Hermione regretted her decision to walk home from the local grocery store almost immediately. While the early afternoon sun was still out and shining, the longer she walked the worn road the more a chill seemed to grow in the air. She'd have to turn around and walk several blocks in order to apparate safely from curious eyes in the muggle town she lived in. It didn't seem worth the effort, not with the heavy bags in her arms weighing her down. She hadn't even really needed to go shopping quite yet, it could have waited another week, but she had been feeling unnerved since waking this morning. The trip was taken in hope that fresh air would alleviate the feeling, and the store was good of an excuse as any to go into town.
Yet still hours later the feeling persisted. It felt as if the air it self was alive. Though as she checked the protective wards that both hid her house from muggles and kept out uninvited guest, as she crossed over the threshold to her house, they showed nothing to be amiss.
For the moment she put her discomfort out of mind, chalking it up to her bad sleeping habits. Nightmare didn't make for the the most restful sleep, and with dreamless sleep potions having long since stopped having any effect on her there wasn't much to be done about it. That was to be expected though after the war, everyone had problems coping, the memories made for night terrors half the time even three years later.
Immediately after the war Hermione had used the money from selling her parents house to buy an old Victorian house on the edge of the forest of dean. She was never able to track down her parents after everything was over (apparently she had managed to hide them a little too well), so the house went to her, and Hermione couldn't bare to live there. At the same time the war had taken more than just her parents from her, Harry and Ron both lost their lives. In response to the grief of it all she had packed up what few things she owned and left the wizarding world behind.
Being the last one of the golden trio left took it's toll, and the spot light was left shining bright on her, it wasn't ever anything she craved but the constant reminder that she was alone got to be overwhelming. It was the main reason for withdrawing from wizarding society, Moving to the last area she felt close to her lost friends, where no one knew her was as close to peace as she was bound to get. Besides a few friendly shopkeepers in town Hermione kept to herself. She preferred it that way.
During the first few months it ha been a struggle to leave bed, let alone have any desire to live. It was sometime before that will came back. It was only the thought of how selfish it would be to end her own life when so many of her loved ones had lost theirs that made her at least try to go on.
Now she spent most of her days doing menial tasks to keep her mind from over thinking, gardening, fixing up the house which while nice always needed updates, and of course reading. Her drive for learning never quite faded even when other interests she used to hold no longer kept her attention, she still kept up with most of the latest concepts by mail order books. She saw no need to find herself in diagonally ever again. Neville was good at keeping in touch with her both discussing the latest in herbology, he was really the only one she had kept in touch with, writing to one another once a week. All in all she lived a solitary existence.
Normally that was okay. Normally she was most content like this. But then there were days like this.
Where she felt overly vulnerable, she was very much alone out here and should anything happen there would be no help.
She had never had any problems before, just left over survival instincts that made it feel as if someone was watching her. Days were any little noise would have her grabbing her wand ready for a fight.
Trying to not to get worked up over nothing, she went to task of putting away the food and determined to finish her current book after that was done.
At some point Hermione must have dozed off while reading, exhaustion catching up to her. Which is why she came sobbing awake slumped over on her couch, knocking over the unfinished book when her hands clawed out in a wild frenzy to keep away an imagined foe. With a deep breath and eyes wide she looked around, trying to grasp her bearings. Home, she's home and safe. Taking a moment to gather herself, she picked up her book before going in search of water.
It was only as she walked to the kitchen that she noticed the light outside her windows now showed it to be almost dusk. She must have managed to grab more than a hour of sleep. However the disquieting feeling from this morning was not only still in the air it had seemed to increase drastically. Some how it felt as if something was building up, some unseen power getting ready to burst. It made the air feel thick and heavy.
Casting multiple charms to see if there was anyone near by, or any general changes to the property at all, and coming up empty. It was enough to drive Hermione mad. she knew that something was wrong, but was at a loss to what it maybe.
Moving back to the living room she sat down at the old grand piano in front of the window. It was one of the few pieces of furniture from her parents home that she brought with her. While never having a chance to play at school it had been a solace as much as books growing up before finding out she was a witch. It once again served the same purpose for the past few years.
Her playing was by no means masterful, but it had always been good. With the added increase in frequent practice she had improved even more. It was not unusual for Hermione to play for a while after a nightmare, right now though as she sat readying to play it was in hopes to distract from the strange presence in the air.
For a some twenty minutes it did just that, as night finally fell outside her music turned more somber. Loosing herself to the flow and concentration on not missing any keys she almost didn't notice the air get heavy with intent. Almost.
Forcing herself to keep playing for fear she was imagining things, and would be seen as a fool should she call up Neville only to have him come find nothing out of the ordinary Yes if she just kept playing the feeling would finally just go away. The tempo of the piece she played speed up in time with her growing anxiety. At the crescendo the pressure of the air became a very physical thing for but a moment before disappearing as if it had never existed. Slowly her fingers brought the set to an end.
The silence was comforting after a day of her skin half buzzing in alertness. Well it was comforting till it was no longer so quiet. There was a rhythmic clap coming from behind her.
She froze up, hands hovering over piano keys, back lined with tension.
The was someone in her home applauding her.
Her home that she very much lived alone in. She should have called Neville, pride be damned.
There was someone in her home!
Her wand was laying just beside her on the piano stool, but whoever was here would see her go for it. No doubt they'd disarm her before it was ever in her hand. Then it would all be over before it started. Be smart, push down the fear and be smart.
"You're playing is better than I remember dear."
The mans voice startled Hermione, causing her to jerk sitting up straight. She did't recognize the smooth rich voice, but that didn't mean much, she'd made enough enemies by reputation alone.
"I've missed hearing you play after a bad dream." She could hear his shoes click on the hardwood floor as he took a few steps closer. "Do you still put too much sugar in your tea too?" Though he phrased it like a question it seemed as much a statement. How did he know that she likes a little too much sugar in her tea, a habit shaped in Hogwarts away from her dentisit parents. She barely even had tea, preferring coffee, he would have had to been watching her for sometime to know that.
Gathering the courage her house was known for she turned to face the intruder.
What she found was startling. This man, whoever he may be, was to put it bluntly beautiful. Tall and lean, his face seemed to be made up of angles, cheekbones high and prominent, with a dark head of neatly combed back hair. He looked like a male model from a muggle magazine that had stepped out of the pages and straight into her living room. This was some how more unnerving than if he had scars head to toe.
"Just who are you?" she said speaking for the first time since he showed up. "You seem to know who I am well enough." Knew her too well.
His dark eyes were focused on her intently, searching her face slowly.
"How rude of me. Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Tom Riddle, and it is so good to see you again Hermione."
There was a roaring in her ears that if Hermione had the presence of mind would have recognized as her heart hammering a beat that screamed run.run.run.
She knew that name well, while most people never really learned Voldermorts given name Harry had made sure that both Ron and herself had. Which meant at some point in sixth year she had gone to the library to find what she could on him. One of the few things that she could dig up was a picture of a boy who looked like a slightly younger version of this man in his seventh year.
It's not possible.
It's simply NOT. No she corrects herself, it's not probable.
All the same she instinctively knows it to be true, she simply doesn't know how it is.
During her stupor he has slowly strolled towards her, casually glancing around the room before landing back on her. There is no longer anything casual about him. She doesn't think she could look away if she wanted to.
"How, you're dead."
At this he smirks and oh it is a wicked thing, she can see clearly how people would have easily fallen for this mans charms. "I suppose in this time I am." he drawls, like he didn't just admit to his death and the possibility that he's not from this time.
It takes a lot to keep her voice from wavering when she says,"This, time."
He's walked all the way over the the piano, and grining down at her like they are old friends.
"Come now my dear, surely you're not so narrow minded to not believe that there are more than one realities. You are after all the one to point this out to me."
Hermione can only hum in the back of her throat, whether or not in agreement to his statement or if her brain is officially shutting down she doesn't know. What she does know is yes she's thought of it, particularly a lot in the past years. She's had lots of time to think and theorize. It would make sense in a way, why he looks the way he does, and explain the earlier build up in the air. He had been breaking through the timelines. The amount of magic that would have took. The amount of power.
"All the major choices never made, worlds where some people are never born, others where they die early, and some born years earlier. Yes, you know I’m right. You’re too smart not to.”
Hermione feels hollow in a way she hasn’t felt since the final battle. This is too much, she stares down at her hands resting in her lap as if they will hold all the answers.
As she goes to look back at him, her eyes get caught on a very familiar wand in his hand. The elder wand. No doubt this time he was it’s true master. All those different choices made.
Her head jerks back to look at him.
”Why are you here? Why did you call me, ‘my dear’” her voice is visibly shaking now.
Why has Tom Riddle crossed time and reality to see her.
Regally he sits next to her one the bench, eyes fixed on her face, he reaches up to cup her face. Flinching just barely at the unwelcome contact, he seems not to care starting to trace her bottom lip lightly with his thumb.
"It's as I said darling, some people were born earlier. You for example were born decades earlier in my reality, just a year after me."
Letting out a sigh his hand slides down to gently hold her neck, but Hermione knows no matter how soft the touch is now it would take less than a second for it to become strangling. "We grew close you and I. Of course we had our differences, your fixation on morality being the most inconvenient thing at times." he tuts the last part as if she is a naughty child being scolded for spilling milk.
"You eventually became more flexible about it, and the fun we had, the things we learned, I can't wait to catch you up, dear wife."
A bomb would have made less impact.
All those different choices made.
In an instant her hand shoots out for her wand, but he's ready. The elder wand is suddenly pressed firmly into her side, his other hand catching hers and wrenching her wand from her. "Now you wont be needing that for now."
She figures her only chance is to keep him talking, but already she fills the change in the air. The heavy atmosphere of power build up filling the space.
"Yes Hermione, my wife. Unfortunately you meet an untimely demise. I promised I would find you again, it wasn't easy."
"I'm not her, you can't expect me to love you after what you've done!" Fear makes her reckless and brave, for what little good it does.
"No you're not. Not quite." His mouth narrows in displeasure, before working to a smirk. " You will be though, after all I managed to extract all your memories before the end. Now it is simply a matter of putting them back where they belong."
The terror she feels can't be described as it shoots down her spine kicking her into gear, she begins to physically struggle against him. Desperate and afraid, already knowing it's no use. He simply waves his wand binding her in rope, not that it stops her from struggling.
The pressure is reaching it's peak and she has no doubt once it hit's she wont be in this reality anymore.
He whispers something under his breath the heat of his breath warm against her neck and then Hermione knows no more.
"Time to go home love."