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Blood Is Thicker

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"Oh my god
Please help me
Neck deep in the river
Screamin' for relief
He says, it's mine to give
But it's yours to choose
You're gonna sink or swim
You're gonna learn the truth
No matter what you do
You're gonna learn the truth."

-The Silent Comedy 'Bartholomew'

 

Hermione had done it again. The twelve year old cursed herself as she realized how long she had been lost between the pages of a book in the Hogwarts’ library. It was well past curfew, and she mildly wondered why the librarian hadn't caught her and shooed her out as usual. However, now she had larger problems, like sneaking to the Gryffindor tower without being caught by Mrs. Norris, or worse, Filch himself. The wretched man didn't scare her, but a mark on her student record did.

Gathering her things, the honey eyed bookworm cast a disillusionment charm over herself, secretly pleased she was advanced enough to do so. Not just any twelve year old could manage the spell, it filled her with pride to be exceptional even if all it gained her was isolation and sneering from her peers. Although that wasn't entirely fair. Not everyone was hostile, but Hermione knew she wasn't likable. Too forceful in opinion, too eager, too odd and bookish. There were various reasons, and each one stung and chafed just as harshly as the last. It wasn't as if she didn't want friends. She just seemed incapable of making them properly. The closest she had to one was Neville and he was nice, but a bit oblivious.

Hermione toted her heavy bag, trying to make her steps silent as possible on the stone floor. Ever since the rumors had started about the Chamber being opened, professors were exceptionally strict on students wandering the halls after dark. So far nothing serious had happened. Some fifth year boy had been paralyzed and the ridiculous rumor that the Heir of Slytherin was in the school had sprung up like a nasty weed. The wizarding version of urban myth, she was near certain. After all, everyone knew Hogwarts was perfectly safe.

Hermione stilled, heart banging against her rib cage as she caught a soft whispering of syllables. She couldn't make out the words but the voice sounded cold, almost eerie in the way the hissing echoed in the stone hall. Hermione shivered, feeling a odd chill as the hairs on the back of her neck rose. A ward. A powerful one. Her lips sucked in a soft, slow inhale, and she turned the corner, more curious than unsettled.

She blinked, trying to take in the scene in the flickering torch light and failing for a moment. It was another student. A boy. She sucked in another breath as the angular profile became more distinct, more familiar, even she knew the boy. In passing anyway. A fourth year named Tom Riddle, a Slytherin, but hardly the worst of the lot. Quiet for the most part, but somehow everyone knew him, for one reason or another. He had a presence, and he was quite brilliant, everyone thought so. Plus the other Slytherins seemed to practically worship him for some unknown reason.

He was leaning over something and looking angrier than she had ever seen him. The rage sharpened him, took away his demure pretty boy look that had the other girls cooing at him, the poor sweet brilliant orphan boy. This was hardly the same person. He looked like a wild thing, sleek and dangerous, poised to pounce, eyes alit with predatory thrill.

“You pathetic waste, you think I will allow you to ruin my plans?” His voice was cool and collected despite the furious glint to his expression, “Crucio.”

Hermione had to crush her fist into her mouth to silence the involuntary gasp she'd made, but it hardly seemed to matter. Her tiny elapse of breath was soon drowned in the agonized, piercing howl of a young witch in mortal agony. A smaller figure writhed at his feet, bending at impossible angles as she cried and begged. Sobbing and screaming until her voice cracked. Still the jet of violent green tied her to Riddle, his expression a hardened cast of satisfaction. It sent a sickening roil through Hermione.

He was torturing her. With a Unforgivable of all things. Her mouth went dry and she fumbled for her wand, ready to attack and give herself away in defense of the poor girl. Her Gryffindor nature blazed in her, infuriated by the injustice of it all. Just as she stepped forward, stupefy perched on the tip of her tongue, Riddle released his victim with a flourish of his wand.

The unknown girl went nearly silent, sobbing in a huddled heap of pain and jagged gasps. Hermione had heard quite a few things crunch while she'd been under the curse, and she shuddered to think how badly the girl might be injured. What could Riddle be thinking? Was he mad?

“Shhh,” Riddle tsked, kicking her reaching hand from it's begging grasp on his ankle. The cursed girl's fingers desperately grasping the fabric of his pants even as he shook her off. He knelt, eyes as hard as obsidian. Like lava glass they reflected the girls pain back to her, but with a hint of his own mixed satisfaction and disgust tied in.

“It will be over soon,” he promised almost gently, and her face turned upward, hitting the torch light for the first time. It was a plain face, splotchy with redness from her sobbing, glasses wildly askew, hair a brown tangle. Hermione felt sorry that she couldn't remember her name. They were in the same year, but like Hermione, the Ravenclaw witch seemed to keep entirely to herself.

“P-please-”

“Ah, ah,” Riddle tsked, almost gently, “No need for that.” He pressed a finger to her lips, “I told you, I mean to end this little game now. A shame, since this will certainly cast more suspicion on the students of this school, but don't fret, I know how to direct the blame appropriately.”

“I d-didn’t mean to-” the girl sniveled. Her voice thready and high pitched from fear.

“Nevermind that now, it hardly matters what you meant silly girl,” he sighed, standing and uttering matter-of-factly, “Obliviate.” Her eyes glazed and he smirked, as the girl twitched and blinked, moaning in pain and utterly confused. Hermione edged back warily, her pulse quickening as she heard the same sultry whisper that had drawn her attention in the first place. A hissing that crept through her bones and left them slightly cooler.

Dear Merlin, he was a parseltongue. Hermione gazed at what she had thought to be a studious and somewhat handsome schoolmate in horror. Still, as horrific as he was, what happened next froze her in raw terror. Her mind, always so keen, processed the image in chunks. A giant, snake like creature so nightmarish she instinctively turned the corner behind her and put the flat of her back against the wall, heart hammering as her brain mashed the horrific pieces of what she'd seen together. A instant later she heard the girl scream, blood curdling and then….a leathery soft sound of something heavy slipping across the floor down the hall in the opposite direction. The air seemed too thick in the abrupt, heavy quiet that followed. The creature had been large, so big it nearly filled the hall. The entire time she listened to the monster retreat, Hermione fought with herself over whether she should turn the corner and confront the monster.

She wasn't a coward. But something cold and wriggly was festering in her gut, and she knew, with certainty, that if she turned back down that corridor, what she saw next was sure to be blazed into the back of her eyelids forever and ever. She gulped. I'm not a child anymore, Hermione Granger sternly reminded herself, I'm a preteen, practically a young adult. She had to know, to see if the other witch was alright.

The frizzy haired girl’s honey eyes took in the scene, and her belly flopped. The girl was frozen, maybe petrified, like the other boy she heard of, maybe it wasn't so bad, maybe… Hot tears pressed at her eyes as she realized the girl's eyes were filmy, mouth agape in frozen terror and body slumped. Her chest didn't seem to be moving at all, and her limbs were at odd angles. She looked dead.

Hermione sucked in a strangled sound that seemed instinctive, fighting for her calm and logic with a inward scraping.

“Who's there?” The suspicious voice rang out and Hermione felt her blood run to ice water through her veins. Riddle. She had almost forgotten him. She held her breath, not daring to risk the sound of a exhale as she could practically feel Riddle’s equally disillusioned presence seeking her out. Prying into the dimly lit corridor, seeking every shadow in the torch light. Hunting her with invisible eyes.

“I know someone is there,” he mused, “I heard you, and I will find you.” Hermione fought a tremble, her lungs burning for oxygen as he tossed a revealing spell first at himself and then at a spot to the right of her and smirked frighteningly to her left. Not so far away from where she actually stood that she felt safe at all. The dark haired wizard was older by two years, and magically gifted. Not like some of the fourth year louts with sloppy wand work who she might have stood half a odd with.

“Reveal yourself,” he all but commanded, “Don't make me force you, you won't like it.”

Hermione set her jaw. The Gryffindor witch had run from one monster tonight, but this one, her eyes blazed at his smirking profile, this one she would face. She had always half wondered, in the back of her mind, what she would truly do if faced with a villain like the ones in her books. Would she be brave? Or would she crumble under the impossibility of defeating such a powerful foe? Her wand hand flicked her finite incantatem with determination.

For a moment they studied one another. Hermione with a defiant tilt to her chin and a confident stance at odds with her obvious disadvantage. Riddle loomed over her, eyes flickering obsidian chips that seemed to repel the torchlight from their gleaming depths instead of reflect it. He smiled, so slowly and with such lingering malice as he eyed her that Hermione felt her insides slither.

“It's far too late for little girls to be roaming the castle all by themselves,” Riddle remarked, his tone was congenial, even conversative.

“Not too late to be murdering them, though,” Hermione's voice was soft in volume but heavy in accusations. He snorted. “And you're not much older than me Riddle, curfew is for everyone but prefects and professors.” Even in this situation her know-it-all nature couldn't be stifled.

“I don't know what you think you saw, but I didn't kill her,” he flicked a bit of dust or something off the sleeve of his robe and shrugged. “I heard something coming and I hid, same as you.”

“I saw you-” Hermione swallowed as his gaze narrowed on her, that same predatory gleam resurfacing. She clenched her wand tightly, “You tortured her, and I heard you, you called that...that creature. You're a parsel-”

“Shut it,” Riddle hissed, following his command with a snapped, “Petrificus Totalus.” Hermione didn't have time to dodge, eyes wide in shock and fear as the spell impacted full force. His calm smile at her panicked horror filled every molecule of her blood with ice.

“Silencio,” he added matter-of-factly as she made a grunted screaming noise in the back of her magically sealed mouth, whether to berate him or scream she wasn't certain. Afterwards, all that came out past her lips was a magically silenced puff of air. With another graceful twitch of his wand she was levitated next to him. Her tawny eyes sparked with vengeance, mouth tugging into a thin grimace.

“We can't linger here, we will be discovered sooner or later,” he explained with a smirk, leaning into her proximity a bit, the tall fourteen year old wizard whispered the last like a particularly juicy secret he couldn't wait to share, “Besides, if I wanted to hurt you, Granger, I wouldn't need to bind and gag you to do it. So calm down.”

Her eyes slitted at him, and he shrugged, plucking her wand from her immobilized grip. His dark eyes idly traced the hawthorn wood, his index finger tracing down the shape of it speculatively. He pocketed it, causing her rage to spike, and proceeded to disillusion them both. Keeping her bobbing behind him in a levitated spell, paralyzed and floating roughly four feet off the ground. It seemed like a million unbearable eternities tied into one another as she floated, silenced and strung up like a Christmas hog, behind a invisible Riddle, his footsteps utterly soundless even in the echoing stone of the castle.

She hoped he ran into a professor. Or tripped and smacked his head. Or… He paused, listening intently, and she found herself straining to hear whatever had alerted him. Not that she could see him, but she knew he'd stopped because so had she, and she felt that same predatory, seeking feeling she'd felt in the other corridor when he had first noticed her presence.

The door of the empty classroom to their left opened with a whispered “Alohomora,” and Hermione was starting to feel her limbs go a bit numb and tingly from the body binding spell he had on her.

Once inside, Riddle dropped the disillusionment spell, warding the room heavily before he uttered a casual “Finite incantatem,” at the mutely fuming witch. Granger exploded into motion, the dark eyed boy barely had time to blink before her skinny frame impacted his own.

“Oomph,” he grunted, Hermione took advantage of the surprise attack. Digging her hand into his robe pocket and attempting to pin the larger boy down. Just as her fingers felt the smooth tip of wood from her own wand, a ivory wand was digging into her jugular, his face furious now that the shock had faded. Even with him pinned beneath her she still couldn't defeat him.

“Get off me you filthy little-” Hermione felt her adrenaline spike, knowing full well what the next word from his mouth would be. She withdrew her hand from his pocket, acting submissive, before she drew the arm even further back and punched the boy square in his evil pale face.

Her knuckles ached immediately, and she scrambled off of him, wand forgotten, as she saw the insidious fury gathering in his expression, a tiny trickle of blood dripping from his slightly puffy nose. Hermione bolted for the door, yelling out as a burst of magic flung her back, sending her flying into a line of desks.

“That was stupid of you,” Riddle's voice was eerily calm even as he stared down at her with murderous fury. “I was planning to Obliviate you after teaching you a lesson about being a nosy mudblood,” he spat, “But now,” he yanked her up by her robes, his wand hovering near her throat, “Now I'm going to make you my new toy. That Benson girl broke so easily.” The chuckle he let out in punctuation was so cold it made her teeth ache. His eyes narrowed in speculation, “Let's see how you fare.”

Hermione looked at him in horror, wondering how he could be so unhinged. How had no one noticed it before? How was he doing these awful things and escaping the notice of the professors? Of everyone? Even, until now, her?

“Crucio,” He whispered it, almost fondly, and Hermione felt her entire universe explode into pain. Every cell of her body, every nerve ending, inch of flesh and follicle of hair screamed for mercy as she twisted and writhed under the dark curse. Her spine bowed, and she felt a crack, but it seemed hardly consequential. Agony was in her bloodstream, it pulsed through her, until it became her, swallowing her up and leaving her a sobbing, squishy mess of hoarse screams.

After a eternity in hell, he let up, and Hermione barely noticed, twitching with aftershocks that were so painful she didn't realize he had stopped for several minutes. Her wet sobs the only sound filling the empty classroom. Riddle knelt beside the girl, eyes glittering madly, the cruciatus always left him feeling almost warm inside.

He rolled her over, moving her wild curls away from her tear streaked face, and studied his handiwork. Her lip was bleeding rather profusely from where she'd unintentionally bit into it, her eyes were dilated and a bit unfocused with the pain. Their glassy brown depths cleared sooner than he expected, focusing on his profile and then narrowing.

“Say you're sorry,” he instructed with a curled smirk, “Or I'll do it again.”

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut, tears still leaking hotly from the corners, “S-sorry,” she managed to croak, ashamed of her own fear. Fear that he really would do it again.

Satisfied, he picked up her right arm, then her left, Hermione wanted to pull away. Maybe even fight back, but she felt so weak she could only groan a little as the movements caused her muscles to throb and twitch with pain. He repeated the procedure with her legs, and then began poking at her ribs, the third rib up on her left side caused Hermione to hiss, a fresh flood of hot water pouring from her eyes.

“Brackium emendo,” Riddle uttered softly, and she frowned, wondering why he would bother to heal her. The magic felt cool and uncomfortable all at once as it set the rib bone back into place and began to mend it.

“Can you sit?” He asked curiously, and when she just glared at him, he sighed. “Gryffindors, you always have to be difficult.” He pulled her up, not very gently, and withdrew a potion from his pocket. Popping the stopper from the bottle with his teeth, he spit the cork out and pressed the tiny glass vial to her lips. The bruised witch turned her head away defiantly, expression mutinous. Whatever he was trying to do to her, she wanted no part in it.

With a annoyed exhale, Riddle grabbed her bruised chin and forced her back towards him, the pain caused her to gasp and before she knew it cold glass was jammed so hard into lips it jarred her teeth and gums. Swallowing the potion on reflex she gagged, hand flying to her throat. Her heartbeat began to steady out as she recognized the familiar effects and flavor of a pepper up potion.

“Better?” He demanded knowingly. Hermione scowled, shoving him off and standing on shaky legs. He rose gracefully, towering over her, and dusting his robes as if touching her had left a foul stain on them.

“Give me back my wand,” she demanded, coughing roughly at the scratchy rawness her screaming left behind. Her hand outstretched demandingly, only shaking slightly now. His eyes flashed, and he cocked his head at her. Not willing to be impressed by her naive bravery, but perhaps savoring the thought of breaking her slowly. The Ravenclaw witch had been much more malleable, scraping at his feet after the first cruciatus, mind going a bit touchy from his constant obliviating.

The Slytherin boy wanted to try something different this time. Something that would allow his victim to remember every last detail of his cruelty, but still render them powerless to speak of it to anyone. He'd been toying with a bit of dark magic, hoping to eventually use it on his knights. A mark of sorts, one that bound the recipient to him, gave him utter power over them. If only the little mudblood witch knew the honor he was bestowing on her, allowing her to be his first test subject when her blood and heritage made her so disgustingly unworthy of it.

Once he tired of playing with her, and ensured his mark worked, he planned to feed her to the basilisk, just like the other one.

He blinked, staring at her outstretched arm, demanding her wand, and nearly rolled his eyes at the ease of opportunity. He grabbed her wrist, preparing to place the mark where he wanted his knights to wear it, and then thought better of it. They wouldn't understand seeing it on a mudblood first. Sometimes they could be utterly dense, and he couldn't have a professor spotting it. No. Riddle pondered her tiny frame, aware that she was eyeing him warily, sensing an impending attack but unsure how to defend.

He decided just under the collarbone was perhaps best. Out of sight, but it wouldn't force him to touch or disrobe more of her than absolutely necessary. He released her wrist abruptly only to yank down at the collar of her robes, pulling the shirt underneath down a bit at well and ignoring her yelp of shock as he placed the tip of his wand to the exposed skin.

“You won't get away with this,” she began, trying to pry herself away, but his grip was too strong and she was still too weak from being cursed to struggle as hard as she would have liked to. Even if he obliviated her, she would find a way to remember, somehow, and tell everyone what she'd seen. He'd tortured and killed another student, summoned a monster and used a Unforgivable twice. Surely that couldn't go unpunished.

“Subditi obedire victima morte,” he words flowed off his tongue like poisoned honey, caressing every syllable. At obedire, his wand cut a small incision in her pale skin, red blood bubbling unnaturally quickly to the surface and pooling thickly there. Hermione tried to move, but she found herself locked in place, forced to watch in horror as her blood thickened and turned oily black, forming into the design of a jewel eyed serpent, circling a figure eight. The snake moved in liquid motions as he uttered the final words. It devoured its own tail, going perfectly still as the last syllable left his lips, and then her skin felt like it was on fire. Crying out, she stumbled away, clawing at the searing, acidic feel boiling on her skin and seeping into her nervous system.

“What did you do to me?” Hermione demanded, staring in horror at the serpent on her skin, it looked like a tattoo. She was twelve her parents would absolutely murder her for having a tattoo!

“It's a gift,” he replied with an unnerving smile.

“You're mental,” the twelve year old spat at him in disgust. She was sore, bruised, and shivering from exhaustion that not even a pepper up potion could cure, but she forced herself to stand straight, and look him in the eyes.

“I can't decide if you're the epitome of Gryffindor, or simply a idiot,” Riddle mused, “Do you enjoy me hurting you?”

“No!”

“Then stop insulting me,” he suggested with a calculating look, “That little gift will make sure you remain loyal to me. Which means,” he narrowed his eyes, “If you have any silly ideas about mouthing off to a professor or another student, it will hurt and ensure you don't ruin my plans.”

“Plans?”

“As if I would share my ideas with a child.”

“I'm twelve not two, and girls mature faster than boys, everyone says so,” Hermione remarked knowingly, “Besides, I heard you, you were speaking parseltongue, which means you're the Heir of Slytherin. You opened the Chamber. When they find out a student is dead, they'll close the school.”

Riddle froze, and she wondered, if perhaps such a thing hadn't occurred to him. “No, they won't. Dumbledore is too overconfident, he’ll keep it open.” But he sounded, for the first time, a little unnerved.

Hermione smirked, “No matter how powerful Dumbledore is, if enough parents freak out and withdraw their children from the school, even Dumbledore will have no choice. The Ministry is sure to get involved.”

“You don't know what you're talking about,” The dark haired boy hissed, pointing his wand at her warningly.

Hermione turned up her nose at him and crossed her arms. “Bullying me doesn't change simple facts, you'll see. There was talk of kids being pulled out when they found Edwards, and he was only paralyzed, but now there's been a death.” She gave him an insufferably haughty look, “What did you expect to happen?”

“They can't close Hogwarts,” he inhaled deeply, calming himself. “What would a mudblood know about wizard politics anyway?”

Stung, but trying to hide it she shrugged and looked away. “I don't care if you believe me. You’ll see soon enough for yourself.” She was used to being dismissed for that ignorant reason, although most civilized students had the decency to use the more socially acceptable term muggleborn. It didn't matter how hard she studied, or how smart she was, she was that first to them.

“Can I have my wand back now?” It hurt her mouth to phrase it as a question, but she wanted out. Out of this room. Away from this cruel boy with scary eyes that seemed too dead to be human. The worn out witch needed to curl up, nurse her wounds, and regather her strength before she faced this monster again.

“Say please,” he instructed, a smirk edging his mouth as he studied her struggle to contain her temper.

“Please,” she huffed.

“No, nicely. Say it again,” he ordered.

Her cheeks saturated crimson, her eyes flashing but she managed to grind out, “Riddle, may I please have my wand back?” Sure to drop a extra syrupy tone on the word ‘please’.

“Better, but not much,” Riddle reached into his pocket and withdrew her wand, holding it out. As she went to take it, he snapped it far above his head, and out of her reach.

“Really?” She asked, a bit bewildered that after all his truly evil actions he'd resort to something so obvious and juvenile. Almost like a normal fourteen year old.

“Kneel down and kiss my robes,” he told her. Hermione frowned at him.

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“No. I'm not doing that.”

“Then this is mine,” she bit back a cry of outrage as he repocketed her wand. He patted the pocket, dark eyes sizing her up in challenge, “Until you remember your place and kneel at my feet.”

“There is something wrong with you Riddle,” Hermione hissed in disgust. He shrugged, dissolving the wards he'd placed so meticulously earlier with a few waves and twirls of his wand.

“Either kneel, or leave wandless, your choice, mudblood.”

“Fine,” Hermione straightened her back, eyes defiant. She was proud how she walked out, not looking back once or hesitating even as the horror of being wandless for the first time since she was eleven hit her. Sure, there was summer break where underage magic wasn't allowed, but even then she'd still had her wand. Always with her. Like a extension of self. It felt a bit like being naked, walking away and leaving it behind. Leaving herself purposefully vulnerable and exposed.

Still, her righteous anger burned, hot and heady with the memory of another girl's death and her own torture still fresh in her mind. The knowledge of both events weighing crushingly on her small shoulders. I will never kneel, Hermione promised herself. Surely she could tell someone, she would try, at least. Even if, like he promised, the pain was too intense for her to utter a word. She would try. Again and again. Whatever it took. Until she found a way to remove what he'd done to her.

If she'd been thinking about curfew at all, perhaps Hermione would have disillusioned herself, but as it was, she raced recklessly through the castle, heading for the Gryffindor tower with determination. She didn't know it at the time, but Myrtle Benson's body had just been discovered, and the patrolling professors were thoroughly occupied. Allowing her to do so uninterrupted.

Chapter Text

"It's in my blood, it's in my lungs
And it won't die
I fight these words, I bite my tongue
So I don't lie
Though it's me to blame
There is no more shame in me
In me
I just feel the same
Immune to all this pain
And the scars don't write a song for me at all..."

- 'Demon Hunter' - I Am Stone

 

“She’s too young, Albus, there won't be a way to keep the school open after this.” Minerva McGonagall uttered solemnly, “Perhaps The Prophet was right, for once, we should have closed after the Edwards boy was found.”

“Too late for regrets, Minerva,” Albus shook his head, feeling too old, and too lost at the sight of the broken child, frozen in death. “Severus, please owl the Minister and inform him of these events, he’ll want to be notified immediately,” the lanky haired man bowed ever so slightly, a permanent sneer on his lips as he left.

“Fudge is a menace, he’ll use this incident to question your competency as Headmaster,” Minerva pursed her lips in a way that he knew meant she was worrying for him, and his eyes twinkled kindly. Gentle Minerva, always so fierce as she defended those she cared for, even as a girl. “He's been looking for a excuse to push you out of Hogwarts, and making no secret of it.”

“Politics have always eluded me,” Albus smiled in a humble way that caused the Transfiguration professor to narrow her eyes knowingly at him. He was far shrewder than he often let on, and she doubted much eluded him. “But we can't allow any more students to come to harm. Hogwarts will likely close when these events are brought to light. In the meantime, we must do all in our power to keep the children safe.”

She nodded, yes, the children came first. Her eyes suddenly fell on the student in question, tearing a bit at the sight of the poor child. Whoever had done this, had no compassion, no humanity. Such a horror had never been seen in this school in all her years. Merlin help them.

-*-*-*-*-

Hermione found herself powerless. She couldn't explain the bruises on her face, or the fact that her wand was gone, her tongue burned so hot at the mere thought of speaking the words she started to tear up. Which is precisely how she found herself in the Headmaster's office, eyeing him warily from across his magnificent desk filled with wondrous curiosities she would have rambled a million questions off about in different circumstances.

“Miss Granger, don't look so stricken,” the Headmaster was trying to be comforting, she was sure, he'd even offered her candy, which she politely declined. “I’m not here to interrogate you.”

“I-I know,” she felt utterly wretched. She wanted to answer his questions. But she already knew she wouldn't be able to.

“I heard you lost your wand. It seems Severus was remiss in not directing you to the nurse first, if you would allow me?” she nodded slowly and he waved his wand over her in a silent, complex pattern. The young witch felt herself emit a warm glow, it blazed a soft gold around her. Her busted lip mended, all her bruises and cuts followed suite. “There, much better, I suspect.”

Hermione nodded jerkily even though it wasn't really a question.

“Now Miss Granger, can you tell me who did this to you?”

Her eyes filled with tears as she tried to force her mouth to form the words, jaw and tongue searing hot lava. Pain she fought with every inch of her to no avail.

At last, she shook her head no.

“I see,” he didn't seem angry, like her potions teacher, or upset with her lack of communication as her head of house had been, only thoughtful.

“Is it because you don't want to tell me?”

“No!” Hermione, expecting her voice to be silenced, ending up near screaming the word. She blushed. Settling back down into her seat.

“I can see this is upsetting you, Miss Granger, and I assure you, I will do whatever I can to help you.” He folded his hands, looking suddenly weary, “I do not wish to upset you further, but I'm afraid I must ask. Your being injured in the same night seems an odd coincidence. Did you know Miss Benson well?”

Hermione shook her head, “No.” She hadn't. And she almost regretted that now.

“Alright,” he pondered for a moment, expression nearly absent-minded. “Did you perhaps, know she was dead before this morning's announcement?”

Hermione froze, unable to so much as nod her head. A hot, bitter tear leaked down her chin. How many of those awful things had she spent because of Riddle? And contrary to how she seemed as of late, Hermione had never thought of herself as a girl who cried easily.

“Do you know, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore mused, eyes twinkling, “There was a study, done by muggles no less, that proved that eighty percent of communication is done by expression, and not verbally. For instance, one could order a delightful lemon tart, but if I wore this face as I asked for it,” he mimed a angry face, “the vendor would immediately take offense. Do you see what I mean?”

Hermione shook her head.

He smiled indulgently, “Even when you can't speak,” he emphasized with a knowing look, “Your expression says much.”

“I think I understand,” Hermione said carefully. His light eyes twinkled in approval.

“Good, Miss Granger, very good. I'm told you are very clever, top of your class.”

Hermione blushed, unused to anything more than begrudging acknowledgement. “Yes, sir.”

“I also know now that you are very brave,” he said it with certainty, eyeing her in appraisal. “Now I suggest you get to class and put that cleverness to use. As for the matter of your wand, I don't suppose you can tell me it's location either?”

She shook her head forlornly.

“Well, that is a shame,” he noted gravely, “I shall inform your parents of it's loss and we will arrange for you to have have a supervised trip to Ollivanders the moment the money arrives.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Please, call me Dumbledore, and do not hesitate to come to me in the future, Miss Granger. I will help you in any way I can.”

“Thank you sir,” she managed, her voice only a little choked. She'd expected admonishment, but gotten kindness and unexpected understanding instead.

“Take care Miss Granger, and remember, my door is always open to students in need.”

She nodded, wishing she could say more. Wishing he'd ask more questions so maybe her expression could tell him the answer. Instead she found herself leaving with a awkward smile and a note from the Headmaster for her professors about the loss of her wand asking her to be allowed to simply observe in class and not participate until a new wand could be found for her. Another blow. Anxiety churned inside her.

Could she really allow that monster Riddle to keep her wand? To allow herself to be paired with a new wand? Distaste poured through her. Riddle had no right. That wand was hers. No other would feel as right. Yet she couldn't stomach the idea of kneeling to him. Not after what she'd seen him do. Hermione tossed her head back and scowled determinedly, she'd made her decision the moment she'd walked out of that classroom and she wouldn't turn her back on her principles now.

-*-*-*-

Obsidian ice consumed her. It made her feel brittle and so cold her teeth ached. That taunting smile, grafted on a face of a innocent waif, was a utter contradiction. A look meant only for her eyes, and she felt her flesh prickle into goosebumps as his gaze caught and held her. It drowned her in darkness, a black, haunting abyss that held no mercy. A moth being eaten slowly by a dark, insidious flame.

No. She fought fire with fire, glaring at him in defiance until his face shadowed with barely leashed anger.

“Are you alright?” Neville asked her softly at lunch. Hermione blinked, looking down from her stare off with Riddle reluctantly.

“Fine,” she cut a large bite of her chop to prove it, chewing it diligently.

“You just seem distracted, and there were rumors about you being beat up. Though you look just fine now.”

When she didn't answer the shy boy ventured hesitantly, “What happened to your wand, anyway? It's not like you to be the one losing stuff.”

“It doesn't matter,” her tone was a little sharper than intended. Neville shrugged, lowering his head as he scooped a bite of mashed potatoes.

“Just asking, is all,” he muttered, “You don't have to say.”

“Sorry, I just had a rough night.” Hermione felt ashamed at realizing she'd been taking her anger at Riddle out on her only friend.

She jolted in her seat as a tray settled down next to hers, the other one of the two who had appeared from thin air demanded of Neville to “Move down one for me, yeah, mate?” Before settling on her other side. The other two came from the opposite end of the table and people eagerly moved out of their way, making space with awe. Hermione rolled her eyes. What were the four of them doing sitting next to her?

“See you in class, Hermione,” Neville had arrived before her, and finished eating just before the four older boys descended. He also seemed oblivious to her discomfort at being surrounded as he left, no matter how her eyes begged him not to go. He gave her a happy wave as began to walk from the Gryffindor table, and she fought the urge to roll her eyes at his oblivious thickness.

“Hey Granger,” Harry Potter, golden boy and youngest seeker in Hogwarts history greeted her like they always spoke to one another.

His red headed counterpart Ron added, “You going to eat that?” While he pointed at the last two chicken tenders on her plate. She shook her head and he smiled boyishly before shoving both pieces into his mouth and chewing noisily. She cringed.

“Don't mind Ronniekins, he was raised by wolves,” One of the twins, George Weasley if she suspected correctly, informed her in a fakely dramatic sadness.

“Yes, the tragic tale of ginger wolf boy,” Fred Weasley added with a wink.

“Stop calling me Ronniekins.” Ron managed after he force swallowed the chicken.

“Sure thing Ronniekins.”

“Won't happen again, Ronniekins.”

“I don't mean to be rude,” Hermione began uneasily.

“But what are we all doing here?” Harry asked her with a knowing glint in his green eyes. “Getting to know our new friend of course.”

“New friend?” She asked, utterly confused.

“Yeah, Dumbledore mentioned you've been feeling a bit lonely,” the fourth year boy smiled at her, his look hinting at something but she could hardly guess what, encased as she was in so much testosterone, “Don't worry, we’ll keep you company.”

“Walk you to your classes,” George added.

“It's the least we can do,” Fred added. “Dumblys being down right generous, what with this taking place of detention.”

They all smiled at her. As if doing her a favor she hadn't asked for was so benevolent of them. Even as they stood to gain from it. Her expression didn't mirror their hopeful enthusiasm.

“Being my friend is equivalent to detention?” Hermione asked the words carefully, and the red headed twin had the decency to feign denial, or try to, as he worked out what he had said to set her off. Large or small, all girls were hard to deal with.

“Yes. Wait. I mean no. Hold on-”

“No it's better than detention,” his counterpart offered, and after a glance at her expression, “Alright, I admit, that's not much better sounding...” he winced after noticing how the stern expression only solidified on the young girl's lightly freckled features. George looked to Harry helplessly.

“No, it's not much better at all,” Hermione agreed primly, feeling herself stiffen defensively, “”Look, if that's all, I'm quite fine walking to my classes on my own. I'm truly sorry if that leads to your inevitable punishment.”

“Look, detention or not, if Dumbledore had just asked me to walk you to class, I would have. He doesn't ask for favors lightly,” Harry offered, seemingly the most intuitive of the lot. Hermione's eyes narrowed, flecks of amber irises sparking in her ire.

“I don't need the chivalry, I can protect myself.”

“Chivalry, that's a big word for a second year,” Ron praised, but it only served to raise her hackles further.

“No, antidisestablishmentarianism is a large word for a twelve year old, chivalry, however, is a word found in children's books about Prince Charming.” Hermione felt cornered, and pathetic, and when she felt those two things well… as Neville put it, she could be a bit shrewish.

Fred and George snorted in unison before erupting into laughter.

“Ronniekins got told,” one began between fits of exaggerated laughter.

“By a second year girl,” the other finished, also laughing away.

“You’ll have to excuse them,” Harry told her, despite being obviously bemused by the two sixth year boys’ antics.

“Yeah, they're morons,” Ron muttered churlishly.

“Oh don't be sad, Ronniekins,” Fred uttered in syrupy mockery.

“Yeah, plenty of people get outwitted by twelve year olds,” George supplied dryly.

“Although most of them are other twelve year olds, but don't let that distress you, mate.”

“Alright guys, enough,” Harry smiled at Hermione, and it was that hundred watt, reckless confident smirk that made all the girls in their year coo like pigeons. Lucky for her, puberty hadn't truly hit yet. She felt no gooey ridiculousness at his efforts.

“Let us walk you, you might even find that we begin to grow on you,” Harry offered, green eyes energetic behind his glasses and messy hair.

“In Ronniekins case, like fungus.”

“Or mold.”

“Knock it off, bastards.”

Despite herself, she found her lips twitching at their antics. They might be the elite of Gryffindor popularity, but George and Fred were instigating prats, and Ronald ate like every bite was his last meal and Harry...Hermione tilted her head at him. He seemed kind, and genuine enough, although she promised herself not to be fooled into thinking any of them actually wanted to be around her.

“Just until you get your wand back,” Harry added, expression coaxing, like you would a small animal. Hermione sighed, and smiled reluctantly back at the chocolate haired boy. His good humor, and that of his friends, was infectious and impossible not to join in on or envy. Besides, he was right, being alone in the halls without a wand was dangerous. She could honestly use the help, bravery wouldn't conjure magic from thin air.

“Alright, you can walk me,” she ignored the twins whooping at her reluctant agreement, and Ron's sandwich filled grin. (He kept just finding food and stuffing more in, where did he put it all on his lanky frame?) She chose to focus all her attention instead on Harry's proud nod instead, his own slight smile causing her own lips to curl upward in response.

“Good, it's settled, I'll be walking you to Muggle Studies, then. We’ll do it in shifts. Fred and then George have next.” Harry nodded at each in turn, confirming that she'd guessed who was who of the twins correctly all along, “Ron will escort you to breakfast tomorrow morning.” He added, and Ron held up a chicken wing in a needless salute.

“Never late to breakfast, that one,” Fred noted sagely.

“Or lunch, or dinner,” George added to his twin with a smirk.

“We’ll make up the rest from there,” he added easily, as if that summed up the matter. Hermione almost bit her tongue, but she couldn't quite keep her opinion to herself.

“Shouldn't you make a written schedule, so no one gets confused?” The studious girl suggested, quite patiently she thought.

“Blimey, she sounds like a little professor. Doesn't she?” Ron asked, in part awe and part horror, “Like a mini McGonagall asking if we've finished our homework, right? Tell me she doesn't!”

“Its uncanny,” Fred agreed easily.

“A bit,” George added.

“We haven't had the time,” Harry shot his friends a clear warning glance and Ron dramatically made a 'what did I do???’ face, while his twin older brothers only looked remorselessly innocent, earning a sigh from the bespectacled wizard. He turned back to Hermione in apology, “What with Quidditch and homework, it's hard to find time.”

“I could write it,” Hermione offered, almost immediately, needing the sense of pre established routine in her day to day. “Just give me a copy of your schedules and I can find the best rotation, without compromising your schedules, of course.” She added thoughtfully, “I could plan for two weeks in advance, and of course we would dismiss it the moment I had my wand again.”

“Here’s mine,” George and Fred slapped their schedules on her books, eager to give away the duty of arranging the tedious task of deciding who would walk the young witch.

Ron shuffled through his things, loudly, for a long moment before slapping a sticky piece of parchment on top, “Mine too.”

“Here,” Harry handed the parchment directly to her, “You don't have to, you know.” He added, green eyes boring into hers, trying to figure her out. It was another kindness, and well meant she was almost sure, but Hermione wasn't used to boys being nice to her, especially older boys. Outside of Neville, her interactions with the opposite gender were very limited, and Neville hardly counted.

“I know,” she uttered stiffly, cheeks red as she stuffed their schedules into a book, all but Ron’s, whose sticky parchment she placed in the cover of her least favorite book. Her Potion's class text.

Walking through the halls with Harry Potter was a much different experience than she was used to. People were staring, and while not exactly at her, it unnerved her all the same. Their eyes roving Harry, some in admiration, some in envy, and others, like nearly every Slytherin they passed, in flat out hate. For the most part their eyes skidded past her, finding her too unimportant for notice.

Many people stopped to say hi, or congratulate him on his Quidditch team’s latest victory over Hufflepuff. Harry took it in stride, nodding or smiling but never flat out bragging. Hermione watched him interact curiously, near certain she'd never be this close to a popular boy ever again, at least, after her wand was returned that is. It seemed a rare chance of observation. A brief flash of horror flew through her mind, a image blazed there in shadow and flame. Riddle bent over the Ravenclaw girl, Benson, his expression monstrously satisfied as she screamed and broke.

No, Riddle didn't count as a popular boy. He barely counted as a human. With difficulty, she forced the image away, feeling a little sick to her stomach.

Harry looked down at her in concern, it was hard to tell from her mass of bushy hair, but it seemed the small girl had grown paler. The circles under her lively brown eyes more pronounced.

“Are you feeling ok?” Harry asked gently. He'd always had a soft spot for kids, or anyone weaker than himself really. His cousin Dudley, a muggle boy, was a right bully, and Harry loathed him so greatly he had decided to do more than just not bully others. He stood up for those who were bullied. Bullying the bullies, his dad called it, winking at him fondly as he did so.

Perhaps that's why Dumbledore had so readily asked him for help even though he wasn't a prefect, yet, being only a fourth year. He saw the elderly, sweet-toting wizard enough in his office over disciplinary incidents where Harry's defense of the victim had maybe gone a bit over the top. As a result, Dumbledore and he had gotten quite close. And, to be fair, usually all the times the incidents got out of hand just so happened to coincide with each and every time the twins had tried to join in and help. The curly haired witch trailing silently at his side looked tiny, helpless, and in need of friends who didn't run at the first sign of trouble like that chubby bloke had when they approached her.

“Granger?” belatedly, he realized she hadn't heard him the first time. The hall was relatively quiet, class was soon to start, but she seemed a little too startled to hear her own name spoken aloud.

“Sorry, what?” her questioning gaze was clear and piercing, he could see why Ron thought she was a bit like a professor. Not many adults carried themselves so purposefully, let alone twelve year old girls.

“I asked if you felt well,” Harry stopped her short of reaching the classroom, tugging the very edge of her robe, just once.

“I-” She swallowed, trying to stand fuller than her full height. “Perfectly well, thanks.”

He laughed, imagining she thought she sounded very mature and together, and he could see the effort in her set shoulders.

“There were rumors about a second year who showed up to Potions class all beat up, and without her wand,” he paused as the curly haired witch froze, “Thought so... it was you?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” Hermione told him curtly. The messy haired boy nodded and scratched the back of his head.

“Fair enough,” and they stood there awkwardly for a moment.

“Look, Gryffindors look out for each other, we might not be as loyal as Hufflepuffs, but we’re not like the Slytherins either. It's not every man, or witch, for themselves. You can trust us.”

“It's not a matter of trust,” Hermione said simply, fighting the urge to cover the mark she knew was on her collarbone, even hidden as it was by layers of her shirt and robe. It felt like Harry knew too much, saw too much. He wanted to help so badly, and it was obvious. But she couldn't tell him anything, Riddle had seen to that.

“Right, well, just saying,” now he looked a bit awkward, almost endearingly so, shifting side to side.

“Thanks, Potter,” she pushed a errant curl behind her ear, “I appreciate it.”

“Call me Harry,” he offered with a bright smile, it made his green eyes sparkle behind his glasses.

“Harry,” she tested it and nodded, “You can call me Hermione if you want, although I suppose Granger is simpler.” She smiled in bemusement.

“How about Mione?” He offered, “Unless you don't like it,” he added quickly.

“No, it's perfect, I've never had a nickname before” she admitted, and then blushed.

“Mione it is,” he winked cheekily at her.

“I better get to class,” she smiled begrudgingly at the older boy. He ruffled her hair and she scowled. As if it wasn't a nightmare to tame as it was. He only laughed at her scowl and took off down the hall, greeting more friends as he went.

Chapter Text

"Calm down girl, why you so mad?
Why's your heart gone
Oh good girl, why you upset?
Guess they have forgotten what they did...

And does it get your blood boiling
And does it make you see red?
And do you wanna destroy it
Does it get in your head?
Cause it gets my blood boiling
And I'm coming unglued
It would hit you like poison
If you knew what I knew
You would be angry too"

-Angry Too Lola Blanc

Hermione sat through Muggle Studies restlessly. Despite the fact that she'd barely slept, nightmares keeping her tossing and turning all night to the point where she'd cast a silencing charm around her just in case her cries disturbed her dorm mates. Despite the lack of sleep she still felt wired, too jittery, muscles tensing and locking in anxiety as she restlessly nibbled the tip of her quill. The library would make her feel better. She needed to research. To try and figure out what that monster was, to understand anything she could about the mark Riddle had put on her.

While Professor Burbage did her best, as always, to be engaging in her delivery of the subject matter, Hermione found her attention wandering in Muggle Studies. Her notes not nearly as perfect as they should have been, but by the time she realized as much, the class was over and students began filling out, whispering about the only thing anyone was speaking about since the morning announcement in the Great Hall.

“Found in the third floor corridor, heard her eyeballs were out of her skull,” one boy, a second year Ravenclaw with a slight lisp shared almost eagerly. Hermione scrunched her nose.

“Well I heard that when they found her she was frozen like the other boy but she'd started to crack apart-” she tuned the rest out.

As if the truth of the matter wasn't horrific enough, the rumors surrounding it grew more gruesome with each telling.

“It must be scary to be a half blood, or even worse, a muggleborn, right now,” Parvati Patel stage whispered to her sister.

“I know, can you imagine?” Her twin uttered in horror, they caught sight of Hermione and quickly moved on. She sighed.

“Don't look so glum,” A cheery voice suggested as she broke free of the mass of students and entered the hall, slinging his long arm across her shoulders in a heavy weight.

“Yeah, you've got the two best escorts a witch could ask for, right Fred?” his twin added, slinging his arm around her too, so that she was being forcibly guided between the two much taller freckled boys.

“You couldn't be more correct George,” Fred nodded, “I know what will cheer you up!” He rummaged in his pockets, pulling out something concealed in his fist, “The next time someone says something dumb, or just annoying, use these.”

Hermione stared curiously at the handful of candy he dropped into her palm, the wrappers shiny and enticing. “What does it do?" she asked suspiciously. The twin fifth year wizards were known for more than just their skills as beaters on the Gryffindor quidditch team, they were also notorious pranksters.

“It's candy,” George supplied innocently.

“Special candy, for dunderheaded twats.” Fred added with a wink. “Don't worry, it's not harmful,” he added at her distrustful expression.

“Much,” his twin added with a smirk.

“Thanks,” normally, Hermione would have refused their offer, she was certain whatever they'd given her bent if not broke a few school rules, but without a wand, she needed any sort of defense she could manage. She stuffed the treats in her pocket.

“So,” one began lightly as they rounded the corner, headed towards the greenhouse outdoors for her Herbology lesson. “Which slimey Slytherin do we get the pleasure of turning into snake juice?”

“Excuse me?” Hermione asked, scrunching her nose up at the blue eyed boy.

“Is it Malfoy?” The other asked almost gleefully, “Please say it's him. That sot really has it coming, I'd love to mess up his pointy ferret face.”

“I don't know, with so many gits to choose from, it's hard to limit yourself to just one, you know George?”

“I get you completely, Fred.”

“Maybe the noble house of Salazar needs a little gift to show them what we think of them messing with out housemates,” the other supplied with a cunning grin.

“I love the way you think,” his twin exchanged a nearly identical expression. “Now, are you thinking what I'm thinking?”

“The big one?”

“Definitely.”

“You don't have to do anything,” Hermione denied, horrified at the idea of anyone breaking the school rules on her behalf.

“It's our pleasure,” George assured her, misunderstanding her concerns entirely.

“Dumblys told us whoever messed with you had to be older, something about some spell or something he suspects was used,” the first began.

“Told us to keep an eye out for older boys, especially Slytherins.”

“And when we heard about a second year witch being beat up, well, doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened.”

“Thank Merlin or Ron would never have been able to keep up,” George added sagely. His twin snickered.

“Just leave it to us, Mione.”

Hermione startled at hearing the same nickname twice in one day.

“Harry told us, it's less of a mouthful, and Granger is a bit stodgy, ya know?”

“You don't mind? Course not,” he tugged her a bit by the arm still slung over her shoulder.

“Lucky you made such brilliant friends, I know, it's a bit much to take in,” his twin teased at her silence.

“You've all been very kind,” Hermione began, a little self consciously, “But you don't have to do anything to the Slytherins just because of me.”

“Course we do,” Fred scoffed, “No one hurts our Mione and gets away with it.” She knew he was joking, but still, she couldn't help but flush a little at his words. She'd never had friends like this. Boisterous and outgoing, and fun. But also protective and caring. She didn't even know boys could be like this.

“Don’t worry, you won't get in any trouble,” George assured her, mistaking her concern. She was more worried about the trouble they might get in on her behalf than anything happening to her.

“Yeah, we do this all the time, it's just you've given us a perfectly good reason this time. Impossible to pass up, really.”

They were there, at her Herbology class, and Hermione marveled at how quick the trip seemed. The twins were a whirlwind, sucking a person in and pulling them into their reckless momentum.

“Be good, little Mione,” Fred mussed her hair, mashing it a bit into a frizzier fluff. This was a habit she would really have to break him and Harry of, eventually.

“Anyone messes with you, you just tell us, and we'll deal with it,” George added, chucking her chin.

The tawny haired witch didn't have much of a excuse for how she reacted then. It was just, it had been such a terrible couple of days, although it felt so much longer since she'd found Riddle in that hallway. The weight of Riddle's actions, and her own inability to speak of them, was suffocating her, and then they had to show up. Harry, Fred and George, and maybe even Ron, they were so unexpectedly nice to her. Comforting when she didn't expect anyone to really care. Her classmates certainly didn't. Not a single one of them had even asked if she was alright, save Neville. It was just...a bit much to take in all at once...

“She looks a bit weepy,” Fred mused, and George elbowed him.

“Just overwhelmed by our awesome, I suspect,” George teased, “Ginny gets the same way, should we?”

“We should.”

Hermione found herself crushed between them in a hug that felt more like a train wreck.

“Can't...breathe…” she gasped.

“There,” they broke apart, “Much better.”

“Squished the emotions right out.”

“Who's Ginny?” Hermione asked, trying to breath properly again.

“Our little sister.”

“Pain in the arse.”

“You'd like her, she’s a first year.”

Poor girl, Hermione mused wryly, it seems like they did this to their sister often.

“Take care, Mione.”

“Don't forget the candy,” Fred added with a wink, and they loped off, their long strides carrying them quickly towards the Scottish castle and it's giant front doors.

-*-*-*-*-

The next morning Ronald Weasley took her to breakfast. She was even paler than before, the circles under her eyes darker and more prominent, but he hardly noticed. Yawning noisily, he scratched his head, robes messy and askew on his gangly frame.

Conversation between them was sparse, merely a awkward hello and a lot of ensuing silence as they made their way to the Great Hall. He really was nothing like his older brothers, but she made no effort to engage him either. Instead, she savored the quiet journey, it gave Hermione time to think about what she'd discovered in the library the night before. A few mentions of the Chamber of Secrets, mixed in with a lot of blood purity propaganda. Salazar Slytherin being one of the most notable muggle haters in wizarding history. Muggle tolerance was a new concept, and highly tentative. Few students signed up for Muggle Studies, fewer still paid it any attention.

Mudblood.

The way his cold voice had uttered it, with such utter contempt. Riddle hadn't denied her calling him the Heir of Slytherin, she suspected he wanted someone to know. Slytherins were a proud, ambitious lot, and while Riddle's reputation had always been of a studious, shy sort, she knew now that was merely his camouflage. He wasn't anything he pretended to be in front of the student populace and professors. He was something cruel and terrifying.

Frustrating her further, the library had yielded nothing about the mark on her chest. Save for what she already knew. The snake was coiled in the infinity pattern, which represented eternity, empowerment or, she snorted inwardly at the last definition. Everlasting love. Yeah. Right. If Riddle could even manage the barest of genuine human sentiment she would be shocked to the core of her being. You didn't torture others like that if you had a sliver of a conscience.

My toy.

Hermione bristled, shutting out his voice inside her head. Never. He hadn't approached her once since that night. Although, occasionally, she caught him staring at her in the Great Hall during meals, his expression running her blood to ice. Although she suspected others just saw the studious Tom Riddle sitting in quiet contemplation. She knew what his demented mind was capable of. Murder. Torture. His dark gaze snagged her own abruptly, as if hearing her thoughts. Her eyes ducked down towards her plate. Every serving of food sitting on her plate had suddenly lost its appeal, her stomach turning into itself.

To distract herself, she idly listened to the four boys around her talk. Harry and his friends had crowded around her, Neville too, although he seemed very quiet this morning.

“Mum’s going to pitch a fit if I fail another Potions test,” Ron complained, adding extra butter to a thick slice of toast before drowning it in marmalade and chewing down a large bite in record time, “I'm doomed, mate.”

“Well, I haven't got the time to tutor you, besides, I barely pass as it is.” Harry shrugged, “Good luck mate.”

“Mum's gonna send another howler for sure,” Fred chuckled gleefully.

“The last one was a beaut, next one is sure to be better,” George agreed, chuckling along.

“What part of Potions, exactly?” Hermione's careful question caused all the boys to turn to her in speculation.

“It's fourth year stuff,” Ron muttered, “We have a five foot parchment due on the properties of werewolf venom by next Tuesday, Snape is such a slimy git. Doesn't he know the Slytherin Gryffindor match is coming up?”

“Do you play?” Hermione honestly didn't pay enough attention to the sport to notice who all was on the teams. She usually brought a good book to the matches, sitting next to Neville so he wasn't alone.

“No,” Ron sputtered. His lack of participation when all of his friends played on the team was a sore spot for the boy, “But still.”

“I think werewolf venom is a terribly interesting subject, do you know it's actually used in certain healing potions? In light concentrates and with the proper spells in place it can be quite rejuvenating,” Hermione’s eyes, still darkened by shadows from her lack of sleep, positively shown with passion as she spoke.

“Blimey,” Ron muttered.

“Oh, that reminds me,” she pulled out four identical sheets of parchment, “The schedules, review them and let me know if I need to make any changes.” She handed each boy a meticulous parchment with clear classes and their names by each rotation.

“Already?” Ron sputtered. “You only had our schedules for a day!”

“I'm sure they're perfect, Mione,” Harry said graciously, pocketing his after folding it up without a glance. The twins exchanged a long look, mischief dancing in their eyes.

“You should tutor poor Ronniekins,” George told her with a smirk, “He will never make it without you.”

“She's only a second year she can't possibly-” Ron began, flushing a sort of tomato color.

“Did you know that bit about werewolf venom being used in health potions?” Harry challenged lightly, chewing a piece of bacon leisurely.

“No, well, I suppose, if you don't have anything better to do...I mean,” he added at Harry's censoring look, “Will you please help me, um...Mione?” He made the casual form of address sound awkward and out of place but she smiled nonetheless. She would love to get her hands on some fourth year curriculum. It would put her ahead of her classmates by far, she was near certain.

“I could try,” she agreed, knowing her own lack of knowledge might make teaching another somewhat harder. But he had his text book surely, and Hermione knew books.

“Me too.”

“Yeah, count me in.”

“But you are sixth years,” Ron sputtered at his brothers.

“Don't think it matters, mate.” Fred shrugged.

“Smart is smart,” George agreed

“Actually I'm having problems with this part in my Transfiguration class,” Harry began bashfully, “It's this formula for turning stuff into animated objects with repetitive runes.”

“Obram’s Theorem, I've heard of it,” Hermione began excitedly.

“We are really going to let a second year girl tutor us?” Ron asked them all. George snorted. Fred scoffed. Harry looked uneasy.

“You're the one who needs her help the most, you idiot,” Fred told his brother matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, unless you want another howler.”

Ron blanched. “No, thanks. Gra- I mean, Mione, I appreciate it. The tutoring thing, I mean.” It was still utterly awkward between them. She got the feeling Ron didn't like her, and she wasn't quite sure why.

“I could make a tutoring schedule?” Hermione offered helpfully.

“That's the spirit,” Fred cheered her, toasting her with his goblet of pumpkin juice.

“I feel better about my O.W.L.S. already,” George sighed with a smile.

“Neville, you can come too,” Hermione added, suddenly conscious of the unusually quiet boy sitting on the fringes of their group.

“Sure,” he smiled at her, happy not to be forgotten, and she felt bad he would doubt her for even a second. These older boys might be paying her attention now, thanks to Dumbledore, but once she had a new wand all that would change. Things would go back to normal, just her and Neville, like always.

“It's settled then,” Harry stood up and pulled the schedule from his pocket. “Looks like George has next shift.”

“George and I will do our shifts together,” Fred informed them smartly, shrugging his bag on his shoulders. “Come on, smarty pants, we know you're itching to get to class and cram that giant brain with knowledge.”

“He means well, just a bit daft is all, shame I got all the good genes,” George told her, “Your brain is perfectly normal sized, just functions better than most.” He winked at her.

“Oi, no fair charming her, that's my job,” Fred nudged his brother, “My lady?” He mockingly offered his elbow, but quite insisted she take it. With a roll of her eyes she complied, the fit awkward because of the serious difference in heights.

“That's not how you escort a lady, you buffoon,” his twin scoffed. George's eyes twinkled as he grabbed her hand and kissed it. Hermione was beet red at the spectacle they were causing, and of course, the twins were enjoying every moment of it. Every student at the Gryffindor table was staring at their antics, and some from the surrounding tables as well.

“My Lady,” George bowed, and gently put her arm inside his. “See? That's how it's done.”

“Showoff.”

“Cad.”

“Idiot.”

“Mama's boy.”

“Ron.”

“Take that back!”

“Never.”

Hermione shook her head at them, her lips twitching against laughter even as she felt mortified by all the attention.

“A duel to the death then,” Fred mused.

“At dawn.”

“Pistols?”

“No,” George gave his twin a serious, long stare over Hermione's head, “Rubber chickens.”

Hermione snorted, erupting into laughter. It was so stupid. They were so absolutely moronic and simultaneously brilliantly ridiculous she couldn't keep it in much longer.

“Finally,” George smirked, and they dropped her arms.

“Someone with a decent sense of humor,” Fred added, “Let us away, madam.”

Hermione used her robes to mock curtsey, and the twins bowed, and they left the hall still snickering. Caught in one of those silly laughs that bubble up from nowhere and just keep repeating. Hermione hadn't laughed like that in so long, not since she realized she was different. That she had magic. It felt like forever ago. For just a millisecond she forgot all about Riddle, and all the unfairness and injustice in the world, and she simply laughed, just for the joy of it.

Of course it only seemed to figure that with her luck of late, such a good start to a day, had to have consequences later on. Hermione had gotten too used to her Gryffindor protectors. She left the library that evening, barely checking around her as she did so. Perhaps if the distracted witch had, she would have noticed a pair of steel grey eyes trailing her every move. A blonde haired fourth year slipping out of the library just behind her.

Hermione yelped as she felt herself jammed against a wall, a wand held threateningly at her chest.

“Shut up, mudblood,” Malfoy, she vaguely recognized him. A fourth year Slytherin bully. His shrewd silver eyes darted around frantically, afraid of being caught. Obviously cornering her wasn't his idea.

“Riddle sent you,” Hermione guessed, dread bubbling in her gut. She'd been expecting it, but it frightened her all the same.

“You should know better than to speak his name,” he spat, and Hermione touched her throbbing lip, her fingers coming back wet with a dark crimson smear of blood. For a moment she couldn't feel the realness of it.

He'd hit her. Utterly unprovoked. Hermione glowered, eyes snagging on his wand in disgust and anger. If she had her wand, he would be on the floor by now. She had seen Malfoy bullying others, his tactics were petty and his wand work fairly sloppy. No wonder the brute resorted to using his fists to attack. So like the very worst of the muggles he openly loathed, perhaps it was true what they said. You hate in others most what you hate inside yourself.

“What do you call him. Riddle, I mean?” Hermione asked curiously. Grey eyes flickered disdain.

“He is ‘My Lord’ to you, mudblood.”

“You can't be serious.”

At his sputtered angry expression she sighed loudly. Of course he was serious. How mad was Riddle, exactly, that he asked to be called such a thing at fourteen? My Lord indeed, she scoffed inwardly

“Well, take me to him, then.”

“You don't order me about,” a light red hue appeared on Malfoy’s proud, aristocratic cheekbones.

“Of course not,” Hermione began carefully, overly aware of his wand, pointed at her, and his fragile ego, which he tried to hide with all his petty bullying. “Let's get this over with, you don't want to be around me anymore than necessary, do you?” It appeared she said exactly the right thing because he nodded, jerking his head forward.

“Go on, then.”

He lead her to the Slytherin dungeons, poking her with his wand to navigate the way. She was certain her side would have deep bruises by morning. The amber eyed witch sucked in a fortifying breath as they approached the Slytherin common room and Malfoy drawled the password, Animortium, leisurely. The stones slid open, revealing a cold and open chamber. One wall was magical glass, showing the murky depths of the school lake. A shadow shifted in the background, the Giant Squid perhaps? On the other end a green fire crackled ominously, casting the waiting, dark robed wizards in a eerie emerald light. Hermione felt her heart pound as she took their circle in, Riddle clearly at the head, his dark eyes glittering ferally as they settled on her.

The furniture had been cleared, shifted to the edges of the space. To make room for this, whatever it was. Hermione forced herself forward, her eyes locked with Riddle's, which seemed to infuriate him almost instantly.

“You will bow to your betters, mudblood,” he ordered, his voice that same careful, candid cadence that never failed to set her teeth on edge. Her eyes flickered over the group. Some she vaguely knew by name, Goyle, Lestrange, Knott, others were strangers to her.

“When I see them, I will.”

“Crucio,” she thought she'd been expecting it, prepared this time. Nothing prepared you from having your body ripped apart, molecule by molecule, all at once, she tore and screamed with it. Bowed and broke into sobs and garbled pleas. Her muscles writhed in white hot pain, bone as brittle as ceramic smashed against brick. Snap, crackle, pop.

“Had enough?” Riddle asked in icy bemusement as he released her from the curse. His eyes glowing with the after effects.

“Kneel before me, and I will show you mercy,” the boy whispered, as seductively as Satan himself. Hermione never wanted to feel that again, once has been enough for two lifetimes. Why couldn't she stop twitching?

“Sod off Riddle,” she spit, and it was blood that landed on his pristine, purebred shoes. Oh no, she stifled a mad giggle, the horror.

“This filthy creature needs to know her place, I want you all to take turns. Nothing you can't heal immediately or I'll be sure to show you my dislike of incompetence. Dumbledore is already too curious.”

“Observe,” he waved his wand, speaking a hissing of syllables that could only be parseltongue. Her body went ice cold, every nerve and cell frozen, before her body began to boil, so hot she began pouring sweat. All her wounds vanished though, her twisted ankle, the fracture in her wrist her throbbing, bleeding temple. Her bright eyes stabbed up at him in scorn as she began to stumble to her feet. If only she had a wand. They wouldn't find her such the easy target.

“Have fun, but remember, nothing you can't heal,” he smirked at her, black eyes glittering cruelly, and turned her over to his mad mob with a flippant toss of his wand.

It was a blur of horror from that point on. Boys she barely knew, some older, and others like Knott, her age, but it hardly mattered. They all seemed eager to prove themselves to their demented master. Hexes and jinxes were thrown at her in painful accuracy, only to be healed, so the next could torture her. The circle spun and spun, mind horrifying pain and momentary relief, cruelty shimmering in their eyes, satisfaction slickening their mouths. Hermione fell time and time again to the ground in agony, helpless to defend herself. Subjected to each attack in full force. It seemed to go on for hours.

Her mind numbing to the horror. No longer did she beg for them to see reason. They were just like Riddle. Or maybe worse. Riddle was what he was, a monster, for whatever reason, it was his nature. Something cold and unfeeling slithered behind his mask of humanity. Some of the boys facing her seemed a bit sick, faces pale, they knew it was wrong. Felt it. Not sharing in their other cohorts sick glee at her pain and misery. But continued anyway. Out of cowardice. She found herself loathing them most of all.

“Enough,” Riddle finally commanded, and Hermione sagged in relief. Her body spasming from so much abuse, despite the constant healing.

“So, mudblood, are you willing to kneel now?” His hand gently caressed his wand as he addressed her, dark eyes gleaming from the face of a mad devil.

“My Lord,” she mockingly rasped the words, flipping him off, a thing her mother never would have condoned but the defiant girl felt was all too called for in these circumstances, causing his mouth to draw into a tight line, “I will never kneel to you, you foul-”

“Crucio,” the violent jet of green slammed her from her feet. Her back bowed, her raspy voice screaming until her vocal cords bled. She clawed and tore at her own skin, she needed out. All this miserable flesh was trying her to this agony, it was high time she ripped it off. Fingers dug deep, clawing rivers of red. It went on and on, finally she was a bloodied heap, rakes of her own nails having scoured deeply into her arms, face and midriff.

He left her like that for a small eternity. Bleeding from her own self inflicted wounds. Twitching on the floor with the spasming after effects of one of the darkest, most forbidden curses known to exist.

“Epidermis mendus,” Riddle curled the words in dissatisfaction, and her skin began to knit itself back together, the bleeding scratches fading and leaving only rusty red-brown trails in their wake. Weeping momentos of her torment.

“Leave us,” Riddle ordered his obedient band of terrible minions. They scattered silently, so obedient and cowed. Hermione glared at them all. Cowards. Attacking her when she was unarmed, she'd like to see how they fared against her in a fair fight.

“it doesn't have to be this way,” he coaxed, kneeling slightly downward to address her and suddenly donning the role of his more socially acceptable self. “Just kneel to me. I can be gracious. I'll even return your wand.”

“Whatever you do to me,” Hermione's eyes flared amber fire, illuminated in her pale, blood streaked features like a avenging angel. “I promise I will never kneel to you. Keep the wand,” she tilted her chin defiantly, “I’ll figure out what you did to me,” she swore heatedly, “You can't keep this up forever, Riddle.”

“I can,” he hissed, grabbing her chin. Honey eyes opened wide in shock. “You're nothing but another sacrifice for the Chamber, once my knights and I have finished using you, no one can save you from your fate.”

Hermione trembled, remembering the awful creature, the one he'd summoned on Myrtle Benson. The studious girl still hadn't uncovered what that horrible creature was that killed the Ravenclaw girl, despite her hours spent in the library. At least, not yet. But she would. She was nobody's victim.

His dark eyes bore into her, his grip on her cheeks and chin so deep she was certain he would leave bruises.

“Don't think your little Gryffindor guardians can save you, either. I plan to deal with Potter and his lot shortly.”

“You leave them out of this!” Hermione shouted, pushing him off her with the last of her strength, incensed at the thought of anyone in harm's way because of her. It was very likely Riddle's spell would render her unable to so much as warn them, and that thought doubled her righteous anger.

“Oh? Did I strike a nerve?” He chuckled, the sound insidious, without hint of warmth. The dark haired boy captured her flailing hands, trying to beat at him in adrenaline fueled anger.

“Listen closely, mudblood,” he uttered, dragging her so close she could feel his breath on her cheek. “I will destroy everything you hold dear, I will eviscerate you, body and soul. Unless you submit.”

He released her. Black eyes as cold and empty as the grave as he straightened his robes and tie, “Of course, I plan to kill you regardless, but how much you suffer is up to you.”

“Do you even hear yourself when you talk?” Hermione rolled her eyes, “If I know you plan to kill me, of course I'll never surrender. What do I have to lose, except my dignity?”

Hermione yanked his tie, pulling him forward by it, using the element of surprise to her advantage. He never expected her to be so bold. Their height difference had him bent down at a slightly awkward angle, her tinier frame radiating righteous anger.

“You can ravage my body, sure, but you don't know anything about my soul, Riddle,” her eyes narrowed in venomous dislike, “Or you wouldn't have told me you planned to kill me. It's so much easier to stand up to evil when you have nothing to lose,” Hermione scoffed, releasing him as he raised his wand, nostrils flaring in rage as he did so.

“Let me guess, Crucio?” Her eyes danced, perhaps a little madly. “So predictable.”

He snarled, ripping down the collar of her robes. His hand planted itself against the bare flesh there, his mark, burned into her skin. “Kneel,” he uttered in parseltongue, deeply satisfied as her knees buckled, forcing her to obey.

Eyes raging in searing golden fire bore up at him.

“Everyone obeys me, in the end,” he uttered silkenly, “You're no different.”

“I hate you,” Hermione spat sullenly, yanking her robes back into place as he released her. He smirked.

“How you feel about me doesn't matter, just remember, I have all the power here,” she tried to hide her shock as he tossed her wand to the stone floor. It clattered there, her eyes stuck to it.

“Pick it up,” he ordered coldly, “You've made Dumbledore more suspicious, he is watching you too closely, and we can't have that. Can we?”

The curly haired witch snatched her wand from the ground, flexing her fingers around it in satisfaction before whispering a soft, “Scourgify,” from her raw throat, magically cleaning herself of the blood she knew she wouldn't be able to explain. Riddle stepped closer to her and she tensed.

“Episkey,” he healed the split lip Malfoy had given her, she'd forgotten it. The pain of the cruciatus curse lingering in shuddering aches within her body, even still, greatly overshadowed the miniscule pain. An aching cold so bone deep the hollow eyed witch felt like she might never be warm again.

“You can go,” he told her, grasping a fistful of her curls. He was shocked to note that they weren't rough and coarse as he expected, but springy and soft between his tightly clenched fingers. “Just remember who you belong to.” Her eyes teared from his brutal grasp, but still the young girl scoffed at him.

“You don't own me,” She wrenched herself free, leaving his fingers clutching ripped out strands of curly brown hair, her expression fierce despite the pain.

“But I do,” he said assuredly, allowing her to flee and brushing her hair from his hands in disgust. “You're mine.”

Hermione ran from that cold, green illuminated room, but his words followed her. Echoing in mad repetition. Chasing her all the way to her dorm, where she buried her head into her pillow to drown them out. Finally allowing the hot cascade of tears burning inside her to fall. Silent, heavy sobs shook her as she wailed muffled angst into her pillow. I'm not. She assured herself.

She would never belong to that monster.

Chapter Text

"It's too early for surrender
Too late for a prayer
We can't go to hell
If we're already there
They say the end is coming
And I need to prepare
We can't go to hell
If we're already there"

- "Can't Go To Hell" - Sin Shake Sin

 

Hogwarts To Close Its Doors?
'A exclusive interview with Minister Fudge'
By: Rita Skeeter

Hermione scanned the article with heavy eyes. It said just about what she expected it to say, albeit with a flourish for the dramatic that the Quibbler journalist was known for. Rita Skeeter could sensationalize the fact that the sky was blue, and turn it into a scandal against the clouds in a heartbeat. This time her target was, no surprise, the Headmaster of Hogwarts. Words like 'senile’ and 'negligent’ were bandied about quite a bit in the article, causing the girl to scowl. It wasn't really Dumbledore’s fault, at least she didn't think so. It seemed the terrible sort of thing that could happen under the watch of any Headmaster.

“Mum's going to flip a bird,” Fred remarked idly, “She nearly wanted to pull us out after that one bloke, what's his name? Wilson or whatever…got paralyzed, this is sure to send her off the deep end.”

“There'll be no stopping her this time,” George agreed with a sigh. “Better move up the plans.”

“This weekend?”

“Has to be,” he nodded at his twin.

“What about this weekend?” Harry asked curiously.

“Nothing,” the twins chimed in unison. Fred winked at her, confirming Hermione's guess as to what plans, exactly, they were referring to. She had asked them not to get revenge in the Slytherins on her behalf, but after last night, she felt herself lacking the will to press the point.

“I got my wand back,” she uttered softly, and the table dropped quiet.

”That's brilliant!” Ron was the first to comment, “I mean, isn't it?” His tablemates were still unnaturally quiet. Fred and George frowned at each other.

“How?” Harry asked at last, his eyes curiously riveted on her. Their piercing green depths dissecting her.

“I just did,” Hermione shrugged, as if that ended the matter. As much as she enjoyed their company, she couldn't lie to force them to keep escorting her, “So you know, there's no need for you to keep-”

“Oh, look at the time,” George popped up, glancing aghast at a imaginary watch on his wrist. “We don't want to be late for Transfiguration, do we?” It was doubly odd, since everyone knew neither twin cared a bit about tardiness.

“Come on, Mione,” Fred jerked her with them, “It's our turn to walk you, no spoiling it with stupid talk.” They'd taken to sitting on her left side, forcing Ron and Neville to sit across from them.

“There’s really no need, you don't have to feel obligated, seriously,” she began weakly.

“Do you hear something, George?”

“No, nothing, Fred. Must be your imagination, just keep walking,” his twin chirped brightly.

Hermione looked over her shoulder and saw a bemusedly waving Harry, and a scowling Ron. Neville had his head tucked in a Herbology book. The twins tugged her along, and she turned back to face forward, sighing in acceptance.

Harry showed up to walk her to Defense Against the Dark Arts, and a sullen Ron even showed to shuffle silently with her to lunch. It seemed she hadn't lost her new friends, wand or no wand. No, she wasn't all misty eyed at their loyalty, well, not much. And certainly not when anyone could see her. And of course, the tenacious witch wanted to warn them about Riddle, what friend wouldn't? But the words burned, scalding her into silence every time she tried to force them out, her chest throbbing where Riddle's mark was, eating into her flesh.

Every spare second was spent in the library. The boys walked her there at the end of the day, teasing her about being overly studious. On Friday, their first tutoring session began, also in the library, and she patiently began writing out the primary properties of werewolf venom in clean script.

“Why didn't the professor just teach it this way?” Ron grumbled, copying her notes, “I get it now.”

“A marvel, our Mione,” George drawled, looking up from his parchment, “She can teach even the thickest of dolts.”

“Oi!”

“Now, now, Ron, even you have to admit getting you to understand school work is an impossible feat, give the girl her due,” Fred chided.

“Stop teasing him,” Hermione scolded, “He's doing very well.”

“I don't need you to defend me!” Ron exploded, ears burning red as he scooped up his things in a huff.

”Oh, Ronniekins,” one twin began.

“Don't be that way,” the other finished.

“Ron, don't let them get to you,” Harry advised, grabbing his friend's arm and offering a smile. “You're doing really good, and you really need to pass this class.”

“Right...sorry, don't know what came over me,” Ron mumbled, slowly sitting back down. “What's next?” He asked her shyly. Hermione sighed.

“Now we can look at the practical applications, I mean,” she amended, seeing his blank look, “How to use this in actual potions.”

“Oh, I get it,” Ron nodded, writing down a few things. Most of them were even right. Hermione beamed.

“Mione,” Harry looked at her helplessly, and she couldn't help but find the look adorably boyish in it's unguarded vulnerability. “I can't figure out this Transfiguration theory at all, why does the second wand twist effect everything?”

“Oh that's easy,” Hermione took the book from him, pointing eagerly, “See this part here? It says how the motions and words are connected, therefore a wrong twist here could inevitably change the entire meaning of the sound you compel, you see?”

“How did you know that?” Harry asked, aghast, “You barely glanced at the book.”

“I got bored while I was waiting for Ron to finish reading, so I sort of peeked over your textbook. Transfiguration is one of my favorite subjects,” she smiled widely.

“She’s not even human,” Ron decided, shaking his head.

“You're brilliant, Hermione,” Harry told her, and somehow hearing her full name from him hit her harder. She felt herself blush, and hated how obvious she must always seem.

“Now let's see how brilliant,” Fred looked her up and down and then smiled sheepishly, “Don't suppose you know how to prevent a banshee attack?”

“Sorry,” Hermione bit her lip, “Defense isn't my best subject.”

“That's okay,” George assured her, “We need help with all our subjects.”

As it turned out, for the first time the twins weren't kidding. They really did need help. Hermione tried as best she could, but sixth year material was so far beyond what she knew, some things were hard for her to grasp entirely. It seemed George and Fred didn't mind too much, however, plowing onto their next questions with unrelenting gusto. By the time the study session ended her head was crammed with new information. Swimming in it. She never learned half as much in her classes, mostly because she had already read all the way through the textbooks for her year, twice.

“Next Friday, yeah?” Harry asked hopefully. The rest of them turned to stare at her.

“Yeah, next Friday.” She replied, happy as they beamed. All but one, Neville shuffled away, forgotten and ignored. Hermione hated to admit it, but she didn't even see him go.

-*-*-*-*-

“So, what is my little mudblood up to?” Riddle asked the boy dangerously, his posture looking almost painfully stiff even in its most relaxed slant. His dark as night stare boring into the slightly glassy eyed boy in disdain.

Neville Longbottom felt as if the world around him was a long, dark tunnel, and he only caught glimpses of himself in the tiny pinprick of light at the end. On autopilot his lips formed words, dutifully relaying every detail of Hermione's daily activities. What she ate, who she spoke to, how she did in her classes. The dark haired boy took in his jerked words thoughtfully.

“Those Gryffindors are presenting quite the problem,” he rubbed his temple, his mind blurring into a red fury as his true current problem bubbled to the surface. Hogwarts couldn't close. He wouldn't allow it.

The pesky Gryffindors, however, would be easy to solve. Brave and brainless, even easier to manipulate than the cunning and ambitious Slytherins he had scraping at his feet. Quidditch was a brutal game, some had even died playing it. Lucky for him all of his newest victim’s protectors seemed obsessed with the foolish sport.

The imperius spell allowed him to manipulate the slovenly Gryffindor wizard before him. Hard to imagine Longbottom’s blood was pure, but he had proven relatively useful. Enamoured as she was by her new friends, the mudblood seemed ignorant of how easily he'd gained control of the boy. Dismissing him and sending him onward with his spell glazed eyes, Riddle turned his mind to other thoughts.

Observing the girl was necessary to ensure his mark was working properly, but certainly not his most pressing concern. Someone would have to answer for the Benson's witch’s death. Her death had created unintentional consequences, it seemed the mudblood hadn't been entirely stupid. Hogwarts was on the verge of closing, and all over some inconsequential Ravenclaw barely worth the time it took to Scourgify the blood from his robes. It didn't matter, the malicious wizard twisted the signet ring on his finger, a soft exhale of relief filled him at its presence. Nothing could hurt him. Or hinder him.

Regardless, someone had to take the blame. Assure the twittering fools at the Ministry that the problem wouldn't reoccur. Perhaps he would even have to delay ridding himself of his newest toy. If another death or disappearance happened so soon after the guilty party was framed the scapegoat wouldn't stick. That rankled. He truly disliked the curly haired brat. She needed to be shown her place.

Stubborn, obnoxious…

His lip curled. No matter. He needn't waste too much time thinking of her. She was inferior in every way. Dealing with her would be easy. He tried not to picture the way her eyes glinted raw rage at him, even after using the torture curse on her for six minutes, taunting him with the knowledge that controlling her was already proving to be relatively difficult. Most crumbled under a minute or two of the cruciatus curse, where did that child get off? Staring at him like that after he'd shown her what true pain was?

His teeth clenched as he realized where his thoughts had turned. Again. She was inconsequential. Mediocre. Not worth his attention, even in thought.

So why, he furied, was the image of her, streaked in blood and still glaring up at him, emblazoned in his mind? He had no time to waste on trivialities. He had a murderer to discover. To frame and ostracize. The mudblood and her silly and quite pointless disobedience would have to wait.

-*-*-*-*-

The next week passed so quickly Hermione felt she only need blink and it was Friday once more. In the company of her new friends, time itself seemed to grow wings and flutter by her. Even better, Riddle and his disgusting lot stayed their distance. Although many of them gave her disturbing or awkward looks in the halls, they didn't summon her again, and even Riddle seemed preoccupied. His insidious gaze carefully avoiding hers at meal time. All in all, it seemed that when Friday arrived, blistering cold in the Scottish fall, one of those grey days that leached the color from the world, Hermione had never felt better.

The young witch smiled hugely as she observed a gentle drizzle breaking in the afternoon gloom. Her mood entirely unaffected by the dismal weather. A rush of students flew past, their voices a rancorous commotion that blended so well into one another she couldn't pick out any individual words. Soon after a smaller group of Ravenclaws hurried by, alerting her to the fact that something was likely up.

“The whole dorm, can you imagine?”

“Frogs?” A timid Ravenclaw boy questioned.

“And snakes,” the first year Ravenclaw witch giggled. “Horribly brilliant, isn't it? I can't wait to see their faces!”

Hermione curiously followed the crowd. Curiosity peaking as the quickly filling crowd lead towards the dungeons. More and more students gathering, their chatter a dull excited hum in the background. Somehow she managed to push her way to the front of the masses. Jaw gaping as she saw a huddle of Slytherins just outside of their common room complaining to the group of Professors. Snakes slithering at their feet and frogs hopping madly through the corridor, causing students to yell and jostle to avoid the oncoming reptiles.

“Yes, Miss Greengrass, we assure you we share your concern, but never fret the creatures will be removed quickly. A harmless prank no doubt.” Professor Flitwick assured, bracing himself as the girl turned a slightly puce color in a fit of rage.

“My best dress robes are covered in slime! That isn't a prank! That's a blatant attack!”

“Yes, well, erm,” Flitwick turned his eyes helplessly to the Transfiguration professor. A no nonsense witch who peered at the hysterical girl critically.

“Calm down, Miss Greengrass, a simple scourgify should do the trick, and if you find yourself incapable of the third year spell perhaps one of your housemates would be so kind as to teach you,” McGonagall eyed her for a moment more before the girl wilted and turned to complain to one of her fellow housemates.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” The question was asked in a sedate, soothing tone. McGonagall blinked, eyeing the seemingly helpful wizard in relief.

“Find your House's prefects, have them round up the Slytherins and take them into the Great Hall until this is rectified.” She commanded absently, “And Mr. Riddle?”

He turned, an innocent expression plastered on his face. Curious and patient.

“Ten points to Slytherin for keeping a good head in a troublesome situation.”

“Thank you, professor,” he uttered demurely, before turning to look for the prefects.

Hermione ground her teeth. Pretentious git. She turned away, shoving her way back through the crowd as annoyance burned in her chest. They were all fooled by him. Thinking he was a normal fourteen year old wizard, but she knew better. Tom Riddle was dark, evil even, although the word seemed a bit melodramatic. It fit the murderous torturer. He was evil. And no one knew. Well, maybe some of the Slytherins, but it seemed they could be just as bad. The memory of them torturing her wouldn't soon be forgotten.

So she smiled as George and Fred told the story of how they'd multiplied so many frogs and snakes and set them loose in the Slytherin dorm. A deep belly laugh escaped her as she realized what she should have known all along. This was all the twins’ doing. She laughed a bit harder when they told her they'd charmed the frogs and snakes to leave behind a thick smelly mucus even Scourgify couldn't rid a person of. Poor Greengrass, her dress robes were surely ruined.

It turned out the magically slimed animals were harder to rid themselves of than the professors had originally anticipated. The Slytherins were forced to sleep in makeshift dorms in the Great Hall and the epic prank was all anyone was talking about. Hogwarts was eager for gossip that didn't involve death. The crazy antics of the twins was a much needed relief for the uneasy gloom lingering over the halls of late, especially with news of Hogwarts set to close soon. Even better still, it seemed none of the staff knew who had done the deed, leaving her friends free of punishment.

Usually Hermione was against such blatant disregard for the rules, but she couldn't seem to summon any indignation this time.

As she promised, Hermione helped her new friends study in the library until almost curfew, their happy chatter infesting her in the best of ways.

“What are you studying?” Harry enquired as they began to pack up. Hermione was still buried nose deep in a book she'd had with her since the beginning of the session. Almost guiltily she lowered the book, plastering a blank look on her face.

“Just a bit of light reading,” noting her slightly defensive manner, the twins couldn't help but pounce.

“What's this then?” Fred snapped up the book before she could react, his nearly fey features grimacing at the thickness. “Not exactly light reading Mione, what is this? A thousand pages?”

“The Effects Of Runic Magic On Blood Spells, By Rookward Black,” George made a face, “Sounds absolutely riveting. No wonder you were so absorbed.”

“Can I have it back, please?” Hermione asked, her voice prissy with unease. They exchanged a bemused look.

“Sure thing,” Fred flopped it back at her, “Gives me a headache just thinking about reading that.”

“Bet it doesn't even have any pictures,” George added with a shudder. Hermione smiled and rolled her eyes. She was getting used to them and their antics.

“I'll walk Hermione back, you guys go on ahead.” Harry advised, all of them being ready to leave even as she belatedly struggled to gather up all of her things. The curly haired girl glanced up at him guiltily.

“You don't have to,” she argued weakly.

“Nonsense,” he smiled his golden boy smile at her, and she felt her arguments fall flat. It was simply unfair how obliviously handsome he was, so unaware of the effect he had on the girls around him. Not that she counted, she reminded herself, being so much younger than him.

“I'm glad we got a moment,” Harry confessed, after a moment of almost companionable quiet on their trek through the echoing stone halls.

Hermione glanced at him curiously, wondering what would provoke such a statement.

He awkwardly looked around, pulling her to a stop with a gentle tug on her robes. “Look, I know it seems like we all just forgot that someone stole your wand and... and hurt you,” he swallowed thickly, “but I didn't.”

“I don't know why you're reading books on stuff like blood magic and why you feel like you can't tell anyone about it. But you don't have to do this by yourself, yeah?”

He stumbled off awkwardly, looking away and sucking in a deep breath, “A prank doesn't make up for it, okay?” He turned back to her, green eyes blazing through the black rims of his glasses, “We are going to help you. I promise.”

Hermione gaped at him. Unsure what to say.
“I just need you to know, that you know…” he turned to the side, cheeks blazing in the awkward way boys seemed to when being utterly earnest. “You're not alone in this. We're your friends, Hermione,” whenever he said that word a slight pressure built in her stomach, a dizzy glee infested her head. He turned back, hesitantly putting his hand on her shoulder, “You can count on us.”

“Thank you,” Hermione found her voice, clearing it awkwardly as it caught on the last word. He nodded too fast, removing his hand. And they started walking again, the silence filled pleasantly with the joy she found in his lingering words. She was not alone.

-*-*-*-*-

A/N: The support this plot bunny has gotten has blown me away, so I'm trying to return that love in updates without rushing anything. I take a deep and secret joy in how I wrote the Weasley twins, and I am so glad others feel the same. Anywho...Look forward to more!

Chapter Text

"Well I can't stand to look at you now
This revelation's out of my hands
Still I can't bear the thought of you now
This complication's leaving me scared

Stay when you think you want me
Pray when you need advice
Hey keep your sickness off me
Tryin to get through
Blame all your weakness on me
Shame that I'm so contrite
Hey keep your fingers off me
Why can't I get through?"

- Seether 'Country Song'

Hermione woke with a startled scream, her fastly blurring nightmare hammering her heart, her body slick with sweat and the bedcovers all askew, twisted between her legs and wrapped about her body in tendrils. Fitful sleep. Again. Nightmares. Again. The dark purple bags under her eyes seemed to be settling in, not lessening. Despite the healing, and the week that had passed, her body still felt brittle. Shaking slightly she stumbled from bed, her every muscle and bone protesting the motions. Dark magic lingered. Sucking at her. A chill swept into her chest and she swallowed a hysterical giggle.

Cruciatus Curse, her analytical brain supplied, one of the three most forbidden dark spells known to exist. Thereby dubbed 'Unforgivables’. Long term side effects included stiffness and/or swelling of muscles and organs, uncontrollable tremors and nerve spasms, and oh yes...madness. Hermione clenched her fists, forcing her hands to stop shaking and drew a deep, steadying breath. She was not mad. At least, not yet. Her fingers curled over the mark she knew was on her chest, violent and dark, it's emerald jeweled eye boring into her anytime she changed her clothes or took a shower. Riddle couldn't continue on like this forever, sooner or later he would expose himself. Sooner, if she had a hand in it.

Regardless of her success against him, Hogwarts was set to close by month’s end. At which point she and the murderous Heir of Slytherin would be separated no matter what sick plans he claimed to have in store for her. A month. A month to discover what that monster was that'd killed Myrtle so horridly, and to free herself from the real monster's control, Tom Riddle. Just thinking his name made the acid in her stomach boil and churn. She wasn't sure she'd ever felt real hatred before in her young life, but she felt it now.

Anger was motivation, and she forced her protesting muscles and aching bones into her casual weekend clothes, which consisted of muggle attire with the required school robes. Careful to change facing the wall, leery of the Patel sisters or Lovegood waking early and glimpsing the rather obvious tattoo on her chest. It repulsed her. She wished she could hide it, at least, but no concealment or vanishing charm seemed to stick to the infernal thing. Layers would have to do. The brown eyed girl put on a black tank, a thin grey t-shirt, followed by a thick red jumper her mother had purchased for her this fall as well as a pair of thick and sensible blue jeans. She was just pulling on her school robes and giving up entirely on the frightful mess that was her hair, as the other girls began to stir behind their red bed curtains. Not bothering to linger and greet them, the tired witch made her way down to breakfast. A quiet and mostly asleep Ron listing grumpily at her side in escort.

Breakfast was a boisterous affair. The whole Great Hall abuzz with the excitement of what might very well be the last Quidditch game of the shortened school year. It went to figure it was Gryffindor-Slytherin, one of the most vicious House rivalries pinned against one another in the brutal physical sport. It was amazing that more children didn't get seriously injured playing, in Hermione's opinion, and she couldn't see the appeal in the dangerous wizarding game. Not that many muggle sports were much better. The Slytherin table was a bit sedate at first glance, having just been allowed to return to their common rooms that very morning. At closer inspection their subdued profiles seemed more menacing. Like a stepped on snake, Slytherins tended to be most vicious after being agitated or harmed.

They would want retribution, and while no one had been officially named as being responsible for the prank in the Dungeons, it hardly took a great leap of logic to assume it was someone in Gryffindor. Hermione chewed the inside of her cheek, eyes flickering over the hunched, hissing pit of human vipers likely plotting revenge at that very moment. Only a select few of them looked no worse for the wear. One in particular stood out from his bedraggled and slightly less tidy housemates. Dark eyes gleamingly alert, hair perfectly styled, and posture that spoke of rigid self imposed discipline as he surveyed his House table like a bored ruler tallying his assets. Her eyes dropped to the table before their equally assessing gazes could collide. Even as she did so, a cool, slithering sensation crawled up her neck, daring her to look up. It felt like being watched.

Not giving into it, Hermione took careful bites of her toast, chewing slowly and pointedly staring anywhere but at the Slytherin table. A hand on her shoulder had her nearly leaping from her skin. The twins were busy flying around their napkins, transfigured to look like tiny white brooms, often bumping them 'accidentally’ into Ron's face or head. He'd finally had enough and was now trying to catch the whizzing napkin brooms while yelling at his brothers to stop being such buggers. They paid no attention as Harry leaned slightly closer and whispered from the corner of his mouth.

“It's Riddle, isn't it?”

Hermione froze, heart squeezing painfully. The mark on her chest felt like boiling tar as she fought to nod, and failed. Her tongue a burning lump in her mouth, refusing to form so much as a grunted yes.

“Don't look now, but the way he's staring at you… Blimey, Mione, why didn't you just tell us it was him? Don't worry, leave it to me, he won't bother you again,” Harry's green eyes were slanted in an anger she hadn't thought the sweet, happy go lucky boy capable of as she glanced up in confused shock. It flared his nostrils and turned his mouth into a near sneer of disgust, his comforting grip on her shoulder nearly painful.

“Whoa, Harry, alright there?” George asked.

“Fine,” Harry's grin was forced, a flash of teeth and pulled lips. He regretfully tore his gaze and hand off the young witch, she was practically shaking. What had that sod of a snake done to make her too afraid to even acknowledge it was him who had hurt her? It took every inch of his self restraint to not march over there and hex the prat on the spot. He liked to bully twelve year old girls huh? Harry seethed, what a coward.

Riddle had always seemed rather sedate for a Slytherin, polite even, but the way the Gryffindor boy had caught him looking at Hermione. The way a predator marks its prey. Paired with the way the girl stared at her plate as if it had the answers to the universe, pale as a sheet, tense in a way that suggested she knew she was being watched. Maybe he was reading too much into things, but he didn't think so.

“Just can't wait to beat the pants off of Slytherin this afternoon, I guess,” Harry deflected as he took a tearing bite of his toast, swallowing it down with a long dreg of pumpkin juice. The cup rattled with the unintentional force when he put it down, radiating unspent frustration, “Suppose I'll head down early, see if Professor Hooch needs help setting up.”

“Wonder what got his goat,” Fred mused, watching the messy haired boy stride off in determination.

“Pre-game nerves?” George guessed flippantly.

“Harry's right scary when he gets like this, but it's not usually Quidditch that does it,” Ron mused over a pumpkin pasty, the crumbs pouring from his lips as he chewed and spoke. “Must've been something she said,” Ron half accused.

His older brothers turned to Hermione in consideration. Obviously they hadn't heard what was said between her and Harry, but they'd figured out his current shift in mood involved her in some way. The freckled girl blushed at their expectant looks, jutting up her chin and shrugging.

“It wasn't me who set him off,” she insisted defensively. That, at least, wasn't a lie. It really wasn't her. It was Riddle. And she couldn't even say as much.

She fought the urge to look up, across to the Slytherin table as the three red heads' attention turned back to their napkin brooms, and failed. Her heart skipped a beat as she noticed Riddle's usual spot was now empty. It could mean anything. He probably just finished his breakfast. It wasn't like he could do anything to Harry in broad daylight in the school halls…

How she wished she could fully believe her own reassurances. They felt flat and hollow even to her, and a cold feeling in the pit of her bubbled with anxiety. Before she knew what she was really planning to do, the frizzy haired witch found herself standing and babbling about wanting to bring a particular book to the game and having forgotten it in her room. The twins eyed her skeptically, but made only a few teasing comments about her chasing after Harry. Ron ignored her, and Neville barely managed a farewell. He'd been so quiet as of late, she really did need to find time for them to talk to him, perhaps he was sulky at her neglect, but it would have to be later. Right now she had to make sure Harry wasn't confronting Riddle, or vice versa.

How had her quiet, studious life, became such a mess in a manner of weeks? Hermione brandished her wand, keeping it up her sleeve so as to not draw any of her Professors’ attention, but within easy reach if someone attempted to corner her. She slipped through the mostly empty halls, pale sunlight streaming through and splashing against grey stone, adding to the hush and whimsy of the ancient Scottish castle. Normally Hermione would enjoy such a secluded walk, but her pulse was jumping, her gut churning, insisting something was wrong. It propelled her feet forward, urging, insisting, the skin at the back of her neck prickled sharply. She turned down one hall, and another, only slowing stride as she hit a dead end.

Trapped.

Why had she come this way? The young girl blinked and frowned. Nearly running into the person behind her as she turned to leave. A girlish sound escaped her mouth and she scowled furiously up at the cool eyed Slytherin boy, heart hammering wildly as she tried not to feel humiliated and cornered all at once. Her wand slid free and he eyed it in bemusement, even as she pointed it squarely at his chest in threat.

“You can't even speak ill of me and you think my little gift will allow you to hurt me?” Riddle's eyes glittered in dark mirth, he pressed his chest into her wand, taking a threatening step forward as he cocked his head and sneered down at her. “Go ahead and try it, but when you fail I'm going to leave you silenced and stuck to this wall. Until someone finds you or I get bored of punishing you. Sound fair?”

Hermione swallowed and slowly lowered her wand. “What do you want, Riddle?”

“A perfect question, you should learn to anticipate my wants,” Riddle informed her, “but you will address me as My Lord when we are in private, not Riddle.”

The amber eyed witch couldn't help it, the freckled girl tried to choke back the laugh but it snorted out of her. The worst part was Riddle was so deadly serious, she couldn't help but laugh harder at his expression of incredulous outrage. Maybe even a little hysterically as his lips thinned and his displeasure grew. It had been a long, tense, few weeks, and here he was, the subject of her nightmares. A handsome fourteen year old dark wizard who expected to be called ‘My Lord’.

“What is so funny?” He asked warningly.

None of it was very funny, and she couldn't say why she laughed, except for maybe the only other option felt like bursting into tears. The Gryffindor witch couldn't bear to show such weakness. Crying under a torture curse was one thing. Having a mental breakdown in front of the person she hated most in the entire world was quite another.

“”Sorry, it's just,” she gasped for breath, sensing his long suffering patience was reaching a snapping point. She wiped her slightly tearing eyes with her sleeves, recovering from her giggle fit with deep breaths, “I'm never going to call you that, at least not willingly.”

“I could make you,” his eyes flickered to where they both knew his mark was. The red sweatered girl drew into herself, shivering at the reminder.

“But I have more pressing things to force out of you at the moment,” he brushed her hair off her shoulder gently, still crowding her space. Hermione flinched at the contact and the taller boy's smirk lengthened. “Like why that vainglorious prig Potter was glaring at me during breakfast. I don't suppose you found some clever little loophole, some way to point him in my direction?” he was twisting her hair as he spoke, and he yanked her head back by it at the roots, forcing her to her peer up at him from a unnaturally painful angle.

Hermione gave him a smug look of her own, or as smug as she could muster with her eyes tearing from his grip in her hair. “You did that yourself, actually.”

He released her slowly, allowing her to step back against the wall, “Explain.”

She met his cold black stare in hesitance and he smiled coaxingly. She found his sweet expressions the most horrific, especially when he kept his eyes dead like that.

“Or would you prefer we continue our discussion in a more private setting? I imagine with all the excitement of the impending game this afternoon, it will be some time before either of us is missed.”

“No! I mean no, there's no need,” The idea of being alone with him, secluded and trapped so he could do as he pleased with her, was too terrible for words. He smiled thinly.

“Than convince me to be lenient,” he suggested, “because so far all you've done is annoy me.”

“Harry doesn't know anything for certain, I can't tell him, obviously,” Hermione insisted, “He just saw the way you were staring at me in the Hall during breakfast and-” her words cut off, long stemmed fingers wrapping around her throat and cutting off her air. She stilled, closing her mouth, and the pressure lessened from crushing to warning.

“I don't stare at you,” he hissed. Hermione felt her eyebrows wing up in disbelief, having caught him doing it herself a time or two, but wisely chose to remain silent. He dropped his hand and glared at her.

“So Dumbledore's favorite only suspects me of bullying you, he doesn't have any idea about my involvement with Benson?”

Hermione shook her head. He smirked.

“Well, I suppose that's in my favor. We will just have to clear up this little misunderstanding you caused,” he decided, eyeing her in calculation, “Since Potter thinks I'm interested in you, I suppose I'll have to prove him right.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked in trepidation.

“It means, for a short while, I suspect we might have to act friendly with one another, so as to throw off suspicion.” Riddle frowned in irritation, “I can't risk drawing negative attention, not now.”

“I don't think I'm that good of an actor,” the witch wrinkled her nose at him, “Do you have a better plan?”

“Besides,” she argued logically, “why in Merlin's name would a Slytherin fourth year befriend a Gryffindor second year?”

“That's easy, you're a very smart second year, I could be tutoring you for extra credit.”

“But you're not,” she pointed out, “and who begins tutoring in the middle of the semester?”

“Do you have a better plan?” He challenged with a sneer, “Because if your little friend begins poking his nose in, I promise I'll make what me and my friends did to you look like a friendly overture in comparison to what's in store for him..”

“Stay away from Harry,” her bright eyes flashed at the menacing boy. “I think I have an idea. And if my idea works, you have to leave him alone. Promise me, Riddle.”

“If it works, I won't have any need to hurt the golden twat,” he muttered churlishly, and Hermione gave him a stern look.

“Not good enough, I want your word as a wizard that you won't hurt him,” Hermione demanded.

“And what about you?”

“What about me?” Her honey flecked eyes rolled, “I think you've pretty well established you mean to hurt me.” She dismissed, “But I don't want Harry getting dragged into this because of me.”

“Anyway,” she cleared her throat, “If you promise, I think I have a way to throw off his suspicion. Will Draco take the fall for something, if you tell him to?”

“Of course.”

“Good, then it's simple,” she beamed up at him expectantly. “Your word?” She prompted.

Riddle gave her a dubious look but uttered derisively, “I give my word as a wizard that I won't harm Potter, if your plan convinces him I had nothing to do with your little incident.”

“So the story is, you figured out it was Malfoy who was bullying me, everyone knows he's a right prat and no one will wonder why he picked such an easy target,” Hermione gave a derisive grimace at that, “You were looking at me at breakfast and trying to figure out if I was the girl you'd heard him brag about taking the wand from earlier last week.”

“After the meal you followed me and Malfoy here,” she gestured to the secluded alcove, “Where Malfoy disarmed me and hexed me with my own wand,” she offered her wand out to him with a grimace, “You'll have to do that part. When you came upon us, intent on catching Malfoy, he ran away. Simple, right?”

“You just have to drop me off at the hospital wing, Malfoy will deny everything, but of course he would. And when he finds out you're involved he'll probably back down and apologize. You get to be the hero, and maintain your reputation, as undeserved as it may be,” Hermione braced herself as Riddle took the wand from her hands, he idly studied the length of it.

“You want me to hurt you?” He asked casually, that disturbingly blank look on his darkly fascinating features.

“Not really, but it's just more believable this way,” Hermione frowned, pushing back a stray strand of her annoying curls from her face, “Besides, it's not like it bothers you to. And it's a great deal more likely than us being friends.”

“You'd do this just for Potter, would you?” He gave her a mocking smirk, glaring down at her, “You want me to hurt you to spare him? What makes Potter so great? So worthy of this self sacrificing devotion?”

“First Dumbledore, now you.” His lip curled and his jaw ticked. Hermione blinked, unsure how the Headmaster had suddenly entered the discussion.

“Harry has been kind to me,” Hermione frowned up at the angry boy, speaking carefully, “I know I'm not very likable. You're hardly the only one in this school who shuns me because I'm muggleborn, and there's plenty of other reasons besides, but Harry and his friends...they like me, they seem to even want my company.”

Hermione shrugged, “I'd do anything for them.”

“So all anyone has to do is pretend to like you, and be a little nice to you and you'll do whatever they want?” Riddle asked in disgusted speculation. She sighed.

“No, that's not it,” she made a face, not sure how to explain something she felt should be obvious, “Why do you even care? You just want Harry to leave you alone, right?”

“Maybe I don't like the sight of Potter's hands all over my things,” Riddle didn't want to reveal his jealousy. His petty need to own everything absolutely, but the idea that she was more loyal to Potter than to him was utterly unacceptable. The way he saw the other boy touching her and protecting her, like he had any right.

Was it Potter's mark on her? No. Why was it always Potter. What made him so bloody special? Even this insignificant mudblood witch preferred Potter over him. Well, Dumbledore was somebody he might not yet be able to control, but the mutinous twelve year old glaring up at him was another story.

“I've changed my mind,” he decided, tossing her wand back at the bushy haired girl and smirking as she scrambled to catch it, “We will be doing it my way. Don't worry, I'll create a opportunity for us to be friends.” He promised darkly, “Very close friends.”

“What will your other friends think of that?” Hermione challenged.

He gave her a dark look, “I think you'll find my friends think whatever I tell them to, Hermione.”

Hermione shivered as her first name fell from his lips for the first time, it sounded so wrong. The way he caressed the sounds and made them both beautiful and threatening all at once made her guts writhe.

“What if I don't want to be your friend?” Hermione uttered stubbornly. Riddle pretended to consider his options, mostly to prolong her discomfort.

“Then I'll make sure you have no friends, no one to turn to,” he smiled pleasantly, “If I can't be your friend, no one can. That's a rule, Hermione.”

“Just so we're clear, when you break a rule, I'll punish you,” he promised candidly, “like I did that night in the Dungeons.”

“There is something very wrong with you,” Hermione sighed and shook her head. “You don't even want to be my friend, really. This is somehow about hurting Harry, and I don't like it.” She frowned up at him, “And what's Dumbledore got to do with anything?”

“Inquisitive,” he mused at her, “Don't worry your little head about it. In the meantime, I suggest you practice not looking like you've seen the bogeyman everytime I get near you.”

“Well how can I when I'm still not sure you're not him?” The girl teased sarcastically. Riddle frowned, despite her fear, she pushed at him constantly. He wasn't sure whether it was tolerable or not yet. He pulled out the second matter of business he meant to settle with the witch.

“Take these, I brewed them myself, you're drawing too much attention to yourself walking around looking like a living zombie,” he shoved a couple dark blue potions into her hands, forcing her tinier fingers around them.

“Sleeping potions?” Hermione went to give them back but he sneered at her in refusal.

“I brew mine with a little something extra, stops the nightmares,” he smirked as she hesitated, looking at his gift with more than a little yearning.

“How did you know?”

“You're easy to read,” he dismissed, “Take them, use them. I'll know if you don't.”

“Everything is a threat,” Hermione mused at the older boy, “have you ever heard you catch more flies with honey than vinegar?”

“Yes, but I've already caught you, haven't I?” The devilish boy pointed out with a meaningful glance at the right side of her collarbone, where his mark rested. “Honey or vinegar, I can drown you in whatever I wish.”

“Lovely,” she rolled her eyes. “Can I go now?”

“I suppose,” he moved to allow her to pass, clutching her arm and pulling her to a halt just as she went to pass by him. “Enjoy the Quidditch game, Hermione.”

His words made her feel decidedly uneasy. She didn't know why, and it seemed wrong to even think so, but she almost preferred him calling her mudblood to her first name. The implied intimacy was noxious, it made her skin crawl.

The unsettled girl managed to nod, twisting free from his grip and all but running from the corridor. Riddle watched her go thoughtfully, before turning abruptly on his heel and asking curiously.

“Enjoying the show, Potter?” The boy had shown up sometime during the girl's rather long-winded explanation of her scheme.

“How did you know?” The boy stepped out from the hidden alcove and Riddle snorted, eyeing the other boy with haughty derision.

“Your little redheaded friends aren't the only ones who make it a point to know their way around a few of the lesser traveled passages of Hogwarts,” he eyed the fiercely scowling boy in lazy bemusement. “Also, you breathe quite heavily through your mouth.”

Potter scowled up at the taller dark haired wizard eyeing him with cool obsidian eyes from across the corridor. Riddle returned the look coolly, seemingly unphased.

"I didn't know terrorizing second year girls was your thing, Riddle," Harry remarked in disgust, hand twitching at his robe pocket, ready to pull out his wand on a moment's notice. "No wonder you're so quiet."

"It's like you weren't even eavesdropping properly at all, Potter, didn't you hear? Granger and I are friends," Riddle lengthened the word with a slow growing smirk, "She is just so eager to please me, and why wouldn't she be? She's far from the first second year to have a crush." He curled his lip in amused disdain, "How I chose to use her misplaced regard is no concern to you, Gryffindor."

"Really?" Harry snorted looking anything but amused, his jaw tightened as he fought the urge to hex the smug older boy seven ways from Avalon. "That's why you have to threaten her other friends just to get her to pay attention to you? Because she likes you so much?"

Riddle's nostrils flared slightly, a tick forming briefly in his jaw, the only signs at all that the brash boy's words had hit their mark.

"It can hardly be seen as my fault that you chose to hide in the wall like an oversized vermin, Potter, and ruin her perfectly viable alternative." Riddle took a menacing step closer and Harry's fingers closed over his wand inside his pocket. "I know a do-gooder like yourself couldn't resist the temptation to point out the real culprit if I decided to follow her little ruse. Probably in front of the Headmaster, if I had to guess "

"I won't deny I would've told, and I mean to tell Dumbledore about this as well," Harry retorted with a dark look of his own crossing his tanned features, "Especially since you seem to intend to keep bullying Mione if I don't."

A dark brow rose higher than the other incredulously, "Mione, is it?" Riddle tasted the word and found it pathetic. He preferred her full name, or more aptly still, mudblood, but there was a time and place for such slurs and in public wasn't one of them.

"I don't bully, in any case," Riddle informed the boy with an almost leering malice, idly slipping his fingers across his wand. He would enjoy what he did next. "I collect things, and your little Gryffindor friend is one of them. She's mine, until I grow bored of her or get rid of her."

Harry gaped, never expecting what was all but a confession from a Slytherin student, they tended to lie and misdirect more than admit. But he didn't know that Riddle was singularly adept at catching his prey off guard. Potter's shock made him hesitate, giving Riddle enough time to cast the complex spell precisely before the other even drew his wand from his pocket. Harry realized a moment too late that the dark eyed boy intended to strike, and Riddle did so without mercy.

"Obliviate," Riddle tore through Potter's mind like an icy scalpel, ripping a clean cut from the moment of Potter's leaving the Great Hall to the present moment with detached precision before yanking and sealing it with the spell. He than added a light confusion jinx to muddle the dolt up enough for him not to realize the rather large time lapse.

If it wasn't for the open school corridor serving as their venue and Riddle being sorely pressed on time, the glasses wearing neanderthal would have suffered quite a deal more for his trespass. As it was Riddle made a mental note that he owed Harry Potter a great deal of pain, but for the moment he had time sensitive issues that needed his attention far more pressingly than one insolent Gryffindor half-blood.

"Wha-er...Ah- Riddle?" Harry's hexed grin was a bit drunken but Riddle gave the boy his best look of concern, holding the boy by his shoulders as he rounded his eyes and dropped his lower lip in shock.

"Blimey Potter, are you quite alright? You came out here looking for someone, a Gryffindor girl, I think? Grant- oh, wait, I have it now," Riddle snapped his fingers, releasing the other boy and stepping back hesitantly, "Granger, that was it."

"You suddenly started to go a bit sideways, almost tipped over for a second and I sort of stepped in," Riddle gave him an affable look of unease, "Hope that was okay."

"Yeah, uh-" Harry blinked rapidly, trying to physically shake his head out, and Riddle fought against a telltale smirk. "Thanks mate, I must have gotten dizzy or something."

"Are you sure you're alright to play Quidditch? Being dizzy and all?" Riddle knew how to sell being nice. He did it every day. Select people believed he was some derelict orphan, so sweet, humble and kind, it was a clever mask.

"I'll be fine, sure." Harry frowned, "Did you then?"

"Did I?" Riddle prompted uncertainly.

"See my friend, Mio- Granger? Did she pass by here?" Harry was starting to gain some stability to his footing, looking clearer and a bit abashed by himself.

"Oh, no," Riddle smiled benignly, "Afraid not." He gave Potter another look of brief concern before adding, "Good luck then, at the match. Be safe."

"Yeah, uh, will do," Harry scratched the back of his head, frowned at the other boy, and loped off towards the Quidditch pitch, hoping not to be late. Riddle seemed awful friendly, but there had been the way he looked at Hermione earlier, and it was no large leap of judgement to suspect whoever had hurt the still shell-shocked witch a few weeks ago was almost certainly a Slytherin. Tom Riddle could be as caring and nice as he liked, Harry still wasn't sure about the bloke, and until he figured out who exactly had hurt her, he wouldn't let his guard down with anyone from that house.

Riddle set off on his own task. After all, framing a murderer didn't do itself. What better time to rifle through his classmates and peers more illicit belongings than when everyone was preoccupied with that idiotic sports tournament. Quidditch was a waste of time and effort. He would start with his enemies in Slytherin, and then he had a few ideas about a few of his so-called peers in the other Houses who might be hiding illegal objects, for one reason or another.

Surely one of them would have something suitably incriminating within their possession. Some relic or book that would suit his purpose. If not, he would have to resort to planting one of his own dark objects on another student. Something he loathed to do as it would also be a loss to himself in part. Each of his dark possessions was carefully cultivated and not easily reobtained. Still, it would be all worth it in the end as long as Hogwarts remained open and suspicion fell far from him.

Riddle headed towards the dungeons, whistling as he did. The idea of making someone suffer on his behalf cheered the fiendish boy remarkably after his hideous affair with the rebellious mudblood and her misguided protector. As Riddle walked through the castle he idly passed the time imagining what horrors he would gift Potter in the future for his interference today. As the vindictive wizard's mind's eye portrayed one terrible fate after another, each more vicious and cruel than the last, he almost picked up a skip to his clipped steps. He would make the fool suffer, and if he did it right, his new insolent acquisition of a witch as well in the process.

Chapter Text

"Quiet it's swallows us
What's waiting around the corner
Senses we cannot trust
Hunted by unseen horror
Shadows they can't even reach us now
There's no spark of light that can lead us now
Here we are in the heart of the darkness"

- Sam Tinnesz 'Heart of the Darkness'

 

It took only a few moments into the game, to recognize Slytherin was out for blood. Hermione usually paid little attention to Quidditch, it was barbaric and dangerous on its best days. What with a collection of people racing about on tiny pieces of wood, at bone crushing velocities, way above the ground. It all seemed a bit mad. Especially when you added in the two blugers, whose sole purpose was to cripple and maim to opposing team. The quaffle was mostly for show, it seemed, and all that mad clash brutality for nothing, because nine times out of ten the person who caught the snitch won the game. It often made her wonder if perhaps the other players were a bit obsolete.

Yet the carnage Slytherin meant to inflict on the field that day was even more brutal than the usual intensity of the game. What with the slimy reptile prank standing between them, it seemed the so-called noble House of Slytherin wasn't above using every petty cheat in the book to inflict maximum damage on their opponents in Gryffindor. Twice, Fred and George had nearly lost their brooms from the heated attacks and maneuvering, a girl in sixth year with brunette hair that Hermione had never bothered to learn the name of wasn't so lucky. A stray bulger crashed into her shoulder, creating a sickening crack, as she spiraled down in a slow unsteady spiral like a butterfly with a crushed wing. Hooch and Pomfrey were there immediately to guide the girl off the field and escort her directly to the infirmary.

Lee Jordan's magically amplified voice was heard booming through the stands in outrage, "Bloody right that's a penalty! Twenty points from Slytherin for being slimy, cheating little buggers who couldn't win a fair game if it bit them on the a-"

"Mr. Jordan! That's quite enough," McGonegall cut him off, she'd learned to be close at hand when Lee was narrating the game.

"Right. Gryffindor with the ball then. Katie Johnson seems to be taking her broken arm bravely, so let's see what Gryffindor can do to even the playing field. It's 40-30, Slytherin is in the lead and Gryffindor team is one chaser down, but let's not let that stop us..."

Hermionel renewed her heating charm, the cold wind was blowing mildly but bitter on the chilly autumn day. Even in her jumper, robes, and a cloak, the bushy haired girl felt the bite nipping at her nose and other extremities. Neville was sitting beside her, listless and too quiet, as the usually chatty boy had become as late. Withdrawn even. A sudden pang of guilt hit her as she glanced at his nearly slack, silent profile. It was her fault, really.

Paying so much attention to her new, exciting friends, she'd neglected the one that had been there all along. Before Riddle attacked her and drew so much attention no one had bothered with her but the kind, doe eyed boy. Neville was a bit bumbling, perhaps, but in the sweetest way. He took the jeers and slanders laid against him with a quiet shame that pricked at her. Making her nerves scream and own muscles tense as he hunched over and burned red in the cheeks and ears as their peers jeered. An echo of the way she felt when someone called her a bossy swot, or as was more frequent as of late, mudblood. Sneering at her, subtly shunning and mocking her in both socially acceptable ways, and just plain cruel ones. Only she got angry, not ashamed. Their dislike wasn't her fault.

Aside from their reactions to the bullying and their magical aptitude, Hermione and Neville weren't so very different. Outcasts. Forgettables. Until Harry and the rest came along. Since then, the guilty witch reflected apologetically, she'd been neglecting the only real friend she had. No wonder he was so morose.

"Hey," Hermione's small fingers gently tugged the sleeve of the boy's robe. Neville turned slowly, and feeling all her guilt and regret swell, the girl blurted out her apology in one long rush.

"I'm so sorry I haven't been a good friend lately. I've been neglecting you terribly and it's not fair. I won't blame you if you're mad at me," the frizzy haired girl gave him a hopeful sideways glance, "You're not mad, are you? I didn't mean to be so dense, its just been a bit hectic lately and I haven't been sleeping well...but that's besides the point. Sorry. Really." She tensed, holding her breath and waiting for the quiet boy's reaction.

He turned to her with a blank expression and said listlessly, "It's fine." Her held breath fell out in a dejected sigh.

"You are mad then," she worried her lip, anxiously glancing at the sullen looking boy, "I know I've been awful, but I'll try and be better, I swear."

"Alright." Just like that, no inflection. No explanation. Her brow wrinkled as she studied Neville in concern. He wasn't always the most expressive, but he also wasn't prone to sulking like this.

"Neville, this isn't like you, please-" The young witch found whatever words she might've spoken next drowned out in the roaring boo's and outraged cries of her housemates. Some stood on their feet, yelling out, and Hermione glanced to the field in alarm.

"Are you bloody blind? That was a confundus jinx if I ever saw one!" Lee Jordan's magically enhanced boomed in disgusted outrage, "Fletcher plays Quidditch as crooked as his teeth-"

"Five points from Gryffindor, Mr. Jordan if you can't keep your commentary clean I will be forced to take more points next time," McGonegall warned stiffly, but her words lacked a certain bite. Lee grinned cheekily.

"Looks like Hooch had her eyes open, Fletcher can enjoy sitting this game out. Good riddance, I say. Gryffindor is now down a beater, George, no Fred, okay one of the Weasley twins is down. Bet his brother puts a little extra pepper on that bluger when the game resumes. Wouldn't want to be a Slytherin right now-"

Hermione was already standing. Neville's oddness fading to the background of her thoughts as worry squeezed her chest. The twins were so kind to her, bright and full of mischievous good humor, from this distance she couldn't tell which had been hurt. Or how badly. Picking her way down through the stands, she found herself on the edge of the field babbling explanations about being worried about her friend as a sneering Professor Snape curled his lip at her, before she even made the decision to go.

"You see, I have to see if he is alright," she finished, taking a gulping deep breath. Professor Snape didn't exactly scare her, not like Riddle did, but he was a very intimidating presence. So tall and gaunt, with eyes like jet stone and hair slicked like raven's feathers.

"I don't believe I was in any way unclear the first time, Miss Granger," Snape drawled in his almost melodic acidic tone, fraught with leisurely pauses. "Five points from Gryffindor for insubordination." The indignant girl opened her mouth to cry unfair, but saw the glint in her Professors' eyes. He would take more points.

Gritting her teeth she bite out sarcastically, "Thanks ever so much for your help, Professor." Wondering where she got the nerve to speak to an adult, and a professor to boot, like that. She never snarked off before, and flinched a bit as she met his glare.

Instead of deducting more points, however, the man merely sneered and turned away from her in a flutter of black robes, leaving her feeling still desperately worried about her friends but also a mingled and confusing mix of shame and pride. Snarking off to a person of authority wasn't like her at all, and the twelve year old couldn't help but reluctantly admit it was her interactions with Riddle that had brought about this change. The flash of pride at getting away with it was foreign to her, and shame quickly followed at it's heels

The amber eyed girl didn't know how to feel about Tom Riddle influencing her in any way. It seemed wrong. Like giving him a victory, even if it was one he was utterly unaware of and not present for. Hermione shook her head. No time to reflect, she had to get to the infirmary. If the stubborn witch could dare to snark at Professor Snape, then she supposed she could face the no-nonsense Madam Pomfrey without too much concern.

-*-

"I barely feel a thing," Fred bragged, grinning despite his split lip. Already he had a crowd of admirers swarming the small bed. It gave the belatedly arriving second year witch pause.

According to Hermione's brief interrogation of the school nurse, Fred had broken his left femur bone and fractured his right wrist. Bone regrowth and pain potions were making his speech slightly slurred but no less enthusiastic. The suddenly intimidated second year girl hovered on the outer fringes of the crowd and told herself that she was simply glad he was mostly okay. Pretending that she hadn't forgotten how popular the boys that she called friends were. How their attention had made her forget that somewhat significant difference between them. Their social standings in their respective years galaxies apart between her reputation and theirs.

"I tried to tell Pomfrey I'm feeling fit, think I could manage a broom just fine, better than fine really, but she won't have it. Think she's got a bit of a crush, it's hard, truly, being this charming," Fred announced, drawing a bunch of disbelieving giggles.

"He's utterly buggered," a sixth year girl with freckles and long braids laughingly commented.

"Pain potions are pretty heavy," a fifth year boy dryly commented, "my cousin had to have one once and he sang muggle songs for hours."

"I feel like I'm flying a little right now, guys, am I floating?"

"George, mate, you're not floating," a dark haired sixth year boy chuckled.

"But that's Fred," Hermione cursed her know-it-all nature as several of the students in the room turned to stare at her in shock and disbelief.

"Hermininny-Miohnine!" Freds enthusiasm was only matched by his drugged tongue's inability to properly pronounce her name.

"I just came to see if you were alright, so," Hermione awkwardly felt entirely out of place. What had possessed her to rush here?

"Come here, no right here," he gestured for her with a bright grin. "Everyone, this is Minnimon-"

"Hermione Granger," she supplied for him bemusedly as he grasped her hand in his and smiled sloppily, eyes fever bright. It seemed the potion was muddling him more and more.

"Yeah, that, and she's like, so bloody smart, and stuff." Hermione blushed as he kissed her hand and grinned cheekily, winking at her like the prankster he was, "Every bloke needs a pretty witch to worry about him when he's laid up, da always says so."

"Isn't she a second year?" A Ravenclaw sixth year witch asked in mild disgust.

"Oh shut up Eloise, you still think I'm George," Fred turned back to the young witch looking decidedly uncomfortable being at the center of attention, and whispered quite loudly, "I told everyone I was George, so when he thrashes Slytherin everyone will say Fred did it. Clever, right?"

"Absolutely," Hermione assured him in bemusement.

Madam Pomfrey bustled in then. "Very well, you've seen your friend is fine, now he needs his rest. Bones don't regrow easily. Out, the lot of you, and give Mr. Weasley his rest."

A few of the students grumbled a bit, but they all left. Hermione went to follow suite but Fred pouted, holding her in place by her hand.

"Stay, please," he begged charmingly. With a dubious glance at the scowling mediwitch, Hermione shook her head.

"Madam Pomfrey is right, you need to rest."

Fred sulked. Madam Pomfrey nodded smartly.

"Your friend is quite sensible, Mr. Weasley, unlike a certain young man who I have seen in my hospital wing too many times not to think reckless. I would heed her advice."

"Don't want to," he pouted like a kid. "Just until I fall asleep," he begged the nurse. Pomfrey gave a belabored sigh and squinted a calculating a look at the young, studious looking witch.

"If you take another dose of the bone replenishment potion, Miss Granger may stay."

Fred made a comically disgusted face but slurred out tiredly, "'A'right…"

He lifted the grisly looking potion with a shudder of trepidation before slinging it back in a few almost choked swallows. Wiping his mouth he handed back the goblet to the grey haired mediwitch. "Done," he burped and chuckled at the sound.

"Make sure he does rest, Miss Granger," Pomfrey warned, cleaning up the supplies and leaving Hermione alone with a sleepy Fred who leaned back, still holding her hand. It wasn't like a boyfriend-girlfriend thing, no matter how he liked to joke. Hermione reminded him of his little sister, but a little less abrasive and churlish. The freckled wizard wasn't used to being alone, ever, a partial perk and downside of being a twin. It was also, he supposed, part of being part of such a huge family. So he found himself, especially when he was hurt, finding the feeling of being alone utterly unlikable. Almost unbearable. Fred smiled a sleepy smile, eyes closed, and squeezed her tiny fingers.

Hermione, on the other hand, had always been an only child. She'd imagined plenty of times what it would be like, having siblings. It wasn't that she wasn't perfectly okay being alone. Being an only child had refined her in the art of self entertainment. Her parents were also very supportive, and despite being busy professionals, always made a point to make time for her. But sometimes, she yearned for a playmate. Maybe another magical sibling. Someone who could understand her in a way her parents couldn't possibly.

Fred and George were like the pair of older brothers she'd always secretly wanted but never had thought out in detail. Fondness swelled as she looked down at the older, heavily freckled orange haired boy, his breathing deep and even as his grip went slack on her hand in sleep and his mouth parted in a soft snore. For the first time in so long, the twelve year old didn't feel isolated and outcast. It was a beautiful feeling, and she held it against her chest, her grin wide and stupid, before reluctantly easing her hand out of his and silently leaving the hospital wing.

-*-*-

Hermione couldn't find it in herself to return to the brutal Quidditch game raging outside the castle. So she found herself in a familiar refuge. The library. It was all but deserted, her footsteps whispering in the heavy quiet. The slender girl exuded a peace that she rarely felt outside the company of books. This was her haven, where she felt more herself than anywhere else. Perusing the aisles, she resisted the urge to drag her fingers leisurely across the spines, unlike muggle books, magical ones could be unpredictable. They didn't all react to being touched, but some did, and quite poorly at that. A title caught her eye, and she swirled her wand at it, plucking the volume from the air with an appraising eye, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, By: Newt Scamander. Flipping through she felt a flutter of anticipation rustle in her chest, the collection of magical species seemed quite extensive and astute.

Could this provide her with one answer, at least? Her research attempts on the magical tattoo Riddle had forced upon her were proving frustratingly futile, especially when it came to removal, but just maybe she could discover what monster, exactly, the equally monstrous boy commanded. Bolstered by the thought she added a few more books to her stack, seeking her favorite table and picking up the dark blue book first. Newt Scamander's writing was a bit formal and dry, but she felt his passion in his careful and extensive detail about every creature he catalogued, even the insanely dangerous ones. Her mind absorbed the content, taking brief notes as she went, eyes flying across the text as the minutes sped into an indefinable period of time that blurred around the girl. Her mind lost in research and fact.

At long length, the curly haired girl popped her head up, heart racing as her eyes flew over the page again and again. The quill in her right hand cluttered to the parchment she'd been scribbling notes on.

After her shock faded, she reassembled quite quickly. Grabbing her quill she began diligently copying the text, a wild thrill in her.

Basilisk she wrote. Can grow to fifty feet in length. Indirect gaze causes paralysis, her hand trembled a bit, her mind's eye flashing to her memory of Myrtle, eyes frozen in death, milky and unseeing, body laid like a tossed doll, a haunted chill stole up Hermione's spine at the vivid recollection, direct gaze causes instantaneous death. Parseltongues have been known to control this species. Salazar Slytherin was a Parsaltongue.

Her hand trembled, breath exhaling a pained gasp as her body refused to write what she desperately wanted to. Riddle is a Parsaltongue and Heir to Slytherin. The words wouldn't form, even in ink. The mark on her chest burned like fresh acid poured on flesh. Sucking back frustrated tears and telling herself she shouldn't be so surprised at yet another part of her will the insidious wizard controlled, she added some more basic facts, including diet, coloration and weakness. How infuriating that she couldn't harm Riddle personally, if she could, she imagined right now that she hated him enough to hex him into oblivion.

But…

A uncharacteristic smirk graced her lips as the lightly freckled girl gazed down at the parchment she'd crafted.

She was willing to bet that didn't mean she couldn't kill Riddle's pet monster.

All the nervous, inexperienced young girl had to do was kill a magical giant snake known to be lethal to wizards and witches three times her age and experience, by herself… Yeah, simple.

She could always drop the note under the door of a Professor's office. They would handle it, the adults, she could put her faith in that, say she'd done her best and leave it to more capable witches and wizards. But they didn't know. Even if they found the Basilisk, would they ever believe it was being controlled by a student? Hermione very much doubted many of her fellow classmates knew of Riddle being a Parsaltongue. He might have hid it from even his most loyal lackeys. Because from what she'd witnessed Riddle didn't really have friends. Just pawns.

Deciding not to make a rash decision, she gathered her things, carefully spelling her notes to look like a page of an essay on the Pepper Up potion before sliding it between the pages of her potions notebook. Next the clever witch restored every book she'd chosen back to their place in the library. She stroked the navy book with golden lettering regretfully, wanting to finish it but not willing to have anyone discover it in her possession. Although unlikely that Riddle would search her reading material, she found herself unnervingly paranoid, like her discovery was written on her face. Perhaps it was, because when she returned to the common room, a rancorous party in full sway in the cozy firelit space, Harry immediately tore away from his group of admirers and demanded of her,

"What's wrong? Where were you?" The older boy gripped her by either arm, piercing green eyes slipping across her behind flashing thin glass, searching for signs of injury.

"I visited with Fred, and then I went to the library."

"Oh." He sighed in relief, adding as a confused afterthought, "I thought it was George who was injured," even as the chocolate haired boy spoke the frantic tension eased out of him. When the young Gryffindor girl hadn't shown after the game, he'd been more than a little worried. Slytherin had lost, and they didn't take losing easily. He'd feared the worst.

Hermione smiled and shook her head, "You know how they are." Harry nodded in bemusement.

"Well come on then, join the celebration," he smiled a dazzling smile at her, and Hermione blinked. Her head tilted down as she shook it shyly, sometimes she forgot how naturally and unintentionally dazzling Harry could be.

"Actually I'm quite tired," she hedged, and he frowned slightly but after a moment shook his head lifting his eyes to the sky and remarking in wry affection,

"Likely you just want to be alone to read," he teased. Hermione bit her lip, forcing herself not to correct him. To try and blurt out as much as she could about what she'd learned about the monster terrorizing Hogwarts and ask for his help. If she asked, Hermione was willing to bet Harry would help. She didn't know why she felt that way, but it seemed a certainty.

But she couldn't. Friends didn't put each other in danger.

"Congratulations on your victory," she told him awkwardly. He rubbed the back of his neck and smiled at her.

"Thanks," he said reflexively, before adding in a plantative tone, "You really should stay, though, there's pumpkin juice and snacks." Harry gave her a hopeful look, "Everyone is having fun. You should too."

"I can't," at his disappointed gaze she blurted, "I'm really tired."

"Just one butterbeer," he implored with a grin, seeming to summon them from thin air, he handed it to her. It wasn't magic. Just that Harry Potter charisma pull, star Seeker, Quidditch Captain, all around likable guy. Hermione felt herself pulled in. It was the start of something. A lightning point of memory. The night she learned Riddle had a Basilisk. The night Harry started the tradition of "Just one more butterbeer," that inevitably turned into many more 'just one more's'. It was also the day she should've realized Neville was different, but slowly forgot the old him and accepted the new, stoic Neville in his place. A moment of so much change. But being twelve is hard. It has so much change layered upon itself, sometimes memory blurs the details.

Hermione Granger was, and has always been every inch the iron hard, brave Gryffindor. It's important to remember this. Because bravery has many forms. Sometimes bravery is rushing head first into trouble, regardless of consequences. Sometimes bravery is silent pain. Sometimes being brave is acid eating in your chest and tongue as you nurse wounds from Riddle's most recent torture-the-mudblood spree in the Slytherin dungeons. Disarming her so it's just like the first time, only worse, because she knows now it'll never stop. Never end. How the sleeping potions knock her out, stopping the dreams, but it never feels like real sleep.

So she remains silent as the whole school blames an innocent. Shame eating at her as the mark on her skin boils and burns her words and protests to ash. Poor Hagrid, the seventh year half giant is expelled in disgrace, almost put in Azkaban, if not for the timely intervention of Albus Dumbledore. Still, Riddle gets what he wants, somehow, an entire educated society of magical people really believe a Armantula attacked their children and do not for even a second suspect the real culprit. A boy with eyes like chips of hell and a guise of humble reluctance as he reveals the scapegoat he's so meticulously crafted. They applaud him for it. Name him Prefect. Adore him. Even Harry gives pause at such an altruistic Slytherin act.

In return, Hermione hates him. A true, writhing hate she's never felt before. Bone deep. For the helplessness he makes her feel, for the lies he spins like sugar candy and how everyone greedily licks at his poison. For the way he made good on his threat of friendship. How her teeth can't help but grit when he touches her even as an act of innocent friendship and no one seems to see. How she is disgusted by their Tuesday night "study sessions" that inevitably end with her at the mercy of his merciless rabel, being hexed and cursed until she's just a doll of pain, a sack of bruised meat without visible scars but scars nonetheless, and still no one guesses. Not even Harry, although he teases her about all nighters and reading too much.

He sees. He just can't know. How dark it is. How the torment never stops. To him, perhaps, the circumstances of their friendship are a fond memory. The details vague. The villain of the moment having supposed to be long gone. She imagines such a world is nice for him, and literally can not speak to correct it. Hermione lives to age fourteen in a vivid nightmare. A whirlwind of Riddle's sadism and the blanketing warmth of Harry and the rests friendship that dulls the venom but doesn't cure it. Still she doesn't stop being what she is, researching every clue, studying Riddle for any hint. Trying to kill his monster, and end his hold on her.

At this point, at fourteen, the jaded teen can only suppose wryly, that such aspirations were just a dream. Yet what was the skyscraper at first? Just a dream made real. People could do it, make dreams real, it just takes longer than most expect. Her plan didn't come along in a marvelously obvious fashion like it did in the books and movies, happening all at once in a nice little plot tied up with a red ribbon of glory. No. It happened over a slow, torturous grinding of time. It showed itself in small, tedious ways that at first were easily overlooked. Ways she collected greedily, savoring any advantage over Riddle.

Her first bread crumb came from an unexpected angle. When she was still just twelve, at the end of her second year. At a point where she, unused and not yet hardened to constant torture, had broken. Messily. She'd been unable to attack Riddle, so she went for his lackeys. It was, she recalled with a sense of lingering shame, a kamikaze sort of mission. Riddle had threatened explicitly, frequently, that he meant to kill her before the end of the year. In late March, Hermione decided her death would come on her own terms. By April she'd summoned her nerve. This time, when she was lead to the dungeons she didn't tremble with dread, she smiled.

It was an eerie, haggard smile. Riddle noticed her odd mood immediately, he was questioning it, some long winded speech about her knowing her place. The usual drivel. Her ears felt stuffed with cotton, her wand slashing out at Avery with no warning just as Riddle was mid sentence. It wasn't a harmless jinx. She'd been listening. Watching their demented torture and learning from it. The wand movements. The words. Since she couldn't normally defend herself, usually stripped of her wand by Riddle before entering the dungeons, she had ample time to observe every nuance of her assailants' attacks. To commit the dark, torturous spells to memory.

This time she'd given the dark eyed devil a quill transfigured to look like her wand. He hadn't even questioned it. The look on his face, as he saw her, ripping into his unsuspecting, over privileged pack of followers, from the strongest down, didn't provoke the response she expected. Given his views of her as lesser, treating her like an object to own and kick around, she'd expected anger. Shock, perhaps, and then rage. His followers lay twitching around her. All of them.

Honey eyes met the darkest pits of hell. He smiled, a terrible real smile that painted him as the dark, horrific monster he was, none of the polite boy mask left to be chipped off. Stunned, she remained petrified as he reached into his robes, took out his own wand, and with a deft flick held hers in his hand. Hermione gritted her teeth, wondering what, exactly he had planned for her that could make such a horrible creature smile. Genuinely. Her skin slithered, gut churning ice water as she pictured the million horrific possibilities the immoral sadist could have in store for her. All the ways she might die.

"That was pathetic." His lean figure paced between his moaning, bleeding following, disappointment thick in his tone, but he had dismissed her existence entirely. "A mudblood child just eradicated my entire army." His voice was lethal venom. "When I suspected you had become slack, I hadn't guessed to what extent."

"Y-you arranged this? M-my Lord?" Avery asked, in excruciating pain as red and purple pustules grew and burst from his skin, drizzling his red blood from the magical sores.

"Do you really think my toy acts without my permission?" Riddle's voice was fluid acid, he eyed Hermione and ordered softly, "Now heal them."

"No." She wouldn't play along, wouldn't give him the satisfaction of his perfectly crafted lies, his special delusion where he was infallible and invincible.

"I know you like to see them suffer," his stride ate up the distance between them, Hermione stubbornly held her ground, refusing to budge an inch as the taller boy loomed over her, scant inches away, dark eyes flashed, sculpted lower lip curled. "But I must insist." His tone carried a warning threat, impossible to be missed.

A dry chuckle, like rusted wind, tore out of her chest, "I don't care what you insist."

"Careful," he pinched her chin so hard she knew his fingerprints would leave marks. "My amusement only stretches so far."

Honey eyes burned like amber fireflies, her cheeks reddened at his audacity, to be so cavalier when she was trying so hard to find his button. To push him into the brutal death he kept promising. To get it finally over with.

Hermione spat in his face. It was almost comical, his rapid blink of disbelief. Nothing so sordid as a slack, gaping jaw or raised eyebrows for this icy monster. Slowly, watching her, he wiped the spit from his face.

His fingers easily snared her thick, riotous curls, winding them around his fist so she was forced to meet his merciless, beetle shell gaze.

"Oh," he whispered the word velvet soft, and she felt her skin crawl like a million ants danced across it, his black pupils expanding and pouty lips forming a sweet, cruel smile. As perfect as it was true.

"You're going to regret that, little mudblood," he ran his hand not wrapped in her hair gently down the planes of her face, tracing her forehead, cheekbones and chin. Hermione shuddered in horror.

Riddle released her so fast she stumbled backwards, heart thundering. He turned to his gathering and began flicking healing spells at them matter-of-factly, his mute magic a show of force in itself. After he finished he held out his hand to Hermione, expectantly, demandingly. Swallowing hard and sure it was the last she would be seen again, Hermione took his cool, smooth palm in hers.

Hermione is twelve, and most of what she knows of life she discovered between the pages of books. Which made her both more and less informed about life, and it's real foibles. At the tender age of twelve Hermione knew all sorts of deliciously forbidden things, but then, reading about horror and heroism was so much different than living it. So it seems it should go without saying Hermione Granger's fingers had never been kissed before, the notion seemed absurd, but Riddle's eyes were dark candles as he stopped short in the hall, bringing each knuckle to his mouth for a featherlight caress. The obsidian flames of his eyes licking at her in hellfire as his lips lightly, dryly, caressed each digit in pointed slowness. By the time he finished, the burning cheeked brunette witch has a dry mouth and her fingers and palms radiated with a strange tingle she couldn't explain. Riddle smirked and didn't so much as bat an eyelash as he snapped her pinky.

For a split second, they simply looked at one another, and then at her mangled finger. The digit horribly askew. Riddle seemed cool and calm. Hermione didn't try and muffle her screams, not here, where she had screamed so often before.

"Episke," he murmured, healing the digit, his stark expression arranged in a guise of concern as he felt out the repaired digit. Ascertaining that it was in fact perfectly healed, before gently setting it aside for her ring finger. His molten black eyes burned into her with unspent rage as he snapped this finger next, the bone poking so grotesquely through the flesh she gagged in horror and agony. His wards and silencing charms kept her screams from being heard as he repeated this procedure of breaking and healing with all ten of her fingers, tears streaming down her face and snot pouring from her nose as the tiny witch hiccup cried, desperately trying to wrench her hand from his grasp as he punished her with a curled lip and merciless stare.

"Don't ever make me do this again," the demon torturing her spat, "You are mine. This petty torture is beneathe us."

"J-just kill m-m-me," Hermione hiccup cried, beside herself in misery and pain. Riddle smirked as he patted her hand and let it drop, his knuckles brushing her cheek in a chilling mockery of intimacy.

"I admit, I will, but not yet, not while you still cry and scream and fight," he mused darkly, "When you're broken at my feet, begging to be whatever I ask, that's when you get to die, and not a moment before."

"P-please...I just want it to be done. I-I hate-"

"You don't get to pick, mudblood," he interrupted her in a sneer, lip curled and dark eyes hot in wrath, a warmth that never touched them save for anger. "Your life or death is mine to dictate, to orchestrate, and I'm enjoying breaking you apart piece by piece too much to let you escape me now. No matter how satisfying killing filth like you is." Hermione shuddered, terrified but better informed. She had a chance. Her perseverance meant something.

As long as he saw fight in her, she lived. Her lips curved in a unintentional tell, vindictive victory.

"You like that, do you?" He mused in wry amusement, "You might regret living in my care, mudblood."

No truer words have ever been spoken.