over. The Imperius Curse is a hard one to fight if one is unaware of its casting. However, he can already sense her considerable willpower in the background. Stubborn witch. He’ll have to be careful not to make her do something she wouldn’t normally do or she’ll break the curse. Fortunately, it’s almost noon.
You’re going to have lunch in the cafeteria. Get your belongings.
Hermione turns around, locking the door behind her, and walks to the locker room in a daze. They pass many protective and utterly useless wards before arriving in the ‘personnel only’ area. Still disillusioned, he sneaks into the locker room with her, makes her open her locker and then tells her to stand back. There is a brief hesitation before she does so.
Wash your hands, he adds mentally.
That breaks the sudden resistance and she turns around to do so. Too close. He has to be more careful.
He steps to the locker and grabs what he requires most: her wand. A couple of swishes and flicks later, he caresses it happily. This will do nicely. She’ll have a harder time fighting him now he doesn’t have to do it wandlessly anymore.
Get your belongings, he orders, watching her move much more obediently now. He’ll go through them once they’ve reached the safety of his room.
They have a couple of close calls on their way to the lifts, which forces him to use several Befuddlement Charms. However, they make it into the lift and he presses the button to go back to his ward. He’s planned his exit to take place from his chamber, so that’s where they have to be. It’s not hard to make Hermione walk to his chamber—she’s had lunch with him there many times before. All he has to do is change her destination in the lift. Along the way, he Obliviates a member of the cleaning crew that bumps into his invisible form when he exits the lift after Hermione. Fortunately, nobody is in the corridors of their secure ward to spot that or see Hermione. However, when she opens the door to his chamber and walks inside, his luck runs out.
‘Hermione, what …?’ Evadne trails off, staring at Hermione’s glassy eyes before her hand flies to press her alarm.
Evadne’s eyes turn lifeless, and she collapses to the floor of his chamber. He can sense it at once, the loss of control. Hermione turns around and takes a swing at him. He has no idea how she so quickly has identified the whereabouts of his disillusioned body, but her fist is within an inch of his face before he’s able to cast the stunner.
‘I don’t think so, my dear Mudblood,’ he says coolly, shutting the door behind them with a definite finality.
Soon, this hospital will be no more, and he and his Mudblood will be out of here.
Chapter 3: Epilogue
A/N: I thank my amazing betas Serpent In Red and Lady Miya.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Experiment of the Mind
Twenty years it had been, twenty years since he defeated Lord Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts, but now, the tables had turned and Harry Potter, along with his best friend, Ron Weasley, were very much incarcerated.
It had gone gradually, the Dark Lord’s third rise to power. Gradually but steadily. Unstoppable. The third time really seemed to be the proverbial charm.
Lord Voldemort’s choices had been strategically different this time around. When the whispers of the rising of a new dark wizard, Damon Grevert-Grol, began, Harry hadn’t immediately thought of Riddle. It wasn’t just because of the name, the lacking Dark Marks or that they’d surprisingly found remains belonging to Riddle in the debris of the hospital. It was also because there hadn’t been any sightings or trace of him for years and years after that. No revenge was taken on those who’d wronged him, something Harry knew would’ve been the first thing on Riddle’s mind if he’d escaped the blast. There had been no taunting owls about Hermione’s death arriving at his doorstep. No attempts to murder him or Severus Snape. Nothing.
Well, nothing until Grevert-Grol had taken the country by storm.
The second that happened, people that once had supported Harry began dropping like flies: Neville Longbottom, Severus Snape, the Weasleys … Ginny …
And still, Riddle hadn’t released his true identity to the country as a whole. Apart from Ron and him, nobody knew Damon was Tom Riddle and Harry reckoned that after today that secret would never get out. There was no more protection he could count on to miraculously save him this time around. Even though Ron kept throwing hopeful glances in his direction and Harry was still looking for a possible escape route, he knew the odds had never been stacked this badly against him. In the past, he’d always had Hermione to rely on. Her knowledge and support had been vital in his continued success, and now, he wouldn’t even be able to avenge her death.
Harry tested his bindings again in anger when the door to their cell opened and Damon aka Tom Riddle entered.
‘Harry Potter, we meet again. I’d say it’s a pleasure but we both know better, don’t we?’
‘You’re not going to get away with this, Riddle. People will eventually realise that your bid for magical freedom is nothing but a charade.’
‘Oh, will they now?’ Riddle asked, rubbing his chin contemplatively. ‘I sincerely doubt that, Harry. You don’t mind if I call you Harry, do you? We go back so long—it’s almost as if we’re family.’
Harry scowled at the smirk Riddle sent his way, both knowing how much he truly valued family members.
‘No, Harry, I’m giving the people what they’ve always wanted: The ability to perform magic wherever they please and at whatever age they are. No concern anymore about that oppressive Statute of Secrecy—’
‘Only because you make sure those Muggles who find out take an involuntary oath that will kill them if they break it.’
Riddle shrugged. ‘If they keep their disgusting mouths shut about us and stay out of our business, they’ll get to live. I thought you’d approve of that, Harry Potter. It was my darling wife’s idea.’
A terrible smile erupted on Riddle’s handsome face. ‘My wife,’ he looked at the door, ‘I’m sure she’ll barge in soon enough. I owled her that she made a mistake in her research’s calculations. She’s such a perfectionist; she won’t be able to withstand the urge to correct me about my—’
The door slammed open, crashing into the wall with a distinct smack.
Harry gasped, relief flooding through him when he saw the furious witch pacing indoors towards Riddle, pushing a parchment underneath his nose. She wasn’t dead. Hermione wasn’t dead!
‘I’m wrong? I am!? Did you lose the ability to do simple subtractions? You’re continuing with one-hundred-forty-four when it should be one-hundred-forty-five and you have the nerve to correct me? Me! Here,’ she said, slapping the parchment in his hands and placing her hands on her sides demonstratively, ‘well, what are you waiting for Mr Know-It-All? Show me your incredibly masterful insight.’
‘He-Hermione,’ Ron stuttered.
Abruptly, she turned her head, her eyes blazing and hair crackling. ‘What?’ she snapped.
‘You … you’re alive.’
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ Her brown eyes flashed over their bound figures in annoyance, and Harry’s stomach dropped. Hermione clearly didn’t recognise them. ‘Did Skeeter publish another one of her ridiculous articles again?’ she asked, turning to Riddle. ‘I’m back in this country for one day and already that crazy paper prints the stupidest things. You really need to put a stop to that woman or I will.’
‘Already done, dear.’
‘Hermione, it’s me, Ron,’ Ron said, confused.
‘Don’t, Ron,’ Harry said softly. ‘Don’t give him the satisfaction.’
‘Don’t what? It’s me, Hermione, me and Harry,’ Ron repeated with more emphasis.
‘Look,’ Hermione said, tilting her head in their direction, ‘whoever you and your friend are, I really don’t care. Wait for the arrival of your own attorney, I’m not here for you, okay? So please stop interrupting my conversation with my husband.’
‘Your husband!’ Ron yelled. ‘You were going to marry me!’
‘Who are these people?’ she asked Riddle, nudging her head towards them.
‘Nobodies,’ he replied, smirking.
‘Nobodies?!’ Ron hollered. ‘Hermione, look at us, I’m Ron Weasley and this is Harry Potter and you’re talking to Tom Marvolo Riddle, Lord Voldemort! You know this! We fought him! We were friends! You were—’ Ron’s mouth continued to move but no sound came out; he was struggling ferociously against his bounds now, causing the chair to scrape on the floor.
‘Thank you,’ Hermione said gratefully while Riddle pocketed his wand. ‘You should get a Healer in here. He’s clearly having a psychotic break.’
‘Don’t tell me you want to add another patient to your already extensive list?’ Riddle asked, snorting.
Hermione stared at Ron, who’d suddenly turned still, before she shook her head. ‘Tempting, but not a good idea since he incorporated me into his delusions. So, I take it these are the two who have been trying to assassinate you for being Voldemort?’
‘Yes, it seems they’ve found each other in their conspiracy theories, leading them into leaving their mental imbalance untreated.’
Now a furious Ron was hopping towards them, chair and all. To Harry’s surprise, Ron’s ropes were actually loosening. His eyes flickered to Riddle, noticing he had both his hands behind his back.
‘Ron, no!’ Harry shouted in alarm when Ron suddenly stormed out of the chair, launching himself at Tom Riddle.
Hermione’s wand flashed. ‘Stupefy!’ she cast before Ron reached his target.
Annoyed, she reprimanded Riddle. ‘This is actually what I was trying to say, Damon. If they’re mental patients, they shouldn’t be here and you shouldn’t be here. They’ll need to be treated properly before one can assess if they’re responsible for any criminal behaviour.’
‘Is that the Healer or lawyer in you talking?’
‘A bit of both, I suppose.’
‘I’m already on it, dear. It’s why I didn’t allow the Aurors to question them. I’m merely making sure they don’t hurt themselves.’
‘As admirable as that is, Damon, you should have someone else do it since you’re part of their delusions.’
‘Do I look insane to you, Hermione?’ Harry asked calmly.
Hermione sighed, dropping her head.
‘I trust your judgement, Hermione,’ Harry added. ‘Look at me and tell me.’
She looked at him and smiled. ‘I’m sure you’re going to be just fine. We’ll get you an excellent Healer.’
‘I want you,’ Harry said quickly, noticing from the corner of his eye that caused a flash of alarm to appear briefly in Riddle’s face. ‘Please, will you help me? You’re the only one I’ve seen so far that I trust.’
‘I—’ Hermione hesitated, staring at him with a frown on her face as if she were trying to solve a difficult puzzle.
‘I think you should leave, darling,’ Riddle interrupted, putting the parchment back in her hand.
Hermione looked from Harry to the parchment in her hand. He was getting through to her; he could tell.
‘You were right about the number,’ Riddle said swiftly, ‘I was wrong.’
Theatrically, Hermione clutched the parchment to her chest. ‘You, admitting you are wrong, hold the presses.’
‘I’m afraid they’ll kill me!’ Harry interrupted dramatically. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong. I need help, please help me, Hermione.’ He flipped over the chair and started banging with his head against the floor violently. The pain was unbearable, but he couldn’t do half a job at this. Once Hermione was out of the picture, Riddle would surely torture him into insanity before finishing him off.
‘Okay, you’re leaving,’ Riddle ordered brusquely, grabbing her arm.
‘Let go of me; he’s hurting himself,’ Hermione snapped, yanking her arm free and running to Harry. Quickly, she grabbed his head and pulled him into her lap to prevent him from continuing to hit his skull against the floor. ‘You’re going to be fine; what was his name again?’
‘Harry,’ Riddle and Harry said simultaneously, though in significantly different tone of voices.
‘It’ll be okay, Harry,’ Hermione said soothingly. ‘Where are those Healers you sent for, Damon?’
‘On their way, I trust.’
‘I don’t want them, don’t want them,’ Harry muttered, faking distress.
‘It’s okay; I got you,’ Hermione said gently. ‘You’ll be fine.’
‘You’ll be my Healer?’ Harry asked hopefully. Hermione was still in there—she came to his aid after all. Riddle might’ve Obliviated a lot from her mind, but Hermione’s personality still existed in this person. If he could talk to her long enough, he might be able to make her see the truth.
‘Sure, don’t worry.’
‘Hermione,’ Riddle said warningly.
‘Contact my staff, will you, Damon? I’m admitting them.’
‘Oh, for crying out loud, Hermione, he’s just manipulating you.’
‘My staff, now!’ Hermione snapped.
It surprised him that Riddle actually listened and left; then again, nobody in their right mind would go up against an angry Hermione Jean Granger. So, Harry grinned triumphantly at Riddle’s retreating form. They’d not lost yet. He’d find a way to get through to her. He’d find a way to make her remember.
‘You could at least try to pretend to be happy for me,’ Hermione said, scowling at his sour face.
‘Two whole weeks!’ Tom objected, horrified. ‘They’re going to stay with us for two whole weeks! What’s wrong with a hotel?’
‘We have plenty of guest rooms; they’re my parents and I—’
‘You just saw them last month.’
Seriously, if he’d known in advance how much time he would’ve to spend with these blasted Muggles, he would’ve opted for another solution. However, for a partial memory modification to be a hundred percent foolproof, he’d needed her cooperation and her parents had been the perfect leverage: well, that, and the threat of a full-blown Obliviate. He’d not preferred the latter because it would’ve erased everything that made this brilliant witch who she was, and as expected, she’d become even more magnificent under his guidance. He knew she’d never be where she was today if he’d had to do a complete Memory Charm all those years ago—he would’ve had to start from scratch with her then and chances were high of permanent brain damage.
Still, the constant presence of these Muggles was a horrible annoyance.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. ‘I only saw them for one day then, because I made an unscheduled stop in Sydney and—’ She held up her hand when he opened his mouth. ‘And,’ she emphasised, giving him a warning look, ‘it won’t kill you to spend some time with them, Damon. It’s not like they live across the street and are dropping in unannounced on a daily basis.’
‘And for some incomprehensible reason that eludes me completely,’ she added, ‘they actually like you. So … you best give them one of your marvellous acting performances and behave.’ She violently stabbed the steak on her plate as if it were a demonstration of what she’d do to him if he didn’t.
For a while, they ate in silence—neither acknowledging that the other existed, until Tom sighed in resignation. ‘So … you think I’m marvellous,’ he said, wiggling his eyebrows mischievously.
Smiling to herself, Hermione didn’t press the issue. She knew he’d never acknowledge his defeat out loud, and it wasn’t important enough to her to be known as the victor as long as she won the battle. ‘Well, this is delicious,’ Hermione said, taking another bite of her dinner.
‘I’m multi-talented,’ Riddle said, smiling smugly.
‘One of those many talents being humble, naturally,’ she snarked.
‘Indeed.’ They both grinned at each other, clinking their glasses. ‘Look, Hermione, I’m …’ he trailed off, scratching the back of his neck in a solid display of discomfort.
She put her cutlery on the table and folded her hands in front of her. ‘You’re not happy I took in these two patients,’ she finished.
‘I think it could be potentially dangerous for you.’
She reached out over the table and took his hand. ‘You know how careful I am and the security procedures I have in place at this new facility. You installed them yourself.’
‘Yes, I know that, but they know you’re my wife and I fear they may try to harm you to get to me.’
‘Hmmm…’ Hermione said, pondering. ‘I don’t think that Harry bloke is really dangerous.’
She didn’t? Already? That was a problem; one he quickly needed to fix. Sometimes it truly was an issue that she was so good at everything she did. ‘You’re too trusting.’
‘No, I am not. I tested him and spoke with him for a long time. His violence ratio is within normal parameters. I think Healer Wannabee’s patient is most likely the driving force behind the death threats.’
Hmmm… once Hermione were asleep, he would have to pay a visit to Potter and make sure the impossible boy would be a mental patient for real for the rest of his life. There were plenty of untraceable curses that could destroy the mind, some he’d invented himself. If Potter thought for a second that Lord Voldemort would allow him to play his Hermione against him, he’d be in for a very unpleasant surprise tonight. ‘Healer Wannabee’s patient?’
‘I’m not treating them both, Damon, I told you that. The redhead is under the delusion I’m his fiancée.’ Hermione frowned at his face. ‘Are you jealous?’
‘Of course not,’ he scoffed as quickly as possible.
Hermione laughed and squeezed his hand. ‘Don’t tell me your unbelievable, narcissistic self is insecure about your station with me.’
‘Well, I’m glad you’re finding it so entertaining,’ he said, pulling away demonstratively.
She snorted and rose to her feet, swiftly making her way around the table and sitting down in his lap with her arms around his neck. Tom leaned back in his chair, raising his eyebrows expectantly at the devious glint in her eyes.
‘I think I can make it even more entertaining.’
‘Really?’ he asked, running his hands up and down her sides.
‘Yes,’ Hermione said, leaning in and kissing him full on the lips, ‘I believe …’ kiss, ‘that you need …’ kiss, ‘a full diagnosis.’ Her tongue swirled around his and they were lost in each other. ‘So what do you say?’ she asked, winking at him daringly.
‘Terrific, you telling me some more about my inherent sociopathic tendencies, I say that’s just the perfect icing on an already shitty day.’
Hermione smirked. ‘Wow, admitting it now, are we? Progress.’
‘You know us, deranged sociopaths, have needs, too.’
‘Oooh, those needs,’ Hermione rolled her eyes, ‘I don’t think those will cure anything.’
‘I beg to differ,’ Tom stated, lifting her in his arms, ‘and allow me to prove how very wrong you are.’
‘Your incessant need to always be right only validates my standpoint,’ Hermione rebutted triumphantly, while he kicked the door to their bedroom open.
‘Mmm-mmm…’ he murmured absentmindedly, his mind already on much more interesting activities.
He’d hit the jackpot when they made this witch his Healer. Now Hermione Jean Granger was his, and under no circumstance would he ever allow her to slip away from him.
No, this was to be the night Harry Potter lost once and for all.
A/N: Any and all feedback will be much appreciated, and I will try to reply to your comments asap.